DATE February 15, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Matt Beynon Rees, author of a detective novel called
"The Collaborator of Bethlehem," talks about his book and his
inspirations for the novel
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
After covering the Middle East as Time's Jerusalem bureau chief from 2000 to
2006, my guest Matt Beynon Rees has started a mystery series about a
Palestinian history teacher-turned-detective. The first book in the series
has just been published. It's called "The Collaborator of Jerusalem." The
story is set in motion when the teacher's good friend and former student, who
is a Christian Palestinian, is accused of collaborating with the Israelis and
the killing of a Palestinian guerilla. The teacher is certain his friend is
innocent and sets out to prove it. The book explores divisions within
Palestinian culture. Rees explored divisions within Israeli, as well as
Palestinian culture, in his nonfiction book, "Cane's Field: Faith, Fratricide
and Fear in the Middle East." Let's start with a reading from "The
Collaborator of Jerusalem." The Palestinian accused of collaborating is
talking to his former teacher.
Mr. MATT BEYNON REES: (Reading) "In your class on the Arab revolt of 1936,
you said that the so-called Arab heroes were really just gangs. They went
around robbing villages of their food and killing those who resisted. And all
the time no one could take them on because these killers were portrayed as the
brave men, standing up against the Zionists and the army. They ended up
killing more Palestinians than Jewish farmers or British soldiers. You said
that if the people had stood up to them early on, the gangs would have backed
down and there could have been peace. The criminals have made themselves the
law. They shoot at some soldiers and it transforms them into the
representatives of the national struggle. That makes them unassailable and
they can abuse anyone they want, particularly Christians who are weak already.
That was my mistake. I didn't see that clearly enough, but I don't regret
GROSS: Is this not only your character's view, but is this your view, too?
Mr. REES: Yes. I think having covered in particular the intifada which
began in 2000, the violence there and the way that broke down really convinced
me that what's most important in terms of amongst the Palestinians is the way
in which these gangs of gunmen relate to the ruling political parties and to
the government itself, the Palestinian Authority. Essentially as that reading
that I just gave you demonstrates, inside let's say just Bethlehem but I think
this applies to most Palestinian towns, as long as those gunmen attack and
sometimes kill Israelis, they were able then to essentially rule as gangsters
over the Palestinian towns, particularly taking advantage of groups that
didn't have the same kind of power, the Christians in Bethlehem, for example.
The gunmen in Bethlehem were nominally part of Yasser Arafat's Fatah Party,
but they were also outsiders. They came from a village just outside
Bethlehem. So they weren't part of the Bethlehem community. And therefore
they didn't have any qualms about running, running protection rackets and
other kind of criminal activity. And so that struck me as being what really
drove the fighting on the edge of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, which the foreign
media made it look like it was, you know, the essence of the intifada, the
Israelis fighting against the Palestinians. But I realized that really
there's no such thing as the Palestinians. There's so many groups and so many
interests, and what I wanted to try and express in this novel is the views of
the people that I had met and admired amongst the Palestinians who wanted to
have law and order and peace, and didn't want their entire society to be
surrendered to this kind of gun law.
GROSS: Where the story goes in your book some of these gunmen also control
the auto shop business in Bethlehem. Do you see the gunmen as basically being
like organized crime?
Mr. REES: In many ways they really did become like that, particularly during
the intifada. The central government which is, of course, represented in my
novel by the police chief, a friend of the main character, lost all its power
really because the way in which the Palestinian Authority was set up was
really not a government as we would know it but actually a system of
patronage. Arafat was the center of it all because he controlled all the
money, which, of course, many years later foreign donors wondered where it had
all gone. Well, it went to funding this method that he had always had over
the decades, but which he brought with him from exile which was to hand out
cash to local bosses who were then dependent upon him. In the intifada, that
got out of his control somewhat because some of these local bosses realized
that if they were allowed to fight against the Israelis and then they could
use that, the kudos that that gave them on a local level to run a separate
racket and get more money out of the locals.
GROSS: You also describe in your novel how Christians have become easy
targets in places like Bethlehem because they're now minorities. And in your
novel it's a Christian who's accused of being a collaborator with the
Israelis. What evidence have you seen that Christians have become targets in
Mr. REES: First of all, the Christian minority, not only because of the
large birth rate of the Muslim Palestinian, has been declining. Bethlehem is
now at best 20 percent Christian Arab. Those Christians are leaving in large
numbers, particularly again during the violence of the intifada because they
tend to be slightly better off economically and perhaps also better educated
than the local Muslims who are mainly refugees, very poor refugees. And so
they've gone into exile in droves to the United States but also to South
America. There have been attacks against Christians, but mostly it's a sense
of separation between the two societies. When I first came here, there were
still a lot of connections between those two communities. But the Muslims
during the intifada became very suspicious of the Christians. They thought
perhaps there were links to the West which made them easier to exploit by the
Israelis as collaborators, and also it simply made them not as committed to
the struggle of the intifada as the Muslims were. And so those communities
separated very much.
