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Film critic David Edelstein reviews this weekend's new releases: thriller Red Eye and the comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, starring Steve Carell of The Office.

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Other segments from the episode on August 19, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 19, 2005: Review of the television show "Six feet under;"Interview with Alan Ball; Interview with Michael C. Hall.

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DATE August 19, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Review: Five seasons of "Six Feet Under"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

"Six Feet Under," the HBO series about life, death and the meaning of love and
family, concludes its five-season run this Sunday. In a moment we'll listen
to Terry's interviews with Alan Ball, the show's creator, who wrote and
directed the finale, and with Michael C. Hall and Lauren Ambrose, who play
siblings David and Claire Fisher.

But, first, as the TV critic around here, I'd like to put "Six Feet Under" in
perspective and give the show its due. The first episode of "Six Feet Under,"
presented by HBO in 2001, began with Nathaniel Fisher Sr., the patriot of
Fisher & Sons funeral home, being hit by a bus in a freak traffic accident.
His surviving family members had to deal not only with the loss but with
preparing the body for services and both planning and hosting the funeral.

The family members when we first met them were a mess. Widow Ruth, played by
Frances Conroy, almost imploded with grief and anger. Closeted gay son David,
played by Michael C. Hall, was wound way too tightly. Prodigal son Nate,
played by Peter Krause, wanted no part of the family funeral business and not
much to do with the family. And little sister Claire, played by young Lauren
Ambrose, was high on crystal meth when she got the news that her father was
dead. The only person at Fisher & Sons who seemed at all together then was
Federico Diaz, played by Freddy Rodriguez, and he was just an employee, an
artist gifted at preparing bodies for public viewing.

What we didn't know watching that first episode was how many of the characters
and concepts introduced then would deepen and resonate over the years. The
opening death scene, in which Richard Jenkins as Nathaniel was killed while
driving a hearse, turned out to be a recurring motif. Each episode began with
a death, some horrific, some ghoulishly amusing. And that body ultimately
would show up later in the episode to be dealt with at Fisher & Sons.

Another recurring theme established with Nathaniel, the father, was the
haunting. After his death, Nathaniel would appear at times and interact with
initially spooked, eventually accepting family members. Many other corpses
later displayed that same ability from loved ones to total strangers. Some
dispensed advice or offered perspective. Others complained or ridiculed.

And a third recurring element was the fade to white, a knowing nod to the
`follow the light' concept of the gateway to the afterlife. Some scenes would
fade to white and merely shift to the next scene. Others would register the
end of a life by displaying that character's name and the years of his or her
birth and death.

A few weeks ago series creator Alan Ball pulled an unexpected surprise by
fading to white after Nate Fisher, the son and central character, seemed to be
recovering from a second cerebral embolism. The white screen seemed to
linger. Then Nate's name, with the year of his death as 2005, finally came
up. It was a shock, but if you followed "Six Feet Under" the whole way, it
was not only foreshadowed and justifiable, it was inevitable.

The series always has been about the fragility of life, the suddenness of
death and the importance of grasping at happiness and supporting family along
the way. This could have been a sticky sweet sermon, but the Fishers, much as
they loved one another, weren't very good at expressing it or at forging
lasting relationships. Nate married and buried a wife over the course of the
show and had a long-standing, volatile affair with another woman he eventually
married, Brenda, played by Rachel Griffiths. David came out of the closet
and, after a series of demeaning one-night-stands, found a loyal mate in
Keith, played by Mathew St. Patrick. Up until the end, though, that
relationship was rocky. And anyone loved by Ruth or Claire had it rockier
still.

The third and fourth seasons of "Six Feet Under" lost their way a bit but
jolted back to life with a punishingly dramatic episode in which David was
abducted and nearly killed. And since Nate's death last month, "Six Feet
Under" has come full circle in a way as satisfying as a great novel. The
memory of his son, like his father before him, now haunts his family members
to interact, to witness and just to linger.

Here's a scene from Sunday's finale, one that doesn't reveal any sensitive
information. Claire is about to leave to take a job in New York as a
photographer's assistant when her answering machine picks up a bad news call
from the guy who hired her. Claire doesn't pick up the phone to talk to him,
but when the call is over, her dead brother Nate, who appears to her suddenly,
starts his own conversation with her.

(Soundbite of "Six Feet Under"; answering machine beep)

JAVA(ph): Claire, hi. This is Java from New Image(ph). And I hate to be the
one to tell you this, but New Image has been bought by Stock Options(ph), and
they're consolidating their operations and--well, they're in Chicago. So I
hope you haven't headed out here yet. Sorry.

(Soundbite of answering machine beep)

Mr. PETER KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher Jr.) Ah, who cares? Go anyway.

Ms. LAUREN AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) What? Are you crazy? I'm going to
move to New York City without a job?

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher Jr.) Mom gave you the money. You're going to
land somewhere. You'll be fine. You're talented. You're smart. You're
ready.

