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Is There Really Such a Thing as Sexual Addiction?

Author and physician Abraham Verghese talks with Terry about his recent article in the Feb 16th issue of The New Yorker, about sexual addiction: "The Pathology of Sex: Why can't some people stop having it." Verghese is also the author of the 1994 memoir "My Own Country," (Simon & Schuster) about his experiences treating AIDS in rural America.


Other segments from the episode on February 12, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 12, 1998: Interview with Gary Oldman; Interview with Abraham Verges.


Date: FEBRUARY 12, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 021201np.217
Head: Gary Oldman
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

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

Gary Oldman has made his reputation playing extreme personalities, like punk-rocker Sid Vicious and playwright Joe Orton, who was murdered by his lover. Oldman played Oswald in "JFK" and Dracula in Coppola's adaptation. Last summer, Oldman starred as a Russian terrorist in the thriller "Air Force One."

Gary Oldman doesn't appear in his new movie. He makes his screenwriting and directing debut. The film is called "Nil by Mouth," and it's set in a working class neighborhood similar to the South London neighborhood where Oldman grew up. Spousal abuse, alcoholism, and drug addiction are commonplace.

In this scene, a mother walks into her pregnant daughter's home to find her daughter swollen and bruised around her face and body. The daughter has been beaten by her husband, but she lies and says she's been hit by a car.



ACTRESS, AS DAUGHTER: That's where he hit there, (Unintelligible). And then went smack into the road on me face, and then when I looked up, he'd gone. I mean, it was lucky I didn't have Misha (ph) with me, you know, 'cause he could probably have hit 'er as well.

ACTRESS, AS MOTHER: (Expletive deleted) have killed her, I mean, did no one say -- no one mention about...

DAUGHTER: No, it was down -- you know, down and about, down by the old shops, down there...

MOTHER: Why you're lucky...

DAUGHTER: Yeah, of course I was lucky, Mommy. It just seemed to come out of nowhere. And then when I looked up the (Expletive deleted) had gone.

MOTHER: What's the hospital say? Is the baby all right?

DAUGHTER: Yeah. You know, they give it a (unintelligible) X-ray scan thing, and you know, they had to look in there, it's just bruising and that, (unintelligible) mom. I me, look at me fingers, there, look. They hurt the most, they hurt -- more -- more than than the knees.

MOTHER: Are they broke?

DAUGHTER: I don't know.

MOTHER: Oh, didn't they say?

DAUGHTER: No, they was all concentrating on the baby, didn't they?

GROSS: The movie is shot in an almost documentary fashion. Scenes are drab and gray. I asked Gary Oldman why.

GARY OLDMAN, ACTOR AND DIRECTOR: The film deals with co-dependency and chemical dependency and absent fathers. And I wanted to really take the gloves off and honestly look at those areas. I think Hollywood just recently, or -- it's unfair to say "Hollywood" -- but the movies just recently, they tended to sort of slightly romanticize it and glamorize it. And I can think of, you know, I can think of movies like "Pulp Fiction" and recently "Trainspotting."

And obviously it's a very personal film to me, and these are issues and areas that have either directly or indirectly touched me. I know people who are addicted to substances, be it, you know, alcohol or heroin. And I felt that if you're going to portray it and show it, then you should really show it for what it is. It's a killer disease and it destroys people's lives.

GROSS: I think that Nil by Mouth connects to your own past. You grew up in a working class family southeast of London?

OLDMAN: South London, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.


GROSS: And the movie's dedicated to your father, who I believe passed away while you were making Sid and Nancy.

OLDMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And who I believe left -- left your family when you were a boy. How well did you know him? And let me ask you this, first: what is it about the film that connects to your father that inspired you to dedicate the film to him?

OLDMAN: Well it certainly -- if he hadn't of left...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

OLDMAN: ... when he did and died when he did, the way he did -- from alcoholism -- I would be, I guess, a different person. You know, that has obviously influenced me and shaped me psychologically. So, I don't know whether I would have even made this film or made a film, but not about this subject. And as I say, one of the -- one of the areas that the film deals with is there's no authoritative figure there. There's no father figure in the film.

There were issues that were unresolved, I think, with my father -- stuff that -- baggage that you carry around with you. And I felt that it was time to not forget, but in some way forgive. It seemed to me a very obvious and a very fitting dedication.

And also I've -- I think I've achieved some, you know, some great success in my career, and my father has not been around -- wasn't around to see any of this.

GROSS: One of the main characters in your new movie is an alcoholic who's also abusive to his wife. And she needs to figure out whether to stay with him or leave. And that's going to be a hard choice for her. Was your father abusive when he drank?

OLDMAN: No. No. My father is the father that Raymond in the movie talks about. But my -- my...

GROSS: That -- that's a father who was just emotionally unresponsive.

