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tv   Charlie Rose  Bloomberg  January 2, 2017 5:00pm-6:01pm EST

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>> from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. charlie: "moonlight" is the new film from writer and director barry jenkins. it is an adaptation of tarell mccraney's play, "in moonlight black boys look blue." the film focuses on three pivotal time periods in the life of a young man as he comes to terms with his sexuality and struggles to find his identity. coach writes that the film has the best take on black masculinity, ever. here is a look. ♪ >> what you looking at me like that for? >> what, man? come on, you just drove down here?
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>> yeah. ♪ >> who is you chiron? >> i try not to remember. ♪ >> i try to forget all those times. >> at some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you want to be. can't let nobody make that decision for you. ♪ >> you want to tell him why the other boys kick his ass all the time?
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>> what's wrong? >> i'm good. >> no. i've seen good. you ain't it. >> remember the last time i saw you? ♪ >> you are my only, i'm your only. >> no, no, no. listen. >> to who, ma? huh? to you? >> who is you, man? i ain't seen you in like a decade. not what i expected. >> what did you expect? ♪ charlie: joining me now is the writer and director of the film, barry jenkins. and three of its stars -- trevante rhodes, naomie harris, and andre holland. i am pleased to have each of them here at this table for the first time. welcome. >> thank you for having us. charlie: at telluride they are raving about you. they are raving about you at other film festivals. what is it that you hope to accomplish with this film? >> you know, people have said
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that "moonlight" is a story that does not get told often with characters we do not see often, that are voiceless. so my greatest hope for the film, and it is what i have experienced in toronto and london, these places are removed from the setting of the film -- charlie: which is miami. >> exactly. and inner-city miami, like just these four square blocks, people can see themselves in these characters who they assume are nothing like them. and it has been my experience that people are finding a way to genuinely empathize with the story we are telling and the characters we are showing in the film. charlie: you know miami. >> yeah, born and raised. yeah. [laughter] charlie: and how did that shape this story? >> hugely. there is this almost anesthesia that happens when you are working in a place that you know. there is a scene in the film of the character says, sometimes the breeze comes through the hood. and liberty city where i grew up is only three miles from the ocean and sometimes you can smell it. and i think knowing those kinds of things, you go into a location with more confidence. it is going to have the same emotional currency you felt growing up there. charlie: tell us who chiron is.
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>> chiron is a beautifully flawed individual who is coming to terms with finding out who he is, finding what love is, finding that relationship with his mother, just trying to understand life, really, in general. charlie: tell me about his mother. >> his mother is paula, who is a struggling single parent, who is also dealing with quite a severe crack cocaine addiction as well. charlie: what is interesting about this is you see him in different parts in his life. how hard is that to pull off? >> i thought it would be impossible, but with the way -- charlie: the mother stays the same. >> right. i wanted to have some kind of foundation or bedrock, and naomi as paula was that bedrock. but you know, i wanted -- the time between the chapters
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changing the character as the young man is shaped so much by the environment, i wanted him to be a different person, the same character but a different person in each chapter. and my hope was that if we found actors that have the same feeling in their eyes and you could see the soul of the character across all three parts. so far, i think that is what people are experiencing. charlie: andre, what was the challenge for you? >> wow. i play kevin who is a childhood friend of chiron and goes on to become the object of his affection. charlie: right. >> the big challenge was i came in at the end of the film and seemingly out of nowhere and you do not understand why he has come back and they are on screen together for a very long time, working through a problem and we do not know what the motivation of the character is. so, that was a big challenge, identifying what that was. but once we found it i think it is -- charlie: ta-nehisi coates said, who is much admired throughout the united states and europe, he said, "barry has this ability to capture black folks in their ordinariness, without making statements or declarations. so often are about blackness or
