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The Return of the Sopranos.

TV critic David BIianculli reviews “The Sopranos.” It begins its second season this month.

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Other segments from the episode on January 14, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 14, 2000: Interview with Paul Abbott; Review of the television show "The Sopranos"; Review of the film "Holy Smoke."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 14, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 011401np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Interview With Paul Abbott
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:00

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with FRESH AIR.

The series "Touching Evil" just returned to the PBS program "Mystery." It's set in a British crime unit that investigates serial killers.

On today's archive edition of FRESH AIR, we hear from the creator of "Touching Evil," Paul Abbott. He also wrote for the series "Reckless" and "Cracker." He didn't start writing about crime until he was the victim of a brutal mugging.

Also, film critic John Powers reviews "Holy (ph) Smoke," the new Jane Campion film starring Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslett (ph). And TV critic David Bianculli previews "The Sopranos," which begins its second season Sunday.

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First, the news.

(NEWS BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Detectives Dave Kregan (ph) and Nicola Walker (ph) continue to track down serial killers on the series "Touching Evil." This British cop series returned this week to the PBS anthology "Mystery." Three cases, each two episodes long, will be shown over the next six weeks.

On this archive edition, we have an interview with Paul Abbott, the creator of the series, who also wrote many of the earlier episodes. He previously wrote for the TV dramas "Cracker" and "Reckless."

"Touching Evil" is about the detectives in a new British crime unit, a rapid response team investigating serial murder and organized crime. This unit doesn't actually exist in England; it's something Abbott created for the series.

Robson Green (ph) plays Detective Inspector Dave Kregan, an officer who returned to the force after he was shot in the head in the line of duty. His near-death experience left him obsessive about tracking down killers. His partner, Detective Inspector Susan Taylor, is played by Nicola Walker.

In this scene, Inspector Taylor and another detective are interrogating Emerson, a serial killer who has murdered several young women in London. The murders are especially gruesome because Emerson is obsessed by the hair of his victims, so he scalps them.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "TOUCHING EVIL")

NICOLA WALKER, ACTRESS: Time is 9:10. Present, D.R. Taylor, D.C. Rivers, interviewing Brian Howard Emerson.

Let's not go round the house (ph) with this. Forensics will tie you to the other murders at the warehouse. But we know you killed them.

ACTOR: You know that, do you?

WALKER: What we need from you...

ACTOR: See this? This is how much you know.

WALKER: What we need from you is a signed confession to each of the murders.

ACTOR: Is that your natural hair color?

ACTOR: Enough.

WALKER: That's OK. I don't have enough respect for you to be scared.

ACTOR: Oh, I'd say some cheap nasty own brand dye they make from horse bones and fat. I'd say you avoid the hairdresser's, the company of women, what's not your bag. You do it yourself, and it's all over your bathroom. There's a lot of stains on your walls, Taylor.

WALKER: I'd also like to ask you about some other missing women.

ACTOR: You think it matters how many have died, how many are still to die?

ACTOR: How many women have you killed?

ACTOR: Oh, I don't keep a count.

WALKER: But you keep their hair.

ACTOR: Only when it's natural. You see, it doesn't matter how many have died. All that matters is that I continue with the natural course of things, like the universe expands, so must we all. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the universe there's a balance between us. We depend on one another to continue, the dance of the planets, infinite and immortal. Do you understand?

I didn't think you would.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: I spoke with the series' creator, Paul Abbott, in 1998 when the first episodes of "Touching Evil" were shown in the U.S. He told me about the concept behind the series.

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)

PAUL ABBOTT, "TOUCHING EVIL": "Touching Evil" came about from a need in British television to approach the kind of cop that is a bit more Americanized, that is a bit more -- a sharper cop than we're used to in Britain. I mean, in terms of clean -- a clean-lined (ph) cop in the way that Robson Green portrays this.

We've had "Cracker," we've had "Prime Suspect" in England for quite a long time, and they were deliberately very grainy, very low-contrast visual pieces. And just because I'd worked on "Cracker," I was desperate to find something that was a bit more clipped and a bit newer. And, I mean, visually newer. And something that was going to look fresh to the audience.

That's the visual ambition of it. I think the philosophical ambition of "Touching Evil" was to actually find a cop whose drive comes from his history. I know they all have, but you still have to find one at the top when you sit down to write a guy who's going to carry you through six hours, 12 hours of television.

And I toyed around with the character of Kregan for a few years in different occupations. I wanted to write about the kind of man who faces life having basically faced death at some point, and what that does to you. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

GROSS: What does it do to him? What does it do to the character?