OLDMAN: Yeah. And I -- I just -- I don't remember my father saying he loved me. You know, I'm sure he did, but there's a lot of stuff that I've -- I think I've blocked out. A lot of stuff I don't want -- obviously, I don't want to remember. But I can't remember him saying that to me.

So that was -- that fueled that area, that other dynamic of the history of Raymond, in a sense. But my father was not an abusive man and he certainly didn't beat my mother, but those kind of characters, as we say, you know, "the unsavory kind of character" who has been on the outskirts of the family and we've had our ups and downs with, you know, domestic violence and abuse, you know. We've had our share of it.

GROSS: But we theoretically know a lot more now about how to deal with addiction and co-dependency than we did when you were young. You know -- but -- but that doesn't make it any easier for anybody, I think.

How did your mother deal with it when your father drank?

OLDMAN: I think she just ignored it. That's still there for us -- for these people in the movie; for those people back there. They're still living like this. Where -- I mean, I -- I've moved on from that neighborhood and that life, if you will.

And I became an actor and you can transcend class and mingle with, you know, rock stars and kings and queens, you know, in this business. And my life has a bigger -- a broader outlook on life. And one has developed a palate and there's a certain sophistication that has come with that.

And if I have a problem, I certainly don't have a problem with entertaining the idea of maybe going to see a therapist or get help. But these people won't, in this film. These people need help and unfortunately they won't get it 'cause they don't have the access.

So, really it hasn't changed -- hasn't changed in 25 years.

GROSS: Right.

OLDMAN: For the -- for that neighborhood; for that culture.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Why don't you describe the neighborhood that you're from?

OLDMAN: Well, it's ....

GROSS: ... which I imagine is like the neighborhood depicted in the movie.

OLDMAN: Yeah, it's very much like the neighborhood in the movie. I would say it's very -- it's very -- it's matriarchal in as much that the men are out -- they're out working, and when they're not working -- if they're not working, in fact, they spend a great deal of their time, you know, up at the pub. And the women are home, as my mother was and as my sisters have done. You know, assuming some responsibility -- looking after the kids.

And it always struck me that the men were out -- the men were out at the pub, you know, talking nonsense; and the women were back at home talking common sense. And they were what really was holding it together.

But I think that -- I think it's hard because, you know, Valerie who is Raymond's wife, played by Kathy Burke (ph) in the movie, she -- you know, a lot of women are trapped and almost captive, held hostage in that kind of situation; in that kind of marriage. And they live in these high-rises. And you know, the spaces in these places -- I mean, they're no bigger than the studio I'm sitting in here, in this little booth.

And when you're a captive in a house with that rage and that anger -- a lot of people still live like that there, you know?

GROSS: I know there was a period in your life when you had a problem with alcohol. Did you feel that connected to your past and to your father's own problem? And did you feel like you were going to have the same kind of problems that he had? I mean, did you feel any of that connection?

OLDMAN: Oh yeah, you start to -- I was working from a blueprint, you know, almost, even though I don't remember him being around to influence me, as someone that I looked up to and watched and listened and as, you know, some kind of role model. It didn't even matter that he had not been there. I was still working to some kind of almost pre-destined sort of pattern, and following, making a lot of the -- I think, have made a lot of the same -- the same mistakes -- like I'm walking in his shoes.

GROSS: When someone's an alcoholic in the neighborhood that you grew up in, you know, he -- he is going to hang out at the local pub probably, and come home and maybe be really crude and maybe even violent around the family. But he's going to live in a really circumscribed world.

When you're a movie star and you have any kind of addiction problem, you have the money and the celebrity to kind of cater to any appetite that you have. And I think it's a kind of like different world for someone who has a -- an addiction problem who's famous and has access to money.

OLDMAN: Yeah. Well also, you're working -- you know, you're -- you make money and in turn you make money for other people. You become like the sort of -- a tiny microscopic kind of Gary Oldman industry. You know -- within the industry. So that there's people earning money, and of course they want to say "yes."

GROSS: They want to indulge you.

OLDMAN: "Yes, Sir -- you're...

GROSS: Right.

OLDMAN: Yeah, "you're brilliant. You're this. Yeah, man, you haven't got a drink problem. You just -- you're just wild. You're out there. You're an artist. You're on the edge." You know? And the old thing of like, you know, I need -- I need the drink because because, you know, I've got a -- it gives me an edge. It gives me a spark -- all of that. That is, you know, bull, really. That's not the artist talking. That's a drunk talking.

GROSS: Right, right.

OLDMAN: That's the booze talking.

GROSS: Well, don't you think artists can be pretty good at using that though? You know, like, "I need it for my art; to get in touch." And...