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lgbt issues engages in this debate about whether we are human or not -- and barry just steps right past that. he's saying it's not an argument with having. he tells the viewer you have to accept this. you have to accept that they're human." >> i would wholeheartedly agree with that. and not because of ta-nehisi. [laughter] charlie: go ahead. >> i was going to say, we are from this particular neighborhood and we grew up in the same way and both of our moms went through the ordeal for -- portrayed by naomi, said the idea that the characters are inherently human, it is not a foreign concept to us. -it was not even the point. we were just trying to get it right and accurately portray the experience growing up and i think when you do that, you end up with one, specific, but also two, universal, because you are not thinking about this issue or that issue. charlie: we talk about masculinity and we also talk about identity. are they one in the same? >> i think for this character they are. they are one in the same. what happens is there is a performance of masculinity that the world is projecting at you and this is how a man walks, talks, speaks to another man, or speaks to a woman. and i think when you are getting that sort of stimulus so much from the outside world, you lose
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your grip on what your idea of masculinity is, which i think if you are a man growing up in the world that we grew up in, is very key to your identity. and it becomes harder to self identify, the more you are receiving this sort of both positive and negative reinforcement of what masculinity should look like. charlie: when you would think about playing at the age you play him, with andre, did you look at the earlier performances? >> no. [laughter] >> barry did not allow it at all. we were both trying to find some semblance of something, something, but barry forbode it, he was adamant about it. i guess those to depict how we change through our lives at certain points. it was an ingenius thing to do, mr. barry. [laughter] >> i feel like the world is shaping the characters so much, that when you meet them in each chapter and they become a different person. i wanted to keep the soul of the character, so when you look at
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his eyes you will see the little boy, but he is a different person. it is great because he and andre were at this point where the old person slowly comes back to the surface. charlie: there is -- you come to the realization that chiron is gay. how does that affect the relationship that paula has with him? >> i think she really can't accept it at all. she finds it disgusting, unpalatable, and it is part of her further rejection of her son. and i think she genuinely fears for his safety and what it means growing up in this kind of community they are growing up in. it is not something that will be easily accepted by anyone in that community. charlie: how did chiron's first sexual experience affect him? >> i think a confused him profoundly. obviously i think he knew who he was, but he did not know that for one, this person that he felt the connection was was the same way, and he did not understand, he did not understand how to feel, i guess. i think. charlie: how much -- because you are so close and you knew the author and the neighborhood, did
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you have to direct more because you had such a deeply felt sense of this story? >> it is funny, nobody has asked me that question, but i did. i assumed i would have to direct less, but when we got there, we had an issue with naomi's visa, and we shot in sequence. we were going to do her work across seven days and three weeks. but we had to condense. directing somebody that looks like your mom and sounding like your mom, it was intense. i had to come, and was that compartmentalize my life and keep it separate from the work, but it did make the work better because we did things i did not consider that i think were very inspired and came from the character. charlie: you wanted her badly.
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>> yes. charlie: why was that? >> she is the only character in all three films, she is the bedrock, and i thought it would take a lot of skill to do the things she was doing, which were very dark and ugly, and preserve the humanity of the character. and i thought somebody as amazing as naomi could pull it off. charlie: and how does kevin change? >> kevin changes drastically. as barry said, he is acting out this performance of masculinity, particularly in the second story and by the third story he has let go of that mask and has become much more vulnerable and open. he has found a way to reach out and he is liberated, reaching out to this guy. charlie: what was the most challenging thing for you? >> it was getting past the initial hurdle. the initial playwright, i thought, our lives are so similar move this is his biography and saw myself out of it, but it was difficult to get to the point where i was like, this is my story.
