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Jon Stewart On The 'Daily Show': 'I'm Still Really Proud Of The Work We Do'

Stewart talks about his future hosting the show known for its political satire. "It is unclear to me," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "The minute I say I'm not going to do it anymore, I will miss it like crazy."


Other segments from the episode on November 19, 2014

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 19, 2014: Interview with Jon Stewart; Interview with Bennett Miller; Review of the Bob Dylan-inspired compilation album "Lost on the Rriver: The New Basement…


November 19, 2014

Guests: Jon Stewart - Bennett Miller

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. When I recorded my interview with Jon Stewart last week about writing and directing his new film "Rosewater," we also spent some time talking about "The Daily Show." But there wasn't time for that chapter in last week's broadcast, so we have that part for you today.

Jon Stewart took a leave of absence from "The Daily Show" in the summer of 2013 to shoot "Rosewater," which he adapted from the memoir by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-born journalist now living in England. Bahari was imprisoned in Iran in 2009 after covering the country's contested election and the protests surrounding it. Bahari was accused of being a spy, and part of the evidence his interrogator used against him was his appearance in a satirical report on "The Daily Show." So here's part two of my interview with Jon Stewart.


GROSS: One of the pieces that you did in the recent past was on the so-called latte salute when president Obama, you know...


GROSS: ...Exited Marine One, I think it was...


GROSS: ...With a cup of coffee in his hand and saluted the Marines with a cup of coffee in his hands...

STEWART: Correct.

GROSS: ...And a lot of people on the right said that is so disrespectful of...

STEWART: Of course they did. How dare he. And their outrage was genuine, and from a place of true patriotism.

GROSS: (Laughter) So out...

STEWART: To salute with a latte - make it an American coffee - black from 7 Eleven.

GROSS: (Laughter) So I want to play an excerpt of the comments that you made about that on the show.


GROSS: And we'll start with a collage of clips that you showed of right-wing pundits commenting on the latte salute.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Learn the proper respect of the salute.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's insensitive.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: What's the meaning of it? That's it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: It looks terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: It's outlandish and it's disappointing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Put your coffee in the other hand.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Our commander-in-chief displayed his complete disrespect for the men and women in uniform.

STEWART: Shut up.


STEWART: You don't really care. You don't really care about this. You have no principal about this. You're just trying to score points in a game that no one else is playing. Here's how we know.

ERIC BOLLING: It's an arrogance that he portrays. These people put their lives on the line for us.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You're right.

BOLLING: Show the respect. Salute these guys.

STEWART: So the principal here is show respect for the people who are putting their lives on the line for this fight. Here's Eric Bolling on that very same episode.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: The first female pilot piloting for the UAE dropped the bombs on ISIS on Monday night.

BOLLING: Would that be considered boobs on the ground, or no?

STEWART: First of all, forget the rampant sexism in that statement. Second of all, she's a pilot, so whatever gender-specific equipment she might be carrying is in the [bleep]ing air.


STEWART: And thirdly, what was the quote that someone said earlier in your program? These people are putting their lives on the line for us. Show respect. So [bleep] you and all your false patriotism. When Bush took us to war...


STEWART: ...Any criticism was shouted down as treasonous. When Bush took us to war, any criticism was shouted down as treasonous. But a president you don't like has the country poised on the same precipice - no transgression, no matter how immaterial and ridiculous is too small to cite as evidence that this president isn't as American as you are.

GROSS: OK, that's John's Stewart on "The Daily Show." You sound genuinely angry. I mean when I heard that on TV, I thought, like, that's the real thing. He's mad.

STEWART: Well, I think it's - you know, we have to do a show everyday, and there's certain days that you bring things to the floor that you don't have the same outrage or passion for. And then there are certain things that happen that truly ignite - that truly get to the crux of the dysfunction of our system, and that's one of those. And it's wildly upsetting to watch that go down - you know, for them to be so relentless in their attack on the president for something that they not only didn't care about with the president previous to this, but the president previous to this would salute the troops with a dog in his arms - with a Scotty.

They don't care about the reality of it. They care about symbolism. They care about wearing a flag pin as opposed to coming up with actual strategies that don't put soldiers in unnecessary danger for poor planning. So as long as they want to attack symbolism, we'll try to attack the reality that surrounds it.

GROSS: So, you know, you talk about this being false patriotism in that piece. And I'm wondering if that makes you...

STEWART: Well, because it's wielded. They wield it like a cudgel. They - you know, they wield it as though - you know, they've spent years talking about how this president or anybody on the progressive side is somehow not really American. They love America. They just hate about 50 percent of the people who live there. And it's infuriating.

