Peter Davison (The Bat Segundo Show)

Peter Davison played the fifth incarnation of Doctor Who! But he also delivers numerous charming performances in A Very Peculiar Practice, All Creatures Great and Small, At Home with the Braithwaites and The Last Detective.

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(Many thanks to Roger Bilheimer for his great help in making this improbable conversation happen and to Yashoda Sampath for consulting on extremely pedantic Who matters in preparation for this talk.)

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Stumbling around his motel room for a celery stick.

Guest: Peter Davison

Subjects Discussed: Whether Davison is a PBS manifestation or a corporeal entity, why Davison tends to avoid psychotic roles, the BBC’s austere costume policy, Davison’s cricket skills, the thespic advantages of keeping your hands in your pockets or behind your back, working with Roger Daltrey, film vs. TV continuity, Davison’s secret aspirations as a pop singer, “Doctor in Distress,” working with the same writer and director for A Very Peculiar Practice, single directors vs. many directors on television, Peter Grimwade’s mysterious ousting as director on Doctor Who, the regrettable deficiencies of “Time Flight,” the inside story on “No, not the mind probe,” when directors don’t even notice line delivery, the live theater approach to doing television, working with Peter Moffatt and Graeme Harper, how Who directors are chosen and how this affects acting and production, why Davison left Who, the slim advance notice that Davison got in relation to stories, the importance of humor in Doctor Who, conflicts with John Nathan-Turner, the problems with having an American companion, Davison’s creative input on Who, the difficulties of playing the Doctor, problems with Season 20, being confronted with the blank slate of virtue, John Nathan-Turner’s middling efforts to make companions more interesting, mew Who vs. old Who, theories that Rose as the most important character in the new series, Mark Strickson’s frustrations, holding up wobbly sets and flimsy production values, acting when the wrong set was lit, whether any virtues and production techniques have been lost from old Who, the disconnect between what’s inside your head as an actor and what’s on camera, Davison having to change appearance after Doctor Who, the burdens of Who, Tom Baker, choosing variegated roles, and Davison ensuring that he’s not defined by notoriety.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: You know, I always wondered if you were a manifestation on PBS. But now I actually know that you’re corporeal. You’re here.

Davison: (laughs) I have the same feeling myself sometimes.

Correspondent: Oh you do? How do you distinguish between that? I mean, when you go and perform a role, are you in a fugue state? Do you know who you are when you’re playing it? Do you summon some abstruse emotional energy?

Davison: No. What happens with me is a form of — it sometimes has to be very quick — osmosis. You start off with a blank page and, as you get familiar with the script, the character is joined to you. Like barnacles or something.

Correspondent: I see Tristan off your shoulder right now.

Davison: Exactly. And you do start, depending on the parts you play — you bring them home with you sometimes. If you are playing a bit of a psychotic character, it can mean trouble at home.

Correspondent: But you haven’t really been playing much in the way of psychotic characters.

Davison: No. I think that’s a good thing. (laughs)

Correspondent: I mean, you’re too nice a guy? Have you had a great desire to chew the scenery like that?

Davison: You know, every so often. I have made a career of playing fairly nice guys. And I’m very happy doing that. But every so often.

Correspondent: Very nice doing that.

Davison: Thank you very much. But every so often, you just kind of get a feeling. You just want to be play a nasty character. And fortunately, usually when those feelings come about, one comes along that you like and you’ll accept it. I played a bit of a bad guy recently in an episode of Lewis, which is a British detective series.

Correspondent: Oh really? How evil were you for this?

Davison: I was pretty nasty, actually. I was very much a…

Correspondent: You pushed ladies downstairs? Widmark style?

Davison: I kill people.

Correspondent: You kill people?

Davison: And make them disappear. But in a nice and charming smiley way.

Correspondent: So I’m going to have to ask you about one of the reasons why you’re here. Doctor Who. And I”m going to try and do it through a few unusual angles. There’s one thing I have noticed. I know that when Tom Baker left, he took his boots with him. And during the early run of Doctor Who, you’re wearing what I guess is your own sneakers. Is that true? Is that safe to say? Does the BBC actually allow you your own? Did they actually make shoes for you? Or did you have to come in with your own footwear?

Davison: Oh no, no, no. You have proper costume fittings and people sit down for long periods of time and discuss what you’re going to wear. And I think they were pretty much off-the-peg shoes. But the BBC did pay for them.

Correspondent: Oh, okay.