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charlie: what are the autobiographical elements for you? >> the relationship between the son and mother. it is a composite of myself and tarell mccraney. it was the first thing i saw in it. how did he know the things i know? i think getting to the point where i accepted i was going to tell the story and tell it fully, that was the biggest hurdle for me. charlie: are you surprised by the reaction? >> i wrote a journal a week before the film premiered at telluride to tell myself what i thought of the film and what i was proud of and i decided i was very proud of it, no matter what anybody said. charlie: are you finding that people want to communicate with you because of this film? >> big-time. [laughter] charlie: why are you laughing? same thing for you? are you getting it too. >> yes. >> people are deeply moved to see themselves represented,
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because they do not see themselves as very often. they are seeing it in a very true way. they are like, how did you know this? i didn't but i'm glad you saw. charlie: take a look. this is another scene, a drug dealer returning chiron back to his mother. here it is. >> what happened? huh? what happened chiron? why didn't you come home? huh? and who is you? >> nobody. i found him yesterday. i found him in a hole on 15th. yeah, that one. some boys were chasing him. scared more than anything. he did not tell me where he lived until this morning. >> thank you for seeing to him. he usually can take care of
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himself. he is good that way. >> little man. charlie: who did the adaptation? >> i did. charlie: you wrote the script as well? >> it came pouring out of me. it was 10 days, the first draft. charlie: tell me about your reaction to this, having experienced the film and the message of it and he says that you are part of something that resonates? >> has been an extraordinary journey. it is so incredible to see people that you would not naturally think are represented in these stories, they are so deeply moved about it. it has the ability to strip back the labels we attach to ourselves and society attaches to us and connect with people's hearts and show that this is a story about humanity, love and identity. that is a universal search.
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charlie: paula has a strength as well as vulnerability? >> absolutely. she has had to develop this tough exterior, but she is fundamentally a woman in pain. charlie: congratulations. to all of you. >> thank you. charlie: there is much talk about future awards and i wish you well. back in a moment. stay with us. ♪
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charlie: casey affleck is here. he stars in kenneth lonergan's new film, "manchester by the sea." he plays lee chandler, an isolated janitor forced to return to his hometown to become the legal guardian of his teenaged nephew. a.o. scott writes that he gives one of the most fiercely disciplined screen performances in recent memory. here is the trailer. >> if you could take one guy to an island with you and you knew you would be safe and he would keep you happy, and if it was between me and your father, who would it be? >> my daddy. >> i think you are wrong about that. >> hello, this is lee. what happened to my brother? >> so that is chandler. >> i don't understand.
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>> which part? >> i can't be the guardian. >> your brother provided for your nephew's upkeep. >> i think the idea is that you would relocate. >> relocate to where? here? >> it was my impression that you spent a long time here. >> i'm just a backup. >> no one can appreciate what you have been through. and if you really feel like you cannot take this on, it is your right. ♪ >> where we going, the orphanage? >> shut up and get in the car. >> i can't obey your orders until you open the door. >> whatever you decide, you can always stay with us. >> do you want to be his guardian? >> well -- >> he doesn't want to be my guardian. >> we are trying to lose kids at this point. >> hello? >> hello, lee? i want to call and say i'm sorry. how is patrick? >> he has not really opened up with me.
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do you have sex with these girls? >> strictly basement business. >> what is that mean? >> it means i am working on it. >> you do not want to be my guardian? that is fine with me. >> it is just the logistics. >> all my friends are here. i have two girlfriends and i have a band. >> you are a janitor in quincy, why the hell do you care where you live? ♪ >> i said a lot of terrible things to you. my heart was broken. and i know yours was broken, too. >> you don't understand. >> ♪ i am coming home ♪ >> i think there's something wrong with me. >> you want me to call your friend? what do you want me to do? >> ♪ i am coming home ♪ >> i'm not going to bother you. i'm just going to sit here until you calm down. >> will you please just go away?
