DATE August 8, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Screenwriter/actress Polly Draper and jazz pianist
Michael Wolff discuss the film they co-produced called "The Tic
Code," about a mother and her son with Tourette's syndrome
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Terry Gross in on vacation. I'm Barbara Bogaev.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: That's Michael Wolff from his new CD, "Impure Thoughts." Wolff is
a jazz pianist and composer. He's played with jazz musicians, such as Sonny
Rollins, Cal Tjader and Cannonball Adderley. And he served for five years as
the band leader for the "Arsenio Hall Show." Wolff also has Tourette's
syndrome, a neurological disorder. He's collaborated with his wife, actress
Polly Draper, on a new film based on his experiences in these two different
subcultures, the world of jazz and the world of a person with Tourette's.
Their film, "The Tic Code," tells the story of a divorced mother, Laura, whose
12-year-old son Miles, an aspiring jazz pianist, has the disorder. Miles'
symptoms include facial and whole body jerks, known as tics, also involuntary
exclamations, coughs, laughs and other behaviors. Miles idealizes a jazz
saxophonist, Tyrone, played by Gregory Hines, who also has a mild case of
Tourette's. Tyrone becomes romantically involved with Laura, played by
Draper. Draper also wrote the screenplay and co-produced the film with her
husband. Wolff contributed the score. Polly Draper has appeared on the stage
and television. She's best known for her role as Ellyn on the TV series
In this scene from "The Tic Code," Laura and Tyrone are arguing about Laura's
need to discuss Tourette's.
(Soundbite from "The Tic Code")
Ms. POLLY DRAPER (As Laura): I don't think that it's odd that I want to talk
to you about it once in a while. My God, I've watched my son be humiliated by
it for years. And tomorrow's a really big day for him. His father's done
half the humiliating. So, yes, it's on my mind.
Mr. GREGORY HINES (As Tyrone): What are you gonna do, Laura, just find more
people with tics for him than me? I hear there's a baseball player who's got
it. Why don't you take him to a ball game?
Ms. DRAPER (As Laura): Cut it out.
Mr. HINES (As Tyrone): Jazz clubs, baseball games, you'll sit through
anything, won't you, so as long as you can eventually discuss your favorite
Ms. DRAPER (As Laura): My favorite topic?
Mr. HINES (As Tyrone): If it wasn't for Miles and his tics, you'd never
leave this (censored) apartment!
Ms. DRAPER (As Laura): Stop yelling at me! Stop insulting me! I'm sorry I
brought it up. I'm sorry you don't like to talk about it. But I have a
little boy who goes to school every day and comes home calling himself a
weirdo, and I can't help but be sorriest about that.
Mr. HINES (As Tyrone): Well, let me pull your coat to something, Laura. He
is right! People like me and Miles are weirdos. And the sooner he realizes
it the better.
Ms. DRAPER (As Laura): You know what, Tyrone? You can call yourself
anything you like. But while you're in my house, don't you ever talk about my
son that way again.
Mr. HINES (As Tyrone): Fine!
(End of soundbite)
BOGAEV: Polly Draper and Michael Wolff, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Ms. DRAPER: Thank you so much for having us.
BOGAEV: Michael, let's start with you.
Mr. MICHAEL WOLFF (Jazz Pianist): OK.
BOGAEV: While the movie isn't overtly your biography, I imagine at least some
of the incidents that are dramatized in the film come from stories you've told
Polly over the years about growing up with Tourette's. How much did you two
talk about Tourette's before making this film?
Mr. WOLFF: Well, actually I have to say when I first went out with Polly on
our second date, she turned to me and said, `What's wrong with you anyway?'
And that's the first time...
BOGAEV: Oh, smooth. Smooth.
Ms. DRAPER: Yeah. You know, he claims I said it like that, when really it
was probably very gentle and kind.
Mr. WOLFF: Well, I'm sure inside you meant it that way. But, you know, I'm
sure I perceived it however I perceived it because no one had actually ever
said to me directly, you know, `What is that that you're doing? What's wrong
with you?' People had obviously noticed it because I, at times, have tics
that are definitely noticeable physically and vocally. But nobody really just
come out with that straight, and I think it took me aback, but I did tell her
that I had Tourette's syndrome and it was very hard. This was over 10 years
ago when we first met. It was very difficult for me to speak about it at all
and really hard for me to even deal with it myself because I had never been
diagnosed with having Tourette's syndrome as a child.
And I didn't find out that what I did had a name to it until I was in my 30s
and a friend of my sister-in-law who was a social worker and had two boys that
had Tourette's syndrome just said to me, `By the way, do you know you have
Tourette's syndrome?' And I said, `No, I don't have Tourette's syndrome.'
Then I said, `What's that?' And she gave me a book that Oliver Sacks, the
neurologist, had written, and in one of the chapters, he talked about a jazz
drummer named--he called the chapter "Witty Ticky Ray" about a really funny
wired up guy who was a drummer on the weekends, and by the day, he had a
regular gig. And so on the weekdays, he took his medicine. On the weekends,
he didn't. And I definitely recognized myself. And I realized, `God, I guess
there is a name for what I have.'
So it was very difficult for me to talk about it with Polly. And yet I was
obviously, as we became more and more involved, something that came up in
various ways. And I think with--Polly could probably tell you, you know, I
think friends of hers and her parents may have--you know, people often thought
maybe I was on drugs, you know, speed or cocaine or something because my
movements were intense. And people do notice, you know, and I have to deal
BOGAEV: Gregory Hines, who plays Tyrone, the character with Tourette's, he's
a jazz saxophonist in the movie. He doesn't want to talk about it. In fact,
he describes Tourette's to Laura as something he doesn't like to talk about.