Ms. AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) What if I'm not?

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher Jr.) Claire, you want to know a secret? I spent
my whole life being scared, scared of not being ready, of not being right, of
not being who I should be. And where did it get me?

BIANCULLI: I won't tell you anything about what happens in Sunday's finale,
but I will tell you that Alan Ball, who wrote and directed it, finishes "Six
Feet Under" in a fashion that's so fitting and provides such closure that it
ranks on my personal list as the third-best TV series ending of all time.
Considering that spots one and two are held respectively by the dream ending
treat on "Newhart" and the autistic daydream shocker on "St. Elsewhere,"
that's about as much praise as I can generate.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Alan Ball discusses his series "Six Feet Under"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The man who concocted the ending of "Six Feet Under" and the beginning and
much of what happened in between is Alan Ball. Before making "Six Feet Under"
for HBO, Alan Ball won an Oscar for his screenplay for "American Beauty,"
another character-driven comedy drama in which the central character dies.
Ball started out as a playwright before shifting to TV and writing for
sitcoms, such as "Grace Under Fire" and "Cybill." Terry spoke with Alan Ball
in June 2001, shortly after "Six Feet Under" was launched. She began by
asking him how HBO executives reacted when he showed them the completed pilot.

Mr. ALAN BALL (Creator, "Six Feet Under"): We had a meeting and, they said,
`It feels a little safe. It feels a little network. Could you make the whole
thing just a little more screwed up?' Well, I had never gotten a note like
that in TV.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Right.

Mr. BALL: And I just sort of, you know, looked up at the ceiling and said,
`Thank you, God.' And I said, `Yeah, yeah, I can definitely screw it up.'
And I didn't go in and screw things up just for the sake of that, but, you
know, when they said that to me, I sort of felt like I had carte blanche to
really go into the nooks and crannies of these characters' psyches. And then
it got really interesting.

GROSS: Can you give us an example of something that was less screwed up
initially that got more screwed up after you got that suggestion?

Mr. BALL: Well, in the pilot, you know, Nate meets Brenda at the airport, and
they have sex and then...

GROSS: Well, just for people who aren't following the series, Nate is the
brother--OK...

Mr. BALL: He's the prodigal son. He's the oldest son...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BALL: ...who left home because he did not want to go into the business.
And he's been sort of a Peter Pan, you know, hippie, basically, and he comes
home, you know, for the Christmas holidays, and his father's killed in a car
accident on the way to the airport to pick him up. But in the pilot, he meets
this woman on the plane, Brenda, and she's kind of very, very sexually
assertive, and they end up having sex in a broom closet. And then in my
original draft, she just was kind of really nice and then she showed up at the
funeral and said, you know, after--Nate has this scene where he sort of
insists on picking up the dirt actually with his bare hands and throwing it
into the grave, as opposed to a more sanitized procedure that's standard for
the funeral home. And she sees that and she sort of goes, `Wow, you know,
that was really impressive.' So she was just basically kind of like the nice
girlfriend, you know.

And so I went back and I made her a little more brittle and a little more
mysterious and put in a phone call where, you know, she calls him and, you
know, just to check out how he's doing. And he sort of flirts with her and
says something along the lines of, you know--he sort of, like, calls her on
some of her stuff, and she just snaps and says to him, `You think you're not
easy to read, you know? Guys like you are good for, you know, a role in the
hay and that's it,' and she hangs up the phone. It just sort of makes it more
complicated, you know.

GROSS: Why don't we play back that phone call that you just described?

(Soundbite from "Six Feet Under"; phone ringing)

Mr. PETER KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher Jr.) Hello?

Ms. RACHEL GRIFFITHS: (As Brenda Chenowith) Well, it's about to start raining
frogs here. How are things on your end?

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher Jr.) God, I'm glad you called.

Ms. GRIFFITHS: (As Brenda Chenowith) Really? Why?

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher Jr.) I don't know. Because you have a calming
effect on me.

Ms. GRIFFITHS: (As Brenda Chenowith) Uh-huh. Are you familiar with the
psychological term `rejection'?

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher Jr.) Are you familiar with the psychological
term (censored)? Come on. Grew up with all that psychobabble; rebelled
against it every chance you got, still do, and that includes having sex with
strangers in closets at airports.

Ms. GRIFFITHS: (As Brenda Chenowith) And you think you're not easy to read?
Coasting by on your looks and charm isn't working like it used to, but you
have no idea what else to do because you've never had to learn. Any woman
with half a brain looks at a guy like you and thinks good for a hot
(censored), but believe me, that's it.

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher Jr.) I...

(Soundbite of phone being hung up)

GROSS: Alan Ball, I'm glad you brought up the character of Nate's girlfriend
because in some ways I still don't know what to make of her. I don't know
whether she's a kind of really smart person, a life force, or whether she's
really troubled, whether she's, beneath all of this, a really troubled person
who's going to do a lot of damage as the series plays out.

Mr. BALL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Do you want me to be confused?

