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Stanley Tucci And The Art Of Transformation

Stanley Tucci may be a star, but he's still got the protean gifts of a great character actor: He can transform himself for each new role he brings to the screen. You've seen him as a flamboyant art director in The Devil Wears Prada, a stereotypical Italian gangster in The Road To Perdition, a conniving politico in Swing Vote, the impish Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and a neurotic lover in Deconstructing Harry. And if a career like that suggests a certain versatility, Tucci's most recent films particularly highlight his ability to inhabit a range of personalities. Within only a few months, Tucci has turned in a hugely ingratiating performance as the loving husband of chef Julia Child in Julie and Julia and a decidedly disturbing turn as a child molester and murderer in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. The actor joins Fresh Air guest host to talk about his life, his work and the creative contrasts he's explored in his career.

21:23

Other segments from the episode on January 5, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 5, 2010: Interview with Stanley Tucci; Interview with John Oliver.

Transcript

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Stanley Tucci And The Art Of Transformation

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, in for
Terry Gross, who's still a bit under the weather.

Today's first guest, actor Stanley Tucci, delivers a bone-chilling
performance as a man suspected of raping and killing a young girl in the
new movie "The Lovely Bones." When he's questioned by police, what's
most frightening is his calmness.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Lovely Bones")

Mr. STANLEY TUCCI (Actor): (As George Harvey) I think when something
like this happens, you always blame yourself. All I can think about now
is why didn't I see something or why didn't I hear something? Because
surely, that young girl must have screamed.

BIANCULLI: Stanley Tucci has been described by one critic as an actor
with ordinary looks and extraordinary range. On television, he played
journalist Walter Winchell and Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, and on
film, his roles stretch from a pragmatic Italian chef in "Big Night" -
which he also wrote and directed - to the Shakespearean faerie Puck in a
movie version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He's appeared twice
opposite Meryl Streep, in "The Devil Wears Prada" and the more recent
"Julie & Julia."

Tucci's role as a child molester and murderer in "The Lovely Bones" is
one of the darkest of his career. Based on a novel by Alice Sebold, it
centers on the murder of an adolescent girl by a man in her
neighborhood. The story is seen through the eyes of the victim in
heaven, as she watches her family cope with the tragedy and the police
struggling to find her killer.

Tucci recently spoke to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Stanley Tucci, welcome to FRESH AIR. You have two daughters, I know. Did
you have any hesitation about taking this role?

Mr. TUCCI: Actually, I have three children. And yes, two of them are
daughters, and yes, I was very hesitant to take this role - not only
because of them, but just because I don't – I'm never – I don't care to
watch movies or read books or see documentaries about serial killers or
child molesters or people who are both. I don't – there's too much of it
around. I think America's kind of obsessed with it.

So it's not interesting to me, and I find it repellant - not that we
should pretend these people don't exist, but if you looked at the media,
you'd swear that there's a serial killer lurking around every corner.

DAVIES: And so what made you - what convinced you to overcome that and
take this role?

Mr. TUCCI: Well, I thought that the story was a beautiful story. And as
an actor, sometimes you take things for the role, and sometimes you take
them to be involved in the thing as a whole. This was the latter, but I
also did see the role as a real challenge to me as an actor. And what
was most important to me, and this is what Pete agreed to, is that there
would be nothing gratuitous in this film...

DAVIES: That's Peter Jackson, the director.

Mr. TUCCI: Peter Jackson, I'm sorry, yes - that there would be nothing
gratuitous in the film as far as violence or sex went, and he stuck to
that. They wanted a specific rating, which helped us achieve that. But
there's never really any need to show the kind of stuff that happens in
a movie like this. In fact, I think it's much more interesting for the
audience to have to imagine it themselves. It's almost – it's more
horrible.

DAVIES: Yeah. And indeed, the chilling scenes really involve you and
this young actress, Saoirse Ronan. And I thought we would listen to a
clip from the film. And this is at an important moment, where your
character, George Harvey, has lured this young 14-year-old girl into
sort of an underground dugout, and she's beginning to get uncomfortable.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Lovely Bones")

Mr. TUCCI: (As Harvey) Are you warm? Hmm? You can take your coat off, if
you want.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TUCCI: (As Harvey) You look very pretty, Susie.

Ms. SAOIRSE RONAN (Actor): (As Susie Salmon) Thanks.

Mr. TUCCI: (As Harvey) Do you have a boyfriend? Hmm? No? I knew it. See,
I knew you weren't like all the other girls. I knew that.

Ms. RONAN: (As Susie) Mr. Harvey?

Mr. TUCCI: (As Harvey) Mm-hmm. It's nice down here, isn't it? Special?
Special down here, right?

Ms. RONAN: (As Susie) Yes. It is. It's very special.

Mr. TUCCI: (As Harvey) Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RONAN: (As Susie) I have to go.

Mr. TUCCI: (As Harvey) I don't want you to leave. I'm not going to hurt
you, Susie.

