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Convention Coverage: Not Ready for Prime Time

TV critic David Bianculli reviews the coverage of the Democratic National Convention, or lack of it.


Other segments from the episode on July 30, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 30, 2004: Commentary on the coverage of the Democratic National Convention; Interview with John Frankenheimer; Interview with Angela Lansbury; Interview with Liev…


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

Review: Television coverage of the Democratic National

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

The Democratic National Convention ended last night. The Republicans get
their turn on TV next month. Meanwhile, in the movies, a political convention
figures in the plot of "The Manchurian Candidate," a new movie remake starring
Denzel Washington, now in theaters. On today's FRESH AIR, we'll revisit the
original controversial 1962 "Manchurian Candidate," and replay interviews with
the late director John Frankenheimer, with Angela Lansbury, who played the
part Meryl Streep plays in the new version, and with co-star Liev Schreiber.
We'll also have film critic David Edelstein's review of the remake.

But first, let's look a political conventions and drama on the small screen,
and how and where the Democratic National Convention played out. On
commercial broadcast TV, the convention show was more like a no-show. Half of
the networks, Fox, UPN and The WB, didn't cover the convention at all. Even
the major networks, CBS, NBC and ABC, each devoted only three hours over four
nights to prime-time coverage. They decided beforehand that Tuesday night
wasn't worth showing at all, and by making that decision in advance, they
missed one of the most riveting and significant events of the entire
Democratic convention, the keynote speech by rising Democratic star Barack
Obama, which turned him instantly into a major future political player. If
you saw the speech live, you were witness to a bit of history, and not an
insignificant bit, but to see it, you had to be watching PBS, or tuned to
cable. C-SPAN, which shows everything gavel to gavel, presented Obama's
entire speech. So did CNN, MSNBC, FOX News Channel, and even ABC News Now,
the brand-new digitally streamed news operation from ABC. Peter Jennings did
a lot of good work there at this convention, but very little of it was seen on
his main over-the-air network. Jennings could even be seen yesterday on CNN,
interviewed by former ABC colleague Anderson Cooper. He was defending his
passion for the American political process, and attacking his own network's
decision to televise so little of it.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. ANDERSON COOPER (CNN): You just got back from Iraq. Having been there,
does it change the way you look at this, the way you look at this process at
all? I mean, for me, it actually kind of made me--I think it's easy to be
cynical about this process, easy to be cynical about what's happening here.

Mr. PETER JENNINGS (ABC News): Oh, I thought it made you feel romantic about

Mr. COOPER: It did, in a way, yeah.

Mr. JENNINGS: Well, you see, you and I have similar experiences. We've
both been in many, many parts of the world where power is exchanged on the
barrel of a gun.

Mr. COOPER: Right.

Mr. JENNINGS: Some guy brings up his tank and the government changes. That
still happens in many parts of the world. In the time I served overseas, it
happened all the time. So I think when you come home, and participate in the
democratic process, even vicariously as journalists do, I think it's
extraordinarily moving.

Mr. COOPER: You know, the networks, broadcast networks, you guys have gotten
a bad rap lately. I mean, you know, you were broadcasting three hours of
coverage all this week.

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah, it's not enough.

Mr. COOPER: Though you're doing this digital television, which I want to
talk about in a moment.

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah, it's not enough.

Mr. COOPER: It's not enough.

Mr. JENNINGS: No, of course not. When Barack Obama was on the television
the other night...

Mr. COOPER: Yeah. It wasn't carried live by the networks.

Mr. JENNINGS: I know. Our network, I'm sorry to say, was in a rerun of a
program that I can't--I don't know which one it was, but...

Mr. COOPER: Does it embarrass you?

Mr. JENNINGS: No, it actually makes me a little angry, and that's why, on
the other hand...

BIANCULLI: The rerun to which Jennings was referring, by the way, was a
repeat of the canceled sitcom "I'm With Her."

Viewers who don't subscribe to cable and didn't turn to public television saw
less live convention coverage this week than at any time in TV history. That
history began in 1948 when both CBS and NBC offered to East Coast stations
live coverage of the three national political conventions from Philadelphia.
Back then, they even covered the Progressive Party.

Political conventions today are tightly scripted and controlled, and major
events that used to happen at conventions, like the choosing of candidates,
now happen months beforehand. Yet we can learn a lot from the way each party
chooses its speakers and crafts its image, and who is and isn't considered a
ready-for-prime-time player. And no matter how firmly things are controlled,
there always will be surprises, like Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, and lurking in
the shadows, getting more TV time at this convention than most politicians,
Ben Affleck and especially Michael Moore.

On Tuesday, when Moore showed up on the FOX News Channel to swap questions
with Bill O'Reilly on "The O'Reilly Factor," it was big news and drew more
viewers than any moment of convention coverage that night. By Thursday,
another Michael Moore sighting was just that, one more sighting. I watched
the convention on 12 TV screens, each tuned to a different network, and at
times, it seemed like Michael Moore was crawling out of one screen directly
into another. The one I remember most, though, is his exchange with host Ted
Koppel on ABC's "Nightline."

(Soundbite of "Nightline")

Mr. TED KOPPEL (Host, "Nightline"): Do you feel just a little bit
uncomfortable about the influence that you may have on this election?

Mr. MICHAEL MOORE (Filmmaker): No, not at all. I'm glad to participate.
I'm glad to offer this, you know. Jeez, I feel very lucky to be able to make
this contribution. You know, growing up in Flint, Michigan, I have a high
school education, I never would expect to be sitting here talking to you. I
mean, it's--all this...

