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The. All right, let's do this, how are you? What the fuck is what the fuck buddies? What the fuck? Nix what's happening? I'm Marc Maron. This is my podcast. Barry Levinson is on the show today. This is a very big day. Barry Levinson is a brilliant screenwriter and brilliant director.
Oscar winning director of Rain Man Diner, The Natural Bugsy. Good Morning, Vietnam, he wrote for The Carol Burnett Show. He created Homicide Life on the Street and Oz. He and his wife at the time wrote And Justice for All, which I watched the other night, great fuckin movie.
He's the executive producer of the new documentary Stars and Strife, and he's got a past at the Comedy Store. And for those you listen to me.
No, that's you know that I got to know about that. How does he fall into the grand history of the Comedy Store, Barry Levinson? We've been meaning to talk for a while, I think. I don't know if he knew that, but I know that we've been meaning to talk for a while.
Hey, so I had Allie Brosh on this show a long time ago because I was so taken with her book Hyperbole and a Half, and she's written a new book. It's been like seven years. Many of us were concerned about her well-being. But this is sort of coming off me, kind of traversing the terrain of my mind and my heart and my spirit.
And it doesn't generally go any place good.
It amplifies the struggle. All right, look, it's we're all compromised. Right now, and if you're alone, you got to be careful up there in your head. I mean, come on, it's a dangerous place. And if you got no one to kind of say like, yo, hey, hey, hey, you can't rely on television for the oh, well, where are you going? What are you up to? All television does or whatever you're distracting yourself does is like let's just think about this now.
This is what's happening now. But occasionally you need a little of the well, well, well back backup. What you need that. But anyways, Broche Ali Brosh is one of the great sort of explorers and navigators of the mind and how it relates to the outside world.
And she's got a new book out called Solutions and Other Problems She works with in animation. But her writing is tremendous and funny and dark and intuitive and revealing and and somehow calming. If you got a dark mind and and a damaged soul and a bit of a dark heart, she's a she'll soothe it, man.
So, you know, if you want to check that out, this is an unsolicited plug for this fucking book, because I love this woman so much and I love her work, solutions and other problems by Allie Brosh. It'll make you feel better. Maybe. Maybe what could make us feel better now?
Like, I mean, are we this is a theme of my life, you know, like it's kind of pushing back on hucksters and grifters and which is one of the reasons that obviously this president is isn't outside of being insanely fascistic and dangerous and, you know, kind of homicidally negligent on a mass scale. It's the grift man.
It's the con. It's the hustle. You know, it's this part of the backbone of America, man. It's a fucked up thing.
Like I've finally figured out a way that, you know, troll culture doesn't bother me. It's like these fucking Trump trolls.
It's like if this this is what you're proud of. This is what you're you know, this is who you are. This is you know, this is your voice in the world. Trump Twenty, twenty. Fuck you live today. That's your voice in the world. That's your creativity. That's how you speak your heart. It's just this weird, belligerent script of garbage that you dump out of your fucking brain fucked and, you know, out into the fucking world.
You're sort of shameless, unapologetic loyalty and complete submission and a surrender of your entire sense of self to a fucking belligerent grifter who offers you nothing but the feeling of hate.
It gives it definition. That's who you are. That's your lack of creativity. That's what you do with your American spirit, where you have the freedom to find something for yourself, to carve out your own life, to figure out how you fit in and be part of the fucking cultural fabric.
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All right, there you go. So I watched being there the other night. That was great. It actually holds up. It's a beautiful movie. And I'm Shirley MacLaine. Peter Sellers, unbelievable throwing that out there. Had a dream, I had a dream, I had a dream the other night, and I guess at some point.
I have to start looking at these as visits. From my my ex, who passed away May 16th. Lynn did when Shelton, beautiful spirit, beautiful person, but occasionally she visits me in dreams and I wake up and I'm always. Upset, but, you know, I have to frame it with a certain amount of gratitude that, you know, she's still hanging out, she's still coming by.
But the DREAM Act the other night was powerful in that.
It's almost it almost was a visit, I think they are visits when you lose somebody and they come around depending on what happens, if it's fairly clear in the dreams I've had about here have been clear, they're usually just like she's here.
And I'm like, oh, my God, I thought you were dead and she's not.
And I wake up and she is, but. This one, it was just she was just sitting on the edge of a desk like facing, I feel like it was a classroom, but I don't know if there was anyone there, it was empty or what. But she was looking out and I approached her and she just was like not paying attention to me. And I said, Hey. Hey, you remember that you love me, right? And then she turned to me, she's like, yes, of course, and I said, well, you were you were you were dead.
And I started to cry. I'm like, you were dead for like days, you were dead. And I'm crying. And she said to me, oh, that must have been very traumatic for you. I'm sorry. I just was crying, I said, I love you so much. And I woke up. And that is what she would have said, mm. Happy to see her. Look, you guys, this was a great conversation that I had with Barry Levinson.
You know, he he looks great. He's like 80. He's holding up, he's lucid, he looks 60. And he's you know, he's done some big movies and he's been around a long time. And it was a real pleasure and an honor to talk to him. The documentary that he executively, executively produced and the duck that he executive produced, Stars and Stryfe is now available on most video on demand platforms. And it just started running this week on Starz.
This is me talking to Barry Levinson.
Where are you, Barry? I'm in L.A. now. Oh, yes. You're holed up trying to breathe. It's terrible.
I'm trying to clear my throat all morning. I mean, this is horrific.
Yeah. It's like it's devastating in the way we're like. It's just one layer of garbage over another.
I know there doesn't seem to be you know, I there just doesn't seem to be a bottom to it.
No, it's every day there is another another thing to get depressed about right off the bat, right off the bat boom that the United States is basically saying, yeah, well, maybe, you know, two to three million people, you know, should die, but then things are going to be good and the stock market will just be great.
It's a I can't it really is daunting on a day to day basis.
Now in terms of like there's and I watched I watched your documentary, The One you produced, the Stars and Stripes. And then I've watched I just watched The Social Dilemma last night.
What have you watched? I haven't seen that one yet.
No, I think for people like my age and your age in these different generations of really, you know, to really sort of wrap your brain around the the weaponized social networking platform, the algorithms and how they fuck people's brains, it's like it's it's it's not hopeful.
There's no hope there. But, I mean, it does help you understand really what's going on, because I think it's a generational thing.
I think to protect yourself from these, to actually protect yourself from the mind fucking it's a lot it's a lot trickier than we think.
And it has to do with the technologies that, you know, we've had to adapt to in our lifetime. And the kids don't give a shit. So it's sort of I don't know whose job it is because these machines are just running on their own volition.
It's it's it's scary on so many levels because it's hard to when you read certain statistics and you go, for instance, there was someone sent me an email the other day that I think it's like high school students like 40 or 50 percent never heard of the Holocaust is just as an example. And how is that possible? I mean, just you know, it's not like you have to understand all of the things, but how is that possible that you don't know that it's just a piece of information?
Right. Right. And so if you say that you don't know that, then you're you're saying what don't you know about now? How much about now that you don't it doesn't register your brain, that that's what frightens me.
It's an elaborate shallowness that there's this you know, that people don't know things in depth or that, you know, it's sort of like, you know, I could see a younger person saying, like, wait, Hitler was the guy with the mustache. Right. And that's the depth. Right.
You know? Yeah. Yeah, he was. That's right. He had the. Yeah. And yes, that was.
Yeah, but and also being like a Jew, it's like yeah that's then there's that whole other dimension. It's like when do we have to leave.
Is anyone going to know this. Is someone going to alert us all that back up.
And I can't help but think about that shit. You know, I thought about it right away at the beginning of it with all that fascist theater of him signing things and banning sitting there and like, you know, I know, you know, we're not going to be the first to go, but we're on the list.