OLDMAN: Oh, yeah. I think that you can use it creatively, and I've certainly in my battle and struggle with it, and my -- and out of my recovery, I've tried to use it in this movie in a very constructive way. But I think that sometimes these -- these -- you know, you can really get indulgent, can't you, with pain and all that misery. You can just kind of -- you can -- and again, that's -- that's the drunk in you or the addict in you that wants to keep you the addict.

You know, there's always an excuse because you can say: "hey, man, I feel depressed and whatever -- I'm going to have a drink." "Hey, the sun's shining, let's have a drink." "Hey, it's your birthday...

GROSS: Right.

OLDMAN: ... let's have a drink." "It's Christmas," "Hey, it's a funeral -- let's have a drink." So, there's never -- there's always an excuse for it, you know, and at the end of the day, you know -- I mean, I just had to turn around and say I've run out of excuses.

GROSS: My guest is Gary Oldman. His new movie is called Nil by Mouth. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Gary Oldman is my guest, and he makes his screenwriting and directing debut with his new movie Nil by Mouth.

Everyone in the movie has a very kind of thick working class accent, and...


GROSS: ... a lot of the talk in the movie is just kind of riffing, with a lot of expletives, you know, telling colorful stories and so on. I'm wondering if you had that kind of accent when you were growing up.

OLDMAN: Oh, yeah. Yeah, you say: "well, you're -- now, you're talk -- you're talking with Gary Oldman who went to drama school, you see." And I had to lose all of that, you see, because you -- you can't talk like that if you're going to do Shakespeare. My -- my training was for -- for the theater.

But when I was -- when I was growing up in South London, yeah, I used to talk like that, you see, you know, when I was a young kid, yeah.

GROSS: Do you think that that affected your early career and your ability to get into drama school in the first place?

OLDMAN: No, it didn't, because if you think of some of those great actors in the past, I mean, you -- you know, if you think of someone like Albert Finney, he used to -- he's from Manchester. He used to talk like that, Albert. You know, if you look at those early films like "Saturday Night/Sunday Morning," and you look at Tom Courtenay (ph) in "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" and all of those early, late '50s, early '60s work. Michael Caine...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

OLDMAN: ... who played in "The Ipcress File" -- who played that character Harry Palmer. He wore that cockney accent, you know, around his neck like a chain, you know.

But no -- because they're looking for that raw talent. They're looking for something that is obviously not honed and shaped, and then they do their work on you, you know.

GROSS: Right.

OLDMAN: They try and -- they try and iron out some of the rougher edges.

GROSS: I know when you were young, your father was a welder. And I'm wondering if you remember what the meaning of work was in your family and in the families around you when you were growing up -- if the people who had jobs liked their jobs, and what it would have meant to you to find work that you loved.

OLDMAN: Yeah, I think I'm very lucky. I'm very, very lucky that I'm in a profession where, for the most part, I wake up in the morning and I want to go in and do a job and...

GROSS: What did work mean when you were young?

OLDMAN: Just earning enough money so that at the weekend you can spend it and not think about working next week, really.

GROSS: Did you have a fallback plan if you didn't become an actor?

OLDMAN: No. No, I didn't. I mean, I have -- I mean, I did work. I worked in -- I was a Saturday boy in this store called "British Home Stores" and I sold sports equipment, and I worked in a shoe shop and stuff like that. I mean, I did some other stuff before I went to college. But no, I didn't really have the backup.

I had no -- I had no plans, actually. There wasn't even, you know, some -- there wasn't even a plan for this crazy thing I wanted to do called acting. You know, it just seemed like a good idea one day. I'd never read plays or seen plays or any of that.

GROSS: What about movies? Did you see a lot of movies?

OLDMAN: Yeah, I saw a lot of movies. Yeah -- the very first movie I saw at the cinema was "A Hard Day's Night."

GROSS: Oh, the Beatles.

OLDMAN: Yeah, and I was -- I guess I must have been about six...

GROSS: But how did you accent compare to their Liverpool accents? 'Cause, you know, Americans were dying to have the Beatles' Liverpool accents when they got really big in the '60s.

OLDMAN: Yeah. Oh, the old Liverpool, like that, eh?

GROSS: Yeah.

OLDMAN: And the old sound that John Lennon used to talk like that. Well, it's just for -- I mean, you can -- it's amazing that you can -- there's a different accent in North London, and then you can just travel a couple of miles and then it changes again. It's very much like -- like here in the states.

GROSS: Oh, sure, even from New York to Boston it's different.

OLDMAN: Yeah. We're just all on top of one another because we're just in this tiny little island. So, it's just that you have to travel further to hear the change. But in England, it's odd because you know, 10 miles up the road, the accent is again completely changed.

But the Liverpool accent is -- it's sexy. And then when it -- I guess when it comes out of the mouth of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, it's even sexier.

GROSS: Right.