Mr. KOPPEL: Life is amazing, isn't it?

Mr. MOORE: Oh, yeah.

Mr. KOPPEL: God, the things you get to do in this country.

Mr. MOORE: Yeah. That's why we love it, isn't it, you know?

Mr. KOPPEL: Yeah.

Mr. MOORE: Some people get to be Ted Koppel and some people get to talk to
Ted Koppel. I love this country.

Mr. KOPPEL: I mean, after you make your next $100 million, are you going to

Mr. MOORE: After I make the next $100 million, I'll be Ted Koppel.

Mr. KOPPEL: You wouldn't want that.

BIANCULLI: Both of the segments I've chosen from this year's convention
coverage feature members of the media talking to one another. There were more
of those this week than I've ever seen before, going so far down the
journalistic food chain that TV reporters spent way too much time interviewing
bloggers, Internet writers of informal diaries. One blogger, interviewed on
ABC News Now, reported, and I quote: "VIP room, cash bar. What's up with

The networks have a month until the Republican National Convention at the end
of August to get it right, but they won't. Even if only to be fair, the
networks will approach the Republicans pretty much the same way, and for the
same paltry amount of live prime-time coverage. Six networks, three hours.
What's up with that?

I'm David Bianculli.

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

Interview: John Frankenheimer discusses the making of "The
Manchurian Candidate"

"The Manchurian Candidate," Jonathen Demme's remake of the gripping political
thriller from 1962, opens today in theaters. Denzel Washington plays Ben
Marco, a Gulf War veteran plagued by disturbing dreams. Liev Schreiber plays
Raymond Shaw, another member of Marco's unit during the Gulf War, who is now
an up-and-coming young congressman from New York. And Meryl Streep plays
Shaw's ambitious mother, Eleanor, whose husband Johnny, Shaw's stepfather, is
also running for office, the office of president.

The original movie, made in the aftermath of the McCarthy era witch hunts and
in the early volatile years of the Cold War, starred Frank Sinatra as the
troubled Marco, the role now played by Denzel, Laurence Harvey as war hero
Raymond Shaw, and Angela Lansbury as Shaw's mother. The movie was directed by
John Frankenheimer, who died in 2002, at age 72.

Let's get a taste of the original. In this scene, Raymond Shaw, played by
Laurence Harvey, is touring his stepfather Johnny's new campaign plane.
Angela Lansbury, as Shaw's mother, is showing off the plane, but her son
doesn't intend to stay on it.

(Soundbite of "The Manchurian Candidate," 1962)

Mr. LAURENCE HARVEY: (As Raymond Shaw) I'm not going home with you, Mother.
I'm going to New York.

Mr. ANGELA LANSBURY: (As Eleanor Shaw) What?

Mr. HARVEY: (As Raymond Shaw) I've got a job on a newspaper, research
assistant to Mr. Holborn Gaines.

Ms. LANSBURY: (As Eleanor Shaw) Holborn Gaines, that communist?

Mr. HARVEY: (As Raymond Shaw) He's not a communist, Mother. As a matter of
fact, he's a Republican.

Ms. LANSBURY: (As Eleanor Shaw) But the terrible things he's written about

Mr. HARVEY: (As Raymond Shaw) He came to interview me at the White House
this morning. Afterwards, I asked him for a job. He gave it to me. We
discovered that we had a great deal in common.

Ms. LANSBURY: (As Eleanor Shaw) What could you possibly have in common with
that dreadful old man?

Mr. HARVEY: (As Raymond Shaw) Well, for one thing, we discovered that we
both loathe and despise you and Johnny, and that's a beginning.

BIANCULLI: John Frankenheimer started his career in TV in the 1950s,
directing such golden-age TV dramas as the classic "Days of Wine and Roses"
for "Playhouse 90." His films included the "Birdman of Alcatraz," "Seven Days
in May," "French Connection II," "Black Sunday" and more recently, "Ronin" and
"Reindeer Games." Terry spoke with Frankenheimer in 1990.


There's a scene I have to ask you about. It's really an extraordinary scene.
This is the garden club dream scene. Frank Sinatra is having these recurring
nightmares in which he's with all of the men from his Army troop from the
Korean War. He's with them at a ladies' garden club and suddenly the ladies'
garden club turns into a lot of Korean soldiers, and the head Korean soldier
is discussing how he's brainwashing these soldiers into believing that they're
at a garden party. And then to show how brainwashed they really are, he has
Laurence Harvey just walk over and strangle to death one of the men. You shot
that scene in such a disorienting way. The camera just kind of revolves
around all the women of the garden club first, and then suddenly the women are
transformed into men, and you're as confused as Frank Sinatra is by all of
this. Tell me about how you decided to shoot this scene.

Mr. JOHN FRANKENHEIMER (Director): Well, number one, the idea of the scene
came right out of Richard Condon's book. He described pretty well what the
scene should look like. So it was up to me to interpret it, and the shot that
you're talking about is a 360-degree shot which starts on the stage of a hotel
in New Jersey, where a woman is talking about hydrangeas, and we pan around
the room, and you think that it's just women listening to this, a garden club,
and then as the camera completes its 360-degree arc, you suddenly find
yourself on a stage in an amphitheater in Korea, and the Chinese psychiatrist
is talking about brainwashing. So what we did was we designed a set that
could be moved, and it took a little athletic ability from the actors to run
from one platform to the other while we were back on the garden club. And the
two platforms were on kind of a railroad track, and we slid one right in place
as the camera moved off the first one.

