DATE July 10, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Writer/director Richard Linklater discusses new
movie "A Scanner Darkly" and his career
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The new movie "A Scanner Darkly" is a story about addiction, paranoia,
betrayal, government surveillance and corporate greed. Reviewing it in the
New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, "It's a look at a future that looks an
awful like today." The movie is based on the 1977 novel of the same name by
the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. My guest, Richard Linklater,
wrote and directed the film adaptation. He also made the movies "Slacker,"
"Dazed & Confused," "School of Rock" and "Before Sunrise."
"A Scanner Darkly" is set 17 years into the future in Southern California.
Most of the characters in the film are addicted to pills called Substance D.
The government is cracking down on the problem by going after users and
encouraging citizens to report friends and neighbors who they suspect of
using. Keanu Reeves plays an undercover narcotics agent who's addicted to
Substance D. His friends are played by Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson,
Winona Ryder and Rory Cochrane. But the film is animated with a computer
process that kind of paints over the images of the real actors.
Here's a scene from the film. The friends, played by Rory Cochrane and Robert
Downey Jr., are sitting in a diner. Cochrane is a paranoid mess from
Substance D and has had hallucinations that his hair and body are infested
with bugs. He's asked Downey to help him out. Cochrane speaks first.
(Soundbite from "A Scanner Darkly")
Mr. RORY COCHRANE: I heard you have to go cold turkey.
Mr. ROBERT DOWNY Jr. Cold turkey doesn't even apply to Substance D. Unlike
the legacy of inherited predisposition to addictive behavior substances, this
needs no genetic assistance. There's no weekend warriors on it. You're
either on it or you haven't tried it.
Mr. COCHRANE: Well, I like it.
Mr. DOWNEY: Yeah. How many caps do you take per day?
Mr. COCHRANE: Mm. It's very difficult to determine, but not that many.
Mr. DOWNEY: Well, like the old school pharmacopoeia, a tolerance develops.
You know, these visions of bugs, they're just garden-variety psychosis but a
clear indication that you've hurdled over the initial fun and euphoric phase
and passed on to the next phase. News from the guinea pig grapevine suggests
that whatever it is, we won't know until it's way too late, see. You see,
we're all canaries in the coal mine on this one.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Richard Linklater, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Would you describe the drug of the movie which is called Substance D?
Mr. RICHARD LINKLATER: You know, it's pretty vague in the book what
Substance D is. And it was something that, with the cast, we talked about it,
`Well, what would the properties of it be? What is it? Is it an opiate? Is
it a, you know, a stimulant? Is it'--we never really defined it, and I think
it's purposefully vague. But if you think about it, it's a designer drug, but
it's really for--kind of designed as a consumer product that's kind of the
worst of all worlds. It's a consumer product and it's really bad for you.
It's highly addictive and it ultimately--this is where the paranoia comes in,
it's used for control. It's kind of--you lose yourself and then ultimately
you're kind of available as slave labor. It takes away the individual
and--but leaves the laborer. So it's your absolute, most paranoid nightmare
of your situation and how you're being used in a way beyond your darkest
imagination, but that's--I think that's valid thinking when you think of drugs
One of my heros of all time was Frank Zappa, who's a big anti-drug guy. That
resonated with me as a teenager. That's why I've never been a drug guy
because I took that to heart, you know. He's like, `Well, when you do drugs,
there's a guy in an office wringing his hands saying, you know, profiteering
off you and you've removed yourself as a threat from the political spectrum if
you're just off using alone in your own world. You're not really challenging
the status quo or the powers that be in any way.' You know, it's a statement
perhaps but from a dropout perspective.
GROSS: You're using the same animation system in "A Scanner Darkly" that you
used in "Waking Life," and it's an animation that's built on real live actors.
I'm going to ask you to describe what this type of animation is.
Mr. LINKLATER: Yeah. There's not really a succinct name for it. It's a
computer variation of rotoscoping, kind of an old technique where the
animators draw over existing imagery. In our case we make the movie like any
movie you, you know, you cast, rehearse, shoot, edit, all that live action
like a regular movie lot picture. And then you start the lengthy animation
process which is, in my case here, about 50-plus animators sitting down on
home computers and spending over about 500 hours to produce one minute of the
animation. Very painstaking, but a very artistic process. I mean,
people--these are really talented drawers and painters and artists, so it's
like doing the movie twice really.
GROSS: Is there anything you did different, directing the actors, for "A
Scanner Darkly" knowing that it was ultimately going to be in animation.
Mr. LINKLATER: You know, I think every actor on the movie would probably
have a different response to that. I mean, Keanu and Winona would say no, you
know, they're very realistic, if anything even more realistic, but that's
their characters. I think Rory Cochrane, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr.
might say it freed them up or I pushed them a little more; their performances
are a little bigger. I think that's their characters and that's the story. I
think live action, it might have seemed a little too big, maybe, but the
animation I think kind of forgives it in a way and you just accept them as a
character. You know, they're having these, you know, thought bubbles, and
seeing things and hallucinations, and I think they felt free to kind of push
it a little bit.
