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Writer/director Nicole Holofcener

Writer/director Nicole Holofcener. Her new film Lovely and Amazing is a comedy about the insecurities that many women have about their appearance. It stars Catherine Keener, Brenda Blethyn and Dermot Mulroney. Holofcener also wrote the screenplay for the film Walking and Talking.




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Other segments from the episode on July 11, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 11, 2002: Interview with Tony Shalhoub; Interview with Andy Breckman; Interview with Nicole Holofcener; Interview with Catherine Keener; Review of the Byrds' album …


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Tony Shalhoub discusses his role in the new TV
series "Monk"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

A new detective is about to enter the mystery world. Adrian Monk is a
brilliant crime solver. The problem is, he's also obsessive-compulsive. When
he's at a crime scene looking for clues, he might be worrying that he forgot
to lock the door. If someone shakes his hand, he has to immediately take out
an antibacterial wipe. In order to function, he needs his assistant Sharona
at his side. The comedy-drama-mystery series "Monk" premieres tomorrow on the
USA cable network. The show stars Tony Shalhoub as Monk. The two-hour pilot
begins at a crime scene. A dead woman lies on the floor of her apartment
surrounded by detectives looking to the brilliant Monk for direction. Here's
what Monk has to say.

(Soundbite of "Monk")

Mr. TONY SHALHOUB: (As Monk) The stove.

Unidentified Man: Over here. It's in the kitchen.

Mr. SHALHOUB: No, I mean, my stove. I think I left it on.

"SHARONA": It's OK. I checked it as we were leaving.

Mr. SHALHOUB: Are you sure? Did you turn the knob?

"SHARONA": Yeah.

Mr. SHALHOUB: The little knob, though.

"SHARONA": I turned all the knobs. The stove is off, Adrian.

Unidentified Man: Excuse me, sir, we believe it was a burglary gone sour.
She walked in, she surprised him. He panicked.


Unidentified Man: He got the knife from the kitchen. He...

Mr. SHALHOUB: No. No, no. No. No, this was not a burglary.

Unidentified Man: It wasn't?

Mr. SHALHOUB: He tried to make it look like one, but this guy was cold as

GROSS: Tony Shalhoub's starred in the films "Big Night," "The Siege" and "Spy
Kids," and he plays the alien pawnbroker in "Men in Black II." He starred in
two other TV series, "Wings" and "Stark Raving Mad," playing characters who
were quirky but not quite as obsessive as Monk.

(Soundbite of "Monk")

Mr. SHALHOUB: Anyway, after he killed Miss...

Unidentified Man: Nicole Vasquez, 25.

Mr. SHALHOUB: And Ms. Vasquez, he hung around. He was looking for

Unidentified Man: Looking for what?

Mr. SHALHOUB: I don't know. He checked something on her computer. He could
have erased a file.

Unidentified Man: Anything else?

Mr. SHALHOUB: Yes, he's tall. He's 6'3", maybe 6'4". What about the pilot
light? Because, you know...

"SHARONA": The pilot light is fine. It's fine.

Mr. SHALHOUB: ...sometimes it goes out. Do you remember the last time it
almost went out?

"SHARONA": Do you want me to drive all the way back to the city and check the


"SHARONA": I mean, is that what you're telling me to do?

Mr. SHALHOUB: No. No, no. Would you? Could you? That would be great.


GROSS: What you can't tell my listening to that scene is that Monk is
compelled to keep touching the top of the desk lamp in the victim's apartment.
Tony Shalhoub told me that the idea for that particular compulsion came when
he was rehearsing with the director of the pilot, Dean Parisot.

Mr. SHALHOUB: There was this enormous gooseneck lamp on the desk at this
crime scene and Dean just went over and said, `Hey, what do you think of this
lamp? And how about, you know, just as another thing to kind of distract you,
what if you get caught up in this lamp?' And it was one of those moments
where I touched the top of the lamp and it almost was as if the whole
character kind of just came to me in that second. I mean, I had been working
on it and I had been sort of experimenting with various things, but just one
fingertip on this desk lamp kind of just gave me this charge, I guess you'd
say, a jolt and I've thought of that now as the kind, you know, the core of
this guy.

GROSS: Do you have any strange compulsions regarding acting? Do you have any
things that you have to do before starting a performance that reminds you of
the kind of obsessive-compulsive patterns that Monk has?

Mr. SHALHOUB: Yeah. I don't have any superstitions per se, but I have
habits, you know--I guess you could say rituals. OK, yeah, superstitions, I
guess. It's all the same thing really. In the end, it all is kind of the
same. I do less and less the older I get. I don't mean I do less and less
work, but I do less and less psyching myself up. I've been kind of trying to,
for lack of a better phrase, I guess untraining myself. When we're young
actors, we're loading ourselves up with preparation. But as I kind of evolved
through it, in later years I find that the real preparation comes sort of from
not doing, from not loading up and from kind of doing the opposite of that,
which is clearing away the clutter and trying to stay as open as possible to,
you know, whatever's coming to me.