Yeah, I know. That is frightening. It's overwhelming. And at the same time, you know, it's you know, there used to be, like you could say, satire. And it's hard to have satire when things are this crazy, you know, I mean, it's literally I think we're getting close to the Marx Brothers with Fredonia. I think that's where we're going in a sense, where nothing makes any sense at all.
Nothing makes any sense at all. And that is the nation song. And there's a proud it's a pride to it. Yeah.
Things have become the face of of reality has sort of hijacked any capacity for satire because satire gets absorbed very quickly. And it's very it's very hard to do it effectively that where it will have any impact. I mean, if you think about your movie, you know, Wag the Dog, which I think still obviously will hold up, but but like, everything's moving so much quicker.
How do you satirize, you know, what's going on? Because he's he's his own buffoon.
I mean, it's it's a very strange thing that the president is a clown, you know, to most of us.
But it's like it's hard to to do anything funny about him because you don't want to trivialize the horror show that's happening.
Yes. And you can actually do something funny about him because he's he's he's that already that crazy. So you. This is no way to go with a parody because that's him. Yeah, we watch it day to day basis.
Yeah, I find myself watching older comedies just to enjoy, you know, back in the day when there was timing and there was jokes. And I'm not really that guy, but lately I'll go.
I'll watch I'll watch the old comics on Anjani on YouTube. I watch Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Dangerfield.
I'll just, you know, just to hear that timing. Yeah. Just to see that work.
But that was a real craft of craft. And now now we're in something. I don't even know how I get to take maybe another 50 years as somebody could define this era that we're in.
And I find that so helpful when people say, you know, history will show. And I'm like, you're count.
That's optimistic that there's going to be history, number one. And number two, whoever's writing it is going to be of a sound mind.
Yeah, no, look, I thought that the comment in in David's piece in Stars and Stripes is about that a democracy, the longest of democracy has lasted as two hundred and fifty years and we are now up to two hundred and fifty years.
And it's a frightening thought that that's as long as a democracy has ever lasted and we are right up there at that point and we are facing this kind of collision of of madness that we can't even get out of our own way. And it's not just Trump alone. And I think that's where the documentary is so good, because it's not it's not chasing just him. It's just that we are so dysfunctional in general that we cannot actually work as a democracy at this point in time.
Yeah. And it's just amazing how, like how how many sort of craven fucking small grifters have are having their day in one place.
And and the the idea of capitalism, you know, when I think the focus seems to be in the dock, that, you know, that that there is a way for capitalism to function for everyone, you know, if it's done responsibly.
But my problem with a lot of that free market thinking is for some reason, No. One, facts are factors in the the greed element and the complete moral bankruptcy of people who who want money and power.
But, you know, I don't know, maybe it'll level off, you would hope, but I don't know, you know, because the bottom line is sort of domme, everything is about the bottom line. Yeah. You know, and and I don't know how that changes. I mean, in terms of, look, there is no crazier decision made by, say, with Citizens United as a concept. You say, hey, why don't we just have this?
And then people can spend as much money as they want to donate to help to a candidate, you know, just as much as you want. So if you want to donate a hundred million dollars for a candidate, yeah, that's that's fine. And you go, no, no, no. Doesn't that sort of mess with the concept of the people? Otherwise, the one hundred million is there are very few people. You can donate that and therefore they're going to get something special.
They're going to get something that you're not going to get because you're spending more money than you. They own the guy and they they got and somehow that became like, oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense.
And this comes from the Supreme Court. I mean, that's how you came up with something that idiotic. I just it boggles my mind. I'm not some kind of, you know, somebody that understands all of this kind of the legalities of things or whatever. But on the basic level, it makes no sense that you can spend as much money as you want.
I think everybody's in their own bubble in terms of their decision making, including the Supreme Court. Yeah, but let's get back to simpler times, Barry. Oh, yes.
When I was a doorman at the Comedy Store, you know, I got I was on a lot of drugs at the time, but it was in the late eighties.
And, you know, I used to just fester and look at all the names on the wall.
And I just I always saw your name on the wall.
And I'm like, what did he do here? Was he here? Because I got very in I was in deep at the Comedy Store. I, I, I believed in it. I believed in the idea of it. I thought that it was a magical place in a very dark way. And I really kind of focused on all the names on the walls wondering, you know, how do they fit in?
So how do you fit in over there?
Well, here's here's the short version of that. When I was doing writing for, say, The Carol Burnett Show and other shows, I used to have a partner, Rudy De Luca.
Rudy DeLuca had written for Sammy sure, he'd write jokes for him. And one day, Sandy Shore came to Rudy and said, Frank sent us that has turow's which had been closed at that point, said there was a small room and he said, I'll turn it over to me. This was Sammy short talking and have a little nightclub. And Sammy said Rudy said to Sammy, But nightclubs are dead, Sammy. Nightclubs are dead. It's over, whatever.
Yeah, but he'll give me the place and a little venue and I can go, blah, whatever. And Rudy said, well, why don't you do it like the improv in New York, just have that kind of place. And that became the Comedy Store.
And oh, so you were you were brought in before Mizzi even.
Oh yeah. Yeah, he was. Sammy was married to Mitzi. Right. And but she wasn't involved initially. Yeah. And so that was the beginning of the Comedy Store and it used to be at the very beginning you could just show up and you know, nobody's on stage and then you can go on stage and this person or sometimes and then what happened is like Richard Pryor would wander in and he would get up, he would do something. And and some of the more named guys and then some people off the street literally just went off, etc.
and then it got more formalized as it went along. And then what happened is in the divorce between Sammy and Mitzi, Sammy gave it up because he wasn't really he didn't have that managerial quality that he had and she was much better at structuring it and everything else. And then she ultimately took over and really ran it.
But were you doing standup? I started when it sounds crazy. I started I was in an acting group and which I didn't want to be an actor, but I was there anyhow. I was literally there just hanging around and just absorbing it. I was a guy named Jack Donner and was on the Oxford Street right off to Santa Monica and Western. There was old theater upstairs. And so I did that. I didn't really want to. I came out to L.A. I didn't know what to do with myself.
I ended up at the beach. You're from Baltimore, from Baltimore. But you're like, let's go back there for a minute. So but you knew you wanted to be in show business. Had you done some work? What was the situation in Baltimore other than what we know from Avalon and 10 men?
And you're like, no, I didn't want to be I had no idea about show business. I didn't even have a clue. I had no never even thought about the idea of of writing or directing or anything. How old were you when you came out here?
I was around twenty two. So what were you doing in Baltimore before?
I was in Washington and I was working at a television station. Well, that's show business. Well, and you think about it now, but here's what happened. I was set I was at American University and I, I only took courses that would interest me. And there was one about there was a course on television. I figured, well, here's my motivation. That sounds easy. You know, that can be a hard thing. Not a lot of studying.
It's television. And so I ended up doing that. And there was a professor who ran this class and I did this little show thing is an exercise. And he took a liking to me and he got me a job at WTOP, which Channel Nine in Washington, DC and the training program. You get fifty dollars a week and and then you do everything. You run the teleprompter, you make slides for the news show. I work the hand puppets on the Ranger Hal Show and Ray Charles, Robert, Dr.
Fox and I did all those things and that's what I started doing and I started one of her jobs. Is the role the commercial breaks. Yeah. Into The Late Show in The Late Late Show.
You remember you were a sucker that had you're the only one in the studio to do it. Yeah.
Yeah. See you there. It's only two thirty in the morning and the screw ups that went on, etc. in that particular period of time and but sidetracked. But here's the thing that was amazing to me, is that I always wonder about the audience out there because you never see an audience who has to do it and you go, is anybody actually watching? Right. And I say this because one time one night they The Late Show and and it was called the Glenn Ford and the Man from the Alamo.
It started. And the thing is going on. And the first commercial break that comes up, it would say like a guy goes out the door, door slams, go to the commercial break, right?