ABBOTT: I don't think he's nihilistic any more, I think he's -- you know, I think cops are -- occupation (UNINTELLIGIBLE) nihilistic. That's just my take on them. But I think Kregan opts to see a hope in life, which is kind of the opposite of what we were doing in "Cracker." In "Cracker," we found the character of Fitz, who was basically so psychologically twisted himself that he understood psychologically twisted people. And that was a great way to go.

I was looking for something new, and Kregan understands the world because he's kind of chosen to be here. He had a near-death experience from a shootout, and he wants to understand the world better. He's genuinely more optimistic than cops generally are.

GROSS: He's also more obsessive, though. And in -- that sometimes makes him reckless.

ABBOTT: Yes, there's a word. (laughs) I think in trying to convince himself that he's -- you know, he's a man who chooses to leave his wife and family, not because he wants to abandon his wife and family, it's because he doesn't think he's the right person for them. He doesn't think, with his state of mind, that he's the right person to take that family through the next 10 years, 20 years.

And the great thing about Kregan is that he forms a strong bond with the guy his wife, Carrie, has grown to know. The guy's moved in, he's a very good stepfather to the kids. And you get the sense in the series that Kregan prays that this is the case. He doesn't want a guy who's going to be worse than he was at being a father. He genuinely wants somebody to father his family better than he could.

And I think that's what I mean in terms of finding hope. Having faced death, I don't think he would have done that before he'd experienced a near-death -- in the shootout.

GROSS: Now, the main character, Detective Inspector Dave Kregan, was shot in the head, that's what he recovered from. And he has a scar over his eye to prove that. Now, I believe you have a very similar scar over your eye. How did you get yours?

ABBOTT: (laughs) I think mine was slightly less dramatic in that I wasn't sure it was coming. I think it's very different from the way Kregan ran his life during the shootout. But I -- very simply, I got mugged, but it was quite a savage mugging. One night I'd been out to see a friend play in a band, and left to get the car. When I went to get the car, there was someone sitting in it.

In fact, I'd only had the car about two days, didn't quite recognize it as being mine, and thought I must be mistaken. And in the time it took me to work all that out, his friend came from behind, and I got kind of whacked with a baseball bat, whacked with a knuckle duster.

And then they kind of needlessly cut me up, because I was already unconscious by the time they'd done all this. And I was kind of left on the floor bleeding. And -- I mean, it's bound to have an influence on the way you kind of face writing, from that point on. It was -- it was quite a terrifying experience that took me about two years to get over.

You know, I couldn't -- I couldn't walk in public places very easily, I couldn't -- I certainly couldn't use multistory car parks, stacker car parks. I just got very afraid to go out, and it took me about two years to actually reduce that victim psychology into something that I could write about.

I wrote an awful lot about it, but nothing exorcised it like time did. And I eventually just kind of took to very much going in public places, very much parking up in multistory car parks, and, like, kind of challenging fate. And it made me artificially stronger. I knew the exercise was, you know -- it wouldn't be recommended by a shrink. But I just felt that I had to do that to put me back in the public arena. And I...

GROSS: Did you start arming yourself too? Did you carry a knife or...

ABBOTT: No. No, no. I contemplated carrying a knife. But, I mean, that -- the penalties are so high, I don't think any mitigation carries in Britain for carrying a knife. So if I were to -- you know, if I were to be found with that, the police wouldn't accept the fact that I'd been mugged as mitigation to carrying a weapon. It would be seen as carrying an illegal weapon and charged accordingly, which would ultimately affect whether I worked or not. So I chose not to.

GROSS: Was there ever a trial? Were the people who did this to you ever found?

ABBOTT: No, they weren't. They were -- curiously, on the night I gave a very good description of the guy who did this, because I happened to have trapped one of their legs in the car door, and heard it crack, so I think I'd broken his leg. And the description I gave of his clothing, of his hair and demeanor, absolutely matched a guy they arrested that night, in a casualty unit, with a broken leg, who was lying about his injuries.

And it just wasn't the same guy. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I felt very sorry for the guy they brought in. They virtually plastered his leg up and dragged him out to the police station where I was being taken care of -- to the hospital where I was being taken care of, and made him do a lineup. And it just wasn't him. He was just a victim of his own stupidity that night.

And -- but about six months later, I was out shopping, kind of buying jeans, and -- only it was a bit like a Hitchcock scene, because in the department store, I actually saw the guy who did it. And -- but I could only see him -- you know those awful -- ground floor of a department store is always kind of makeup and perfume.

GROSS: Right.

ABBOTT: And it's so busy and glazed and reflective, I couldn't see where he was standing. I could see the guy, and he saw me looking, and then he disappeared. And I ran, and what I ran with was what I was looking at at the time. And so I was being chased by two...

GROSS: (laughs)

ABBOTT: ... by two security guards who thought I was on a shoplifting spree, and had to drop the bags at the door to stop them chasing me. And I just lost the guy. I didn't -- it was very haunting, because I -- that -- I think six months in, I felt like I was getting over it, and that event reminded me how much it -- how embedded it was in me, because I couldn't speak for about a day.

