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Sculptor and Painter George Segal

Segal talks about his work which is being featured through October at The Jewish Museum in New York City. It is his first major exhibition in North America in 20 years. He is best known for his free standing sculptures depicting everyday people in urban settings.




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Other segments from the episode on July 23, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 23, 1998: Interview with Don Roos; Interview with George Segal.


Date: JULY 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 072301np.217
Head: The Opposite of Sex
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

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

My guest Don Roos wrote and directed the film comedy "The Opposite of Sex." "Time" magazine film critic Richard Corliss (ph) described it as "the smartest, edgiest, most human and handsomely acted romantic comedy in years."

"The Opposite of Sex" is Roos' directing debut. He also wrote the screenplays for "Love Field," "Single White Female" and "Boys on the Side."

"The Opposite of Sex" stars Christina Ricci as a 16-year-old who runs away from home with her boyfriend, dumps him, goes to mooch off her half-brother, then turns his life upside down, starting with seducing his boyfriend.

The ensemble caste includes Lisa Kudrow, Martin Donovan (ph), Lyle Lovett (ph), and Johnny Galecki (ph).

This is a social satire with a big heart, even though the Christina Ricci character who narrates the story is self-centered, cravingly manipulative and cruel. To give you a sense of her, here's her opening narration.


CHRISTINA RICCI, ACTRESS: If you're one of those people who don't like movies or some person who can't detox the whole time, who covers up all the holes in the plot and at the end says, "I was never the same again after that summer," or whatever like it was so deep they can't stand it, then you're out of luck. Things get very complicated here very quick. And my guess is you're not going to be up to it without me talking.

If you think I'm just plucky and scrappy and all I need is love, you're in over your head. I don't have a heart of gold, and I don't grow one later, OK?

But relax. There's other people a lot nicer coming up. We call them losers.

GROSS: Don Roos, welcome to FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Tell me why you wanted to go with this satirical kind of voice-over.

ROOS: I've done movies, written movies for about 10 years now. And there's always a kind of likability problem with my heroines or my heroes. You know, the studios want people who are very, very likable, want characters that we can approve of in every single thing they do.

So when I sat down to write this movie, I consciously wanted to write a character who wasn't necessary immediately likable. And the voice-over is a very, kind of assaultive or aggressive or can be annoying or irritating, provocative commentary. And that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to shake the audience up.

Also, the character that Christina Ricci plays wreaks havoc in the other characters' lives. And I also wanted the audience not to be safe from her. So occasionally in the movie, she kind of turns on the audience. And I think that's fun. We had a good time doing it.

GROSS: I felt this sense of relief as I listened to the voice-over because there's a certain kind of coming-of-age story, whether it's in fiction or in the movies -- in the movie theater, that I'm so tired of. And when she says toward the end of that first voice-over that this isn't going to be the kind of movie that ends with her saying, "I was never the same again after that summer," I thought -- whew -- thank goodness.

ROOS: I think you get tired very quickly of those types of self-conscious narrations, or when they show you a picture of a farm field under snow and the voice-over is something like, "It was very snowy that winter," The kind of voice-over that adds nothing is really irritating to me.

GROSS: Now did you ever have to write that for somebody else? I mean, you were commissioned to write?

ROOS: I don't think I've ever written voice-over. You know, it's so -- a law kind of out here in Hollywood where they tell screenwriters, you know, avoid voice-over at all costs. Avoid flashbacks at all costs. And avoid unlikable main characters at all costs. So I kind of tried to...

GROSS: Strike three. Yeah.


ROOS: ... I did everything wrong.

GROSS: Later on in the movie, as a result of Christina Ricci's misdeeds, her half-brother has been dumped by his boyfriend. And she says in her voice-over narration that people always look so sympathetic when they're getting dumped. And we see her half-brother looking lonely and moping around.

Then she says, "Wait, now I can really lay it on thick." Then the orchestra wells up in the background while the camera scans photographs, sentimental photographs of the guy together with his former lover. And I'm wondering if you've ever had to work in that style where you had to show, you know, show the equivalent of, you know, the sentimental photographs and the orchestra swelling up in the background...

ROOS: Usually a character is by a window and it's raining and they kind of trace a raindrop down a window pane...

GROSS: Oh, yes.

ROOS: ... that kind of thing.

GROSS: Yes, exactly.

ROOS: I never had to write it. I love that. I mean, I'm a sucker. And there's nothing better than a Lifetime Television for Women TV movie. And all of these tricks are in those movies.