Yeah. And it was that and all of a sudden the leader came up. So something is out of whack. Right. So instead. Saying, why is this the queue wrong now at five minutes to 12, we go back to the movie. Yeah, and it goes the end now. Now it started at eleven, thirty five minutes to 12. It says the end. Yeah. And so we realized we got the last real up first rather than the first real right to go to the go to the announcer and the announcer says and now for the beginning of the man from the Alamo and the movie starts right.
Not one phone call to say what the hell is going on here?
You show the end of the movie first, and that's the beginning. Nobody called. No one. Are people actually watching?
Is there an audience or or do they just not care? It doesn't make any difference if it's out of the story. Is that our.
Maybe, maybe just like for me that resonates because I used to watch I used to like like I still like coming upon things that are already on because now you can start anything any time. There's no channels. But I used to like turning on the TV and being in the middle of something because for some reason it made me feel like, well, there's got to be someone else alive who's showing this movie.
So maybe, maybe that comforted people like, you know, the one other guy that's fucked up.
But, you know, when you say that, Mark, when we were kids and we went to the movie theaters, we didn't know when the show began, know we'd be eight years old at the movies. Sure. Saturday. And you just walked in and you sat down and so you never saw a movie from the beginning.
And so and then there'd be cartoons and things and then it come back to the movie. And then there would be that point where we would turn to one another. Is this where we came in?
Is this is this this where we came in? Oh, yeah. Yeah. But wait for you to see the fight scene again, you know, and then you would leave. And so we never saw things from beginning to end as kids and we never knew what the show began. We went to the movie theater.
It wasn't like, oh, at nine, you know, this is your parents just wanted to know where you were for a couple hours. You'll be in there and you could do some stuff.
So so you had some experience, at least with hand puppets and hand puppets and all that, and then and working on the new shows and watching movies.
Anyways, you got to sit there and watch movies.
I saw two movies a night for almost a year. And that in a sense, without thinking about ever getting into the business, I just started watching films I had never heard of. Like I saw Citizen Kane. I never heard of Citizen. Yeah. And so I'd see some of these movies and I'd see Preston Sturges films and everything else. Things I had never heard about, no one talked about. And that began to get into my head without me consciously thinking about it.
So I came out to L.A. I ended up at the down at the beach in Hermosa Beach in Hermosa Beach down there. And I was started hanging around with this guy named George and George. And I went hang out at one point. He didn't have money, I didn't have any money. And a lot of people, we were just you just get by what years?
It's like 1970.
This would be. No, this was about nineteen sixty eight. Wow. So it was crazy here. Yeah.
It was totally nuts.
I mean it was like, it was like a total crazy period and great fun, just like hippies and drugs and weed and people all on.
Everything was going on and the music was changing and it was all things were going on and everything was sort of very loose like it. For instance, like, you know, you hear about Laurel Canyon and the right. But we would literally go over there and come up and in the area and we would go up and you just walk along the streets, you hear some music and you wander in, you sit around and people are, you know, smoking joints, whatever, dancing, carrying on or whatever.
And there would be those people like so from Crosby, Stills, Nash Young and all of those people. And you didn't even know who everybody was at that point.
It was just like just people walking through the canyon, huh? Yeah, wandering around. Yeah.
But backing up for a second out at the beach. One day George comes up to me and he says, down in Hermosa Beach, he said, look, my car broke down and you have to go up into Hollywood and can I borrow your car or you want to drive me? And I said, OK, I hadn't been up to Hollywood yet. So, OK, so I drive them up there. We pull up to this building. And he says, come on in, I said, well, what do you what what are you going to do?
He said, Well, I want to sign up for this. I want to check out this acting group. Yeah. Oh, no, no, no, please. I'm going to George I'm going to stay in the car here. I'm not going. No, I'm not doing that. He's to come in.
I'll feel obligated to come in. So I went in and I'm watching it. It was interesting. They're doing exercises and is a little scene study things that I was rather sort of fascinated by if George signs up.
Writing back down, he says, Why don't you join? Why did you become part of the class? You know, that we can just we can share Orion's hard drive. Sometimes you drive because it's like an hour to get back there. Yeah, I said, George, I don't want to do that. He said, that'll be a kick of some good looking girls. Will some it'll be fun to talked me into it. So now we go up and back.
George starts getting bored, doesn't care for the class anymore. He doesn't want to go. So now I'm going up and back by myself and I'm in charge, for God's sakes. I mean, now I'm going. You're not involved in this. I said, I think I'm going to move up into the Hollywood area because it's too far to keep going back and forth. So I packed up and I moved out. Now, here's the thing I try to explain to people nowadays.
Back then when you moved, you lost contact with a person because there wasn't a phone. We didn't have phones that we could or if we both, you know, we didn't have that. So the telephone, we always used telephone booths to call one another because we were living on the cheap. And so I get involved in the acting class. I get more involved things. I'm doing stuff and spending all the time there. And there's a guy named Craig T.
Nelson and he's in the class and we're hanging out. And we started doing some little improv things together and we start getting some laughs in the class. And I said to Craig, maybe we can put some material together. We'll play some clubs just to make some money, because, I mean, I was I had no money and and he was working in a bank. And so we started to play some clubs with you, with the routine.
We're putting a little yeah. We're like a comedy team. But we didn't we didn't do jokes with one another because neither one of us knew how to do jokes.
But we would literally do little scenes things and and three, four minute pieces. And we started playing at the clubs in L.A. I didn't want to I didn't want to perform at all. Craig didn't want to do comedy. You wanted to be a legitimate actor. Right. And so but we were doing all that. And so at some point we we worked a few television shows together and then eventually we wanted to focus on acting. And I continue to write and did comedy.
And as I say with Rudy DeLuca, we did comedy, I did Carol Burnett Show and some other things that we went to work for Mel Brooks and did all of that and. And so just slowly began to move along until I finally ended up writing.
Well, you certainly figured out how to write jokes clearly. Now, I didn't really write them.
I can only I can only do it if it was really connected to character. Right. Some people can just go back just like right before. Right before.
I can only do it as character within a year in a situation. Yeah.
I guess you probably learned how to hone that with because Carol Burnett was like that.
I mean, those shows were like that. Those variety shows, those sketches were and some of those shows like Carol Burnett specifically had, you know, recurring characters.
I mean, every week as a sketch, if something caught on, then they would play it out. We used to do a lot of. The sketches and they were great because they really worked if they didn't read off of cue cards. They learn the lines and they really performed it.
How funny was Tim Conway? Buddy Conway was hysterical. Conway was we wrote a lot of his his old man sketches when he was an old man. You would go real slow, you know. Yeah. And so we wrote a lot of those physical pieces for him. And he would and he would elaborate and you could see him sometimes. And if you went by the set, you'd see him wandering around and he would be testing the door to see how strong the door is.
Yeah, because he was going to throw a little piece in here, a piece of physical comedy. He was a great physical comedian. Oh, yeah. One of the greats.
So when you wrote for you wrote with Mel Brooks when now I would assume that writing like high anxiety. Which other one did you do with him?
A silent movie, silent movie, anxiety. But was that was that a writer's room? I mean, is that how that worked?
There were four of us there be Mel, Rudy DeLuca, Ron Clark and and myself. And we we would work it from there. And you said four of you and we would just continue to throw ideas around and certain things would stick. And Mel was like, really great. I mean, he was so first of all, he's maybe the funniest person I think I've ever met. I mean, he'll go into a rant about something and it's just amazing.
And he was very open. And and and this is the key thing that happened in a sense in my life, is that we were on the set when he was shooting and we would be by the monitor and he had us there and we would watch. And so you're not you're seeing him do it. And so sometimes you go over and you say, well, maybe you should do the most, or maybe and that was the beginning. I think I'm beginning to think beyond just writing.
Right. And then I began to sort of like what I was at the cameras here instead of there. What happens if you did that went a little faster and what did you do? And that was, I think, the beginning, that gestation, that things are beginning to bubble up in my head.