And that wasn't fear, it was anger.

GROSS: How did the cops handle it? What was your satisfaction, your feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with them?

ABBOTT: Well, this happened in central Manchester, and I think the police are very busy weekends in Manchester. And you would have expected that I'd get, you know, the most cursory attention from the cops. But they were absolutely fantastic. And there was a very young female cop, inspector, who was dealing with this, who just repeatedly said -- and I couldn't quite understand what anybody was saying at that time -- "You know, it wasn't your fault, just remember, it wasn't your fault. They came for you. It wasn't your fault."

And she kept saying, you know, "You'll think after this, you've got that kind of face that people come after you. But they come after anyone. It wasn't your fault." And she kept saying this.

And of course, you know, for the next two years, that's exactly what I thought. I thought, you know, I've got the kind of face where -- you know, this happens to people like me. And it never happened before and never has since. But it was such an intractable mantra that came to hit me. I was so delighted she'd said that on the night, just to counterbalance the disorientation.

GROSS: How did her interaction with you and the performance of other cops who you came in contact with after you were mugged affect the way you write about cops in your TV shows?

ABBOTT: Well, to be honest, she fuels the way -- she's never known this, I've never had -- I've never been in a position to tell her. But she actually fuels the way I write most women characters. Because, you know, there's such a trend in Britain to soft-soap women characters. There just was, you know, writers would always claim to be very good at writing women, but the evidence was never in their favor.

And she was somebody who -- you know, she was dealing very casually with me, and very tenderly, and at the same time she was dealing with a violent assault perpetrated by a guy on his wife. And, you know, she dealt with him like a cop deals with a guy who's perpetrated assault. She was fantastic with him too. She was very, very strong.

And, you know, I've known strong women, but the fact that it happened that night in my life made me want to, certainly in terms of writing parts, and certainly in terms of writing women, want to make life a bit more real in the work I did.

GROSS: My guest is Paul Abbott, the creator of "Touching Evil," which just returned to the PBS anthology series "Mystery." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(END AUDIO TAPE)

(BREAK)

GROSS: Let's get back to our 1998 interview with Paul Abbott, creator of the British cop series "Touching Evil," which just returned to PBS as part of the anthology series "Mystery."

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)

GROSS: You know, the main character in "Touching Evil," Detective Inspector Kregan, has been -- because he was shot in the head, he was close to another world, he very nearly died. And he kind of comes back from the edge, recovers, and then goes back to work with this renewed determination.

Were you close to another world too after you were mugged? Did you almost go to the other side?

ABBOTT: Not quite. I think it was a bit more sordid than that for me, in that I was left unconscious and bleeding in a car park that serves one of the -- it's a car park near the cathedral in Manchester, but serves the Royal Exchange there, so it's the fur coat and Milniker's (ph) audience level of theater viewing (ph). And so I was surrounded by BMWs and Mercedes and, you know, five-star cars.

And when I woke up, when I came round, I was still on the floor, but most of these cars had gone. So I'd been walked round by people who really should have done something about it. And I think that fueled -- I wanted to stop believing in humanity. That sounds very dramatic, melodramatic. But that's the way it made me for two years. I wanted to stop believing in humanity, people doing things for other people.

And I -- you know, to this day I can't -- I can't imagine why they did that. But they're the kind of people who'd walk round anybody in the street, assuming they're a tramp, and assuming that they ought to walk round tramps.

I don't know, it's -- it felt like another world, yet it was otherworldly, in that I just -- my God, this is -- I can't believe anybody would do that. I can't believe anybody could be so coldly selfish as to just take care of themselves that night, when a -- you know, it was clear, I was covered in blood. And wherever I came from, I was in trouble.

GROSS: How did you regain consciousness? Did you come to on your own, or did you wake up in the hospital? Who saved you?

ABBOTT: No -- in fact, I regained consciousness and realized what had happened. I realized how many people weren't there who should have been there, really, to help me. And just below the car park was a well-known cab rank, you know, a taxi rank. And I went down there to get one of the taxi drivers to get some help. And he actually zoomed up the electric window and took off, didn't get any help. And in fact it was two drunks coming out of a pub who called an ambulance.

Yes, there are paradoxes I probably can't define in there, but that's how I came out of there again.

GROSS: You know, when I was growing up, most of the kind of crime and adventure shows and movies that I watched, when there was someone in jeopardy, it was usually a beautiful young woman, and there was always this kind of sexual edge to the kidnapping and a sexual edge to her being tied up and held hostage or whatever.