GROSS: I imagine in acting classes, you learn how to loosen up your body and
be free with your body, but when you're playing a character like Monk, Monk is
so inhibited and such the kind of control freak that his body actually has to
be really tight and...


GROSS: ...registering kind of strain all the time. Can you...

Mr. SHALHOUB: Tension.

GROSS: Tension, yeah. Can you talk about that?

Mr. SHALHOUB: Yeah. Monk keeps everything very, very close, you know, to
his body. His arms stay in his--there's nothing kind of--there's a certain
distance he wants to keep from the world, from objects in the world and from
people. That's the reason Monk never wears a tie, I think. You see this
character with his shirt buttoned, but with a suit jacket or a sport jacket,
but never with a tie. That was a decision that we made, you know, when we
were kind of coming up with the character, 'cause I thought, well, you know,
first of all, ties are impossible to keep straight. So that's something that
would just be way too high maintenance for him. And ties, you know, they can
sort of flap out and you know, get caught on things and you know, get stuck in
a fan. I mean, so this is all part of the physical life of the character,
keeping things really, really close and tightly reined. I just have to remind
myself when I'm doing the part, you know, to kind of relax and release
otherwise, you know, by the end of the day, you know, I'm just a ball of

GROSS: Tony Shalhoub stars in the new TV series "Monk."

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

Interview: Andy Breckman discusses the new TV series "Monk"

My guest, Andy Breckman, is the writer and producer of the series. He's also
written for "Late Night With David Letterman," "Saturday Night Live" and "TV
Funhouse." Here's another scene from the pilot of "Monk." A young man with
information about the murder victim has just been found dead in his car in a
ditch off a rain-slicked country road. The obsessive-compulsive detective,
Adrian Monk, and his assistant, Sharona, wait on the road while the police
chief goes down to the ditch.

(Soundbite of "Monk")

Mr. TED LEVINE: What are you doing? Come on down. The accident scene's
down here.

"SHARONA": He's not wearing the right shoes today.

Mr. LEVINE: Not wearing the right shoes today. Well, look, there's nothing
to do here. My partner's already called it. It's a single-car accident.

Mr. TONY SHALHOUB: (As Monk) No, no. No, this was no accident. There's no
skid marks on the road.

Mr. LEVINE: It's wet. You're not the only detective here, Monk. I checked
for skid marks. So it happens all the time on this hill. You hit this curve
at 85, 90 miles an hour...

GROSS: The police chief is played by Ted Levine, who played the serial killer
in "The Silence of the Lamb." I asked "Monk's" writer, Andy Breckman, if he
consulted with psychiatrists while creating the obsessive-compulsive

Mr. ANDY BRECKMAN ("Monk"): Before I wrote it, I did talk to some
professionals just to make sure I wasn't completely off base, but the cluster
of symptoms that we gave this character--and when I say `we,' I mean the
writers and Tony. Tony's been contributing more than his share to developing
the character. This particular cluster of symptoms, I don't think really
exists in the real world.

He's obsessed with orderliness. If a picture on the wall is a little crooked,
Monk will not be able to question this suspect until the picture on the wall
has been straightened out. We have a scene in a later episode where Monk is
talking to a witness and he looks out a window and in the next building
through the picture window he sees a picture that's crooked and just excuses
himself and walks downstairs and into the next building and can't continue
till that picture is straightened. So I don't know if that exists in the real
world, but it's fun to watch him overcoming it on TV.

GROSS: One of the more obscure obsessions here is that he has to touch the
tops of lamps when he sees them. Where'd you get that one from?

Mr. BRECKMAN: That was Tony on the set. He started to touch this desk lamp,
and it actually was big a decision because once you give a character in a
pilot a character quirk like that, you're locked into it. So we're very
careful. If somebody comes up with an idea that involves Monk not wanting to
handle money or cash, that might be funny in this episode, but then we have to
ask ourselves that means if this show goes for five or six or seven years, we
have a character who can't take out a wallet and buy something, you know.

So we have to be very, very careful. We don't want to put him in a
straitjacket. We want to have fun with him. So we've come up with three or
four basic problems that he has. He's germophobic. That's one thing. He
can't shake hands without wiping his hands immediately afterwards. Sharona,
his Dr. Watson, is always there with some Handi Wipes. And he's obsessed
with things being arranged in perfect order. He can't stand to have things
slightly askew on a table or on a wall. And those are the main compulsions
we've given him.

GROSS: He's afraid of heights?

Mr. BRECKMAN: Certainly afraid of heights. Who isn't? He's a character that
if he had his druthers, he would not leave his apartment ever. He would just
stay home. That's what he would rather do. But he has to pay the rent, so
every once in a while there's a murder, and Sharona and the San Francisco
Police drag him out to the murder scene because there's no one better once
he's at the murder scene. But he's there very reluctantly.

GROSS: So do you have any obsessive-compulsive behaviors that you could kind
of hook into and use to inform your scripts?