GROSS: Your movie adaptation of "A Scanner Darkly" ends with a quote from the
Philip K. Dick book, and I want to read that quote. It says, "This has been
a story about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they
did. I loved them all. Here is a list to whom I dedicate my love." And after
each name on the list is an explanation of what happened to the person.
"Deceased. Permanent psychosis. Permanent brain damage. Permanent vascular
damage. Permanent pancreatic damage." He writes, "In memoriam: These were
comrades who I had. There are no better. They remain in my mind. The enemy
will never be forgiven. The enemy was their mistake in playing. Let them
play again in some other way and let them be happy."
Do you feel like you have a similar list of friends who you lost to drugs?
Mr. LINKLATER: I think everyone working on the movie and I think every one
in life past a certain age, you do have a list of friends, who if not drugs,
it's alcohol, it's other self-destructive maybe elements they brought into
their life. And, yeah, you lose people along the way. So I think everyone
working on the film--we were all working off our own lists. And we didn't
even talk about it that much. It was just sort of there but, you know, we're
paying, you know, respects to Philip K. Dick's list because that's, you know,
it's his story. But I think in a personal way, the way we're all aboard this
project, we all felt, you know, we had those people and it's a sad fact that
some of the brightest, most intelligent, gifted people do kind of burn out and
self-destruct young, you know, much earlier than their time.
You know, it's, you know, one of the tragedies of life. And Philip K. Dick
himself died much too young. He was only 53, which when I was 22, you know,
when I heard he died, I was like, `Well, that's--yeah, he lived. That's a
long time.' You know, as you get closer to that, you start thinking, `Wow,
that was really young.'
Mr. LINKLATER: There's 20, 30 more years of books he could have written.
The tragedy, and then you meet his daughters and you realize, oh, they have
kids now that never got to meet their grandfather. The human toll there is
enormous, and I think...
GROSS: Was his death related to drugs?
Mr. LINKLATER: Well, brought on. He died of a, you know, stroke, heart
attack, you know, these kind of things brought on by, you know, a long period
of amphetamine use. So, yes.
I mean, when I first met his daughters to get the rights to do this novel,
they were very protective of it because it was so personal to their dad and
they were very concerned about the tone I was going to take, in particular, in
relation to the drug use. I mean, Isa, his youngest, daughter told me, you
know, `I, you know, just so you know'--she pointed to the list, you know.
`That's my dad.' Because Philip K. Dick put himself on the list. And she
pointed down the list a little more and she said, `That's my mom. You know, I
lived in that house. We moved out and those guys moved in. So and if it
wasn't for drugs, you know, our father would still be writing.' So, they just
wanted to know what my take was on the drug element.
GROSS: While you were making "A Scanner Darkly," or more specifically, while
the animators were finishing up the animation part of "A Scanner Darkly," you
were also making a movie "Fast Food Nation," which is opening in the early
fall, I think.
Mr. LINKLATER: October, yeah.
GROSS: Yeah. And so that's an adaptation of the Eric Schlosser bestseller
about the fast food industry's impact on human and animal health. You're
making a fictionalized version of that book. What gave you the idea of
taking, you know, a nonfiction investigative reportorial book and
fictionalizing it with a story?
Mr. LINKLATER: Well, I mean, I was a big fan of the book. That's an
industry and that's an area I'm really interested in, both the labor part and
animal rights element, the health aspect. It's kind of a fascinating area.
But I met with Eric and we started talking about it as a movie, and it was
really his idea actually to kind of throw out the book and make a character
piece about the workers behind the fast food meal, from various angles. The
undocumented workers coming in from Mexico, an executive at the fast food
chain, a teenage girl who works at the counter at the fast food place, and
just kind of get into their lives and see the story from multi-viewpoints.
GROSS: My guest is Richard Linklater. He directed the new film "A Scanner
Darkly." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Richard Linklater. He wrote and directed the new film
adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel "A Scanner Darkly."
Some of your movies have a way of connecting to the Zeitgeist. I'm thinking
of "Slacker," and, you know, "Dazed & Confused," which I think really touched
on a lot of people, shared high school memories. "School of Rock," it just
captured a whole kind of spirit and type of person. Is this something you try
for? Do you consciously think of yourself of trying to connect to the
Mr. LINKLATER: No, I swear. I mean, quite the opposite. I mean, I never
when I approach a film. Film isn't a good medium to actually do that. I
think music is probably much--it's a much more spontaneous, quicker, response
time. Movies take years and I think you would probably risk not quite
catching it, or you can't really predict. You know, I've always had my eye on
a much longer term kind of story telling prize of just trying to tell stories
and characters that are very personal to me, that just resonate with me. And
sometimes, you know, it comes out at a time when people will find it seems
meaningful for the moment. And then a lot of movies, you know, something you
feel equally close to. And then it will come out and people will just kind of
shrug their shoulders. So you can't really think about that.