I notice now that so many of the hostages and victims in a lot of programs and movies are children. And I'm wondering if -- what you think has shifted. (laughs)

ABBOTT: For me, for me, creating a story was very, very simply from having two children of my own. And suddenly being completely obsessed about the fact that they were -- you know, recently -- well, recently to me, thinking about that story, we'd had the Bolger (ph) kidnapping and murder, which affected the way everybody perceived their children, you know, a 2-year-old child was abducted by 10-year-old boys. You know, oh, my God, it wasn't even an adult, two 10-year-old boys. And he was murdered on a railway track.

And that changed the way people look after their kids in Britain, that changed the way people monitor their kids in Britain, and it changed the way I wanted to write stories. It was -- you know, it -- crudely, it's -- I knew that, you know, people feared this more than anything. And I wanted to explore that.

GROSS: I get the impression from reading about you, too, that you also know something about what it's like to be a child in the hands of someone who isn't necessarily taking very good care of you.

ABBOTT: Mm. Yes.

GROSS: Yes, just to fill in the blanks here a little bit, I think you were -- grew up in a family of about 10 kids, and your mother left home when you were really young, and your father wasn't working and also wasn't collecting any sort of unemployment insurance, which meant that there wasn't a lot of money in the house.

ABBOTT: No, there wasn't. It was -- you know, I look back on those times, and, you know, you talk about these things to journalists, and you wonder why you ever did. But the truth of it is that all my writing life has been influenced by all of that stuff. You know, I think I'm completely -- I think everything I write about has a piece of that, a piece of me in there that's formed by those events in childhood.

Like anyone else, but mine -- it was such a protracted period of -- not from the outside now, and as an adult you're looking back, you think it was abject poverty. Of course, inside all that, you don't realize that until you get to 21 and think, Oh, my God, what was that? you know. I can't imagine we were actually brought up that way. But we were. And we all seem to have come through it.

(END AUDIO TAPE)

GROSS: Paul Abbott created the British cop series "Touching Evil," which just returned to PBS as part of the anthology series "Mystery." We'll hear more of the interview in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Paul Abbott, creator of "Touching Evil," the British cop series that just returned to the PBS series "Mystery."

"Touching Evil" is about the detectives in a British crime unit investigating serial murders and organized crime. In the first episode of the first season, the detectives investigated a series of kidnappings of children.

When we left off, Abbott was telling us about his own childhood, growing up in a large and very poor family. His mother walked out when he was a boy.

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)

GROSS: Now, I read that you had a breakdown when you were about 15, ended up in the psychiatric unit at a hospital, and that that actually ended up really helping you change your life around.

ABBOTT: Oh, God, yes. It was -- I think I went through such a black time, just through being -- you know, transitional pubescent teenager, and then having all this stuff -- all this family stuff to contend with. You know, I felt like it was -- as I'm sure all the kids in the family did, that you feel like it's your responsibility to keep things on the ball, make sure everybody's all right.

And, you know, my father had left by this point, and we were being brought up by my 17-year-old sister. And it just didn't hang together, the sums didn't add up, you know. It was a desperately black time. And I think I -- at the same time as that, I was starting to -- I was the most academic in the family. I was the only one who kind of wanted to be a writer at that point. I wanted to be a doctor or a writer, and at that point in my life, I was doing an awful lot of writing, which was completely alien to that family. You know, we didn't read, we didn't have books.

And it sounds like a Monty Python sketch, you know, just how poor can you be? But that -- it really is the way it was, that we -- there was no expectation to do anything but leave school at 15 or 16 and go out to work.

And I kind of enjoyed -- I enjoyed the difference for a while. I enjoyed, you know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) read a lot of books, I could read a book in a day, and I wrote short stories and kind of went to writing seminars by people like P.D. James. And it was a very odd thing for me to be doing, you know, it's -- it was a very wussy thing to want to do. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my entire family were obsessed with cars.

GROSS: (laughs) Right.

ABBOTT: They're all car mechanics or builders now. And they just didn't understand all this. It seemed like I was deliberately opting out to be better, I chose to be better, is, I think, was their perception at that time.

So it was -- I didn't feel like I'd got anywhere where I belonged, you know, I was very good at school, but I chose not to be there, because it was just -- there were too many people to have to explain yourself to. So I spent huge amounts of my last year at school just going off and walking, which was -- you know, it wasn't a bad thing, it wasn't -- you know, the solitude wasn't the bad thing, it was -- Because the house was packed, the school was packed. You just wanted peace and quiet.

And I think, you know, considering all the blackness you have in your head when you're -- when you're a kind of average 13-, 14-, 15-year-old, mine seemed to be complicated by, you know, the kind of architecture of the family. And I think the solitude was really good for me. But, you know, if I was a shrink looking back at that, as they did, they thought that was a very desperate thing to want to do. And I do remember days I spent on my own not doing anything. But I'd read a book, and I'd swim. It was like Tom Sawyer.