But what it did was, it set in the audience's mind that this was not just the
magic of the movies, that something very strange here was happening, because
we never cut, and the audience realizes when you cut. They may not know what
it is, but they know there's been some mechanical device put between them and
the story, and I wanted to do it all in one shot. And I think after we
accomplished that shot, then we were able to cut to anything that we wanted to
do. And we filmed that sequence with about seven or eight different
combinations, the women in Korea, the Chinese Manchurian delegates in New
Jersey, the actors on the New Jersey hotel, the actors in the Korean
amphitheater, and we were able to intercut it at will, back and forth, and
after the first shot, the suspension of disbelief with the audience was
complete, so we were able to kind of manipulate them back and forth whenever
we wanted to. And you're right. We did cut it in such a way that it was
confusing and deliberately so.

GROSS: Now one of the black men from this same troop that Sinatra is in has
the same dream but when he has the dream, all of the women from the ladies'
club are black. Was that in the novel, or is that your invention, to have the
two people have their own version of this same dream?

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: That was me. What I never did do--I mean, I had it done,
but I just didn't dare take the shot of it--in the back of the room we had a
white bellboy in the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: But we never did show it. If you look carefully, you can
see it.

GROSS: That's great. It's wonderful the way you contrast the two dreams.

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: You know, I want to tell you one other thing about that
movie that's something that I don't think people are aware of, but I think
it's important to say in these days and times, which is that that was one of
the first movies where the producer and director used a black actor to play a
part that was not written for a black.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: Today it's done quite often, but that was very new at the
time, to take the black actor, cast him as the psychiatrist, and that part was
not written for a black actor. I've since done it quite a bit, but I just
wanted to bring that up.

GROSS: You were the co-producer of the movie. I assume that means that you
were one of the people who were behind making it, as opposed to a director who
was brought on after the idea...


GROSS: ...was already in effect.

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: Yes. In this particular case, George Axelrod and I
bought the book. We developed it, and then I ended up directing it, of

GROSS: How did Sinatra get involved with the movie?

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: Well, Sinatra was the whole element that made the movie
possible. The movie had been turned down by every studio in town, and when
George Axelrod and I bought the book, we bought it by buying the book in a
bookstore. It had been optioned and re-optioned and dropped and never been
able to be made. And we knew that Frank Sinatra had read the book and Frank
Sinatra was interested in the picture, but he had never really gone the whole
nine yards and optioned it. So we optioned it, and without a script, Frank
Sinatra committed to it, and of course, right away, as soon as he committed to
it, we had the necessary financing to make the movie.

GROSS: Did you have any idea he'd be as good as he was in it? I mean, did
you have as much faith in his acting abilities when you started?

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: No. I didn't want to make the movie with Frank Sinatra.
I was scared of it. I had heard he was very difficult. I had heard that he
treated directors badly, all those things. I expressed these reservations to
George Axelrod and he said, `Look,' he said, `I'm going to make the movie with
Frank Sinatra whether you do it or whether you don't.' He said, `I'll buy you
out, but I want to make this movie with Sinatra. Sinatra's going to get this
picture made, and if you have problems with Sinatra,' he said, `I would
suggest that you discuss them with him instead of discussing them with me.'
And I made an appointment to see Mr. Sinatra. I went up to see him at his
house, and I expressed my reservations to him, and he said, `Look, I guarantee
you, whether what you've heard is true, whether what you've heard is not true,
there is my side to all that, too.' He said, `I want to do this picture, I
want to work with you, and I feel that we're going to get along just fine.'
And that was the last discussion we ever had. We got along absolutely
fabulously. I loved working with Frank Sinatra.

GROSS: You've done several films about the military--"Seven Days in May,"
"The Manchurian Candidate"--you went to military school as a child, right?

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: Yes, that's true.

GROSS: Did you feel like that gave you insights into the military mind at

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: Yes, I do, and I also was a lieutenant in the Air Force,
and I was General Le May's personal photographer during the Korean War and
things like that. And yes, I do, I feel that it's given me a tremendous
insight into the military, into the military mind, especially on higher
levels, because I was around general officers a lot, and it's helped me.

GROSS: When you were General Le May's personal photographer during the Korean
War, what did that entail?

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: Well, it entailed photographing the general quite a bit.
It entailed...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. FRANKENHEIMER: It entailed also doing some training films. I was in the
Air Photographic Squadron that did a lot of training films in the United
States. That's how I started, actually.

GROSS: Started making movies.


BIANCULLI: John Frankenhemier, director of the original "Manchurian
Candidate," speaking to Terry Gross in 1990. He died in 2002 at age 72.

Coming up, one of the stars of that 1962 film, Angela Lansbury. This is FRESH

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

Interview: Angela Lansbury discusses her career as an actress

"The Manchurian Candidate," Jonathan Demme's remake of John Frankenheimer's
1962 film, opens today. It stars Denzel Washington as Ben Marco, the role
originally played by Frank Sinatra, and Meryl Streep as the power-hungry
Eleanor Shaw, the role first played by Angela Lansbury. Terry Gross spoke
with Lansbury in 2000 about her work in that film.