DAVIES: Now, that's our guest Stanley Tucci in the film "The Lovely
Bones," playing there with Saoirse Ronan. Boy, that's difficult stuff to
listen to, even just the audio. Tell us about...

Mr. TUCCI: Imagine how I feel.

DAVIES: Yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TUCCI: Uck.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Well, yeah, it had to be hard. Tell us, first of all, what kind
of research you did to get into the role.

Mr. TUCCI: Well, the research was – you know, the research was very
unnerving, to say the least. You know, once I decided to do the role, I
knew I had to sort of dive into it. But you can only dive into something
– you can't really dive into it. You just sort of wade into doing the
research for a role like this, because these people are so repellant.

I could only focus on either watching a film or, you know, a documentary
or reading accounts or looking at photos or reading the books by John
Douglas, who's the, you know, number one FBI profiler of these guys. And
I could spend about an hour to an hour-and-a-half a day. That was the
most I could do.

So luckily, I had some time to prepare for it before we started
shooting, so I could build up to it. But one of the key things for me
was the externals of the character - in other words, finding the proper
look for him. And sometimes it helps to work, you know, in essence, from
the outside in. And what you do is you're putting on a mask for – you
know, to use a hackneyed expression. But that mask helps you sort of
free yourself emotionally, because when you look in the mirror, it's not
you. It's somebody else.

DAVIES: When I looked at the film, I thought, you know, I'm not sure
that's Stanley Tucci, and my wife had the same reaction. We watched it
together. Talk a little bit about what you did to physically transform
your appearance.

Mr. TUCCI: I felt that we needed to find what this guy looked like -
what this person – who this person was in 1973 in sort of middle
America. You know, it takes place outside of – in the suburbs of
Philadelphia, let's say. And we had to find what that person was.

That person had to be a very nondescript person, an innocuous-looking
person, an everyman. And he wouldn't look like me. He wouldn't be as
dark as I am. He wouldn't have dark eyes. He wouldn't - he needed to
blend in. And what we ended up creating was this fellow with sort of
sandy hair and beige clothes and a moustache and glasses, and I added
teeth just to change the shape of my mouth a little bit - even though
you don't ever actually see the teeth, but they also helped me change
the way I talked. And I wanted to talk in that slight sort of
Pennsylvania-Philly accent where you have soft W's or baby-talk R's and
L's, and add a little paunch and change this color of my skin a little
bit.

In fact, there are shots of me at the beginning of the film, in this
mall, and you'd – even I didn't see me there, which - you know, in a
crowd. And then I knew that we had achieved our goal.

DAVIES: You know, the other interesting thing that occurred to me is
that you're doing this really intense scene with a 15-year-old actress.
Saoirse...

Mr. TUCCI: She was 13 at the time.

DAVIES: Thirteen, okay, Saoirse Ronan. Talk a little bit about how you
worked with her. Did - you know, and built the kind of – I don't know –
trust and rapport that you needed to do this.

Mr. TUCCI: Well, Saoirse is a very mature 13-year-old, now - and a very
mature 15-year-old, mature as an actress but mature as a person, too.
She has a worldliness and a wisdom that I've never seen before in
anybody that age and a very wonderful, sophisticated, ironic, caustic
sense of humor, which was the saving grace for all of us.

Saoirse was the one who made us feel comfortable about the movie that we
were making. I looked to her, maybe, for security, in a way. If I knew
she was okay, then everything was okay. And sometimes after the – you
know, after takes, I'd say are you all right? Is everything – did I hurt
you? Did it hurt your leg when you were on the ladder? Did you – and
then sometimes, I would just say are you okay, meaning just emotionally.

And she always said I'm fine. You know, she's this little, skinny Irish
girl. She'd say: I'm fine, Stanley. Don't worry about it. I'm all right.
I'm all right. You know, and then in the makeup trailer, it was lots of
jokes about murder and lots of jokes about whatever, because you have to
do it to sort of keep yourself sane.

I remember her coming up to me in the makeup trailer and putting her arm
around me and saying: Stanley, you know, if anyone had to kill me, I'm
awfully glad that you're my murderer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Our guest is Stanley Tucci. He stars in the new film, "The
Lovely Bones." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Stanley Tucci. He
stars in the new film "The Lovely Bones."

Well, I wanted to talk about a more – a couple of more recent roles of
yours, and one of them being "The Devil Wears Prada," where you play
Nigel. He's the art director at Runway, the fashion magazine, working
for Miranda Priestly. She's, of course, played by Meryl Streep, this
high-powered, ego-centric, abusive diva of a magazine publisher. And the
story centers around a young woman, Andy, who is played by Anne
Hathaway, who comes and is Meryl Streep's new assistant and finds it
very difficult.