GROSS: Your novel is inspired by events in 2003 during the second intifada.
Last year Hamas was the victor in the Palestinian elections. Do you see Hamas
as functioning as gangs in the same way that you see Fatah as functioning as
Mr. REES: No. Hamas has always set it up in a different way from Fatah.
It's never been a system of gangs and patronage in the same way that Fatah
was. Although, again, what we're seeing lately is that it is also dependent
for its operations on money in the same way that Fatah is. But I think one of
the things that has happened in the last few years as Hamas has come closer to
the center of power and has even gone into government is that there is a
pressure on the organization itself from the differences of opinion between
those who are in the government who might want to deal with Fatah and
certainly with foreign countries, and maybe even with Israel in a very
distance kind of way. And those committed to continuing the fight at the
ground roots of the organization, there's been a lot of conflict for example
from pressure from below to attack American targets, for example, which Hamas
has always said they didn't want to do. Their struggle is against Israel.
Now that again has led to a breakdown within Hamas to a certain extent which
makes it harder even for Hamas to control certain of its operatives in Gaza
when there are conflicts with Fatah. And that's why in the agreement that was
made recently between the leaders of Fatah and the leaders of Hamas in Mecca,
one of the things that was much clearer there was that it was hard for any of
those leaders on either side to really keep their organization in line. And
that's why they were prepared to go as far as they were in that agreement.
GROSS: Hamas and Fatah entered into a power sharing agreement brokered by the
Saudis, but Hamas and Fatah were fighting each other during parts of January
and February. What is the fighting between them about--besides power? Is it
just about power?
Mr. REES: Well, it's also about money, for several reasons. One reason is
that the Fatah gunmen, as soon as Fatah was out of the government, were cut
off from the money that they used to get from Arafat and even subsequently
from the Fatah organization even after Arafat's death. After Arafat's death
it did cut off somewhat because the current President Abu Mazen decided he was
going to cut back and try and keep the gunmen in order. Now on Hamas' side
it's also about money because since they became in government, the
international community has tried to prevent financial contacts. It's cut off
aid to the Palestinian Authority, at least aid in so far as it goes through
the Hamas government. And so what Hamas is trying to do by having this
agreement with Fatah and somewhat ceding power to Fatah is to get that money
flowing again. And it should also be noted that one of the reasons that the
Saudis wanted to do the deal is because if the European Union, the United
States was not going to be funding the Palestinian Authority, it was becoming
increasingly clear that Iran was going to do it. And there's certainly one
thing that the Saudis don't want in this area, this center of Middle Eastern
conflict where the Palestinians are, is for the Iranians to have even more
power over the situation than they already do.
GROSS: If it weren't for the Saudis brokering this deal, this power-sharing
deal, do you thing that the Palestinians would have ended up in a civil war?
Mr. REES: I think they were well into a civil war actually. They don't have
tanks, and they're not going to stand on one side of the sand dunes, you know,
with an army that we would recognize as a real war. But they had started a
civil war, and I think that's why they realized how imperative it was that
they do some kind of deal. They had certainly started a civil war in Gaza in
the West Bank simply because of the geography. The towns are pretty much cut
off from each other by Israeli forces. But in Gaza where they have much more
freedom to operate, they really were into a civil war, and it could very
easily have escalated to the stage where Fatah lost and was simply kicked out
of Gaza, or where the American money may have counted and perhaps Hamas would
be driven underground. So, yes, they were in a civil war and that was what
was pushing them to this agreement in Mecca.
GROSS: My guest is journalist and novelist Matt Beynon Rees. His new mystery
is called "The Collaborator of Bethlehem."
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Matt Beynon Rees and his new
novel is called "The Collaborator of Bethlehem." And it's based on his
experiences as a Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine. He lives in
Jerusalem and now is a contributor to Time magazine.
In a note that precedes the beginning of your book, you write that all the
crimes in the book are based on real events in Bethlehem. The killers really
killed this way. Tell us about one of the killings in your book that's based
on a real incident that you reported on.