There's a character in your new movie Nil by Mouth who, in one scene there's -- "Apocalypse Now" is on television or on video.


GROSS: And so this character just recites word for word along with Dennis Hopper as Hopper does one of his monologues...


GROSS: ... in the movie. Was this you as a kid? I mean, not necessarily with Apocalypse Now, but I mean with other films -- did you, like, memorize long sequences by heart and recite them along with the movies?

OLDMAN: Yeah, yeah. I used to do that. I'd just never seen that, you know, with so -- obviously so -- a culture so influenced by movies and by television. And I'd never seen that in the film where someone had -- could mimic the character and talk along with it as they were -- as they were doing. And I know many people that can do it, and there are a lot of actors that can do it. And I -- I have chunks of dialogue from films that I can recite.

GROSS: Which ones?

OLDMAN: Well, I can think of -- some stuff from "Raging Bull," a bit from sort of "Taxi Driver," "Scarface," and was it "Lenny?" You remember the...

GROSS: Right. Yeah, with Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce.

OLDMAN: Yeah, you know, I can -- who I try to do on a good day. You know. You never know. So I've -- and some stuff of -- of course, we all like Walken, so for some -- there's some "Deerhunter" I do.

GROSS: Oh, I hear a little Christopher Walken coming in through there.

OLDMAN: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.


OLDMAN: So I do a bit of that. And so I -- you know, we have -- we have fun with that. And my friend the painter Julian Schnabel, I mean he's watched -- I think he's watched "The Godfather" 500 times...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

OLDMAN: ... to the point where it -- the dialogue from the movie peppers his conversation and you kind of go hang on a minute -- where -- where do I know that from?

GROSS: Right, oh exactly.

OLDMAN: ... you know -- and you go -- "that's -- that's the Godfather," you know.

GROSS: What's your favorite Taxi Driver monologue?

OLDMAN: The mirror, I guess.

GROSS: "You talkin' to me?"

OLDMAN: Yeah, and I like -- I also like the DeNiro -- the beginning of Raging Bull. Well, the two scenes that kind of bookend the movie, with him in the mirror in the nightclub, you know. But we -- but us actors, we -- when we get together -- I was recently working in London on a movie that comes out in April called "Lost in Space." And I was working with Matt Leblond (ph) from the series -- TV series "Friends." And we would do Al Pacino all day, you know, we just do scenes from Scarface and "Serpico." We're just having fun.


So I thought it'd be great to -- I thought -- I'd like to see that in a movie.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

OLDMAN: So I put the scene in, and of course and then people sort of say to me, you know, the way you use the music and it crosses over, and there's Raymond, who is this lonely figure in the kitchen, and he's partially naked and he's got his hand up on his head, and someone said to me: "yeah, man," he said. "That's the Apocalypse Now and that's Brando, isn't it?" And you know, and "I love the way that the themes and the images that you've used."

And of course to sound like the very sort of intellectual -- very intelligent director, I said: "yeah, that's exactly what it was."


GROSS: Gary Oldman -- he makes his screenwriting and directing debut with the new film Nil by Mouth. He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with actor Gary Oldman. He makes his screenwriting and directing debut with his new film Nil by Mouth. Last summer, he starred in Air Force One which has just come out on video. He played a Russian terrorist who hijacks the president's plane.

Here's Oldman's terrorist on the phone with the vice president, played by Glenn Close.




OLDMAN, AS HIJACKER OF AIR FORCE ONE: What arrogance, to think you could ever understand my intentions.

CLOSE: I want to understand what it is that you want.

OLDMAN: What do I want? When Mother Russia becomes one great nation again; when the capitalists are dragged from the Kremlin and shot in the street; when our enemies run and hide in fear at the mention of our name; and America begs our forgiveness. On that great day of deliverance, you will know what I want.

GROSS: Gary Oldman first established himself on screen as punk rocker Sid Vicious in the 1986 film Sid and Nancy. Here's a scene from the film.


OLDMAN, AS SID VICIOUS, SINGING: And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
Ha, ha, ha
You (Unintelligible)
I state my case of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
And each and every highway
And much, much more than this
I did it my way

Regrets, I've got a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
I saw it through with (unintelligible)
I planned each charted course
Each gentle step along that highway
And much -- much more than this, I did it my way

There were times, I'm sure you knew...

GROSS: Now, I think your breakthrough movie role was in Sid and Nancy where you played Sid Vicious...


GROSS: ... of the Sex Pistols. How did you get the part?

OLDMAN: Well, it's a strange -- the history to that because I was working in the theater. I was doing a play and Alex Coxon (ph), his producers, Eric Felmer (ph) came through looking for the guy to play Sid. And they saw me in the play and we met, and they offered me the part, and I turned it down.

GROSS: Oh, that was smart.