Mr. BALL: At this point, yeah. A lot about Brenda gets explained over the
course of the first season. A lot of why she is the way she is is explained,
and you understand where she comes from. And she's also--underneath that,
she's incredibly vulnerable, much more than she would even like to admit to
herself. And we eventually get to that place.

But what was interesting to me about Nate and Brenda as opposed to, you know,
the traditional--they're kind of like the Hope and Michael from
"thirtysomething" of our show. But the traditional sort of main couple of a
show is usually very well-adjusted and very, you know, committed and very good
about expressing their feelings. And these are two people who don't have any
experience in a long-term relationship, each for their own reasons. And
they're both smart and they're both good people, but they don't necessarily
have the skills to maintain a relationship, but they're both at points in
their lives where they kind of want to do that. And I also think, you know,
in my mind, overlooking the entire course of this series, there's a little bit
of fate involved in the two of them being together.

GROSS: Now I find that I usually resist new series until after a couple of
episodes or more the characters finally get under my skin and I get really
interested in them. I think I have a very crowded brain that feels already
overpopulated with characters and plot lines.

Mr. BALL: Absolutely. Yeah.

GROSS: Do you think of yourself as having to fight against that when you're
writing a pilot?--because in the pilot, you have to do a lot of work. You
have to not only make it interesting, but you have to introduce a whole cast
of characters, introduce the basic plot of the series and keep resistant
people like me interested.

Mr. BALL: Mm-hmm. Well, one of the great things about working at HBO as
opposed to working at the broadcast networks, just based on my own limited
experience with the broadcast networks, is that HBO is constantly encouraging
me to really get into the characters' psyches and get into, you know, the
stuff that's not so pretty--the warts, the neuroses. And as a writer, I've
always been drawn to those characters because, well, number one, I can relate
to them more than I can relate to, like, the perfect heroes or heroines.

And number two, I just--my heart goes out to them. I love characters who are
trying to make sense of their lives and trying to live an authentic life in an
increasingly unauthentic world, but they're not totally equipped and they're
just kind of acting on blind faith and, you know, really, you know, making
mistakes, and their lives are messy. I find that much more poignant and much
more captivating than, you know, your totally perfect hero or your completely
nurturing, you know, wife, mother, heroine--that kind of thing. I just
don't--those archetypes don't interest me.

And plot actually doesn't interest me as much as character. And so in the
pilot of "Six Feet Under," I felt like--you know, there's nothing like a
death, a cataclysmic event, to really bring--it just sort of peels away a
layer of skin. And you get to see how people really are underneath the armor
that they wear through daily life and the masks that they wear through daily
life. And those are the moments to me that are always interesting.

And usually pilots I've worked on before, there's so much studio involvement,
there's so much network involvement and you're constantly being told to
spoon-feed information about the characters to the audience, whereas at HBO it
was just like, `Just let the behavior speak for itself.'

BIANCULLI: Alan Ball speaking with Terry Gross. "Six Feet Under" airs its
final episode on Sunday. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Alan Ball, the creator of
HBO's "Six Feet Under." She spoke with him in 2001 shortly after the show
began.

GROSS: Now I'll tell you something that surprised me. At the end of the
latest episode, episode four, several people at the end of the show actually
seemed to learn a lesson and grow. You know, a gang leader learns to have
empathy with his dead homey's parents; the daughter seems to learn she
probably doesn't want to flirt with gangs and guns; and David, the brother
who's been in the business for a while, kind of learns a lesson from the
corpse. I should say here that the corpse usually talks to...

Mr. BALL: Well, David's the guy who spends the...

GROSS: ...the people in the funeral home. Yeah.

Mr. BALL: Yeah. He spends a lot of his time with dead people, you know? And
that, of course, is not meant--I'm not implying that these people are actually
ghosts. These are manifestations of interior dialogues that he's having with
himself.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BALL: But, yeah, I mean, you know, I think as you watch the series,
people do learn lessons and then they back-track. You know, it's one step
forward, two steps back. But, you know, while I feel like a lot of the
lesson-learned moments in network TV seem to me very saccharine and very
superficial, I don't think that one should necessarily just try to avoid those
moments altogether because we do learn lessons in life. But I--what we
attempt to do is for it to be tempered, for it to be realistic. But people
have profound moments in their lives. And in a show that is about how the
constant presence of death throws your own life into stark relief, I think
people will have profound moments. Are you familiar with the writer Thomas
Lynch?

GROSS: Yeah, the poet who's also an undertaker.

Mr. BALL: Yeah. Well, you know, I did a lot of research when I started
working on this show, and his books had the most profound effect on me just in
terms of the tone of how they were written. And there's a certain reverence
for life, but at the same time just a completely unsentimental acceptance of
the fact that it is fleeting. And so I think that's what I'm attempting to do
in the moments where, you know, people do learn things, people do become aware
of things. They're--people's consciousness expand. But at the same time
it's a constant struggle because, you know, you always want to fall back.