Mr. REES: Well, the first death is of a Fatah activist in a village called
Artas, and he was coming home. The reason that it sparks what happens here in
the book is because it was done with the help of a Palestinian collaborator.
What happened is this man was creeping home in the twilight for the Ramadan
start of a breakfast at the end of the day of fasting. And he was shot by an
Israeli sniper from up on the hill nearby. Now what the Israelis do or did at
that time during the intifada was they would have a collaborator, a
Palestinian, go up very close to the target so that they could identify him,
so they wouldn't just shoot someone who happened to be walking along there at
that time. And so a collaborator had gone up close, had identified to make
sure that this was the right man, had then given a signal to the Israelis, and
they had shot him. That started me to think about what would happen to those
people who were thought of as collaborators and maybe even discovered as
collaborators because in Bethlehem, during the intifada, there were instances
of collaborators being killed or people who were thought to be collaborators
were killed and dragged through Manger Square right in the center of town by
the Church of the Nativity.
But one of the things that shocked me when I first discovered it was that
sometimes the gunmen would kill someone who they knew wasn't the collaborator,
but they would then say that he was a collaborator because they couldn't find
out who the real collaborators were but they wanted to scare the collaborators
so that they would stop collaborating.
GROSS: What's the payoff for being a collaborator?
Mr. REES: It's very small actually. And that's one of the really pitiful
things about the situation is that sometimes someone might be a collaborator
simply because the Israelis say we'll give you a permit for your mother to go
to hospital for the treatment she needs. Sometimes it's a very small amount
of money, really a pifflingly small amount of money, 20, $30. Very often it
begins with something where if you're the collaborator you think, `This
doesn't do anyone any harm,' you know. `They're asking me for something very
inoffensive.' But as soon as you give them that information, you've started on
a road which ends up perhaps with you being asked to identify someone who's
going to get killed. So the collaborators get sucked in in that way. It's
one of the differences between how the Israelis have been able to run their
operations, intelligence operations, inside the West Bank towns and inside the
cells of Fatah and even of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It's an advantage the
Israelis have had which the Americans don't have in Iraq, for example, in
dealing with the insurgency there.
GROSS: Your novel "The Collaborator of Bethlehem" is basically a detective
novel, and the main character in it is very disillusioned with the
Palestinians in power and with the Palestinian gunmen on the streets, and, you
know, he thinks that the criminals have made themselves into the law, but they
have this kind of righteous banner behind them because they also see
themselves as freedom fighters against Israel.
Have you met a lot of disenchanted Palestinians who feel similarly to the main
character in your book?
Mr. REES: Yes, I have. The main character is actually based on a very good
friend of mine who inspired me, if you like, to explore this part of
Palestinian thinking because he was such a decent man. He was an independent
thinker in an environment which is not conducive to independent thinking
because you have men who do not want you to think independently, who are armed
all around you. And I became very close with him over the years of the
intifada. He took me around Deheishe refugee camp. He really introduced me
to people who are, I would say, challenging the gunmen. Very much all of
their city, however, they're not people who would ever leave no matter how
discontented they might be with the way things are in their hometown. They
would never go and live in America or go and live in South America as others
have done. They're very attached to it, and that's what gives them their
validity in a way.
I also became very friendly with people in the Palestinian Authority security
services who are, let's say, in the second tier. They're not running each of
the security services because those tend to be very political figures.
They're actually men who were in exile with Arafat over many decades, and came
back thinking they were going to be policemen and ended up with this kind of
dirty gang going on where sometimes they were supposed to arrest bombers,
other times they were supposed to let them go. And they became very
discontented, and over the years told me a lot of interesting stories about
what it was really like in the Palestinian forces and, of course, in society.
So they, too, were men I admired very much and felt that their voices were not
ever heard. They did not talk to any other foreign correspondents. And that
was what I wanted to get across, not just the stories that they told me but
the essence of their personality which I hope comes across in the novel.
GROSS: Israel basically isn't much in the equation in your novel. It's
really about disagreements between Palestinians. Israel kind of sets up the
story because one of the characters is accused of being a collaborator with
Israel. So there's plenty of hostility to Israel within the larger story.