And she's come to you in this scene and is just so frustrated that she
seems to get no credit for how hard she's trying, and you're going to
set her straight. And I think I should say, just for context, that
although she's a very attractive woman, she is looked down upon by
everybody in this world as being a frumpy, unattractive and having no
fashion sense - and heavens, she is a size six.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Devil Wears Prada")

Mr. TUCCI: (As Nigel) What is it that you want me to say to you? Huh? Do
you want me to say poor you? Miranda's picking on you - poor you, poor
Andy. Hmm? Wake up, six. She's just doing her job. Don't you know that
you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists
of the century: Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta? And what they did, what
they created was greater than art because you live your life in it.
Well, not you, obviously, but some people.

You think this is just a magazine? Hmm? This is not just a magazine.
This is a shining beacon of hope for - oh, I don't know, let's say a
young boy growing up in Rhode Island with six brothers pretending to go
to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading
Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight.

You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls, and what's
worse, you don't care because this place, where so many people would die
to work, you only deign to work. And you want to know why she doesn't
kiss you on the forehead and give you a gold star on your homework at
the end of the day. Wake up, sweetheart.

DAVIES: And that's my guest, Stanley Tucci, playing Nigel the art
director in "The Devil Wears Prada." Do you want to talk a little bit
about getting into this world of fashion publishing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TUCCI: I didn't have any time to get into the world of fashion
publishing. I was cast – they were shooting already, and I was cast
about three days before I started shooting. So I had to figure out who
this guy was very quickly.

Now, luckily, it was beautifully written, as you can tell by that piece.
That's a really beautifully written speech. You know, but you also have
to remember that Pat Fields, who designed the costumes, was an
incredible gift to me, and they were some of the best costume fittings,
the most enjoyable costume fittings I have ever had. I think I spent
more time in costume fittings than I did in front of the camera.

But they were fascinating. She taught me more about dressing a character
from stuff that's pulled from, you know, collections than anybody ever.

DAVIES: So are you not a guy who would have paid enormous attention to
what you wear in the past?

Mr. TUCCI: No, I actually am. I actually – that was one of the reasons I
was very excited to do the role, because I actually love clothes, and
you know, my friends – my friends' wives will often say: Stanley, will
you please take him shopping? Please take them shopping. Please take
them shopping. I'm a sucker for a nice suit.

DAVIES: So this fit.

Mr. TUCCI: Yes, it fit.

DAVIES: Now after that, you appeared with Meryl Streep again in the film
"Julie & Julia," which is this interesting, Nora Ephron film in which
Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, as she's in France with her husband,
Paul Child, kind of learning French cooking and then eventually
becoming, you know, the cooking instructor that we all came to know.

And then there's this other story of another young woman who, many,
many, many years later, is writing a blog about cooking all of her
recipes.

But you play Paul, Julia Child's husband, and I thought we'd listen to a
bit from that film, where you're with Julia Child, played by Meryl
Streep, and you're offering her some comfort after her cookbook - which,
of course, would eventually become so important - has actually just been
rejected by a publisher.

(Soundbite of movie, "Julie & Julia")

Mr. TUCCI: (As Paul Child) We'll figure it out. You can teach in our
kitchen.

Ms. MERYL STREEP (Actor): (As Julia Child) True.

Mr. TUCCI: (As Paul) You can teach on television.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STREEP: (As Julia) Television? Me?

Mr. TUCCI: (As Paul) Yes.

Ms. STREEP: (As Julia) Oh, Paul.

Mr. TUCCI: (As Paul) Oh no, Julia, I think you would be excellent on
television.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TUCCI: (As Paul) I do.

Ms. STREEP: (As Julia) Paul...

Mr. TUCCI: (As Paul) I do. I'm not kidding you. I'm not. Someone is
going to publish your book. Someone is going to read your book and
realize what you've done because your book is amazing. Your book is a
work of genius. Your book is going to change the world. Do you hear me?

Ms. STREEP: (As Julia) You are so sweet.

DAVIES: And that is Stanley Tucci with Meryl Streep in the film "Julie &
Julia," and you're playing Julia Child's husband there. Do you want to
say a little bit about this role?

Mr. TUCCI: Oh, my God. It was so much fun. It was – like "The Devil
Wears Prada," it was kind of a dream role. There wasn't a tremendous
amount on the page, necessarily, but it was the spirit of him and his
adoration of her and of a great lifestyle that attracted me to doing the
film, and he was a fascinating – I mean, they were a fascinating couple.

I was kind of obsessed with Julia Child – I've been ever since I was a
kid. My mom watched Julia Child. She revered Julia Child. I remember
watching her show when I was young and almost crying at the end of it
because she was so passionate about what she did. She loved what she did
so much.

DAVIES: Seriously? You got wrought up in her making a souffle?

Mr. TUCCI: I wouldn't say wrought up, but I was moved. I was moved at
the end of it, and it was only years later, when I thought back on it, I
thought why did I feel that way? What made me feel that way? And I
realized it was because, like I said, her passion for what she did, her
love for what she did was so profound that you hoped to go through your
life like that.

DAVIES: Right. Well, I've read that you and Meryl Streep are actually
quite good friends...