Mr. BRECKMAN: I have never met anyone who doesn't, if you really get to know
them. Everyone has quirks and compulsions. I will wash my hands more often
than a person might normally be expected to wash their hands, especially if
I've been shaking hands. I also have been known to lock and then re-lock and
then re-re-lock my front door in the middle of the night. But if you get to
know people, I think everyone has quirks or superstitions. And I think that's
why people are responding so well to this. This is sort of an exaggeration of

GROSS: So what's some of the best advice you got either from psychiatrists or
from people who are obsessive-compulsive?

Mr. BRECKMAN: The best advice? Do you mean to...

GROSS: In shaping of the character.

Mr. BRECKMAN: I think what's interesting about this particular--I guess it's
a disease or problem, is that people that have it, in many cases, maybe most
cases, are aware they have it, unlike a lot of other mental illnesses.
They're very aware of it. Many people who compulsively wash their hands a
hundred times a day, they know it's unusual. They're embarrassed by it. They
apologize for it, but they can't stop themselves. And Monk, I think, falls
into that category. He won't deny he's difficult to live with. He won't deny
that his assistant, Sharona, has a very, very difficult job, but he just can't
help himself. As he says repeatedly, `I am what I am.'

GROSS: It's funny 'cause so many detectives in the hard-boiled tradition are
able to, like, shrug off a lot. They have to be able to because they're
exposed to death and chaos all the time. And to see somebody who has all
these obsessions and compulsions be in that tradition is kind of amusing in

Mr. BRECKMAN: Yes. There's a long tradition of detectives that are
overcoming various problems and have different quirks. Ironside was in a
wheelchair, you know.

GROSS: That's true. Right.

Mr. BRECKMAN: I don't know. Baretta had a parrot on his shoulder. I don't
know. Every...

GROSS: Perry Mason was...

Mr. BRECKMAN: People often...

GROSS: ...chubby and square.

Mr. BRECKMAN: Yes. Perry Mason was helplessly square that he had to overcome
that. I wonder if they talked to square people before their pilot in "Perry
Mason." So it is a noble tradition of giving detectives obstacles to
overcome. I think we've given Monk maybe more than his share to the point
where every scene, talking to every witness and every suspect becomes really
an uphill battle for the guy.

GROSS: My guest is Andy Breckman, the writer and executive producer of the
new TV series "Monk." We'll talk more after our break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest, Andy Breckman, is the writer and executive producer of the
new USA cable network comedic mystery series "Monk" about an
obsessive-compulsive detective.

Now you had to come up with some explanation of how somebody who has all of
these potentially crippling problems ended up being a brilliant detective on
the police force, so, I mean, what was the process like of trying to come up
for an explanation that would make this whole plot premise work?

Mr. BRECKMAN: Well, exactly. That's what a writer does when he writes a
pilot. He comes up with a--it's often called a bible, a back story for the
character. In this case Monk always was sort of tightly wound, always had a
few problems, but he kept them in check. He kept them under control, mainly
because he married well. He was married to his wife, Trudy, for many years.

And Monk's real problems begin when Trudy was murdered. It's the one murder
that Monk can't solve. He just can't see it clearly. He's obsessed with it.
Trudy, his wife, was killed by a car bomb three or four years ago, and her
death sent him spiraling, sent him into a tailspin. And he actually was
bedridden, like Brian Wilson. He couldn't leave the bed for a couple of
years. And only now when we meet him is he gradually getting his sea legs
back, and he's taking some consulting jobs, and in large part due to the work
of Sharona, played by Bitty Schram who is sort of his Dr. Watson/nurse.

GROSS: And she's somebody who lives this really messy life. She has, like, a
teen-age kid who skateboards and is all kind of like tattooed and pierced and
stuff and, you know...


GROSS: ...her house is in chaos. Did you intentionally create somebody who
is, in many ways, the opposite of the detective?

Mr. BRECKMAN: Well, we wanted someone who was kind of streetwise and kind of
being Everyman, kind of like Dr. Watson, writing his memoirs, got to remark
on how unique Sherlock Holmes was. We kind of see Monk, in large part,
through Sharona's eyes. And we've talked a lot about Tony's work, but this
actress Bitty Schram is also just remarkable. And so all of Monk's foibles
she gets to comment on, and she's the one that won't take any crap from him
and calls him on stuff.

GROSS: Now this week's episode is the pilot, and it's a movie-length episode
on which all the characters are established and a mystery presents itself and
is, of course, solved. But then you have to carry on week after week. What
was it like for you to go...

Mr. BRECKMAN: We do? No, no.

GROSS: What was it like for you to...

Mr. BRECKMAN: They never told me this.

GROSS:, do the movie-length thing and then feel like, well, you have
to have enough left over to keep exploring the characters and to come up with,
you know, more and more plots?

Mr. BRECKMAN: Well, the characters are so much fun that that actually might
be the easier part. Coming up with clever little puzzles that are intriguing
and would hold, say, my attention for an hour, that was more of a challenge.
And it's just hard work and lots of hours, and we have to be sort of
selective. For every 500 ideas that we generate, we like one or two of them.