Davison: And the rest of the outfit.

Correspondent: So you can wear them home.

Davison: Well, no. They wouldn’t trust you to bring it back in the morning.

Correspondent: Oh really? Well, what input did you have into the design of the Doctor’s costume? How was it like for you? I mean, how strict were they? I know you’ve said in other interviews that there were some bizarre union restrictions in which lights went out at 10 or something.

Davison: Oh, the whole thing in those days was a very complex procedure. I mean, I had input into my outfit. But it was very much not in specifics. The producer said, “We’re looking for something that’s more youthful and slightly more energetic and sportier.”

Correspondent: Cricket says youthful.

Davison: And I thought cricket fitted the bill exactly. So I suggested the idea of a cricket outfit. If I’m honest with you, I would have chosen a more off-the-peg look. It was a bit too designer for me. Because the idea with the TARDIS is a room somewhere in the depths of the TARDIS in which is a whole range of clothes. And when the Doctor regenerates, he simply goes into the room and he goes, “Ah, there’s this bit here. I’ll try this on here.” And he comes out with a kind of thrown together outfit. With my outfit, it just seemed like it probably wasn’t sitting around on a peg, which is what I didn’t like about it. On the other hand, I thought it had a very good style to it. I was very happy with it in the end.

Correspondent: You showed off your cricket skills in “Black Orchid.” What were your cricketing skills before that? Or was that pure acting?

Davison: No, no. It wasn’t. I’m not bad at cricket.

Correspondent: Really?

Davison: Compared to most actors, who are pretty rubbish.

Correspondent: You’re not going to name names.

Davison: I could actually, but I won’t. But in one of the scenes there, you can clearly see me actually bowl somebody out. Which I was very fortunate that they were able to get it into the shot. So I wasn’t bad. I was very happy to do that.

Correspondent: While we’re talking about physicality, I have to ask. So I watched a good deal of the Doctor Who run yet again — after many, many years — that you did. And the one thing I noticed is that you kept your hands in your pocket or behind your back quite a bit.

Davison: Yes.

Correspondent: And I’m wondering if you were just a spastic guy or a guy who gesticulates. If this was an effort to try to prevent yourself from doing that on camera.

Davison: (laughs)

Correspondent: Because sometimes you have your hands in your pocket and they’re clenched in there like you know your hands are going to go free. So what of this?

Davison: Well, I don’t know where it first came out. I think probably it just came out of — I played a role before Doctor Who in All Creatures Great and Small.

Correspondent: Yes. That’s right. Tristran.

Davison: Unfortunately, Tristran, I think, is described as forever having his hands in his pockets. So that became such a kind of…

Correspondent: The Davison crutch?

Davison: Yes! A Davison crutch. Absolutely. But I think it just carried on a bit. And probably it shouldn’t have done. On the other hand, I have to say — you know, I did a series about three or four years ago with Roger Daltrey. You know, of The Who.

Correspondent: Oh yeah.

Davison: He played a part. And we were having this scene together in the pub. And we’d do a shot on him where he was doing his lines talking to me. And then we’d do another shot from another angle. And the continuity person would keep coming up to him, going, “Uh, Roger, you raised your hand in the air on this shot. And you put your hand on the drink in this shot. And you put your hand in your pocket on that shot.” And he got into such a terrible state. And nothing was ever said to me. And he said to me, “How come you’re so good at this?” And I said, “Because I never do anything with my hands.” (laughs) By the way, it’s a great advantage to put your hands in your pockets. Because no one comes up to you and says, “Ah! You did this with this hand here.” I think I probably overdid it.

Correspondent: Well, how rigid were the script supervisors, or continuity, during the BBC days in the ’80s and the ’90s? Were they really as anal as they are now? Or what?

Davison: You know, in my experience — and I’ve had a relatively tiny experience in film — but in television, they’re absolutely spot on. You rarely — you do get mistakes. But I’ve seen more mistakes in movies — in editing and things where people’s positions and hands and props and which hand they held their things up in — than I have done in television. They’re pretty good in television. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that the actors in television are doing a lot of things. They’re fairly disciplined, I think, TV actors. And maybe film actors somehow are, shall we say, maybe less disciplined. Maybe more inspirational. Maybe more original in some areas. But less disciplined. And I certainly notice more mistakes watching the average film than I did in watching TV.

Correspondent: So I have to ask. We talked cricket beforehand. I had heard some sort of rumor that you were pursuing a career as a pop singer roughly around the time of All Creatures Great and Small and even while you were playing Doctor Who!