Mr. TUCCI: Yes.

DAVIE: ...and that you, around the holidays, duel at games of charades.
Is that right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TUCCI: Yes. Well, we had a friend of ours who used to have a party
every year. That person was Natasha Richardson, unfortunately, who was a
very good friend of ours, who passed away, as you know. And we used to –
she had a wonderful Christmas party every year, and we would play
charades. Natasha would organize the teams of charades, and a lot of
times, Tasha and I were the captains or, you know, Meryl would be a
captain, and it was great fun.

It was a lot of very famous, very talented actors. And the first time I
went there, I was so nervous and embarrassed that I could barely play
charades.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TUCCI: But after a few years, and then once you realize, you know,
you have to have a number of martinis to do it, then you're fine. And it
was always great, great fun.

DAVIES: Right. And nobody had an understudy for the charades game.

Mr. TUCCI: Nobody had an understudy, no. There were some people who just
skipped out, though, after – you know, once the game was about to start.
But Meryl, it's very hard to play charades with Meryl because she's just
too good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Our guest is Stanley Tucci. He's a long, varied career. His
latest film is "The Lovely Bones," based on the novel by Alice Sebold.

You know, I want to ask you this - and if this is too personal, feel
free to take a pass. But this film, "The Lovely Bones," is, in part,
about how randomly cruel life can be. And I know that earlier this year,
you lost your wife, Kate, to cancer, and you have these three school-age
children. And, you know, you've had such a terrific career in so many
ways, you know, film and television and plays and directing and acting.
And then, you know, such a life-shattering event occurs, and I'm just –
how are you doing?

Mr. TUCCI: Well, alternately good and bad. It's all – you know, it's
been a really wonderful year when it comes to career, but certainly, I
never would be where I am now without Kate, and I'm sad that I am here
now without Kate. She was an extraordinary person. She was the strongest
person I've ever met, and she died unnecessarily of cancer.

There were – we found alternative treatments at the end that were
helping her, but it was too late. Too much damage was done by
conventional treatments. It was not the cancer that killed her. It was
the conventional treatments that killed her. And that's the most
frustrating thing.

The – having the knowledge that I have now, the understanding of cancer
and its treatments and having discovered these alternative treatments
is, it's wonderful, it's exciting, I know that I can help other people,
but I'm sad that we discovered them, literally, three months too late.

So, of course, there's all the blaming of yourself, which you can't do,
but you kind of do do. And I'm just – I'm mostly sad. I'm sad for Kate
that she can't be here, and I'm sad for my children that they didn't
have the opportunity to spend more time with her because she was an
extraordinary person.

DAVIES: Well, we're sorry for your loss.

Mr. TUCCI: Thank you.

DAVIES: And Stanley Tucci, I want to thank you so much for speaking with
us.

Mr. TUCCI: Thank you so much. It's been really a pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Stanley Tucci, speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
Stanley's new movie is "The Lovely Bones," based on the novel by Alice
Sebold. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
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John Oliver: Topical Comedy, With A Crisp Accent

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross.

John Oliver is a familiar face to those who watch Comedy Central’s "The
Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and he's an even more familiar voice. He
is the only comic correspondent with a British accent, which, of course,
has earned him the title of senior British correspondent. At "The Daily
Show," every correspondent is a senior something.

John Oliver, born in Birmingham in England, was a member of the
Cambridge Footlights, and "The Daily Show" sought him out, rather than
the other way around. He's been working as one of Jon Stewart’s
sidekicks since 2006, and also has appeared semi regularly on the TV
series, "Important Things with Demetri Martin" and "Community."

But this Friday, John Oliver gets his first leading role, as the star of
his own six-week Comedy Central TV series, "John Oliver’s New York
Stand-Up Show." The program features him doing his own comedy routines,
as well as showcasing those of other comics.

Terry recently spoke with John Oliver. Here's a taste from his new
special.

(Soundbite of TV show, "John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show")

Mr. JOHN OLIVER (Host, "John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show";
Correspondent, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart"): Here's a little
background about me before we begin. I came to America much like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: ...much like Eddie Murphy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. OLIVER: I, too, am a fictional African prince.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. OLIVER: I came to America three-and-a-half years ago, and I loved it
here, straightaway. And, you know, I say that with some surprise
because, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I would.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: It was strange falling in love with a country at a point
that many people and history...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: ...may yet judge to be at its worse.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: It was like falling in love with a girl who has just
throwing up all over herself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TERRY GROSS: That’s John Oliver, from the opening of his new show, "New
York Stand-Up," which premiers Friday, January 8th, at 11 o’clock
Eastern on Comedy Central. John Oliver, welcome to FRESH AIR. It’s such
a pleasure to have you on the show. So...

Mr. OLIVER: Thank you, Terry. Thanks for having me.

GROSS: ...how much stand up have you done over the years?

