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Twain Humor Award Honors Comedian Will Ferrell.

Comedian Will Ferrell will receive the 14th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor later this month at the Kennedy Center. The comedian became famous as a cast member on Saturday Night Live and went on to star in movies such as Old School and Elf.

This interview was originally broadcast on Nov. 9, 2006.


Other segments from the episode on October 14, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 14, 2011: Interview with Ted Danson; Interview with Will Ferrell; Review of film "The Skin I Live In."








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DAVID BIANCULLI, host: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of, sitting in for Terry Gross. Our first guest, Td Danson, became famous for portraying an iconic TV character, the shallow, vain, womanizing bartender on the long-running NBC sitcom "Cheers." But he hasn't stopped there.

He did some great work recently on the drama series "Damages" playing a corrupt billionaire CEO. And currently he's one of the few actors in history who can claim to appear simultaneously on three different TV series. He plays himself on HBO's comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm"; he has a more prominent role as co-star on another HBO comedy series "Bored to Death"; and this season he's the new star of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" on CBS, playing a forensics expert who seems to really enjoy his work, even at crime scenes.


TED DANSON: (As D.B. Russell) Hey. Did you find the two missing rounds from the guard's gun yet?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) No. I'm beginning to think they're in the next county, or in Vinnie Sapphire(ph).

DANSON: (As Russell) All right, okay. The only blood out here is from the guard who was shot in the face with a .44. Two shooters inside had .38s.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) Maybe whoever was driving Vinnie's getaway car was packing the .44 or (unintelligible).

DANSON: (As Russell) Okay, that's interesting. Do me a favor. Shoot me in the face.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) What?

DANSON: (As Russell) Shoot me in the face, pretend gun, you know, about a foot away, and don't miss.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) You're the boss.

DANSON: (As Russell) Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) I wasn't even ready.

DANSON: (As Russell) That's the point. We're done here. You can wrap it up. The bullets aren't out here, and they're not in the next county, and they're not in Vinnie Sapphire, either, or in his car. Hey, thank you, that was fun.

BIANCULLI: Even that character, though, isn't as loose as the one Ted Danson plays on "Bored To Death," which began its new season this week on HBO. The series stars Jason Schwartzman as Jonathan, a writer who turns his love of hard-boiled detective novels into a second career, advertising on Craig's List as an unlicensed private eye.

Ted Danson plays his magazine editor boss, George Christopher, who ends up tagging along with him on cases. Before we hear Terry's 2009 interview with Ted Danson, let's revisit this scene from the first episode. They're at a gallery opening when George, played by Danson, asks Jonathan, played by Jason Schwartzman, if he has any pot. He does, and so they go into the men's room. George is surprised to see that Jonathan is carrying his marijuana in a prescription pill bottle.


DANSON: (As George Christopher) This is my Viagra bottle. What are you doing with marijuana in my Viagra bottle?

JASON SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jonathan Ames) You gave me that bottle months ago. There were two pills left in it. You told me I should try them. Now I'm putting my pot in it.

DANSON: (As George) Are you insane? What if you got arrested for marijuana possession? Page 6 would have a field day. I can't have - hello? Hello? I can't have the world knowing that I use Viagra.

SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jonathan) Do you really need to take so much?

DANSON: (As George) Yes, as a matter of fact I do. My heart medicine and heavy drinking have taken a toll. I'm not what I once was, but I accept that. It's called humility.

SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jonathan) Then why are you back on pot?

DANSON: (As George) Because I'm bored. God, I'm bored. Death by a thousand dull conversations. I don't know what's going on, but almost everybody has bad wine breath tonight. It's like Chernobyl out there.

SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jonathan) Do you think we drink too much?

DANSON: (As George) No, no, we don't drink too much. Men face reality, women don't. That's why men need to drink.

SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jonathan) That's a line from my novel.

DANSON: (As George) Yeah, well, you stole it from me.

SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jonathan) No, I didn't.

DANSON: (As George) Yeah, actually, you did.

SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jonathan) Actually, no, I didn't.

DANSON: (As George) Fine, Jonathan.

SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jonathan) Anyway, Suzanne moved out today because she says I drink too much.

DANSON: (As George) Oh, I'm not surprised.

SCHWARTZMAN: (As Jonathan) Why do you say that?

DANSON: (As George) Because you're like me, Jonathan. We enthrall, and then we disappoint.

TERRY GROSS, host: You're getting to play much more varied characters than you did when you were younger and famous, originally, because people got so used to you as Sam Malone, the bartender on "Cheers," who was the opposite of intellectual, and the power that he had was, like, the power in the bar, but now you're playing people who have, like, you know, real power, who are kind of successful and also often, like, self-delusional and sometimes with a little bit of an evil streak. And it's been really fun for me as a viewer to discover that side of you as an actor.