Davison: How? Where did you hear that? (laughs)

Correspondent: I have my sources. And I was hoping to go ahead and, before they continue on the Internet, to actually get the hard journalistic truth. Did you have pop singer aspirations?

Davison: I did. Well, I’ve always written songs.

Correspondent: Oh you do?

Davison: Yeaaaaaah.

Correspondent: There are loads of tapes hidden in your basement?

Davison: Loads of tapes. And I still have a little mini-studio in my house.

Correspondent: Really?

Davison: Yeah. And I still do stuff. But I think I’ve rather given up the idea of becoming a pop idol.

Correspondent: But do you still record?

Davison: Actually, I do still record stuff. And there was a time — I suppose it was about that time — where I thought, “You know, I’d be really good to just get a band together,” and not use my name. I didn’t want to try and sell it as Peter Davison doing it. So I’d just get a band and just get some songs together and just see what happens with them. If one wasn’t pushing it from a point of view. Because I think it’s a kiss of death. Actors saying they’re in a band. So I just wanted to do it from an entirely different angle.

Correspondent: Or in the case of Doctor Who, “Doctor in Distress.” It was disastrous.

Davison: Absolutely. But it came to grief, for a bizarre reason, that musicians have a completely different lifestyle to actors. It seems like they would be very close, but we would do things like we would call a rehearsal session. Seven o’clock in the evening. So I’d be there at seven o’clock. This was just rehearsal. Seven o’clock in the evening. And then at about 11 PM, the bass player would turn up. Then at about 1:00 in the morning, the lead guitarist would turn up. And at about half past two, we’d actually get enough people there to actually start rehearsing. By which time, it wasn’t long before dawn was breaking. And I was exhausted! ‘Cause I’m not used to it. Musicians just have this idea, you know. “Aw yeah, let’s just do a little bit of jamming for a couple of hours and then let’s get down to it.” So I realized really — although I loved doing it, I didn’t have the mentality of a musician, of a band member. I was a bit too conformist even for that. I thought actors were fairly unconformist.

Correspondent: Well, A Very Peculiar Practice, I know, that you had basically one writer and one director through a good chunk of the run. Do you prefer that kind of constancy as an actor? As a performer? That this is actually better for you? Do you get nervous if there’s a constant shuffle of directors?

Davison: It depends on what it is. I’ve done a couple of series where the same director has directed all the episodes. I did a series called A Very Peculiar Practice. One director. All Creatures Great and Small, The Last Detective — you’re right. We had different directors coming in actually for most of the episodes. But you still have the same crew coming on every week. You have a certain amount of consistency. It’s just — it’s horses for horses. Series television, I think, is quite good to get varied directors in. Because it just gives it a different spark. A different style to the episode. Whereas if you’re doing a serial, I think it’s important to have, at the most, two directors. Ideally one director. ‘Cause they know exactly what they’re doing.

Correspondent: Speaking of directors, I’m hoping you might be able to provide some light on this rumor involving Peter Grimwade. Director of “Earthshock” and “Kinda.” The story goes — at least promulgated by Eric Saward — that he actually snubbed John Nathan-Turner, didn’t invite him to a party. And then Peter Grimwade eventually was just doing writing for the show. Do you have any insight as to why he stopped directing? Because he was really good.

Davison: Um, he — I think Peter was very talented. He wasn’t — I didn’t think he was that great a director really. As far as the actors were concerned. He probably had good ideas.

Correspondent: Aha. More of a visual director.

Davison: I probably undervalued him, to be honest with you. I didn’t have any say on whether he did any more or not. But he didn’t inspire you with great confidence about what he was doing.

Correspondent: Really?

Davison: As a director. Although I think he was a very talented writer.

Correspondent: Even “Time Flight”?

Davison: Well, “Time Flight.” “Time Flight” was unfortunate, you see. Because “Time Flight,” I think, could have been done very well. But we had no money. The sets were probably the most dreadful sets that Doctor Who had ever had to put up with. And we literally shot England before humans…

Correspondent: Pleistocene. Exactly.

Davison: In Studio 8 of the BBC. With a little model of Concorde sitting on the back of the…and it was just…

Correspondent: And the color separation overlay as the airplane leaves. It was amazingly…

Davison: Catastrophically bad. You felt very frustrated by the fact that there was just no money. The monsters were lumps of polystyrene moving around the set. But I think the actual script itself wasn’t bad. But the realization of it was hugely disappointing.