But the disagreements are with between Palestinians and, you know, the
killings are between Palestinians. Why did you make that decision to have the
novel about--be about conflict between Palestinians as opposed to
Mr. REES: As soon as I see Israelis and Palestinians on the same page, these
cliches just jump out at me. And I wanted to make sure that they would be
nothing like that in my book. And I feel like this also reflects in some ways
the reality of Palestinians now because they're not allowed to move around
from town to town in the West Bank. They don't--you know, there are no
Israelis in the Gaza Strip. So they don't actually see Israelis very much
these days. What exercises them is what happens inside their own town because
they can't go anywhere else. And so the way in which the gunmen work, their
government of Hamas or whatever is going on in their own town, it really
becomes so much more important to them than on a day-by-day basis what the
Israelis do. That's not to say that the geopolitical situation here does not
entwine them with the Israelis. But on a day-by-day basis, it's just them and
all the other Palestinians around them.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. REES: It's a great pleasure, Terry.
GROSS: Matt Beynon Rees spoke to us from Jerusalem. He's the author of the
new detective novel, "The Collaborator of Bethlehem." He was Time magazine's
Jerusalem bureau chief from 2000 to 2006 and is now a contributor to the
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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Interview: Actor/singer Victor Garber talks about shows he's
starred in including Stephen Sondheim's "Follies"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Stephen Sondheim's 1971 musical "Follies" was just revived by the New York
City Center Encores! Series, which stages concert versions of musicals for
very brief runs. My guest, Victor Garber, starred in the Encores! production
of "Follies" which ran from February 8th to 11th. But there's talk about
moving it to Broadway. Garber was also in the original production of
Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" and "Assassins." On TV he starred in "Alias" as a
spy who's the father of a spy played by Jennifer Garner. The series ended
last year, a year in which Garber also starred in the courtroom series,
"Justice." His movies include "Titanic," "Legally Blonde" and "Exotica." I
spoke with Victor Garber Tuesday, the day after "Follies" closed.
Victor Garber, welcome to FRESH AIR. The Encores! series is a series of
concert productions which means sometimes the actors actually carry scripts in
their hands. There's no real sets, costumes are very simple. How is it
different for you as an actor?
Mr. VICTOR GARBER: Well, I saw an Encores! years ago and they were much
more, they've become much more elaborate in the last few years. And the
book--you actually are required to hold the book by law, of equity law,
because it is a reading, you know, it is called a staged reading. But they
have become so...
GROSS: Wait, wait, wait. Does that explain why you had the script in the
first part when you walk down and then didn't have it the rest of the time?
Mr. GARBER: No, I had it the whole time.
GROSS: Oh, you know, I stopped noticing. I stopped noticing.
Mr. GARBER: Well, that's what happens. I had it. The only time I didn't
have it is the very final number. But I was a stickler for holding the script
because some of the actors, the other actors, you know, closed their book
during the scenes. I always had it there just in case. And I, in fact, did
have to look down a few times. But, you know, we only had 10 days of
rehearsal, so it's kind of insane. And it's kind of like, I would think it's
like what Summer Stock was like, you know, which I've never done, but, you
know, where you rehearse, you know, for a week and then put on the show. And
it's literally, everyone is in a sort of a blind-panic backstage. And then
you just go out there and you can't believe you're in front of people in just
such a short time. But it's--that is also exhilarating. And the great part
for me is that, you know, you only do it six times and then you don't have to
do it anymore because it's--I kind of like that aspect of it. It's the
eight-show-a-week thing for a long time that I've grown to--it's harder for me
as I've gotten older.
GROSS: Do you not like repeating the same character, the same lines over and
over for an extended time?
Mr. GARBER: No, actually--no, I actually don't mind that. For me it's the
musical, it's the singing because, particularly Sondheim, you know, you have
to be in flawless voice. You can't sort of, you know, talk/sing through too
many mornings. You have to be really be in, you know, great shape. And
for--it's just, you know, one little, you know, phlegm ball, and it's ruined.
And so--and I've--it's very stressful. You know, I find it very stressful.
GROSS: Now, there's a song in "Follies" in which your character does his
version of a top hat, white tie and tail song. And he actually has, you know,
one of those dancing canes, and he's singing about how his creed is `live,
laugh and love.' But in the middle of the song when I saw it--and don't
interrupt me while I ask you this question.
Mr. GARBER: OK.
GROSS: In the middle of the song when I saw it, you dropped your cane and
then you were so rattled you forgot a few of your lines. And I was so nervous
for you, and I thought, `Should I bring this up in the interview or will it be
embarrassing?' And, of course, a split second later I realized, no, your
character is having a breakdown. And your character dropped the cane, your
character is forgetting his lines. And it's all kind of scripted in.
Mr. GARBER: Yeah.
GROSS: But because I've never seen "Follies" before, you really had me. And
I felt so bad for you.