GROSS: What was your personal connection to the character in "School of Rock"
who was played by Jack Black, and he's somebody who appears to be a real
loser. He's not a very good performer. The rock band he's in throws him out,
and then he becomes a substitute teacher and ends up becoming this fantastic
teacher of music, rock music to these kids in the class. He forms this
incredible band. What did you relate to about that?
Mr. LINKLATER: Well, I think I spent my 20s as a person who was very
passionate about something but I had nothing to show for it. And I know what
it's like to be kind of considered a loser or considered a non-productive
member of our society because you're not making much money yourself, if any,
and you're certainly not making anyone else any money, so you're sort of
scorned, looked down upon. But I feel like there's so many people out there
who when they do find their niche and can bring their passion to something,
they can actually be very helpful to people around them and themselves
ultimately. It's just kind of putting yourself out there and finding your
niche in this world.
And in a humorous way, Jack Black in that movie, his character Dewey Finn just
sort of finds--he falls into it. And I thought that was a fun little message
to kind of work with within that story. But my passion was really just for
the music. And Jack's character, for me, that was, like, that was me for a
large part of my 20s. And while I wasn't a striving musician, I was like a
film guy. You know, I had a film society, I watched movies, I cared about
movies, and that was my whole life.
GROSS: How did you first get to watch movies that weren't the movies playing
in the multiplexes?
Mr. LINKLATER: Well, for me, it was curiosity. I'd been to a couple of
years of college. And, you know, every college professor is kind of a--every
English professor is a, you know, film critic. So we started--this is in the
early days of, you know, VCRs. We'd watch a film at night, you know, once a
week, in the English department. I was studying, you know, it would be
"Clockwork Orange" or "2001" you know, something, and we'd talk about it, and
it got me thinking about films in that way.
At that point I think I was an aspiring writer, or maybe playwright. I was
writing some plays, but I hadn't really thought seriously about cinema. You
know, I grew up in East Texas and it wasn't a career option. Especially back
then, I don't think people even knew what a director did. You know, for me,
films are just something that came to our town, we watched them and they went
away, you know. But once I started thinking about it seriously, I just
started seeking out alternatives and the history of cinema. And I found
myself--I was an offshore oil worker for a few years. I was living in Houston
but they still had repertory theaters. And when I wasn't on the rigs, I was
in a movie. I just found myself in a movie theater watching three, sometimes
four movies a day. I'd go home and read about the talent involved in the
movie, you know, the writers, the director, the producer, whoever, you know,
actors. I was just educating myself. I bought some books on like the
technical aspects of filmmaking, and I just found myself being totally taken
over by cinema. I realized I had films in my head. So I was just doing a
segue from my earlier ambitions into realizing cinema was probably the medium.
It was kind of discovering. I was discovering it, and so it was a wonderful
period of my life. I just saw tons of movies and educated myself and thought
about getting in film school, but I never did.
GROSS: You know, it's funny, like you found a way when you were younger to
catch up on a lot of, you know, like foreign films, and, you now, classic
films of the past and so on, and you've become one of the more influential
independent film makers. The film that you remade, you know, was "The Bad
News Bears" and I have to say I never saw the original but I enjoyed your
version of it. And it's a really fun Billy Bob Thornton performance, but what
in the world made you want to remake that?
Mr. LINKLATER: I know it seems like an odd choice, doesn't it? But I don't
know. I attended college on a baseball scholarship. I spent a lot of my
life, you know, involved in baseball. As a younger person I relate to those
characters. And as an older person I relate to Billy Bob's character, the
kind of failed baseball player who only went so far and I could feel that as
sort of a parallel life to my own. So there was very much a personal in to
that story, the same way there would be maybe with "School of Rock," say, Jack
Black's character,and those kids. And I don't know. It's just one of those
things that gets over, you know, gets into you. And it was very funny what
that film was striving to be. It's much, kind of, edgier and nastier than
"School of Rock," and I like that kind of part of it, that that's another side
of childhood, where kids are cursing other kids and being mean to them, and I
had a lot of fun. It, ultimately, to me it felt like a pretty subversive film
to come out of a studio system, like that movie couldn't have been made today.
If that was an original concept, it'd be like, `Oh, you know, the behavior's
so bad, you know.' But because it had this successful precedent and the film
was a hit back in '76 that we sort of were given carte blanche to make that
movie. So we got away with a lot of really kind of screwed up behavior, and
really messed up, you know, bad attitudes. So that's my kind of studio film,
something I can embrace.
GROSS: Well, do you have any idea when you first realized that there was such
a thing as a film director, that it wasn't just stories and actors on a
screen? That there was actually a job called "director" and it might be a job
you'd be interesting in doing.
Mr. LINKLATER: Gosh, I mean I'm almost embarrassed to say, I didn't really
know. I was probably, almost college age, I mean, which is unfathomable now,
but, you know, 25 years ago, it was, I mean, it wasn't a part of the culture.