GROSS: Does this make you angrier - are you angrier about that after your experiences over the summer shooting the film about Maziar, who was a political prisoner in an authoritarian regime - after visiting Egypt where Bassem Youssef was thrown off the air because of his satire and - you know and imprisoned for a while, too, but - and silenced. So do you find yourself being angrier about the things that you're angry about?

STEWART: That's a good question. I honestly don't think that's the case. I think I'm angrier about it because I view the media as such a great tool against that type of cudgel - against that type of authoritarian mentality - against that type of dogma, and to see it utilized in service for that is what I think is so angering about it.

GROSS: Recently, I was surprised to see on television ads for Koch Industries. And I'd never seen Koch Industries advertised before. And these are ads for the multinational that is owned by the Koch family and the Koch brothers. Charles and David are two - like, they have several different organizations that fund a lot of conservative - like, ultraconservative groups. They spent a fortune on political campaign ads during this election. Anyways, so this is a short ad that doesn't tell you what Koch industries does. There's no product that they're selling.

STEWART: Right, right, right.

GROSS: Anyways, they took out an ad on your show...


GROSS: ...Which you ended up parodying. And...

STEWART: Yes. We assumed they were trolling us at some level.

GROSS: (Laughter) So what - first of all - and apparently you didn't know that they had bought an ad on your show until after the fact.

STEWART: Right. Well, people don't tell - it's not like anybody...

GROSS: Right.

STEWART: Hey, we got Burger King. You know, nobody - we don't even pay attention to that.

GROSS: Well, the ads aren't on while you're shooting the show. They're inserted afterwards, right?

STEWART: That's correct. And we don't - you know, we're very separate. I think our job is sort of to do a good enough show that Comedy Central can sell ads, but they don't ever consult us. It's not as though they would call us up and say, are you OK with Verizon? They have their - you know, they have their side. We have our side.

GROSS: No, I mean it's kind of like in journalism. There should be a firewall between advertising and editorial.

STEWART: Right, right, right. That's correct.

GROSS: But anyway, so what was your reaction when you found out that the Koch brothers who you parody a lot - you know, who you satirize a lot on the show (laughter) had taken out an ad on the show?

STEWART: My reaction was - I believe a small lightbulb popped over the head, and I went, (singing) opportunity.

GROSS: (Laughter).

STEWART: You know, it's a gift. I thought it was a grand gift, and it was very kind of them to hand us something along those lines, especially given the Reagan-esque commercial that they produced for themselves - this sort of (impersonating narrator) Koch industries is growing wheat so your grandmother can live.

GROSS: (Laughter).

STEWART: You know, it's really - it's quite the commercial they put together. It's the kind of commercial that corporations usually do after they've killed a bunch of people by pouring something into a river they weren't supposed to pour into a river. So it definitely has that air of, please don't look at what we really do. Just look at this field. Isn't it pretty? Isn't it?

GROSS: What I'd like to do is play the Koch Industries ad and then hear the satire of that that you did on the show. So let's start with the Koch Industries ad.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Koch industries started in the heartland. We help make better food, clothing, shelter, technologies and other necessities. We build on each other's ideas to create more opportunities for people everywhere. We are Koch.

GROSS: OK, and here's Samantha Bee voicing " The Daily Show's" satire of that ad.


SAMANTHA BEE: We're Koch industries - not just an energy company. We're in your food, in your pants and in your home. And if there's a way to monetize your thoughts, we'll find it, all while backing 17 shadow organizations to buy elections from Pennsylvania Avenue to Main Street. You won't always see our names on our campaign ads because the politicians we own say that's OK. With our heartfelt devotion to fossil fuels, we make your planet warmer and your water more flammable while lubricating your birds and rearranging your polar bears. We can't raise your little girl for you, but we can handpick her school board and approve her textbooks. And when she lands her first job, we'll be fighting to reduce the minimum wage because we actually believe it could lead to Nazism - yeah, Nazism. We're that [bleep] out there. We're Koch industries, the next generation of robber barons, bending the democratic process to our will since 1980. Oh, and our brother David likes ballet.

GROSS: (Laughter) So that's the "Daily Show" satire of the Koch brothers' ad that ran on "The Daily Show." Did Koch Industries respond to that?

