Monthly Archives: January 2016

Not My Job: We Ask ‘Madoff’ Star Richard Dreyfuss About Fonzie Schemes




MIKE PESCA, HOST:

And now the game where we ask accomplished people to accomplish one more thing. It’s called Not My Job. Richard Dreyfuss got famous from “The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz” and “American Graffiti.” He starred Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” and what was then the highest-grossing movie of all-time, “Jaws.” He won an Oscar nothing for “The Goodbye Girl.” And now he stars as the title character in “Madoff,” where, unlike “Jaws,” this time he plays the shark. Richard Dreyfuss, hello and welcome to WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME.

RICHARD DREYFUSS: Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: So…

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: …I read – I read in an old interview that you once said that acting in “Jaws” and “Close Encounters” – that acting in those movies, your job was to make things that weren’t there seem believable. So that’s kind of good preparation for playing Bernie Madoff, right?

DREYFUSS: Yeah, I never thought of it that way. Yeah, in “Jaws” and in “Close Encounters,” Steven Spielberg once said to me, could I ask you a question? And I said sure. He said, you remember when we were doing “Jaws” and I was telling you to say things like oh, look at that, look at that and there was nothing there? And I said yeah. He said, did you ever feel stupid?

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: And I said Steven, you’re an authority figure. Don’t do this to me.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: So I watched – I watched “Mr. Holland’s Opus” with my kids a couple weeks ago. Now, I have to tell you, my dad’s a teacher, my mom’s a teacher, my sister’s a teacher , my brother-in-law is a teacher. Do other non-teachers always cry at “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” or is it just my family?

DREYFUSS: (Laughter) Well, actually, I – not only do I cry, there were a thousand extras in that film. And we were – we all were so taken by this plot and by this guy that we would shoot let’s say the scene where I do – I’m singing to my son. And I’d look out at the audience and there would be someone who would say, do it again.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: That’s beautiful. Now I want to ask you about “Close Encounters.” Did that change your relationship to mashed potatoes?

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: As someone who’s on a perpetual diet, I have no relationship.

PESCA: So in playing Bernie Madoff, how does it work as an actor? Do you try to identify with him? So even if you’ve come to think and study the case that maybe he’s as much of a symptom as he is just a bad apple, is there a way to convey that through your performance, or do you let everything else convey that point?

DREYFUSS: No, that’s not what my job is. In this film, my job was to play that bad apple. At the beginning before I had done any research, I was thinking well, I’ll probably, you know, find good attributes in him. But no, I never did.

(LAUGHTER)

PETER GROSZ: Wow.

PESCA: But I think when actors can go wrong in playing the con artist, they emphasize the con. But you are emphasizing the artistry. You have to show how good he was at conning people, not by twirling the mustache but by turning on the charm.

DREYFUSS: That’s exactly the right phrase. What I had to do was to be as friendly and gentle and loving as any uncle Bernie could be because no one else would be able to take people’s money from them. They’re not going to give it to the mustache twirler.

PESCA: Right.

DREYFUSS: And that’s also how I played Dick Cheney.

PESCA: Yeah.

DREYFUSS: (Laughter).

GROSZ: Yeah.

PESCA: I was thinking about that.

DREYFUSS: That was a lie. That was a lie.

PESCA: But you also were…

GROSZ: That was great though, I mean, there were a lot of good performances in that film.

PESCA: That was the movie “W.”

GROSZ: Yeah, the movie – film “W,” but you were almost as scary as I perceived the actual Dick Cheney to be watching that film. I thought it was great.

PESCA: With less nuclear weapons though is the point…

GROSZ: Yes, exactly.

PESCA: …Yeah.

DREYFUSS: I’ve played every Republican villain. I played Hague (ph), I’ve played Cheney. I’ve played them all. I remember being cast in the old days. Steven cast me because I had the ability to look at something which didn’t exist yet. And I always told him that the name of the book I would never write is “Have They Figured Out Yet What I’m Looking Up In Awe At?

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: So now I play villains. And one day, I’ll – I don’t know, play rope-jumpers.

PESCA: There’s another major category of role that you play as I was going over your career. You play – you are the guy who’s ballast (ph), who’s probity, who’s order. And then you come into contact with disorder, right – “Down And Out In Beverly Hills” with Nick Nolte or “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray. And I was wondering if there’s something about you that you tap into it ’cause you seem like a cut up, but are you a more serious guy than we know?

DREYFUSS: I am humanity’s face, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

GROSZ: That is a very bold statement, sir.

SHELBY FERO: I say that every time I walk into a room.

DREYFUSS: And I want you to know, it was halfway out of my mouth and I thought you’re making a mistake, Richard.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: So Richard, I read this article from 1978 that said that then – back then you never had gotten your Oscar engraved. And I wanted the update, have you since had it engraved?

DREYFUSS: Yes.

PESCA: OK, good.

FERO: They don’t engrave it for you?

DREYFUSS: No, they do. What you’re supposed to do is to give it back before you leave that night.

FERO: Oh, right.

DREYFUSS: And I took it, and I ran into this limo. And I went to this plane to fly to New York, where I was appearing in “Julius Caesar.” And I just clutched it until I got to the rehearsal room of the theater. And then I put it down in front of my space. And every actor did the same thing. They came in and said where is it, where is it? Let me – and then I said now listen, when I make my entrance tonight, there’s going to be applause. So just hold it.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSZ: (Laughter) Just won an Oscar.

DREYFUSS: Guess what happened? Nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: There was no applause. Every actor made it his business to walk by me during the show and say so, they were going to give you applause.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: All right, Richard Dreyfuss, we have asked you here to better play a game that we are calling…

BILL KURTIS: Sit On It.