GROSS: You know, you described the series about living in the constant
presence of death. And I know that death really entered your life--I'm not
sure if it was for the first time or not--when you were 13...

Mr. BALL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and your sister was killed in a car accident. You were both in the
car at the time she was driving. Could I ask you to tell what happened?

Mr. BALL: Well, I--my life was very clearly separated into before and after
at that moment. She was driving me to a music lesson, and it was her 22nd
birthday. And she pulled out in front of a car, and it hit the driver's side
and she was killed instantly, and I was not hurt at all. You know, it was a
profoundly shocking and traumatic moment in my life, and, you know, I will
carry deep scars from that moment until the day I die.

And then there was a lot of blood. And in the ambulance I said, `Is she going
to be OK?' And instead of just telling me, `No, she's dead,' they said, `Yes,
yes, she's going to be OK.' They took me to the hospital, and, you know, I
was thinking, `Well, she's going to be OK. She's going to be OK.' I was
holding on to that. And then our family doctor came and picked me up and was
driving me back to meet my parents, and he said, `You're going to have to be
strong for your parents.' And I said, `Well, why?' you know, `She's going to
be OK, isn't she?' And he said, `No.' And there was a moment where I--a very
distinct physical sensation of just the bottom dropping out from under me at
that moment.

And my family--I wouldn't call them dysfunctional because there was no abuse
or no addictions or anything like that, but certainly we were not particularly
skilled in intimacy. And what happened is that everybody sort of splintered
and went into their own little world. And I think that's certainly--there is
a dynamic of that in the Fishers, in that people really kind of--even though
they're a family and they share the same house, they exist as separate
entities. And that, to me, is what gives the show fertile ground because as
these people move towards each other and start to reach out to each other,
that's, I think, where you can really mine that for some great drama and some
great comedy.

BIANCULLI: Alan Ball, the creator of "Six Feet Under," speaking with Terry
Gross in 2001.

The show's final episode, which Ball wrote and directed, airs Sunday night on
HBO. We'll hear more of their interview in the second half of the show. I'm
David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Don't Fear The Reaper")

BLUE OYSTER CULT: (Singing) All our times have come here, but now they're
gone. Seasons don't fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun or the rain.
We can be like they are. Come on, baby, don't fear the reaper. Baby, take my
hand. Don't fear the reaper. We'll be able to fly. Don't fear the reaper.
Baby, I'm your man. La, la, la, la, la.

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Coming up, we continue with Alan Ball, the creator of "Six Feet
Under." The series finale ends this Sunday. We also hear from two stars of
the show, Michael C. Hall, who plays David, and Lauren Ambrose, who plays
Claire. And David Edelstein reviews the films "Red-Eye" and "The 40-Year-Old
Virgin."

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

We're back with Terry's interview with Alan Ball, the creator of the HBO
series "Six Feet Under." The final episode airs Sunday night. "Six Feet
Under" is about a family that owns and runs a funeral home and lives in the
constant presence of death. Alan Ball's sister died in a car crash when he
was 13.

GROSS: What was your sister's funeral like?

Mr. BALL: It was surreal. It was very surreal. It was, you know, the
traditional open casket thing, and I remember the first time I saw her in the
open casket I thought, `OK, who's that?' Because they had done her completely
different. They had given her, like, big boofy hair, which she never wore in
life. It was like a lipstick color that she would never wear. And, I'm
sorry, you know, when they lay those bodies out in caskets they look phony,
they look like wax figures. And it's--certainly for me, and that's all I'm
saying. I'm not saying that this is true for everybody--it was not at all
comforting to see that. And there was a point where my mom just broke down
and started to cry. And somebody from the funeral home just appeared out of
nowhere and silently swooped her off into this room and shut the drape.

And that moment is very--I put that moment in the pilot because I'll never
forget that because the subtext of that moment is, `Oh, these emotions
are--it's--they're--no, you shouldn't see this. This is bad. You shouldn't
have this kind of emotion. The way that we should deal with this is very
quiet, very muffled, keep everything down.' Well, no, that's a lie because
what you need to do is you need to scream, you need to bang on the wall, you
need to like tear at your hair. Because grief is a primal, primal thing, and
the only way out of it is through it. And, you know, it took me 25 years to
learn that because I never really grieved for my sister because, number one, I
was told to stay strong for my parents. Number two, I just didn't have the
skills. You know, I didn't know what you were supposed to feel, how you were
supposed to express it. It was too overwhelming, it was too terrifying, and
so I carried that grief, that unexpressed grief around for 20 years.

GROSS: Well, you know, I thought maybe I could play a scene here. You know,
you're talking about the importance of grief and how, like at your sister's
funeral, the funeral director tried to cover that up by escorting your
grieving mother behind a curtain. There's a scene I want to play from the end
of an episode because it's the first episode in which the father's being
buried, and the--one of the sons, the prodigal son who's come back, wants to
throw fistfuls of dirt onto the coffin as opposed to, as you described it, the
more sanitized symbolic version of throwing dirt onto the coffin which is what
this funeral home usually practices. And his brother, who has been in the
funeral business for a while, gets really angry with him for acting out like
that and for showing his anger and grief in public. And this is the
conversation they have between them about what the appropriate way to behave
is.