DANSON: Fun for me, too. I have to admit, I think part of me thought I'd stayed at the half-hour-comedy dance a bit too long, and I think part of me was going, wow, I'm not as funny as these other people who are coming up, and I was kind of boring myself in a way. Then "Damages" came along and really kind of turned things around for me.

GROSS: Well, you mentioned "Damages," so this is a perfect opportunity to play a scene from it, and "Damages" is an FX series starring Glenn Close as a lawyer, and in this you play Arthur Frobisher, a billionaire CEO who cashed in his stocks, and then the company went under, leaving the employees without jobs or pensions.

So they hired a lawyer, the Glenn Close character, to file a class action suit against you. You really want to save your reputation. So one of the things you have done is get a writer to write a book about you, but the writer has his own idea, and you know, he wants to do some investigation, find out who you really are, what you've really done in your life, some of the bad things you've done in your life.

You see this book as an opportunity to just, like, burnish your reputation and talk about, like, your ladder to success and overcoming the odds. So you show up, very inappropriately, at midnight, unannounced, at the writer's house.

DANSON: And slightly drunk.

GROSS: Slightly drunk, with a whole box of, like, your trophies and your ribbons and memorabilia that's designed to show him what each of these things represent in your life and what you had to go through to achieve the success that each of these objects represent. So here's the scene.


DANSON: (As Arthur Frobisher) Now see, look. This stuff, all - this is my integrity. Here, look, look. Oh, yeah.


DANSON: (As Frobisher) Third prize, middle school spelling bee.

PETER RIEGERT: (As George Moore) Great.

DANSON: (As Frobisher) No, I'm dyslexic. Remember I told you that? So that's determination. Here, look, look. Yeah, all right, varsity. This is interesting. Varsity. That's the first time I realized that I was a natural leader.

RIEGERT: (As Moore) Yeah, you know, all the stuff that you're giving me is great, but this book...

DANSON: (As Frobisher) All right, look, look, look. Here, come here. This shirt, right? The shirt you're wearing, you own other shirts, right? So you know, if I come along and say, you know, define you as the guy who wears this shirt, I'd be wrong, right? Because you're not just one thing. See, that's what I'm trying to say. You're not just one thing. Hey, I told you, right, that I started off dirt poor?

RIEGERT: (As Moore) You told me yesterday about that.

DANSON: (As Frobisher) Well, why don't you write - hey, listen, 17. I came this close to joining the Army.

RIEGERT: (As Moore) Look, look, Mr. Frobisher. I haven't seen Indira for two weeks. She's just been traveling, understand, and this is our night together. So we'll just cut it short.

DANSON: (As Frobisher) All right, let's back up here. Tell me about your book.

RIEGERT: (As Moore) My novel?

DANSON: (As Frobisher) Sorry, your novel.

RIEGERT: (As Moore) It's hard to describe.

DANSON: (As Frobisher) Just tell me what it's about, will you?

RIEGERT: (As Moore) On the face of it, it's a love story. It's about nostalgia and how that affects our core relationships.

DANSON: (As Frobisher) Jesus, George, I mean, that sounds like crap. Are you kidding me? Look what you're doing here. I mean, you're living on - you're sleeping on a futon. Come on, you know, of course you're writing about my life. You don't have one, you know? And you're (bleep) immigrant because, what, you appreciate their culture?

RIEGERT: (As Moore) Excuse me?

DANSON: (As Frobisher) The truth is, you're just trying to feel superior. Try running a $40 billion industry. See how that makes you feel.

RIEGERT: (As Moore) Get out.

DANSON: (As Frobisher) Yeah, try managing 11,000 employees.

RIEGERT: (As Moore) Just leave.

DANSON: (As Frobisher) You want to know why they're suing me, you invisible piece of (bleep)? Because I'm worth it.

RIEGERT: (As Moore) I hope that you lose everything.

DANSON: (As Frobisher) Now, you be careful.

RIEGERT: (As Moore) Because you are an arrogant (bleep).


DANSON: (As Frobisher) Hey, guess what? You're fired.

GROSS: And that punch was the sound of the Ted Danson character hitting the ghost writer really hard, maybe breaking his nose. That's such a great scene.

DANSON: With my little toy car.


GROSS: That's right. I love the way you play that scene. There's a lot of words that you only, like, half-say, and it's almost like - it was partly because you're drunk, but it's partly because like time is - you're so important, and you have so little time, you don't even have to say the whole word, you know.


GROSS: You've said that you worked with an acting coach before doing "Damages," and I guess I'm wondering why. You've acted for decades. Why did you feel the need to do that?