But that was always perceived of as a bad thing by the psychiatric assessors.

GROSS: How did having a nervous breakdown end up helping you?

ABBOTT: Well, because I lived in a place called Bernleigh (ph), and, you know, it's classically health underfunded and all that, so you don't get top-notch shrinks there. But there was a very -- and it's very fast-track service, you know, they get you in and out in 15 minutes for these counseling sessions.

And there was just the shrink there saying -- you know, he was looking at the family history and saying, Well, you know, it'd take you 50 years to get through all this stuff. I don't know why you don't just, you know, kind of switch off and move forward. And, you know, switch that off for a while until you're kind of ready to confront it, and just keep moving forward.

Which is what I did, and I was separated from the family and put into foster care for the next three years, till I was 18. And I had the time of my life, I have to say. I was quite close, you know, I was -- geographically close to my family. It was only about a mile away. But, you know, this was a family with wealth. They'd only got two small kids who were a dottle (ph) to look after.

And, you know, kind of space, a garden, and it just -- I was very, very, very happy there. And I was allowed to move on, because these people had, you know, slightly -- if not were -- if not middle class, upper working class ambitions for academics and that. You know, I was allowed to pursue writing or reading or whatever I wanted to do. In fact, I think (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I wanted to become a doctor again.

And they were very happy to encourage that. It didn't seem alien somehow to want to aspire academically. Which I never did, but, you know, I'm saying the ambition was there from them, and it was the ambition was there for me.

GROSS: So who encouraged you to write, since you were from a family in which writing was pretty foreign?

ABBOTT: I think, you know, you -- at school they kind of leap on anything you want to do, just to keep you there. Well, they did at the kind of school I went to. And I had a brilliant Canadian English teacher who just loved the stuff that I wrote, and put in one of the stories for a national short story competition, and I won 10 pounds. And that was, you know -- 10 pounds was a lot of money, felt like a lot of money.

But crucially, it taught me that you could have money from writing, and that kind of clicked in when I was about 19. And I started to pursue that, and I haven't stopped since.

GROSS: Did you watch a lot of TV when you were young? Did you have a TV in your house? I ask this because you're writing for TV now.

ABBOTT: Yes, yes. No, we didn't, we didn't actually own one till I was about 15. We just didn't watch it in the house. You couldn't sit in the house. It was just too packed. It was a very, very small house with, you know, usually 10 or 12 people there. And you just more often than not wanted to get out, you wanted to be out in space.

So I hadn't seen that much television. I think -- that's not a bad thing. I think when I got into kind of owning an apartment and buying my own television, I started to watch television with an adult eye, so I don't feel I've been ingrained by that much stuff that steer me as a writer.

I was writing short stories at that point, but I -- and I'd no wish to write television. I was writing short stories and theater. And that seemed to suit me fine. I'd gotten into television by accident, by working for BBC Radio Four, doing radio drama, and quite a few of those plays were recorded in Manchester, and it just so happens that the country's biggest soap was made in Manchester.

And they called me down the road and asked if I'd like a story editor's job from the three plays they'd heard. They were quite keen. So I took that and started -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I think that was officially the time when I felt like I'd become a writer, because I was being paid a salary. Ironically, I think most writers would die to be paid a salary, they just want, you know, their own prices for their own voices. But that was a very mechanical job, but it was a great start.

(END AUDIO TAPE)

GROSS: My guest is Paul Abbott, the creator of "Touching Evil," which just returned to the PBS anthology series "Mystery." We'll hear more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: Let's get back to our 1998 interview with Paul Abbott, creator of the British cop series "Touching Evil," which just returned to PBS as part of the anthology series "Mystery."

When we spoke, he was considering working on an American TV series. I asked him about the differences between American and British cop shows.

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)

ABBOTT: There's definitely a difference in the way they're put together, but, you know, we sit here and watch "NYPD," we watch "Homicide." And, yes, you know, the kind of best of the exports. But those shows were usually created by people who had a very good television experience, you know, like Bochco and Tom -- I've forgotten his name, the guy who created "Homicide" -- who were renegades and well-known renegades. But they were given a break (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

GROSS: Tom Fontana?

ABBOTT: Tom Fontana, yes, yes, I mean, it was a fantastic show, "Homicide." But I don't believe they'd ever have commissioned it knowing what they were going to get. I think they, you know -- it's a bit like "Cracker," it ended up on air by accident. Nobody, nobody in the commissioning territory knew quite what they were going to get, just that it would be written by Jimmy McGovern (ph) and have Robby Coltrane (ph) in it. I think that was the prime selling point.