Ms. DRAPER: Doesn't like to talk about, right.
BOGAEV: So, Polly, I know my husband had an untraditional and not so happy
childhood. And all I have to do to ruin a perfectly good evening is to dredge
Ms. DRAPER: To mention it. That's kind of what...
BOGAEV: So how did you dare to tell Michael this is what you were thinking of
making a film about?
Ms. DRAPER: Well, I--he had been encouraging me to write something because
I'd just been sort of rewriting all these other things that I'd been acting in
out of self-defense. And he felt that I really should write my own thing.
And so when I came up with that idea, it wasn't just about the Tourette's--and
I don't think the movie is just about Tourette's. What I really wanted to
write was a really true and real mother and son relationship. Because I
thought--I think that in movies, the mother and son--mother and children
relationships get short shrift. And I wanted to write something that was very
real about what I thought was a really profound relationship. And that was
what I thought of because I saw Michael, you know, wrestling with this issue,
and thought that it was an issue that I understood, and I betcha everybody--in
my mind, everybody would understand. Because I think there's something about
all of us that we wish we could rip out of our body, which is what the little
boy in the movie says.
So I told him that. He thought it was a really good idea, but he didn't want
me to write it because he was afraid what he considered to be a secret would
be found out. What he didn't realize was that everybody sort of knew anyway.
They didn't know if it was Tourette's or not, but everyone was noticing
something about Michael. And they always asked me. And he had put me in a
position where I wasn't allowed to tell anybody. And so...
Mr. WOLFF: Sounds reasonable to me, or it did at the time.
Ms. DRAPER: So he didn't want me to write it. And so I said, `All right. I
won't write it.' And then we had Thanksgiving dinner with his cousin and his
cousin's little boy had just developed these really severe symptoms of
Tourette's, which he hadn't had the year before at Thanksgiving. And Michael
was really saddened by it and sort of--I remember watching him stare at his
little cousin with a lot of sadness and he said afterwards, `I think you
should write it.'
But partly, I have to say also, a little off the Tourette's subject. Partly
the whole Tourette's thing was inspired not by that more deep and sensitive
thing, but by this one time when I was standing outside one of the nightclubs
here with Michael and some of his band who had just finished playing a set.
And they were all standing there with toothpicks in their mouths and they were
all sort of arguing about jazz riffs. And going, `No, no, it goes like this.'
And another one would go, `No, it doesn't. It goes.' And I thought, you
know, all of this reminds me of Michael's tics. He was there ticking away and
then singing and ticking and they all s--and I realized how musical his whole
life is. That his--first of all, he hears music in his head all the time and
he--his tics sound musical. And here he was in the perfect environment for
acceptance of his tics because he was making these sounds that sounded like
jazz riffs anyway. And that's what really was the first glimmer that I wanted
to use the Tourette's. And then I realized the deeper implications of it.
And that's when I was worried that he might not like me to do it. But anyway,
after he saw his cousin, he really wanted me to do it.
Mr. WOLFF: But I still didn't want her to tell anyone that I had Tourette's.
Ms. DRAPER: Yeah.
Mr. WOLFF: I was still under that fantasy that they would connect it.
BOGAEV: Well, I can see this movie has even more of a back story than I
Ms. DRAPER: Yeah.
Mr. WOLFF: Than you wanted.
BOGAEV: Michael, do you see that kind of direct connection between your music
Mr. WOLFF: Well, you know, it's interesting. Polly is often asking me about
that, and she seems to see it. For me, I've only been who I am and have
played music. So my perception of music is just my perception of music. And
I'm pretty, you know, monomaniacal about the way I view music, I guess. So
that when I've been asked this question really just since the movie last year,
so I've thought about it. And I guess if I were to really look at my playing
from some sort of, you know, other position other than within myself, I would
say that probably the one way that I'm different as a musician is that I do
think I make leaps. I don't go along in a logical sort of progression of
learning or logical progression maybe of even performing.
I just think it is impulsive and things happen where I can sort of just glom
some information. And I think there's plenty of musicians I've met who are
brilliant and don't have Tourette's syndrome. So I certainly don't think
having Tourette's syndrome is, you know, a requirement for being a great
musician, though it looks like it's a good chance. I just spoke with a
neurologist, one of the head guys, Joseph Joncavic(ph), in Houston who thinks
that Mozart did have Tourette's. But I think that...
Mr. WOLFF: I do think that there's something going on in my mind that's
different, but, again, since I've kind of been in denial about having
Tourette's, I don't feel I'm identified as a Tourette's guy. You know, we say
in the movie--Tyrone, the character, says, `Well, I don't want to be known as
the Tourette's guy,' you know, and I feel the same way. I didn't grow up with
a diagnosis of Tourette's the way kids do now and from 9 till you're 10 years
old or whatever. So that, to me, I wasn't a Tourette's person. I was just
this guy that did this weird stuff and I was a musician and I played baseball
and, you know, now I'm a father and I'm this and that and a husband and also I
did the weird stuff. So, to me, it's just a part of me, but as I'm learning
more about it, and I've gotten to be friends with Oliver Sacks and I've talked
with him about it and he seems to think there's a big connection between the
musicality with Tourette's and humor and sort of disjointed surprising ways
that, you know, one and one doesn't equal two necessarily, or two and two
doesn't equal four with Tourette's. Two and two can equal 43 or something,
and I think that is, as I observe myself more and more from outside of it, the
way it works with me.