We wanted to, I wanted to have fun with it and see if we could still -- if our narrator could kind of play with the form of the film and if the audience would still care about the characters. And, you know, audiences today are so sophisticated. You can play with the form.

You can announce to the audience, "Hey, this is -- we're all actors, and this is just fun," and I can change the music and you'll feel differently, and still you will come back and care about the characters. We're very, very responsive to moving image. We've been trained. And we go right back into it.

So it was fun playing around with that. I really, you know, we're so conventional in Hollywood. And there a list of conventions like that. When someone is sad, it's time for a montage. Or when people fall in love, it's time for a shopping montage and the girl tries on a funny hat...


... and the guy feeds her, you know, frozen yogurt and it misses her mouth. And, you know, boy are we tired of that. So I wanted to have fun with it.

GROSS: Don Roos is my guest. And he wrote and directed the film "The Opposite of Sex."

And the question is, of course, what is the opposite of sex?

ROOS: You know, I wish I had a good answer for that. And I am really going to be much more careful the next time I choose a title...


... It's a natural question. And still now, after six months, I can't quite describe what I meant by it.

I think part of it was a play on words because the movie is about some women, and what women are like and what women can do. And that's the opposite sex, of course, in a very male-centrist world. So I wanted to play with that.

It also made me laugh, "The Opposite of Sex." What is that? What could that possibly because except I guess death or an Irish marriage. And then I thought, maybe it's about characters who are in some way opposed to sex or find themselves in opposition to sex. And I think that's the truest explanation of the title.

We kind of grow up thinking sex is a very natural part of our lives. And we would all say we were in good terms with sex, I think. Most of us would say that. It's part of our -- we want to think that, anyway, about ourselves.

But many of us have a lot of trouble with sex and how it works in our lives. And these are a bunch of characters who haven't quite integrated sex in their lives in a way that makes them happy.

The only one who does I think is Lyle Lovett's character who has sort of found what sex means to him and is untroubled by it and very natural about it. He's the only character -- he's got the smallest part, but he's got the wisest part in a way in the movie.

GROSS: Lisa Kudrow plays a very interesting character. And she's a single woman who says that she just doesn't get sex. It's a lot of trouble for not much in return. And what kind of reflections about sex did you want to fit into her character, about her sense that sex is an inconvenience. You know, what's better about sex than somebody like blowing their nose in your face.


ROOS: You wouldn't like that, would you? You know, that's a thought I've certainly had a lot of times. Boy, this is a lot of work for what? I mean, really, it really doesn't even last as long as a pizza. So why is my life about this so much?

And I think it's a question we all have sooner or later. I think in our culture...

GROSS: It's a question we even have about the pizza, which when it comes down to it, doesn't last that long either...


ROOS: It's true. I think in our culture, we are like a sex-mad culture. And it's something that -- well, look at Viagra. Look at the incredible, incredible amount of cultural commotion caused by this drug which promises better sex. And we're obsessed with that.

And I don't think we ask ourselves enough, "Why? Why?" Is it natural, or is it some hyped-up connection to youth? What is our obsession with sex about, besides of course it being a natural instinct and necessary for the species to continue? Why are we so interested?

GROSS: There's two women in the movie who are basically trying to get gay men to become their lovers. Lisa Kudrow's character is trying to do that by trying to get this character to fall in love with her. But Christina Ricci is just trying to bully this other guy into having sex with her.

ROOS: It's not very bright. So she has some compelling arguments why he should really have sex with her.

GROSS: In fact, why don't we hear a scene from the movie in which he's trying to make her arguments to him?


RICCI: He's like what, 20 years older than you?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Nine. Sometimes 10, depending on the month.

RICCI: Have you always been a (Unintelligible)?

ACTOR: Yeah, I guess.

RICCI: You've never slept with a girl?

ACTOR: Nope, never came up.

RICCI: So to speak, right?

ACTOR: Well, it's just not for me.

RICCI: How would you know if you've never tried it?

ACTOR: Well, I never tried communism. But I know I wouldn't like that. It's the same thing. Or grits.

RICCI: Have you ever slept with a black person?

ACTOR: No, no, I don't think so.

RICCI: Because you know you wouldn't like it.

ACTOR: No, I don't know that. I mean...

RICCI: So even though you've never tried either, you would have sex with a black person, but not with me. God, it's like reverse discrimination. Quotas.

ACTOR: Is it?

RICCI: Yeah, it's prejudice.