DANSON: I did work with an acting coach right beforehand. His name's Harold Guskin(ph). What he said to me was actually kind of exciting for me just as an actor because I had been doing comedy, half-hour, for so long, which has this rhythm to it.

It's almost like doing a musical. There is a rhythm you need to adhere to. Even if you disguise it, you know, there is a clean, musical-comedy energy to doing half-hour. What he said to me was, you know, don't - you have four lines you're about to do. You have a paragraph in the script. Well, maybe you're going to say one line. Maybe you'll say two. Maybe you won't feel like saying the other lines, and maybe you won't.

You're Arthur Frobisher. You'll do what you want when you want, and if you don't feel like, you know, don't be the nice actor. Don't give them what you want. Do whatever you want. And he instilled this kind of creative arrogance in me that was the same arrogance of the character, the billionaire who doesn't really have to answer to anyone and can do whatever he wants because people love him because he's a billionaire. And it was really a great note to give me.

BIANCULLI: Actor Ted Danson, speaking to Terry Gross in 2007. More after a break; this is FRESH AIR.

Let's get back to Terry's 2009 interview with Ted Danson. He stars in the CBS drama series "CSI," The HBO comedy series "Bored to Death" and has a recurring role on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiam."

GROSS: On HBO, on the Larry David series, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," you've played yourself, Ted Danson. And your wife, Mary Steenburgen, plays your wife and plays herself. So when you started on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," how did you figure out who the "Curb" version of Ted Danson was going to be?

DANSON: I think it's the same thing, even though you're playing yourself, you go, all right, what is my function here? My function is to be a foil for Larry David. My function is to set up road blocks or do something that heighten what he's really funny - you know, funny at. So it becomes - you shape yourself.

Even though you're name's Ted Danson, and you're married to Mary Steenburgen, but the truth is you are trying to do what's best in each scene to highlight Larry, which is why I hate Larry. I don't really like him. I'm tired of highlighting Larry.


GROSS: Are you...?

DANSON: I'm glad you laughed because he's one of our best friends, and we, you know, see him all the time socially, and he's lived in our guest house for two summers in a row. Mary calls him Larry the Lodger. He just won't leave.


GROSS: So are there scenes in episodes of "Curb" that actually came out of your life or came out of your real relationship with Larry David?

DANSON: Not necessarily, although when you go out to dinner with him, it's way scarier than acting with him because he's always pulling out his notebook; or you don't know whether or not he's doing a scene in a restaurant and being a little louder than he should be because he's practicing something for next week or whether this is truly Larry. It's a very scary kind of proposition, hanging out with Larry David. 1

GROSS: I can imagine it would be a little embarrassing when he's talking too loud or doing something inappropriate, and you don't know whether he's testing a performance or just being weird.

DANSON: Oh yeah, we've sat in a restaurant, a very sweet, quiet inn, you know, New England inn with a lot of people with kind of blue-gray hair. And he came in late, and his back was to the entire restaurant, but we were looking at the entire restaurant over his shoulder, and he was whispering this story in a kind of stage whisper that had the F-word in it a lot. And he basically cleared the restaurant. And then as he's walking out, he went: Nice restaurant. A little too quiet for a Jew, but it's a nice restaurant - and he walked out.


DANSON: And it was like - you kind of had to walk in his wake, going sorry, sorry, sorry, you know, it's Larry, sorry.

GROSS: That sounds so much like it should be on "Curb" and maybe will be.

DANSON: It is, yeah, and will be, right.

GROSS: I want to play a scene from "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and this is an episode in which you and your wife, Mary Steenburgen, have invited Larry David and his wife to a party, and he doesn't like parties. He doesn't want to go, so...

DANSON: This is real.

GROSS: This is real? Oh great, great, great.

DANSON: This is totally real. This summer, he would not go to people's homes for dinner. I'll go to a restaurant because then I can leave when I want, but at a home, I'm stuck. I don't want to come. And he made this a rule of thumb. Anyway, please go on.

GROSS: Okay, okay, so in this scene, he doesn't want to go to your party. So he comes up with his scheme that he'll pretend he thought your party was really the next day. So the day after the party, he shows up at your door, and you know, saying okay, we're here for the party. And he expects that you'll say oh, it was last night, and then he can just go home, but that's not what happens. So here's the scene.


DANSON: (As himself) Hey.

CHERYL HINES: (As Cheryl David) Hey.

DANSON: (As himself) What you guys doing?

LARRY DAVID: (As himself) What's going on?

DANSON: (As himself) What do you mean?

DAVID: (As himself) Where's everybody?

HINES: (As Cheryl) We thought there was a party.