OLDMAN: Yeah, and...

GROSS: Why'd you turn it down?

OLDMAN: Because I was not really interested in Sid Vicious and the punk movement. I'd never followed it. It wasn't something that interested me. It was, you know, the script I felt was banal and who cares and why bother and all of that. So -- and I was a little bit sort of with my nose in the air and sort of thinking, well, the theater, you know -- so much more superior and all of that. You know, I was a young kid.

Anyway, so I ended up turning it down and turned it down again and, but then my agent called me and he said, you know, that you're crazy. You've never made a movie before. But I was earning at the time a little under 100 pounds a week at the Royal Court Theater, standing on the stage doing all that very -- that very worthy stuff, you know.

And my agent said to me: "well, they do want to pay your $35,000 to do this movie." And I thought: "ummm." And so, it's strange. I was talking about this the other night -- that -- that great art is not always necessarily where you think you're going to find it.

GROSS: Right. It's a...

OLDMAN: And the way...

GROSS: ... it's a terrific performance. I really like that film a lot.

OLDMAN: Yeah, you know, and so my initial motivation for doing it was money.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

OLDMAN: And yet it was a -- in many ways a landmark performance and a landmark film, and it got me going. And then -- and then there's those other situations where you -- where something comes with an incredibly good pedigree -- all the pieces are falling into place. You know, it's gonna be just wonderful and artistic and you know, and you go into it and it doesn't happen and it doesn't work.

GROSS: You -- you were terrific in "Prick Up Your Ears," which was a biographical movie about the British playwright Joe Orton. Did you know his work, having started on the stage?

OLDMAN: Yeah, I'd been in a couple of Joe's plays, and most notably I suppose his -- a very famous play of his, "Entertaining Mr. Sloane." So I knew him from the theater, and he was one of the -- one of the playwrights that we studied in college.

GROSS: Joe Orton was gay and a lot of the movie revolves around that aspect of his life. I think it...

OLDMAN: Yeah, promiscuous.

GROSS: ... yeah, right. There's even scenes in, like, you know, public -- public bathrooms with him, you know, cruising. And there's -- I think for its time, the mid-'80s, there was the kind of kiss that you wouldn't usually see in films.

I mean, there was little about homosexuality in films then. And I think a lot of actors would have been afraid to take that role; afraid that, you know, the public wasn't ready for it; that they'd think the actor was gay; and that that would hurt the actor's career et cetera.

Was that ever a consideration for you?

OLDMAN: No, it -- I -- it may have done -- could have done -- I never thought about it like that. I never looked at it like that. I just thought: "well, what a great character; what a great part." And I was working with the guy -- Fred Molina (ph), the actor who played Joe's lover in the film, Kenneth Halliwell (ph) -- dear friend of mine; lovely man, Fred. That was his first screen kiss...


OLDMAN: ... for Fred. Yeah -- kissing me. And he said to me -- he said to me afterwards, he said it was very nice, but he said just shave next time. He said it was like rubbing my face up against sandpaper.


Now we know what you -- what the girls have to go through.

GROSS: What the women put up with.


Have you seen Alfred Molina in "Boogie Nights?"

OLDMAN: I haven't seen Boogie Nights yet.

GROSS: Oh, he's -- he's really good in it.


GROSS: So do you think that after playing these really, you know, like big eccentric characters like Sid Vicious and Joe Orton, that you started to get roles of extreme personalities? I mean, I can't think of any roles where you played someone who would be considered average, you know, the typical Englishman or the typical American.

OLDMAN: Yeah, no -- I know. It suddenly sort of -- I became -- for a while there, I became this sort of bio-kid. It was, you know: he lived. He's famous. Get Gary Oldman. You know. It was something.


GROSS: But it was also, you know, "he's got a huge ego or he's really crazy -- get Gary Oldman."

OLDMAN: Oh, yeah -- yeah.

GROSS: You know, he's really over the top. He's an incredibly eccentric character...

OLDMAN: Well, it maybe they didn't...

GROSS: ... get Gary Oldman.

OLDMAN: Well, maybe those parts didn't start off like that. It's just...

GROSS: Oh, maybe huh?

OLDMAN: ... I took -- maybe I turned them into -- maybe it's my influence on those roles that make them -- that probably they feel bigger than life and a little over the top. I mean, I do go for it a bit as an actor, I must admit.

GROSS: This past summer you starred as the terrorist in Air Force One.


GROSS: And I'm wondering what -- what you think the pros and cons are of working -- of working in, you know, major motion picture action thrillers with big budgets, 'cause I would imagine that there's both -- that there's some great things and some drawbacks.