GROSS: How do you come up with your mysteries? Because they have to be
fairly elaborate in the way that people from, like, Columbo or Sherlock Holmes
have had elaborate plots.

Mr. BRECKMAN: Well, you've just mentioned my two sources. I mean, Columbo is
the gold standard, as far as I'm concerned, the Levinson and Link series from
the early '70s, and, of course, Sherlock Holmes. And how do I come up with
the plots? I've actually been a mystery fan for years and have been sort of
hoarding ideas for years. I'm not a big fan of whodunits. I'm not a big fan
of the traditional Agatha Christie--there are five suspects and we put them
all in a room and the detective tells you which one it is at the end. I'm
more of a fan of how did he do it, or why did he do it, asking other

For example, an early episode involves a judge who is murdered in San
Francisco, and Monk suspects a man who lives across town of committing the
murder, but this man weighs 800 pounds. He's one of these morbidly obese guys
that can't leave the bed. He can't even fit out the door. Even if he could
leave the bed and walk, he couldn't fit down the elevator. So the question in
that episode is not who did it, but how did this fat bastard manage to do it?
And those kind of puzzles intrigue me. And asking those questions combined
with the character stuff and the comedy stuff, I think, is the mix we want.

GROSS: Now you mentioned earlier that one of your compulsions, which isn't
totally out of control, but you know you wash your hands more often than the
average person...


GROSS: ...and that even though you know you may wash it more often than
necessary, you do it anyways. Ever since writing Monk, are you more
self-conscious about the amount of times you wash your hands every day? Has
it affected that particular part of your behavior?

Mr. BRECKMAN: Well, around the house, my wife and kids now call me Monk when
I do it. So that maybe is the biggest change. No, I'm just one of these
guys, I can live with a little ridicule. And I know it's sort of ridiculous.
I don't think I get sick less than other people because I wash my hands more.
I have met people that won't shake hands at all. Have you ever met people
like that, that will reach for you or whatever?

GROSS: Not yet, no. No.

Mr. BRECKMAN: Oh, really? I have met them. There are people that avoid
shaking hands. So I'm not as bad as some, so give me some credit for that. I
get a couple of points. There are people worse than me. I want that on the

GROSS: OK. Well, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. BRECKMAN: Thanks. That was pretty painless.

GROSS: Well, that's a high compliment.

Mr. BRECKMAN: I know that was your goal.

GROSS: That's my goal, create as little pain as possible.

Mr. BRECKMAN: It's what I say to you and my dentist when I'm done.

GROSS: Yeah, exactly.

Mr. BRECKMAN: `That was pretty painless.'

GROSS: Andy Breckman is the writer and executive producer of the new TV
series "Monk." The pilot will be shown tomorrow evening on the USA cable
network. The series will continue on Friday nights.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music; funding credits)

GROSS: Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward recalls the early days of The Byrds.
And we talk about "Lovely and Amazing," a new movie about women plagued with
insecurities about their looks. We'll meet the film's writer/director, Nicole
Holofcener, and star Catherine Keener.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Interview: Nicole Holofcener discusses her new film "Lovely and

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The new movie "Lovely and Amazing" is a comedy that considers women's
self-consciousness about their looks and the real and imagined pressures to be
thin and beautiful. In a few minutes we'll meet one of the film's stars,
Catherine Keener. First we talk with the writer and director, Nicole
Holofcener. She also made the independent film "Walking and Talking," a
comedy about relationships.

"Lovely and Amazing" is about a 50-something mother, her two 30-something
daughters and her adopted eight-year-old African-American daughter. The
mother, played by Brenda Blethyn, thinks she's too heavy, so she's having
liposuction. The African-American daughter wants her hair straightened. The
daughter played by Catherine Keener thinks her husband doesn't find her
attractive anymore. The other daughter, played by Emily Mortimer, is an
actress trying to make it in Hollywood, and in her work, looks really do
count. She's very thin and quite pretty, yet she worries that her arms are
flabby and she's not attractive enough. Her insecurities seem justified when
she's turned down for a role by a director who doesn't find her sexy. But
when she tries to talk with her boyfriend about this, he's not concerned. The
boyfriend is played by Paul LeGross.

(Soundbite of "Lovely and Amazing")

Mr. PAUL LeGROSS: I think you're sexy.

Ms. EMILY MORTIMER ("Elizabeth"): Can you give me a job?

Mr. LeGROSS: I can have sex with you.

Ms. MORTIMER: Oh, this is hideous.

Mr. LeGROSS: The profession is hideous.


Mr. LeGROSS: I have to work.

Ms. MORTIMER: You don't have a lot sympathy for me, do you? So since I chose
this profession, I shouldn't feel bad when I get rejected.

Mr. LeGROSS: This is so boring.

Ms. MORTIMER: Boring?

Mr. LeGROSS: Elizabeth, it's not personal. Maybe you should date an actor or
something, someone who goes through the same things as you.

Ms. MORTIMER: You don't want to see me anymore.