And they were slightly mortified when they saw what was coming out, you know, how dark it was, how strong it was. But -- and the only thing that would shut them up was an audience of -- I forgot (ph) -- 60 percent. And I feel that's what happened with "NYPD," I feel that's what happened with "Homicide." And you imagine when you're commissioned that they're going to want this kind of stuff from you because this is what you're writing, you know, you write "Touching Evil" or you write "Cracker." And they got to be looking for that kind of stuff.

But I think they're slightly more scared of letting an incomer (ph) try that kind of stuff, so they usually want more straightforward format material, stronger stuff that is bound to work. And if it's bound to work, it doesn't actually have much of you in it.

GROSS: You've said that in "Touching Evil," you wanted to write a more Americanized kind of series, or at least a more Americanized kind of detective. What did you mean by more Americanized?

ABBOTT: Well, it's very childish of me, but of course in Britain, the cops don't have guns, and there are only certain branches of the police force who would have guns. And, you know, slightly elite forces. So I went for the crisper FBI style, which isn't very common in Britain. There are only, you know, four or five units permanently supplied with arms. And I just think that you can raise the stakes on the drama when there are weapons.

And I'd hate for the police to be armed in Britain in reality. But I think it actually allows you to take certain story lines further down the road if there's a confrontation with weapons involved. The truth of it is, in Britain, if a cop confronts a guy with a weapon, he has to summon people with weapons. He can't actually pull one of out of his belt and start firing back.

It -- that actually takes time in drama, so I wanted to sharpen them up and make them slightly more -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- the reason I said American is that they -- you know, that's the true distinction, you know, the kind of -- the "NYPD" and the "Homicide," you know, the height of the drama is just boosted by the fact that weapons are present to raise the stakes.

GROSS: Now, as we talked about, you were victimized a few years ago, and that has really figured into your interest in writing about crime. But I wonder, when you're watching a TV show that you didn't have anything to do with that's about crime, like "Homicide" or "NYPD Blue," does it make you feel uncomfortable and more vulnerable because you have been a victim, or is it, you know, is it easier to watch? Maybe you could just watch it as a professional writer too.

ABBOTT: I think "Homicide" and "NYPD," I'm a fan, not a writer. If I wanted to know what the episodes were about professionally, I'd get the scripts. And -- but I sit down and watch those shows, and in fact, they're designed to make you feel better whatever you are. I think if you -- you know, if you've been a victim, they're designed to make you feel better, because you've got Sipowitz...

GROSS: Right.

ABBOTT: ... running the world for you. And it's -- you know, it's -- they're just there to be gladiators on your behalf. So you feel more protected, that -- you know, people with that kind of morality, with that kind of integrity and that kind of strength are in charge.

GROSS: Some people worry that crime movies and crime TV shows are in a way educational aids for potential criminals, because it teaches them all kinds of cool ways of breaking in, and new sadistic crimes they might not have thought of on their own. Do you have any concerns about that? Do you think that's a legit fear?

ABBOTT: I don't think writers are as inventive as criminals at dealing with crime. I think they find their own way through, they don't need any help. But I think generally, it's -- looking at the structure of preparing a crime show, basically, it's nine-tenths in favor of an optimistic morality. So if they're learning -- you know, it's like the argument about, you know, what do people learn from, you know -- do they learn -- you know, are kids influenced negatively by these kind of shows?

And I'd say, well, if they're into view -- if they're influenced negatively, they have to be into -- influenced positively by all the good things that you've had, from Fitz, from Kregan, you know, they are people who want to do the right thing, and that's the overriding sentiment of all cop shows, that the right thing has to be done. Even corrupt cop shows, you know, they are designed in a way -- you can't get away from -- clean morality has to be spelled out before you can show any negative effect.

I think it's a very powerful overriding signal on any cop show.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

ABBOTT: Well, thank you, Terry.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Paul Abbott
High: Writer Paul Abbott created the mini-series "Touching Evil," which begins a new series on "PBS Mystery." "Touching Evil" takes place at a fictional London-based crime unit that specializes in serial killers and organized crime. Abbott also wrote the dramas "Crackers" and "Reckless." He lives in Manchester, England.
Spec: Paul Abbott; Entertainment; Television and Radio

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Interview With Paul Abbott

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 14, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 011402np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: David Bianculli Reviews 'The Sopranos'
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:35

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Paul Abbott created the British cop series "Touching Evil," which just returned to PBS as part of the anthology series "Mystery." Our interview was recorded in 1998 when the first episodes of "Touching Evil" were broadcast on PBS.

Abbott developed a new six-part BBC series called "Clocking Off," which premieres later this month in England.

The big event in American TV is the return of "The Sopranos." After an eight-month hiatus, "The Sopranos" begins its new season Sunday on HBO. Our TV critic, David Bianculli, has a review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: Ten years ago, another memorably original, exciting, and outrageous TV series burst out of nowhere and took America by storm. That series was "Twin Peaks" by David Lynch and Mark Frost. It had a terrific first season, then took off for the summer as the whole country buzzed about who killed Laura Palmer.