You made "The Manchurian Candidate" in 1962. And in this movie, a terrific
movie, you're a manipulative, domineering mother and wife who's trying to
promote the political career of your husband, and it turns out you're actually
part of a conspiracy to assassinate the political opponent and take over the
country. And in this scene you're telling your son, who has been brainwashed,
that he has to be the assassin.

(Soundbite of "The Manchurian Candidate")

Ms. ANGELA LANSBURY: You are to shoot the presidential nominee through the
head, and Johnny will rise gallantly to his feet and lift Ben Arthur's(ph)
body in his arms and stand in front of the microphones and begin to speak.
The speech is short, but it's the most rousing speech I've ever read. It's
been worked on here and in Russia on and off for over eight years. I shall
force someone to take the body away from him. Then Johnny will
(unintelligible) those microphones and those cameras with blood all over
him, fighting off anyone who tries to help him, defending America even if it
means his own death, rallying a nation of television viewers into hysteria, to
sweep us up into the White House with powers that will make martial law seem
like anarchy. Now this is very important. I want the nominee to be dead
about two minutes after he begins his acceptance speech, depending on his
reading time under pressure. You are to hit him right at the point that he
finishes the phrase `nor would I ask of any fellow American in defense of his
freedom that which I would not gladly give myself, my life with all my
liberty.' Is that absolutely clear?

GROSS: Wow. And at the end of that scene...

Ms. LANSBURY: Well-written speech.

GROSS: Yes. And at the end of that scene--before you send your son off to
kill the candidate, you kiss him on each cheek, then kiss him fully on the

Ms. LANSBURY: Oh, yes.

GROSS: How'd you feel about that scene?

Ms. LANSBURY: Oh, I thought it was very telling, very telling.

GROSS: And how'd you feel about playing such a really evil role?

Ms. LANSBURY: They are the best. Any actress will tell you that evil roles
to play are the best. You can go to town, you know. And in that instance, I
think, that woman had so many layers and so many personas, in a sense, she was
riveting and so interesting to play. I relished the--having had that
opportunity to play that role because I don't think there are many written
like that. I consider that she was the Lear among, you know, movie women.

GROSS: We've talked about your long and really wonderful career on stage and
screen. I think some of our listeners will know you best from television, for
your work on "Murder, She Wrote" as Jessica Fletcher...

Ms. LANSBURY: Jessica Fletcher.

GROSS: ...who has solved God knows how many murders over the years that you
did that show. Did you ever count how many murders you solved?

Ms. LANSBURY: Two hundred and sixty-four.

GROSS: Oh, really?


GROSS: You know, the press release for the Kennedy Center Honor describes you
as `a beloved actress,' which I think is pretty accurate, but do you feel

Ms. LANSBURY: From playing Jessica Fletcher, yes, I do. I do feel a sense
of tremendous warmth from the American public who have known and loved that
program. I really do. I know they--I don't know whether they're mixing me up
with the character, and it really doesn't matter. The main thing is I have
to--I feel their gratitude so often for all the nights.

GROSS: Well, I guess a role like in "The Manchurian Candidate" doesn't earn
you the word `beloved,' actually.

Ms. LANSBURY: No, no. It certainly does not.

GROSS: `Fantastic,' maybe, but not `beloved.'

Ms. LANSBURY: No, it takes a show like "Murder, She Wrote," I think, to
bring that enormous audience to one and to make them aware of who you are and
what you've done, you know.

BIANCULLI: Angela Lansbury, speaking with Terry Gross in 2000. Jonathan
Demme's remake of "The Manchurian Candidate" opens today.

I'm David Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music; credits)

BIANCULLI: Coming up, we feature an interview with Liev Schreiber. He stars
in the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate." And we have a review of the film
from critic David Edelstein.

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

Interview: Liev Schreiber on his film career

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

Liev Schreiber stars in the new version of "The Manchurian Candidate" as war
hero Raymond Shaw, the role played in the 1962 version by Laurence Harvey.
Here's a scene from the original movie in which Ben Marco, played by Frank
Sinatra, complains to his former commanding officer about a series of bad
dreams. Douglas Henderson plays the CO.

(Soundbite of 1962 version of "The Manchurian Candidate")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (As Ben Marco) Mickey, listen to me please. For the last
six months I've been driven nearly out of my mind by this same recurring

Mr. DOUGLAS HENDERSON: (As Commanding Officer) The medical officer in charge
ought to...

Mr. SINATRA: What the hell does the medical corps know about intelligence
work, Mick? I tell you there's something phony going on. There's something
phony about me, about Raymond Shaw, about the whole Medal of Honor business.
For instance, when the psychiatrist asked me how I felt about Raymond Shaw,
how I personally felt about him and how the whole patrol felt about him, did
you hear what I said? Did you really hear what I said? I said, `Raymond
Shaw is the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I've ever
known in my life.' And even now I feel that way, this minute. And yet
somewhere in the back of my mind something tells me it's not true, it's just
not true. It isn't as if Raymond's hard to like. He's impossible to like.
In fact, he's probably one of the most repulsive human beings I've ever known
in my whole--all of my life.

Mr. HENDERSON: And what I came to tell you is public relations has bounced
you back to me. And in your present state, there's no possible way I can use
you. As of this moment, I'm placing you on indefinite sick leave. Go away,
Ben. Find yourself a girl. Lie in the sun.

Mr. SINATRA: I absolutely refuse.