STEWART: Not that I'm aware of, no. I mean I don't know that they, you know, monitor it in that regard. I don't know. They seem somewhat thin-skinned in that regard, but I don't know - it's not like they called us. I mean we do get called. There are - you know, generally if we do a piece on something, you know, people will respond to it. They'll call us or they'll fire something off. But we didn't hear anything. We don't know if they're continuing to advertise. We don't know if it was merely a troll. We don't know if it was done just before the midterms. We honestly - we finished the show and go, yay, and then we move on to the next thing and try and figure out - so we're actually never really in contact with the - I guess you would -the advertising people. And they didn't call us and say hey, could you lay off the Koch brothers? They're giving us money.

GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about the process of writing that satire?

STEWART: It came from just deconstructing what it is they actually do versus what they would like you to think they do, and creating just a more visible template of all the things they've got - all the pies they've got their fingers in, as opposed to that - you know, it's like those BP commercials when they come out and say, you know, (impersonating narrator) we're working for a better energy tomorrow.

And you're like yeah, but what are you doing today? So it was that type of thing - is trying to just be very literal in our articulation of exactly what they do. So it had to have a great deal of specificity, and it had to reflect the actuality of what they were conducting through the political arena.

GROSS: We're listening to part two of my interview with Jon Stewart. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're listening to part two of my interview with Jon Stewart. He's been hosting "The Daily Show" since 1999, but took a break in the summer of 2013 to shoot the new film "Rosewater," Stewart's debut as a screenwriter and director.


GROSS: In a lot of ways, I think it takes courage to do something that you don't yet know how to do, and you don't know if you're going to be good at it when you're already the best at what it is that you do.

STEWART: But I - it's definitely not - I never - I don't think it's courage. It's more the sense of - you know, when you're a standup comic, you learn by doing standup comedy. So I think what is steeped in you is this idea of, that's how the process works. You throw yourself in. There is no way to get experience. You just do it. You know, people will always say to me, how do I become a standup comedian? And I say well, I think you should probably get on a stage and tell jokes because that's all you have. It's on the job training.

So I think when that is your work history, you don't view that as a strange thing. Oh, you've never shot a film before. Yeah, but I never did stand up comedy before. You just kind of go out and do it. And the best part about this is - as opposed to stand up comedy - you can surround yourself by people with great expertise and talent who can support your - you know, not to sound too Rumsfeldian, but I didn't know what I didn't know. And I was very clear with them at the outset, you know, you're going to have to raise flags early and often if I seem to be going off the rails here.

GROSS: So your contract with "The Daily Show" is up, I think, at the end of next year. And everybody's wondering if you're going to renew or not. I'm not going to ask you. You probably - you might not know, and even if you did, I wouldn't expect you to tell us.


GROSS: But I'm just thinking of the difficult spot that you're in 'cause, you know, maybe you want to try something else, especially after having done this film. Maybe you're a little, you know, restless. On the other hand, you're so darn good at doing "The Daily Show."

STEWART: (Laughter) That's kind of you.

GROSS: And it's - people like me - I mean I feel so conflicted. I want you to be happy. I want you to do whatever...

STEWART: Well, thank you, Terry. That's very kind of you.

GROSS: ...Wherever your heart takes you, Jon Stewart, I want you to go.

STEWART: Thank you, Terry Gross. You're very kind.

GROSS: But at the same time, I really - I - like, I really don't want you to leave, you know?

STEWART: Well, that's very kind of you, and it's nice to hear.

GROSS: So you've got that pull.

STEWART: It's much better than, I would like you to leave. That would be a lot worse to hear.

GROSS: But you've got that pull. You've got fans like me, like, you know, wanting to keep you in place. And then also, like, you must know some place in your mind that, like, you're so darn good at it. Like, you created this thing that has so caught on - that has kind of changed the nature of political satire in America. There's all these offshoots of it now on television including John Oliver's show, "The Colbert Report." And I know that's about to end. Larry Wilmore's show - you're an executive producer of that.


GROSS: So anyways, I'm just wondering about the conflict that maybe you'd be feeling about knowing how special this thing is that you created and yet perhaps wanting to do something else.

STEWART: I think that's - you know, it's always difficult. I do feel like I don't know that there will ever be anything that I will ever be as well suited for as this show. That being said, I think there are moments when you realize that that's not enough anymore, or that maybe it's time for some discomfort. And sometimes, the comfort of that - you know, I'll never - I'm certainly convinced I'll never find the type of people that I've been able to work with in that environment and be able to have that feeling of utilizing sort of every part of something that I think I can do. I felt like I utilized to full capacity on that show.