Mr. OLIVER: Well, it was, like, it was - it’s my job. I guess I still
think, in a way, it’s my job. I started when I left college. So, that
was 10 years ago. And it was what I was doing in England, mainly, I
guess, before I came to America to work for "The Daily Show." So I’ve
always done it. I can’t imagine a time of not doing it. I mean, my boss,
Jon Stewart, he still does it. There’s no need for him to do it, and he
still finds himself going out every month or so to do a theater or a
college somewhere just because - I guess it’s an itch that has to be
scratched. That’s a nice, poetic way of saying it. I guess, more, it’s
like being a heroin addict, because...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: ...it’s not particularly good for you, and yet it’s hard to
stop.

GROSS: So, you came to America to do "The Daily Show"? You weren’t here
before?

Mr. OLIVER: Yeah. I'd never been to America before. So, I was offered
this job.

GROSS: That’s bizarre, because you’re coming to America and have to
really understand how the politics work in order to do good satire, and
you've never been here. That’s kind of amazing.

Mr. OLIVER: Right. Although - I mean, I guess you got to understand the
extent to which people’s lives are affected by America around the world.
We all have a fairly good idea - at least a workable understanding - of
how America affects us elsewhere on the planet. And so everything else
was just really trying to catch up. It was a crash course in trying to
work out the more intricate ways that Congress works. And for that, I
really must thank Wikipedia.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: For many meetings in those first few months, I'd think, oh,
okay. Let me - that’s sounds great. Let me just go in and look up
exactly what branch of government they’re referring to there.

GROSS: Did you have to come up with a persona for the show?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: No. I think you are overestimating my performance ability.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: Not really. I think my accent became a persona in and of
itself, in its - I think deep down, Americans still can’t help but
respect the British accents. They think there's something latent in your
history, in our history that you haven’t quite - you still can’t help
but respect the authority of this voice. So, I think...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: ...just the way I spoke, people think, oh, he must be
playing kind of smart reporter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: If that’s what you want to believe, then I’m happy to let
you continue doing so.

GROSS: Well, let’s hear one of the reports that you did for "The Daily
Show." And let me just reintroduce you. My guest is John Oliver. He is a
reporter for - a correspondent for "The Daily Show." And...

Mr. OLIVER: That’s right, a correspondent, not a reporter.

GROSS: Not a reporter.

Mr. OLIVER: Let’s be clear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: I have none of the requisite qualifications. Not that many
reporters do now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: I’m a fake reporter.

GROSS: And...

Mr. OLIVER: This is not Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism you’re about
to hear.

GROSS: And John Oliver also has a new show that he's hosting on Comedy
Central, starting Friday, January 8th, and that’s called "John Oliver’s
New York Stand-Up Show." Okay, so, here's the report that I want to
play. You were reporting in October from a gay rights march in
Washington...

Mr. OLIVER: Uh-huh.

GROSS: ...that was protesting President Obama’s lack of action on don’t
ask, don’t tell and other gay equality issues. So, here you are during
the report. Before you actually get to the march, you’re introducing
clips from various interviews and from Fox News. So, let’s hear it.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

Mr. OLIVER: If we all know one thing about gay people, it’s that they’re
up to something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #1: The radical gay agenda is in the business of
removing parental rights and indoctrinating children.

Unidentified Man #1: This is an agenda of a homosexual activist.

Mr. OLIVER: I went to Washington, D.C. to infiltrate this gay movement
and find out what’s their harrowing vision for America was all about.

Unidentified Woman #2: So, I want my relationship with my partner to be
recognized.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #2: We want to have equal rights in everything.

Unidentified Woman #3: Same equal rights to every other American...

Unidentified Woman #4: I want a...(unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #2: We want to be treated like everybody else.

Mr. OLIVER: I was horrified. These radical monsters wouldn’t even admit
what they were doing.

Unidentified Man #3: I don’t think there is a radical gay agenda. I
think it’s just people wanting to be treated like everybody else.

Mr. OLIVER: But isn't that just what someone who is working within the
radical gay agenda would say?

Unidentified Man #3: I don’t have a clue.

Unidentified Man #4: They should have equal rights to their spouse’s
benefits, medical benefits. They should have equal rights that they...

Mr. OLIVER: Now I think I’m getting this. You want health care so you
can live longer, be gayer. Then there's more of you, so you can vote for
more gay things.

Unidentified Woman #5: Equal rights under the law to visit the person we
love in the hospital.

Mr. OLIVER: Why would you want to do that? So you can continue boffing?

Unidentified Woman #5: So I can continue what?

Mr. OLIVER: Boffing.

GROSS: That’s John Oliver at a gay rights march in October of 2009. John
Oliver, the people who you were interviewing...

Mr. OLIVER: Yeah.

GROSS: ...for "The Daily Show," what did they know about what you were
up to? Do they know you were John Oliver, a correspondent for "The Daily
Show"?