BOGAEV: In the film, Miles, the young boy who has Tourette's, he, at one
point, stops himself from ticking...
Mr. WOLFF: Mm-hmm.
BOGAEV: ...from his different physical mannerisms and his mother, Laura,
says, `Oh, I hate that. It looks like you're holding your breath.' And he
says, `I'm not holding my breath. I'm holding my emotions.'
Ms. DRAPER: My feelings.
Mr. WOLFF: Yeah. Yeah.
BOGAEV: Yeah. What does that--is that a little bit--is that what you're
talking about, this emotionality?
Mr. WOLFF: Well, I don't know. You know, again, what--I can tell you what I
hate about having Tourette's. What I hate is that I can't help but appear
vulnerable. You know, I don't feel I'm that sensitive a guy, but I always got
chicks because they thought I was so vulnerable because I was twitching and it
seemed like I was all sensitive and stressed out. But truthfully, it just
comes out in a physical impulse. And so I do tell all the young people with
Tourette's, you know, men and women, `Hey, you're going to cop, because, you
know, you're going to definitely meet somebody of the opposite sex because
there is something appealing about somebody who seems to not be holding
everything in.' But I wanted nothing more as a kid than to be cool, you know,
and that's the jazz thing. You know, when I grew up in the '70s, you just
keep everything in and, you know, I couldn't do it. So I hate that part
that, you know, other people have things wrong with them, but it doesn't
always show, you know. It's like with Tourette's, there's no way people
aren't going to know about it.
Ms. DRAPER: You do something when you hold you br--kind of described it to me
Mr. WOLFF: Well, it's interesting that, you know, there's things that I
realize that I've tried to talk to other people about that they have no idea
and there are no words that I know in English or Spanish--which I speak a
little bit--to describe what I do. But I have a thing that I can do where I
can sort of push energy out to the outer reaches of my body by concentrating
and it comes out of my mind and I can feel it in my legs and in my stomach and
my hands. It's the strangest thing. It's almost like I'm willing energy out.
And there's a thing, you know, when I've been on television, when I've
performed, I'm able to do this and not have my tics or not have them show or
to divert them. I think it's all about energy and that's what Oliver Sacks
says, you know, `Tourette's is about energy and it's focusing it or
unfocused.' And I notice when it most happens is when I'm driving or jogging
or, you know, kind of my mind is wandering and it just becomes like that. So
I think that what I'm able to do is--it's almost like I just go into a zone
where I think I'll be the opposite. I will be like Polly described how I was
at first with her parents, almost not there, almost catatonic where I just
have to turn everything off and then I can contain, repress, suppress or avoid
the ticking for a while.
BOGAEV: My guests are Polly Draper and Michael Wolff. Polly Draper is an
actress. She stars in the new movie "The Tic Code," which she also wrote and
produced, about a single mother and her musical prodigy son who has a
neurological disorder, Tourette's syndrome. The film is, in part, based on
Michael Wolff's life. He also has Tourette's. Draper and Michael Wolff are
married to each other. He is an internationally-known jazz pianist. He
composed the score for the film "The Tic Code" and also co-produced it. Let's
talk more, Polly and Michael, after the break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: My guests are Polly Draper and Michael Wolff. Polly Draper is an
actress. She's best-known for her role of Ellyn on the TV series
"thirtysomething" way back when. Michael Wolff is a jazz pianist and
recording artist. They've collaborated on the new movie "The Tic Code," which
is, in part, based on Michael Wolff's experiences as a young boy with
Michael, Gregory Hines, in order to play the role of Tyrone, studied you...
Mr. WOLFF: Yeah.
BOGAEV: ...your tics and you coached him and also the actor...
Mr. WOLFF: Christopher Marquette.
BOGAEV: ...Christopher, who plays the role of Miles. How did they do that?
Did they shadow you for a day or practice tics in front of you?
Mr. WOLFF: Well, you know, the interesting thing was I think, you know, I
never saw either of them do a tic. I think what they did was, I spent time
with Gregory, and with Gregory, it was really just more like hanging out.
Like we went to jazz clubs, we'd have dinner, we'd have drinks, you know,
whatever. We were just getting to know each other, and I think he was
observing me all the time. And there was just one or two times when he asked
me, `Well, if you did this, if you got mad, would you have more tics?' or a
few things like that. Gregory is really an amazing study and actor and so I
think he just observed me. And I have to say that, hey, he nailed it to the
point of when I--when I saw the first day of shooting, you don't shoot in
order, but just the first thing we shot, it was outside on East 10th Street in
front of Tompkin's Square Park in New York, and I saw him do a scene, and it's
when he describes what the tic code is to Robert Ler's character, the bully
When I saw that, I almost just burst into tears because I saw myself and it
was a big catharsis for me to see that. It was totally upsetting. I have to
say I was really angry, irrationally, at Polly for writing this thing. You
know, why do I have to deal with it? I mean, there were so many emotions
going on, but ultimately, during the six-week period of shooting, I felt
myself freed from my, you know, I would say probably at that point
30-something years of denial of this condition. So watching Gregory really
kind of blew my mind.
BOGAEV: What did you see him do that was so affecting for you, because he's
pretty subtle in the movie?