GROSS: Don Roos, you're really having fun here with the whole idea of, you know, whether gay people can be converted to heterosexuality.

ROOS: You know, I got into some trouble with some members of the gay press because there have been a few movies recently where a character's sexuality was maybe debatable. I mean, can we go back and forth?

And I guess some people thought that I thought that the character that Ivan Sergei (ph) plays in this movie is converted to being straight and then is converted back to being gay, which isn't really what's happening in the movie. And he's a gay man in the movie. And everybody in the movie except himself accepts him as a gay man.

And he does sleep with Christina Ricci's character. But it's not because he changes his orientation. It's because she is very wily and convincing. And he's no match for her.

But he's always a gay man. And I just, I got into some trouble with the gay press for suggesting that people are pliable that way.

GROSS: It's not easy to be a comic writer nowadays, is it?

ROOS: Well, it's easy to be a comic writer. It's just not easy to escape censure from various groups and people that are your friends, really, who you usually agree with politically because comedy takes the view that everybody is funny.

And that would include, in my case, gay people are also very funny and very foolish and very troubled and very contradictory. And a lot of members of the gay press don't want to really look at that.

GROSS: There...

ROOS: It's OK to make fun of straight people, of course, but not to make fun of gay people.

GROSS: ... there are no characters in this movie who represent the establishment who get to be the bad guys. So all of these odd characters get to be the good guys and the bad guys.

ROOS: Right.

GROSS: So, yeah, so I think that's what may -- that's where you risk the political incorrectness in some people's eyes because the bad-guy lines aren't given to people who we recognize as the bad guys, the people...

ROOS: Right.

GROSS: ... who oppose homosexuality.

ROOS: Right. And I found that to be true in my life. I mean, the bad guys in my life can be gay or straight. And they're not necessarily the kind of people we would recognize as authoritarian official bad guys.

You know, these -- the people who cause me trouble are people like me. And so that's what I wanted to put in the movie.

GROSS: Now you're -- the relationship that you've created between the Lisa Kudrow character and the Martin Donovan character who is gay is an interesting twist on the friendship between the straight woman and the gay man that so often exists in life and in some literature. But she really wants him to love her, sexually, not just platonically.

ROOS: You know, when I wrote the movie, that's what I had in mind. And then I sat down with Lisa Kudrow before she began. And she said, "I don't see that." What I think she is about is family, is feeling...

GROSS: Right.

ROOS: ... loved by a man who loved her brother. And when her brother was alive, the three of them had a family. And that is what she's trying to get back to.

So although I think it operates on a level of a female character wanting some kind of closeness bond relationship with a gay man, I don't think it's strictly now as sexual as it was when maybe I first sat down to write it.

And it's an example of what actors bring to a role. Their take on characters is sometimes so much more interesting than my take on characters, a writer's take on characters. And if you're open, you can collaborate and get a better movie as a result.

And I think that's true. I think what Lisa brought to that role was a kind of a refusal to be caricatured as a -- what we used to call a "fag hag." I don't think they exist anymore, but a woman who requires the attention of gay men. It's a deeper role than that, and she does a better performance than she would have if she had tried to play that.

GROSS: It was really interesting to see Lisa Kudrow in a role where she played someone who is very smart, also very neurotic and very repressed, very tense. But there was such intelligence there that you don't see in the television role because she's usually playing somebody not smart at all.

ROOS: That's right.

GROSS: What did you know about her or see in her that led you to realize that in spite of the roles that she's had before that she's very smart and plays very smart when it's appropriate.

ROOS: I think I was being very conventional. And there's a convention that people who can do comedy can do drama. People who are really good comediennes and comedians are very good dramatic actors.

It doesn't work the other way around. You can be a wonderful dramatic actor and not be able to do comedy. But if you can do comedy, which is the hardest, you can do drama.

And I think her other roles, while they immediately look as if they're dumb blondes, there's a lot more going on in those characters. I remember watching "Romy and Michele" (ph) and really, really being touched by the character that Lisa played, even though it was, you know, on the face of it a stereotypical dumb blonde role.

But, you know, if you think back on some of the dumb blondes in Hollywood, they're really the most accomplished actresses, effective and touching actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Carole Lombard and Jean Arthur and Jean Harlow. They're very, very -- dumb is not easy to play, not easy to play convincingly. So I knew Lisa could do it.

GROSS: My guest is Don Roos, the screenwriter and director of the film "The Opposite of Sex." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Don Roos. He wrote and direct the new film "The Opposite of Sex." Her started his career writing for television.

