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'Whoever holds power, it's going to corrupt them,' says 'Tár' director Todd Field

A talk about the movie Tar with its star, Cate Blanchett and the film’s screenwriter and director Todd Field. Tar is nominated for six Oscars, including best actress for Blanchett and best screenwriter and director for Field, as well as best picture


Other segments from the episode on March 1, 2023

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 1, 2023: Interview with Cate Blanchett and Todd Field; Review of I Have Some Questions for You



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The movie "Tar" is nominated for six Oscars, including best actress for my guest Cate Blanchett and best director and best screenwriter for my guest Todd Field. "Tar" is also nominated for best picture. But wait, there's more. For her performance in the film, Blanchett has already won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, the British equivalent of an Oscar. "Tar" is the fourth film in movie history to win best picture from the major film critics associations in New York, LA and London, as well as the National Society of Film Critics. Blanchett is the only actress to have won all of those awards, and she did it twice. She's already won two Oscars for her performances in "Blue Jasmine" and "The Aviator," in which she played Katharine Hepburn. She was nominated for her performance in "Carol." This is Todd Field's first film in 16 years, after "Little Children" and "In The Bedroom," which were both nominated for an Oscar. He's been at work, but those screenplays never got made.

In "Tar," Blanchett plays Lydia Tar, a superstar of the classical music world. She's an American conductor who has led several top American orchestras and, for the past seven years, has been based in Berlin, conducting one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Her career has reached a new peak. She's about to record Mahler's Fifth Symphony after having recorded all his others, and her memoir is about to be published. It's rare for an out lesbian to have this stature in the classical music world, but questions have been raised about whether she uses her power to take sexual advantage of young women she is mentoring.

The movie asks a lot of questions about power and its abuse, cancel culture, how actions can be misinterpreted or misrepresented and whether bad behavior should cancel the art as well as the artist. Our film critic Justin Chang says, but "Tar" is too subtly thoughtful and complex to be reduced to mere talking points. And Blanchett's performance also resists easy categorization. With her mix of charisma, ferocity and occasional tenderness, she shows us both Lydia Tar, the magnificent artist, and Lydia Tar, the monstrous human being, and makes it impossible for us to separate the two.

Let's start with a scene from early in the film, when Lydia Tar is teaching a class at Juilliard. A student named Max has been conducting an atonal piece that leaves Tar unimpressed. She thinks the music sounds like violins tuning up and that the student isn't bringing a point of view to the music. After she asks Max a question about Bach, he says he really isn't into Bach. Here's her response.


CATE BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) Have you ever played or conducted Bach?

ZETHPHAN SMITH-GNEIST: (As Max) Honestly, as a BIPOC pangender person, I would say Bach's misogynistic life makes it kind of impossible for me to take his music seriously.

BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) What do you mean by that?

SMITH-GNEIST: (As Max) Well, didn't he sire, like, 20 kids?

BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) Yes. That's documented - along with a considerable amount of music. But I'm sorry, I'm unclear as to what his prodigious skills in the marital bed have to do with B minor.

SMITH-GNEIST: (As Max) Sure.

BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) All right. Whatever. That's your choice. I mean, after all, a soul selects their own society. But remember, the flip side of that selection closes the valves of one's attention. Now, of course, siloing what is acceptable or not acceptable is a basic construct of many, if not most, symphony orchestras today, who see it as their imperial right to curate for the cretins. So, slippery as it is, there is some merit in examining Max's allergy. Can classical music written by a bunch of straight, Austro-German, churchgoing, white guys exalt us, individually as well as collectively? And who, may I ask, gets to decide that? You know, what about Beethoven? You into him? Because for me, as a U-Haul lesbian, I'm not too sure about old Ludwig. But then I face him, and I find myself nose to nose with his magnitude and inevitability.

GROSS: Cate Blanchett, Todd Field, welcome to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on your awards and the nominations and the film.

BLANCHETT: Thank you.

TODD FIELD: Thank you.