(Soundbite of "Six Feet Under")

Mr. MICHAEL C. HALL: (As David Fisher) You want to be the alpha dog, Nate?
Is that it? You're coasting toward midlife with nothing to show for it. Now
you want to come back and be the rock for this family to lean on? (Censored)
you.

Mr. PETER KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher) That is not what I'm...

Mr. HALL: (As David Fisher) Do you want to get your hands dirty? You
sanctimonious prick, talk to me when you've had to stuff formaldehyde-soaked
cotton up your father's ass so he doesn't leak.

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher) Jesus.

Mr. HALL: (As David Fisher) Yeah. Well, I'm sure you just would have just
tossed him out with the garbage. It may seem weird to you, but there is a
reason behind everything that we do here. We provide people with a very
important and sacred service at the darkest time in their lives because maybe
they don't want to make a spectacle of themselves. Because maybe they'd
prefer to grieve in private.

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher) Why? Why does it have to be such a secret?
It's nothing to be ashamed of. Dave, please...

Mr. HALL: (As David Fisher) God, you know nothing. Nothing. You had a
responsibility to this family and you ran away from it, and you left it all
for me...

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher) Whoa, don't blame me if you're not living the
life you want. That is nobody's fault but your own.

Mr. HALL: (As David Fisher) OK, fine. Just do me a favor, OK? You got out.
Stay out.

GROSS: Is there anything you want to say about writing that scene, Alan Ball?

Mr. BALL: Well, yeah, I mean, because I think they both have valid
viewpoints. I don't think Nate is the hero and David is the villain at all.
Because Nate is so self-righteous when he says--when he's telling David, you
can't go through this without getting your hands dirty. He's telling this to
a man who constantly, you know, who constantly prepares dead bodies. And
that's what Nate was afraid off and Nate ran away from. And in David's mind,
of course, he abdicated his responsibility and left David with no choice but
to go into this business. I think it's--I also think, you know, the thing
about the relationship between Nate and David is that the bedrock of that
relationship is just this fierce love for each other. But because of the
various ways that their lives have taken them, they can't communicate that,
and so that passion gets rechanneled into anger and resentment.

BIANCULLI: Alan Ball speaking with Terry Gross in 2001. He's the creator of
"Six Feet Under" and wrote and directed Sunday's final episode.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Michael C. Hall talks about his role as David Fisher
on "Six Feet Under"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Michael C. Hall is one of the stars of "Six Feet Under." He plays David
Fisher, who is more straightlaced, business-oriented and uptight than his
older brother Nate. David also is gay, which he kept a secret from everyone,
including his family, until the second season of the show. Here's a scene
from the first episode of that season. His mother was trying to figure out
how to be supportive of her son and at the same time how to let her children
know that she's having a relationship with Dimitri, the owner of the flower
shop where she works. In this scene, she's telling the family that she's
invited Dimitri to a family dinner so they can get acquainted.

(Soundbite from "Six Feet Under")

Unidentified Woman: Nate, I'd like you to invite Brenda. Claire, I'd like
you to invite Gabriel Dimas. And, David, if you have a special friend, I'd
like for him to come, as well.

Mr. MICHAEL C. HALL (Actor): (As David) Why is my friend special?

Unidentified Woman: All right. If you're having sex with anyone, I'd like to
meet him. Is that better?

Mr. HALL: (As David) Not really.

Unidentified Woman: Stop acting like children!

Are you seeing anyone?

Mr. HALL: (As David) No.

Unidentified Woman: Well, why not? Sex is an important and healthy part of
life. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

Mr. HALL: (As David) Yes, I know that. Unfortunately, I'm not having any
right now.

Unidentified Woman: What happened to that cop, the black man?

Mr. HALL: (As David) He met someone else.

BIANCULLI: Terry Gross spoke with Michael C. Hall in 2002.

TERRY GROSS, host:

When you auditioned, did you know which brother you were auditioning for?

Mr. HALL: Yeah. Yeah, I was asked to read for the part of David from the
beginning, and when I read the script, I think I responded to that role
because, of course, I had it in mind, but I think I would have anyway, just
because, you know, if drama is conflict, David is inherently dramatic, because
he's conflicted over his sexuality, of course, but also his relationship to
his family, to his work, to his religious life, even. They're all
characterized by conflict.

GROSS: So what did you have to do to prove yourself against the other David
Fishers?

Mr. HALL: I don't know. I think in spite of the fact that on paper, I
suppose I'm very different from David, there was something that I did
immediately respond to in terms of having a sense of how he might express
himself, or how he walked or breathed or--I don't know, that sense of, you
know, resenting what you imagine to be a lack of appreciation for all the
sacrifices you've made for all the other people in your life, and--not that
I'm fueled by resentment, but I guess I knew what that was about, somehow, and
took that as a starting point.