Mr. OLIVER: Well, I guess, the field pieces we do are split, really,
between the kind of thing you just heard, which is man-on-the-street
stuff, which is much faster and more run-and-gun-style interviews, and
the ones that we plan long-term, in advance. Now, the ones we do in
advance, they all absolutely know exactly what the show is, and they've
had time to think about it.

But for the marches and the quick turnaround pieces, it’s really more a
case of just going up to people, saying I’m from something called "The
Daily Show." Would you like to do an interview? And then, ideally,
asking the first question before they’ve had chance to say yes or no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: So, it really depends where you go. Now, on the gay rights
march, a lot of people knew instantly who we were. And so, really, you
just have to point out to them, saying you need to take this seriously.

GROSS: Like, you play it straight, they should play it straight...

Mr. OLIVER: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and you’ll be the funny guy.

Mr. OLIVER: Yeah - no, it was kind of the – not - that - I mean, I don’t
think – in hindsight, I will be the funny guy. But at the time, we’re -
I'm the bad – yeah. I'm the bad journalist.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. OLIVER: So they should respond - when I say terrible things, they
should respond appropriately to that, which is to be angry or, you know,
defend their point. So, with that example, our take clearly was finding
out what this radical gay agenda is. And, of course, in reality what it
is, is the most basic equal rights you can imagine.

GROSS: Do people ever misinterpret you, not know what "The Daily Show"
is or who you are, and think you’re merely an idiot?

Mr. OLIVER: Yes, all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: And I'm not sure if it's misinterpretations all the time. I
mean, sometimes, it is just an accurate piece of being able to see
what’s going on. It’s...

GROSS: So, what happens in situations like that, where they think you’re
just a fool or dangerous?

Mr. OLIVER: That’s usually the...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. OLIVER: ...best moments. When we go to things like the tea parties,
their beliefs are so deeply held that it will really outweigh them
feeling like they’re going to be made fun of. And, also, I guess you
have to understand that when you see people say crazy things on our
show, they mean this stuff, and that’s easy to forget. They’re not
joking. So, for instance, we’ve done an interview a while ago with a guy
before the election who was talking about how community organizing was a
good gateway drug, really, as a career for becoming a crack dealer,
which is a ridiculous thing to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: And you laughing at that is the appropriate human response.
So we did put him in the piece, obviously, and people laughed again,
obviously. And yet, he called afterwards - and this is more often the
case than you would believe - to say, oh, can I please have some copies
of the piece for my friends and family. Because you forget, he means
that. What’s a joke to us is a deeply held belief for him.

GROSS: Now, didn’t you meet your wife while covering the Republican
Convention for "The Daily Show"?

Mr. OLIVER: I did - not my wife, yet. Thanks very much, Terry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: Thanks for putting that pressure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: I did. That was pretty strange, I’ll say. It was – because
it was the – you must remember that it was the - Republican was still
exactly the week after. Usually, there's a break between the Democrat
and the Republican conventions. So I was exhausted, and there was a
certain layer, the mid-layer on which we weren’t allow to film at the
Republican National Convention. That’s where most of the high-end
politicians were. So, obviously, that is the one place, really, you do
want to film. So, we’d found a catering entrance that we could access.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: We put our camera stuff through with the catering equipment
and fancy cakes. So, we would have a certain amount of time before we
were kicked out. And at one point, we were being literally chased by
security, and my girlfriend, my partner now, soon-to-be wife - thank
you, Terry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You’re welcome.

Mr. OLIVER: She said you can hide in our room, if you like. She served.
She was a combat medic with the first cavalry in Iraq. And so she was
there with the vets' groups. They’d been at both conventions. And so...

GROSS: Like a veterans’ right group.

Mr. OLIVER: Yeah, yeah, kind of lobbying for veterans’ issues. And so -
yeah, we met there and kind of kept in sporadic touch and then met up
Christmas last year. And, you know, we’d live together pretty soon
afterwards. It was - yeah, we met in what I would say scientifically is
the least romantic place on earth: the Republican National Convention.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now, one other thing that happened to you when reporting for "The
Daily Show," didn’t you break your nose?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: I did. That was my second piece. We wanted to do a piece
about America’s attitude to war, and so we went to a Civil War
reenactment society. And the joke was supposed to be that I was fighting
for the North - you’re welcome, America.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: And I would run at the South before they shouted go, which
is pretty much how they start these enactments. I presume that’s how the
Civil War started. Someone at some point shouted, go. And so I was
running towards the South, and I could feel myself slip and fall. And I
had a bayonet in my hand. So, I put – I kind of managed to get the
bayonet down, and by that point, I had face planted into the ground and
broke my nose. And we called back to the office. And the – I guess this
was the point I knew why I was letting myself in for with this show. The
first thing they asked was: Did you get it on camera? And we said, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: And they said, good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: Was it funny? And then you've got - yes, yes, it was funny.
So by the time I got back to the office, we’d already sent the footage
back. So all I could hear was gales of laughter as people just kept...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: ...repeat viewing me smashing my face into the ground. So,
we ended up doing a reenactment, a re-reenactment at the end of that
piece with a huge bodybuilder guy playing me with a more - yeah, look a
huge chest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: My guest is John Oliver. He's a correspondent for "The Daily
Show," and he's hosting a new show that begins on Comedy Central Friday,
January 8th. It’s called "John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show."