And I would imagine, too, like the one thing that I learned about directing just from watching in the limited experience I have is that, you know, if you've got a good DP who has got a good head on his shoulders, you know, it gives you a lot of creative freedom, right? Like, you know, you can just whatever you conceptualize, you can say, you know, there's a whole crew of people that will manifest it for you.
They can. Yeah, if they're all in sync.
Right. Because what happens is sometimes you'll have a cameraman who wants to put the camera here. Yeah. And, you know, then in a sense, it's it's less dramatic or whatever the decisions are. So sometimes you have to really connect with a camera person so that you're really in sync about how to handle it in the rhythms of all of it. Because it's if you especially if you're doing a comedy, as you would know, if you if you tamper with the rhythm of something, it can be it can be not funny at all.
And then all of a sudden you do it that and all of a sudden, boom, it just pops. And so you have to protect the rhythm. When you have a couple of people doing something, you have to be able to support that rhythm.
Well, I mean, that must have been good training to do. The two Mel Brooks movies are the three that you did. He was great.
And he, in fact, was the one sometimes at lunch because we would go to lunch every day. And I would talk about, you know, some of the guys I knew in Baltimore. And Mel was the one who actually said to me, well, why don't you write about those guys? And he in fact, he even said, you know, Fellini's film, you leave it alone. And he mentioned that is as an example. And then eventually I ended up doing diner.
But it was his encouragement because I had all these ideas, but I hadn't thought of it in film terms. And so he was very instrumental.
And you got to work with Harvey Korman again.
So know. But it was it was great. I mean, it was terrific at just the backtrack, just to give you about how crazy things are in terms of life. I said that George was the one that got me to go to the acting class and the acting class led to know meeting Craig and then doing work in clubs. And that led to this and one thing and the writing, et cetera, et cetera. And so I someone said to me after I'd done a bunch of things and they said, well, and I said, you know, George was very responsible for me in my career because he was on and said, hey, why don't we go up to Hollywood?
And this was so what happened to George? I said. I never saw him again from nineteen sixty eight. Well, what happened, Joe and I said, I don't know. I don't know what happened to him but he was instrumental in that first step. Now I go to a movie.
Yeah. In two thousand. Yeah. My wife goes to see the movie Blow Johnny Depp in the film and it starts at nineteen sixty eight Santa Monica, the beach. And I hear George and George and and then I hear the name George or George George. And then if you watch the film he beat this character becomes the largest cocaine dealer in North America. And I turned to my wife.
I said, that's George, that's George.
What are you talking about? The George? I've always mentioned to you that I got started, George. So I ended up getting into this. George ends up becoming the largest cocaine dealer in North America, ultimately went to prison, etc.. That's what the movie is all about right now. Here's what's crazy. Yeah, I he got out of prison and I called him. Yeah. And talked to him and he said, I got to tell you one thing.
It's crazy. You said, you know, you always used to say to me, you know, when I was, you know, smoking dope and stuff and selling little baggies et and so, George, you got to stop with that shit. You're going to get in trouble when you get those fucking car. You about that. You know that he said. So anyway, finally I get arrested. I'm being taken into the police station, I'm in handcuffs.
I'm going up the steps. I go into the police station, the Academy Awards is on and I'm looking up and it says and then best director for Ray Harryhausen. And he said that flashed in my head, George, you got to stop with the open throttle.
Is he so easy? Out still.
He's out still. Yes. That's crazy. In terms of, like, stories, how things go.
I mean, you know, hey, you never know, you know, different career paths, Berry. That's all. You know, it sounds like he did all right for himself for a while. For a while.
Yeah. It's a risky game. That's hilarious.
That's how you've reconnected with them.
It is sort of interesting that, you know, mentioning the difference in pace before everything was so technologized, you know, like that with with with phones and with everything else, that there was Gwang swaths of time where you just were out of contact with people.
No, no. Because you don't have a cell phone. You can't just pull it up. So unless somebody would have, like a post office box that they would have and they would go radically because everybody was moving around.
So your address was meaningless, right?
Your phone, every time you move the phone, would you cancel that? Yeah. And so it was very hard to stay connected. Sure. Sure. By wandering around and running into one another.
Yeah. And meeting with people. So so Mel inspired you to to kind of flesh out that story.
But clearly you had you like to write or it's like for me when I was reading over some of this stuff about you, I mean the fact that in the middle of everything else, at some point you wrote a novel to him like Jesus Christ, this guy really must love it because I can't stand it.
It's to me it's such a fucking chore. Even my own show. I didn't like writing.
So maybe it's just the nature of a comedian. I don't know. And I've written books, but it's like it's never fun. It's never fun.
But how are you going to be honest with you? Because I was such a bad student in school. Yeah. I mean, so I would literally fail almost all the time because I couldn't pay attention in the class. So I always thought everything was going in slow motion so I would fail. So I never thought of myself as being able to really do anything on an academic level at all. Yeah, and writing never occurred to me either it because whenever I had to write a paper, I used to get failing grades all the time.
So I never knew that I could write. And I thought, well, isn't this any good? You know, like as an example and this is like I think about the educational system that I sometimes really worry about. I had to write a book report and I did Catcher in the Rye, OK? So I wrote the book report as if my work was called. And Holden Caulfield. Yeah.
And I said, I really don't like the write book reports, I guess. But if I have to write a book report, I will. But you know, it's not something that I really am interested in. And that's how I did the book report. And of course I got a failing grade from it. And so I because I couldn't conform to the book report way of doing things. Yeah.
And and that's what. The only way I knew how to work is like whatever occurs to me right to tell the story, whether it's a book report or whatever, and it wasn't until much later that I began to say, oh, wait a minute, you can tell a story in another way. And as an accurate example, I don't want to go on about this. When when I when I did diner and the studio saw that and it said, you know, you have a lot to learn about editing.
And I said, what do you mean? He said, well, you know, it says, like, you know, he's going to eat the sandwich. You're not going to eat the sandwich. You know, they just talking about a sandwich.
The best scene in the movie.
It says Cut and just get to the story. And I said, that is the story.
And what I meant in a sense is I am telling a story, but I don't want to I don't want the story to just be the main up front on it. We will follow the story through this kind of seemingly meaningless conversations. But that's what we do. We don't express ourselves in such an articulate fashion. It's always sideways. If you're if you happen to be in love with somebody and you don't know how to talk to them about it, you don't just come right out and say it.
It's your you're going left and right, then whatever. You're never direct about it. And that's human behavior. But you can tell the story through that. And that's what I thought diner was. So there is a story, multiple stories, but I try to hide it with these conversations, but it tells you how close they are to one another.
Right. Well, that well, that's the interesting thing.
Thing about that, I guess that the network executive was thinking in terms of one through line, which in that movie it's sort of an umbrella, you know, the sort of the the pending marriage just becomes this umbrella for several different stories about characters.
And but they're all they all have their multiple stories to it, but it's hidden in that way, right? Yeah.
I mean, it's sort of like American Graffiti in that way and a kind of right. But yeah, I never thought about it until you were just talking about it that we know.
What is the story of that other than an evening before some kid goes to college? Yes.
No, and that and that's important, you know, as opposed to something that's important.
And that's why, you know, people connecting you make that you make that connection. You know you know what's so fascinating about it, about influences that you don't understand. You don't always understand what influences you in your life. And it wasn't until much later in life that I realized that Paddy Chayefsky and Marty was probably the most influential moment when I was a kid and I was watching Marty on television.
What do you want to do, Marty? What do you want to do, Marty?
I don't know. Angie, what do you want to do? Right. I thought that was literally the greatest thing I've ever heard in my life.
And I was a little kid and I'd always walk around in the house with my mother and father said, what do you want to do tonight, Marty? I don't know. What do you want to do? And, you know, what are you talking about? And I would do it all the time because I found it so fascinating to me right now. I didn't make any sense out of it at the time, but it was human. It was human.
And that's what Deianeira ultimately was. It was that and that was what I extracted from Chayefsky's Worth.