Ms. DRAPER: He looked just like Michael.
BOGAEV: I mean, he coughs a little bit and he blinks a little bit.
Mr. WOLFF: Well, yeah, he shakes his head. He coughs. And the way he was
hiding it. He did a lot of tricks. I have a lot of tricks.
Ms. DRAPER: He looks just like Michael.
Mr. WOLFF: Yeah. I think...
BOGAEV: How do you hide it? What are your tricks?
Mr. WOLFF: Coughing. Playing it off as if I'm singing, you know, because
Ms. DRAPER: Laughing.
Mr. WOLFF: ...tic will kind of happen and then I'll see it's there and then I
can--you know, have you ever seen somebody across the way and they were waving
at you and then you wave back, and you realize they're waving to the person
behind you so you take that wave and you bring it over and scratch your head,
you know, or you do something like that to make it look like, oh, yeah, I was
just reaching up for something?
BOGAEV: Right. Right. Uh-huh.
Mr. WOLFF: And it's kind of like that, you know, where I would start a tic
and if it--maybe my head, maybe I'd reach back like I was massaging my neck or
I'd start to do a sound and I'd turn it into a cough and put my hand in front
of it, like Gregory does at one point when he's outside the club talking to
Polly's character the first time. I mean, it wasn't too long ago I realized I
was in a store in New York or, you know, a restaurant. I was ordering some
food to go, and I just let out a whoop, you know, a sound. I don't do that
often, but it kind of came out, and this lady looked at me and I looked at her
and, you know, there's always a question. Am I going to say, `Oh, I'm sorry.
I have Tourette's syndrome.' And then they're going to go, `What's Tourette's
syndrome?' And, you know, I got to deal with that. So, you know, I just do
what I usually do. I just looked at her and I just decided I wasn't going to
deal with it. But maybe it wasn't what I usually do. I didn't really try to
hide it. I didn't say anything. I just said, `Well, I'm in the world. She
can take it or leave it.'
Ms. DRAPER: Well, there's a neurologist that said to me, `You know, people
who have Tourette's just do what all of us want to do, but we have that pesky
civilization that's kept us from...'
Mr. WOLFF: Inhibiting.
Ms. DRAPER: `...inhibiting us from doing all these things.' That it's when
you hear some of these case studies, what these Tourette's people in extreme
cases sound like is what we would be if we didn't put that one added dimension
to ourselves of restraint. To me, part of why I found it so fascinating was
that everyone who sees this movie finds it oddly familiar, and even though
they don't have Tourette's, they sit there and say, `Ooh, why does this remind
me so much of myself?' And I think subconsciously, we all have this--there's
something going on with all of us that is being repressed that is exactly what
these people are doing, and I think everybody recognizes it. They also
recognize what the Tourette's is a metaphor for in the film, which is, you
know, people accepting things about themselves that they do wish that they
Mr. WOLFF: To me, the whole metaphor, the whole way the film is put together
with really the triumvirate of Tyrone's character, you know, Gregory Hines,
Polly as the mother of the little boy, Laura, and Christoper Marquette; these
are three people who basically, for whatever reason, feel very alienated from
mainstream society, and they create their own little society in the jazz world
of downtown village(ph) New York where you can have an interracial romance,
where you can be a little odd, you know. I mean, one of the huge things that
made me so happy to get into jazz as a kid was I felt I was accepted if I
could really play. And, luckily, I was a good musician and I could play, but
what I liked was, you know, nobody was judging me.
I mean, I was able to be with all different colored people. You know, some
people were junkies. Some people were--whatever different problems we had, if
you could play, that was what counted and, to me, you know, I felt these guys
that I met particularly doing jazz when I was--I went on the road at 19--was
this jazz vibist Cal Tjader and I played with many, many great
people--Cannonball Adderley and Sonny Rollins--and I had these guys who
were--they were basically my mentors. And while they didn't have Tourette's,
they were all outcasts from mainstream society, and they were all great
artists and they all accepted me and I think were even more drawn to me
because of my having Tourette's and because of me having something that maybe
made me have some pain and some soul that I was able to express in my music.
BOGAEV: Michael Wolff and Polly Draper are co-producers of the new film "The
Tic Code." We'll continue our conversation in the second half of the show.
I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.
BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Let's continue now with our interview with Michael Wolff and Polly Draper.
They've collaborated on the new film "The Tic Code," which is based in part on
Michael's experiences as a jazz musician with Tourette's syndrome. Wolff is a
well-known jazz pianist and composer. He wasn't diagnosed with Tourette's
until he was in his 30s. Draper, who's married to Wolff, wrote the screenplay
for the film and also stars as Laura, the divorced mother of a musical
prodigy, Miles, who suffers from Tourette's. Polly Draper is an actress best
known to television audiences for her role as Ellyn, in the '80s drama series
Michael, when you were a kid did other kids taunt you or have nicknames for
you? Did they notice your behaviors?
Mr. WOLFF: Not to my face. I have to say I was pretty lucky in that that
didn't happen. But I think I got self-conscious about in junior high school
and high school when I became aware of my tics, so I think when I was little I
wasn't that aware of them. And so I remember one day I was walking in--I
think in the 10th grade in high school, in Berkeley High School in Berkeley,
California, and there was this guy walking towards me and I thought, `Man,
this guy was making fun of me.' He was walking funny and kind of jiggling
around and, you know, it was a guy who I thought was my friend, I went `God, I
can't believe that.' And it really upset me. And then a few days later I saw
him and he didn't see me and he was doing the same thing and I realized he
wasn't making fun of me, he just walked weird. So--but I was always conscious
BOGAEV: Now you weren't diagnosed as a child, so did you have a way of
explaining your mannerisms to yourself?