GROSS: I think neither of you were deep into classical music before this film. And, Todd, you're a jazz musician - trombone. That was, like, your first profession, I think. So why did you want to set this movie in the classical music world? And I realize you could have set it in the business world and - or the sports world 'cause it's really about power. But tell me more about why you wanted to make this movie set in the classical music world.

FIELD: Well, I really didn't. I mean, I had this character.

GROSS: (Laughter) OK.

FIELD: Well, I had this character. You know, if you're lucky enough to be paid to write for a living - and I read a statistic in Variety, I don't know, 10 years ago that said, if you're being paid as a screenwriter, you have a better chance of starting in an MBA lineup, you know? So I feel very lucky to have been able to keep my lights on for the last few years. And in this case, I was very, very lucky. The studio came to me and said, would you ever be interested in writing a film about a conductor and, you know, with classical music.

And I thought about it, and I had this character, Lydia Tar, sitting, you know, in a notebook. And I thought, OK, she was a top - you know, a media company or something, I think I had her in. This is a perfect power structure if we really want to ask these questions about what is power? You know, what - how does power corrupt? All of these things - it kind of fits into a frame quite neatly. So I had - that was how she became a conductor, pure and simple. And in terms of - you know, my background in classical music is zilch, you know, other than a passing interest, like most people, and having certain favorites.

And, you know, ironically, you know, the world had just locked down. It was the middle of March 2020. And orchestras couldn't play, and conductors couldn't conduct. So we were all captive. And in this case, I was very lucky to be able to have the tutelage of John Mauceri, who had been Leonard Bernstein's assistant for 19 years, who taught at Yale and also handily had been the conductor for the LA Phil for movie nights at the Hollywood Bowl. So he had more than a passing acquaintance about moviemaking and wasn't bothered like a lot of people in classical music would be, you know, by some hedonist like me asking them a lot of funny questions. And so I spoke to him for about three weeks, and he pointed me in the right directions. He gave me, like, a little mini master class, and then I wrote the script.

BLANCHETT: But orchestral music and the way it's made is going inside those systems as they have traditionally existed. They're environments of immense discipline and control and very hierarchical. And who has access to conduct that music is based on that character's legacy and their history and, more than frequently, their gender. So it was the perfect place to place a character who is incredibly disciplined, who has devoted their life to their passions and probably has - as a result, has become quite inept at life - and also somebody who is obsessed with and thinks that she can control how she's perceived and how she moves through the world.

FIELD: So, Cate, I want to talk with you about conducting. One of the pieces that you conduct in "Tar" is Mahler's Fifth Symphony, which you're preparing to record for the prestigious record label Deutsche Grammophon. And I want to play the opening of the first movement in C sharp minor and then talk to you about this music and what it's like to conduct it, or at least to, you know, act like you're conducting it in the movie. So here's the music.


GROSS: So, Cate Blanchett, what is the feeling for you - of someone who isn't really a conductor but is playing one, what is the feeling like when you're conducting and the horn opening ends and the orchestra makes an incredibly powerful entrance?

BLANCHETT: Yes. Well, I mean, conducting is a form of alchemy. And having watched hours and hours of many, many different conductors in rehearsal and in performance - 'cause, of course, I was preparing during the pandemic, so there wasn't the opportunity to go and absorb this music live. Nothing can prepare you for the charge that moves through you when you give the downbeat and the sound happens and - particularly with Mahler. I mean, it's a - as you - you know, we've all just heard, it's magnificent and timeless.

GROSS: So what are you doing physically as a conductor at that point, when the orchestra comes in?

BLANCHETT: Breathing.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BLANCHETT: The same thing you do when you stand on stage. You know, Bernstein says, you know, that the - that you prepare with an inhalation and the music sounds as exhalation. And like anything, when - you know, when you're speaking words or you're - you know, conducting is a form of deep communication, and you have at your arsenal your fingertips, your hands, your arms, your chest, your facial postures. All of this is a form of communication in order to elicit sound. So - and also, of course, this is - as Todd said, this is not a film about conducting, nor is it a performance film. You see the music being made, which we made with the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra. It's being made in rehearsal. So I know, from many hours on stage, the way you rehearse something is quite different a process to actually then going to perform it. So we see something being found or trying to discover something.