And I'm still really proud of - you know, I'm really glad that you brought up those bits. I think there's other bits that we've been doing - I think there's a tendency when something's been on the air for a really long time to dismiss it only because of its familiarity. And it's hard to retain that first blush of love that you have when you first find something that takes you, whether it be, you know, artistic, material or music or other things. But I'm still really proud of the work we do day in and day out and hold up some of the bits that we've done recently to anything that we have done in the history of the program.

And so that is the difficulty - is when do you decide that even though it's this place of great comfort and you feel like you're plugged into it like you've never been plugged into anything else that you've ever done, you know is there also a part of you that - you know there are other considerations of family or even in the sense of just not wanting to be on television all the time. You know, there are - you can't just stay in the same place because it feels like you've built a nice house there. And that's really the thing that I struggle with. And it is unclear to me.

I will - the minute I say I'm not going to do it anymore, I will miss it like crazy, and I will consider that to be a terrible mistake that I have just made, and I will want to grab it back. That being said, you know, the moment I sign on for more, I might feel as though it's sort of like that scene - you ever see with George Costanza? Not to go back to "Seinfeld," but I'm going to go back to "Seinfeld."

GROSS: Yeah.

STEWART: George Costanza - do you remember he went out with Susan?

GROSS: Yeah.

STEWART: And they broke up. And then he decided he was going to ask her to get back together, and he was going to marry her. And he was all excited, and he did it, and she took him back. And there's that scene of him walking up the stairs with her to the apartment, and the minute he starts walking up the stairs he goes, what have I done? This is the worst thing I've ever done. I've got to get out of this relationship.

GROSS: (Laughter).

STEWART: That's what you're trying to balance with.

GROSS: Right.

STEWART: But, that being said, you know, you said earlier, you're in this sort of unfortunate position. I would say that I'm in the most fortunate position. I cannot tell you how fortunate I have been in this business to have worked with people like Stephen and John Oliver and Larry Wilmore and the writers and producers that we have at the show and all the opportunities that I have. And I consider it gravy - everything. You know, I hate to even get maudlin or weepy about it, but it's been - it's so far exceeded my expectations of what this business would be like for me.

GROSS: I have to let you go, but I just want to say I'm going to miss Stephen Colbert so much when the show ends even though...


GROSS: ...I'll certainly want to see him on his new show. But I'm going to miss "The Colbert Report."

STEWART: He's going to be great.

GROSS: Oh, I have no doubt about that.

STEWART: Yeah, he's...

GROSS: But I can only imagine how much you're going to miss having him as a colleague - having back-to-back shows and you know...

STEWART: The back-to-back shows, I will because I feel like we are sort of - it's so complimentary. And I feel like we're a whole hour. I don't ever feel like it's our half-hour and his half-hour. I feel like it's an hour.

But somebody said that to me. They said, are you going to miss Stephen Colbert? And I said well, actually, you know, I'm not going to miss Stephen Colbert 'cause I still get to talk to Stephen Colbert all the time.


STEWART: And the Stephen Colbert that I know and love is luckily always just a phone call away. So, you know, the show I've always admired and just been sort of blown away by, but the man is even more impressive, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he's going to do.

GROSS: Jon Stewart, it's been so wonderful to talk with you again. Thank you so much.

STEWART: It's wonderful to talk to you, Terry. Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

GROSS: (Laughter) Jon Stewart is the host of "The Daily Show." He wrote and directed the new film "Rosewater." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The new film "Foxcatcher" stars Steve Carell as John du Pont, the eccentric air to the du Pont chemical fortune who, in 1997, became one of the wealthiest men in America ever convicted of murder. He thought of himself as an expert on many things, including guns and wrestling. In the 1980s and '90s, he invited Olympic wrestlers to live and train on his estate. He considered himself their wrestling coach. He eventually shot and killed one of those wrestlers, Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz. The film focuses on du Pont's relationship with Dave Schultz, who's played by Mark Ruffalo, and his younger brother Mark, whom du Pont first invited to come and train at his estate, called Foxcatcher Farm. Our guest today is the film's director, Bennett Miller. He also directed "Capote" and "Money Ball." He spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. They began with this early scene from "Foxcatcher." Mark Schultz, who's already won a gold medal and is struggling to train for the next Olympics with little support, has been invited to visit du Pont at his lavish estate. Mark Schultz is played by Channing Tatum. Du Pont, played by Steve Carell, speaks first.


STEVE CARELL: (As John du Pont) Do you have any idea why I asked you to come here today?

CHANNING TATUM: (As Mark Schultz) No.