Mr. WOLFF: No, I really didn't have a way of explaining it to myself. I
think I just felt bad about it. I think I felt like if I figured out what was
really wrong with me, they'd go away.
BOGAEV: How did your mother and father explain it?
Mr. WOLFF: Interestingly enough, my father was a psychiatrist, and we had
talked about it when I was in my late teens, and he told me, he said, `You
know, I know you have these tics, and I thought you may have Tourette
syndrome. And I did some research on it, and I don't think you do because you
don't have uncontrollable swearing.' And at that time, which was in the '70s,
I think the diagnosis was much more strict than it is now. Now it's just if
you have a vocal tic and a physical tic together or separately, you're
considered to have Tourette's syndrome. So really I think my--you know, there
had been other people in my father's family who had had tics. And my dad had
had a little eye tic when he was a teen-ager. So I think it was just, well,
that's just a family thing.
BOGAEV: Now you started playing the piano when you were young, a young kid.
Mr. WOLFF: I did, yeah.
BOGAEV: And I think it was your father who got it in to you? And I think I
read somewhere that you grew up in Mississippi.
Mr. WOLFF: My father's from Indianola, Mississippi; my mother was from New
Orleans. I grew up in Memphis for a while, and in New Orleans. And when I
was about 10 we moved to Berkeley, California. And then I spent my summers in
New Orleans, staying with my Aunt Nita(ph), who is one of my favorite people
in the world. And she could tap dance, she has perfect pitch, she took me to
hear all this music when I was a teen-ager and I used to sit in with people of
New Orleans. And my father had perfect pitch too, which means they can
identify, you know--they didn't know C or D or E, but they could sing the same
note every time when they wanted to sing a song. So it was my father who
really turned me on to the music because he loved Count Basie and Ray Charles
and George Shearing. In fact, I thought all piano players were blind because
he loved George Shearing and Ray Charles so much and I just refer to them--as,
you know, I was just a little boy, you know, four or five, `Play the blind
guys. Play the blind guys.' When I was four years old he taught me "St.
Louis Blues" on the piano and he said the first thing I recognized was his
whistle when I was a little boy and I learned to read by having these little
45 records, you know, and I learned to read the titles and the artists on
them. So, I was just--you know, I had a--luckily, my father was a doctor. He
said, `Whatever you do, don't become a doctor. The stupidest people I ever
met were doctors. Do something fun. Be a golf pro, be a musician, you know,
be creative.' So I had a lot of support.
BOGAEV: Polly, your performance in the scenes between you and Christopher
George Marquette, who plays your son, Miles, are really impressive. I'm
curious whether you imagined that he was your husband as a child, in order to
make it real for you?
Ms. DRAPER: No. Nothing like that.
Mr. WOLFF: She doesn't feel that tender towards me.
Ms. DRAPER: It's not the same relationship. The relationship that my
character had with Gregory Hines is much more--is much closer to what...
Mr. WOLFF: That's what you kept telling me anyway.
Ms. DRAPER: But as a mother, I think that a maternal instinct is just a
maternal instinct and has nothing to do with, you know, imagining how your
husband would've felt if he were little boy. It's about what you would do to
protect your child, no matter what his ailment is, or no matter what the
Mr. WOLFF: Well, I remember once when Polly--when our son was about one or
two years old, and you told me you were at the park and a little girl hit him
or something, and she was three, and Polly said, `I saw what you did.'
Ms. DRAPER: She pushed him off the slide, and she thought I wouldn't find
out. And I went over and I said, `I saw what you did.' I thought, `Jeez,
Paula, get a grip. She's only four.' So.
Mr. WOLFF: No. She never came back to the park, that poor little girl.
BOGAEV: Polly, I know this is ancient history, but can I ask you about
Ms. DRAPER: Sure.
BOGAEV: ...while we're here? You played Ellyn, who I remember as the
nervous, kind of wild, really skinny, single woman who everyone loved to hate.
Now how did you...
Ms. DRAPER: I would have been really skinny if I weren't pregnant during
"The Tic Code." I was pregnant during that whole time, so.
Mr. WOLFF: She's still skinny and they love to hate her.
Ms. DRAPER: Yeah.
BOGAEV: How did you feel about your character?
Ms. DRAPER: Oh, God, it was a fantastic character, because I got to do all
the things that the other characters were to, you know, moralistic and...
Mr. WOLFF: Like your character had Tourette's.
Ms. DRAPER: Yeah. It was fantastic. I got to say all the things that, you
know, they wouldn't let Hope and Michael say because they were sort of the
linchpin of the show. And I got to do all these things that people could, you
know, say, tut-tut-tut, she shouldn't be doing that. But as an actor so
much more interesting to play than the goodie-goodie.
BOGAEV: You know, "thirtysomething," though, was so earnest and took itself
so seriously. At least as a viewer this was my feeling about the show.
Ms. DRAPER: Yeah.
BOGAEV: And I imagine your fans took it very seriously too, at least at
Ms. DRAPER: They do, oh, my gosh.
BOGAEV: Do they approach you on the street as if you were Ellyn?
Mr. WOLFF: Still, still.