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>> no. >> ♪ i am coming home ♪ charlie: this is remarkable, and congratulations. casey: thank you. charlie: what is it about the film that you think is so compelling? casey: a movie is made by so many people and they are all doing their jobs, and sometimes you start with just the first rate script, and even if you have a great script and then a supertalented experienced director and you still, you do not know what you will end up with. that is just the nature of making movies, everybody must contribute that it amounts to something. and so, it is kind of a mystery. maybe there are other people with more experience or are smarter and can say, this is how it gets done. from the moment i read it i was a little bit confused as to why it worked so well. it does not follow a formula in the telling of the story and it does not have the kinds of moments in it that you would expect from a movie like this to have. you sort of might expect these two characters who are forced together who have both suffered some loss to save one another in a very predictable way and to have some cathartic moment that
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results in both of them moving on to a happier place in life. and it doesn't have that, totally. so, it is a unique movie in that way. and i think that it works because of a combination of all of the little elements, all of the things that everyone contributes. i don't know. charlie: but you play a guy who is emotionally closed off. casey: well, i guess i am playing a guy who is -- i never thought of him that way. charlie: how did you think of him? casey: i thought of him as somebody who had such strong feelings inside of him that he had to bottle them up or else he would just fall apart. he suffered a loss in his life that was so great, the kind of thing most people would not want to survive. and he survived it, and now how is he going to carry on? he tries to kill himself at one point, but then decides to live, but he lives in such a way that he does not have to think about his past. he is doing that because he
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wants to -- he is a very responsible person and he wants to take care of his brother, who is sick. and then his brother passes away. and then he has to take care of his nephew, who now has no one to take care of him. and you know, i think that he -- there are many scenes in this movie where i felt like it was almost too difficult to contain the emotion, because the nature of the part. but the film has a lot of restraint and kenny shows great restraint in a way that he shot it and in our conversations about how to portray the character, it is clear that he wanted the character to be a very emotional person dealing with an enormous amount of sadness and shame and grief and overwhelming at different moments, but always to keep a very tight lid on it and let it
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only out in a few moments in the movie to lift the lid off and showed us inside the pot and then close it back. that might be one of the reasons why it is so emotional watching it. i saw it at the sundance film festival and at the new york film festival, and i was surprised at the amount of people i would hear crying in the theater. you know, no one really wants to
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cry audibly in a movie theater. [laughter] so if you know that is happening, it is not something they are in control of and it is a real emotional experience for them. so, i guess it worked. charlie: do you look at this role, this role, and when you read it and when you are there on the set and did you say, yes, this is why i am an actor? yes, this is what i have been looking for. this is the kind of thing that makes me feel whole. casey: i did. i said that when i read it. i thought, this is what i want to do as an actor and these are the kinds of roles i wait for. it is complicated. and big part of an actor's job is to show up on set that day with the appropriate feelings, that you are -- that the character is having for the scenes of that day. someone else has written all the words that you are going to say and somebody else has decided where the lights are, your job is to understand what you are saying and what you're feeling and why in some cases and in some cases you have strong feelings and you do not need to understand them. so when i read that i thought, this is an opportunity to play a lot of different things and to do it in a style i like, kind of naturalistic, he is not telling you what he is feeling.
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he is feeling it inside. the character is very terse. he speaks to people -- he is curt, and there is a chance to feel all of the silences and these one-word answers with a lot of feeling. as a supplement to the things that are in the script, as a way of saying, this is also what is happening inside, which you cannot write on the page. and to work with someone like kenneth lonergan, who is just one of my favorites. "you can count on me" and "margaret" are two masterpieces. i have watched them over and over again. charlie: you watch them over and over and over again. looking for different meanings, different nuances? looking for -- casey: all of that.
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sometimes just watching and seeing what happens. and letting it wash over you. there are things to discover in a script or a movie that is done with care that you do not find in the first viewing or the first reading. i find that over and over again. you read something once and you read it again and if you do not find something else, it is an indication that maybe you should not do the movie. i still go back sometimes to the plays that kenny has written and i find new things. even in one i was in, i thought, wow, there was a different take on that scene that i could have explored. charlie: how did he help make this performance that came out of you? casey: he likes actors, and he is very patient with actors and i think he is open to them doing things their way into bringing whatever it is -- their own experiences, talking to them about their life.