DANSON: (As himself) Oh my God, you thought the party was tonight?

HINES: (As Cheryl) Yeah.

DANSON: (As himself) Last night. The party was last night.

DAVID: (As himself) Are you kidding me?

DANSON: (As himself) No, man. I can't believe it.

DAVID: (As himself) It's unbelievable. What? We got the wrong night?

DANSON: (As himself) Yeah, you did. I'm actually glad to hear this. I was a little pissed off that you didn't call.

DAVID: (As himself) Well, now you know why we didn't call.

DANSON: (As himself) Mary.

DAVID: (As himself) Of course we didn't call because we're coming tonight.

DANSON: (As himself) Come on in.

DAVID: (As himself) Oh no, no, no, we're not going to come in.

HINES: (As Cheryl) No, we got the wrong night. It's our fault.

DANSON: (As himself) It doesn't matter.

HINES: (As Cheryl) Hey, Mary.


MARY STEENBURGEN: (As herself) You're kidding.

DAVID: (As himself) Can you believe how stupid we are?

HINES: (As Cheryl) All right. It's good to see you guys. We'll call you later.

STEENBURGEN: (As herself) No way you're leaving. This is fantastic. We have so much leftover food. You're going to come in and help us eat it.

DAVID: (As himself) No, you know what? I'll call you tomorrow. We'll get together. We'll do...

STEENBURGEN: (As herself) Why?

DAVID: (As himself) I'll take you out to dinner. I'm paying, I'm paying.

DANSON: (As himself) Hey, Larry, you don't have any plans. You're supposed to be here, you're here. Come on in. Come on, Cheryl. It'll be fun.


DANSON: (As himself) This'll be fun. Hey, we've got leftovers. I'll make you an omelet or something.

HINES: (As Cheryl) You guys, we can't, we can't.

STEENBURGEN: (As herself) It'll be great. Come on.

DANSON: (As himself) This is like pulling teeth.


DANSON: (As himself) Come on in, you guys.

GROSS: That's a scene from "Curb Your Enthusiasm," with my guest Ted Danson. Did you get a script for that scene? Did Larry David tell you what it was about and then ask you to just improv your lines? How did it work?

DANSON: He - what he does is he works for months on setting up the season, the arc of the season. Then each show is broken down into scenes, and this is pretty typical of a writing room for comedies.

You break everything down, beat by beat so that the last thing you do is you send a writer off to write the actual dialogue. He takes it right up to the dialogue part. So it's very intricate. It's been worked out. You know what he needs, but the words that come out of your mouth have not been written.

GROSS: Now, you got your start on the TV series "Cheers," which is one of the more famous TV series in TV history. Did you feel like you knew this character?

DANSON: No. Lord no. I didn't. I had no idea how unintelligent he was. At first I thought he was making these - because Sam would come out with these things that were funny, and I thought, well, maybe he's being ironic. You know, maybe he's smart enough to know that he's saying stupid things in the beginning. I think it took me about a year and a half before, maybe a season and a half before I had an inkling on how to play Sam Malone, because he was a relief pitcher, which comes with a certain amount of arrogance.

You know, you only get called in when you're in trouble and you're there to save the day, and that takes a special kind of arrogance, I think. And Sam Malone had that arrogance. And I, Ted Danson, did not. I was nervous, scared, excited about, you know, grateful about my new job.

GROSS: Well, let's hear a scene from season one and we'll hear the kind of arrogance that you're talking about that your character...

DANSON: Or lack of.

GROSS: Or lack of, that your character Sam Malone had. So here's a scene with you and Shelley Long.


SHELLEY LONG: (as Diane Chambers) Why are you so upset?

DANSON: (as Sam Malone) You know, this week I have gone out with all the women I know, I mean all the women I really enjoy. And all of a sudden, all I can think about is how stupid they are. I mean my life isn't fun anymore, and it's because of you.

LONG: (as Diane Chambers) Because of me?

DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Yeah. You're a snob.

LONG: (as Diane Chambers) A snob?

DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Yeah. That's right.

LONG: (as Diane Chambers) Well, you're a rapidly aging adolescent.

DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Well, I would rather be that than a snob.

LONG: (as Diane Chambers) And I would rather be a snob.


DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Well, good, because you are.

LONG: (as Diane Chambers) Sam, do yourself a favor, go back to your tootsies and your ramparts. I'd hate to see the bowling alleys close on my account.


DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Hey, hey, wait a minute, wait a minute. Are you saying that I'm too dumb to date smart women?

LONG: (as Diane Chambers) I'm saying that it would be very difficult for you. A really intelligent woman would see your line of BS a mile away.