BOGAEV: They still do.
Ms. DRAPER: Especially when the character was having an affair with a
married man, I was getting, you know, even my aunts were calling me up,
saying, `You know, Polly, I think it's best that you stop that affair.' `Aunt
Taffe, I'm not really having the affair.' And so, yeah, they really bought
it. They believed it. And--but that to me, it was a wonderful role that I
played, and when a show is really great and you do a good job on it, people
identify you with that and think that that's who you are...
Mr. WOLFF: Well, you know, with...
Ms. DRAPER: ...which I should take as a compliment.
Mr. WOLFF: Absolutely. I was on the "Arsenio Hall Show," as a bandleader
at the same time that Polly was on "thirtysomething," and we'd walk down the
street and we'd have such different fans. And I remember once we were walking
up Sixth Avenue and a couple was following us and we were actually going to
make a phone call and they came up, you know, it was a yuppie couple, and they
said, `Excuse me, Ms. Draper, but we'd just like to say we're such big fans
of yours, and, you know, that moment when you put your hand in Ken Olin's hand
and you were in the bathroom and he comforted you, it meant so much to us.'
And Polly said, `Oh, thank you very much.' And then we walked another block
and a guy had a billboard that said `Girls, girls, girls,' and we walked past
it and he went, `Michael Wolff.' So we kind of say, well, that's the
difference right there between our fan bases.
BOGAEV: Yeah, you've got to cover all the demographics between the two of
Ms. DRAPER: Yeah.
Mr. WOLFF: Yeah.
BOGAEV: Now so many movies are revisiting TV series, do you see a
"thirtysomething" revival movie? Or imagine it with horror?
Ms. DRAPER: I don't think that they're going to do it. We just had a 10-year
reunion at the Museum of Television, and they asked that of Ed and Marshall,
and they said no, because it stood in this time and space that was so perfect
for it and so right, and they wouldn't want to ruin that magic thing for it.
The whole cast came to see me, and to see...
Mr. WOLFF: Yeah, there was a reunion at the premiere in LA.
Ms. DRAPER: So we had a reunion of sorts.
Mr. WOLFF: It was at a movie.
Ms. DRAPER: It was at a movie.
BOGAEV: Well, Polly and Michael, I don't mean to beat this drum of Tourette's
so loudly, but I did want to ask you if your relationship changed then after
making this movie together? Or, Michael, your perception or your relationship
to Tourette's has changed?
Mr. WOLFF: It's totally changed. I'm now on the board of the New York
chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association. When I thought, `Hey,
Tourette's is a good career move.' I mean, this jazz thing wouldn't get me too
far. But, yeah, it's totally--I mean, I have to say I'm not 100 percent just,
`Hey, I'm a Tourette's guy and I'm happy,' you know. It's painful. It's
something I had shame for for so many years it's like, you know, I'm not used
to even being open about it, and, I mean, I sometimes forget, `Oh, yeah, now
I'm being open about it.' Because this movie forced me out of the closet, like
I said when I was on the set, and it was the first time I had met other people
with Tourette's, and I met the people of Tourette Syndrome Association, and I
saw, wow, it's really important for me as a person who's been successful,
who's been on TV, who's someone in the public eye, to embrace this and, you
know, I'm trying to mentor other kids and show them they can be successful.
We just got an e-mail of a kid who, in Houston, who heard us talking on the
radio talking about the movie, and he was nine years old. Actually his mother
e-mailed us and said, `He has Tourette's. He just lit up on the radio hearing
us talking about it,' and his mother's going to let him go to this movie,
which is rated R, and he's so excited to do it. And he was so proud that
somebody with Tourette's was actually talking about it. So when I've seen,
you know, what it can do, I just--whatever uncomfortableness I have about it I
just have to push aside. So I feel that Polly gave me this great gift. It
was painful. Part of me is still a little angry that I've had to be open
about it, honestly, because I am still ashamed of it, but, you know, 90
percent of me is so relieved that I can just be in the open about it and know
what it is. And figure, you know, people can take me or leave me. And, you
know, having these weird weirdo things that I do, as I say in the movie, is
part of me.
BOGAEV: Polly Draper, Michael Wolff, thank you so much for talking today on
Ms. DRAPER: It's so nice to talk to you.
BOGAEV: Polly Draper and Michael Wolff's new film is "The Tic Code." Michael
Wolff has a new CD out. It's called "Impure Thoughts." He's currently on
tour with his band by that name. They play the Burkfest in Great Barrington,
Massachusets, on August 12th and go on to perform in Rochester, New York;
Pittsburgh; Washington, DC; and Pasadena, California.
Coming up, we remember Sir Alec Guinness, who died this past weekend. This is
(Soundbite of music)
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Interview: Sir Alec Guinness, his roles in movies
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
Sir Alec Guinness died on Saturday at the age of 86. Critics dubbed him a
master of disguise for his ability to perform a wide range of roles, sometimes
even within the same film, as was the case in his depiction of eight different
members of an eccentric English family in "Kind Hearts and Coronets."
Guinness' other memorable roles included Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars," a
bank clerk turned criminal in "The Lavender Hill Mob," and Colonel Nicholson
in the 1957 film "Bridge on the River Kwai," which won him the Oscar for best
actor. He played a British commanding officer who just arrived in a Japanese
POW camp. In this scene, he meets some American soldiers who are considering
(Soundbite from "Bridge on the River Kwai")
Sir ALEC GUINNESS: Of course it's normally the duty of a captured soldier
to attempt to escape. But my men and I are involved in a curious legal crime
which you are unaware. In Singapore we were ordered to surrender by command
headquarters, ordered, mind you. Therefore, in our case, escape might as well
be an infection of military law. Interesting.