CARELL: (As John du Pont) No? Well, Mark, do you have - do you have any idea who I am?

TATUM: (As Mark Schultz) No.

CARELL: (As John du Pont) Some rich guy calls you on the phone. I want Mark Schultz to come visit me. Well, I'm a - I'm a wrestling coach. And I have a deep love for the sport of wrestling. And I wanted to speak with you about your future, about what you hope to achieve. What do you hope to achieve, Mark?

TATUM: (As Mark Schultz) I want to be the best in the world. I want to go to World's and win gold. I want to go to the '88 Olympics in Seoul and win gold.

CARELL: (As John du Pont) Good. I'm proud of you.


Well, Bennett Miller, welcome to FRESH AIR. Tell us about casting Steve Carell in this role. I mean, a lot of people see this as really surprising.

BENNETT MILLER: Nobody expected John du Pont to murder anybody. And it just made a certain amount of sense to put somebody in that role who we do not expect as capable of doing what this character does. When I first started discussing this venture with Steve Carell, he said to me that he'd only ever played characters with mushy centers and that John du Pont seems to have a mushy center but doesn't. He's dangerous. And I liked how Steve put it. And as we spoke, it became clear. What I think we all already know anyway is that public personas, and maybe even more so with comedic actors, have a side to them that they don't share with the world. You know, there's a public self, and then there's a private reality. And it didn't take a lot of imagination for me to see how that - something like that could work with Steve. But I'd also like to say, I just think he's - he's a really strong actor. And as is often the case with comedic actors, he's just awfully sensitive. He's very aware and listens. I just find him to be a very specific, very interesting and very gifted, sensitive actor.

DAVIES: The wrestling scenes themselves are really compelling. And you just feel the force and the impact of these guys throwing each other around. And this was actually Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum. They weren't stand-ins, right? They had to learn how to do this, right?

MILLER: Yeah. It's not a sport that you can fake on film. You know, you can fake throwing a punch on film. This is just not a sport that you can do that. And you also can't go half way with it. You really need to feel bodies crashing against each other. And so they spent about seven months training, getting ready for this.

DAVIES: You had the cooperation of the Schultz family, I mean, who had suffered this terrible trauma so many years ago. And I'm wondering, I would think they would be wary of someone, you know, making a movie out of something which was a fascinating story but also a really sensational crime story. Were they?

MILLER: They were obviously very interested and wanted to know what was happening. And we were very transparent about everything and met with them numerous times. And they ended up just being trusting and generous. And Nancy Schultz, at one point, gave Mark Ruffalo, who plays Dave Schultz, her husband who was murdered by John du Pont - she gave Mark Ruffalo Dave's glasses to wear during the movie. It might seem like a small gesture. But, you know, the moment where she hands those over and says, you know, Mark, I'd like to give you these for the part, there's a certain power to that, you know, just what the gesture meant, the measure of trust that that expresses. And when I see Ruffalo wearing those in the film, it's just - I just think it has some kind of an effect.

DAVIES: Well, let's listen to another scene from the film. This takes place at the wrestling facility at Foxcatcher, the state owned by du Pont. And the team's working out. And John du Pont, who sees himself as the coach of all these champion wrestlers, is having a documentary made. So there's a film and camera crew going as he's shooting the scene. The Olympics are coming up. And in this scene, John du Pont, who's of course played by Steve Carell, is approached by Dave Schultz, played by Mark Ruffalo. Du Pont's mother has just died. But part of what they're talking about is that they want to get Dave's brother, Mark Schultz, ready for the Olympics.


MARK RUFFALO: (As Dave Schultz) Hey, John. I'm really sorry about your mother.

CARELL: (As John du Pont) Oh, no, no, no, no. It's fine.

RUFFALO: (As Dave Schultz) Really? Are you OK?

CARELL: (As John du Pont) It's fine. Yes.

RUFFALO: (As Dave Schultz) Are you sure?

CARELL: (As John du Pont) David, we have a lot of work to do in the next couple of months. And you're an integral part of that. You understand?

RUFFALO: (As Dave Schultz) I understand.

CARELL: (As John du Pont) I'm going to need you. And I will be relying on you to a great extent. I want more than anything to win a gold medal. And we have someone who could do that.

RUFFALO: (As Dave Schultz) And we're going to win a gold medal, John.

CARELL: (As John du Pont) How - how are you feeling about it?

RUFFALO: (As Dave Schultz) I feel very good about it.

CARELL: (As John du Pont) I'm a little concerned that there are some psychological issues that we need to take care of.