Correspondent: So it seems to me to make a good Who story, you really need to have good direction and good acting in order to sell the illusion. What do you do when you’ve got a guy like Paul Jerricho delivering “No, not the mind probe!” in absolutely horrendous delivery in “The Five Doctors.” “No, not the mind probe!” Which is a very famous…

Davison: Yes, I know.

Correspodnent: How do you as an actor deal with this?

Davison: (laughs) Well, I think you have to use your instinct and not be led astray by the director. Sometimes, I’m always very, very wary of “Give me a bit more! Give me a bit more!”

Correspondent: (laughs)

Davison: You think, “Oh no! I’m sure that’s not right! I’m sure it’s not right.” But I’ve learned now that you have to make a decision as to whether you’re going to trust the director or not. Who are you going to trust? Do you trust yourself more than the director? And it’s a difficult thing to do.

Correspondent: Did anybody even say anything when he delivered the line that way? I mean, it’s so remarkably bad.

Davison: You know, a lot of directors, I’ve discovered, barely even notice.

Correspondent: Really?

Davison: Visual directors. I’ve worked with a lot of directors where I’ve said entirely the wrong line, entirely the wrong line. Stumbled over it and then I hear the click going, “Okay, let’s move on! Great! Let’s move on!” You’re going, “No, hang on a bit. I said the wrong line!” And they’ll go, “Oh, did you?” They don’t notice.

Correspondent: Wow.

Davison: There are some directors that listen. And I love those directors that listen. Because they’re what you might call actors’ directors. Who are really concerned with what you’re giving as an actor. And you trust them. So if they say, “That’s fine. Let’s move on,” you go, “Okay, that’s fine.” Other directors you know are just looking at the picture. They barely notice. Until they sit down. But you know. They will sit down in the cart and go, “He said it like that? And we let him get away with it?” You don’t know. I mean, when you’re on the floor and you hear someone say, “No, not the mind probe,” you don’t quite know how it’s coming over. Upstairs they should have known how it came over. They should have said, “Let’s go again.” But I think there’s panic. There’s rush. There’s not enough time to get the thing done. They think it will be fine. And it’s very often not.

The Bat Segundo Show #493: Peter Davison (Download MP3)

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Julie Delpy (The Bat Segundo Show)

Julie Delpy is most recently the writer, director, and star of 2 Days in New York.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Searching for a castle that doesn’t require too much physical exertion.

Guest: Julie Delpy

Subjects Discussed: Patriarchs who key cars, countesses who murder women for their virgin blood, aberrant and eccentric behavior in Delpy’s films, the advantages of flawed characters, The King of Comedy‘s Rupert Pupkin, domestic carapaces for odd people, mental institutions, emotionless people, arguing with people you live with, comic tension, loud family arguments in quiet cafes, characters who accuse others of raping children, anger issues, struggles to get quirky independent films made, why Chris Rock was cast, 2 Days vs. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, German film financing, David Hasselhoff, Chris Rock in a straightlaced role, how romantic comedy becomes more alive when women are uncontrollable, leveling the gender playing field in narrative by offering complex women, romantic projection, thematic resonances between 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York, toothbrushes that are confused with sex toys, how blue jeans woo men, how French people take their temperature, Delpy’s obsession with finding the right toothbrush sound, Stanley Kubrick, being a hands on filmmaker, color correction, the humor contained within The Countess, how to position an actor to stand appropriately on a throne of heads, Belvedere Castle, Merchant Ivory films, creating a fairy tale narrative, how boys like “feminine” aspects of fairy tales, the scarcity of women directors, how gender has affected Delpy’s reputation, being taken more seriously, the business aspects of cinema, nerds and cinema without emotion, why Hollywood is avoiding emotional directors, cold businessmen, Delpy’s indomitable work ethic, Delpy finishing The Countess while her mother was dying, and the financial repercussions of cinema.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: What of the interesting resonances between the two films [2 Days in New York and 2 Days in Paris]? The two that struck me: the thermometer becomes the toothbrush in New York. You have the thermometer joke. And then now it’s the toothbrush joke where…

Delpy: Toothbrush. Oh yeah. Like objects being put in the wrong spot. (laughs)

Correspondent: Exactly. Or blue jeans being used to woo a man. In the first film, we have mom ironing the blue jeans.

Delpy: The blue jeans.