When you were writing for TV, you had to write things that would conform to the storyline and to the characters that were created by somebody else. Then it strikes me that "The Opposite of Sex" is the opposite of that because this is really -- this is really your show. You wrote it; you directed it. It's very eccentric and idiosyncratic.

So, you know, I mean, you're obviously calling the shots on it. Was this the first movie that you felt that you could just create your own world?

ROOS: Yes. Because I didn't really expect anybody to make it. You know, when you write a character, when you write a movie, not just because of the gay content, not just because we had a gay character who wasn't in a dress and who wasn't sick with HIV or wasn't battling discrimination, this was a gay character at the center of the movie.

And the movie was not about him being gay. That was not the issue of the movie. He was just simply -- that was who he was. And you had to accept him.

And it wasn't extremely colorful that he was gay. He was just a gay lead. That was really hard to get an actor to do that.

Actors are happy to play gay if they can hide behind a dress or a funny hat or an issue. And this was not that kind of role.

That was hard. It was also an ensemble movie, which is really difficult to do in Hollywood. It's hard to...


ROOS: ... I think they find it hard to convey and ensemble movie to the audience, hard to market it. Besides "The Big Chill" and I think "The Breakfast Club" was a success. What you're saying is, "I don't really know what this movie is about, but it's about interesting. And once you get to know them, you will care about them." That's really hard to do in a billboard.

GROSS: Your previous movies include "Love Field," which is about two people traveling on the day of the -- or shortly after the Kennedy assassination; "Single White Female," which is about two roommates, one of which turns out to be a sociopath; and "Boys on the Side," which was a comedy with Whoopi Goldberg and -- who else?

ROOS: Drew Barrymore and Mary Louise Parker. They did a wonderful job, those actresses.

GROSS: So were you happy with the way the movies that you wrote but did not direct turn out? Or were there aspects of those movies that were unrecognizable to you?

ROOS: I don't say unrecognizable. But there were decisions made by directors, because they are the decision makers, that weren't my own. And so you are very frustrated. You've created this world. And yet you can't -- you can't deliver it to the audience.

It's very much like, you know, having a baby for nine months growing inside you and then watching somebody else raise the child and have fun with it and decide where it goes to school. And there you are, you know, standing at the chain-link fence looking into the playground. You know, that's how you feel as a writer about your baby.

GROSS: Oh, I've seen that movie too.


ROOS: And the music builds...

GROSS: Exactly.

ROOS: ... and they go to their car and cry.

So it was frustrating only -- not because -- I worked with some wonderful directors and they were very accommodating to me. But it's always their decision. You know, they are the ones who finally have the right to say yes or no. And that hurts if you have a writer's ego.

You know, I sat down and wrote this before anybody was here. And I've made up this character. And you don't know what this scene is about. And I can't believe you did that.

And of course, a writer is very hard on directors until he directs. And then you realize how difficult it is to bring a script to the screen, and how often things aren't in the movie for reasons that aren't about content, but just because I didn't have a matching closeup, so -- or the closeup was out of focus, or we were too busy that day and we couldn't give that scene that attention, or all sorts of really prosaic, boring reasons why the movie does not reflect the script.

GROSS: Don Roos wrote and directed the comedy "The Opposite of Sex." He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Don Roos. He wrote and directed the film comedy "The Opposite of Sex." He also wrote the screenplays for "Love Field," "Single White Female" and "Boys on the Side."

Now you started off writing for television...

ROOS: Oh yeah.

GROSS: ... I think in the late '70s. What did you write for?

ROOS: I wrote for "Hart to Hart," which, remember "Hart to Hart?" They had the -- they had the probably the shortest Christmas card list by the end of that show's run because all of their friends were murdered or involved in murder or murderers or were imprisoned. And they weren't really detectives. They were just a very rich couple whose friends kept disappearing.

So I wrote for that for four years and loved that show. That was a great introduction into writing for film. You write the show one day, you film it the next day. You look at in the dailies the following day. And you edit it. And it's just a great education in what happens, how you translate the page to the screen. So I was very, very lucky to get on that show.

GROSS: And you wrote for "Dynasty II?"

ROOS: Yes, "Dynasty II: The Colby's," and a lot of really kind of -- I wouldn't say they were quality television shows except that they were very popular. And they weren't necessarily deep shows. But they were a great deal of fun and made with people who are really talented. And it was a great working environment.