BIANCULLI: Now, in this scene from the new movie, Marco is played by Denzel
Washington. He's trying to describe his bad dreams and concerns to Raymond
Shaw, played by Liev Schreiber.

(Soundbite of 2004 version of "The Manchurian Candidate")

Mr. DENZEL WASHINGTON: (As Ben Marco) There are these dreams that some of the
men from our unit have been having.

Mr. LIEV SCHREIBER: (As Raymond Shaw) Including you?

Mr. WASHINGTON: Well, it's more of a question of what actually happened the
night that our patrol got attacked.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Am I in your dreams, Captain?

Mr. WASHINGTON: Yes, you are, Congressman.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Saving everybody.

Mr. WASHINGTON: It's a whole lot more complicated than that. Now Corporal
Melvin, he's been drawing these pictures, and he wrote down what he dreams.
Maybe it's just...

Mr. SCHREIBER: I don't have dreams, Captain.

Mr. WASHINGTON: At all? You mean you don't dream at all? Everybody dreams,
right? I mean...

Mr. SCHREIBER: Look, Captain, I'd like to help you. I would. I really
would, but...

Mr. WASHINGTON: If you...

Mr. SCHREIBER: ...I think you ought to see somebody, somebody who specializes
in what...

Mr. WASHINGTON: But I've seen the doctors.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Well, good. That's very good 'cause they can probably help
you out a lot more than I can.

Mr. WASHINGTON: I don't know, but...

Mr. SCHREIBER: Take care, Captain.

Mr. WASHINGTON: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Thanks for coming by.


BIANCULLI: Terry spoke to Liev Schreiber in 1999 from his home in Manhattan.
She started with his 1996 film "The Daytrippers."


This is a really funny film, and your character in this is a would-be

Mr. SCHREIBER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Your girlfriend is played by Parker Posey, and in this scene you're in
a car with her whole family: her sister, who's just found a letter indicating
her husband is probably having an affair, and their parents. The mother is
played by Anne Meara. And in this scene Parker Posey is explaining to her
parents that you're writing a novel.

(Soundbite of "The Daytrippers")

Ms. PARKER POSEY: It's far out. It's brilliant.

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Carl) I don't think your parents want to hear my novel.

Ms. POSEY: Mom and Dad, do you want to hear about Carl's novel?

Ms. ANNE MEARA: Oh, yeah, sure, Carl.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Well, Rita, it's an allegory about spiritual survival in the
contemporary world. The main character is this freak of nature. He's this
man who doesn't have a normal head. He was born with a dog's head.

Ms. MEARA: A dog's head?

Mr. SCHREIBER: Yeah. You know, sort of a fantastical story.

Ms. POSEY: It's like a fable.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Yeah, like "Master and Margarita" or...

Ms. POSEY: "Animal Farm."

Mr. SCHREIBER: "Animal"--yeah, exactly. Very Kafka-esque.

Ms. MEARA: Carl, I'm not an educated woman.

Ms. POSEY: It's Dr. Seuss for adults, Mom.

Ms. MEARA: Oh. Oh, yeah.

Mr. SCHREIBER: So everyone else in the book is normal, except for the man
with the dog's head, who really only wants...

Unidentified Man: What kind of dog?

Ms. POSEY: Dad, it's not important.

Mr. SCHREIBER: No, no. No, no, no, no. It is important. Actually that's
very important. It's a German short-haired pointer. You see, it's actually
especially important that it's a pointer because that's a crucial metaphor,
because in the book he's sort of a visionary, you know? You know, pointing
the way to salvation?

GROSS: You're really funny in that scene. And I think this kind of
pretentious would-be writer is probably a familiar character to you. You
probably have met many people you could have based this on?

Mr. SCHREIBER: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, Greg Mottola is the guy who's my
best friend, who actually wrote "Daytrippers" and directed it, has a good dose
of Carl in him, actually.

GROSS: Oh (laughs).

Mr. SCHREIBER: Yeah. Yeah, but much more refined, much more refined.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.


GROSS: Tell me more about this character for you.

Mr. SCHREIBER: You know, when they initially gave me the script, you know, I
guess I kind of did have a reputation for playing kind of awkward characters
or sort of weird characters. And I guess, to some extent, it's probably
because I identify with them, and I think, ultimately, audiences probably do
as well. But, you know, we don't--I don't believe that we identify with the
romantic lead. I think that we want to love them or take care of them. But I
think that all of us, out of our insecurity, tend to identify with the other
guy. And Carl, to me, was a terrific example of that because here was a guy
who was a completely obnoxious pain in the butt all the time. So what was
redeeming about him? What was interesting about him? Because you were going
to obviously--if you were going to play this part, you're going to get a lot
of good gags. You can get a lot of good gags in which you can make a lot of
jokes at the character's expense. But is there something about him that we
can identify with? And what I really loved about Carl was that everything
that Carl was doing that was obnoxious was in the service of being liked.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Do you know what I mean?

GROSS: Yeah. Uh-huh.

Mr. SCHREIBER: And that's all he really wanted. He really just wanted to be
liked. He wanted people to like him, which is something that I think we can
all identify with. I mean, the ludicrous things that we do on a daily basis
just because we want to impress somebody or we want somebody to love us--I
thought it was a tremendously sweet gesture from that character. Everything
that he did that was so obnoxious, to me, seemed wonderfully sweet.