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here is a scene where a man goes to the hospital and the doctor tells him his brother has passed away. so, you know, what is your first -- what is your impulse about this moment? what is your instinct? how should it be played? charlie: did he ask you that? casey: yeah, he askes me. he likes to help. charlie: you go to the hospital and you find out your brother is dead. and you find out later that he has left you with a certain responsibility. casey: right. yeah. so first, you think, ok, who is this guy and what is he bringing from his past to this moment? this is a character who lost his children some years ago, and so he is going to react in this moment very differently. well, how differently? what does that do to someone? and i think he does not want to deal with anybody's sympathy. because it is a reminder of things in the past. he does not like to feel -- he does not want to let anyone in. he controls the situation, he
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drives the conversations so they do not go into an area too painful for him. so, those are the conversations he starts to have. charlie: this is the best thing that has ever happened to him. to give him an opportunity to recover from what had been a devastating occurrence in his life. casey: yeah. charlie: this presented an opportunity, and whether he saw it that way are not, it was a reluctant opportunity. casey: yes. he saw it as something he was incapable of doing. i am not capable of being a caretaker. i am not capable of taking care of someone else. charlie: because of what happened to me. casey: because of what happened to me. i can't do it. i have to find another way of taking care of this kid. someone else will have to do it. i cannot talk to this kid. do all the things a parent has to do. and so, but he is stuck with it and i guess that results in a positive change for him.
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charlie: congratulations. it is great to have you here. it is great to have a conversation with you. this is a remarkable film. thank you for coming. casey: thank you for having me. i appreciate it. ♪ charlie: kenneth lonergan is here in his latest film "manchester by the sea," about a man he returns to his hometown to take care of his nephew after the death of his older brother. it has been named best film of the year by the national board of review. here is a look. >> i don't understand. >> i don't understand. >> which part of you having trouble with? >> i can't be the guardian. >> well -- >> i mean, i can't.
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>> well naturally, i assumed joe had discussed this with you. >> no, he didn't. o. >> i have to say, i am somewhat taken aback. >> he cannot live with me, i live in one room. >> but joe has provided for patrick's upkeep. food, clothes, etc. and the house is paid for. >> i can't commute from boston until he turns 18. >> i think the idea is that you would relocate. >> relocate to where? your brother has worked everything out. >> he didn't meant that. charlie: i am pleased to have kenneth lonergan back at this table. when you watch that, what do you see? kenneth: casey. how lost he is and how surprised he is and the turmoil
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inside of him. also josh hamilton who is one of my best friends and has been in many of my plays. i just love actors. i just saw the little things in the moment. just can't take in what's happening. josh is totally thrown because he thought it would be routine. that is the kind of thing that makes scenes work for me. and the costume director told me, i just keep seeing casey's eyes. in the scene in particular, this was actually our first day of shooting. i felt we were on a good start. off to a good start. charlie: every good director i know loves actors. can you be a good director and not love actors? kenneth: i think so. i think it depends on what your interest is. hitchcock famously -- it is unclear whether he did or not. stanley kubrick i think was a
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little less interested in acting and delving into the depths of performance but very interested in human beings. i think it just depends. but it think most directors are very interested in actors. charlie: what you like about "manchester by the sea" as a movie? kenneth: the tremendous effort the characters are making to do the right thing despite carrying a tremendous emotional burden. casey's character is so striken by what happened to him. he does not just want to take care of his nephew, but take care of him properly. he doesn't start out wanting a personal relationship with him. he gist wants to get him set up. the premise of the movie is that casey's brother dies and he is given guardianship of his ephew which he doesn't want. what is not so obvious is how he refuses to just send the kid
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away. he could've easily sent him to relatives in minnesota, he could have sent him to his mother who is very troubled and problematic. but he is sticking it out as best he can despite that he is under terrible duress. charlie: so when lee left manchester, what was his state of mind? kenneth: devastated. i don't know how much of the story you want to give away what he has left town because of an unspeakable tragedy and his life was essentially destroyed. if it were up to him, he would just go. but his brother is not well, he has congestive heart failure, which is a degenerative disease. requires help taking care of his kid. so he goes about 1.5 hours away so he can be on hand as needed. he has a monastic existence in quincy, a town south of boston. charlie: and then he has to come back. kenneth: it is implied in the story that he comes back
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periodically when joe has to be hospitalized. he comes back to take care of the kid when there is no one else to do it. so, he has been in touch but he has detached himself completely from the family and the town he grew up in. charlie: what type of stories do you like to tell? kenneth: i like to tell stories about people dealing with things that are too big for them. charlie: grief. enneth: grief. the weight of other people's requirements. the fact that the world never does what you want it to do. death. other people, generally. institutional difficulties. difficulties with lawyers and doctors and the law. difficulties just getting through life. charlie: it sounds like you like the characters to be in trouble. kenneth: yeah, well, it makes for drama and comedy. it is a little hard to imagine enjoying a movie where everyone is sitting around happily for an hour and a half. charlie: this is 2016.