PESCA: So as we said, in the ABC miniseries “Madoff,” you play the titular financier who was actually running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme. So with that in mind, we’re going to ask you three questions not about Ponzi schemes but about Fonzie schemes, the life and times of Arthur Fonzarelli, as portrayed by Henry Winkler from “Happy Days.” If you answer two of these questions correctly, you will win our prize – Carl Kasell’s voice on the voicemail of one of our listeners. Bill, who is Richard Dreyfuss playing for?

KURTIS: Gary Bentley of Temple, Texas.

PESCA: All right…

DREYFUSS: I’m so sorry, Gary.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: All right, Richard Dreyfuss, here is your first question. I know that you are heavily involved in civics through the Dreyfuss Foundation. But presidential politics was one of Fonzie’s passions as well. In an episode of “Happy Days,” which political action did Fonzie actually take? A, he endorsed Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1956 presidential campaign, saying I like Ike, my bike likes Ike, B, he decried Sen. Joe McCarthy’s tactics by telling a young Republican who supported tail-gunner Joe that he was a nerd of the highest order or C, he supported the Little Rock Nine by saying in one episode that Arkansas Gov. Orvaul Faubus was uncool to keep those kids out of school.

DREYFUSS: I’d say A.

PESCA: You are correct.

GROSZ: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

PESCA: He did indeed endorse Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: Richie endorsed Adlai Stevenson, and we know how that went. All right, here is your next question. “The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang” was, of course, an animated TV series that lasted three seasons. Fonzie, Ralph Malph and a dog named Mr. Cool used a time machine to intervene in historical events. I don’t have to tell you this. You’re a student of the theater.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: OK, so which isn’t an actual plot to an actual episode of “The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang?” A, they went to ancient Iraq where they assisted King Nebuchadnezzar in protecting his famous Hanging Gardens from an evil prince, B, they went to England in 1066, where tried to distract William of Normandy with Chuck Berry music during the Battle of Hastings or C, they visited a Peruvian jungle in 1532, where Fonzie and the gang befriended kind Incas in order to save them from Francisco Pizarro.

DREYFUSS: You’ve got to be kidding me.

PESCA: Yeah, I know.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: Two of these were green-lit. Which wasn’t?

DREYFUSS: The last one.

PESCA: No, I’m sorry, it was William of Normandy. But you’ve got one more chance. Get this right to win. Here’s your last question. Fonzie is honored throughout our culture, as in which of these actual examples? A, is it true that a researcher dubbed an anonymous patient who would only wear blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a black leather jacket, the patient was dubbed Fonzie in the medical literature, B, neurologists look for a symptom called the Fonzarelli Sign, in which patients give a permanent thumbs up or C, a British air-conditioner company has three settings – hot, medium and Fonzie because Fonzie’s cool.

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: There was a Fonzie neurology thing.

PESCA: Yes, the – in neurology…

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

PESCA: …There’s a symptom called the Fonzarelli Sign.

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: Bill, how did Richard Dreyfuss do on our quiz?

KURTIS: You won.

DREYFUSS: Gary, I hope you’re happy.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: Gary, Richard Dreyfuss did it for you. And Richard Dreyfuss is starring in the new ABC show “Madoff.” Richard Dreyfuss, thanks so much for being on WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME.

DREYFUSS: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “HAPPY DAYS”)

PRATT AND MCCLAIN: (Singing) These days are ours, share them with me. Oh, happy days. These days are ours…

PESCA: In just a minute, when Chinese food is too good, it’s our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on-air. We’ll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME from NPR.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, 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 NPR’s programming is the audio.

Alexander Chee’s Voice Shines Through In ‘Queen Of The Night’


Readers have waited almost 15 years for a second novel from the acclaimed Alexander Chee, following the highly-praised Edinburgh. The wait is over.

The Queen Of The Night is sprawling, soaring, bawdy and plotted like a fine embroidery. Lilliet Berne is the most famous soprano in the French opera. She is offered the role of a lifetime: an original part written for her. But then she sees that the opera must be based on a part of her life she’s kept under wraps.

Who would so precisely, exquisitely and cruelly use her past against her? Lilliet Berne’s journey to discover that, and herself, propels a story of the Second French Empire featuring a number of characters also drawn from history.

In an interview with Scott Simon, Chee discusses the inspiration for his protagonist, opera singer Jenny Lind, and his connections to a character who, on the surface, comes from a very different background and place in history.

Interview Highlights

Scott Simon: Did this story begin for you with a photo of a woman in a cape?

Alexander Chee: In a way it did. That was one of the elements that was the most powerful draw, I suppose — there were a number of things. Back when I began this novel I had a writing exercise I would give my students where I would ask them to take photos that they found particularly compelling, a group of them, and kind of arrange them in an order and make a story out of them. And I suppose I did something of the same. I found this one from the Minneapolis Ice Festival in 1882: a picture of a woman wearing a fur cloak inside of a castle made entirely of ice, holding a torch, and I couldn’t quite see her face in the picture and I just, I just kept looking at it.

Reading Recommendations From Alexander Chee

SS: You spent your childhood in South Korea, Kauai, Truk, Guam and Maine. Does that variety in your background give you some sense of identity with your character?

AC: I think in writing her, I was writing about a certain sense of placeless-ness, of feeling like I was not from any particular place.

SS: A lot of people believe that [Edinburgh] had to have autobiographical themes. This novel doesn’t have such obvious similarities — or am I missing something?

AC: I have joked that it is yet another autobiographical novel from Alexander Chee. But I think the autobiography in this — to the extent that there is any in this — is in things like: When you are a professionally-trained singer in a boys choir, you are very aware that there is a time limit on your voice. And I think it was then that I began to become fascinated with women sopranos who seemed to have less of a limit because I loved my voice so much as a child and I couldn’t imagine myself, once I could sing with it, I couldn’t imagine who I would be without it and so that is very much in this book.

SS: We encounter Lilliet in so many different incarnations. Is there something about her that is always true or does she shape shift within our imaginations?