Unidentified Man #1: Yes. Interesting find.
Unidentified Man #2: I'm sorry, sir, I didn't quite follow you. You mean you
intend to uphold a letter of the law no matter what it costs?
Sir GUINNESS: Without law, Commander, there is no civilization.
Unidentified Man #2: That's just my point. Here there is no civilization.
Sir GUINNESS: Then we have the opportunity to introduce it. I suggest we
drop the subject of escape.
BOGAEV: Terry Gross spoke with Sir Alec Guinness in 1986.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Do you remember any lasting advice that you got in your early years of acting
about enunciation, or breathing, or speaking lines?
Sir GUINNESS: Well, many I think, but I think all advice is something to
discard sooner or later. When I first used to go and have--I was trying to
get a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and I went to Martina
Hunt(ph), who's an actress, and she formed my taste, I think, a great deal.
And when she heard me reading, one of the kind of little rule of thumb that
she gave was she said, `You know, for heaven's sake, never put the emphasis on
an adjective unless you have to, or an adverb. Go straight for the verb
because that is the driving force of the sentence.' It doesn't mean to say
that every time you speak a verb you've got to flag it. But it did form, I
think, the basis of my own appreciation of speaking, of listening to people.
And I hear nowadays so much false emphasis, not just in the theater--in fact,
not so much on the theater as on railway stations when, you know, they say--in
England, you know, they'll say the train for such and such a place will leave
from platform. And you think, `Was there any doubt about it?' You get
confused, instead of just saying the train for such and such a place will
leave at such and such a time.
GROSS: You joined the Navy in World War II, and I wonder if it gave you any
ideas about acting, because you were exposed to so many different kinds of
people with different experiences and different cultures, as you sailed all
around the world.
Sir GUINNESS: Well, I think part of the title of my rather odd book,
"Blessings in Disguise," lies in my naval experience, insofar as if it hadn't
been for the war--and God knows, you know, we can do without wars--I would no
doubt have stayed in the West End Theatre in England. I would've moved with
many delightful people, pretty frivolous, pretty light headed, always
concerned about what was next happening in the theater. Well, the war came as
literally a bombshell. I was just starting on what looked like a promising
career, so it was a bit wretched to say goodbye to that. But it moved me for
the next few years among people whom I was unlikely to meet. Not from the
point of view of observing them all and what they were like, but getting to
know men on the lower decks, and then later on I became an officer. And
realizing that the world wasn't just theater. On the other hand, I had to
perform as such, and I never knew what I was doing, quite, as a naval officer,
and I was in command of a little ship built here in Quincy Yard, in Boston.
And so I really acted being a naval officer, or my idea of what a naval
officer might be like. And I've always maintained that was the best
performance I've given. I mean, it wasn't a very impressive one, it was a
very junior thing, but it was a long run.
GROSS: Several years after the war you started making movies. Did you say to
yourself, `I want to do movies now'?
Sir GUINNESS: No. It wasn't that. I'd never been particularly interested in
movies. I don't know why. I mean, I loved going to them, but I never sort of
thought of myself as going in to movies. I thought I probably haven't got the
right face, but at the very beginning of the war I had written a stage
adaptation of "Great Expectations," which was performed and I was in it. And
that was seen by David Lean and Ronald Lean, who were working together then.
And at the end of the war, 1945, beginning of '46, they were going to make a
film of "Great Expectations," and they remembered seeing me and I was still in
the Navy when they contacted me, saying, you know, `Would you like to come
play that part you played on the stage on film?' And I'd always rather
thought, `If ever I do do a film, the first one must be something that I've
played in the theater, so at least I know what I'm at so far as the
character's concerned.' Then I can put myself in the hands of technicians.
And that's what happened.
GROSS: What was your reaction the first time you saw yourself in a leading
role in a movie?
Sir GUINNESS: Well, I don't know. I think I was rather sick. I would've
seen the dailies, as they're called--we called them the rushes in England--of
"Great Expectations," and was horrified at what I saw. But David Lean was
very key in that his actors should see the rushes, so for the first few films
I made, I always did. And I suppose I learned something. I learned not to
fidget, or twitch, or some little mannerism which was creeping in. Now, for
many years now, I never look at them. I mean, I never look at the dailies.
GROSS: You say you were horrified at the beginning...
Sir GUINNESS: Horrified.
GROSS: ...when you looked at them. What horrified you?
Sir GUINNESS: Well, I couldn't believe--it was something nauseating up
there. Couldn't bear it.
GROSS: You think that's a typical reaction people have when they see
themselves, especially if they're used to acting on stage?
Sir GUINNESS: I have some people--I have seen them watching themselves and
I've seen their faces suffused with pleasure.
GROSS: In 1949, you made the movie "Kind Hearts and Coronets," and you played
eight roles--I think it was eight. You played an entire family in it. It's a
really funny movie. Whose idea was it for you to play all those roles? How
did that come about?