GROSS: What do people most ask you about in terms of the plot? What do
people most want to know?

Mr. HALL: Early on, people were interested in who burned down the house.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. HALL: But I guess usually specific questions about the show have to do
with my character, because, of course, they're talking to me, and I've had a
woman recognize me and tell me she loves the show and then put her hand on my
arm and tell me that she hopes that I'm going to be OK. This was about
halfway through the first season, which was kind of exciting and creepy,
simultaneously. There was a guy who walked by me in the locker room of a gym
in New York, an older guy, and this was after the season finale when David had
had his epiphany in church, and he told me he was glad I was finally starting
to behave myself. That's all he said, just said that and walked away. And
you know, like a New York fireman walked up and recognized me from the show
and said, `Are you going to get back together with that cop? I like you
guys,' you know, which is great. I think it's...

GROSS: Yeah, I do, too. I also think you should get back together.

Mr. HALL: Good.

GROSS: You know, here comes a question that you might not want to answer,
so...

Mr. HALL: OK.

GROSS: I wanted to remind you, you don't have to answer this if you don't
want to.

Mr. HALL: Right.

GROSS: Because you play a gay character...

Mr. HALL: Right.

GROSS: ...probably a lot of viewers wonder if you are gay or straight
yourself, and how you feel about playing a gay character in the series.

Mr. HALL: Right. Well, you know, my first impulse is to say, `Well, what
does it matter?' But I think the fact that the character has resonance is why
it matters. People inevitably have varying degrees of preoccupation with
sexual orientation. I'm not gay. No one ever asks me if I'm a mortician, you
know. But...

GROSS: We know you're not. We know you're an actor.

Mr. HALL: Right, I'm an actor. Right. You know, I'm not gay, I'm not a
mortician, I'm an only child, not a middle child, so, you know, it's a bit of
internal alchemy and imaginative work. That is why I do what I do, and I'm
really honored to breathe life into the character, because I recognize, as I
think a lot of people do, that he's a pretty unique creation in terms of a
character on television or film or really anywhere I've seen, and he's a
complex, flesh-and-blood, you know, person who's not incidentally gay and
who's not the understanding neighbor upstairs or the comic relief. And he
also is--his relationship to his sexuality is very complicated and I think
that's unique. So I feel a sense of responsibility and I'm honored to play the
part.

BIANCULLI: Michael C. Hall, who plays David in "Six Feet Under." He spoke
with Terry Gross in 2002.

Coming up, we hear from Lauren Ambrose, who plays David's sister, Claire.
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Lauren Ambrose discusses her role on "Six Feet Under"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Our final voice from "Six Feet Under" is that of Lauren Ambrose, who plays
Claire, the youngest and only female sibling in the Fisher family. When the
show began Claire was in high school. Now she's taken time off from art
school, landed and lost a menial white-collar job and wondered what in the
world to do next. Earlier this season she moved in with her emotionally and
mentally unstable boyfriend Billy and wanted to use her trust fund to travel.
But her mother insisted the money was for college. It's one of many things
Claire fought about with her mother. Here's a scene from earlier in the
season.

(Soundbite of "Six Feet Under")

Ms. LAUREN AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) Don't you think it's significant that
whenever I make a decision for myself, you hate me?

Ms. FRANCES CONROY: (As Ruth Fisher Sibley) I don't hate you. I hate your
choices.

Ms. AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) Look at me. I am an adult, and my choices
are none of your business. You had no right to call that lawyer. Dad loved
me. He wanted me to be happy. That's why he left me the money.

Ms. CONROY: (As Ruth Fisher Sibley) He did not intend to finance you while
you play house with a crazy person.

Ms. AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) Look who's talking.

Ms. CONROY: (As Ruth Fisher Sibley) He wanted you to be educated, to learn,
to go to college!

Ms. AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) I am learning from life. You don't even know
what college is. You never went. That was your choice. And now you hate
yourself for it, so you're going to take it out on me?

Ms. CONROY: (As Ruth Fisher Sibley) That is not true.

Ms. AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) Then stop being such a controlling bitch and
give me my money.

Ms. CONROY: (As Ruth Fisher Sibley) Don't. I will hit you back this time.

Ms. AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) Billy and I are moving to Spain, and you
can't stop us.

Ms. CONROY: (As Ruth Fisher Sibley) Get out of my house!

TERRY GROSS, host:

Claire's mother Ruth is played by Frances Conroy. The character of Claire is
so well written and performed, it's easy to feel like you know her. I asked
Lauren Ambrose about the reaction she gets to her character.

Ms. AMBROSE: It's funny, everybody says, `That's me. That's me. That was me
in high school. It's me now.' And sometimes I wonder if it's because Claire
gets to say so many witty quips from the pen of Alan Ball and other very
clever people that we all wish we could be as clever as Claire some days.