AC: That’s a very good question. I think one of the things that I always loved about her was her fierce will to live and to have a destiny that she could believe in, in a sense. And so through all of her reversals of fortune, all of her adventures, all of the disguises — that remains. But all of it, in a sense, is done to protect that will that remains. Even, in a sense, when she at one point seems to give up on it. That she has some urge to survive that’s larger than herself.

‘Downton Abbey’ Composer Explains Theme Choices




SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The days dwindle for the folks of “Downton Abbey,” both upstairs and downstairs. The hit British TV show is counting down its final season. There have been so many marriages, deaths, secret births and intrigue over the past six years. And as Tim Greiving reports, accompanying it all has been the music of John Lunn.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: What would “Downton Abbey” be without John Lunn’s music? Just ask Mrs. Patmore.

LESLEY NICOL: Well, I mean, you can only look better when he’s got his hands on it.

GREIVING: Lesley Nicol, who plays the house’s tetchy cook, says the music matches the show’s subtle emotions as well as its grand photography.

NICOL: From the very beginning when I heard that theme tune, you know, I just fell in love with it because it’s beautiful. I mean, it’s properly clever music.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DOWNTON ABBEY – THE SUITE”)

GREIVING: John Lunn says this piece of music, the one that releases a flood of endorphins that tell your brain it’s time for some gorgeously wardrobed scheming and delicious repartee, was never actually meant to be the main theme of “Downton Abbey.”

JOHN LUNN: In series one, there was no main title in the first episode. They just started with a telegram and then we cut to a train and so I kind of had…

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

LUNN: You know, this being the train.

GREIVING: Lunn sits at a keyboard inside his London flat, which was converted from an old spice mill near Tower Bridge. He has a modern film composer setup – a fully-loaded computer, multiple keyboards and giant speakers.

LUNN: And then it cuts to a guy alone in a train looking sort of forlornly out of the window. And so the train kept going…

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

LUNN: …And then I got this sort of single piano tune that picked out this guy. It’s quite lonely.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DOWNTON ABBEY – THE SUITE”)

LUNN: I mean, the best theme tunes do give you a rough idea of what you’re about to see.

GREIVING: While Lunn’s bread and butter has been composing for British period dramas, his background is in both classical and electronic music. The Scottish native studied music in Glasgow and at MIT. He’s written three operas, a violin concerto and this piece for voice and orchestra based on a poem by Charles Baudelaire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “LE VOYAGE”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing in French).

GREIVING: John Lunn has pretty much left the classical world behind.

LUNN: I don’t what it is about classical music, but the composers are always seen as this kind of sort of god, you know, and the musicians are all kind of underneath you and have to bow to you. And it’s quite a lonely place. Whereas in modern day now, you’re very much part of a team. You know, I have my own team. I have, you know, an orchestrator. I have somebody who mixes the music for me. They’re all very equal.

GREIVING: Everything in “Downton Abbey” is recorded with a 35-piece orchestra, with Lunn playing the piano himself.

LUNN: There’s no electronics. There’s no samples. It’s like a large sort of chamber orchestra. You could almost imagine it could be fitted into their house itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG)

GREIVING: Lunn wagers he probably wrote 50 different themes for the show, little melodies that function like leitmotifs in opera.

LUNN: You know, there are multiple storylines going on that sometimes the storylines can go through several series, not just one. And so, I kind of use the music as a sort of shorthand of reminding people of what’s going on.

GREIVING: Like theme he wrote for Bates, the damaged manservant.

LUNN: He had this limp. And I felt, you know, sort of sorry for him. He’d been in a Boer war, and he looked like he’d been both physically and psychologically damaged. And I came up with a – it’s a bit of a limp, actually.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DAMAGED”)

GREIVING: Or several tunes for the will-they-won’t-they couple, Matthew and Mary.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG)

GREIVING: Lunn says when Matthew died at the end of season three…

LUNN: He took all my best tunes to the grave with him, actually (laughter).

GREIVING: He admits he was often concerned about tipping things into the maudlin. To avoid that, he made sure the emotions in the music started somewhere personal.

LUNN: If I’m wanting the audience to cry at some point – if that hasn’t happened to me in the process of trying to make that piece of music, if it hasn’t happened at least once, I can’t expect the audience to go for it either. It has to happen to me.

GREIVING: “Downton Abbey’s” success has led to an unexpected market for Lunn’s music. He’s just released the second of two albums of selections from the show. He’s performed the music in concert in Europe and is toying with performing in old stately mansions here in the U.S. But as popular as “Downton” has been for Lunn, he admits this music isn’t really him.

LUNN: It’s not music I’d do if I was left to my own devices. I’d be writing much harder, rhythmic electronica.

GREIVING: Too bad the show’s not following the Crawley family into 2016.

For NPR News, I’m Tim Greiving in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DOWNTON ABBEY – THE SUITE”)

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, 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 NPR’s programming is the audio.

Not My Job: We Ask ‘Madoff’ Star Richard Dreyfuss About Fonzie Schemes




MIKE PESCA, HOST:

And now the game where we ask accomplished people to accomplish one more thing. It’s called Not My Job. Richard Dreyfuss got famous from “The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz” and “American Graffiti.” He starred Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” and what was then the highest-grossing movie of all-time, “Jaws.” He won an Oscar nothing for “The Goodbye Girl.” And now he stars as the title character in “Madoff,” where, unlike “Jaws,” this time he plays the shark. Richard Dreyfuss, hello and welcome to WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME.

RICHARD DREYFUSS: Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: So…

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: …I read – I read in an old interview that you once said that acting in “Jaws” and “Close Encounters” – that acting in those movies, your job was to make things that weren’t there seem believable. So that’s kind of good preparation for playing Bernie Madoff, right?