RUFFALO: (As Dave Schultz) I think he's going to be in real good shape.

CARELL: (As John du Pont) Well, I think you're doing a great job.

RUFFALO: (As Dave Schultz) Thank you.

CARELL: (As John du Pont) And I think that with you and I working in tandem, if we can't get him there, no one can. All right, (patting Mark Ruffalo) get back.

RUFFALO: (As Dave Schultz, patting Steve Carell) OK.

DAVIES: And that's Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo from the film "Foxcatcher," directed by our guest, Bennett Miller. You know, one of the things we hear in that clip, apart from this really strange dialogue, is a lot of pats. These guys are sort of awkwardly expressing limited physical affection, patting each other on the shoulder and the back. And, you know, wrestling is interesting because there is so much kind of intense, physical grappling. And you've got, you know, du Pont, who is a very lonely man, starved for affection. I wonder to what extent you saw physical attraction as part of these relationships and how you approached that.

MILLER: You know, there really is a fraternity amongst these wrestlers. And I think du Pont was drawn into that. And I personally was struck the first time I visited the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and watched how physical these guys were with each other, meaning when they're not wrestling, that there's just real physical affection that's not sexual. But du Pont, I suspect, you know, had other drives. And whatever he admitted to himself, I couldn't say for sure. But, I mean, I don't think anything ever became explicit between him and any of the wrestlers. I really don't believe that anything like that ever happened. But I also believe that it's probably part of what drew him into the sport.

DAVIES: Bennett Miller's new film is "Foxcatcher," starring Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR and if you're just joining us, our guest is film director Bennett Miller. His new film is "Foxcatcher" starring Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum.

I want to talk about "Capote," the 2005 film you directed and of course, Philip Seymour Hoffman I think is just terrific in this role. I mean, I'm old enough to remember Truman Capote and I just completely believed him in it. I mean he is physically a much larger guy and has a very deep voice. That is to say, Philip Seymour Hoffman does, whereas Capote didn't. What gave you the confidence he could do this? What made you choose him?

MILLER: The physical aspect aside, that Phil would really understand who this guy was, where he was in his life and the demons that he was battling with. Also, he had such a - it's such a colorful, flagrant and flamboyant character that it could, in the hands of the wrong actor, quickly become a caricature and I think Phil was incapable of working in a superficial way. He's like an inside-out actor. It really begins with the core and the emotional connection and an understanding of what's at the root of this behavior.

DAVIES: Let's listen to a clip from "Capote." It's of course the story of Truman Capote, who's looking into the murder of an entire family in Kansas and he's writing the book which came to be "In Cold Blood" and in this scene, it's one of many prison interviews he has with Perry Smith, one of two men arrested for the murders. They're years into this complicated relationship already where they confide in one another and manipulate each other. And as it happens, Truman Capote has just come from New York where he had a public reading of a portion of the book in process, and Perry is very angry.

So let's listen to this. This is Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Truman Capote. The role of Perry Smith, the accused murderer, is played by Clifton Collins, Jr.


CLIFTON COLLINS, JR.: (As Perry Smith) What's the name of your book? What's the name of your book?

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (As Truman Capote) I don't know what you're talking about.

COLLINS, JR.: (As Perry Smith) Truman Capote read last night before a packed audience from his nonfiction book, "In Cold Blood." The true crime novel tells of killers Richard Hickok and Perry Smith, who brutally murdered a Kansas family three years ago.

HOFFMAN: (As Truman Capote) Who sent that to you?

COLLINS, JR.: (As Perry Smith) It's not your goddamn business.

HOFFMAN: (As Truman Capote) It is my business because it's not true. The organizers of the reading needed a title. They picked one - a sensational one, I admit - to attract a crowd.

COLLINS, JR.: (As Perry Smith) They picked it?

HOFFMAN: (As Truman Capote) Yes.

COLLINS, JR.: (As Perry Smith) It's not your title?

HOFFMAN: (As Truman Capote) Perry, I haven't chosen one yet.

DAVIES: And that is Philip Seymour Hoffman and Clifton Collins, Jr. in the film "Capote," directed by our guest Bennett Miller. So much going on in that scene - I mean, Capote just lying to him, trying to get what he wants for his book. You know, and I wondered you know, all four of your feature films are based on true events and I wonder if in some way, you kind of identify with the situation that Capote was in, where you want the truth from your subjects but you also know that you can't ever tell the whole story in the film and what emerges might disappoint your subjects. I'm assuming that you don't blatantly lie to them the way Capote's doing to Perry Smith there, but is it, I don't know, the awkwardness of making art out of reality?