DANSON: (as Sam Malone) You think so, huh?

LONG: (as Diane Chambers) Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Yeah. Well, you know, I've never met an intelligent woman that I'd want to date.

LONG: (as Diane Chambers) On behalf of the intelligent women around the world, may I just say, whew.



GROSS: Ted Danson and Shelley Long. So Ted Danson, you said before you felt like you could pull off the arrogance of your character?

DANSON: Yeah. Actually, it was. I can actually hear it my voice, you know. I really, you know, I want to sing Shelley Long's praises. I think the first couple of years, "Cheers" became the hit that it was because I, I mean everyone was good in it and everyone went on to become brilliant in it. But I think Shelley and that character hadn't been seen for a while on TV, and I think she just did an absolute brilliant, brilliant job.

BIANCULLI: Ted Danson, speaking to Terry Gross in 2009. we'll have more of their conversation in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross, back with more of Terry's 2009 interview with actor Ted Danson. He has succeeded in creating several well-received and popular TV characters since "Cheers," including central roles on "Becker" and "CSI." And Terry asked about life after "Cheers."

GROSS: Was it hard to create a new life after "Cheers?"

DANSON: Well, I had this great solution. I blew my private life up in such a, you know, a disastrous way that leaving "Cheers" became secondary to kind of putting my private life back together. So to answer your question, not really. Not really. I mean it was hard because I missed my friends. It was hard, but after 11 years - I think we all had been looking for an ending.

GROSS: And let me just say, I think what you were alluding to before when you said that after "Cheers" your life became public in a big way, I think you were referring to the relationship with Whoopi Goldberg and the whole Friars Club thing, where there was a roast of Whoopi Goldberg and you worked out a sketch with her in which you appeared in blackface and, like, boy, there were just like movie stars and politicians and columnists who just were so upset and publicly spoke out against you for having done that. It must've been a horrible...


GROSS: ...a horrible moment.

DANSON: It was. But I mean it was of my making so, you know, it was all on my head. It was definitely a graceless moment in my life. But I kept thinking, well, I have to go roast Whoopi Goldberg. We were no longer actually going together at that moment and we had tried to back out of, you know, of doing this, and they said no, no, no, you have to contractually, you have to. And I thought, well, how am I going to roast Whoopi when all the tapes and videos I see of people - a Jewish person will be saying horrible things about the Jewish person they're roasting. But it's okay because the Jewish person being roasted is being roasted by Jewish people?

Or, you know, the African-American is being roasted by an African-American. So how's, you know, the white kid going to be roasting and doing a, you know, an outrageous job for this amazingly outrageous woman? So I thought, I know, I'm not a standup comic but I'll do, I am an actor, so I'll do a little performance theater. So that was my rationale and it was clearly a non-press event, we were told, and within seconds I realized, ooh, wow. By the way, Whoopi knew about it and had kind of signed off on it and thought it was funny, so I thought, okay, I'm going to go for it. And it did offend some people, and sometimes I'd have to rightfully so, other times, it was theater and it was done with love.

GROSS: Do you feel like you walked away learning anything either about comedy or about race in America from that experience?

DANSON: Well, yeah, the stupidity on my part. The lack of thought, to stand up and go, I'm now going to do race material and think that it would not draw a lot of heat was stupid on my part. So what did I learn? You know, I learned that I was at a very adolescent point in my life where I thought, you know what, I can do whatever I want. It's okay. I did naively think, because I was told that there would be no press, so I thought, okay, this is a room full of people who get this kind of humor, I'll be all right, and that was stupid on my part. Everything is open to the press now.

GROSS: You know what I found really interesting about what you just said? You were saying that, you know, that you think you were arrogant then, and you were telling us before that you didn't' know how to be arrogant. Like you were, you didn't have that arrogance and you had to learn it to play Sam on "Cheers" and you were telling us about the kind of arrogance that you needed to have for the part that you play on "Damages," is this like billionaire CEO who's like very arrogant.

And it's interesting. You're talking about this moment in your life where you were arrogant for real, you think, and you got really burned.

DANSON: Yeah. You know, actually what followed, a week later I had a replay, because evidently I hadn't learned my lesson, where I was driving in a car up a hill and it was rainy and I was late and I was driving a little faster than I should and I could feel my tires start to skid a little bit and I almost had this literal thought, maybe not quite, but it was like, Ted, you better slow down, the roads are wet. And I went, no, I'm all right. I can handle this. And it was that same kind of arrogance of the world saying hey, there are rules. Don't break the rules. And I spun out and got hit by a pickup coming the other way and slammed into the side of a cliff. Luckily didn't go off the other end, you know, the other side, which was a cliff. And I was taken out of my car on a board and it was all very dramatic, and I was fine. The next day I had a stiff neck and that was it. But it was - and that was like the moment where I went, whoo. Wake up.