GROSS: I realize the movie isn't about classical music. It's about power and about cancellation and abuse of power. However, you play somebody who is obsessed with classical music. That is her life. So did you fall in love with the music that you had to learn for the movie?

BLANCHETT: I think the character is obsessed with sound. In our sort of backstory for her, she grew up in quite a silent household, and so music was a life raft for her. So in a way, it's a kind of a lifelong obsession with sound. So every single sound can set her off, I think. A lot of conductors I spoke to - that gift, that heightened awareness of sound, of acoustics, can also be a curse because it means that, you know, sounds in everyday life can derail them.

GROSS: Is that true, that a lot of conductors have that issue? I didn't know that.

FIELD: Yeah.

BLANCHETT: You know, I was talking to Simone Young. And, you know, if she's in a new hall and the acoustic's off, then you have to re-rehearse something or, you know - I'm not - I know that from being on stage, you know, that you know that the person in, you know, the eighth row, seat G has just opened a wrapper. And you - it shifts you off your axis slightly. You have to have a - you know, a three-dimensional sense of the space and the sounds that you are making within it.

GROSS: So, Todd, why did you choose Mahler's Fifth as the musical centerpiece of the film?

FIELD: Well, that - again, that came out of conversations with John Mauceri. He'd ask me, do you have a favorite piece of classical music, because I said that this character, I wanted her to be, as Cate said, in rehearsal for this sort of final sort of piece of a whole - in this case, all of Mahler's symphonies and saving the Fifth for the end. And I was hesitant to do that because it's so well known. And John said, you're being silly. There's a reason it's so well known. It's important. You shouldn't hesitate, and this is why. He had just conducted it recently, and he sort of unpacked it.

And what John said - and actually, we had a similar conversation with Gustavo Dudamel last week - it's almost as if it was written for the film. I mean, it has everything. It starts out - that first movement you just played is the Trauermarsch. That's the funeral march. And the very first thing she does is she tries to put that sort of call of that funeral march further away from herself. She puts it off stage right. You know, and then - and there's a storm, you know? And then, there's a love story. There's all these sort of things. It's a very, very theatrical piece that Mahler kind of sits you deeply, deeply in and sort of demands your attention. So it was - of all of the - of all of his symphonies - and it's hard to pick your favorite - it was clear that the Fifth was the one.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Cate Blanchett, star of the movie "Tar," and Todd Field, who wrote and directed the film. They're both nominated for Oscars as is the film itself. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Cate Blanchett and Todd Field. Blanchett stars in the film "Tar" as a world-famous conductor who may be on the verge of being canceled. Todd Field wrote and directed the film. It's nominated for several Oscars, including best film, best leading actress, best screenwriter and best director. I have another clip I want to play. Early in the interview, we heard a clip where Tar is telling her student who doesn't like Bach, because as a BIPOC pangender person, he thinks that Bach is just too...

FIELD: Misogynistic.

GROSS: Misogynistic, yes. So at this point, she's sitting at the piano and playing Bach for him and kind of talking him through what's happening in this excerpt of "The Well-Tempered Clavier." And I want to play this excerpt from the film.


BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) Come, Max. Indulge me. Let's allow Bach a similar gaze.


BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) Sit.


BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) Now, this is all filigree, right? I mean, it could be a first-year piano student...

SMITH-GNEIST: (As Max) Mmm hmm.

BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar, singing) ...Or Schroder playing for Lucy...


BLANCHETT: ((As Lydia Tar) ...Or Glenn Gould, for that matter.


BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) Now, it's not until it changes...


BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) ...You get inside of it. You hear what it really is. It's a question...


BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) ...And answer, which begs another question.


BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) There's a humility in Bach. He's not pretending he's certain about anything 'cause he knows that it's always the question that involves the listener. It's never the answer, right?

SMITH-GNEIST: (As Max) Mmm hmm.

BLANCHETT: (As Lydia Tar) The big question for you is, what do you think, Max?