Sir GUINNESS: Robert Hamer, who directed it, who was a brilliant creature,
and now he's dead, invited me to play two of them, victims in it--I mean two
of the family. And I was on holiday in France, and I read the script lying on
a beach and I laughed, within two pages of it, out loud; hurried through the
rest of the script and thought that it's ridiculous to play two. I either
play one, which I can understand, or the whole lot. So I went to the post
office and sent off a telegram and saying, you know, `Love the script but how
about me trying to play all eight,' which I--there could be a reason for a
family like this all. And to my joy and delight they said, yes, fine. Try
BOGAEV: Alec Guinness talking to Terry Gross. Here's a clip from "Kind
Hearts and Coronets." Guinness plays General Lord Reuphes d'Ascoyne, a member
of a titled British family. All eight members of the family are played by
Guinness and systematically killed off in the film. In this scene the general
is dining, and is about to be the next victim. The first voice is that of the
narrator and killer played by Dennis Price.
(Soundbite of "Kind Hearts and Coronets")
Mr. DENNIS PRICE (Narrator): It seemed appropriate that he who had lived
amidst the cannon's roar should die explosively. I therefore concealed in a
pot of caviar a simple, but powerful, homemade bomb. And through the post I
sent the caviar to the general.
Sir GUINNESS (General Lord Reuphes d'Ascoyne): I pretended to be deceived by
the phantom, sent our horse to meet him. At that moment the concealed enemy
emerged from behind the coffin. I held our guns fire until we could see the
whites of their eyes. Used to get a lot of this stuff in the Crimea, one
thing the Ruskies do really well.
(Soundbite of explosion)
Mr. PRICE: Not an atom of him was left.
BOGAEV: A scene from the 1949 film "Kind Hearts and Coronets." We'll hear
more from Alec Guinness in a minute. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Let's get back to our 1986 interview with Alec Guinness.
GROSS: You did the "Bridge on the River Kwai" in 1957. Did you know as soon
as you read the script you wanted to do the role?
Sir GUINNESS: No, not at all. The first script I read I didn't care for it
at all. I thought it was not terribly good and I turned it down. They didn't
want me in the first place. That I found out as I started to film it. They
wanted either Charles Vordin(ph) or Noah Carr(ph) as I believe. However, for
various reasons which I don't know, it came my way and I said I didn't really
quite see it, and the script was re-written, not on my account, let me hasten
to say, but I think David Lean, who directed it, thought there was a lot wrong
with this and it was re-written. And when it was re-written, you know, Sam
Spiegel easily persuaded me to play it, although I'm not sure I ever quite
believed in the part.
GROSS: Why not? What gave you doubts?
Sir GUINNESS: Well, he's such a blinkered man, you know. He has such a
narrow focus on life, I find it hard to be sympathetic with it. There are
people like that, of course, but it didn't make for easy playing.
GROSS: Do you feel you have to be sympathetic with the role in order to do a
good job in it?
Sir GUINNESS: No, not sympathetic, but you have to have some sort of empathy
of, say, `well, I can understand that man,' and `That could be me' or
something. And I didn't quite feel that with Colonel Nicholson.
GROSS: A role that you almost turned down, the way I understand it, was the
role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars." How--what--you saw the script?
Sir GUINNESS: Yes. I don't know. I've heard this before. There was no
question of me turning it down. I was doing a film in Hollywood, "Murder by
Death," and I think it was about the last day of shooting of my work on it,
and suddenly there was this script on my makeup table. And I saw it was
George Lucas, who had made "American Graffiti" by that time, but I had to rush
off and work and I said to those people, `Tell me what you know about George
Lucas.' And they all said, `Well, you know, that's a real filmmaker there,'
although he hadn't done anything tremendous. Got back, saw that the script
was science-fiction. I mean, I went back with enthusiasm, because it was
George Lucas, saw it was science-fiction, thought, `Well, that's not for me.'
I mean, I'm not that sort of--but because it's Lucas, I better read a few
pages and see what it's about. And I found myself turning the pages with
alacrity. I didn't think the dialogue was very good. In fact, I thought it
was rather bad. But the story held me, and so when I finished it, I contacted
Lucas. We had lunch the next day and I was very impressed by him. He was
very quiet and very sensible, and I indicated, `Yes, I'd love to do it.' I
never turned it down at all.
GROSS: You die in the first movie. Did you expect that you would actually
still be returning nevertheless for sequels?
Sir GUINNESS: No. I suggested that I should die when I did, and that I
should be removed from the film, because of the--I mean, I can say it now, I
didn't dare at the time--I thought that the part which went on to the end of
the film deteriorated. I was less interesting. And I thought if I can go out
rather spectacularly, that's all right. I don't want to fizzle out.
GROSS: Do you consider yourself to be one of the actors--I'm thinking here,
one of the Gielgud, Richardson, Olivier actors?
Sir GUINNESS: No, I'm not in the same class. That doesn't worry me. I've
never tried to be. I'm my own man, which may not be very impressive but it's
the best I can do. I'm happier to admire them and, indeed, many others, but
I'm about--as I said, about 10 years younger than that particular brilliant
and strange group of actors. And therefore, they're always--you know, when
you're 20, you see those other people up there 30 and on, in their 30s or
something, you know, that's the sort of--it's possible. And they remain
always above you.
GROSS: You've written about this constant conflict that you've had on the one
hand, well, being equally repelled and attracted by the spotlight, is the way
you said it. So you think you found your balance?
Sir GUINNESS: No, it'll never be a real balance. It'll always be shifting
from one foot to the other, I suspect.
BOGAEV: Sir Alec Guinness. He died Saturday. Sue Spolan(ph) directed
today's show. for Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
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