Mr. GARBER: Well, thank you. I think. Thank you. No, it's interesting
because a lot of my friends came last night. We closed last night, and
several of them were--and they'd actually seen "Follies," and they'd forgotten
that that's what happens. And so many people have mentioned that, and it's
just--it's one of those great opportunities to, you know, fake the audience.
And it's also what makes live theater so thrilling because the possibility is
I have dropped the cane and I have forgotten the lyrics. And--but, in fact,
it's all--it's all staged.
GROSS: When did you first see "Follies" and what did it mean to you?
Mr. GARBER: Well, actually, I saw the original, of course, I was a child.
But I saw it in New York. I think it was '72, I can't--but it was in the
early '70s and I just got a one, a single ticket and I sat in the front row of
the theater. I think it was the Winter Garden Theater. And it was a dazzling
experience because, first of all, you know, for me Sondheim--Sondheim is the
reason I really became an actor. He--his music--I heard "Anyone Can Whistle"
when I was very young and I was living in Toronto at the time. And this
friend of mine played me the score, and I--it was sort of like a--I've said
this before, but it's actually true. It was sort of like a siren call for me
to come to New York. It's what really intrigued me about musical theater.
And--because up until that point I didn't really, you know--I mean I loved,
you know, I loved "Carousel." I loved "The King and I." I was in it when I was
a kid. But this music and these lyrics were so--struck a chord in me that I'd
never experienced. And that's kind of--so that's really one of the reasons I
wanted to come to New York and "Follies," of course, was playing, and I had to
see it. So that was my first--my first Sondheim show that I saw.
GROSS: And then just a few years later, you were cast in the original
production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" in the role of Anthony, the
Mr. GARBER: Yes.
GROSS: It must have been overwhelming for you to have come to New York, in
part, because of a Sondheim musical and then end up in a Sondheim musical.
Mr. GARBER: It was truly an extraordinary experience for me because I went
into the audition and I think--I was studying voice with a teacher who, you
know, I think I sang some, you know, Italian art song, and not terribly well
because I'm not really classically trained. But there was something--and
I--what was really terrifying was that everybody, all the other guys that were
auditioning all sounded like, you know, they just had these phenomenal voices,
and I was very intimidated. They saw something in me, I don't know whether it
was green, but that they thought was right for the character. And so they
asked me if I would learn a song from the show and then come back and audition
with the song. And I said, `Yeah, I would.' And the next thing I knew I was
on a bus going down Second Avenue to Stephen Sondheim's house, which was
like--it was surreal, quite frankly. And, you know, he answered the door, and
I walked in and went up to the second floor where his study is and where his
piano is, and then he sat down at the piano and I put on my little tape
recorder and my little cassette. You know in those days that's what you used.
And he started the first chords of "Johanna" and sang into my tape recorder
the song "Johanna" which, you know, of course, people now know. And I just
thought, well, that's the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. And I went
home and learned it because I don't read music. And so I had to learn it
just, you know, by ear. And then I went in and sang it and got the part. And
I wish I still had that cassette. But I, of course, lost it somewhere along
the line. Yeah.
GROSS: Well, yeah, boy. That'd be a great cassette to have.
Mr. GARBER: Yeah. It'd be something.
GROSS: Well, we should listen to you singing "Johanna" from the original cast
recording of "Sweeney Todd." And this is the song you sing when you've fallen
in love with a beautiful young woman, but she is the ward of a very mean judge
who has done all kinds of cruel things I won't go into. And--so this is
Victor Garber from the original cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney
(Soundbite from song "Johanna" by Victor Garber)
Mr. GARBER: (Singing) "I feel you though I won't, I feel you. I was
half-convinced I'd waken, satisfied enough to dream you. Happily I was
mistaken, till I'm up. I feel you, though I don't. I feel you, do they think
that walls can hide you? Even now I'm at your window. I am in the dark
beside you. There is...(unintelligible)...in your yellow hair. I feel you,
though I must have, and one day I'll feel you. Till I'm with you and I'm with
you there, only barely in your yellow hair."
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Victor Garber, it must have been so thrilling when the music was like
swelling behind you and you're singing the song?
Mr. GARBER: Yeah. You know, when I think back to those days, you know, I
was young and sort of inexperienced. And I didn't really, really appreciate
it until I went back to see the show. After I had left the show--I actually
left after six months or I was one of the first to leave because frankly I
was, you know--I was--I forget how old I was, but I was sort of--I wanted to
play sort of older people. I felt the character of Anthony at that time
was--I just couldn't muster up the naivety anymore. I sort of felt like I
had, couldn't do it. And so I finished my run for my contract. And then I
went back when Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou were about to leave. And I just
went--I took some friends and we went back to see the show. And I realized,
as I was sitting there, what I had been in. You know, it was sort of
like--because when you're in it you don't really, you obviously can't see it.