It felt like real life to you. Yeah, like this is how people talk. That's that's that's life and. Right. So there are these little influences that we don't always we're never smart enough to go, oh, you know what, I'm really influenced by some things. Just get in your head and years later you may make sense out of it. And I think that's what makes it exciting in terms of what I say, what we're able to do and in writing and directing.
And it's interesting because it seems like Chayefsky is like it seems like there is that you did you were kind of similar in a way with some of the movies, weren't you?
I mean, a little bit. And if I were to think about it, I mean, network. I mean, if you really think about network and some of the movies, the satires you did around television, you know. Yeah, yeah. You know, Wag the Dog, Jimmy Hollywood, you know, man.
I mean, thematically, it's similar. It's it's in the ballpark. Right. He was truly I mean, I would think of him as a truly, truly brilliant writer. And I would only be in the margins of that. But I do believe yes, it's like, look, if you're taking about the breakup of an American family, in a sense, and Avalon was like, you cut the turkey without me, you know, we leave. Right?
That and that it was. Just the turkey, it was the whole shift that was taking place, it was the change of the breakup of the family structure, all these things, and it comes out that way rather than this articulate version of, you know, two brothers. It's, you know, that that, in a sense was the breaking point. And as crazy as it is, it has its value rather than being so articulate and expressing ourselves.
Right. Yeah, right. Right. As opposed to sort of the the story points are sublimated in the characters, whereas you're not just sort of like, here's your act break. This is the point of this.
You know, it kind of sneaks up on you like it's it's almost like even in Rainman where, you know, that movie's really about a type of personality that kind of was was prominent in the 80s, that type of ambition and selfishness and the drive of the Tom Cruise's character that disables his ability to be empathetic to to the struggles of his brother, who he didn't know, and that, you know, he really is able to come back around and find his heart and his purpose, you know, through this brother and find out what's important in life, you know, relative to sort of you know, it really becomes almost about like, you know, aspiring to be a Gordon Gekko type of character or really engaging in in, you know, empathy and family and caring and understanding humanity.
Yeah, yeah. That's all in there. And you just have to put that all aside. And you just you just involved with the story, you know, and in that but that's that's one hundred percent. That's the case. Yeah.
And I mean, I just like I don't know how conscious you are of that in terms of, you know, creating these things that do, you know, represent a time or like, you know, even diner was a generational thing.
I mean, that's why there's a line that Kevin Bacon has very early on in terms of things that are beyond what they have been around is Kevin Bacon sees the girl on the horse and said, you ever think there's something going on that we don't know about?
You know, it's like write a girl in a horse and or whatever, and it's, you know.
Yeah, or whatever that there's something else out there.
Yeah. And his character is slightly more nihilistic than the other ones, for whatever reason. Yeah. I, I just remember all that because I remember seeing that and you know, you know, becoming fascinated with, with Reiser because it was at that time after you introduced me to Reiser and I, I went to the comic strip in New York and I wanted to do comedy and I remember because I knew Ricer from Diner and I saw him at the comic strip that night.
I approached him to ask him how to start doing comedy. And really.
Yeah, you know, he was just sitting there at the strip and I think I was like, I must have been in college. I don't remember when it was, but I just I asked him if I could sit with him a minute and talk to him. He said, all right. And I said, well, how do you how do you do comedy? How do you start doing comedy as a living? And he literally just said, I don't know, you just got to do it.
And I'm like, all right, that was it.
That was that was the big moment. But is it that's all I got out of Paul, you know, at that moment.
But it seems to me that over the course of your career that, you know, there are these human stories and I guess they're all human to a degree. But you certainly, you know, you didn't, you know, tether yourself to any one form as you've done every kind of fucking movie.
I mean, I watched a natural lot, I would say, out of all your movies, I watch that one the most.
I don't know why, but but I tend to I watch it on purpose more than than other ones, because it's just the look of it and the feel of it and the heroic tale.
And there's just something like the the reason I go back to it.
It's just the complete insanity of that Barbara Hershey character, like if you if you do anything that's recognized, you know, if your fame, if you in any way that woman's around and it's just that this is a terrifying thing, then it's you.
And I don't know what it is, what you know, it's amazing. And in some ways, it's like luck as well. The idea that, you know, Redford ultimately had because we had met we were talking about baseball and you said, you know, I got the script around here somewhere and he pulls it out and was a natural. It says, take a look at that and see what you think. Can I read it? I called him.
I said, gee, I think this is great. I didn't really know him well. I just met him and and he said, OK, good. And we ended up doing that film. Now, when I think back on it, here's here's this actor, this giant actor who also won an Academy Award as best director. And he ends up saying, yeah, yeah, you should direct this film. Yeah, I mean, it's it's such a leap of faith on his behalf, I guess.
Yeah. You're pretty early on. You've only done a couple of movies that you direct movie.
Well, that was it, I would say. And then the natural.
Yeah, but but the choice is in that because like, you know, if I read it, like, it's one of those things where, you know, like when I was in college studying film, I never really understood semiotics or the language of that, that that's that's a mythological story like as a film to study.
You know, it's almost a Homeric story, right?
Yeah, sure. And I guess it's that way in the book. But it's interesting to me to know that the book ends with him striking out and. Yeah. And like, you know, like that. And you second movie and you're given the script and the you know, Bernard Malamud, the hero strikes out.
There's no fucking way you could do that right now, you know. Yeah. Like I mean, did did that ever come up?
It you know, one day when we were we were cutting the film and, you know, he swings and misses, you know, that. And I said to the editor, why don't we, like, send this to the studio? Just you're afraid you're out. But we just put that in there and it goes to black and just send it to the studio. Can you imagine that they have a heart attack, you know, and you couldn't do it.
But there were all these changes along the way. The one thing that and I wish I would have known this at the time and I only heard about it later on, is that Malema who wrote this very American piece and but it didn't sell well and its time it wasn't a giant bestseller. And he went to supposedly, as I remember, is a long time to go now with his daughter. And they went to see the natural and he came out and she said, Dad, what do you think?
And he said, finally, I'm an American writer, really. And I thought, my God, I wish I wouldn't have I would have known that, you know, at the time. I mean, so, you know, he was able to enjoy it, even though we have to make these kinds of changes within it. Yeah, but initially, the critics never could get over that. Well, that he didn't just strike out, you know, because it was like, well, in the book he strikes out.
So they wrote they were not happy about that, that the film was attacked because he he hit a home run and he didn't strike out.
And the movie, apparently, they just can't quite understand the Jews legacy in Hollywood. We are here to create America and make it happy.
Yes. I thought you said you wouldn't you wouldn't accept us on any level until we made these dreams for you.
See, the guy wins in the end.
And it made Bernard feel America had finally realized, like, I don't have to be depressed. You know, maybe, maybe, maybe there's hope. That's too much, man. So you stayed pretty close with Robin the whole time, right?
Yes, yes, no. It was it was such a shock. You know, Interm, it was such a shock and it's one of those things when you suddenly you've got to get a phone call and say Román committed suicide. I mean, it was like devastated. It was it's hard to to even talk about it because it's somehow you couldn't even envision anything like that. Yeah. He was such a great character. And and. And in some ways, you know, he had such a great empathy for people as well.
I mean, he was he was really had a childlike fascination for for a number of things and people and everything else. So when I when I got that phone call, I was like, you don't know why.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, because I think it seems that good morning. Vietnam really was the beginning in a way of of.
You know him in terms of feature films. That was the thing that it was perfect for him. Yeah, and you kind of you knew that you knew it and we worked on it to get that because I thought that was the key thing to it.
You know, even though the radio stuff is only 12 minutes of the movie, you know, it's something like that was it was it was an exciting balance because, you know, he had done, I think, a few movies before that where he tried to just be a serious actor, but to incorporate that side of him effectively in a way that, you know, wasn't just eating scenery but had a purpose. And then to sort of counterbalance it with his empathy was, you know, that was the trick, right?