Aaron Spelling ran a very gay-friendly, female-friendly kind of world at that time. I'm sure he still does. He had a lot of women in non-traditional women roles at that time in the industry, directors and unit production managers and assistant directors. And he was very, very left-wing in that respect. And many, many gay people worked for him as well. So he ran a great studio.

GROSS: Now what were some of the conventions you had to follow on "Dynasty II?"

ROOS: "Dynasty II." Well, nobody could really behave in a healthy, emotional way. That was number one. Everybody had to be outraged at how people were treating them. They had to really go with their worst instincts, usually.

If you thought of a scene, you had to kind of ratchet it up and have people take offense where no offense was intended, be suspicious when no conspiracy was planned, just in general people behaving -- rich people behaving badly was a general convention.

And also you had to hurt your characters. And it was fun to write that.


You had to -- "How can I hurt Crystal (ph) the most? How can I hurt Falan (ph) the most? What's the most wounding thing that can be said to this character in the course of this scene," because that's the big closeup at the end, you know, of the scene, which they always ended in a big closeup of the main character being slapped in the face verbally or mentally or emotionally being assaulted by some really horrible thing.

GROSS: And that would be the equivalent of the cliffhanger.

ROOS: That's right.

GROSS: How will Crystal react to that slight?

ROOS: Mmm-hm. Exactly. And how much can we make them suffer? And that was great fun. Actually got rid of a lot of hostility that way...

GROSS: Well, why...

ROOS: ... torturing your characters.

GROSS: ... why else do you think that audiences enjoyed so much watching these characters suffer?

ROOS: I think we all suffer in various ways in our lives. And it's nice to see glamorous people suffer more. I just think it makes us feel better. It makes us feel less alone. It's like, "Oh, OK, well I didn't get that promotion. But Crystal as being, you know, assaulted..."


... and that makes you feel better. It certainly made us feel better on the show. I mean, our lives were cake compared to what we were making our characters go through.

GROSS: Were there any stereotypes you had to uphold?

ROOS: Yes. First of all, the idea that family -- this weird idea that family, that your name -- that your family meant something real. It was always, "Well, I'm a Colby. And Colby's do this," or "I'm a Carrington (ph), and Carrington's do."

Now my real life, my parents don't go around saying, "Well, we're Rooses. And Rooses behave this certain way." It was weird. They were all like Kennedys. You know, the family dynamic. So I think that was ridiculous. That was one convention.

I think the women, the convention for the women were to be devious, either devious or sweet. And that was the typical madonna/whore kind of convention that we have here in America where women are villains or they are sweet wives and mothers, and there's nothing in between.

GROSS: Were...

ROOS: And the men are strong and silent and tough and steady, very, very conventional comic book ideas about how men and women behave to each other.

GROSS: ... and did you ever feel bad that you were continuing these stereotypes that you didn't believe in?

ROOS: You know what? I didn't. I think I was so happy to be working in the business and so happy to be making any kind of money, I was just delighted to be there.

I did feel guilty later for a show I was on called "Nightengales." Do you know about that show...

GROSS: Was that nurses or something?

ROOS: ... about -- yeah, yeah. It was the worst version of nurses, the stereotypical nurses in a bra and panties...


... kind of...

GROSS: Roger Corman (ph) kind of nurses.


ROOS: ... exactly. And we thought, you know, we all had great, good intentions, all of us working on that show. We wrote these wonderful scripts. And then Aaron said, "Well," we had been working a while before the show came on the air. And Aaron said, "Well, I want you to come down now because we've built all of the sets that are going to be for the show. So come on down and look at them."

So we all marched down there thinking we were doing a show about the front line of medical care in America and the virtue of nurses and all of this high-minded stuff. And he showed us the sets, which were these student nurses' locker room, the student nurses' aerobic studio...


... the student nurses' changing room, whatever that would be, the student nurses' bathroom. It was unbelievable.


There wasn't an operating room. There wasn't a patient room. So we very quickly knew the kind of show we were writing. It was very disappointing.

GROSS: And you had to write appropriate plots, no doubt.

ROOS: No, you know, what we tried -- well, we did have to do, you know, nurses in linen closets falling in love with young doctors. But we still maintained a very high-minded approach to the scripts.

And I, as a gay man, I didn't notice whether a woman was in a bra or a merry widow or whatever, we would write these scenes that were very earnest. And then they would shoot them, we would see them in dailies.

And in the background -- you know, in the foreground, the nurse is saying, "My father is an alcoholic and I'm having trouble dealing with that." In the background, there would be girls struggling into corsets...