SMITH-GNEIST: (As Max) You play really well.

GROSS: OK. So that's a scene from "Tar." So let me start with you, Todd. I know you said that you studied with John Mauceri while preparing this movie. He's the former conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and has conducted a lot of film scores. And he gave you a lot of advice about classical music. Was it he who suggested that Bach is like - his music is like a series of questions?

FIELD: Well, I think that, you know, it's a point-counterpoint piece. We're making this thing to ask questions. We're making this thing to invite the viewer to answer them for themselves, however they answer them, you know? So we have to leave room for them. And thematically, we may as well lay that out right here musically. Point, counterpoint. Point, counterpoint, change. Point, counterpoint, change, right? So it was a very, very simple idea of sort of exploiting the pattern of that music to have her try to make a point about Bach, who's being dismissed by the student, right? It's one of her many tactics until she loses her tactics and ultimately loses the scene because she loses her temper with him.

GROSS: Cate, so you studied piano as an adult. I think it's really hard to learn an instrument as an adult. Now, you didn't have to be, you know, a concert pianist or anything, but you did - I think that really is you at the piano playing in the film, right?


FIELD: That is her playing, yes, note for note. And she's going to tell you this story, which is that she's still angry at me because I'm not showing her hand.

BLANCHETT: (Laughter).

GROSS: Well, I - honestly, when I saw the movie, I thought, oh, they're not showing her hands because she can't play, and she's not really playing. So why don't you show her hands?

FIELD: I didn't show her hands because when you go back and you look at, say, Leonard Bernstein in any number of - whether it's "The Unanswered Questions" or "Young People's Concerts," the camera's trained at Leonard Bernstein, not at his hands, because none of us need to prove that he plays the piano. It's only in movies where you try to prove, like, the last brushstroke on a painting or showing an actor's hands, and it becomes a dog act, you know? And I wanted to just make it a fact, you know? I didn't want people watching her fingers. I wanted them watching her eyes.

GROSS: Cate, my question for you is, like, so you had to learn how to play, you know, reasonably credibly, but learn as an adult. What was the process like learning as an adult? It's - had you ever played piano before? Did you know how to read music?

BLANCHETT: Well, I'd learned as a girl. And with every subsequent pregnancy, I said I was going to go back and pick up the piano again. But the sad indictment - oh, it's a sad indictment on me - is that I never really pick these things up until I'm forced to because of work. So it was a joy. It was an absolute joy to return to the piano.

GROSS: Well, let's take another break here. If you're just joining us, my guests are Todd Field, who wrote and directed the film "Tar," and Cate Blanchett, the film's star. We'll be right back after a short break. I'm Terry GROSS. And this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Todd Field, who wrote and directed the film "Tar," and Cate Blanchett, the film's star. She plays a world-renowned American conductor who for the past seven years has been the conductor of an orchestra in Berlin, one of the world's greatest orchestras. She's at the peak of her career, about to record Mahler's Fifth, the only Mahler symphony she hasn't yet recorded. And her memoir is about to be published. But there are questions about whether she's used her power to flirt and more with some of the young women she's mentored. "Tar" is nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Blanchett, and Best Screenplay and Best Director for Field.

So Cate Blanchett, were there movies or theater productions that made you want to act and not just kind of play act at home, but actually made you think, like, I want to spend my life doing this?

BLANCHETT: I remember I saw "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" when I was quite young. And I was just - I'd just found it so utterly absorbing. I'd been quite obsessed by that, sort of, and then when I was in high school turned it into a school play. I was so obsessed with it.

GROSS: Oh, really? That's a Depression-era - I mean, it's set during the Depression. And it's about, like, dance marathons where, like, the winner, who's still standing after everybody has kind of dropped out of exhaustion, gets a cash prize. And everybody needed cash during the Depression. Jane Fonda was one of the stars.

BLANCHETT: Yes, amazing performance. They're all amazing performances.

GROSS: OK. So you did that in high school?