OLDMAN: Well, I think that, you know, I am sometimes in movies that I don't particularly like, or that I wouldn't go and see. And I think that...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

OLDMAN: ... Wolfgang Peterson is a fine filmmaker and I had a lot of fun on that film. I had a lot of fun working with Wolfgang. And it's technically very, very well put together. But at the end of the day, you know, it's not quite my cup of tea. But I invested a lot of my own money in Nil by Mouth. I wanted creative freedom, artistic freedom -- and that comes with a price tag.

GROSS: Right.

OLDMAN: So in a sense, a movie like Air Force One will subsidize the other work, and it...

GROSS: Now how -- how will you feel if you lose money on Nil by Mouth? Say...

OLDMAN: Oh, I have done...

GROSS: Excuse me?

OLDMAN: Yeah, I have done.

GROSS: You've lost money?

OLDMAN: I will -- I will -- yeah, I will. Yeah. I won't see the money. I'll see some of it, but not much.

GROSS: But it's worth it to you if you do lose money?

OLDMAN: Well yeah, when I set out to make this film, my partner and one of the producers of the movie, Douglas Subansky (ph), we had discussions about this. And I said: "you know what? If this doesn't get any distribution and no one sees it, I don't mind because you know, I'll -- I made it for me and a couple of friends." And I said: "I will pull it down from the shelf and dust it off and maybe show it to a couple of mates every couple of years."

So I didn't -- I didn't worry about any of that. I was very -- I was quite prepared to go in and do this and make a loss, you know.

GROSS: Toward the end of Nil by Mouth, there's a scene in a bar where people from the neighborhood are singing, and one of the women who sings is the grandmother in the movie.

OLDMAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

GROSS: And the actual vocal credit at the end of the film, you know, in the credits, is to someone whose last name is Oldman. Is the singer someone who's related to you?

OLDMAN: Yes, Kathleen. It's my mother.

GROSS: Oh, and so she...

OLDMAN: Yeah, my mother sang that song. That's -- I remember my mother singing the song; also over the credit sequence.

GROSS: Did I mention that the song is "Can't Help Loving That Man..."

OLDMAN: Can't Help Loving That Man of Mine -- and over the -- over the credit sequence, I use the Andrews Sisters singing "Bei Mir Mis Du Schon" (ph) -- you know...

GROSS: "Bis" du Schon.

OLDMAN: ... bei mir -- yeah -- bis du...


And that's there because my mother sings that song and harmonizes with my two sister.


OLDMAN: And my mother sang that song in that pub in the movie. These are the -- some of these -- most of the locations are the actual locations. So, my mum has stood on that stage in that pub and sang that song.

GROSS: In real life, as well as in the movie.

OLDMAN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: And how did you feel about her singing in pubs? Did you go listen to her when you were young?

OLDMAN: Yeah, she was never -- she has a terrific voice, but she's -- I mean, you can -- I mean that's not a bad rendering of that song and she's 76. So, that's not a bad set of lungs on her.

GROSS: No, that's what sweet about it. I mean, she's obviously an amateur, but there's something really nice about the way she sings it.

OLDMAN: Yeah. But she would get up and -- very much like -- very much like they do in the scene, really. It was, you know: "go on, go on, mum. Go on. Get up and sing a song. Give us a song."

And so there's all -- all through the movie, it's a very, very, very personal film because all through the movie there's -- the whole thing -- I have little things on the wall and I have something sitting on a mantelpiece in a shop, and it's -- and if you -- if you knew, you know, you would spot it or recognize it or -- so it's littered with a lot of that stuff, you know.

GROSS: Well Gary Oldman, I really want to thank you for talking with us.

OLDMAN: Thank you ...

GROSS: And good luck with the movie.

OLDMAN: ... for having me. Thank you very much.

GROSS: Gary Oldman makes his screenwriting and directing debut with the new film Nil by Mouth.

Here's his mother singing.


Fish gotta swim
And birds gotta fly
I gotta love one man 'til I die
Can't help lovin' that man of mine

Tell me he's lazy
Tell me he's slow
Tell me I'm crazy
Maybe I know
Can't help lovin' that man of mine

Since he went away
That's a rainy day
And when he comes back
The sun will shine
The sun will shine

He can come home
As late as can be
Home without him
Ain't no home to me
Can't help lovin' that man of mine


GROSS: Coming up, one doctor considers the question: is there such a thing as sexual addiction?