Correspondent: In the second film, we have the blue jeans offer on air.

Delpy: The blue jeans are where?

Correspondent: The blue jeans, when Mingus is on the air. There’s that woman who offers them.

Delpy: Oh, the jeans! I see. That’s funny.

Correspondent: So I’m wondering. I’m guessing these were accidental. But I’m wondering if there were any conscious efforts on your part to mimic the resonances from the first film. To see if they would play a little differently in New York. Or older.

Delpy: Well, that’s something. For example, I think it’s something to do with — like I’ve always been amused that Americans — I mean, in France, if you take your temperature, everyone puts it in their butt. Just…I have to tell you. Just like if you’re a toddler. You just put it there.

Correspondent: It is a French thing.

Delpy: And I’ve always been having American boyfriends find this repulsive. That French people are perverts.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Delpy: Because we take our temperature in the butt. So we are perverts because of that. I always thought that was a funny idea. I mean, the thing about the toothbrush, I have the idea that, actually, they might have done really nothing with that toothbrush and that it’s all in his mind. That they might have used the toothbrush.

Correspondent: While they were having…

Delpy: Or it’s an object that wasn’t a toothbrush. But he’s convinced that they’re perverts using his toothbrush for sex toys. But I actually believe personally…

Correspondent: The toothbrush is your Pulp Fiction suitcase.

Delpy: (laughs) It is to me.

Correspondent: It could be used for naughty purposes. It could be used for rather eccentric purposes. They could be brushing their teeth as they’re doing it. We don’t know.

Delpy: Yeah. Who knows? They might have been brushing their teeth while doing it. But he’s convinced. Or they might have used another object that sounds like that toothbrush. But he’s convinced it’s his toothbrush. It’s this projection of this idea that, you know, once you have this idea that someone is perverted, you can imagine everything. And I like to use that. That is a kind of playful thing.

Correspondent: I don’t know. The sound sounded pretty similar to my ears. I’m wondering. Did you work with the sound guy to have it close?

Delpy: Actually, that was one of the hardest things to do. To find the right sound. And the banging on the wall. So it didn’t sound too trashy. To always find the right limit between really too crass and not too cute either.

Correspondent: Well, I’m wondering how you researched toothbrush sounds vs. dildo sounds. That would be a very interesting project for a sound man.

Delpy: I didn’t turn on dildos. I only turned on toothbrushes.

Correspondent: (laughs)

Delpy: I kept it to a toothbrush. But actually I did spend a lot of time listening to many different sounds of toothbrushes. And some toothbrushes, I just didn’t like the sound. So I kind of drove everyone crazy. I’m very…when I get into post-production, with all the mixing and the sound and all that stuff, I get really super duper duper duper…kind of precise on what I want. And that toothbrush, I drove everyone nuts over.

Correspondent: Well, like, how so? How precise can you get? Is there any sort of limit that you will reach before people are driven nuts or something? How anal are you here?

Delpy: No. I will work until I get what I want. I’m not like crazy, like going like a power trip. Like it’s too show that I have the power.

Correspondent: No Kubrick, 172 takes…(laughs)

Delpy: Even though they call me Stanley all the time. (laughs)

Correspondent: And not just because you grew a beard.

Delpy: Yeah, it’s because of my beard. Not because of my talent. I’ll tell you that. Because I get a little bit obsessed. Sometimes in details and stuff like that. But then when I have what I want, I’m fine. Then I’m done. Boom. And then I never talk about it again.

Correspondent: Well, like, how many takes did you do? Just to deflate the Stanley rumors here.

Delpy: Well, I ended up recording the toothbrush myself. Because I didn’t like any of the sounds. So I ended up taking a mike and going to record my toothbrush and the toothbrush I wanted to use in the film.

Correspondent: Are you hands on like that for cinematography? Or for other matters?

Delpy: Cinematography, no. Because I am not a very good — I don’t have the best visual ideas, you know? I’m not hands on cinematography. I’m very hands on sound. Music. Sound effects. Everything that has to do with sound, I’m very good. You know, I’m very obsessed also when we do the period of color correction. I get very — if I don’t get what I want, I will not stop.

Correspondent: What about placement of actors?

Delpy: Which is normal. I think it’s normal. I mean, if you’re a filmmaker, you want to get — it’s so much work to write. It’s so much work to shoot. And then you edit for three months and you work like a maniac. And then you end up in post-production. And you don’t want to suddenly have skin tones that are wrong. I mean, you can very quickly — now there’s such a scale of things you can do. It’s so large. You can go from a skin that looks sort of creamy to a skin that looks all greenish. I mean, you can do so much that you have to be really careful in color correction nowadays.