I knew who Alfred Hitchcock was, just because he was that kind of big guy who
made--he had something to do with those scary movie, I don't know. I thought
maybe he wrote them or some. I didn't know. Growing up he was like the
famous guy. And then, you know, some--I didn't know who, you know, Orson
Welles was a guy on commercials and sold wine, or something. I had no idea
who he was.
I didn't really--I was kind of oblivious to it. Again, it was a cultural
thing where I grew up and, in the culture at the time, people didn't really
talk about it that much. But I mean, it's become very different now.
Everybody's behind the scenes. Everybody knows, you know, who does it and how
you do it and what's going on there. But I really--I think Martin Scorsese
was one of the first ones I really like went out of my way, like, `Oh.' I saw
"Raging Bull" and I was like, `Wow! Geeze, you know, film can do that?' And
then I like looked it up, `Oh, there's this movie "Taxi Driver" I need to
see.' So I, you know, it was playing at this repertory theater. I went and
saw that. And I started kind of like, `Oh, wow, you know, what an artist.'
You know, I discovered him but at the same time I was discovering, you know,
world cinema and the French new wave and the new German cinema, you know. It
was just--all hit me at once. But I came to it really late, but I certainly
caught up pretty quick.
But I'm kind of glad it wasn't an ambition of mine growing up. I think if
you're nine years old now--I meet nine-year-olds who want to be film
directors. I'm like, `Hey, you know that's great.' It's probably not a lot
different than wanting to be a pro ball player, though, you know, it's the
odds of you actually getting to do this at this level are probably even less,
but not a bad ambition to have but kind of a hard skill set to define, that
I'm still trying to figure out but I feel myself very lucky to, whatever
combination it is, to be able to, you know, be here and get to keep doing it,
you know. I feel lucky.
GROSS: Well, Richard Linklater, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. LINKLATER: Yeah, really nice talking with you. Thanks, Terry.
Richard Linklater wrote and directed the new film adaptation of Philip K.
Dick's novel "A Scanner Darkly." I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Coach Bill Resler and former player Devon Crosby
Helms discuss new documentary "The Heart of the Game" and
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Bill Resler seemed like an improbable choice to coach a high school girls
basketball team. He was a middle-aged teacher of tax law at the University of
Washington when he took over Roosevelt High's Rough Riders in Seattle eight
years ago. The new documentary "The Heart of the Game" tells the story of
what happened with the coach and the team over the next seven years. The film
has a lot of insights into basketball and teenaged girls. Coach Resler looks
like the stereotype of an accountant but he motivates his team by telling the
girls to be like a pack of wolves. "Sink your teeth in their necks. Draw
blood," he tells them. Here's a scene with the coach and a couple of the
(Soundbite of "The Heart of the Game)
Mr. BILL RESLER: Sink your teeth in their necks.
Unidentified Players: (In unison) Draw blood!
Mr. RESLER: Sink your teeth in their necks.
Players: (In unison) Draw blood!
Mr. RESLER: Sink your teeth in their necks.
Players: (In unison) Draw blood!
Mr. RESLER: Have fun!
They're so into it that sometimes I look up in the stands at the parents of
the opponents, and sometimes they're aghast and other times they're laughing,
but it's so emotional that you have to respond to it some way or the other.
Unidentified Woman #1: I've never really had anyone try to motivate me by
pretending I'm an animal trying to eat someone else. You just kind of have to
go with it 'cause if you try to understand what he's thinking, you're not
going to be able to.
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah, he's loose and he's not wrapped tight at all.
Something's wrong with him. It really is, that man is crazy.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: I spoke with Coach Resler and Devon Crosby Helms, who was one of the
team's stars during his first season.
Coach, you say in the film that the girls who you were coaching, when you got
there they were uncomfortable making body contact, so you gave them contact
drills. What made you realize, what made you think that they were
uncomfortable making body contact?
Mr. RESLER: Well, when you watched them play in practice, if they have a
chance to knock somebody down they wouldn't take that opportunity. And my
view of the world is, if you're going to play against the Rough Riders, we're
rough. And when you go through the key we're going to knock you down. And
they had no inclination to do so. And so I started thinking about it and
wondering why that's true. And then as I observed them, that's just the
nature of teenage girls. So I had to create these drills which would force
them to smash into each other. And lo and behold, unbeknownst to me, they
loved doing that. It turned out to be a bonanza.
GROSS: What kind of drills were they?
Mr. RESLER: Well, we have one drill called "smash the flash" where when a
girl cuts across the key--that's called a flash cut. When you're defending
her, as she cuts across the key, you must bury your shoulder into her chest
and knock her on her back. If a foul's called on you, that's OK with me.
GROSS: Devon, do you think the coach's diagnosis was correct, that the girls
on your team were uncomfortable making body contact?
Ms. DEVON CROSBY HELMS: I think for the most part girls do start out that
way when they're, you know, younger and starting out in sports. I think I was
a little bit different. I always liked getting in fights and pushing people
around, so I was one of the people who was like. `Bill's my perfect coach
because he lets me knock people over.'