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Gary Oldman
High: Actor Gary Oldman. He's making his writing and directed debut with the new film "Nil by Mouth," based on his South London childhood. The critically acclaimed film prompted this from The New Yorker's Anthony Lane, "this movie is something else. Its onslaught on the nerves is such that only afterward can you consider the care and attention with which it is constructed." Oldman's first big break was starring in the film "Sid and Nancy." Since then he's gone on to star in the films "Prick Up Your Ears," "JFK," Frances Ford Coppola's "Dracula," and "Air Force One." He's also starring in the upcoming film "Lost in Space."
Spec: Movie Industry; Gary Oldman
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Gary Oldman
Date: FEBRUARY 12, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 021201np.217
Head: Sex Addicts
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:45

TERRY GROSS, HOST: You've probably been hearing the term "sex addict" used to describe a person who can't seem to get enough sex and who takes great risks for sexual adventure. But is there really such a thing as sexual addiction? In an article in the current edition of The New Yorker, Dr. Abraham Verghese examines the controversy within the medical community.

Dr. Verghese's interest was sparked by his former medical student and tennis partner, who was addicted to cocaine, but claimed his larger problem was sexual addiction. Verghese is now writing a book about him and addiction within the medical community.

Dr. Verghese is an infectious disease expert and a professor of medicine at the Texas Technical Health Science Center. He's also the author of a 1995 book called "My Own Country" about treating people with AIDS in a small Southern town.

I asked him what sexual addiction is supposed to mean.

ABRAHAM VERGHESE, PHYSICIAN, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, TEXAS TECHNICAL HEALTH CENTER, AUTHOR, "THE PATHOLOGY OF SEX," AND "MY OWN COUNTRY": Well, the term is one that's very controversial. People who use the term "sexual addiction" feel that the behavior falls into the same rubric of other additions; that it has the same features. In other words, this is a person who is preoccupied with sex much the way a heroin addict or a cocaine addict might be preoccupied with a drug.

They engage in a great deal of risk-taking in order to satisfy that craving. And then at the end of satisfying that craving, they experience remorse, guilt -- and then the craving starts all over again. So in that sense, people who use the word "sexual addiction" feel that it falls into the model of other addictions because there is -- there are great parallels in the behavior in these conditions.

GROSS: What is the controversy within the medical profession about this concept of sexual addiction?

VERGHESE: I guess the controversy is really -- rides on the fact that sexual behavior, sexual activity is so much a part of being human so clearly we're talking about a spectrum of behavior that some people choose to view as abnormal, or that the patient or person himself views as abnormal.

I think the biggest difficulty with this is the fact that historically sexual behavior, whether it's considered proper or improper, has been very much a function of the times. For example, in the earliest editions of the psychiatric manual called the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual" -- DSM I -- homosexuality was -- was a disease; and so was nymphomania. And it's interesting that that reflected the sexual mores of that time.

And then in the '70s in the hey-day of the sort of a sexual freedom and sexual exploration, those "diseases" dropped out of the Diagnostic Manual, almost reflecting the fact that in that era, it would have been very difficult to call behavior that was previously called nymphomania a "disease."

And I think in a strange way, we've come back to a sort of Victorian ethic in the '80s and '90s, and once again one finds sexual behavior being categorized as a disease. And we've seen this before. We've seen this with homosexuality. We've seen this with other behaviors that don't fit in with society, getting labeled with a "disease" label.

GROSS: I think people -- some people are skeptical of the idea of sexual addiction because they see it as a way of almost absolving yourself of responsibility for your sexual behavior, saying: "well, you know, I'm -- I'm doing this because, well, I'm ill. It's not -- it's out of my control therefore I'm not responsible if perhaps I've even taken advantage of people along the way."

VERGHESE: That's right. And I think that's the biggest critique of sexual addiction, is that the behavior is somehow out of one's control; that one -- one cannot bring any sort of rational or cognitive affect to bear on that behavior. And I think that's the part that generates the most intense arguments between the psychologists on the one hand, who see it as a form of compulsion, if anything; and the addictionologists on the other hand who see it in the same vein that they see heroin addiction and alcohol addiction -- as something that's literally a disease with a discrete mechanism and that is best treated by the 12-step sort of approach, rather than by psychotherapy and trying to achieve insight and so on.

GROSS: Maybe you could clarify a little bit the difference between a compulsion and an addiction.

VERGHESE: Well, when -- when -- to use an example that's commonly used by psychologists, if I have a craving for chocolate and you happen to have some chocolate in the room where I'm sitting, I may succumb to that urge to eat the chocolate and I may feel out of control. That feeling out of control is not to be confused with actually being out of control.

So, the psychologists who believe in the compulsion would argue that people who label themselves sexual addicts are not really out of control. They just feel out of control. Whereas the addictionologists would argue that they really are out of control; that this is a disease that makes it impossible for them to resist the -- the urge that they then satisfy.

GROSS: Now, how is the concept of sexual addiction affecting your work as a doctor? You deal with infectious diseases. A lot of the people who you see have HIV. You write in The New Yorker piece that you believe that one out of every 10 patients that you see is there with a problem related to alcohol or drug addiction.

Do you think about the possibility of sexual addiction in the patients that you treat?