DREYFUSS: Yeah, I never thought of it that way. Yeah, in “Jaws” and in “Close Encounters,” Steven Spielberg once said to me, could I ask you a question? And I said sure. He said, you remember when we were doing “Jaws” and I was telling you to say things like oh, look at that, look at that and there was nothing there? And I said yeah. He said, did you ever feel stupid?

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: And I said Steven, you’re an authority figure. Don’t do this to me.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: So I watched – I watched “Mr. Holland’s Opus” with my kids a couple weeks ago. Now, I have to tell you, my dad’s a teacher, my mom’s a teacher, my sister’s a teacher , my brother-in-law is a teacher. Do other non-teachers always cry at “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” or is it just my family?

DREYFUSS: (Laughter) Well, actually, I – not only do I cry, there were a thousand extras in that film. And we were – we all were so taken by this plot and by this guy that we would shoot let’s say the scene where I do – I’m singing to my son. And I’d look out at the audience and there would be someone who would say, do it again.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: That’s beautiful. Now I want to ask you about “Close Encounters.” Did that change your relationship to mashed potatoes?

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: As someone who’s on a perpetual diet, I have no relationship.

PESCA: So in playing Bernie Madoff, how does it work as an actor? Do you try to identify with him? So even if you’ve come to think and study the case that maybe he’s as much of a symptom as he is just a bad apple, is there a way to convey that through your performance, or do you let everything else convey that point?

DREYFUSS: No, that’s not what my job is. In this film, my job was to play that bad apple. At the beginning before I had done any research, I was thinking well, I’ll probably, you know, find good attributes in him. But no, I never did.

(LAUGHTER)

PETER GROSZ: Wow.

PESCA: But I think when actors can go wrong in playing the con artist, they emphasize the con. But you are emphasizing the artistry. You have to show how good he was at conning people, not by twirling the mustache but by turning on the charm.

DREYFUSS: That’s exactly the right phrase. What I had to do was to be as friendly and gentle and loving as any uncle Bernie could be because no one else would be able to take people’s money from them. They’re not going to give it to the mustache twirler.

PESCA: Right.

DREYFUSS: And that’s also how I played Dick Cheney.

PESCA: Yeah.

DREYFUSS: (Laughter).

GROSZ: Yeah.

PESCA: I was thinking about that.

DREYFUSS: That was a lie. That was a lie.

PESCA: But you also were…

GROSZ: That was great though, I mean, there were a lot of good performances in that film.

PESCA: That was the movie “W.”

GROSZ: Yeah, the movie – film “W,” but you were almost as scary as I perceived the actual Dick Cheney to be watching that film. I thought it was great.

PESCA: With less nuclear weapons though is the point…

GROSZ: Yes, exactly.

PESCA: …Yeah.

DREYFUSS: I’ve played every Republican villain. I played Hague (ph), I’ve played Cheney. I’ve played them all. I remember being cast in the old days. Steven cast me because I had the ability to look at something which didn’t exist yet. And I always told him that the name of the book I would never write is “Have They Figured Out Yet What I’m Looking Up In Awe At?

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: So now I play villains. And one day, I’ll – I don’t know, play rope-jumpers.

PESCA: There’s another major category of role that you play as I was going over your career. You play – you are the guy who’s ballast (ph), who’s probity, who’s order. And then you come into contact with disorder, right – “Down And Out In Beverly Hills” with Nick Nolte or “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray. And I was wondering if there’s something about you that you tap into it ’cause you seem like a cut up, but are you a more serious guy than we know?

DREYFUSS: I am humanity’s face, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

GROSZ: That is a very bold statement, sir.

SHELBY FERO: I say that every time I walk into a room.

DREYFUSS: And I want you to know, it was halfway out of my mouth and I thought you’re making a mistake, Richard.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: So Richard, I read this article from 1978 that said that then – back then you never had gotten your Oscar engraved. And I wanted the update, have you since had it engraved?

DREYFUSS: Yes.

PESCA: OK, good.

FERO: They don’t engrave it for you?

DREYFUSS: No, they do. What you’re supposed to do is to give it back before you leave that night.

FERO: Oh, right.

DREYFUSS: And I took it, and I ran into this limo. And I went to this plane to fly to New York, where I was appearing in “Julius Caesar.” And I just clutched it until I got to the rehearsal room of the theater. And then I put it down in front of my space. And every actor did the same thing. They came in and said where is it, where is it? Let me – and then I said now listen, when I make my entrance tonight, there’s going to be applause. So just hold it.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSZ: (Laughter) Just won an Oscar.

DREYFUSS: Guess what happened? Nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: There was no applause. Every actor made it his business to walk by me during the show and say so, they were going to give you applause.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: All right, Richard Dreyfuss, we have asked you here to better play a game that we are calling…

BILL KURTIS: Sit On It.

PESCA: So as we said, in the ABC miniseries “Madoff,” you play the titular financier who was actually running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme. So with that in mind, we’re going to ask you three questions not about Ponzi schemes but about Fonzie schemes, the life and times of Arthur Fonzarelli, as portrayed by Henry Winkler from “Happy Days.” If you answer two of these questions correctly, you will win our prize – Carl Kasell’s voice on the voicemail of one of our listeners. Bill, who is Richard Dreyfuss playing for?

KURTIS: Gary Bentley of Temple, Texas.

PESCA: All right…

DREYFUSS: I’m so sorry, Gary.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: All right, Richard Dreyfuss, here is your first question. I know that you are heavily involved in civics through the Dreyfuss Foundation. But presidential politics was one of Fonzie’s passions as well. In an episode of “Happy Days,” which political action did Fonzie actually take? A, he endorsed Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1956 presidential campaign, saying I like Ike, my bike likes Ike, B, he decried Sen. Joe McCarthy’s tactics by telling a young Republican who supported tail-gunner Joe that he was a nerd of the highest order or C, he supported the Little Rock Nine by saying in one episode that Arkansas Gov. Orvaul Faubus was uncool to keep those kids out of school.