GROSS: Now, Coach, you have a very--it's not like you have an aggressive
style but you coach your players to be very aggressive. Each year, according
to the movie anyways, you have a theme built around a vicious animal like:
pack of wolves, pride of lions, piranhas. And you talk to, you know, the
players about killing and eating the enemy. Now, I am not an athlete, as
everybody who knows me will tell you, but...
Mr. RESLER: Nor am I.
GROSS: You're not?
Mr. RESLER: No. Oh, no. Devon can attest to the fact that I'm not an
GROSS: Well, does it make it awkward for you to coach a team when you're not
Mr. RESLER: Not at all. I have four assistant coaches, each of whom know
more about basketball than I do. And so they can demonstrate the skills and
so forth. And my real skill is I'm a really good typist, and I'm organized.
And I think Devon would agree that I'm pretty good about motivating people to
Ms. HELMS: Yes, he is.
GROSS: Yes, well, part of the way you motivate them is the images of killing
and eating the enemy, as I was saying. And so the point I was trying to make
by confessing that I'm not athletic is that, you know, the whole idea of
teaching high school students to want to, like, kill and devour their enemy,
did you have any sense of how aggressive you wanted your students to be and
how much you wanted them to carry that aggression off the basketball court?
Mr. RESLER: Off...
GROSS: You know because people teach like cooperation and working together.
Mr. RESLER: But cooperation doesn't preclude aggression.
Mr. RESLER: When you're a member of a team, you have an obligation to your
team to be as good as you can be. And so you should aggressively pursue
whatever talents you have. At the same time, you aggressively pursue that
your teammates will do the same. And so I try to encourage my students at the
University of Washington, as well as the basketball players at Roosevelt, to
work together as a team, be good sports, but at all times own your own turf.
GROSS: Devon, there's a scene in the movie where you're saying, you know,
`War is fun. That's what I live for, for the hunt, for the kill.' And you're
talking about how much you like the more aggressive parts of basketball. Did
you become more aggressive when Coach Resler took over the team?
Ms. HELMS: I think the way he motivated really fit into, the kind of
naturally brought out my aggressive side. It really cultivated that. It gave
me a way of saying it in a way that, you know, other people were on board
with. So when I say, `Sink your teeth in their necks,' I'm not a crazy
person. I'm just one of the girls and I really like that. So it made me feel
that my personality fit in with the bigger group, which was actually really
nice for me.
GROSS: Devon, at some point you started working with a private coach who had
a reputation for helping students get scholarships to college. And judging
from the movie, it sounds like he at some point was giving you different
advice from Coach Resler was and that caused some tension between the two of
Ms. HELMS: The first time I saw the movie I kind of laughed because it shows
me yelling at Bill about something, and it said we were falling out and we
hated each other, or whatever. And I don't really, I mean, at least from my
opinion, I don't think I ever got to a point where Bill and I had that much
tension. I was being given different advice. I was being told I should be
the star of the team, and, you know. I was a senior in high school and I had
a little bit too much confidence, and so I was like, `Yeah, I should be the
star of the team.' But I also, because I had known Bill for so long, I really
wanted to be that star, but within the, you know, within the team, within what
he was putting in front of us. And I thought that that was possible. And it
just--I had a lot of factors in my life at that point and it just kind of made
me a little bit hard to deal with.
Mr. RESLER: But, Devon, I have to tell you that one of my best days of my
life was the day you came into my office and revealed all that had gone on,
and I saw how healthy you had become. I mean, I have probably told a hundred
people that that's one of the best days of my life, because that's really when
you and my friendship reunited, and now it's a lifelong thing.
Ms. HELMS: I agree.
GROSS: I think I know what you're referring to there, and tell me if I'm
wrong. The movie described how this private coach that, Devon, you were
working with was actually taking advantage of you sexually and was doing the
same thing with other girls that he was coaching. You finally went public,
pressed charges and he was sentenced to 40 months. Coach Resler, is that what
you were referring to?
Mr. RESLER: Yes.
GROSS: Devon, how did you decide to tell the coach about it?
Ms. HELMS: The reason why I came forward is because I wanted it to end with
me. I knew that there had been victims before me, but I realized I had gotten
to a place where, you know, I knew it was going to continue happening and I
had seen somebody that I really cared about being taken advantage of. And I
wanted to protect that person, and so it was kind of an altruistic thing. I
was like, `I want to protect somebody else. It's too late for me to protect
myself, but I can make it stop now.' And I also know that--and actually part
of this came out of a conversation with Bill--is that I'm one of the lucky
ones because I'm facing it now, at this point in my life, and I think I was,
you know, 20 or something when I decided to come forward. So I'm able to now,
at 24, have that be a book on the shelf, have that be a something that
happened to me in my life, but not rule my life. And so when I decided to
tell Bill, it was after I'd gone to the police. But I, you know, Bill had
always been there for me, even when I was trying to, you know, punch him and
kick him and, you know--metaphorically speaking--and push him away, he didn't
really let me do that.