Correspondent: What about positioning an actor? Like, I think of the image in The Countess of the guy standing on top of the heads. I mean, how particular are you on something like that?

Delpy: Oh that, I’m very particular.

Correspondent: The angle of the head. Is the head just right at that particular angle? I’m just trying to get a sense of how precise you are really with these things.

Delpy: Yeah. I get very precise in scenes like that. Because, to me, I wanted it to look like a painting. Like a lot of 17th century painting I’ve looked at, based for this film. Like a lot and lot of Nordic painters. So I was really inspired by that. And I wanted it to look like that. Like something almost ridiculous, but kind of funny. I mean, the film, The Countess is not devoid of humor. I see the film as something a little bit funny at times. So it’s meant to be that way. Like even the craziness of wanting to stay young forever. I mean, she’s obviously such a pathetic character. Which makes me laugh. She makes me laugh actually. And so anyway, even this guy is kind of crazy. I mean, he’s sitting on a throne of beheaded Turks. So it’s kind of funny. If you’re dark. (laughs)

Correspondent: I thought a lot of it was funny, personally. But I’m a sick human being. But Belvedere Castle…

Delpy: But it’s meant to be funny.

Correspondent: Yes. Belvedere Castle, I wanted to ask you about this. You shot the end of 2 Days in New York at Belvedere Castle. And what happened with me when I saw the film — and this may be a terribly wonkish and pedantic question, but I feel the need to ask it nonetheless. I immediately thought, “Oh! The Bostonians. Merchant Ivory.” And the reason that I thought about that was because in 2 Days in Paris, you have this early moment where the American tourists come in and they have the red Da Vinci Code, which is almost serving as the red Baedeker tour guides that you see in A Room with a View. And so…

Delpy: Oh my god. That’s complicated.

Correspondent: And they are tourists, much in that mode, going through a city. And, of course, they come from Venice by train. So I think to myself, “Oh, there was maybe a Merchant Ivory nod there.” But I’m wondering, based off of these two things, whether emulating that sort of Merchant Ivory look and subverting it with wild behavior or astonishing developments was ever an interest of yours. And also: why you choose Belevedere Castle?

Delpy: Well, you know, I didn’t really think at all of Merchant Ivory. You looked into it like…oh my god. That’s pretty..

Correspondent: This is a problem of mine. I apologize. (laughs)

Delpy: That’s really cool. That’s really cool to read so much into something. No, I basically picked the Belvedere Castle because I wanted something high that made sense, that it was dangerous but not Empire State Building dangerous. Because Empire State Building — anyway, you can’t jump off the Empire State Building. Because it’s all blocked out. So it had to be realistic. And the Belvedere Castle is quite dangerous. Actually, if you jump, you can kill yourself. But I wanted it to be almost like a fairy tale. The film is a little bit like a fairy tale. It’s told to a child really. Because it’s told with these puppets. So I wanted this end to be in a castle. Like a fairy tale. And the princess, which is me, is saved by the prince, which is Chris Rock. But obviously the film is so not a fairy tale in its tone and everything. But I wanted it to be like a fairy tale. It ends in a castle like a fairy tale.

The Bat Segundo Show #475: Julie Delpy (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Vincent Cassel & Rachel Shukert II

Vincent Cassel and Rachel Shukert both appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #351. Mr. Cassel stars in Mesrine: Killer Instinct, which opens in limited release on August 27, 2010, followed by Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 on September 3, 2010. Ms. Shukert is most recently the author of Everything is Going to Be Just Great and previously appeared on Show #217. (The true Shukert completist can also listen to Ms. Shukert on Show #173, where she appears in a group discussion on sex writing.)

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Dodging persuasive serial killers and angry Swiss listeners.

Guests: Vincent Cassel and Rachel Shukert

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]

EXCERPTS FROM SHOW:

Correspodnent: Does movement offer a more creative place to establish a character? More so than the backstory, research, or anything?

Cassel: Of course it does. I mean, look, you walk down the street. You see somebody that you’ve never met. And you see him walking. You just see his back. And you already can say a lot of things about him. Is he drunk? Is he somebody sad? Happy? What kind of energy he has. You know, all that.