Yeah. And you and you had to balance the the empathy of it because it's very easy in a sense, where it's too much because he does feel that much.
So sometimes on screen you have to say, look, we got to back up a little bit, you know, otherwise it's too much because he had such a heart to that literally.
You don't want to you don't get sappy, you don't want to get sappy.
And you had to restrain that a little bit to pull that in, to get that, you know, so you get real hands on sometimes with the actors in terms of when you do.
I mean, I like you know, I was sort of you can say it's like a controlled freedom is that I want an actor to feel very free with it to try any particular thing. But at the same time, you know, there's a limitation to it. But you don't want to you don't want to push the limitation because that would restrict what we might do, you know, because, you know, there's these moments. So it goes this way or that way.
And and it was very if there was a lot of fun to take certain scenes and then just see what would happen if we did this right. And and, for instance, there's a scene in the film. And I said to him one day, I said, you know, I have to find a scene for you where you see your how how much you mean to the troops, because otherwise it's an abstract. You're you're in a radio booth and you're doing this comedy, but you don't hear laughs.
And so therefore you don't know cause and effect, really.
You know that they like you, but you don't hear it. You don't hear it. You're never there. And so you said, well, what are we going to do? I said, why not? And so I said, why don't we just have like there's a traffic jam and all the trucks are backed up and then you're stuck and they and somehow they know what to you. And then you start and then you end up doing it to the you start playing around with the soldiers and we and now you've got the cause and effect and you see how important you are to these soldiers.
Oh, yeah. And I'm sure Robin really fought that idea. I bet you had to perform for people that had done it.
And that's how that sort of came about. And it is tough. It was tough for him in this regard because a bunch of these, you know, because we're over there in Thailand and I end up throwing this thing and now we got to get like soldiers. Right? Right. And so we end up with just getting a bunch of people. And then some of them were like, you know, from other countries. They don't even understand English.
Right. So they don't know what the hell he's saying, OK? And he had to find a way to work with that.
Oh, that must have been great for him.
I know, because, you know, he's got to adapt to it and you're so smart you'd find ways to just buy sounds and physicalize. So, yeah. And they'll pull it, pull people in.
And he's a sweet guy. I mean, I guess it's terribly sad. And, you know, when you think about it, he's definitely missed. And I just think, like what you're talking about is empathy and stuff.
He's a very really when you talk to him or when you know him for a little bit, he's very quiet, shy guy.
You know, like he's just. Yes, definitely absorbing things and, you know, engaged. But, you know, by nature, not, you know, he had to turn that shit on, you know.
Yep. Yep, absolutely. Yeah.
So the other thing I was realizing about I mean, obviously with Avalon, you kind of depicted where you come from.
But I was thinking about Bugsy, like because I always think about that movie.
And I just had this realization this morning that, like with because I remember knowing enough about the mob to know that Warren Beatty was much older than Bugsy ever made it to.
Yeah, but I don't know, ten, ten, twelve years. But then I started to realize, like with these stories, what fucking difference does it make, right.
Yeah, right. She wasn't Bugsy. He wasn't the thirty. He was only thirty nine. Right.
But but like but you know, there's the idea of historical accuracy is relative in some cases. In the cases of these mythic stories about, you know, criminals or cowboys or whatever, it doesn't matter, you know what I mean? It's really about the story, right?
Yes, it's the character that that's being portrayed as opposed to the authenticity of like age or other certain things, because, you know, look, yes, sometimes you can take sometimes you can stray too far. And therefore, it ultimately undermines the character because you've so altered it that it doesn't quite work or make sense. But in terms of age, at times it doesn't matter unless the age is really an issue in the film. I mean, I was twenty five and died and he did that.
And you got a guy who 50 doesn't work. So I think whenever you're doing a film you always have to sort of say, how important is this to the story we're telling. Yeah. And how much will it, how much will it affect how we process it? Yeah.
And I didn't realize until, like maybe today that, you know, you kind of invented or was at the beginning of this prestige TV idea, the idea that you seem to be one of the first to figure out that you could do TV with the same quality of movies, even on an episodic level. Right. With with Homicide and. Yeah.
And Oz for sure. I look I look because I came out of television and television has an important place as opposed to just features, because when I originally got the book, Simon's Book on Homicide, it was about developing it as a film. And I thought, no, it's better as a television series because you can just let these stories play out. And then fortunately, at that time, I was able to I said, look, I'd like to shoot it, because back then it was like, well, you you do some exteriors and you do all the interiors.
And yeah. And I thought, well, that's not going to be realistic to me. And I said, I'd like to shoot it in Baltimore. Yeah. And they said, well, the cost or whatever. And I said, well what we'll do is we'll just basically shoot on 60 millimeter, which is Super 16, which no network show was ever on Super 16 and no show was hand-held on Super 16. What would they do?
What would they take out their thirty five millimeter on the street? Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so I thought by having a little handheld Super 16, you know, we can have a raggedness and let the raggedness be part of the show. Dreiser's edginess about it. And I thought and again, it goes back to my youth. I loved Naked City when I was a kid. I loved that television show. And that was shot on the streets of New York.
And so I thought, gee, I wonder if I could just do that for Baltimore. And and we can be even more ragged than Naked City. Sure. In its time. And so that's how it evolved.
And with Simon happy with it initially, has he always been a goal? He was. I mean, that's that's when you started to write because we brought in and he became one of the writers on the show, and that's where he started to make that real transition from a journalist to a writer.
And he said, you got Richard Belzer, a new life.
Yes. I heard we were about to cast some other actor. And I thought, you know, this guy is not bad, but I don't know how surprising. So maybe I need against some guy that some and I couldn't quite explain it. So maybe some guy that is something different or whatever. And I was riding in my car and I was listening to Howard Stern and Belzer was on Howard Stern. Yeah. And I was listening to him and the rhythms that he had.
And I thought, gee, I wonder if you can you can be an actor. And so he came in, he read it wasn't particularly good. And and I said, well, why don't we come back one more time and just sort of you kind of know it. So you're like you're just talking like you would do if you're doing you're a standup and just so it's more naturalistic. And he he got better. He wasn't great at that time.
But I thought, you know, with a little bit more time, I think he can he can land this character. And it happened.
And I didn't realize also before I forget that, that you wrote and Justice for All. Yeah. With was she your wife at the time?
Yes. Valerie Yeah.
So you wrote your on this whole Battle of the Year. That's one of those Marty lines, right? Yeah.
Yes, it is. Yeah, very much so. That came about because of the diner guys that grew up and some one in particular became a lawyer. And so when I would go back and visit and we would talk in the. Selimi is the legal system is so screwed up. You said you always get this Perry Mason kind of law shows or whatever it is, it's chaos, it's chaos and it's madness.
And so we started talking and he was telling me stories and I started gathering the stories and and then I was telling, you know, Valerie.
And then ultimately we we we we turned it into a screenplay of The Chaos.
That is exactly what Jeffrey Tambor throwing those plates in the hallway.
Yeah, no, it's the friend of mine was saying you don't understand. And he was telling me about the fact that some judges carried guns in the courtroom because he was so good with a gun and stuff.
And he was telling me he said it's another you don't understand how crazy people coming in to look for a case or whatever, and they don't they got the wrong client. I mean, he said, you have many, many stories and that's how it happened.
And that was that movie did well. And that was how did that get set up? Would you listen?
And everything that we wrote it and we gave it to a producer named Joe Esan. Yeah. And Joe BISAN gave it to Norman Jarocin, who really responded to it. And then he was he wanted Pacino. Then basically Al wanted a big reading of it. I have some reading to make sure that that's what he wanted to do, which I have to tell you was one of the worst experiences that I can remember, because Jouissance got all these actors and in this conference room in the evening start to go good.