GROSS: Let's go to another scene of yours. This is from "Scream 2," in which
you play Cotton, the character who's done time for murders that he didn't
commit. And at the beginning of "Scream 2," he's released from prison. And a
TV reporter, played by Courteney Cox, kind of brings him to the character who
he had been, you know, accused of terrorizing, Neve Campbell. And she wants
to interview them both together. And Neve Campbell is just appalled that
something so insensitive, you know, could be happening here. So she leaves.
Later, he catches up with her in the library and insists that they do an
interview together because he's gotten this great offer from Diane Sawyer.

(Soundbite of "Scream 2")

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Cotton Weary) Who calls me out of the blue but Diane
Sawyer? Believe me, Sid, I was as shocked as you are. And then she tells me
that if you and I go on the air together, she will give us the entire hour.

Ms. NEVE CAMPBELL: (As Sidney Prescott) What?

Mr. SCHREIBER: We're talking prime time, Sid--you, me and Diane Sawyer.

Ms. CAMPBELL: Cotton, I can't.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Oh, no, no. Sidney, look, this is about money. It's not as
if we're not getting paid, OK?


Mr. SCHREIBER: There's $10,000 each, not to mention what I've got going on
the side with the 900 number.

Ms. CAMPBELL: Cotton...

Mr. SCHREIBER: I know, I know, I know, I know. You don't like to press it.
I know that and I respect it, Sidney. But, Sidney, it's Diane Sawyer. Hello!
She's a class act. Sidney, this could be some very, very heavy exposure. I'm

Ms. CAMPBELL: Look, between the movie and the book, people know the truth.
Let's get on with our lives. There's been enough exposure. Why would you
want any more?

Mr. SCHREIBER: Why? Oh, I don't know, Sidney. I don't know. Maybe because
I (censored) deserve a little exposure? (Laughs) I mean, come on, Sidney, you
drag my name through the mud. Everybody thinks I'm some kind of psycho
killer. And all I'm asking for is a little (censored) Diane Sawyer interview
to maybe get my side of the story straight. Now I don't think I'm being
unreasonable in that request, Sidney? Do you? Honestly!

GROSS: That's Liev Schreiber and Neve Campbell from "Scream 2." This is a
really funny role, and you're playing a character who--we don't know how
psycho he really is in the audience.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Uh-huh, right.

GROSS: You know, we don't know how crazy he is or just how frustrated he is
from being wronged.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And it's, like, very compelling. But you're speaking in a pretty
quiet voice in this scene as opposed to the kind of shouting and ranting you
might expect.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, what I think was so phenomenal about
the whole "Scream" series is that Wes and Kevin Williamson...

GROSS: The director and writer.

Mr. SCHREIBER: ...Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, the director and
writer--what we were trying to do in those films that I think really worked
well and was a great idea was to sort of take people's expectations of the
genre, of the horror-suspense genre, and kind of turn them around, give the
audience a little credit for their intelligence. I mean, it's the most
predictable medium, really. It has become that, I think, in a, you know,
`watch out behind you' kind of thing--and was to sort of take these cliches
and try and, you know, make them a little more interesting.

And, you know, the idea of the, you know, guy who's been stewing in jail,
who's served time for a crime he didn't commit and now wants vengeance is--you
know, it already sets you up. So you kind of want to play against it, I
think, or find an angle that's more interesting. And, to me, what was
interesting about it at the time we were making it--and it still is--is this
kind of, you know, media circus that goes on in the world today--is that
everybody has their 15 minutes of fame, and they're trying really hard to make
sure it's a good 15 minutes.

And what, to me, was funny as the motivation for Cotton was that, you know,
here everybody was getting famous off these murders, and he was doing time.
So he figured it was time for him to get his 15 minutes. And...

GROSS: Did you like horror films as a kid?

Mr. SCHREIBER: I hated them.


Mr. SCHREIBER: I still hate them, 'cause they scare the piss out of me.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. SCHREIBER: And I hate being scared, you know? It was interesting, when
they first--when I did the first one, I really just walked down some stairs.
And I did it as a favor for a friend who worked for Miramax and Dimension at
the time. He said, `You know, will you just do this?' And I said, `Yeah,
I'll be--sure.' It's the easiest money I ever made. I walked down some
stairs for 20 minutes. And afterwards the writer came up to me, Kevin, and he
said, you know, `I'm really glad you're doing this because we're planning a
sequel.' And I said, `Now wait a minute. I don't want to do that.' And then
they said, `Well, why? Why? It's really wonderful.' I said, `Yeah, the
script's wonderful and everything. I love it. But I don't want to be in
horror movies. I don't like them. I don't like the violence. I don't want
to kill anybody, and I don't like getting killed.' And at that time I'd been
in a lot of movies where I was getting killed, and it was upsetting my mother
and me that I was dying so often in films. So I had made a promise that I
wouldn't die anymore.

And in the second one we put together this contract that was very patient of
them to put together, where I would say, `Well, I don't die and I don't want
to kill anybody and'--sort of this impossible task of `Well, then how do you
act in a horror movie if you don't die and you don't want to kill people?'

BIANCULLI: Liev Schreiber, speaking with Terry Gross. He's co-starring in
the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate," which opens today. We'll hear more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's conversation with actor Liev Schreiber.
He's co-starring in the remake of "The Manchurian Candidate." When they spoke
in 1999, Terry asked him about the film "A Walk on the Moon." The story takes
places in 1969, the summer of Woodstock and the first moon walk. Schreiber
plays a husband and father whose family vacations in a bungalow colony in the
Catskills. In this scene he finds out his wife is having an affair. She even
went to Woodstock with the guy while her husband was working in the city.