GROSS: At what point did you know what the ending was going to be for your
character and the others? Did you know when they gave you the script, or did
you know before that?

Ms. AMBROSE: Well, we didn't know what was going to happen in the final
episode until Alan wrote it. We kind of knew vaguely a trajectory of the
season. And we knew that this would be the final season. From the very
beginning--Alan called us at the beginning--called us each and said, `This is
it. We're going to be working towards the end.' And he sounded inspired and
excited to make this final season. And he sounded like he had a lot of ideas.
So it was just kind of exciting to see what was--how they were going to figure
out a way to bring an end to this.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite scene or plot development with your character
Claire?

Ms. AMBROSE: All of the scenes with Franny Conroy and that arc over the
years, the mother-daughter arc, has been an interesting one to me and, really,
all of the scenes in the kitchen. Those have always been my favorite scenes,
where it's the four of us sitting in the kitchen.

And one of my favorite memories of the show was a day that--I think it was the
very first season, and Kathy Bates was directing. And I had a scene with
Peter Krause, who plays my brother, Nate. And we were just sitting on the
washing machine. It was blocked, so we were sitting on the washing machines,
and I was going through something dramatic with a boy and very upset about it,
and he was comforting me. And it was just a lovely scene between a brother
and sister. And we shot the master of it. And then--people in television,
they always go in and shoot coverage--shoot a master, and then you shoot the
coverage, and then you shoot the coverage closer, and maybe you do a different
shot or a move or something else, and then they have all of these choices to
choose from.

And I said, `Oh, and Kathy'--and so we shot the master, and it was really
lovely, you know, it was just this two-shot of us sitting on the washing
machine. And Kathy said, `That was great. Let's move in and get coverage.'
And I said, `Oh, do we have to?' And she said, `No.' And then I got really
nervous, because then there was nothing to hide behind. But it ended up that
was--that ended up being in the show, and it was just exactly what we did.

GROSS: Well, why don't we actually hear the scene that you've just described?

(Soundbite of "Six Feet Under")

Mr. PETER KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher) Is he your boyfriend?

Ms. AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) No. Just he needs me. It's the first time
in my life I felt important, like someone needed me, you know, like, not just
like some annoying extra person just lumped in with everyone else. No one's
ever needed me.

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher) I need you.

Ms. AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) Right. I felt this really intense
connection. Now it's gone, and I want it back. I want him back. Is there
something wrong with me? Is there something about me that makes me deserve
something like this?

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher) Deserve what?

Ms. AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) To be really, really close to someone and
then just having them just disappear, like, I mean, nothing.

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher) Claire, OK, he just went to visit his father for
a day. I think you're talking about Dad. Look, we never talk about him, and
that's OK. That's what you want. But at some point you're going to have to
deal with how you feel.

Ms. AMBROSE: (As Claire Fisher) Oh, God! Can't I just get upset without
having to focus on what's really making me upset?

Mr. KRAUSE: (As Nate Fisher) Well, it worked for me for 34 years.

BIANCULLI: Lauren Ambrose and Peter Krause in a scene from the first season
of "Six Feet Under." This Sunday "Six Feet Under" ends its five-year run. A
DVD collection of the fourth season of the show will be released Tuesday and
we expect to have a new interview with Alan Ball discussing the ending of
"Six Feet Under" early next week.

Coming up: Movies, a new thriller and a new comedy. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New summer thriller "Red-Eye" and sex comedy "The
40-Year-Old Virgin" both pretty good late summer fare
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Wes Craven has a new thriller called "Red-Eye" and Steve Carell stars in
a new comedy called "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," two films that David Edelstein
says do just what late summer movies are supposed to do.

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

It's the third week of August and the studios assume we're all too hot and
stupid to sit through anything of substance. Well, here's what I say to
Hollywood. You're right. It does seem about time for a good empty multiplex
thriller and a good empty multiplex sex comedy. We've got a very good empty
thriller and a pretty good empty sex comedy.

Let's start with Wes Craven's "Red-Eye," a minimalist exercise in maximalist
suspense. Hey, do you think that would fit in an ad? It's mostly two people
sitting next to each other on an airplane. There are lots of close-ups, lots
of Hitchcockian subjective camera shots up and down the aisle. Rachel McAdams
plays Lisa, a luxury hotel manager flying home to Miami after her
grandmother's funeral. McAdams had to deal with Owen Wilson's subterfuge in
"The Wedding Crashers" but it's nothing on what Cillian Murphy pulls here.
Murphy battled zombies in "28 Days Later" and put a bag over his head that
spewed poisonous gas in "Batman Begins." With his pallor and his blaze-blue
eyes he's right on the border between dreamboat and spooky freak. He and Lisa
meet cute in the airport and cute again when they share Bay Breeze cocktails
and cute once more when it turns out he's sitting next to her on the plane.