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your last film was 2005. you have been working in theater in between. kenneth: "margaret," my last film was not completed until 2012 because of difficulties with editing and the studio and all that. but yes, i wrote and directed a play in 2009. matthew broderick was in t. i wrote and directed "medieval play" at signature theater in 2011. last year i wrote one called "hold on to me, darling." so i have been pretty busy in the theater and working up to direct this along. charlie: is it your goal to simply continue to go back-and-forth between theatre and film? kenneth: i don't see why not. i really like both quite a bit. they're very different. they are very challenging and rewarding. when it goes well it is really exciting and gratifying.
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to sit with an audience and watch everyone participate. charlie: is it different in a screening room with a film versus with an audience? kenneth: yes, it is completely different. you feel what is happening with the audience and you also immediately pretend you're in the audience and you have all of these criticisms you did not have before. then when it is going well, you feel good about it. you see if from other people's point of view the moment they walk in the room. charlie: what is the most satisfying thing about directing film? kenneth: i guess just when you feel you have more or less successfully put all the elements together. the shots come out the way you want. there are so many things to do. there's the filming, production design, sound, music, the editing, the cast. whenever any of those elements come together and make the scene sing, that is a good feeling. charlie: and when it doesn't sing? kenneth: very upsetting.
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kenneth: it is a nagging feeling that you have to fix it. it doesn't ever quite go away. there are 10 minutes of fixes i would still like to make in this movie but at some point you have to let it go because your improvements stop being improvements. you lose the thread and you have to stop. charlie: meaning somehow you can overdo it? kenneth: yes. at some point you stop -- it is -- you say that shot is too long. that's the wrong point. at some point, like a symphony, you start to fix it note by note instead of hearing it. charlie: here is another scene with michelle williams. >> i don't have anything big to say. >> that is ok. >> it's just, i know you have been around. >> just getting patrick settled in.
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>> it looks like he has been doing pretty good, considering. >> i think he is, yeah. >> i don't know if you noticed, but i kept in touch with joe, i have not seen patrick at all. i didn't know. >> you can see him if you want. >> can we ever have lunch? >> you mean us, you and me? >> yeah. charlie: you love it, don't you? kenneth: i love them. i love them. they're just so great. i don't know how they do it. it is an incredible feeling. an incredible, emotional life, and it just looks like two real people having a really difficult discussion. charlie: what goes into your head when you are cutting that scene? this is two people in conversation. kenneth: it is so complicated that you have to do it by instinct, in a way. you have four or five shots in either way. you have two shots, two cameras going at the same time, and there are no performance issues, sometimes you just
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start with the take you like and build from there. once you have that place, but you somehow have to feel your through. my editor and i, this was not that hard of a scene to edit because the performances were so good on all the takes. but we wanted the editing to be up to the level of the performances. and i think you just follow the path of what is happening in the situation as best you can. for instance, we can see her say, do you want to have lunch or not? and i think it is important to see that. we can see her make that decision. her head comes up and we can see how she blurts it out and then you must see his reaction because the wind goes out of him and he has this beautiful reaction. those are two shots you know you want, you put them in the machine and you're off and running. it is interesting, because wherever you put the camera changes the feeling of the conversation a little bit. it is amazing what you can do and how many different
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ays you can do it. in a way you can't do it. you have to follow some instinct. the other thing is you are in the editing room, you will put together a few shots and then you will think you held on too long and everybody agrees with you. it feels rightto cut sooner or later. i don't know what that is, i don't know if it is akin to a musical sense. charlie: probably music and experience, too. charlie: i don't think you're born with it necessarily though i've been p people who you just knew how their instinctive sense was so strong. kenneth: yeah, it is so important. i guess it is also where -- if you maybe could go back and say, ok, this is the story of a girl who builds up to ask her ex-husband to have lunch and then after that happens, it becomes the story of a man who was talking