... and brassieres. Of course, I -- didn't bother me. I didn't -- it was nothing I was watching. So I was all about how wonderful the shows were. And then the nurses wrote in, real nurses wrote in. And all of the writers took that off our resumes after that show.

GROSS: Oh, that's funny.

ROOS: And, of course, when we ever went to a hospital, we could never mention that we worked on "Nightengales."

GROSS: Don Roos is my guest. And he wrote and directed the new film "The Opposite of Sex."

Do you know what your next movie will be?

ROOS: I wrote a picture last year called "Bounce," which is about a love affair that occurs after a plane crash. And I'm going to be directing that for Propaganda in the fall.

GROSS: Is that a comedy?

ROOS: It's kind of a -- it's funny. I don't know if it's a comedy. It's more a love story with comedic interruptions. You know, it's a more conventional kind of story. It's a love story between people who really should not have met. And but I think it's a wonderful story. I happen to really like it.

And it will be fun to do a movie which isn't as showy as "The Opposite of Sex," where really we called a lot of attention to the film making and the movie making in that picture. And this will be different. We'll be playing it straight in that movie so that will be interesting.

GROSS: Well, not completely straight I'd imagine?


ROOS: No, I can't do that. I won't do that. But fairly straight.

GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us.

ROOS: It was a pleasure, Terry. I appreciate the opportunity.

GROSS: Don Roos wrote and directed the new comedy "The Opposite of Sex."

Coming up, artist George Segal. This is FRESH AIR.

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


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Don Roos
High: Screenwriter and director Don Roos talks about his new film "The Opposite of Sex." He wrote and directed the film which features an ensemble of stars including Lisa Kudrow from the sit-com Friends. He also wrote the screenplays for "Love Field," "Single White Female," and "Boys on the Side."
Spec: Movie Industry; Don Roos; The Opposite of Sex
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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: The Opposite of Sex
Date: JULY 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 072302NP.217
Head: George Segal
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: The plaster bandages that have been used to make casts for arms and legs are the material George Segal has used to make his life-sized sculptures of people. He has wrapped his friends, family and other models in these bandages to create plaster cast sculptures.

He's always insisted his models remain in casual poses that would create believable art. He's often placed these plaster casts in larger sculptures that recreate real environments, such as a butcher shop, dry cleaner, diner and bus. Many of Segal's plaster sculptures have a ghostly presence because he's left the white plaster surfaces unpainted.

His work from the '50s through '90s is collected in his first major exhibition in North America in 20 years. It's now at the Jewish Museum in New York.

The curator of this traveling show, Marco Livingstone (ph), writes: "By sensing the miraculous in the everyday, Segal hints at a metaphysical transcendence."

I asked George Segal to describe the style of casting he developed.

GEORGE SEGAL, SCULPTOR AND PAINTER: By using this Plaster of Paris bandage in thin layers, I'd have -- I'd have a model stand or sit or lie according to some idea or image I had in my head. And I'd cover their bodies in small chunks, and then have to reassemble them to recreate the gesture. And I was more interested in the gesture, or the essence of the movement as it was revealed by how they stood or sat.

GROSS: So you'd use the same kind of material that a doctor would use who was making a cast for a broken arm?

SEGAL: Exactly. Exactly.

GROSS: And so you do like an arm and another arm, then a leg and then the torso and then assemble the whole thing together?

SEGAL: Yeah. Remember Dr. Goldfinger? They killed a girl by painting her with gold paint.

GROSS: Right.


You didn't want to be in that position.

SEGAL: It's embarrassing.

GROSS: Did you make any mistakes before you knew what you could get away with?

SEGAL: Sure did. I got some free samples of the stuff and I was offered $75 to write a pamphlet for using material for children's projects.

I had my wife cover me from head to foot. And I was nude sitting in a chair. It was hot, summertime. I had no idea that plastic sticks to hair. And it did.


GROSS: Ouch.

SEGAL: My wife couldn't get it off.


GROSS: What did you finally do?

SEGAL: I stood up and I tore it off. It was like taking a giant Band-Aid, a very large Band-Aid off your body. But I was so intrigued I put it all together despite the sadomasochism involved.

GROSS: So did your models have to shave before?

SEGAL: No, no, I discovered things like Vaseline that solved the problem.

GROSS: Well, how would you get the kind of pose you were looking for? How would you even find the right model for the piece that you were going to do? So it's a piece of, you know, like a diner at the counter of a restaurant, or you know, the lady in the dry cleaning store.