MILLER: It's touchy business because there's every chance that there's going to be a conflict of interest. Even though these stories are all true - and often sensational stories - the interest for them is not simply sensational or that they're good stories. There's always something larger. There there's always something allegorical, for me, at least and if that's what I'm reaching for then hopefully it's not going to violate anybody who's lived the story's sense of truthfulness. That's the negotiation.

DAVIES: You got a note from Harper Lee, who was Truman Capote's companion in doing the research for "In Cold Blood." What'd she tell you?

MILLER: Yeah, she sent a handwritten note after the film had come out and I'd had no contact with her. None of us had had any contact with her.

DAVIES: And she's played by Catherine Keener in the film. There's a partner. She does a terrific job.

MILLER: Correct. So Harper Lee sends a note saying essentially that you know, you must know that quite a bit of how the story is represented did not go down exactly like that, that there's quite a bit of imagination that was brought into the story. But in her view, it was some kind of a triumph of fiction towards the truth.

She said to me, if you would like a quote from me that you can use, you can say, quote, "the film told the truth about Truman," end-quote. Her description of it ended up being the kind of standard that we reach for.

DAVIES: Right, that's as good as you can do. You told the truth about your subject.


DAVIES: Before we go, we should play a clip from "Moneyball," the 2011 film you directed. This is based on the 2003 book by Michael Lewis about the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane and how he used kind of a new mathematically-oriented system to evaluate and hire affordable players, and this is a scene fairly early in the film when Billy Beane's sitting down with his band of experienced scouts, trying to figure out what they're going to do because they've lost three of their best players to free agency and Beane of course, is played by Brad Pitt. Let's listen.


KEN MEDLOCK: (As Grady Fuson) We all understand what the problem is, we have to replace...

BRAD PITT: (As Billy Beane) OK, good - what's the problem?

MEDLOCK: (As Grady Fuson) The problem is, we have to replace three key players in our lineup.

PITT: (As Billy Beane) Nope. What's the problem?

JACK MCGEE: (As John Poloni) Same as it's ever been, we've gotta replace these guys with what we have existing...

PITT: (As Billy Beane) Nope. What's the problem, Barry?

BARRY MOSS: (As Scout Barry) We need 38 home runs, 120 RBI's and...

PITT: (As Billy Beane, making game show buzzing noise to indicate incorrect answer) The problem we're trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams, then there's 50 feet of crap, and then there's us. It's an unfair game and now we've been gutted like organ donors for the rich. Boston's taken our kidneys. Yankees's taken our heart and you guys are sitting around talking the same old good body nonsense like we're selling jeans, like we're looking for Fabio.

We've got to think differently. We are the last dog at the bowl. You see what happens to the runt of the litter? He dies.

MEDLOCK: (As Grady Fuson) Billy, that's a very touching story and everything, but I think we're all very much aware of what we're facing here. You have a lot of experience and wisdom in this room. Now, you need to have a little bit of faith and let us and let us do the job of replacing Giambi.

PITT: (As Billy Beane) Is there another first baseman like Giambi?

MCGEE: (As John Poloni) No, not really.

PITT: (As Billy Beane) And if there was, could we afford him?

MEDLOCK: (As Grady Fuson) No.

PITT: (As Billy Beane) Then what the [bleep] are you talking about, man? If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.

MEDLOCK: (As Grady Fuson) Boy, that sounds like fortune cookie wisdom to me, Billy.

PITT: (As Billy Beane) No, that's just logic.

BOB BISHOP: (As Scout Bob) Who's Fabio?

MCGEE: (As John Poloni) He's a shortstop. He's a shortstop from Seattle.

DAVIES: (Laughter) A bunch of crusty scouts speaking with Brad Pitt playing Billy Beane in the film "Moneyball," directed by our guest Bennett Miller.

You want to just tell us a little bit about putting that scene together? Are these actors or scouts, or some of both?

MILLER: Most of those guys are just scouts and there's a couple of actors in there. You know, we were just researching it and trying to get a sense of what these meetings are like and invited a whole bunch of scouts to just talk to us about how they approach things and you know, what these kinds of meetings are. And we brought, I don't know, probably 20 guys together when we were prepping the film and just to have a roundtable discussion and to reenact something and we just stirred it up and watched it go, and you know, sitting with Brad and we'd just look at each other and wonder, why are we trying to cast actors? Let's just invite these guys back and let's just say - we'll just tell them to study that season and say, you're working for the A's and how would you go about it? And you know, that sort of in a hybrid with the script, written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, just sort of brought it to life.