Correspondent: I’m glad you mentioned that you use different movement. Because I have noticed that about your performances. I mean, Mesrine and your role in Irreversible are two completely different movements. What do you do to prevent yourself from repeating a particular gait? Or a particular walk? Or a particular way of entering a room? Or a way of inhabiting an atmosphere or what not? Do you worry about this? Repeating yourself for each character?

Cassel: No, of course. I mean, I think it’s important that you not do twice the same. But the main reason is that otherwise I get bored. So what I do is that — I’m very instinctive, I have to say. It’s not really something I think of in a very precise way. But I can feel if it’s something — actually sometimes, I start a scene and I have this feeling of deja vu. And sometimes I don’t really understand where it comes from. But that’s enough for me to just [snap] switch to something else and try something else on the moment, and then think about it. Afterwards, I understand. “Oh yeah. I did this on that scene from that movie.” But at the time, on the moment, I don’t really analyze. It’s just a question of feeling. Like most of acting is really.

Correspondent: Have you ever had a situation where an entire scene needed to be altered because you were physically adopting some cliche that you couldn’t quite identify? But it just didn’t feel right.

Cassel: Very much so. Especially in a movie like Mesrine. Because I’m so close to Jean-François Richet, the director. We were literally: get on the set in the morning. We would try. And suddenly something is wrong. Let’s change everything. Because I think acting and moviemaking in general — maybe more for an actor than for a director — it has to be organic. Whatever that word means. You don’t have too much time to think on a movie. It’s very much about the acting and being involved physically in what you do. That’s the only way to see if it’s real or not really. So, yes, you try things. It’s about trying and finding solutions.

* * *

Correspondent: You note of [your future husband] Ben that, as you watched him calmly rub soap into his hands by the communal sink, you realized that you had known all along that you would see him again. I’m wondering what it is about hand hygiene that serves as your personal madeleine.

Shukert: (laughs) I don’t know. I remember that moment. It was very calm. And he didn’t seem surprised to see me. And I had been thinking about him and having this sense that we would bump into each other again. I think it was seeing him doing something that was very mundane. We were at home together. Even like moments now. It felt almost as if we had skipped in time and we were standing in our own bathroom while he was brushing his teeth and I was trying to put my makeup on. Do you know what I mean? It felt very familiar in that sense. It’s sort of an instance of fact seeing somebody washing themselves in some way or grooming.

Correspondent: So really any guy could have come along, if they had done any remotely regular gesture at that point. They could have swept you off your feet!

Shukert: I don’t know. I was definitely in a different place. (laughs)

Correspondent: The title Everything is Going to Be Great comes from a sentiment expressed by Pete — a guy with a girlfriend who you got involved with and who had a problem of hitting on other women in restaurants. Including you. You became involved with him, justified your involvement by noting a Dutch study where a woman’s neural activity at the moment of climax is equal to that of someone in a vegetative state. I must go ahead and ask. Surely hindsight offers the basis of 20/20. Lust may indeed make us do stupid things. But there’s often another reason why we’re driven to the irrational. So I’m wondering why you’re content to throw away this particular introspection.

Shukert: But I feel that it’s really describing that moment more. I feel like later, in the exploration of that relationship, other reasons come to light. The fact that we were both — and I feel that this is there in the book — that sort of explains why I couldn’t slap him across the face in that moment. Do you know what I mean? But as far as getting involved with him later, we were both kind of lost. We were both adrift. I was, at the time, really lonely. And things were not working out the way that they were supposed to. I think I mentioned how he suddenly gauged escape to this adventure that he was supposed to be having. He made it feel like there was a point, that I was here to fall in love and have this incredible adventure. And it turned it into a narrative. It turned it into a story, as opposed to this aimless time-waster. And I feel that if I had been here, if I had been on my home turf, I don’t think that we would have gotten involved. I feel that being abroad, you are off your center of balance. Away from the practical things that you really think about. You’re removed from all of that. And there were so many things I didn’t have to deal with.

The Bat Segundo Show #351: Vincent Cassel & Rachel Shukert II (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Chazz Palminteri & Robert Celestino

Chazz Palminteri and Robert Celestino both appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #259.

Chazz Palminteri is the star of Yonkers Joe. Robert Celestino is the writer and director of Yonkers Joe. The film opens in theaters on January 9, 2009.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Fleeing the scene to avoid “coming together” with the imposing Mr. Palminteri.