And then Al gets a little quieter because he's thinking because now I know well, he's getting a little quieter. So then the other actors not wanting to show a lot, they get a little quiet. Yeah. And then Al is like thinking as he's going over this now, he's taking a long time to say things. Now they're getting a little slower. Yeah. So it's getting quieter and then it's getting slower and slower and slower to the point that I don't even know what the story was anymore.
I couldn't even I looked at Valerie. So what in the world is a disaster? A total disaster?
Go back to the hotel. It's about one o'clock in the morning. And Joe was in calls and says Al loves it.
And that's how it happened.
And he was a big star at that time. Right. That was first time is one of the great, great actors.
I've had such a good time.
I'll tell you, man, the the the Kevorkian movie, the you don't know Jack.
You did that for HBO, right? Yeah.
I really think that's really one of the best performances out of him ever is amazing is that he's amazing and he's so he's so great in a sense to work with and throw ideas around, etc. and he and he just absorbed certain things, you know, and then he's able to use it. Because I said to him before we started shooting, I met with Kevorkian. And so we sit down at the office and at some point someone came and said, Jack, would you like some coffee?
And he said, Yeah, of course it'd be good. And he said they said decaf. And he said, decaf is for cowards.
And and and I laughed and he smiled and went out. And then I realized he's got this real sense of humor about them. So I said to Al, I said, we have to find little places where we can have a little bit of humor to. This character will make it a richer character because he actually is funny at times. Yeah. Here's Dr Death, but he's actually has a sense of humor.
And so he said, OK, I so I'll find places for it where we can, we can just sort of mind that periodically and which we were able to add to it. And he just he'll go, he'll try things. I mean he is very open and just I can't say enough about him.
But for me the interesting thing was there was a period there where, you know, he he did a couple of roles that were were so defining and but they were so over the top, you know, scent of a woman, Scarface.
The thing is, how do these method guys, how do these huge stars from the 70s, specifically him and DeNiro, you know, how do they age how do they keep working?
You know, and DeNiro sort of found this new life in comedy, you know, where he can parody himself pretty well, but he can also do the other thing.
But he you know, but it's very difficult for some actors not to become this sort of collection of habits and tics that they can just fill up again.
You know, so for me, like when I watched a Kevorkian, I was like.
He's so capable, they both are, actually, because even De Niro in that movie, the intern, the one he did with Anne Hathaway, it's actually a great performance.
But the way that that Pacino can tap into vulnerability, because I mean, that's really what made him amazing in the 70s, was that even as Michael Corleone, the evolution of that character from this, the vulnerability that he's capable of. Yeah, like it seemed to have come back to me.
I could see it in the Kevorkian thing and I could see him using his chops in a way like he's not a caricature of himself, you know?
No, not no, not at all. I mean, look, I think it depends on the on the role that you take on Ryan.
Will you work with De Niro, too, on the Madoff thing, right?
Yes. Yeah. And that's a very quiet, very quiet character. Yeah. For sure that the DeNiro did. And I thought he was spectacular in that.
Do they work similarly? No, they're they're different, they're very different in their approach. How so? It because when they're doing it, I should say this, when they're actually doing a scene, I think that they're they're the same and that they had this instinct. They're great at listening. You know, they're great listeners. Yeah. And that's one of the key things in terms of a talented actor, is that they'll hear something and they're responding in a way that we gravitate to like want to watch their face because there's something about it that compels us to stare at that at that screen.
They both have that ability to to to listen and are very open to things that'll will happen that they can be spontaneous with. They won't be like something. A line is being said. Wait a minute, he didn't say that line right there in the scene. And they're going and things will happen.
And you'll if you're if you got the camera in the right place for it, you can pick up another special moment here and there. And so they're very spontaneous. Yeah.
Jeff Daniels once told me he was very emphatic about it, about movie actors.
It's like you got to learn how to work your face. It's all you get. It's all it's all about the face, you know? And I never really thought about that. I'm paraphrasing, but he was very emphatic about it, that all the acting in movies is the most of it is the face.
It's the face and it's the eyes. You know, I know that sounds like crazy in a way, but I mean, I think there's a scene with. Bob, when he is in prison and made off and he is looking at this piece of footage on the computer and you just see him staring at the screen, you know, at that computer screen and staring at it. And it's he's mesmerized totally in it. Yeah, yeah.
And then I'll cut. It's not like you staying in a car and it's like, okay. And then he walks away. Yeah. Yeah. I thought I seen him work.
I worked with him briefly in that I was in a scene in the Joker. So I got to spend like a week or like three or four days on set with him working.
But the weird thing is you watch him because you like he didn't have to do a lot for that role.
You know, he was just like a talk show host.
But but it's sort of interesting to see, you know, what I saw that day. And I'm thinking like, how the fuck are they going to put this together? And then you watch it and you're like, oh, my God.
Like, you know what they know about themselves and their process and how they do the work after so long. I can see how it was all going to work when I was there. But it was perfect. You know, it's kind of astounding.
It is. I mean, it's a gift. You know, in the end of the day, there are these people who have this kind of gift and they know how to they know how to develop it. Yeah.
And Paterno was great, too. That's a difficult character with these like these three movies or the Madoff, the Kevorkian and Paterno. Were they were they brought to you or did you were those your ideas?
They all came to me initially. And then ultimately, I worked with the writers on developing and sort of so Kevorkian came to me and then just sort of developed it along. And that applies to, you know, all three of them because. And there's a process because as you go along, you know, things are going to change and evolve, and then you have to figure out how best to to to create a moment or define a moment a little bit more, which is, you know, it's all part of the building process of doing a film.
It's not like you can show up one afternoon to here's the script and you go shoot it because you've got all these all these departments have to ultimately fit in like a glove because what is the cinematography going to be like? How do you what kind of what color palette are you working with? Yeah. What kind of what kind of architecture is going to be around it as well, because all of those things influence a given scene. It's like I said to someone one time that if you wrote a scene and it's supposed to be outside, you know, on on a tree lined street and you're going to shoot it in a kitchen, you just can't move it to the kitchen and it's going to work.
And sometimes you have to play around with it because or you'll say, wouldn't it be better if we did it this way as opposed to that way? So there's all these variables that hopefully you get it right as you go along with the process. If there's nothing there's nothing mechanical about filmmaking. It is it requires a combination of elements that have to come together. And you've got to get those unit functioning in a certain way to support.
Right now, you've made a ton of movies. Some have done better than others. Do you do you look at are there movies that you've done where you're like, wow, that one didn't quite come together?
You know, here's the thing. I seldom watch films that I've done once I've finished it. Yeah. Sometimes if I'm sitting and I'm switching channels and I start to watch for a minute and say, oh, I did that movie, and then immediately I switched to another channel.
That's why I don't I don't know how to watch it once it's done, because what am I doing? I'm just watching. What for? Just the entertainment value of it. You know, it's it's like I did that.
So it just, you know, so your memories tied up with that process are what they are. So you're not going to be seeing things right.
You to be able to remove yourself from that. Like, I can't imagine watching one of your movies. And there's a moment like now this fucking.
Yeah, that was a pain in the ass. That's right. Yeah. Yeah.
Like, I, I went to a festival a few years ago and they wanted to show Rain Man at the festival. That was a big, big audience. And so I thought, you know, you go there and et cetera and they introduce you etc. and then they're going to show the movie. And I said, well, then I'll sneak out and the festival dance tonight and you can't leave. You can't leave. I said, no, I don't.
I don't want to stay and watch. And he said, well, you can they would be offended somewhere in Europe. Yeah, they'll be offended if you don't stay for the film or whatever.
So I sat and watched it on the big screen and which was the first time I saw the movie since nineteen eighty eight.
Yeah. Yeah. And I had to sit there and watch it, which I enjoyed it. But the it's very hard to, to watch, you know, just to see what you've done in the past. But don't you.
Like, I used to have a hard time watching myself to stand up. It was obviously different. But as time has gone on, I realized, like when I watched the things, I'm like, well, that was pretty good.