When it returned in the fall, cranking out weekly episodes to meet the needs of ABC and the audience, the speed of production took its toll. "Twin Peaks," while still fun to watch, lost its intensity and finally its direction.

Writer-producer David Chase, who worked on such ambitious TV series as "Northern Exposure" and "I'll Fly Away," hasn't let that happen with "The Sopranos," his first series for cable TV. HBO has a more flexible schedule anyway. Chris Rock goes off, Dennis Miller comes on, and "The Larry Sanders Show" used to vanish and reappear almost at will.

So when Chase finished filming the first 13 episodes of "The Sopranos," that was it for a long, long time. Next week, principal photography wraps on the second season of "The Sopranos," even though viewers haven't seen any of the new installments yet. That's one of the beauties of this show, Chase and company are writing it more like a miniseries than a weekly drama, and pacing themselves more like they do in England. Over there, they write a series until it's ready to go, then film it, then, when they're good and ready, they write and film more.

In the right hands, this allows for a much more polished final product, and it's obvious, based on last year's shows and the first three episodes from this new season, that "The Sopranos" is in the right hands.

Before long, you're hanging on every word, laughing at some, gasping at others, but always paying very close attention and being rewarded for your effort. Sunday at 9, the second season finally begins with a montage set to Frank Sinatra singing, "It Was a Very Good Year." It's a brilliant way to remind us not only who the characters are, but where they are in their lives, all without uttering a word.

And then, before you know it, we're back in the thick of things, watching James Gandolfini portray New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano.

In the first episode, Tony has to confront unexpected visitors from both his professional and real families. On the mob front, he has to deal with his Uncle Junior, who's in prison, a former colleague who's returned from nowhere, and his own mother, whom Tony suspects of putting out a contract on him.

And at home he's hit with the sudden return of Janice, his scheming sister, played by Ada Turturro (ph). Their scenes together crackle with energy because Tony's sister, like his mother, his wife, his daughter, and his female psychiatrist, knows just how to push his buttons.

Tony, it's kind of obvious by now, has some serious issues dealing with women. Case in point, this early scene between Tony and his newly arrived sister.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE SOPRANOS")

ADA TURTURRO, ACTRESS: So how are things really with Mom?

JAMES GANDOLFINI, ACTOR: She's dead to me.

TURTURRO: See, I don't want to get in your way here, Tony. I mean, you're the one who stayed. You took the Bronx. Barbara and I, we're never going to forget that.

GANDOLFINI: What? You forgot it OK for about 20 years. At least Bob pitched in.

TURTURRO: I know, I made my share of mistakes. But Ma can't stay in the hospital forever.

GANDOLFINI: Let me tell you something about that stroke of hers, and I got this from a doctor. It's called a conversion reaction. It's a big (inaudible) brought on by repressed rage, it's bull... .

TURTURRO: Yes, but they also said that the symptoms are the same as the stroke, so the result is the same. She cannot take care of herself.

GANDOLFINI: She's on the lam in that hospital, from me.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BIANCULLI: The power struggles at home, like the power struggles at work, never seem to end. Before long, Tony is back where he started, having anxiety attacks and not knowing where to turn. His psychiatrist, played by Lorraine Bracco, is in hiding and seeking therapy of her own for the way she's treating and not treating Tony.

Like Tony's mom, played with devilish wit by Nancy Marchand, these early episodes have Tony's psychiatrist excluded from the central action, but you know that's only temporary. Just when you think they're out, you know they're going to pull them back in.

The great news about "The Sopranos" is that there's no letdown as it begins this second season. The acting, writing, direction, music, all of it simmers with intelligence and energy and occasionally boils over with an unexpected punch line, romantic clinch, or mob hit.

For the next four months, "The Sopranos" is back, and it's a TV offer you really shouldn't refuse.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for "The New York Daily News."

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, ROCK SONG)

GROSS: Coming up, John Powers reviews the new movie "Holy Smoke," starring Kate Winslett and Harvey Keitel.

This is FRESH AIR.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: David Bianculli
High: TV critic David Bianculli reviews "The Sopranos." It begins its second season this month.
Spec: Television and Radio; Entertainment; "The Sopranos"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: David Bianculli Reviews 'The Sopranos'

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 14, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 011403np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: John Powers Reviews 'Holy Smoke'
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:45

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: "Holy Smoke" is a new movie starring Kate Winslett and Harvey Keitel, directed by Jane Campion. Campion, best known for her film "The Piano," wrote "Holy Smoke" with her sister, Anna. John Powers says it's one of the best movies he's seen recently.