SEGAL: I honestly can't tell you where the ideas come from. While I'm walking city streets, I can see something. It will strike me. And if it makes a vivid image in my head, I'll have to work a long time rebuilding that chunk of it that intrigued me.

So I thought of using family and friends, people whom I could convince that I was not going to kill...


... you know, people who would trust me, trust the fact that hopefully I'm not a sex maniac and could be reassured that I would not take advantage of them while I was waiting for plaster to dry. You know, simple stuff like that. It had to be people who essentially trusted the seriousness of my intentions.

GROSS: Now the standard way of casting an art is to make a mold and then pour a liquid material or a molten material into the mold that will then harden in the shape of the model.

SEGAL: True.

GROSS: But that's not what you're doing. You weren't using the plaster cast as a mold to pour the liquid into. You were using that for its outside, for its surface qualities, which isn't traditionally what's done with a plaster-cast mold. Tell me why you decided to use the outside as opposed to using the inside to cast.

SEGAL: Well, I was interested, as I said before, in trapping the gesture. And in recent years, I have been using the inside of the cast. But that's -- the euphemism is I'm becoming aware of my middle age.

If I look at my fingers or look at my face in the mirror, I'm horrified. I'm horrified at the wrinkling of the skin that gets more and more pronounced every month. And then I'm intrigued at the rhythm of this increasing network, both on my face and my hands.

And I start looking, "All right, it's called middle age." And I'm not a kid anymore. And everybody in my generation is aging in their own fashion. I'm intrigued, I'm intrigued with how we change, what the aging process is, and how it affects our thinking and our attitudes toward everything we know.

GROSS: So how are you trying to capture that in your art because the kind of plaster casts that you did early on wouldn't, for instance, get the wrinkles on the face?

SEGAL: Say I make the same plaster cast. If I turn it over and look at the inside, there's the -- there's a reproduction of all those wrinkles that intrigue me so deeply. And I simply put some separator in there, pour plaster into it, pour the same bandages. And I can make a cast that's quite realistic, you know.

So, you know, realism is a very strange term. It's incredibly simple technically to make a cast that's increasingly realistic. The only reason I continue to cast from people is the uncanny ability of the plaster to reveal inner attitudes, what attitudes my models have. Otherwise, I'd have been bored years ago and have completely dropped it.

GROSS: You say inner attitudes. Do you mean like the body, the bones of the body just reveal things about a person that the plaster can capture?

SEGAL: Oh, indeed, yes. Yeah, for myself, it's quite vivid. Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: I want to get back to the work that you're doing now. You were saying how both horrified and fascinated you are with the wrinkles on your face and the wrinkles on the faces of your friends and family of your generation. You've also been doing -- I think they're charcoal sketches of people returning to your early work. I mean, you used to be a painter before you were a sculptor. Is that the reason why you've been returning to a two-dimensional form, to sketching, so that you can capture those facial details?

SEGAL: Absolutely true. These new drawings are about my fascination with heads and faces and hands. I've been using that euphemism I'm middle-aging. I've -- oh, for heaven's sakes, I'm 73.


And I had drawn a lot years ago. I had stopped drawing once I started getting very involved in making sculptured environments. Now I'm making oversized heads, drawings of heads, into which I can dig.

And again, you know, it's this hunger to embrace all these contradictions. I want to make them as abstract as I can in structure. I want them to be psychologically truthful in revealing the attitudes of my friends. You know, I'm trying to -- I'm simply trying to hack out an embrace of all the -- all these contradictory factors that I'd like to put together to indicate three minutes of experience.

GROSS: Are you particularly interested in how your face is changing with age and the faces of the people who you know best, how their faces are changing too, because it's just like inflicted on you? I mean, it's not about anything that you're doing.

It's just, you know, changes of age. And it just happens. You wake up and you look different than you did two weeks before, maybe. Is that -- does that have anything to do with it, that sense that it's just kind of happening to you, you're being acted upon by some force of nature?


SEGAL: Some force of nature?

GROSS: No, it's, you know what I mean, though. It's just like it's out of your control.

SEGAL: Strange you should say that. That's the essence of what we're talking about I think.

GROSS: Because you didn't used to be that interested in faces. I mean, there really weren't facial details in your plaster sculptures.

SEGAL: Quite so.

GROSS: Certainly, you didn't do like intimate self-portraits of yourself...


... earlier on to my knowledge.

SEGAL: Again, quite true. Again, quite true.