VERGHESE: You know, I don't. I'm tremendously impressed with the phenomenon of addiction. I think it's terribly important in medicine and it's so ubiquitous that in a way we've almost lost sight of it.

But yes, as I say in the piece in The New Yorker, it seems to me that directly or indirectly, a great majority of the patients I see have problems related to their addictions. And these tend to be very concrete addictions to alcohol, to heroin, to cocaine.

But I've never in the course of 15 years of practicing medicine felt compelled to come up with the term "sexual addiction." I still find it somewhat problematic. And I think that's because unlike these other discrete addictions where there's a withdrawal -- where there's clear tolerance to the drug -- with sexual behavior, it seems to me that we're sort of taking one frame of reference applied to chemicals, and then simply sticking it on a behavior and hoping it will fit. But it -- the great fear is that it's going to play into the hands of people, say, on the right who already are sort of very vocal about pornography and its effects on society.

So the label of "disease" to a sexual pattern of behavior plays into some of the very issues that have to do with personal freedom that we're all concerned about.

GROSS: My guest is Dr. Abraham Verghese. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

We're talking to Dr. Abraham Verghese about his article in the current New Yorker, about whether there's such a thing as sexual addiction.

You report on the concept of sexual addiction for the current edition of The New Yorker. What -- what -- how divided is the medical profession now, do you think, about this concept? And what -- what ripples is this making in the medical world now?

VERGHESE: I think the mainstream medical profession -- someone like myself -- a general internist and infectious disease person -- is barely aware of this term. It's certainly caught on to a much greater degree in the lay press than it has infiltrated the textbooks. And I think that in the textbooks, people are still a bit cautious about labeling it an addition. And the latest DSM -- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental illness -- again stays away from labeling it an addiction.

But curiously, the public seems to have quickly bought into this, and the term is being bandied around very, very commonly as though it's a clear-cut entity like cholera or typhoid.

GROSS: When we talk about addiction, I guess we usually talk about a chemical addiction. You know, you're chemically addicted to alcohol or you're chemically addicted to cocaine. Is there a possible chemical component of a sexual addiction that's being discussed now?

VERGHESE: Well see, that's the wonderful million dollar question. I think the reason we have so much controversy when we talk about sexual addiction is that unlike, say, cholera or typhoid, where we know exactly what the switch is at the very center of these illnesses, the whole realm of psychiatry is clouded in this sort of mystery. And with every passing year, we're learning more about the brain. And we're learning that there are discrete areas of the brain that, when affected, can result in very discrete behaviors.

But I think we're many, many years away from actually getting to the very switch at the center of, say, compulsive sexual behavior or even other diseases like, say, anxiety disorder or obsessive/compulsive disorders. And I think 'til you get to the switches at the center of things, you will have this argument between these sort of psychologists on the one hand and the addictionologists on the other hand and the neurobiologists on the other hand. I think it just reflects the fact that there's so much to know.

What is very intriguing is the fact that there is a discrete area of the brain that produces its own opium-like chemicals that allow us to feel good, say, after a long run or after consummating a sexual act. And make us feel bad, for example, when we hurt someone or we steal. And ultimately perhaps, but many, many decades from now, it might be possible to bring more accuracy to this sort of behavior -- to typify it in the way we speak of good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.

But 'til such time, I think we're left with this very confusing term and with the polar groups that argue over it.

GROSS: Do you think it's conceivable that at some point neurobiologists will find that there is a chemical component that we don't know about yet to sexual desire? And that some people have more of it and other less of it? And that that explains what we might now refer to as a sexual addiction or sexual compulsion?

VERGHESE: I think it's very possible that we'll get very close to finding the switch at the center of things. For the longest time, the territory of the software of the brain -- all our thoughts and memories -- has been the territory of the psychologist.

But as we learn more and more about the brain, it becomes apparent that at some level, psychology is biology; that for every thought, for every memory there will perhaps be a discrete chemical substrate that we can identify.

But I think we're a long, long way away from that. And even when we get there, how are we going to take into account the whole range of behaviors that pass for normal in one society and yet are considered deviant in another society? I think that that kind of accuracy will never come and we'll always be left with a certain subjectivity to this very common and confusing disorder.

GROSS: Dr. Abraham Verghese -- Dr. Abraham Verghese's article about sexual addiction is published in the current New Yorker.

I'm Terry Gross.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Abraham Verghese
High: Author and physician Abraham Verghese talks with Terry about his recent article in the February 16 issue of The New Yorker, about sexual addiction: "The Pathology of Sex: Why can't some people stop having it." Verghese is also the author of the 1994 memoir "My Own Country," about his experiences treating AIDS in rural America.
Spec: Health and Medicine; Sexuality; AIDS; Sex Addicts; Politics; Government; Monica Lewinsky
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Sex Addicts
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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