BLANCHETT: Yeah, we did it in the round. And we did it - yeah, I did it in my final year at school. I directed the production. I'd just been obsessed with the story. I think it's so - I'd love to see a production now, so relevant and dynamic. But yeah, and when I was young - I think I was 7 - my parents took me to a production of "The Mikado." And there's a very celebrated, very naughty actor called Frank Thring who was playing the emperor. And his moustache fell off. And, I don't know, he gave some aside about it, you know? He turned it over, picked the moustache up and said, oh, made in Japan.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BLANCHETT: And it was just that off-the-cuff remark that I thought - (gasping), suddenly the performances stopped. And I wanted to be on the stage because I felt they were all incredibly naughty and having an enormous amount of fun.

GROSS: Did growing up in Australia make moviemaking seem very distant?

BLANCHETT: Oh, God, not at all. Not at all. I mean, you think about the Australian film industry in the '70s and '80s and, my God, was it dynamic? There were so many - I mean, some of the world's great cinematographers come out of Australia over that period. No, it was really electric. And we, at that time, were really engaged in consuming our own cinematic cultural product. And it was - you know, it was interesting when, say, a film like "Mad Max" came to the States, there was talk about whether it needed to be subtitled. I think...

FIELD: (Laughter).

GROSS: Oh, right. Yeah.

BLANCHETT: I think that has changed. That has changed.

GROSS: Were you ever near one of the movie sets? Were any of them, any of those films, like, shot in your neighborhood?

BLANCHETT: No. I think "Neighbors," the television series, was shot not far from where I lived. No, no, I was very busy on my bike pretending I was Nancy Drew. So I just...


BLANCHETT: Solving mysteries that I'd kind of half-invented myself. Where did that mattress come from?

FIELD: (Laughter).

BLANCHETT: No, that was how I spent my childhood. But then I grew up with terrestrial channels, so I have incredibly eclectic taste as a result. I would come midway through movies and try - and then reverse engineer how the characters got there. And, yeah, so - but no, I never expected to be in the film industry, not because the Australian industry wasn't vital, just because I didn't think it was something that one could do with one's life.

GROSS: I know your father died of a heart attack when you were 10. How did that affect your sense of self-sufficiency or insecurity?

BLANCHETT: Oh, it was pivotal, monumental, I mean, life-changing. I mean, children tend to absorb, for better or for worse, traumatic events that happened to them in their childhood. And they often don't become articulated or conscious and think until you - later in life, so yeah. In profound ways, it changed probably the course of my life. I probably wouldn't be here right now. I probably wouldn't have been an actor, you know? I mean, who knows?

GROSS: Why do you think you might not have been an actor?

BLANCHETT: I don't know. I mean, I certainly ran away from it for a long time because I felt it was such an insecure profession, which, of course, it is unstable, uncertain. And I think maybe that's why actors are good at, you know, navigating changing landscape, because it's such an uncertain profession. But I thought I needed to do something more secure with my life because I've seen how, you know, financially insecure we were as a family as a result of my father's death.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Cate Blanchett, star of the movie "Tar," and Todd Field, who wrote and directed the film. They're both nominated for Oscars, as is the film itself. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Cate Blanchett and Todd Field. Blanchett stars in the film "Tar" as a world-famous conductor who may be on the verge of being canceled. Todd Field wrote and directed the film. It's nominated for several Oscars, including Best Film, Best Leading Actress, Best Screenwriter and Best Director.

Marin Alsop has weighed in on the film because there's parallels between Alsop's life and Lydia Tar's. They're both conductors who were mentored by Leonard Bernstein. They're both women. They're both lesbians. And they're both - Alsop is married to a woman musician. And Lydia Tar, I think they're just partners. I'm not sure if they're married. So here's what Marin Alsop says. So many superficial aspects of "Tar" seem to align with my own personal life. But once I saw it, I was offended. I was offended as a woman. I was offended as a conductor. I was offended as a lesbian. To have an opportunity to portray a woman in that role and to make her an abuser, for me, that was heartbreaking. I think all women and all feminists should be bothered by that kind of depiction. There are so many men, actual documented men, this film could have been based on, but instead, it puts a woman in that role but gives her all the attributes of those men. That feels anti-woman. To assume that women will either behave identically to men or become hysterical, crazy, insane is to perpetuate something we've already seen on film so many times before.