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to someone in a way he cannot bear and he has to get out of the conversation and the next shot becomes different -- i think there must be a narrative in the editing that you don't think through intellectually but you are following as you follow the conversation. and the behavior between the two characters. charlie: he is so damaged he is scared of reconciliation. kenneth: he can't talk to her, it is too painful. he has lost her, he's lost everything. he is barely getting through the day just talking to other people and she is at the center of his distress and she -- they still care for each other, but the relationship is over. charlie: much success to you. kenneth: such a pleasure to be here. charlie: "manchester by the sea" is the film. ♪
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charlie: in 1928, former journalists turned playwrights ben heck and charles macarthur wrote the acclaimed play "the front page." the comedy follows a group of press reporters in chicago press room. tennessee williams says it was arthy. it has been revived on stage and it has been adapted to film numerous times since its 1928 debut, including the 1940 comedy "his girl friday." the latest revival play is currently in previews at the broadhurst theater.
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i'm very pleased to have a director, jack o'brien, and two members of the all-star cast,john goodman and nathan lane. what is the enduring part of his? >> we have had a lot of revivals, but it is huge. it is like 27 people. charlie: a lot of people on staff. >> you cannot afford to do that play anymore unless you get somebody like scott rudin or an institutional theater to do it. but oddly enough, i think it is sui generis. i don't think there's been anything before like it and never anything before after it. charlie: it, meaning what? >> this curious combination of reality. these guys listened, they based the play on many people they knew, incidences they lived through. there were even lawsuits when t was originally done.
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but it just -- the structure of it, the comedy, the veracity of it, the politics of it, it is a grab bag of everything we have ever been to each other, know about, and still have not gotten over. charlie: what would you say, john? john: it is a great american play that could only have only been written at that particular time when things were popping all over the place. and it covers a wide range of opics. but it does so with human haracters. i have not done a style like this since i was in college doing a restoration piece. it is different from anything i had ever done and i am so glad i was asked on board because it is a challenge nightly for me
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but it is so much damn fun. charlie: nathan? nathan: most people associate this with "his girl friday," a great idea by howard hawkes to make the character a woman. they created sort of the first screwball comedy but the play is not a screwball comedy. it is dark comedy mixed with melodrama that somehow by the third act spins into the edge of farce. it is highly unusual. it was put together by jed harris, the producer who got the manuscript and gave it to george s. kaufman and said, fix this. it had this very authentic feel because they came from this world. it also had the hand of george kaufman. it is a three act play structure and very much in the tradition of his plays. the first act is set up, the
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second act is complications and things start getting really funny, and then the third act is hilarious and everything pays off in a delightful and atisfying way. but it is interesting for an audience today, the best thing you can tell someone about a play is that it is 90 minutes with no intermission. and they're thrilled. [laughter] >> they don't care what it is about. you mean i am in and out and i an tell people i saw it? this is asking people to have a little patience and it is worth it by the end because these guys knew what they were doing. and as john said, it is the most fun i've had in a long time. it is technically a hard play to do. it is demanding. charlie: what does this say about people who are attracted to journalism and this kind of reporting? nathan: i'm sure that "to kill a mockingbird" led a lot of people into law. and that this led a lot of eople into journalism.
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it was the first play that was profane. people considered it vulgar. in 1928, to have a woman, a prostitute, to walk on stage and say "i have been looking for you bastards," it was shocking. it was unbelievable. charlie: you say directing him is like a creative partnership. is it true with all the actors or just because you and nathan have done so much together? >> these are people at the top f their craft. when you start out, you feel your way, but like anybody, you get to work with really good people. you certainly push them out and see what they do, and then basically what you are is their irst audience. you listen to them, you try to edit, you try to reflect, but you do not give them anything because they are pouring it at you. charlie: who is sheriff hartman?