DREYFUSS: I’d say A.

PESCA: You are correct.

GROSZ: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

PESCA: He did indeed endorse Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: Richie endorsed Adlai Stevenson, and we know how that went. All right, here is your next question. “The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang” was, of course, an animated TV series that lasted three seasons. Fonzie, Ralph Malph and a dog named Mr. Cool used a time machine to intervene in historical events. I don’t have to tell you this. You’re a student of the theater.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: OK, so which isn’t an actual plot to an actual episode of “The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang?” A, they went to ancient Iraq where they assisted King Nebuchadnezzar in protecting his famous Hanging Gardens from an evil prince, B, they went to England in 1066, where tried to distract William of Normandy with Chuck Berry music during the Battle of Hastings or C, they visited a Peruvian jungle in 1532, where Fonzie and the gang befriended kind Incas in order to save them from Francisco Pizarro.

DREYFUSS: You’ve got to be kidding me.

PESCA: Yeah, I know.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: Two of these were green-lit. Which wasn’t?

DREYFUSS: The last one.

PESCA: No, I’m sorry, it was William of Normandy. But you’ve got one more chance. Get this right to win. Here’s your last question. Fonzie is honored throughout our culture, as in which of these actual examples? A, is it true that a researcher dubbed an anonymous patient who would only wear blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a black leather jacket, the patient was dubbed Fonzie in the medical literature, B, neurologists look for a symptom called the Fonzarelli Sign, in which patients give a permanent thumbs up or C, a British air-conditioner company has three settings – hot, medium and Fonzie because Fonzie’s cool.

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: There was a Fonzie neurology thing.

PESCA: Yes, the – in neurology…

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

PESCA: …There’s a symptom called the Fonzarelli Sign.

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: Bill, how did Richard Dreyfuss do on our quiz?

KURTIS: You won.

DREYFUSS: Gary, I hope you’re happy.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: Gary, Richard Dreyfuss did it for you. And Richard Dreyfuss is starring in the new ABC show “Madoff.” Richard Dreyfuss, thanks so much for being on WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME.

DREYFUSS: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “HAPPY DAYS”)

PRATT AND MCCLAIN: (Singing) These days are ours, share them with me. Oh, happy days. These days are ours…

PESCA: In just a minute, when Chinese food is too good, it’s our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on-air. We’ll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME from NPR.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, 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 NPR’s programming is the audio.

Alexander Chee’s Voice Shines Through In ‘Queen Of The Night’


Readers have waited almost 15 years for a second novel from the acclaimed Alexander Chee, following the highly-praised Edinburgh. The wait is over.

The Queen Of The Night is sprawling, soaring, bawdy and plotted like a fine embroidery. Lilliet Berne is the most famous soprano in the French opera. She is offered the role of a lifetime: an original part written for her. But then she sees that the opera must be based on a part of her life she’s kept under wraps.

Who would so precisely, exquisitely and cruelly use her past against her? Lilliet Berne’s journey to discover that, and herself, propels a story of the Second French Empire featuring a number of characters also drawn from history.

In an interview with Scott Simon, Chee discusses the inspiration for his protagonist, opera singer Jenny Lind, and his connections to a character who, on the surface, comes from a very different background and place in history.

Interview Highlights

Scott Simon: Did this story begin for you with a photo of a woman in a cape?

Alexander Chee: In a way it did. That was one of the elements that was the most powerful draw, I suppose — there were a number of things. Back when I began this novel I had a writing exercise I would give my students where I would ask them to take photos that they found particularly compelling, a group of them, and kind of arrange them in an order and make a story out of them. And I suppose I did something of the same. I found this one from the Minneapolis Ice Festival in 1882: a picture of a woman wearing a fur cloak inside of a castle made entirely of ice, holding a torch, and I couldn’t quite see her face in the picture and I just, I just kept looking at it.

Reading Recommendations From Alexander Chee

SS: You spent your childhood in South Korea, Kauai, Truk, Guam and Maine. Does that variety in your background give you some sense of identity with your character?

AC: I think in writing her, I was writing about a certain sense of placeless-ness, of feeling like I was not from any particular place.

SS: A lot of people believe that [Edinburgh] had to have autobiographical themes. This novel doesn’t have such obvious similarities — or am I missing something?

AC: I have joked that it is yet another autobiographical novel from Alexander Chee. But I think the autobiography in this — to the extent that there is any in this — is in things like: When you are a professionally-trained singer in a boys choir, you are very aware that there is a time limit on your voice. And I think it was then that I began to become fascinated with women sopranos who seemed to have less of a limit because I loved my voice so much as a child and I couldn’t imagine myself, once I could sing with it, I couldn’t imagine who I would be without it and so that is very much in this book.

SS: We encounter Lilliet in so many different incarnations. Is there something about her that is always true or does she shape shift within our imaginations?

AC: That’s a very good question. I think one of the things that I always loved about her was her fierce will to live and to have a destiny that she could believe in, in a sense. And so through all of her reversals of fortune, all of her adventures, all of the disguises — that remains. But all of it, in a sense, is done to protect that will that remains. Even, in a sense, when she at one point seems to give up on it. That she has some urge to survive that’s larger than herself.

‘Downton Abbey’ Composer Explains Theme Choices




SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The days dwindle for the folks of “Downton Abbey,” both upstairs and downstairs. The hit British TV show is counting down its final season. There have been so many marriages, deaths, secret births and intrigue over the past six years. And as Tim Greiving reports, accompanying it all has been the music of John Lunn.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: What would “Downton Abbey” be without John Lunn’s music? Just ask Mrs. Patmore.

LESLEY NICOL: Well, I mean, you can only look better when he’s got his hands on it.