GROSS: So are you still playing? Is that over?
Ms. HELMS: I do other sports now. I do play basketball occasionally when I
can. I would love to get more involved and I do miss it, but I have kind of
taken up other things that I do love. And, you know, that's really exciting
for me because I do have other talents, thankfully.
GROSS: Like what?
Ms. HELMS: I'm a marathon runner, and so I've taken up--I ran my first one
just over a year ago. And I'm pretty crazy about them now and I've run three
total, and I just adore it. And I'm pretty good at it, so that's always nice.
GROSS: Well, Devon, thanks for joining us for this part of the interview, and
congratulations on your part in the new movie.
Ms. HELMS: Thank you.
Mr. RESLER: Nice seeing you again, Devon.
Ms. HELMS: It's lovely seeing you, as always, Bill. Bye.
Mr. RESLER: Bye-bye.
GROSS: Devon Crosby Helms and Coach Bill Resler are featured in the new
documentary "The Heart of the Game." We'll talk more with Coach Resler after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Bill Resler, the coach of the Rough Riders, the girls
basketball team at Roosevelt High in Seattle. He and the team are the subject
of the new documentary "The Heart of the Game." Here's the coach in a scene
from the film.
(Soundbite of "The Heart of the Game")
Mr. RESLER: One of the things that really makes coaching fun is when you
tell teenagers, `Go do ABC.' And they'll look at you and say, `Yes, we're
going to go do ABC.' And they're excited about ABC, and five seconds later you
watch them do XYZ. Ad sometimes I'll ask them, `Why did you XYZ?' And they
never have an answer. They always look at you like, `Why would you ask a
question like that?'
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Coach Resler, another student who's prominently featured in the film
"The Heart of the Game" is Darnellia Russell. And she's a terrific player,
and we see her come to Roosevelt High from a middle school from a very
different community. She's African American. Roosevelt is a very or at least
predominantly white school. It's a much more affluent school than the school
that she came from, and she was having a hard time adjusting. What are some
of the things you did to help her adjust?
Mr. RESLER: Well, first of all, every ninth grader has trouble adjusting.
And I feel that my one of my responsibilities with all of the coaches is we
have to find a way to get these kids more comfortable because the whole point
of this is education. And so, in Darnellia's case, it was just multiplied by
10. And my approach with her, as with others, is, I get her involved with
another player on the team and I tease them. And so I might say to Darnellia,
`Who's more stupid, you or Betsy?' And they learn they have to confront with
me and deal with what I'm up to. And over time they eventually find out that
they can defeat me, because my questions are usually silly. Also, I had a lot
of conversations with her and her mom at her house, and also at Roosevelt,
just explaining how things work. But it's a slow process and every ninth
grader has a nightmare time. And by the time they're seniors, I just sit back
and smile at the progress and how much they grow up.
GROSS: Darnellia became pregnant in--was it her junior year?
Mr. RESLER: Yes.
GROSS: And she had to take some time off. And then when she wanted to return
to the team, she was deemed ineligible to play. Would you explain why?
Mr. RESLER: The first time she was ruled ineligible was because she didn't
have enough credits. So when you become a senior, you have to have a certain
number of credits and she didn't have enough credits because she dropped out
of school because her pregnancy was so rough on her. She had very, very
brutal morning sickness. So she tried to come back and they wouldn't let her.
So now she's going into her fifth year and she and I sat down and I said, `You
can get your GED and go to community college, or you can get your high school
degree. Both are great paths to a future. What do you want to do?' And a
couple of days later she came back and said she wanted to get her high school
degree and then she wanted to go to a four-year college. So she came back to
school and really got her act together, much better grades and so forth. And
now the WIA declared her ineligible because to play a fifth year, even though
it's her fourth year, you have to demonstrate a hardship. And they felt that
being pregnant was not a hardship.
GROSS: And the WIA is?
Mr. RESLER: They're the ruling body in the state of Washington that controls
GROSS: So she was deemed ineligible to play, and she challenged that, took it
to the court, actually, and...
Mr. RESLER: I knew of a lawyer named Ken Loose who had sued the WIA before.
And I called him up and I gave him the facts and he said, `Is she a good kid?'
And I said, `I have a moral duty to help her graduate from college.' And upon
hearing that, he made the decision that the legal fee he would charge her
would be that someday she must do a favor for a kid the same as what he is
doing for her.
GROSS: And while that, if I have my chronology straight, while that case was
going on, she continued to play on your team, in spite of the fact she was
officially ruled ineligible. You were banking on the fact that she would win
in court. But you were taking a risk...
Mr. RESLER: Actually, that's not true.
Mr. RESLER: I wasn't banking on anything. My view of the world is if we
forfeited the whole season, that would be OK with me, because the life lesson
those girls got when they went into that inner circle meeting and made the
decision that they're willing to forfeit the entire season so that Darnellia
can be seen by college coaches, what more could I ever teach them. You know,
they taught themselves a lesson that I certainly didn't know at that age.