Mr. LeGROSS: I don't think I can give you what you want.

Ms. MORTIMER: And what is it that you think I want?

Mr. LeGROSS: You want a girlfriend that you can talk about your upper arms

Ms. MORTIMER: That's so mean.

GROSS: Nicole Holofcener, do you think both sides are right in this scene?

Ms. NICOLE HOLOFCENER (Writer-Director, "Lovely and Amazing"): I do think
both sides are right. I'm glad that you can see that. I think that she is
completely justified in feeling hurt and humiliated and exploited. She was
all those things. And at the same time, she is tediously boring. And I think
if she hadn't talked the day before about her flabby arms, maybe today he
could hear about this rejection and not be tired of it. But it's the 10th
time she's talked about this, and so he can't gauge, really, when something is
catastrophic or not. It's kind of all catastrophic. And he's had it with
her. I don't feel like he's the bad guy, and I don't feel like she's crazy to
feel that upset. I think they're really ill-suited is really the ultimate
thing. That's what I'm saying, is that these people do not belong together.
They might be fabulous with somebody else, but not together.

GROSS: Why did you want to make a movie about the insecurities women have
about their looks?

Ms. HOLOFCENER: Gee, it certainly didn't come from any kind of theoretical or
cerebral place in me, like I was interested in these ideas. I was much more
interested in the topics from a personal point of view. I just felt compelled
to, I guess, lay out for everyone to see just how obsessed I can be with my
appearance, and everyone else I know. I thought that it was really
interesting how intelligent women with full lives and attractive enough bodies
and attractive enough faces spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing about
our looks.

GROSS: What are your issues?

Ms. HOLOFCENER: Oh, you know, like God forbid my body look too womanly, you
know, the hips, the butt, the thing. And I'm a relatively thin person. I
mean, I have a fine figure, but, you know, I guess we look at those magazines
and think we should have boyish figures. And that's a whole other kettle of
fish, right? Issues; you know, I've got a nice, fine nose on my face, and I
look like a real person, you know, so I have insecurities about my flaws.

GROSS: Do you see the women in this movie and do you see yourself as
obsessing on physical appearance even though intellectually you know better?

Ms. HOLOFCENER: Absolutely. Of course I know better. And I think there's a
real schism. You know, in many parts of our lives where you know better, that
doesn't make any difference. We know better not to go out with that person.
We know better not to take this job. But our hearts and our insecurities and
whatever has screwed us up from the very start, sometimes leading us, and
that's what I thought was true for these women.

GROSS: The reality is that although you don't want to be judged on your looks
or have people be judged on their looks, as the director of the film, in a
visual medium, you are judging people on their looks, even if you're judging
them in standards that aren't the typical, you know, Glamour magazine kind of
standards. So it must really get to you.

Ms. HOLOFCENER: It does. Auditioning people for the audition scene was just
crazy, you know. They were reading the audition scene, feeling exposed,
feeling like a piece of meat, and there I was judging them thinking, `Oh,
she's too pretty. Ah, she's too thin. Ah, she's too fat.' You know, the
same stuff. You can't help it. I'm casting a movie. I've got to find the
right person. You know, there's a lot of irony in it for me personally, and I
was just conscious of it all. I really couldn't make sense of it or figure
out whether I was doing a right thing or a wrong thing.

GROSS: There's a nude scene in your movie, but it's not meant to be a sexy
nude scene. Emily Mortimer, who plays the actress, after she's rejected for
not being sexy enough in an audition, she has an affair with an actor, an
actor who she auditioned with, and she gets out of bed naked and asks the
actor, who she's just slept with, to appraise her body, to go over every detail
of it and basically rate it. Was it hard to convince Emily Mortimer do that

Ms. HOLOFCENER: No, it was not hard to convince Emily to do that scene at
all. She was champing at the bit. I think she was glad when it was over
with. She read the script and understood how integral that scene was to the
script, that it was very much a part of it, it was not exploitive, it would
not be sexy. And just she understood how it would help her character grow and
how necessary it was for her arc. So she was ready and willing, and she knew
we couldn't, you know, fool around with, you know, over the shoulder and sort
of a half breast. She was like, `No, I've got to be standing there.' And I
think personally she was challenged by it as well. She's an actress with a
certain amount of insecurity and not, thankfully, as much as Elizabeth has.
She was looking forward to it. A lot of actors who wanted to play the part
were actually looking forward to that scene. Some were not. Some said, `I
would love to play this character, but I can't stand there naked.' And
usually it was well-known actresses that felt that way. They've already had
the download experience, I think, of having been on the Internet and stuff,
and they didn't like it.

GROSS: I think people are more prurient when it comes to a famous person
taking off their clothes than they are about an actress who's still in the
process of getting known.

Ms. HOLOFCENER: Yeah. And it was part of my decision to cast someone who was
less known, as well. I mean, I'm usually drawn to faces that are new to me,
not ones that I've seen over and over and over again. Which is not to say so
many of those actors are great, I just thought for somebody standing there
naked, you can't be saying, `Oh, my God, there's so-and-so's breasts.' It's
just--already the scene will take you out of reality so easily, I didn't want
that to be another one of those reasons.