Let’s take a short break here, and then we’ll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is John Oliver. He's a comic.
He's a correspondent for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and he’s
about to host his own show on Comedy Central called "John Oliver’s New
York Stand-Up Show." It premiers Friday, January 8th.

One of the things you do so well on "The Daily Show" is your sit downs
with Jon Stewart in which you’re the expert on something...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: That's right.

GROSS: ...and you’re reporting to him.

Mr. OLIVER: Yeah.

GROSS: And so, before we talk about how that works, let’s hear an
excerpt. This is one of the golden oldies from the Bush administration,
and this is one of the reports about – this is a report, basically, on
how the war on terror has also become a war on words. So here’s my guest
John Oliver with Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show."

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. JON STEWART (Host, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"): Senior
interrogation analyst, Mr. Jon Oliver joins us now. Jon Oliver, let me
ask you this. This is upsetting to me.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. STEWART: The people - obviously, the people love torture.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: How is fake drowning, sleep deprivation, how isn’t that
torture?

Mr. OLIVER: That is not torture.

Mr. STEWART: Why?

Mr. OLIVER: Because we don't torture.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Meaning we don't do those things.

Mr. OLIVER: Ah, no, no. Meaning, that if we do do those things, they
must not be torture.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: That's insane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: Well, isn't it great that we live in a country where you can
say things like that?

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. OLIVER: That's really something. That's a bright day for America.

Mr. STEWART: But John, if it's not torture, what is it?

Mr. OLIVER: Enhanced interrogation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: So the prisoners...

Mr. OLIVER: Whoa - detainees.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Why aren't they prisoners?

Mr. OLIVER: Well, you can't torture prisoners, Jon. That's the Geneva
Convention.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: But a detainee?

Mr. OLIVER: No, that you could do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: So waterboarding a prisoner...

Mr. OLIVER: Torture.

Mr. STEWART: Waterboarding a detainee.

Mr. OLIVER: That's interrogation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: So words in and of themselves have no value.

Mr. OLIVER: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: Wow. I'd have thought you'd at least support our words, Jon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I don't...

Mr. OLIVER: Our brave fighting words who've been serving this country
since the war on terror began.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: Many of them making the ultimate sacrifice, losing their
definitions.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's my guest, John Oliver, with Jon Stewart on "The Daily
Show." You sound so authoritative when you...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: Thank you, it's my vowel sounds. That's the trick.

GROSS: Do you just kind of like enhance your accent - your British
accent to.

Mr. OLIVER: Sometimes - you're right. You have to really turn up the
Brits for certain subjects, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I'm really interested in the process for "The Daily Show." Tell
us how that sketch was written.

Mr. OLIVER: Okay that was a while ago, so, how most cases are written is
that, you know, we have a writers meeting at nine in the morning and
then we come out with some ideas then and we'll split off into pairs or
to write single passes on aspects of the headline or a correspondent
chat, if that's one of the ideas that came out. And then we'll write,
get notes from Jon, rewrite, maybe get some more notes, rewrite again,
rehearse at 4 o'clock, rewrite after that in a smaller group. Then we
have the show at 6 o'clock, it's over at 6:30 and it's done. So, that is
in a nutshell, in the quickest way possible, how we write the show. Now,
for that example what I would imagine happened – again, it's hard to
think back, but I think we thought there was a joke in the sacrifices of
words especially around that time Gonzalez and there was so much parsing
of really vitally important words.

And so, I think that during that piece I was wearing a dictionary pin
like a flag pin. And I think that joke had really come from that to
commemorate the loss of words. So that is becomes your joke and then it
just a question of finding a way to tell that joke, an arc - a story arc
from which you can use that fundamental satire of words as soldiers and
the sacrifices that they're making. You then try and expound on that and
try and find games between me and Jon and find the best jokes to tell
it.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is John Oliver. He is a
British satirist and comic who's a correspondent for "The Daily Show,"
and is about to launch a new show that he hosts which is called "John
Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show." Let's take a short break here and then
we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is John Oliver. He's a
correspondent for "The Daily Show," and he's hosting a new show that
premieres Friday, January 8th, on Comedy Central is called "John
Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show." Have you been to any of the tea
parties?

Mr. OLIVER: Yeah, absolutely.

GROSS: Tell us, what was it like to report from them? Yeah.