GREIVING: Lesley Nicol, who plays the house’s tetchy cook, says the music matches the show’s subtle emotions as well as its grand photography.

NICOL: From the very beginning when I heard that theme tune, you know, I just fell in love with it because it’s beautiful. I mean, it’s properly clever music.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DOWNTON ABBEY – THE SUITE”)

GREIVING: John Lunn says this piece of music, the one that releases a flood of endorphins that tell your brain it’s time for some gorgeously wardrobed scheming and delicious repartee, was never actually meant to be the main theme of “Downton Abbey.”

JOHN LUNN: In series one, there was no main title in the first episode. They just started with a telegram and then we cut to a train and so I kind of had…

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

LUNN: You know, this being the train.

GREIVING: Lunn sits at a keyboard inside his London flat, which was converted from an old spice mill near Tower Bridge. He has a modern film composer setup – a fully-loaded computer, multiple keyboards and giant speakers.

LUNN: And then it cuts to a guy alone in a train looking sort of forlornly out of the window. And so the train kept going…

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

LUNN: …And then I got this sort of single piano tune that picked out this guy. It’s quite lonely.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DOWNTON ABBEY – THE SUITE”)

LUNN: I mean, the best theme tunes do give you a rough idea of what you’re about to see.

GREIVING: While Lunn’s bread and butter has been composing for British period dramas, his background is in both classical and electronic music. The Scottish native studied music in Glasgow and at MIT. He’s written three operas, a violin concerto and this piece for voice and orchestra based on a poem by Charles Baudelaire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “LE VOYAGE”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing in French).

GREIVING: John Lunn has pretty much left the classical world behind.

LUNN: I don’t what it is about classical music, but the composers are always seen as this kind of sort of god, you know, and the musicians are all kind of underneath you and have to bow to you. And it’s quite a lonely place. Whereas in modern day now, you’re very much part of a team. You know, I have my own team. I have, you know, an orchestrator. I have somebody who mixes the music for me. They’re all very equal.

GREIVING: Everything in “Downton Abbey” is recorded with a 35-piece orchestra, with Lunn playing the piano himself.

LUNN: There’s no electronics. There’s no samples. It’s like a large sort of chamber orchestra. You could almost imagine it could be fitted into their house itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG)

GREIVING: Lunn wagers he probably wrote 50 different themes for the show, little melodies that function like leitmotifs in opera.

LUNN: You know, there are multiple storylines going on that sometimes the storylines can go through several series, not just one. And so, I kind of use the music as a sort of shorthand of reminding people of what’s going on.

GREIVING: Like theme he wrote for Bates, the damaged manservant.

LUNN: He had this limp. And I felt, you know, sort of sorry for him. He’d been in a Boer war, and he looked like he’d been both physically and psychologically damaged. And I came up with a – it’s a bit of a limp, actually.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DAMAGED”)

GREIVING: Or several tunes for the will-they-won’t-they couple, Matthew and Mary.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG)

GREIVING: Lunn says when Matthew died at the end of season three…

LUNN: He took all my best tunes to the grave with him, actually (laughter).

GREIVING: He admits he was often concerned about tipping things into the maudlin. To avoid that, he made sure the emotions in the music started somewhere personal.

LUNN: If I’m wanting the audience to cry at some point – if that hasn’t happened to me in the process of trying to make that piece of music, if it hasn’t happened at least once, I can’t expect the audience to go for it either. It has to happen to me.

GREIVING: “Downton Abbey’s” success has led to an unexpected market for Lunn’s music. He’s just released the second of two albums of selections from the show. He’s performed the music in concert in Europe and is toying with performing in old stately mansions here in the U.S. But as popular as “Downton” has been for Lunn, he admits this music isn’t really him.

LUNN: It’s not music I’d do if I was left to my own devices. I’d be writing much harder, rhythmic electronica.

GREIVING: Too bad the show’s not following the Crawley family into 2016.

For NPR News, I’m Tim Greiving in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DOWNTON ABBEY – THE SUITE”)

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, 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 NPR’s programming is the audio.

Not My Job: We Ask ‘Madoff’ Star Richard Dreyfuss About Fonzie Schemes




MIKE PESCA, HOST:

And now the game where we ask accomplished people to accomplish one more thing. It’s called Not My Job. Richard Dreyfuss got famous from “The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz” and “American Graffiti.” He starred Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” and what was then the highest-grossing movie of all-time, “Jaws.” He won an Oscar nothing for “The Goodbye Girl.” And now he stars as the title character in “Madoff,” where, unlike “Jaws,” this time he plays the shark. Richard Dreyfuss, hello and welcome to WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME.

RICHARD DREYFUSS: Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: So…

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: …I read – I read in an old interview that you once said that acting in “Jaws” and “Close Encounters” – that acting in those movies, your job was to make things that weren’t there seem believable. So that’s kind of good preparation for playing Bernie Madoff, right?

DREYFUSS: Yeah, I never thought of it that way. Yeah, in “Jaws” and in “Close Encounters,” Steven Spielberg once said to me, could I ask you a question? And I said sure. He said, you remember when we were doing “Jaws” and I was telling you to say things like oh, look at that, look at that and there was nothing there? And I said yeah. He said, did you ever feel stupid?

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: And I said Steven, you’re an authority figure. Don’t do this to me.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: So I watched – I watched “Mr. Holland’s Opus” with my kids a couple weeks ago. Now, I have to tell you, my dad’s a teacher, my mom’s a teacher, my sister’s a teacher , my brother-in-law is a teacher. Do other non-teachers always cry at “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” or is it just my family?

DREYFUSS: (Laughter) Well, actually, I – not only do I cry, there were a thousand extras in that film. And we were – we all were so taken by this plot and by this guy that we would shoot let’s say the scene where I do – I’m singing to my son. And I’d look out at the audience and there would be someone who would say, do it again.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: That’s beautiful. Now I want to ask you about “Close Encounters.” Did that change your relationship to mashed potatoes?