GROSS: Nicole Holofcener wrote and directed the new film "Lovely and
Amazing." Coming up, we meet one of the film's stars, Catherine Keener. This

(Soundbite of music)

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

Interview: Catherine Keener discusses her new film "Lovely and

Catherine Keener is one of the stars of the new film "Lovely and Amazing,"
written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. Keener also starred in Holofcener's
first movie, "Walking and Talking." Keener's other films include "Being John
Malkovich," "Death to Smoochy," "The Real Blonde" and "Living in Oblivion."
Like all the women in the new movie "Lovely and Amazing," Keener's character
has insecurities which are connected to her looks. She's a former homecoming
queen. Now she's worried her husband doesn't find her attractive anymore.
What's also keeping her self-esteem in the dumps is that no one wants to buy
her artwork, and she's unemployed. In this scene, she's gazing blankly at
cartoons on TV, eating cookies, when her husband comes home from work.

(Soundbite of "Lovely and Amazing")


Unidentified Actor: Hi.

(Soundbite of door slamming, cartoons, walking)

Ms. KEENER: How was work?

Unidentified Actor: Where's Maddy?

Ms. KEENER: Reading in her room. Come sit with me.

Unidentified Actor: What are you watching?

Ms. KEENER: "Hickory Dog." We haven't had sex in so long.

Unidentified Actor: It hasn't been that long.

Ms. KEENER: Yes, it has. Donna says, `How often do you guys have sex?' I'm
too embarrassed to tell her the truth.

Unidentified Actor: Why does Donna want to know how often we have sex?

Ms. KEENER: We're just talking.

Unidentified Actor: So you want to have sex so that you can have a good
answer for Donna?

Ms. KEENER: Why do you have to be such a (censored)?

Unidentified Actor: I don't understand. Are you saying that you want to have
sex with me, that you miss it? Or are you accusing me of something? Because
that's what it feels like.

GROSS: Catherine Keener told me she's faced issues similar to the ones faced
in the movie by the character of her sister, the actress.

Ms. CATHERINE KEENER ("Lovely and Amazing"): I remember I had an audition
once, and the director thought that I'd done a fairly good job in the reading,
but my problem was that I wasn't sexy. And he didn't say `sexy enough for
this part' or anything. He just said, you know, it's basically labeled me
that way. And it was good, because, you know, it gave me some perspective on
how arbitrary it all is, you know? Because at the time I just thought, `Well,
God, I really can't do anything about that. You know, I can't work that out,
you know.'

GROSS: You can't study with a great actor to learn how to be sexy.

Ms. KEENER: Exactly. Exactly.

GROSS: But in a way, you can, because don't you think that some people who
you wouldn't think of as being sexy, like they do a certain something on
screen and they become very sexy? Like even yourself...

Ms. KEENER: Yeah, but...

GROSS: have some roles where you look more like, you know, the
next-door neighbor and other roles where you're really a seductress.

Ms. KEENER: Mmm, well, makeup and lighting go a long way towards helping
that. But I do think that for me, I think what kind of helped me with that
was that I realized that I just have to kind of be who I am because I can't
fight those forces who are just going to decide what they think about me.
It's just, you know, viewed through their perspective, and I can't do anything
about that. But for me, that quality is something that's inherent in a
person. It's not...

GROSS: Right.

Ms. KEENER: You know what I mean? If it's an affectation, it comes across to
me anyway as one. So that's what I mean. I could maybe affect it, but it
would just be a stereotype to me, because I don't really know what that is.

GROSS: Now getting back to auditions, what are some of the other things
you've been told when you haven't gotten jobs?

Ms. KEENER: Oh, I was told I acquitted myself nicely; of what, I don't know
(unintelligible) I guess. And I was told, you know, not pretty enough. A lot
of times, especially for television, the note back was that I came across as
too hard. I know it's hard to believe, you know, considering the parts that I
get usually are pretty tough. But I think that they were too much for, you
know, television. Even if the character is described as, you know, a hardened
person, they want her really soft, in my opinion.

GROSS: Right, right.

Ms. KEENER: Hard, but not like life hard.

GROSS: So when you get...

Ms. KEENER: Like TV.

GROSS: ...notes back like that...

Ms. KEENER: Yeah.

GROSS: ...where somebody's saying that either you're not sexy enough or
you're too hard or whatever, does that get to you? I mean, you said with the
sexy thing, that that was actually useful to hear that. But...

Ms. KEENER: Well, it was useful in retrospect, but at the time, it was
demoralizing, and I actually left town. I left for about three months. I got
out of here. I got in my car and drove away.

GROSS: You left town for three months? Where'd you go?

Ms. KEENER: Well, I went to Roswell, New Mexico.

GROSS: Look for UFOs.

Ms. KEENER: Yes, kind of.

GROSS: Why'd you go there?

Ms. KEENER: Well, my husband was working there and...