Mr. OLIVER: They're a gift for the field department because like we were
saying before, you want people who vehemently believe in something and
you won't find heavier beliefs, more fervently held beliefs, than at
these tea parties. I guess the only thing that came close to it were
Sarah Palin rallies last year. That really did filter the crazy in a way
that was very useful. You were really left with the pure gold of
nutcases. But tea parties are fantastic to report from because the
people are way too passionate, for a start, long beyond the point of
being able to process rational thoughts. And they kind of whip
themselves up into an illogical frenzy and the things they're saying are
either ridiculous or completely abhorrent. No, there were fundamental
questions that you can have, of course, with the government but dressing
up in revolutionary garb and saying that this government is tyrannical
is absolutely ridiculous. Now, we did – that was one of the pieces that
we did: I, as a British person, let me tell you what tyranny really was
back then because my people...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: ...did it to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: And it wasn't slightly increasing in the base rate of
taxation. It was screwing your thumbs off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: So, let's not get carried away here. Let's not devalue the
term tyranny, which certain countries, mine included, worked extremely
hard to give its value.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: So, that was our take for that particular piece was what an
insult, let's not bandy term tyranny around to the countries that earned
its use.

GROSS: What are some of the most extreme but deeply held beliefs that
were told to you?

Mr. OLIVER: The people's fear, again, is real. That's the thing. I guess
the most extreme - I would actually go back to the Sarah Palin rally. We
went to a Palin rally in Scranton and so there were people turning up
there and their fear was real. But when you talk to someone and they
look you in the eye and say he is a Muslim. And not only do they mean
that but they mean that they believe that to be a problem. And they then
go on to say this country is going to be overrun by terrorists. They're
not joking, now. They mean that and their fear is real. They're not
faking it, you know, they've - if you gave them a pulse rate you would
see their pulse quickening as they said it. And that was the problem
with that whole end to the McCain-Palin campaign was it's so cancerous.
The hate – the poison opening out there, you know, the - even after the
election, they're terrified, these people. They're terrified of this
man. Now, there's no reason for them to be, but they don't feel that.

GROSS: What surprised you most about American politics compared to what
you were used to in England. And in England you were satirizing politics
there on shows that you did. So, you were following politics. So what's
fundamentally different in America? What kinds of things would you never
see in England?

Mr. OLIVER: I think there are a few things: one, in the most visual
visceral terms, the flamboyance of it. You know, the conventions were
like a six-year-old's birthday party.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: The amount of balloons that were there, short of having
Obama bursting out of a cake. You know, it's – and throwing presents out
at everyone. It was spectacular. That, I guess, links into the fact the
coverage of politics say in news, the cable news in particular, is just
mind blowing. That was probably something I wasn't fully ready. I knew
it was bad. I think I didn't know quite how bad, how much posturing and
how little actual news was involved. And I think in terms of politics
itself, I think the religion here was a big deal.

When I first got here, Tony Blair was in power in Britain, who is a
devout Catholic. But he would never talk about that and he would
certainly be careful never to be photographed going into a church or be
recorded talking about his faith because people would inherently find
that suspicious. Now, Britain is definitely a more secular place than
here is. But, over here the idea is that you have to have a public faith
in God or you are not fit for office - is very difficult to get used to
as someone from Europe.

GROSS: So, now correct me if I'm wrong, when you started working on "The
Daily Show," you didn't even have a green card to allow you...

Mr. OLIVER: Oh, no. I didn't have a green card. I was on a visa. I got
my green card three weeks ago, I think.

GROSS: Wow.

Mr. OLIVER: It just came through, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Gee. So, does that mean you've been working on the air, in plane
sight, on television illegally?

Mr. OLIVER: No, it doesn't. No, let me stop that rumor getting out right
now, Terry, although I've got a feeling that already people are going to
be turning off their radios and picking up their phones to call
Immigration.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: No, I was legal the whole time. I was on a working visa. But
I wanted to, I love it here. I love this job and I love it here. So, I
wanted to, it's a – being on visa is an odd limbo to live in because you
have to reapply every year and your fate really is in the hands of the
person behind the booth window. In fact – I think you'll like this one -
the last time I had to apply for a visa - so you have to leave the
country, so I went back to London to go to the American embassy. And
your fate is absolutely is in the hands of this person in the interview
talking. I walked up to the booth and the woman behind the booth looked
at me and said with a stone face: Give me one reason why I should let
you back into America to criticize our country again.

GROSS: Ha.

Mr. OLIVER: And I said oh, my blood ran cold, I mean, I don't really
think about it in that way, you know, it's just writing jokes. And then
she said I'm just joking. I absolutely love the show, we watch it here
all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: Stamped the - and I'm not sure that that is a great time for
a joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: You have someone who is about to crumple in front of you, I
think there is a time and a place for a joke like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLIVER: And she got it wrong on both counts.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. Thank you
for all your great work and I really enjoyed talking with you.

Mr. OLIVER: Oh, thank you, Terry. Thanks very much.

BIANCULLI: John Oliver, speaking to Terry Gross. The new TV series by
the senior British correspondent for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,"
begins Friday on Comedy Central. It's called "John Oliver's New York
Stand-Up Show."

You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org. And you can
follow us on Tweeter at nprfreshair. For Terry Gross, I'm David
Bianculli.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
122248300

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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