Todd Field, I'd love to hear your reaction to that.

FIELD: It's an incredible statement, and I appreciate it. I think that it's a really important conversation to have. It's part of why we made the film. And people - some people were bound to be offended. I mean, in terms of Marin Alsop, she's a storied trailblazer. She is - you know, she was a first of a very, very still tiny subset of female conductors. You know, as she says, any relationship to her is superficial. I mean, I'm in the masquerade business, so I'm not - I wasn't interested in making a, you know, public service announcement about the evils of, you know, bad conductors or people abusing power in the classical music sphere.

This is a - this is about a character, and it's about the corrupting force of nature. And, you know, unfortunately, I firmly believe that whoever holds power, it's going to corrupt them. I mean, that's just an unfortunate fact. We're part animal. You know, sometimes the animal takes over our better angels. So we've spoken to many female conductors at the top of their game that love the film. And they love the film because of the conversations that it inspires. And yeah, I don't know what to say. I - you know, I could pick apart what she said, but that's hardly the point. And it's really not my place to do that.

GROSS: Todd, let me ask you, you started off as a jazz musician, and your instrument was trombone. Why trombone?

FIELD: Well, my grandmother, my mother's mother, when I was going to take band, she told me - and I believed her - that the most attractive instrument - because she liked to watch "Lawrence Welk," that show - was the trombone, and that if I played it, that I might get a girlfriend.


FIELD: That wasn't true (laughter). So, yeah, I took it up. It's a very, very - you know, it's a very challenging instrument. And - but I fell in love with it pretty hard. And it's how I met my best friend over the fence who - he was a trumpet player. I heard him playing on the other side of the fence one day, and that became an intensely important friendship for me and also kind of propelled me into falling, you know, deeply in love with jazz. So I went to school on a music scholarship and, you know, followed someone into the theater department and found myself changing majors pretty quickly. So that's, in brief, what happened.

GROSS: Were you in a small group or a big band? What was the repertoire you played?

FIELD: Oh, I played everything. I mean, we played in small groups. We would sit in - you know, Portland - I was from Portland, Ore. And Portland, Ore., you know, was sort of a required stop in a dying art form at that time. You know, jazz was really on fumes. So we saw everyone there because there were only so many places for players to come to. And I believe it was the first year or maybe one of the first years of a very storied jazz festival in Oregon called the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival, which is based at Mt. Hood Community College, which is where I went when I was in high school and played in their big band. And their big band was run by this incredible individual named Larry McVey. And it was sort of a necessary stopover for Stan Kenton. He used to hire players out of that community college band. And so it attracted a huge amount of people that otherwise would never go near such a small college. And it won the Berkeley Jazz Festival a couple years in a row when I was a player in it.

GROSS: Another thing I want to ask you about, when you were maybe in your early teens or younger than that - you let me know - you were a batboy for a minor league team in Portland, the Portland Mavericks. How do you get to be a batboy?

FIELD: Prayer.

GROSS: (Laughter).

FIELD: Yeah. Yeah. That was a storied team. That was the only independent baseball team in existence - professional, independent baseball team in existence. Bing Russell and his son, Kurt Russell - the Kurt Russell we all know and love - had come to Portland in 1974 - 1973, rather. And they had bought that franchise. It had been abandoned by the Portland Beavers, which had been a major league farm club for decades. And the whole town went crazy. And if you were a young person, that would have been your dream. But mainly, what it was is I went to this camp that they ran for children on the side called Lil' Mavericks - L-I-L apostrophe Mavericks - run by the pitching coach, Rob Nelson. And Rob is an incredible person full of an amazing sort of energy. And he kind of changed my life in many ways. He also ended up dating my sister Maggie. And so he basically grabbed me and pulled me into tryouts. And every year, Bing and Kurt would do tryouts on June 1, which meant that didn't matter who you were, if you weren't signed, you could come from - you can be any age, from any nationality. People came from all over the world to try out for this ball club. And then Bing would make a team out of these guys. And so I showed up for the tryouts and he hired me, you know, as a batboy.