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: As someone who’s on a perpetual diet, I have no relationship.

PESCA: So in playing Bernie Madoff, how does it work as an actor? Do you try to identify with him? So even if you’ve come to think and study the case that maybe he’s as much of a symptom as he is just a bad apple, is there a way to convey that through your performance, or do you let everything else convey that point?

DREYFUSS: No, that’s not what my job is. In this film, my job was to play that bad apple. At the beginning before I had done any research, I was thinking well, I’ll probably, you know, find good attributes in him. But no, I never did.

(LAUGHTER)

PETER GROSZ: Wow.

PESCA: But I think when actors can go wrong in playing the con artist, they emphasize the con. But you are emphasizing the artistry. You have to show how good he was at conning people, not by twirling the mustache but by turning on the charm.

DREYFUSS: That’s exactly the right phrase. What I had to do was to be as friendly and gentle and loving as any uncle Bernie could be because no one else would be able to take people’s money from them. They’re not going to give it to the mustache twirler.

PESCA: Right.

DREYFUSS: And that’s also how I played Dick Cheney.

PESCA: Yeah.

DREYFUSS: (Laughter).

GROSZ: Yeah.

PESCA: I was thinking about that.

DREYFUSS: That was a lie. That was a lie.

PESCA: But you also were…

GROSZ: That was great though, I mean, there were a lot of good performances in that film.

PESCA: That was the movie “W.”

GROSZ: Yeah, the movie – film “W,” but you were almost as scary as I perceived the actual Dick Cheney to be watching that film. I thought it was great.

PESCA: With less nuclear weapons though is the point…

GROSZ: Yes, exactly.

PESCA: …Yeah.

DREYFUSS: I’ve played every Republican villain. I played Hague (ph), I’ve played Cheney. I’ve played them all. I remember being cast in the old days. Steven cast me because I had the ability to look at something which didn’t exist yet. And I always told him that the name of the book I would never write is “Have They Figured Out Yet What I’m Looking Up In Awe At?

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: So now I play villains. And one day, I’ll – I don’t know, play rope-jumpers.

PESCA: There’s another major category of role that you play as I was going over your career. You play – you are the guy who’s ballast (ph), who’s probity, who’s order. And then you come into contact with disorder, right – “Down And Out In Beverly Hills” with Nick Nolte or “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray. And I was wondering if there’s something about you that you tap into it ’cause you seem like a cut up, but are you a more serious guy than we know?

DREYFUSS: I am humanity’s face, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

GROSZ: That is a very bold statement, sir.

SHELBY FERO: I say that every time I walk into a room.

DREYFUSS: And I want you to know, it was halfway out of my mouth and I thought you’re making a mistake, Richard.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: So Richard, I read this article from 1978 that said that then – back then you never had gotten your Oscar engraved. And I wanted the update, have you since had it engraved?

DREYFUSS: Yes.

PESCA: OK, good.

FERO: They don’t engrave it for you?

DREYFUSS: No, they do. What you’re supposed to do is to give it back before you leave that night.

FERO: Oh, right.

DREYFUSS: And I took it, and I ran into this limo. And I went to this plane to fly to New York, where I was appearing in “Julius Caesar.” And I just clutched it until I got to the rehearsal room of the theater. And then I put it down in front of my space. And every actor did the same thing. They came in and said where is it, where is it? Let me – and then I said now listen, when I make my entrance tonight, there’s going to be applause. So just hold it.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSZ: (Laughter) Just won an Oscar.

DREYFUSS: Guess what happened? Nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: There was no applause. Every actor made it his business to walk by me during the show and say so, they were going to give you applause.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: All right, Richard Dreyfuss, we have asked you here to better play a game that we are calling…

BILL KURTIS: Sit On It.

PESCA: So as we said, in the ABC miniseries “Madoff,” you play the titular financier who was actually running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme. So with that in mind, we’re going to ask you three questions not about Ponzi schemes but about Fonzie schemes, the life and times of Arthur Fonzarelli, as portrayed by Henry Winkler from “Happy Days.” If you answer two of these questions correctly, you will win our prize – Carl Kasell’s voice on the voicemail of one of our listeners. Bill, who is Richard Dreyfuss playing for?

KURTIS: Gary Bentley of Temple, Texas.

PESCA: All right…

DREYFUSS: I’m so sorry, Gary.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: All right, Richard Dreyfuss, here is your first question. I know that you are heavily involved in civics through the Dreyfuss Foundation. But presidential politics was one of Fonzie’s passions as well. In an episode of “Happy Days,” which political action did Fonzie actually take? A, he endorsed Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1956 presidential campaign, saying I like Ike, my bike likes Ike, B, he decried Sen. Joe McCarthy’s tactics by telling a young Republican who supported tail-gunner Joe that he was a nerd of the highest order or C, he supported the Little Rock Nine by saying in one episode that Arkansas Gov. Orvaul Faubus was uncool to keep those kids out of school.

DREYFUSS: I’d say A.

PESCA: You are correct.

GROSZ: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

PESCA: He did indeed endorse Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: Richie endorsed Adlai Stevenson, and we know how that went. All right, here is your next question. “The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang” was, of course, an animated TV series that lasted three seasons. Fonzie, Ralph Malph and a dog named Mr. Cool used a time machine to intervene in historical events. I don’t have to tell you this. You’re a student of the theater.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: OK, so which isn’t an actual plot to an actual episode of “The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang?” A, they went to ancient Iraq where they assisted King Nebuchadnezzar in protecting his famous Hanging Gardens from an evil prince, B, they went to England in 1066, where tried to distract William of Normandy with Chuck Berry music during the Battle of Hastings or C, they visited a Peruvian jungle in 1532, where Fonzie and the gang befriended kind Incas in order to save them from Francisco Pizarro.