DAVIES: Well, Bennett Miller, I want to thank you so much for speaking with us.

MILLER: Thank you, Dave.

GROSS: Bennett Miller directed the new film "Foxcatcher." He spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Coming up, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews a new album of forgotten Bob Dylan lyrics from "The Basement Tapes" era, set to music by various contemporary songwriters who also perform the songs. This is FRESH AIR.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. A batch of forgotten lyrics that Bob Dylan wrote in the late 60's were given by him to producer T-Bone Burnett, who came up with the idea to have some contemporary musicians set the words to music. Burnett gathered Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes and Rhiannon Giddens from the Carolina Chocolate Drops. And they recorded an album over the course of two weeks in LA. It's called "Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes." On Friday, Showtime will air a documentary about its making. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.


JIM JAMES: (Singing) Well, I knew I was young enough. And I knew there was nothing to it. 'Cause I'd already seen it done enough, and I knew there was nothing to it. There was no organization.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's Jim James' melody set over the framework of a lyric Bob Dylan wrote when he was in his 20s. The words describe a scene - a man flipping a coin to decide whether he'll commit murder. The language itself is flip in the manner of a young writer, but James' melody and his lead guitar playing give the tale some weight. It's a good matchup. Elsewhere, Rhiannon Giddens takes what we now think of as a typical Dylan construction, a newly conceived tall tale recounted as though it was a well-established legend, and renders it with folk music purity.


RHIANNON GIDDENS: (Singing) There were three sailors, bold and true, with cargo they did carry. They sailed away on the ocean blue. For the love of Spanish Mary. So deeply now were they disturbed no longer could they tarry. Swoon and swerve for the love of Spanish Mary.

TUCKER: In this 1960s Bob Dylan context, it's hard not to imagine Rhiannon Giddens' voice substituting for that of Joan Baez. They possess a similarly chilly skill set. "Lost On The River," subtitled "The New Basement Tapes," comes on the heels of the release of "The Basement Tapes Complete," these staggering, six-disc, treasure trove Dylan recorded with the men who would become the band around the same time he wrote these songs. It was inevitable that a lot of "The New Basement Tapes" lyrics would end up sounding like tunes for tracks that Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith or Marcus Mumford might make with their own bands. Costello understands that to meet a giant like Dylan even halfway, one must be aggressive. Listen to the way he grabs hold of the Dylan lyric "Married To My Hack" and makes it his own.


ELVIS COSTELLO: (Singing) Five in the morning, she would fix my lunch. Put it in a paper sack. Where I'm headed, I always appreciate it, but I'd rather stayed married to my hack. I move like the breeze and the birds and the bees, and I've never been known to look back. I've got 15 women and all of them swimming, but I'd rather stay married to my hack. I move 15 miles every minute...

TUCKER: The Showtime documentary film to promote this album called "Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued" is fascinating for the way it reveals musicians' various, often divergent approaches to creation. We see them arrive at the studio in varied degrees of preparedness. Costello and Jim James come on like old pros, bristling with ideas and opinions. Giddens treats it like an art project, intentionally approaching the studio as a blank canvas. Poor Marcus Mumford is often notably stress, as though he just wants to crawl back to his Mumford and Sons. At one point, Costello expresses the wonder of coming upon this material, and then we hear Dylan himself, who provided a little bit of voiceover commentary, placed the lyrics within his own history.


COSTELLO: I mean, the basement tapes are an inspiration. These are songs from that time lyrically that have sat undisturbed, and you can't imagine that the writer would leave it in a drawer for 40 odd years, you know.

BOB DYLAN: You can't record everything you wrote. So it's understandable that a lot of this stuff just fell by the wayside or - I don't even know where it was kept all these years. I've never seen these lyrics since the day they were written, never seen them.

TUCKER: The music created by the not-quite-super-group assembled for "The New Basement Tapes" sounds utterly contemporary. Dylan's sensibility, when not delivered in his voice, frequently gets lost. But that doesn't mean there aren't good, complete songs here. The best of them share one quality the original basement tapes had in full flower - the warmth achieved in the heat of collaboration in the hothouse atmosphere of anything goes and let it all hang out.

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed "Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes." A documentary about the making of the album will air on Showtime this Friday. If you'd like to listen to FRESH AIR on your own schedule, try podcasting us. You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. I'm Terry Gross.


DYLAN: How could she reject me? Send me on my way? How could she suspect me?

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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