(Soundbite of "A Walk on the Moon")

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As Marty Kantrowitz) Where'd you meet him?

Ms. DIANE LANE: (As Pearl Kantrowitz) He's a salesman.

(Soundbite of coughing)

Mr. SCHREIBER: Whoo! This is great. Whoo. It's like a Johnny Yune routine.
So is he a traveling salesman?

Ms. LANE: Sort of.

Mr. SCHREIBER: What's he sell?

Ms. LANE: Blouses.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Blouses? He's the blouse man. You're (censored) the blouse
man. Jesus, Pearl, why don't you (censored) the dress man? At least that way
you'd get a whole outfit, you know.

GROSS: After a role like "A Walk on the Moon," I would think that you'd
really understand, you know, what it's like to grow up in, you know, a pretty
conventional middle-class family. And then, you know, I was reading about
you, and you didn't grow up in a conventional middle-class family at all.


GROSS: Tell us something about your mother and the home that you grew up in.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Well, my mother and I moved to New York when I was about five
years old, and my mother was a bit of an eccentric. She was an artist, and
moving to New York for her, you know, poverty was no problem; in fact, poverty
was kind of an adventure for her. So we lived in, you know, buildings without
electricity and hot water, and my mother had jobs where she was a cab driver,
she made papier-mache puppets, she had a health food business. She did
everything that she could, or everything that she wanted to, to make a living
and, you know, was kind of successful at it.

What was so wonderful about "Walk on the Moon" was that when Dustin and I met
on "Sphere," my grandfather, who had kind of been the father figure in my
life, had passed away fairly, fairly recently. And I was very upset by that
and still very kind of confused with it and processing it. And suddenly
Dustin came to me with this script, and it was one of those sort of
serendipitous moments where you are allowed to work something out through your
job. And the character of Marty was essentially--in my mind, he just reminded
me so much of my grandfather. And that kind of work ethic and that kind of
life and that kind of relationship was something that I was familiar with
through him. And...

GROSS: What kind of work did your grandfather do?

Mr. SCHREIBER: He delivered meat to diners. And he had a little van, and I
used to go out with him in the mornings. And he would deliver meat to, like,
Jones Diner on Great Jones Street and Dubrau's(ph) up in the Fashion District.
And, you know, it was really hard work, but at the same time my grandfather,
who had this, you know, blue-collar job, he also played the cello and
collected art.

So that kind of contradiction in character, which I thought was Marty as well,
was that here was a guy who really was very interested in science and wanted
very much to pursue academia but didn't have the opportunity because he was
supporting his family and was incredibly loyal to his family and a real--I
think `mensch' is the perfect word for him.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SCHREIBER: And that was very much my grandfather.

GROSS: How did you decide you wanted to act?

Mr. SCHREIBER: I think I was just one of those kids who early on in English
class was always sort of volunteering to read the Shakespeare. I had, for one
reason or another, taken to Shakespeare right away and had always been good
with language and was an early reader. And I think maybe in feeling a little
bit like an outsider growing up and being different and what have you, I think
that I sort of leapt at the opportunity to assimilate. And for me, oddly
enough, acting was assimilating. It was showing that you could act like
everyone else. You could be normal. People could identify with you. You
could make jokes, you could make people laugh, you could affect people's
feelings, where socially you felt maybe you weren't. It wasn't as easy to do
that through acting. It was not only easy, but it was safe. And it was also
a tremendous amount of fun, and I thought, `Jeez, you know, if I can paid to
do that, that'd be cake.'

GROSS: I think for most actors, like, their faces and their bodies determine,
in part, the roles that they're given, the roles that they're allowed to play.

Mr. SCHREIBER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: How do you think the way you look has affected the roles that you've

Mr. SCHREIBER: I'm not sure, you know. It's changing all the time.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SCHREIBER: I think probably what has served me best, ironically, is a
certain amount of anonymity that I've enjoyed for the past seven years, that
people don't know who I am. And that's been great for me because it's allowed
me to do a lot of different kind of characters. I think that one of the
problems with Hollywood that I've never had to come up against and probably
will now--I'll probably being playing Orson Welles-type characters for the
next year or so--is that you are as good as your last role. And because I've
been able to do kind of supporting roles in smaller character parts and have
not really done any press to speak of until this past year, it's really
allowed me to do a lot of different kinds of things, which has just been

GROSS: Yeah. You've said in one interview that there's two different kinds
of full-time jobs: One is celebrity and the other is actor.


GROSS: Have you met a lot of celebrity actors for whom you think celebrity
has really interfered with their ability to act?

Mr. SCHREIBER: I think it can interfere with your ability to act because
what happens is you have to--I mean, celebrity really is a full-time job if
you choose to pursue it. And then part of pursuing it is embracing the
character that the press has assigned you. And that, in itself, is acting.
And if you spend all of your time doing that character, your range is
decreased, and the acceptance of the public to see you as anything else is
also very limited.

And I think that--you know, it was like the thing I was saying before about
playing character in general is that audiences want to go to a theater, I
believe, and become the characters in the film. They want to identify with
the characters in the film. And I think the more you define yourself outside
of being an actor, as being a personality or as a celebrity, the more
difficult it is for them to identify with the character you're playing in the
film or in the play. And the sad part of that is that it kind of--then they
lose their ability to identify with you as the character. And whereas we may
want to watch the celebrity and we may fantasize about having some sort of
relationship with that celebrity, ultimately we're not as connected to the
story because we're just watching the celebrity and not participating in the
story ourselves.