GROSS: So how does it feel to you at this stage of your career, or your 70s, to start doing more realistic self-portraits?

SEGAL: Depends on your definition of realism. Very strange, how do I say it? When Jackson Pollock first started throwing paint, he was accused by people who were disturbed by the lack of resemblance to nature, the real world, in the paintings, and Pollock, you know, stood erectly and insisted, "I am nature."

And I burst out laughing when I heard that remark. And I had this instant vision in my head that I was standing behind Pollock while he was throwing paint. He was wearing suntan pants, for some reason, maybe it has to do with The Gap, I don't know. And but he was not wearing a shirt.

And while he was throwing paint, I was watching the muscles on his back and his arms working. I need that kind of realism. I also need the realism of what's going on in your head. How does an artist make concrete all that invisible stuff that all of us have inside our heads?

And what one artist will call realism, someone else will call the "essence" of an idea.

GROSS: My guest is sculptor George Segal. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


My guest is artist George Segal. A traveling retrospective of his work is at the Jewish Museum in New York.

You grew up, let me see if I have this straight. You were born in the Bronx and then moved to New Jersey where your father bought a chicken farm?

SEGAL: Yeah. You say that with a question mark.

GROSS: Right, I want to make sure I'm right about this.

SEGAL: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: So your father had a chicken farm in New Jersey. And the butcher shop that he had came before or after the chicken farm?

SEGAL: The butcher shop came before.

GROSS: Came before the chicken farm.

SEGAL: My father assured me, he said, "You'll never make a living as an artist." At the time that he said, it was true. And people always have to eat. The crowning irony was I started going bankrupt on my own chicken farm.

I learned chicken farming from my father. I studied art in school. But I did listen to the extent where I majored in art education. I got that degree that allowed me to teach.


Started going bankrupt on my chickens and started selling my art.

GROSS: Although you abandoned the chicken farming, you kept the farm, I believe, and turned the chicken coops into your studios.

SEGAL: Yeah, that's exactly true.

GROSS: So your chicken farm must be filled with very rich memories?

SEGAL: It's also filled with sculpture. Some sculpture is sculpture I couldn't sell, and some sculpture I insisted on keeping. But I won't tell you which is which.


GROSS: Fair enough. And I think you also used your chicken farm as a site for one of the early happenings in the late '50s, one organized by your friend Alan Capro (ph).

SEGAL: Absolutely. Absolutely.

GROSS: What was that like? What was the happening like?

SEGAL: Well, Capro lived down the road from me about two miles away. And we live in the country. He found a farmer who brought four tons of hay in bales that was stacked on my -- on a piece of bare ground.

He wanted to rent a bulldozer to face an army of grown people and children armed with sticks from the woods. And the first time in my life I ever censored an art event.

I said, "Have you ever driven a bulldozer before?" He said, "No." And I said, "If your foot slips, we have some dead people." So he got a row of cars to battle the army of people and sticks.

It was like that. Lucinda Childs (ph) and Yvonne Rainard (ph) danced on the roof. Oh, Lamont Young (ph) and his wife Marion (ph) played on their instruments. It was intensely interesting.

GROSS: Who had to clean up afterwards?

SEGAL: Everybody did their own cleanup. It was remarkable. You know, the art world was very small. About 400 people were there. And everybody picked up after themselves. It was quite astonishing. Listen, the art world when it began in those years, was the last refuge for idealists.

GROSS: What have you been able to use from your knowledge of chicken farming and apply to your art, anything?

SEGAL: Well, I used to hate the chickens. They were cannibals. And they were vicious with each other. But I loved the building. You know, I learned plumbing, carpentry, electricity, cement work. I learned all those things building my own place, which stands me in good stead as a sculptor.

GROSS: Do you eat much chicken now?

SEGAL: Only when I'm forced.

GROSS: Really?


You had it with chickens a long time ago?


SEGAL: For reasons I don't understand, my wife still loves to eat them. I love to avoid them.

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

SEGAL: Thank you.

GROSS: George Segal. The retrospective of his work is at the Jewish Museum in New York through October 4. It opens at the Miami Art Museum in December. The catalog is published by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which originated the show.

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


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: George Segal
High: Sculptor and painter George Segal talks about his work which is being featured through October at The Jewish Museum in New York City. It is his first major exhibition in North America in 20 years. He is best known for his free standing sculptures depicting everyday people in urban settings.
Spec: Arts; Sculpture; George Segal
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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: George Segal
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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