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john: peter b. hartman, who in reality was peter b. hoffman, who threatened legal action when the play opened. he was the sheriff of cook county. under the adminisration of a man named big bill thompson whose sole contribution was the phrase "keep king george out of chicago." [laughter] john: yeah. a lot of trough feeding. e is a backslapping, chicago version of a good old boy. not quite the brightest bulb in the dressing room mirror. i wanted to see how stupid i could make him and still breathe, which is not a good approach.
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[laughter] >> you're stuck with it. john: never anything gained by playing things down. ut he is in peril. [laughter] charlie: and walter burns who comes in the second time? nathan: walter burns is such a tremendous character. that is the relationship in the play, this bromance, father-son relationship he has with the star reporter. hilled i johnson. it is based on a famous editor in chicago. he did some of this stuff to charles macarthur. he gave him his watch and then had him arrested for stealing it when he went off to get married. and there was an escaped convict in chicago they based this loosely on. he was famous for saying not to get involved with women because they would distract them from the story and getting his work one. also, apparently the legend goes that he got drunk and fell
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on a copy spike and popped out his eye. he had a glass eye. and ben would say you could tell which one was the glass eye because it was the warmer one. [laughter] nathan: he was atough character. they say he dressed very well and looked like a successful local merchant and had a purring voice, but that disguised the monster underneath. charlie: is it true that great comedy is always about something serious? nathan: i would agree with that. it has to be played that way. it has got to be played -- usually it is like --. john: to take your comedy as seriously as a heart attack. nathan: it is life-and-death. that is what this is, certainly. and yet this play, there is no being relaxed about this lay.
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and the music is very difficult. it is overlapping dialogue, it demands a kind of precision and accuracy and vocal stamina. what needs to be heard and what does not need to be heard. and it never -- it is relentless. there are only a couple of places where the play relaxes just for a minute or two and then it is a speeding train. i mean, yeah. it is unusual in that way. john: finding the places where one can breathe and relax to set up what is coming. charlie: you couldn't mount a play like this today. nathan: well, we just did. [laughter] charlie: you just did because you had the reputation. >> we had the right people. charlie: the reputation brought the people and the people brought the audience. >> it's thrilling. if you didn't have the -- well, i assume someone could write something fantastic and people would want in on it. but you need a lot of things you just said.
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it is difficult to take all of these actors and put them on broadway in a commercial project. >> but the great thing for me was watching this group of men and women watching each other act. charlie: watching each other act. john: that is such a joy and pleasure. and i get to do it nightly. i don't know if i want to single anybody out but jefferson mays is just astounding. nathan: hilarious and brilliant. i mean, that is the joy of it. it is like putting together very quickly a repertory company and people reveling -- it is not about who has the biggest part, it's getting to watch all these people work and interact with them and the joy of doing that in a play like this. >> we don't have a national theater, we have never been allowed to have that here because we don't support the arts like that here. other countries do.
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every once in a while, a clarion call goes out with a piece of material, what people think, i would like to have some of that. i have had a couple of those in my career. charlie: do you think, things like this are why you got into this life? and all the satisfaction i can feel rising? john: i took the amtrak from st. louis in 1975, and this is eyond my wildest dreams. we do not have a bad penny in the bunch, and to watch and listen to these men and women every night is beautiful. nathan: i have been very, very lucky, especially in the theater, whether it is "the iceman cometh," or a new lay. what is better than doing "the front page" with a company like his?
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old friends on broadway. and people laughing their heads off. you know why i wanted to do the play? i wanted to say one of the most famous curtain lines of all time. i wanted to say, "the son of a -- stole my watch." that's all. that was it. [laughter] >> i mean, i knew the play was good. i wanted to bethe guy to sit on the desk with a phone like this and say "the son of a -- stole my watch! blackout. what is better than that? that is what life is all about, to have those moments. charlie: "the front page" is currently in previews and will open on october 20 and run until january 29. thank you for coming. thank you, john. >> always a pleasure. thank you, charlie. ♪ .
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