And, I mean, I knew the score was extraordinary. And I knew the people in it
were extraordinary. But to see it, you know, from an audience perspective was
truly memorable. And I thought, `Wow, I wish I had known that more when I was
GROSS: My guest is Victor Garber. We'll talk more after a break. This is
GROSS: My guest is Victor Garber. He starred in the TV series, "Alias," was
in the films "Titanic," "Legally Blonde" and "Exotica," was in the original
productions of Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" and "Assassins" and just starred in a
revival of Sondheim's "Follies."
It's funny, it's almost as if you have two or maybe three different careers
because there's the career you have on stage and, you know, in musicals and
drama. And for people who follow theater really know you for that. And then
there's your career you've had in movies and the career you've had on
television where like you're really famous. For "Alias" in which, you know,
you played the father of Jennifer Garner, and you're both playing double
agents who--it's always really confusing who you're working for.
Mr. GARBER: You think--it was confusing to me, too, by the way.
GROSS: I was going to ask you if it was confusing to you...
Mr. GARBER: Oh, yeah. I could barely follow.
GROSS: ...because were you always sure which side you were working for?
Mr. GARBER: I never knew. It was a joke off and on. I'd say, `Now, who,
what am I doing now? Who am I? Am I for this or against this?' We would
laugh a lot about it. But it was, listen, for me, being an actor was always
about doing different things. That to me signified what an actor was. And I
was so grateful that I never got slotted into just one thing. Be it, you
know, musical, drama, whatever. I just--you know, the first thing I did in
New York was "Ghosts" at the Roundabout Theater when it was, you know, under a
supermarket in Chelsea. And then I got to do, you know, "Godspell" the movie,
the musical. So I had already, you know, basically done different things.
And so I just felt so fortunate that I was never typed because that to me
would be a, you know, a kind of a death sentence. I would go mad if I had to
sort of do the same thing all the time.
GROSS: How did you get the part in "Alias"? What was the audition like?
And, I mean, how did you even know that there was an audition?
Mr. GARBER: Well, I had done--you know, I had been sort of reading pilot
scripts for a few years because I was interested in possibly doing something
like that. And this script came to my attention and I read it, and I thought
it was one of the best scripts I'd read. J.J. Abrams had written this pilot,
and I read the first scene that my character had in the pilot which was a
phone conversation with his would-be son-in-law, and he basically kind
of--well, he sort of dismisses him in a really cold and sarcastic and
extremely to my way of thinking funny way. And that I said, `OK, I want to do
this.' And that was really that scene that did it. And so I called my agent
and they said, `Oh, they had been'--at that time they were interested in all
these big stars. And I said, `Well, fine, if--you know, if they ever get down
to it, call me and I'll audition. And, you know, and I got the job. I mean,
it was really--I went after it, and I was really happy to get it because I
thought the script was so good. And then, you know, five years later, we
GROSS: Well, I want to play that scene that you just mentioned that made you
want to do this series.
Mr. GARBER: Really?
GROSS: And in this scene--it is from the first episode, and in this scene the
man who has just proposed to your daughter played by Jennifer Garner, and
she's accepted. So now her fiance is calling you up to ask you for her hand
in marriage. Here's the scene.
(Soundbite from "Alias")
(Soundbite of phone ringing)
Mr. GARBER: (As Jack Bristow) Yeah.
Unidentified Actor: (As Danny Hecht) Oh, uh, Mr. Bristow...
Mr. GARBER: (As Jack Bristow) Yes.
Actor: (As Danny Hecht) Hi. It's Danny Beck. Sydney's boyfriend.
Mr. GARBER: (As Jack Bristow) Is Sydney all right?
Actor: (As Danny Hecht) Oh, yeah. She's fine. There's nothing to worry
about. Um, I'm calling because I'm planning on asking Sydney to marry me.
And I just phoned to get your approval.
Mr. GARBER: (As Jack Bristow) Danny, let me ask you a question.
Actor: (As Danny Hecht) Sure.
Mr. GARBER: (As Jack Bristow) How well do you know my daughter?
Actor: (As Danny Hecht) Um, we've been dating for two years.
Mr. GARBER: (As Jack Bristow) Because if you feel the need to ask me about
this scenario, I have a sense you don't know Sydney at all.