GROSS: So what did you do after that like wake up moment? What did you change?

DANSON: Then it was kind of personal, so I won't go into that.

GROSS: No, it's fine.

DANSON: But it was ending things that I should've ended. It was, yeah, I really did actually take care of business. And about a month later I met Mary, and I don't think that I would've even seen her or she would've even seen me if I hadn't, you know, woken up.

GROSS: I'd like to talk about your childhood a little bit. I know you grew up near Flagstaff, Arizona. Your father was an archaeologist and he directed a museum. What kind of museum was it?

DANSON: It was a natural history museum. Part of its mandate was to honor and stimulate the culture and the arts of the Hopi, Navajo, Sunni and Pueblo Indians in the Four Corners area. So most of my friends growing up were sons of Hopi and Navajo - people who worked at the Museum and or rancher's sons and daughters. I had a really interesting kind of idyllic - jump on horses and riding any direction you want - upbringing.

GROSS: So did you grow up with aspects of Hopi culture that made an impression on you?

DANSON: Yes. But, you know, I was madly running around playing and jumping on horses and, you know, playing cowboys and Indians, which was really weird for us. So...

GROSS: Oh you play cowboys and Indians with real Indians.


DANSON: Yeah. It was very strange. We would all go off and see, you know. On Sunday we take our, you know, our quarter and go to the Orpheum Theater and watch a John Wayne movie and kind of laugh derisively when the Indians that were wearing bonnets, which clearly meant Plains Indians, and they were supposedly Apaches and we'd mock and laugh them. And then when the Calgary would come and just beat the crap out of the Indians we both - we'd all be kind of still for a moment not knowing how to handle this kind of moment of oh, sorry.


DANSON: Sorry about this.

GROSS: So, you play cowboys and Indians. Were you like the victorious cowboy beating up on the Indians or what?

DANSON: No, we were always on the same side. No, these cowboys and Indians were on the same side. We were always playing usually against imaginary enemies.

GROSS: Well, Ted Danson, it's really been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

DANSON: Thank you.

BIANCULLI: Ted Danson, speaking to Terry Gross in 2009. You can see him currently into weekly TV series, "CSI" on CBS and "Bored to Death" on HBO.

Coming up, comedian Will Ferrell. This is FRESH AIR.












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DAVID BIANCULLI, host: On October 23rd, our next guest, Will Ferrell, will receive the annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The ceremony will be held at the Kennedy Center and Conan O'Brien and Larry King will be among those paying tribute. The ceremony will be televised October 31st on PBS. Here's a clip from the 2004 movie "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," in which Will Ferrell plays the pompous title character, who also sees himself as a sort of rock star flute player.


WILL FERRELL: (as Ron Burgundy) Guys, "East Harlem Shakedown," E flat? Keep the cymbals splashy, and, Jay, let's take the bass line for a walk.

Hold on. I'm not hearing it right. Hold on.

We got it now. It's all right.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) Fire up, Ronnie.

FERRELL: Little ham and eggs comin' at you. Hold on people. Hope you got your griddles.

That's baby-makin' music, that's what that is. Uh.

BIANCULLI: Will Ferrell in a scene from the 2004 comedy, "Anchorman." Terry gross but with him in 2006.

TERRY GROSS, host: So when you went to, like, audition for "Saturday Night Live," the story goes that you took a trunk of, like a suitcase, of Monopoly money with you so that you could do what?

FERRELL: Well, I had read somewhere that Adam Sandler had gone and had a meeting with Lorne Michaels and had gone into this meeting, kind of, sight unseen and had done this really funny bit - and where he, I don't know, mimicked having sex with a chair or something and was hired on the spot. And I thought well, I'm going to follow that, like be funny in the room and kind of take advantage, you know, of the moment, to kind of seize the day type of attitude. So I thought what would be really funny is that I walk in with a briefcase full of toy money, and just start piling it on his desk. And say Lorne look, we can talk, you know, till the cows come home, but we really know what talks and that's money. And I'm going to walk out of this room and you can either take this money or leave it on your desk. I'll never know the difference. And then - and hopefully he'd think it's funny that I stacked all this fake counterfeit money. And - but when I got in, the atmosphere was so intense that I never got to my big joke and I just sat there with my briefcase in my lap.


FERRELL: Which when I left, it felt insane because I remember I was thinking well, he must be thinking what comedian walks in with a briefcase and just sits there nervously?





GROSS: One of the things you became famous for in "Saturday Night Live" was your impersonation of George W. Bush and, of course, in 2000, the debates that you did...