Ms. KEENER: ...I took my dog and I packed up his cello. He needed his cello,
so I drove it out there. At the time, it was at the height of what we call
pilot season. Do you know what that is? But in television, there are about
three months that start maybe January or February for three months where they
make a lot of pilots. And for actors, it's a very busy time, because the
possibility of getting jobs goes way up, because there are just a lot of jobs
to be had. And it's not the time that you leave town, but that's exactly when
I left. I didn't really care.

GROSS: Right.

Catherine Keener is my guest, and she's starring in the new movie "Lovely and

Remember when I was saying that you've had some roles in which you've been a
kind of very, you know, average--like your best friend or your next-door
neighbor kind of character and other movies...

Ms. KEENER: Right.

GROSS: which you've been really quite seductive. In the quite
seductive category, there's "Being John Malkovich," in which you play a woman
who John Malkovich and Cameron Diaz fall in love with. And it's a movie, for
people who haven't seen it, with a very funny and bizarre premise, which is
that people have found a porthole that leads you to the brain of the actor
John Malkovich, and when you enter the portal, you experience everything from
his point of view.

Ms. KEENER: For 15 minutes.

GROSS: Yeah. And then you're thrown out. You're thrown out on your behind.

Ms. KEENER: Exactly, ejected on to the New Jersey Turnpike.

GROSS: So just getting back to the person who told you that you weren't sexy
enough, what was it like...

Ms. KEENER: Oh, God.

GROSS: this movie to be the seductress? Because you seduce a man and a
woman in this.

Ms. KEENER: Well...

GROSS: Two men and a woman.

Ms. KEENER: Yeah. Well, Cameron's easy. No. No. It was wild. I mean, I
just kept trying to convince Spike that he was casting the wrong person,
because I thought, you've got me confused with somebody else. But, you know,
I really honestly thought that I should have auditioned for Lotte, the
character that Cameron played. But he kept saying, `No, I think that, you
know, you would be righter for this part, Maxine.' So we read practically the
whole script in like a two-hour marathon audition, and I was nervous and
scared, and I kept thinking, this isn't me, this isn't me, this isn't me. And
he, you know, kept giving me an encouraging pat and saying, `Yeah, I think you
can do it. I do.' But it turned out to be a blast. All of it was a lot of
fun. And I don't know, Spike just made it really easy on me. He just would
help me out of every corner I backed myself into and it was fun.

GROSS: Now you met your husband, the actor Dermot Mulroney, I think on the
set of a movie. He's one of the stars of the new movie that you're in,
"Lovely and Amazing." Although I don't know that you're in any scenes
together. I don't think so.

Ms. KEENER: We're not, no.

GROSS: How did you meet on the set? Were you both acting in the same film?

Ms. KEENER: Yeah. We did a film together--it was actually our first
film--called "Survival Quest," and...

GROSS: It was the first film for each of you?

Ms. KEENER: Yeah. Yeah. We had both just come out to Los Angeles, and I
don't know. We were friends for a very long time, and he was a lot of fun
when we were working. And we were both involved in an accident while we were
shooting, a river accident. We were jumping--it was like this group of
Outward Bound people, and he was an ex-con and I was getting a divorce and
that kind of thing. And we were running away from kind of the radical
splinter group, you know, who was out to get us, and we had to jump into this
river, the Kern River, which is a very dangerous river here in California, and
there had been even a lot of fatalities that summer and all this stuff. But
anyway, we were really underprepared for it and didn't have any flotation
devices on and all this stuff. But consequently, a couple of us didn't swim
into our mark--I being the person--and Dermot jumped in to save me, and the
producer of the film actually jumped in and, you know, he had to go to the
hospital. His heart stopped, the whole thing. It was almost a drowning and
it was awful.

But after that, I don't know. Things kind of changed a little bit for
everybody, especially the people involved in the accident. And we became
really good friends, and then I guess maybe four or five months later, we were
looping for the film, you know, doing ADR, and we just started going out.

GROSS: Did you have any reservations about becoming romantically involved
with somebody else in the industry, somebody who was an actor?

Ms. KEENER: No. I didn't have any reservations at all. I liked it.
Actually, I think--and ultimately, you know, I still feel like it's a great
thing and it just depends on the person. I mean, for me, he and I, you know,
we help each other a lot and we have an understanding for each other. For
example, in "Lovely and Amazing," Dermot and Emily Mortimer, who plays my
sister Elizabeth in it, they have that scene where she gets out of bed naked
and says, you know, just basically, `Tell me everything that's wrong with me.
You can also say what's right.' And he does, and, you know, I don't know
if--people ask me about that, which is the reason I'm bringing it up, but they
ask, `How did it feel to know your husband was doing that?'