Guests: Chazz Palminteri and Robert Celestino

Subjects Discussed: Robert Mitchum’s theory of the actor merging into the landscape, cinematic tempo, research for Yonkers Joe, eye contact, the script as the authoritative text, script embellishments from actors, overpreparation, performance in relation to camera placement, “artistic differences” with directors, the thespic advantages of wardrobe, playing an entire scene with a newspaper under your arm, the national revival of A Bronx Tour, the future of theater in an economic crisis, wasted talent, whether the casino heist genre now requires an unusual secondary plot, balancing intuitive insights about human behavior and cinematic reality, the inability for most people to observe mechanics in action, the distinctions between con men and mechanics, how Celestino was able to film in casinos, advancing the narrative while sacrificing believability, concocting the big score, the qualities of casino dice, the eleventh-hour casting of Christine Lahti, keeping symbols in the background, symmetrical semiotics, layering visual elements, and establishing the tell signs among the actors.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

chazz-4Correspondent: Going back to the issue of preparation, perhaps you can talk about it in light of this particular movie. I’m curious if there is such a thing as overpreparation for you. For a performance like this, for a performance elsewhere. Where if you plan something too much, then you’re going to lose the spontaneity, you’re going to lose the naturalness of human behavior, and the like.

Palminteri: Right.

Correspondent: Has this been a scenario with you? Have you had to…?

Palminteri: That never happened to me. Because I don’t overplan things. I plan it. I know where I’m going. I have a road map. Okay, and then I’m able to change that roadmap if I have to. You have to. Because you meet with the director, and you meet with the other actors. And all of a sudden, you get on the set and it’s not like you thought what it was going to be. It changes. For some reason, an actor does something else and it doesn’t match what you felt what you should do. Alright, now we got to talk about this now. Is this going to work? Maybe it works better or maybe it works worse. So if you think that your way might still be better, that’s when you have to talk with the director, and say, “Well, I’m feeling this way.” And that’s why sometimes people leave movies. There are artistic differences. It doesn’t work. I usually try and make it work. I hope I can.

Correspondent: Are there such situations in which you’ve felt hamstrung by a particular director’s decision? Or do you simply work within those particular confines?

Palminteri: I’ve always been able to work with directors who respect my opinion. And no director wants an actor to be uncomfortable.

Correspondent: Sure.

Palminteri: “To be uncomfortable.” I mean, once you say those words to a director, “I’m just not feeling comfortable here,” then he’s willing to listen to anything you’ve got to say. I mean, one thing, I’m a director. You know, I’m directing movies. If an actor’s telling me he’s uncomfortable, I’ve got to make him comfortable. No matter what.

* * *

Celestino: I don’t know of too many filmmakers who get to shoot in casinos. Because casinos are not in the business of making movies. They’re in the business of making money. So we were very fortunate, as some of our investors were casino owners. So not only did we get to shoot in the casinos, but we got to shoot it during the day. And they would rope off a section to us. And they really opened up everything to us. There’s five people who work in a casino, who are allowed into the surveillance rooms. So we were allowed to go into the surveillance rooms just to look around. We didn’t actually shoot in there. We built that set. But we did match it identical to what we’d seen. And also, they’re not ever going to bring a suspected mechanic up into the surveillance room. So what they do have is an outer room, where they would show somebody something in case there was a question. Like they did in Yonkers Joe. But the surveillance room was actually in another room where Yonkers Joe got to take a peek at.

Correspondent: Some suspension here to move the plot. Again, this goes back to the other question about how much you stray from reality. In this case, certainly, you had to in service of the narrative. But perhaps when you were writing the script, were there questions that you were asking? “Well, okay, I need to move the narrative along. So there’s a tradeoff here.” I mean, what criteria was here? Okay, I have to advance the narrative. But there’s this tradeoff in believability. Was this an issue when you were writing the script?

Celestino: Well, that’s always a balancing act. Ironically, in this script and movie, it really didn’t come about that much. Pretty much, everything that happens in the movie pretty much can happen. You know, the thing at the end and all that. That all can really happen. In fact, when the security people — the surveillance people — were reading the script, they said that when this movie comes out, casinos will probably start putting blacklight gel in their dice. And that was where I had to reinvent a bit. Because loaded dice are very easy to see. That’s why they make the dice clear. So you can see the loads in them. But if you have something in them where you don’t have to look at the dice, like blacklight gel, then there’s no reason to even look.

BSS #259: Chazz Palminteri and Robert Celestino (Download MP3)

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