Actor: (As Danny Hecht) Sir, I love your daughter and I want to marry her,
that's why I'm calling.
Mr. GARBER: (As Jack Bristow) First of all, Danny, the truth is this is just
a courtesy call. Like when you say to your neighbor, `We're having a loud
party on Saturday night if that's all right with you.' What you really mean is
we're having a loud party on Saturday night.
Actor: (As Danny Hecht) Mr. Bristow...
Mr. GARBER: (As Jack Bristow) Sydney doesn't give a damn what my opinion is.
What interests me is that you do.
Actor: (As Danny Hecht) It's the custom to call the father. That's all this
Mr. GARBER: (As Jack Bristow) Well, I'll tell you what. I may become your
father-in-law, that's just fine. But I will not be used as part of a charming
little anecdote you tell your friends at cocktail parties so they can see what
a quaint, old fashioned guy Danny really is. Are we clear?
Actor: (As Danny Hecht) Yes, sir.
Mr. GARBER: (As Jack Bristow) Good. Then welcome to the family.
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Victor Garber in the first episode of "Alias."
Now, you grew up in Canada.
Mr. GARBER: Yes.
GROSS: In Toronto?
Mr. GARBER: Well, I grew up, yes, outside of Toronto and then started my
career in my teens in Toronto.
GROSS: I read that your mother was an actress and singer. What kind of
performances, what kind of work did she have?
Mr. GARBER: She had--she had a talk show in London, Ontario, where I was
born. And her name was Hope Garber. And she--it was called "At Home With
Hope Garber," which was ironic because she was the worst housekeeper
imaginable. But she was very glamorous and she had a lovely quality and she
was sort of a celebrity in our town. I mean, people knew who she was and she
would do--and she also had a beautiful singing voice and she would do--when
she was younger she was a band singer. Then as she got older she would do
these occasional benefits and fashion shows, and she would sing. And she did
that while I was growing up. And then when my parents separated, she moved to
Toronto. And then eventually she moved to L.A., and she pursued her acting
career then. But she really didn't do very well, and she would get
occasional, you know, one line in a sitcom or, you know, but she worked. You
know, she did stuff. And it was her kind of her dream to be in television and
be in movies. And she did it a little bit.
GROSS: My guest is Victor Garber. We'll talk more after a break. This is
GROSS: My guest is Victor Garber. He starred in the TV series "Alias," was
in the films "Titanic," "Legally Blonde" and "Exotica," was in the original
productions of Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" and "Assassins," and just starred in
a revival of Sondheim's "Follies."
Your first movie role was playing Jesus in "Godspell."
Mr. GARBER: Yeah.
GROSS: The movie, yeah.
Mr. GARBER: Yes.
GROSS: And I think you'd been in the stage production in Canada before that.
Mr. GARBER: Yes. I was cast in the Toronto production, you know, of--the
director was sort of touring, seeing--at that time there were like 10 or 12
companies of "Godspell" that had settled in different cities. And we were the
Canadian version. And I think we were the last one he saw. And then he was
there opening night, and then I read in the paper like the next day that
actually that he was going to cast me in the movie. That's how I heard I was
going to do it. And it was kind of, you know, an amazing thing. And that's
the famous cast. You know, Marty Short, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Eugene
Levy, Paul Shaffer was the musical director. It was...
GROSS: This is the stage production you're talking about?
Mr. GARBER: The stage production, yeah.
Mr. GARBER: So that's when all of that started. And it's--and then I went
to New York to do the movie.
GROSS: Have you seen the movie lately?
Mr. GARBER: No, I can't possibly watch it.
GROSS: Oh, is it dated looking...
Mr. GARBER: Oh, yeah, exactly. I mean, no, I can't--you know it has its
fans and I'm very happy about that. But, no, it's not something I could sit
through. We did dance on the World Trade Center. That was...
GROSS: Oh, wow!
Mr. GARBER: ...that was a phenomenal thing that happened that I--it really
was only after like two days after the buildings came down that I realized
that I had been--I had danced on top of it. It didn't dawn on me until, you
know, days, a couple of days afterwards, but it was an amazing experience.
GROSS: You were dancing on, like in a--one of those balconies on top of the
building or what?
Mr. GARBER: No, we were--it was before the buildings were finished. And we
took the elevator up to the top, as far as it would go. I can't remember
which building it was. But they were not finished, and they were not occupied
yet. And we climbed scaffolding and ladders to get to the top. And then
there was a helicopter shot that went along the side. It was the very end of
"All for the Best." And we, the whole dance and song sequence was, you know,
we were at Lincoln Center. We were at all these different landmarks. We
danced in front of the Accutron sign as the Accutron mimicked what we were
doing. It was kind of a great number. And then it ends with, you know, you
know, yes, it's all for the best. And we're dancing on top of the World Trade
GROSS: You were in a TV production of "Annie." That's really good.