JOHN POWERS, FILM CRITIC: There are many good filmmakers, some great ones, and a handful who change how we see the movies and life.

Jane Campion is one of that handful. She hits us with images, ideas, and emotions that we've never before seen on screen. Her work is challenging, so challenging that it often produces that quintessential American criticism, I didn't like it.

Well, if likability is what you want most at the cinema, you should probably avoid Campion's new movie, "Holy Smoke." It's not likable, it's merely brilliant and uncompromising.

The opening hour catches you up like a whirlwind. Kate Winslett plays Ruth, an innocent Australian vacationer in India who falls into the sway of a guru named Baba. She takes on the name Nasni (ph) and begins preaching a gospel of universal love. But she quickly finds herself in a trademark Campion situation. She's a woman seeking transcendence in a world that brands her aberrant for rejecting a, quote, "normal life."

Her appalled family tricks her back home to the tacky Sydney suburb of Sans Souci. There, she's delivered into the hands of P.J. Waters -- that's Harvey Keitel -- an American cult exit specialist who's all-dark outfit is pure Neil Diamond. He takes her to a shack in the Outback and sets about turning Nasni back into Ruth. He'll use whatever it takes, reason, wheedling, sexual intimacy.

But Ruth's not afraid to fight back.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "HOLY SMOKE")

HARVEY KEITEL, ACTOR: I don't want to disempower you.

KATE WINSLETT, ACTRESS: Oh, yeah?

KEITEL: If you want disempowerment, you go right back to Mother India, see how they treat women there.

WINSLETT: They're more honest.

KEITEL: Excuse me?

WINSLETT: They're more honest in their hatred of women.

KEITEL: I don't hate women. I love ladies.

WINSLETT: Ladies? You don't know any. I bet you date little Barbie dolls, don't you? Oh, you're so brainy. You're so big!

(END AUDIO CLIP)

POWERS: Campion's heroines are never simple, and Ruth has the unsettling mutability of a Hindu goddess. Over the course of the movie, she seemingly embodies every emotion, naivete, desperation, abrasiveness, taunting sexuality, and a shattering anger worthy of Kali the Destroyer.

To pull off such a role requires kamikaze commitment, and Winslett pushing her acting to an exalted new level. Whether Ruth's wandering naked through the barren countryside or tremulously admitting her fear of being heartless, Winslett never once does anything to curry our favor. She makes us accept Ruth for what she is, a brave, furious, often aggravating young woman who wants something more. She just doesn't know what it is.

That's not true of Campion, who works with a great artist's absolutism. In "Holy Smoke," she imprints her visionary style on every frame, from the exquisite palette and gorgeous camera moves of the India sequences to the primal force of the Outback's blue sky and daunting barrens.

Loose and free-wheeling, she keeps the movie leaping between extreme moods, stirring up Bali-wood-(ph)style fantasies, mirthlessly (ph) broad spoofs of suburban Australia, and unexpected moments of naked emotion, as when Ruth's freaked-out mother tears through the Delhi streets fleeing beggars.

In a sense, "Holy Smoke" is a feminist riff on "Last Tango in Paris," and from the moment Ruth and P.J. start going mano a mano, we know that she's bound to turn the tables. After all, P.J. is the emissary of patriarchal values, and Campion isn't about to let an absurdly macho figure like that get away unscathed. And he doesn't. Ruth actually starts deprogramming him.

But once their struggle winds up in the bedroom, the movie starts to falter. Its philosophical argument about freedom and transcendence gets lost in sex. Their roles change too schematically, and by the time P.J. has literally donned a red dress and put on lipstick, we can feel the Campion sisters willing the characters to do things that their psychology doesn't really justify.

Which is to say that Campion hasn't yet figured out the answer to the question of how men and women ought to live together. Then again, who has?

Campion matters because, like D.H. Lawrence or Doris Lessing, she's obsessed with questioning the very basis of our lives. She's exploring the radical truths of sex and power, identifying the pathologies that disfigure our psyches, and searching out values that might heal us.

Such an exploration is bound to be messy and sometimes exasperating, which is why "Holy Smoke" is a movie of jagged edges, uneasy laughter, and risky metaphorical leaps. But it's precisely this combative audacity that marks Campion as one of the few essential artists of our time. She would rather make us think about our lives than make us like her.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for "Vogue."

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our theme music was composed by Joel Forrester (ph) and performed by the Microscopic Septet. Our engineer is Chris Fraley (ph). Dorothy Ferebee is our administrative assistant. Roberta Shorrock directs the show.

I'm Terry Gross.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest:
High: Film critic John Powers reviews "Holy Smoke," the new Jane Campion film starring Harvey Kietel and Kate Winslet.
Spec: Movie Industry; Entertainment; "Holy Smoke"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: John Powers Reviews 'Holy Smoke'
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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