GROSS: ..with Darrell Hammond as Al Gore, I mean became, like, quite famous.


GROSS: Do you think that they influenced how people who watched the show actually part of the candidates?

FERRELL: Yeah. I've been told as much – that we actually, I mean, well it was, you know, we have found out later that the Gore people showed the sketch, the first one we did, to the candidate and to the vice president...


FERRELL: say, look, this is how you're perceived. And so, yeah, I guess we did. It was kind of a crazy time to have all eyes on us, you know, for that, in that moment.

GROSS: Let's hear a short clip of you doing George W. Bush. And this is from "Saturday Night Live." My guest is Will Ferrell.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The following is an address by the President of the United States.

FERRELL: (as George W. Bush) Good evening, America. I'm very happy to be back in this country after my very successful trip in the Pacific Rim. I'm heartened to hear that, for the most part, the people of this country show strong support for my agenda. However, lately, there are some were beginning to criticize this administration. Maybe these people don't understand, America is presently at war - not just the war on terrorism, but we are engaged in a deadly standoff with an Axis of Evil. You know who I'm talking about: Iran , Iraq and one of the Koreas.

(as George W. Bush) But my Axis of Evil doesn't seem to interest the people out there. Some people just want to talk about the economy and budgets and Enron.

(as George W. Bush) I bet most of you out there don't even understand Enron. I sure as heck don't.

GROSS: That's Will Ferrell as George W. Bush. Did you ever get any feedback from President Bush about his thoughts on your impression of him?

FERRELL: No. I never got any direct feedback as far as I knew. I'm trying, I think he, you know, we might have talked about this before. But I did, I met him once when he came to the show and he didn't realize that I was the guy who played him, even though it was...


FERRELL: ...even though it was put to me that he was a huge fan. And so, it was this very awkward situation where, and this was during the campaign of 2000. And so, it was this whole thing of hurry, rush down the studio, the governor really wants to meet you. And I'm like OK. OK. And then they forced me into this, all these photographers and they're like, go. Go, go say hi. And then I could tell that he had no idea that I'm the guy.


FERRELL: And so we just kind of stood there and then we all had this awkward like - he's like, pleased to meet you. And then just kind of looked at me and then it kind of dawned on him that oh, I think, oh, I know who you are and...


FERRELL: ...and then I had to go somewhere or something. But, so, it was kind of apropos, I think, in a way.

GROSS: One of the impressions that you did on "Saturday Night Live" - one of the characters you did was James Lipton from the actors studio broadcast.



GROSS: And that was always so much fun.

FERRELL: It was kind of amazing how much James Lipton loved the impression, so much so, that he had me come on his 100th episode as him. And we did an interview back and forth, where we...


FERRELL: ...he asked me questions, which was very surreal as he stood over my shoulder, watching me getting to make up saying, yes, the transformation has begun.


FERRELL: I'm watching you becoming me. And narrate - it was very... And he watched the whole 30 minutes it takes me to get in that makeup. And I was like, and so, you can go get a sandwich if you want at some point, you know, and he was like no, this is fascinating. And...


FERRELL: But, one of the many interesting things that have happened to me - by far.


FERRELL: Not really. I don't know. I think if anything I noticed was I felt like god, I think I slightly underplay him.


FERRELL: I can go even bigger.



FERRELL: (as James Lipton) On the 13th of January 1931, right here in New York City, magic happened. An artist was born that would rival Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo. But his tools would not be pen, nor brush, nor chisel, nor palette. His tools would be his comically over-sized glasses and his soul. So please, welcome, the greatest performer ever to have graced this Earth, Charles Nelson Reilly.

GROSS: That's Will Ferrell...

FERRELL: That's pretty funny.

GROSS: ...doing James Lipton. And later in the sketch Charles Nelson Reilly is played by Alec Baldwin.


GROSS: So, how do you study somebody like Lipton when you're doing an impersonation of him? Like what is your process of watching somebody, whether it's Lipton or President Bush?

FERRELL: I usually have to just pick one key thing and then emphasize that again and again and again, and then hope that the rest, kind of, fills in. But with, you know, you know, with Bush, as I tried to work on him vocally, I really just worked on it more from the way he kind of scrunched up his face and kind of squinted his eyes, and almost started from that approach. And with Lipton I just tried to over-annunciate and...


GROSS: What's the worst thing that actually did happen to you live on the air on "Saturday Night Live?"

FERRELL: The worst thing, I, you know what, I was doing an update feature where on "Weekend Update," on the fake new section, you know, characters will sometimes come out. And I was my glasses started fogging up to where I couldn't read the cue cards. And then I started laughing, and it was this, kind of, this wonderful kind of crazy situation of I was having this laughing attack and I can't see anything. And I literally kind of had to just up and wipe off my glasses and then get back to reading the cue cards. So it was actually kind of really fun...