Mr. GARBER: Thanks.
GROSS: It's you and Alan Cumming and...
Mr. GARBER: Kathy Bates.
GROSS: ...yeah, Kathy Bates...
Mr. GARBER: Audra McDonald.
GROSS: Audra McDonald, yeah, yeah.
Mr. GARBER: Kristin Chenoweth.
Mr. GARBER: It's a really good cast.
GROSS: It's a really good cast. I don't imagine you've done other "Annie"s,
but what was it like doing it for the camera, like doing a musical for the
camera as opposed to doing it on stage?
Mr. GARBER: Well, it's--I loved it. First of all, Rob Marshall directed it
and, you know, he went on to direct "Chicago."
GROSS: "Chicago," the movie version.
Mr. GARBER: And that--but "Annie" was his first television, first movie that
he had directed and choreographed. He had choreographed for television
"Cinderella" which I'd also done with him. But then "Annie"--he called me and
said, you know, would I play Daddy Warbucks. And I thought he was insane. I
had never seen the show. I didn't know anything about it really, other than I
knew that song, of course. And he convinced me that it would be great. And
it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable things I've ever done. And I
loved the fact that, you know, when like crew members on the shows that I've
worked on would come up and say, `Oh, my kids, you know, loved you in
"Annie."' And it was like so sweet, you know, when they meet me they know
that's Daddy Warbucks. And for me, you know, it's different only in that it's
just more intimate kind of setting for acting. You still have to get through
the core of what you're saying and what you're doing. And the truth of what's
going on in the scene. So it's just in a way it's easier because you just
have that intimacy and, of course, it's prerecorded, so you don't have to do
it eight times. And it's--the songs, and so for me I loved it. I loved the
experience of doing it for TV.
GROSS: Just one more thing. You told us before that after playing the sailor
Anthony in "Sweeney Todd" you felt like you needed out after all because you
just couldn't play that naive any more.
Mr. GARBER: Yeah.
GROSS: But now your career, you're playing so many cynical people like even
in "Follies" like your character is a pretty cynical character. And, of
course, in "Alias" you're this like double agent who's never really revealing
emotion. And do you feel--and then in the TV series that you were in
"Justice" this year, you were like a manipulative lawyer. Do you feel like
you've gone through the other end now?
Mr. GARBER: Well, first of all, it's more fun to play. You know, it's
always more fun to play. But for me, you know, why they're fun to play is
because they're that way for a reason. They come from a place either they're
a pain or a flawed core that is--makes them turn into these arrogant idiots or
cynical people. It's where they come from that makes it interesting to play
because then you get to hopefully see the cracks. And that's what I try to do
even with Jack Bristow. His love for his daughter was overwhelming, and he
just couldn't express it, but every now and then, you would see a hint of it,
or you would--you know, you get a glimpse of it in their relationship. And
that was what made him three-dimensional, hopefully. And so any time I play a
character like that, it's hopefully to, you know, make it dimensional and
three-dimensional, and you see the other side and how they got to be that way.
And that's what was so great about Ben Stone in "Follies" because the last
part, the last number is when you see it all unravel.
GROSS: Well, Victor Garber, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. GARBER: Oh, you're welcome. It's a pleasure.
GROSS: Victor Garber was just in the New York City Center Encores!
production of Stephen Sondheim's "Follies." The Encores! series continues
this spring with Irving Berlin's "Face The Music" and an original review
called "Stairway to Paradise." We'll close with Victor Garber from the
soundtrack of the TV production of "Annie."
I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite from "Annie" soundtrack)
Mr. GARBER: (As Daddy Warbucks) You know what, Annie?
Unidentified Actress: (As Annie) What?
Mr. GARBER: (As Daddy Warbucks) I think I'm the luckiest man in the world.
Actress: (As Annie) And I think I'm the luckiest kid.
Mr. GARBER and Actress: (As Daddy Warbucks and Annie, singing in unison)
"Together at last, together forever. We're tying a knot, they never can
Mr. GARBER: (As Daddy Warbucks, singing) "I don't need sunshine now to turn
my skies to blue.
Mr. GARBER and Actress: (As Daddy Warbucks and Annie, singing in unison) "I
don't need anything but you."
(End of soundbite)
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