You know, I was me. That's a good representation of what I do. Yeah, I've evolved that, obviously.
But, you know, I don't have to hate it. Right. But you don't hate your movies, right? You just.
No, no, no, I don't. I just I figure I can there's I can use that time better by switching to another channel.
That that's the other guy that I couldn't think of. It's De Niro, Pacino and Hoffman. Those were the guys those were that generation of method movie stars, and they're all totally different. They are they how they go about things. Yeah, I mean, Dustin is is a character unto himself, you know, in another place. And the and you have to figure out. And part of the fun of of of of the process is figuring certain things out, like very early on.
Just remembering this is so long ago, but we're doing this scene, are you working on both of them and Wag the Dog if it's really sad?
Yes, both scream Wag the Dog. And but I just tell you one quick thing with with becomes a character. Moment is on Ringman, you sitting with Tom Cruise and this little coffee shop. And I said to Dustin, I said, the character, this is very early on day one, day two somewhere in there. I said, the character seems too depressed to me, you know? And I said, you know, you've seen from all the research about autistics, they're busy.
They're busy. Like, you know, they've been looking up at the ceiling. They're how many tiles, how many of this they're looking they're they're active. They're not just sitting depressed. He said, OK, all right. So now we got to do the take again. And now he's looking up. He's involved right now. Tom's talking to Ray. Do you want to so-and-so? And he doesn't respond. Ray, do you want to cut Dustin?
He's he's talking to you is supposed to say, you know, you have to respond to me. Yeah. But I got so involved with the tiles and the ceiling, then I wasn't paying attention to them so that if you're going to do that, we're going to have a very serious problem with this movie. You have to be able to do acknowledge him at some point in time, not right away, but you have to acknowledge them. But I got involved.
And so if you watch the movie, I said, think of it this way, you're busy with the tiles in the ceiling and you're counting and etc. But you can hear him. You know, you can hear him. So you can just maybe just going, yeah, yeah, yeah. But you're busy, but yeah, yeah. And so when we do that now we did it and it was great network and then that's if you ever watch the film.
It's all through the film. Yeah. That's the device. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And that became a whole thing because he got so involved and whatever he was looking at that he was no longer in the seat. And so you have to find a way to. So that was it was a yes.
Or him coming back to reality. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
You're holding them off. You don't want to pay attention until you really realize what it is you want, then it's like now and that and that.
And he was able to integrate into that, into the character because it made sense to him.
Yeah. Yeah. And so that was like the hook in the movie. That was, that was the impression that people did and that.
Yes, exactly. And that became a thing. Now it's accidental and it's because of that.
But I'm saying that's what that's what happens with film, with characters that you're working with, is that you have to find a way. You can't just say, no, you can't do it. You have to say this and then it's more mechanical. But this became something that we didn't I didn't know that it would.
But as it went along, you went, oh, yeah, yeah, it can work here. It'll work here.
It's like the kids like the key to the guy element that was. Yes, yeah.
That we can step on it and you stumble on.
It's not in the script, it just becomes amazing. And that's part of the discovery and the fun of it when you're open enough to see where it's going to take you.
Yeah. You never sure. But you got to you got to explore it. Otherwise you're going to go that then it's just by the numbers. And in the end of the day with a film we respond to certain things about character and that's becomes so important is the character that carries the day.
Yeah. And so that's that's what happened. But it's interesting that all those movie, you know, all these moments in at least in the few movies of yours that we, you know, talked about in depth. Where, you know, at least in diner. And in Rain Man and that these moments that become signature moments are exactly that, those Mardie moments, you know, really yelling and justice for all sort of.
Yeah, yeah. What do you do, Marty? Well, you want to do more and like, you know, you can eat that. I'm not comfortable with the word nuance, whatever it is. You know, these are like they're they would be passing moments, you know.
Yes. If they weren't.
Yeah. Yeah. And then they become crucial. And that becomes when an audience Artemia connects to. Yeah. You know, and and even when Robin. Yeah.
The Good Morning Vietnam thing, did that guy actually say it like that or was that a Robin thing. Good morning. I'm not sure I can't remember anymore. I don't know if he did it the same way, but I think he did. You know, something in that ballpark?
Yeah, I was just thinking about Chayefsky again. When was the last time you watched the movie Hospital? It is funny because it's one of my favorite movies, that scene in that scene in the beginning about about, you know, that he's dead, you know, so and so's dead in the bed. OK, so what do you mean is that he's he's tone. So, you know, that that that little run in the beginning of that film is extraordinary.
Yeah, I just watched it again. It is it is one of the darkest satires that was made at that time because it is a satire, you know, but it starts with that thing, you know, so, so and so in room 103 or whatever, it is dead in that.
And what do you mean is that that whatever that were that run is I can't even paraphrase it right now.
Dr. Shafer, our doctor. Yeah. And then George C. Scott comes in and is finally saying something like, where do you train your your your nurses that that's how you got go.
Yeah, it's priceless. Yeah.
That movie, that movie I can watch over and over when Chayefsky had moments and certain moments, it just it just the dialogue just shines in and in a way that is so amazing. Yeah. That's so character driven. Those kinds of moments even in network dude don't.
I mean that Ned Beatty monologue in Network is crazy.
But again that moment that grounded it in the moment that that he does it resonates with you. Where, where, where Finch looks up at him and goes, why are you telling me this?
And he goes, because you're on TV, dummy.
But and then like, oh, I've seen the face of God.
Yeah, yes, yeah. And what's so great about it is if in talking about television and you start talking about the influence of television. Right. Right.
But there's that moment where he's going to have meddled with the private and then he stops and goes, am I getting through to you?
You're like that. Like he stops the pitch to go, Oh, that's great and great shit.
I mean, look, television is one of the the forces that has changed mankind in ways that we still have yet to understand.
I mean, even going back to talking about, you know, Stars and Stripes and everything else in terms of the world that we live in today, television television's influence is so gigantic in terms of it has shaped everything.
And certainly in terms of politics, because politics is all based on television, it seems to me that that, you know, outside of whatever experience you had in the soil billed to, you know, becoming the writer and then the director, it seemed like, you know, that the future was sort of laid out for you in that control room in Baltimore. In essence.
True. But you can't see it in advance. I mean, you can't you can't go. Oh, here we go.
I mean, just the puppet experience alone and the, you know, realizing how things fit together and then, you know, troubleshooting when you don't even have to. I mean, that moment where the guy is like, we're now we're going to show you the beginning of the movie. I mean, yeah, that's a that's an important lesson to learn.
You know, it's you know, no, no, no. It's fun because, you know, if you go all the way back to Ranger Hal Wright, that was a local a local children's show.
Yeah. Nine to ten. Yeah. And you would do the hand puppets and and I it seems odd to say this, but, you know, the idea I was doing the hand puppets and we would play like a Beatles song and they had never done that, you know. And I had Marvin Monkey, you know, is Ringo Starr playing the drums and things and just make up some crazy stuff. Yeah.
You have to go full creative freedom. Yes. It's whatever you can figure out to go do. And you grab some stuff and you try different things and some stuff, you know, actually got a little attention, you know, but it was like, what would you do here? You got some puppets, you know, a little hand puppets, what can you do with them? And then you start to figure out what this might be fun. Yeah.
And then those puppets become, you know, Pacino and De Niro and Hoffman.
So that's good.
You did good. You did all right for yourself. Yeah. You're dealing with top notch puppets now.
Yeah. You hadn't thought of it in those terms. It was great.
Great talking to you. Very. Oh, it's fun. Yeah. Man, take care of yourself.
Thank you very much. All right. What a great. That was great, I enjoyed that immensely. Again, his documentary that he produced Stars and Stripes is now available on most video on demand platforms. And it just started running this week on Starz. I wish I'd remember that Craig Denilson was had a big part and justice for all before I watched it the other night after I talked to Barry, we could have talked a little bit about that, but he must have gotten that gig right.
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