GROSS: What was the outcome of the court case?
Mr. RESLER: The court case was they--the judge blocked, made an injunction
against the WIA so they could not enforce their order against Roosevelt, which
allowed Darnellia to play. This did not stop them from declaring her
ineligible. They could have still gone to trial if they wanted to. It's just
that after we won the state championship two days later, they gave up their
GROSS: Is she still playing? This was a few years ago. Is she still
Mr. RESLER: She's just finishing her second year at North Seattle Community
College, and she was named the Northwest Player of the Year two years in a
row. And she's going to go in for surgery on her knee. She's got some
meniscus problems, which will knock her out for about three months. But she
plays daily and her plan is to go to a four-year school. And whichever
four-year school ends up choosing her, they have just won the lottery, because
Darnellia, a magnificent player, true, but what her real skill is she brings
her teammates up. In practice I do a lot of 3-on-3 work and I'll put
Darnellia with the 14th and 15th best player on the varsity and put them
against 2, 3, 4 on the team. Darnellia's team never loses, because 14 and 15
become 7 and 8 because they will not let her down. She never yells at
anybody. She does have the ability to stare at you in a way that would
convince you you'd better alter what you're doing, but they love her so much
that they will raise their game for Darnellia.
GROSS: How's Darnellia doing as a mother now, do you know?
Mr. RESLER: She's a fabulous mother. Darnellia and the father are still
together. They've been boyfriend/girlfriend since seventh grade, and Secoy,
the father, is just a sweetheart of a guy, very kind-hearted, sweet soul. And
when I watch the way Secoy and Darnellia raise Trekayla, I consider them model
parents. And Trekayla is maybe the most loved person I have ever seen, and I
always tease Darnellia that, `OK, Darnellia, you're all famous because you're
in a movie, but Trekayla's going to outstrip you because she's just a
colossally cool kid.' Smart, energetic, loves to laugh, and every bit as
athletic as Darnellia.
GROSS: Do you feel that in coaching girls high school basketball that you've
learned a lot about what it means to be a girl teenager today and some of the
things that girls are up against?
Mr. RESLER: I have learned a lot, but it would be a huge overstatement to
say that I understand what it's like to be a teenage girl. I can't even
remember what it's like to be a teenage boy.
We were just in a tournament this last weekend, and if we didn't win a game we
would not qualify for the championship game. We had a lot of young girls on
the team there that really hadn't gotten to play very much. And at half-time
I asked the seniors, `What do you want to do? Do you want to play those girls
or do you want to go and try to win the game?' And the girls said, `This is
the summer. Let's have fun. Let every girl on the team have fun.' So we
played everybody and it turned out we didn't qualify, but another life lesson
the girls taught to me. I don't really believe in winning and losing and I
preach that often, but the girls came to me with the choice, `Let's have fun.'
And I know I will learn forever from those teenagers.'
GROSS: Now it's funny, you know, you made that choice in the period that's
covered by the documentary "The Heart of the Game." And it's like a
championship game, it's the end of the season, and you decide to play every
player, including the players who haven't played much during the earlier part
of the season, the players who aren't as good. Now you win anyways but you
were taking a big chance there by insisting on playing everyone.
Mr. RESLER: I must say, I was a bit frightened here and there when those
freshmen were in the game. And if we had lost that game, there'd still be
adults mad at me, even though that happened three years ago. But on the other
hand, you can't take my crayons away from me. Whether we win or lose that
game isn't going to change my life. But I certainly felt that when those
girls unanimously supported Darnellia, that I had a moral duty to support
them, and there is nothing that could have taken me off that course.
GROSS: Are there things that you prefer about girls high school basketball
Mr. RESLER: Well, I raised three daughters so I have more of a comfort zone
teaching young gals over young guys. But I will say this, that I really enjoy
teaching girls to be more selfish. They come in. Their basic mentality is
let me give the ball up to my teammate. And trying to teach them that they
are important and people must rely on you as much as you relying on others is
a great educational process. I raised my three daughters on the theory that
sexism will not be gone when they're adults, and I want them to be able to
control their territory and take their own life over. And I have three really
confident amazing daughters, and I want everyone of those Rough Rider girls to
be the same way, and that is, `I own my area. I will share it with you. We
can work as a team, but don't you try to knock me out of my area. It's not
going to happen.'
GROSS: My guest is Bill Resler, the coach of the girls basketball team at
Roosevelt High School in Seattle. He's at the center of the new documentary
"The Heart of the Game." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Bill Resler, the coach of the Rough Riders, the girls
basketball team at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. The coach and the team
are the subject of the new documentary "The Heart of the Game."
What impact has this movie "The Heart of the Game," this documentary, had on
you personally and on your team?
Mr. RESLER: On the team, the girls are just excited that they're in a movie.