GROSS: So you traveled on the road with ballplayers.

FIELD: Yeah, I did.

GROSS: Right. What are some of the behavior and language you were exposed to?

FIELD: All manner - all manner of behavior and anything you could possibly imagine in 1977 in a school bus with men who were, on average, in their 30s and who had many lives, some of whom had been in prison, some of whom, you know, had been lauded in other areas, one of whom had written one of the important sports books of all time, Jim Bouton, "Ball Four," and he pitched for the Yankees in the World Series. Yeah, I was exposed to a lot. You know, my parents were very trusting. They wanted me to have my own interior life, and I sure did.

GROSS: Do you think that that helped you in being a movie writer because you were exposed to lives very different from yours, you heard dialogue that was different from what you'd hear with your friends when you were growing up?

FIELD: Probably. I bet - I would say that about every aspect of someone's life. I mean, I think what affected me mostly was that I was around these men who loved doing what they were doing, were paid nothing for it, and that it was worth their time and that they were yes people. I think it was - it's really important to be acquainted with yes people. There was all kinds of reasons for them not to be playing on that team. There was no money. They had to scrape by. And they did it because they were compelled to play ball, and they beat everyone. You know, I mean, they won, you know? It was a winning situation under the most Scotch-tape circumstances.

GROSS: One last question. I know you've had to do a lot of interviews for "Tar," and I'm grateful that you did this one. Is it hard after you've finished a work to then have to talk about it a lot with people like me? And I don't mean that like - I just mean, like, is it hard to have to keep talking about it?



BLANCHETT: It's easy to talk about something that you really love. And the process of working with Todd and, you know, interfacing with the screenplay and the world in which it's set at this particular time in human history was an unrepeatably wonderful experience. And I've been overjoyed by the multifarious responses to it and how random and varied the questions are that people have, you know, people who've seen the film who know nothing about classical music and who are 22 and have seen the film four or five, six times and still have questions, things that I thought, oh, my goodness, I only had - only hoped you'd pick that up, you know? So yes and no. I mean, there's always a reticence for me, you know, to talk about it too much because I don't want to interfere with the audience's experience of it. So that would be my only hesitation.

FIELD: Yeah. And there's a danger at a certain point where you've been talking about it so much that you do get in the way of the thing. You know, the thing is meant - again, it's an invitation and to not get in the way of that invitation. I mean, I will say, you know, two weeks ago, I was up in Santa Barbara. And, you know, it was for directors. And for directors, the press line is very different than the press line, say, for actors. And Martin McDonagh and I were up there, and the whole press line was children. They were all young people from middle school and high school journalism departments. And they were interviewing us. And those questions were extraordinary. Those questions...

BLANCHETT: Yeah, they were amazing.

FIELD: Yeah. Questions that I had never been asked in six months.

GROSS: Like what? Like what?

FIELD: Well, one young man asked me, who was your guiding light when - in classical music? Who got you the most excited of anyone ever, you know? And that's such a - that's an important question. That's like saying, who's your favorite baseball player, you know? And that opened up a conversation to be able to talk about Leonard Bernstein, you know - and this person, this young man, had never heard of Leonard Bernstein - and be able to tell him where and how and why he might want to experience, you know, that just incredible enthusiasm that was Leonard Bernstein and how that might help him to think about concert music differently and not make it feel like it's some strange, dusty thing, you know?

GROSS: Right. I want to thank you both so much and congratulate you again on all the awards and nominations. So thank you so much for spending time with us on our show. I really appreciate it.

FIELD: Thank you, Terry.

BLANCHETT: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Cate Blanchett is nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in "Tar." Todd Field is nominated for Oscars for writing and directing the film. "Tar" is also nominated for best picture. After we take a short break, Maureen Corrigan will review the new novel by Rebecca Makkai, whose previous novel, "The Great Believers," was about the AIDS epidemic in the '80s. This is FRESH AIR.


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