And I have insight into that because I'm in the same profession and I know
that it's a weird thing and it's an uncomfortable thing and you have to make
the best of it and believe in what you're doing. And so for me, this actually
wasn't even--I didn't even have to process it at all. It was just like, `Oh,
well, you've got to do your work, you know.' And I actually further thought
that Emily and Dermot--you know, Emily--knowing my husband as I do, I knew
that she was in really good hands as far as, you know, a partner in that scene
goes, that Dermot would be really--you know, would take care of her. And
there she was, all exposed and stuff, you know.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. KEENER: Oh, it was my pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: Catherine Keener stars in the new movie "Lovely and Amazing." She's
also in the forthcoming films "Full Frontal" and "Simone."

Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on The Byrds. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Profile: The Byrds' early rehearsal sessions on the CD "Preflyte"

The Byrds were the first American band to seriously challenge the British
invasion, and they succeeded, in part, because by the time their music reached
the public's ears, they had rehearsed until they were tight and professional.
Recordings of these rehearsals have circulated for years under the title
"Preflyte." These sessions are collected on a double CD on Sundazed Records.
It inspired our rock historian, Ed Ward, to explore the prehistory of the

(Soundbite of music)

ED WARD reporting:

It all started at The Troubadour, which was LA's top folk club in 1964. Jim
Dickson, a producer at World Pacific Records, heard a folksinger, David
Crosby, and liked what he heard. He asked him to stop by their studios to cut
a demo, maybe so they could build a group around him. The singer agreed, as
long as Dickson didn't tell the other fogies. Interestingly, the two had
someone in common: Dino Valente, or Chet Powers, a mysterious Bay Area
songwriter. Crosby had stayed with Valenti on a recent trip north, and
Dickson's music publishing company published his songs. Naturally, one became
part of the demo.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DAVID CROSBY: (Singing) Love is but a song we sing, tears the way we die.
You can make the mountains ring or make the angels cry. Know the dove is on
the wing and you need not know why. Oh, people, now, smile on your brother,
let me see you get together and love one another and...

WARD: Meanwhile, Jim McGuinn, a Chicago folkie with some showbiz experience,
had been facing hostile audiences as he stood up and sang "I Want to Hold Your
Hand" with an acoustic 12-string guitar. Once again in The Troubadour,
McGuinn met Gene Clark, a songwriter on the run from various surf bands. And
one day as they were working out some songs there, David Crosby sat down and
joined them. McGuinn had run across Crosby before and wasn't sure he wanted
him horning in on what seemed to be a good thing when Crosby spoke the magic
words. `Hey, guys, I know a guy who has a studio we can use for free.'
Calling themselves the Jet Set, they went into the studio with Dickson and cut
two tracks which Elektra Records put out on a single, labeled as being by the

(Soundbite of music)

THE BEEFEATERS: (Singing) Every time I see you smile, come to me, don't be
long. Let me tell you how my heart goes wild. Please let me love you and it
won't be wrong. Every time I'm...

WARD: The single, with studio musicians playing on it, died, but it showed
promise. Brian Wilson encouraged the group and said they'd almost made it.
Dickson recruited Chris Hillman, a bluegrass player he'd worked with, to play
bass, and then came Michael Clarke on drums. To get a feeling for playing
together, they did some acoustic sessions, recording some originals and,
because Dickson felt that someone else's great song was better than your own
mediocre one, a Bob Dylan song.

(Soundbite of music)

THE BEEFEATERS: (Singing) Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me. I'm
not sleepy and there ain't no place I'm going to.

WARD: They tried that one electric, too.

(Soundbite of music)

THE BEEFEATERS: (Singing) Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me. In
the jingle-jangle morning, I'll come following you.

WARD: Afterwards, they gave up for the moment. They'd get it right later.
That electric version of "Mr. Tambourine Man," though, featured McGuinn's new
toy, a 12-string Rickenbacker electric guitar. It was a challenge for the
former folkie and he rose to it. Armed with it, he began writing songs with
Gene Clark and they sounded good.

(Soundbite of music)

THE BEEFEATERS: (Singing) You showed me how to do exactly what you do, how I
fell in love with you. Oh-whoa-whoa, it's true. Oh-whoa, I love you. You
showed me how to say exactly what you say in that very special way.

WARD: Clark was a songwriting machine, churning out a half-dozen songs a
week, showing them to Hillman and Michael Clarke, then bringing them to the
studio at night so they could bounce them off of McGuinn and Crosby and
Dickson, who was very interested in building up his publishing company. He
also told all of his friends about the group he was working with, giving
photographer Barry Feinstein run of the sessions and bringing Lenny Bruce and
Bob Dylan to the studio. Dylan heard the band nervously perform electric
versions of some of his songs and gave his blessing. The buzz paid off. In
November 1964 The Byrds, as they christened themselves over a Thanksgiving
dinner, were signed by Columbia Records, thanks in part to enthusiasm from
Miles Davis, of all people, and they never looked back. Soon Sunset Strip and
the world would be theirs.

GROSS: Ed Ward is a writer living in Berlin.

(Soundbite of music)

THE BYRDS: (Singing) I was really good to her, but how she broke my heart.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

THE BYRDS: (Singing) Now I wonder if she will ever want to settle down. Oh,
oh. Oh, oh.
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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