For me, personally, it's really had two major effects. Number one, about 10
years ago a friend of mine told me that I should write a book about the way I
think about the world, and this movie has caused me to do so. So I've written
a book called "The Heart of a Team," which basically is the life lessons that
are inside the movie that aren't exactly covered by the movie.
The other thing that it has done is that I've had to fess up and admit that
I'm an oddball. I...
GROSS: What do you mean by that?
Mr. RESLER: Well, I see the audience laughing at things I'm doing that I
think are normal. And, you know, I know I don't walk down the center of the
path, that I kind of wander around, but the movie has demonstrated that I
might not even be on the path at all. And I never really thought of myself
that way until I saw audience reactions to my personality.
GROSS: So you never thought of yourself as at all idiosyncratic before?
Mr. RESLER: Not really. I knew I was off kilter and that I took more risks
than some people do, but I didn't realize I was this big an outlyer.
GROSS: Now, are you still teaching at the University of Washington?
Mr. RESLER: Yes, I am. That is my passion. People ask me, `What if you got
a college job because of this movie, a college coaching job?' And my view of
that is, no. I love teaching tax at the University of Washington. I have
great students who motivate me and challenge me daily.
GROSS: And is this tax law or what kind of tax is this?
Mr. RESLER: Tax law.
GROSS: Tax law.
Mr. RESLER: It's in the school of business, but it is tax law.
GROSS: People don't usually think of tax law as like the sexiest, most
Mr. RESLER: I can't believe people are so short sighted. Actually, tax law,
you either hate it or love it. And the reason I love it, and the reason my
students love it, is once you get inside of it, you realize how crazy it is.
No thinking human being would have drafted the Internal Revenue Code the way
it's currently drafted. There's so many sick, little twists and turns in tax
reasoning that I truly enjoy trying to chase it down. And some areas of tax
law, like partnership taxation, the more I study it the less I know. And I
like living in the land that's kind of uncertain.
GROSS: Let me ask you a question. If this is too personal you just tell me.
How old are you now?
Mr. RESLER: I'm 61.
GROSS: OK. So you're in your 60s. You're at, you know, certainly at the age
where your body slows down.
Mr. RESLER: You didn't have to move from 61 to in the 60s. You know, you
kind of moved me forward about five years there.
GROSS: But anyway, you're certainly at an age where, you know, physically
you're slowing down. Do you feel any more, or less old or slowing down being
in the constant presence of girls who don't get any older? You know, you're
always in the presence of high school girls. And as the girls get older...
Mr. RESLER: And college.
GROSS: ...they leave and you're in the presence of new high school girls.
Mr. RESLER: Yeah, my college students and my high school students are the
same age constantly, and the movie does point out--and you film me over eight
years--that I did get older. My hair color changes, the baldness increases
and so forth. But I look out of my eyes with 12-year-old eyes. And I have
bone spurs in my heels so I can't play basketball anymore. But in terms of
who I am, I'm still 12 years old maybe. Maybe younger. And so I consider my
life to be just brand new every day.
GROSS: Did you ever play basketball?
Mr. RESLER: I did play basketball and I was extremely bad at it. I have the
gift of incredible slowness, and basketball requires quickness. I played
basketball eight hours a day, seven days a week, from about age nine on at a
basket right near my parents' home. And I played it and loved it and went
after it and never made an organized team. I was always cut from whatever
team I turned out for. And at Franklin High School here in Seattle, I argued
my way back onto the team and the coach cut me again. I argued my way back
onto the team, and then a week later Coach Ahern said, `Bill, you're just not
an athlete. I really feel bad.' And about four years ago there was an article
in the paper about the movie, and I recounted the story. And I ran into Coach
Ahern at a basketball game, and he looked up and he shook my hand and said,
`Bill, I'm so sorry I cut you.' It's so great 40 years later because having
cut girls in my career, there's nothing worse. They always cry and I always
cry. And so I was feeling Coach Ahern's pain.
GROSS: Do you actually cry?
Mr. RESLER: Yes. I go home and I cry a lot. And nobody would ever want to
be around me on that night because I'm in such a foul mood that I'm not a
human being during that night, because it's just so dreadful when you have to
say to a gal who's got all these hopes and dreams in front of her that there's
no place for her on the team at Roosevelt. It's just purely awful.
GROSS: Well, Bill Resler, thanks so much for talking with us.
Mr. RESLER: Thank you, Terry. This has been fun.
(Soundbite of "The Heart of the Game")
Mr. RESLER: That big girl must be double teamed before she gets the ball.
Unidentified Woman #3: Ball, guys.
Mr. RESLER: OK? Before she gets the ball. As soon as we get the ball,
everybody scream, `Time out!' OK? Because it's noisy in here and the ref's
hard of hearing in one of his ears. So you must scream, `Time out!' And then
I'll give you incredible words of wisdom.
Woman #3: No fouls.
Mr. RESLER: OK?
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Coach Bill Resler is at the center of the new documentary "The Heart
of the Game" about the girls basketball team at Roosevelt High School in
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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.