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

Mr. SCHREIBER: Thank you.

BIANCULLI: Liev Schreiber speaking with Terry Gross in 1999. He's starring
in the new remake of "The Manchurian Candidate."

Coming up, a review of that film. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Review: Remake of the 1962 film "The Manchurian Candidate"

In 1962, Richard Condon's novel "The Manchurian Candidate" became the basis
for a wildly controversial thriller by John Frankenheimer starring Frank
Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury. Now, in time for campaign
season, director Jonathan Demme, renowned for such movies as "Melvin and
Howard" and "The Silence of the Lambs," gives us an update starring Denzel
Washington and Meryl Streep. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.


Like many of you, I imagine, when I heard someone was remaking "The Manchurian
Candidate," I let out one of those long groans. The John Frankenheimer
original from Richard Condon's novel is not just one of the great dynamic
American thrillers but a movie that was indelibly early '60s, when fear of
Communists collided with revulsion for the Red-baiting senator, Joseph
McCarthy; when brainwashing and the bomb and '50s ultrasensitive mamma's boys
and Freudian monster mammas all coalesced into the freakiest paranoid
melodrama the country had ever seen. And it came out during the Cuban Missile
Crisis when people's heads were already messed up.

So could a big-budget studio movie in 2004 have anything like that crazy
audacity? Not even close. The remake doesn't have the same cynical
flamboyance, and it doesn't make you sick with dread. But it's still an
excellent melodrama. What it has is a passionate conviction. In the hands of
the director, Jonathan Demme, the new "Manchurian Candidate" is a thriller
with some of "Fahrenheit 9/11's" fire in the belly and an aura of tragedy to
go with it.

The terrible, new threat isn't Reds or terrorists but multinational
conglomerates which function, as a recent documentary called "The Corporation"
contends, with the same level of conscience as a textbook psychopath. The
`Manchurian' of the title is now Manchurian Global, a corporation obviously
modeled on Halliburton, down to the no-bid contracts. And the title character
is different. In the original it's the buffoonish, McCarthy-like vice
presidential nominee groomed to win the presidency when his brainwashed
stepson assassinates his running mate.

Now that stepson, the alleged war hero Raymond Shaw, this time of Desert
Storm, is himself the `Manchurian candidate.' That's good and bad: good
because it upends much of what we recall from the original, so that at every
turn Demme and his screenwriters are playing with our expectations; it's bad
because Demme and the actor, Liev Schreiber, haven't rethought the character.
He's, if anything, an even more charmless, abrasive rich boy. And the method
actorish Schreiber doesn't bother to make him a plausible politician, thus
blowing the chance for some good, nasty satire in this convention season.

But the other parts are played to the hilt and in the case of Meryl Streep as
Raymond's mother, now herself a God-and-country conservative senator, the hilt
above the hilt.

(Soundbite of "The Manchurian Candidate")

Ms. MERYL STREEP: (As Senator Eleanor Shaw) This is about my son and the
future of this country.

Unidentified Man #1: I thought we understood each other.

Ms. STREEP: (Laughs) I think we do. I think we really do. Your god is
money. And you...

Unidentified Man #1: Oh, wait, wait. Hold it. And yours isn't?

Ms. STREEP: No, no, I'm a believer. I am an optimist. I believe in the
future. And people who do are the ones who make history...

Unidentified Man #2: Ellie...

Ms. STREEP: ...instead of just sitting around and watching it. No, they're
willing to take the big risks. Yes, I made a decision. Oh, God, where are
all the men anymore? My father, Tyler Prentiss, never asked, `Is this OK? Is
this OK?' You know what I'm saying, Mark? He just did what needed to be

EDELSTEIN: As you can hear, Streep substitutes high-wire theatrical energy for
Angela Lansbury's simmering inner demonism. And the performance is as
over-the-top hilarious as Streep used to be on stage, before jitters drove her
full-time to the screen. The way she spits out the description of the liberal
Senator Jordan, played by Jon Voight, as a one-worlder had me screaming. And
she stops the movie just by crunching down on some ice cubes with a mixture of
savagery and insouciance.

The work of Denzel Washington as Army Major Ben Marco is in a completely
different key. The actor, who won an Oscar for his charismatic grandstanding
in "Training Day," is here a messed-up, mumbling shell of a man; his eyes
pulling back in anguish while from his mouth come things that someone in the
desert of Kuwait programmed him to say. He doesn't yet know who and how and
why. I've never seen this cock-of-the-walk actor hit such notes of
helplessness. The role must have cost him something, and it's a personal

It's also a testament to Jonathan Demme's humanism. Maybe Demme isn't enough
of a sadist to make a thriller that brutally works you over. And the movie
does slacken and go a little soft in the climax, but the dread with which it's
permeated almost compensates. The scenes of the soldiers in Raymond's old
squadron, who know that something's in their heads but not what, give the
whole film the feel of a post-traumatic stress disorder nightmare, a bad dream
of good men losing their minds and bodies while the powerful look on with
monstrous indifference. No, it's not the twisted, sexy, tragicomic dynamite
of 1962. It's more like a toxin that eats at your insides.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for Slate.

(Soundbite of music)


BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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