(Soundbite from "Red-Eye")

Ms. RACHEL McADAMS: (As Lisa Reisert) Oh, hi, again.

Mr. CILLIAN MURPHY: (As Jackson Rippner) I figured you'd be in first class.

Ms. McADAMS: (As Lisa Reisert) Oh, no. No, not me. I'm all coach all the
time.

Mr. MURPHY: (As Jackson Rippner) Me too.

Ms. McADAMS: (As Lisa Reisert) Yeah. I think that's my seat.

Mr. MURPHY: (As Jackson Rippner) What? You're not sitting here?

Ms. McADAMS: (As Lisa Reisert) Well, I don't know.

Unidentified Woman: That's his seat.

Ms. McADAMS: (As Lisa Reisert) 10-G?

Mr. MURPHY: (As Jackson Rippner) You're kidding. You're not kidding. Ah,
you need a bellhop?

Ms. McADAMS: (As Lisa Reisert) No, no, that's OK. Oh.

Mr. MURPHY: (As Jackson Rippner) You OK?

Ms. McADAMS: (As Lisa Reisert) Yeah.

Mr. MURPHY: (As Jackson Rippner) You sure?

Ms. McADAMS: (As Lisa Reisert) Yeah. I'm not normally such a lightweight.
It's those strong Bay Breezes.

Mr. MURPHY: (As Jackson Rippner) I'm cutting you off anyway, sorry. So,
what are the odds, huh?

Ms. McADAMS: (As Lisa Reisert) Yeah, I know.

Mr. MURPHY: (As Jackson Rippner) Wait a minute. You're not stalking me, are
you?

Ms. McADAMS: (As Lisa Reisert) No.

EDELSTEIN: Stalking him? That's a good one. I really like the flatness of
the film's setup. It's very creepy and the movie gets even creepier once we
learn what he wants Lisa to do for him. This is the sort of witty thriller
that comes down to props and characters as props, a pen, a book, a friendly
old lady, a curious little girl, a plane phone, a cell phone, a people mover.
"Red-Eye" does get more conventional as it approaches the climax. You know,
girl running from stalking killer with a knife, but this is Wes Craven of
"Scream" and "Scream 2" and, oh, yeah, "Scream 3." And, listen, this guy knows
"stalking killer with a knife" scenes. "Red-Eye" takes off and lands in 85
minutes including credits, just the right length and you don't even have to
switch planes.

If you want a good time with "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" then, in the words of
another sex-crazed dork, Jon Lovitz, `Lower your standards.' Certainly the
writer-director Judd Apatow and writer-star Steve Carell have lowered theirs.
Apatow was a writer and director on "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Freaks and
Geeks." Carell has been a hoot on "The Daily Show" and was brilliant as the
lead in the ill-advised "Americanization of the Office." But here's what
happens when genius TV comedy guys do big studio multiplex movies: They put
on their stupid hats and try to gross you out.

Carell plays Andy, a permanent adolescent, who lives among vintage monster
models and other geeky bric-a-brac. There's very visible evidence of a sex
drive but he's mostly in a world of audio-video fantasy, at least outside his
job, at an audio-video superstore. Over poker, his co-workers trade obnoxious
and disgusting stories about their sex lives. Then all eyes turn to Andy.

(Soundbite of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin")

Unidentified Man #1: Andy, do me a favor? Would you please help him redeem
himself by telling a real sex story?

Unidentified Man #2: Yes.

Mr. STEVE CARRELL: (As Andy) Ah, I don't--you know what? I'm a gentleman
and I don't, you know, I don't kiss and tell. So...

Unidentified Man #1: I'm paying. What's the nastiest thing you've ever done?
I'm dead serious. I'm talking about nasty.

Mr. CARRELL: (As Andy) Ah, well, so many stories are running through my head
right now. I dated this girl for awhile and she was really a nasty freak.
She just loved to get down with sex all the time. She was like any time of
day, she was, like, `Yeah, let's go. I'm so nasty.'

Unidentified Man #1: She talk dirty to you?

Mr. CARRELL: (As Andy) Oh, she loved to dirty talk, totally into it. She'd
be like, `Oh, me so horny. Me love you long time.' So...

EDELSTEIN: "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" is too long, too sexist and too, shall we
say, flaccid. Partly it's because Carell hasn't quite settled on a character.
His jittery white guy anti-hipness is amusing but first he's a half-wit
bordering on a quarter-wit who doesn't even know how a condom works. Then
he's a savvy charmer.

But the movie has its moments. There's a great scene when Andy's buddies
introduce him to a sure-fire conquest, an outrageous alcoholic played by
Leslie Mann. She and Andy get into her car for the ultimate
don't-try-this-at-home-kids drunk driving scene. And Catherine Keener shows
up as a been-around-the-block mom who instantly falls for Andy for no reason I
can discern. But Keener is such a smart and grounded performer that she makes
you believe almost anything, even that she's worth waiting 40 years to have
sex with.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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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