FERRELL: ...freefall of like, oh well, there's no way to rescue this. But the audience kind of loves it, in a way, when they were watching that happen.

GROSS: So did you stay in character while you are wiping off your glasses?

FERRELL: Yeah, I did. I was, I did this character who suffered from voice immodulation, which was someone who I only could speak like this. I had no control of the volume of my voice. So whether I was speaking intimately...


FERRELL: ...or shouting, it was the same voice level. So I would have asides to myself. Like, boy, she doesn't smell very good.


FERRELL: So it would be - so I could never have a private moment and that I was afflicted with this disease. And people didn't think it was a real disease, and I was the champion of this thing. It was very - it's bizarre.

BIANCULLI: Will Ferrell speaking to Terry Gross in 2006. This month, he receives the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new movie starring Antonio Banderas, "The Skin I Live In." this is FRESH AIR.












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DAVID BIANCULLI, host: The 19th movie from the acclaimed director, Pedro Almodovar, is called "The Skin I Live In." It really nice and with actor Antonio Banderas, who first came to international attention as an obsessed gay lover in the director's 1987 film "Law of Desire." This time, Banderas plays a mad scientist, driven to replace his dead wife with another person who looks like her. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: At festivals and in interviews, Pedro Almodovar is such a furry cuddle bear that it's possible to forget what a perverse filmmaker he can be - that is, until you watch something like his nasty new gender-bent Frankenstein picture, "The Skin I Live In." It's a self-conscious, madly ambitious work, rife with allusions to countless other films. But does it have a soul? I couldn't detect one amid all its borrowed tropes.

The movie centers on a Spanish plastic surgeon named Robert Ledgard, played by Antonio Banderas, who's obsessed with creating a new kind of flesh. Early on, we learn his wife was badly burned in a car crash and later, after seeing herself, jumped out a window; and that Ledgard wants to make skin not only fireproof but damn near impenetrable. It turns out that Ledgard's philosophy of identity is literally skin-deep. Our face, he lectures his colleagues, identifies us. Ergo, what's to stop him from putting his dead wife's on someone else and getting her back? Certainly it won't be his moral sense - nothing will keep him from experimenting on living things.

Without seeing "The Skin I Live In," film buffs will pick up allusions to "Frankenstein," Hitchcock's "Vertigo," Georges Franju's "Eyes Without a Face," and Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom," along with "Pygmalion" and one or two Italian horror pictures featuring mad scientists and their imperious female housekeepers imprisoning young women for nefarious experiments. Ledgard has, in fact, a patient locked in a room full of surveillance cameras. She's a beautiful young woman named Vera, played by Elena Anaya, first seen doing yoga in a flesh-colored bodysuit, so tight it's like a second layer of you-know-what. Where did she come from? Why does she resemble the doctor's late wife?

"The Skin I Live In" is a puzzle movie, and I don't want to orient you any more than I already have. It features long, digressive subplots, some of which center on a thug in a tiger costume who has some relationship to Ledgard and his housekeeper. After about an hour, Almodovar gets around to the flashbacks that orient us until the narrative stands revealed as a fairly standard revenge saga. But beneath that narrative is a meditation on seeing, on the tension between our inner and outer lives - and perhaps our inner and outer gender identities.

The movie has enough disfigurement, torture and kink to make it a hit with the art house crowd that wants its own version of the gutbucket sensation "The Human Centipede" and its new sequel. It has a surface brilliance, especially in the giant, obscenely fleshy paintings on Ledgard's walls, which connect with the way in which he studies his prisoner Vera's derriere. But this is the only Almodovar movie in which emotion doesn't suffuse the imagery and hold the ramshackle melodrama together. What you get is what you see.

Almodovar apparently worked to deaden Banderas' demeanor, saying evil people have an absence of empathy, an absence of self-awareness - an overriding absence. But I worry that Almodovar has made himself absent, too. His movies have always been rife with allusions, but there was an emotional purity to them, as if the films he consumed as a lonely young gay man consumed in the last years of Franco's Spain had fused with his DNA and become a part of him. His own early films were campy but sincere, defiantly sexual, and effeminate in a culture that had until then been macho and fascistic.

It has been more than 35 years since those first films, and slowly Almodovar the transgressive has morphed into Almodovar the formalist. Perhaps "The Skin I Live In" is an attempt by the director to question the depth of his own artistry, by making the very look of his work suspect. But it lacks the one thing that would turn this from a sterile exercise into a true cry from the heart: emotional clarity.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.






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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