DREYFUSS: You’ve got to be kidding me.

PESCA: Yeah, I know.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: Two of these were green-lit. Which wasn’t?

DREYFUSS: The last one.

PESCA: No, I’m sorry, it was William of Normandy. But you’ve got one more chance. Get this right to win. Here’s your last question. Fonzie is honored throughout our culture, as in which of these actual examples? A, is it true that a researcher dubbed an anonymous patient who would only wear blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a black leather jacket, the patient was dubbed Fonzie in the medical literature, B, neurologists look for a symptom called the Fonzarelli Sign, in which patients give a permanent thumbs up or C, a British air-conditioner company has three settings – hot, medium and Fonzie because Fonzie’s cool.

(LAUGHTER)

DREYFUSS: There was a Fonzie neurology thing.

PESCA: Yes, the – in neurology…

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

PESCA: …There’s a symptom called the Fonzarelli Sign.

(APPLAUSE)

PESCA: Bill, how did Richard Dreyfuss do on our quiz?

KURTIS: You won.

DREYFUSS: Gary, I hope you’re happy.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: Gary, Richard Dreyfuss did it for you. And Richard Dreyfuss is starring in the new ABC show “Madoff.” Richard Dreyfuss, thanks so much for being on WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME.

DREYFUSS: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “HAPPY DAYS”)

PRATT AND MCCLAIN: (Singing) These days are ours, share them with me. Oh, happy days. These days are ours…

PESCA: In just a minute, when Chinese food is too good, it’s our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on-air. We’ll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT… DON’T TELL ME from NPR.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, 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 NPR’s programming is the audio.

Alexander Chee’s Voice Shines Through In ‘Queen Of The Night’


Readers have waited almost 15 years for a second novel from the acclaimed Alexander Chee, following the highly-praised Edinburgh. The wait is over.

The Queen Of The Night is sprawling, soaring, bawdy and plotted like a fine embroidery. Lilliet Berne is the most famous soprano in the French opera. She is offered the role of a lifetime: an original part written for her. But then she sees that the opera must be based on a part of her life she’s kept under wraps.

Who would so precisely, exquisitely and cruelly use her past against her? Lilliet Berne’s journey to discover that, and herself, propels a story of the Second French Empire featuring a number of characters also drawn from history.

In an interview with Scott Simon, Chee discusses the inspiration for his protagonist, opera singer Jenny Lind, and his connections to a character who, on the surface, comes from a very different background and place in history.

Interview Highlights

Scott Simon: Did this story begin for you with a photo of a woman in a cape?

Alexander Chee: In a way it did. That was one of the elements that was the most powerful draw, I suppose — there were a number of things. Back when I began this novel I had a writing exercise I would give my students where I would ask them to take photos that they found particularly compelling, a group of them, and kind of arrange them in an order and make a story out of them. And I suppose I did something of the same. I found this one from the Minneapolis Ice Festival in 1882: a picture of a woman wearing a fur cloak inside of a castle made entirely of ice, holding a torch, and I couldn’t quite see her face in the picture and I just, I just kept looking at it.

Reading Recommendations From Alexander Chee

SS: You spent your childhood in South Korea, Kauai, Truk, Guam and Maine. Does that variety in your background give you some sense of identity with your character?

AC: I think in writing her, I was writing about a certain sense of placeless-ness, of feeling like I was not from any particular place.

SS: A lot of people believe that [Edinburgh] had to have autobiographical themes. This novel doesn’t have such obvious similarities — or am I missing something?

AC: I have joked that it is yet another autobiographical novel from Alexander Chee. But I think the autobiography in this — to the extent that there is any in this — is in things like: When you are a professionally-trained singer in a boys choir, you are very aware that there is a time limit on your voice. And I think it was then that I began to become fascinated with women sopranos who seemed to have less of a limit because I loved my voice so much as a child and I couldn’t imagine myself, once I could sing with it, I couldn’t imagine who I would be without it and so that is very much in this book.

SS: We encounter Lilliet in so many different incarnations. Is there something about her that is always true or does she shape shift within our imaginations?

AC: That’s a very good question. I think one of the things that I always loved about her was her fierce will to live and to have a destiny that she could believe in, in a sense. And so through all of her reversals of fortune, all of her adventures, all of the disguises — that remains. But all of it, in a sense, is done to protect that will that remains. Even, in a sense, when she at one point seems to give up on it. That she has some urge to survive that’s larger than herself.

‘Downton Abbey’ Composer Explains Theme Choices




SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The days dwindle for the folks of “Downton Abbey,” both upstairs and downstairs. The hit British TV show is counting down its final season. There have been so many marriages, deaths, secret births and intrigue over the past six years. And as Tim Greiving reports, accompanying it all has been the music of John Lunn.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: What would “Downton Abbey” be without John Lunn’s music? Just ask Mrs. Patmore.

LESLEY NICOL: Well, I mean, you can only look better when he’s got his hands on it.

GREIVING: Lesley Nicol, who plays the house’s tetchy cook, says the music matches the show’s subtle emotions as well as its grand photography.

NICOL: From the very beginning when I heard that theme tune, you know, I just fell in love with it because it’s beautiful. I mean, it’s properly clever music.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DOWNTON ABBEY – THE SUITE”)

GREIVING: John Lunn says this piece of music, the one that releases a flood of endorphins that tell your brain it’s time for some gorgeously wardrobed scheming and delicious repartee, was never actually meant to be the main theme of “Downton Abbey.”

JOHN LUNN: In series one, there was no main title in the first episode. They just started with a telegram and then we cut to a train and so I kind of had…

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

LUNN: You know, this being the train.

GREIVING: Lunn sits at a keyboard inside his London flat, which was converted from an old spice mill near Tower Bridge. He has a modern film composer setup – a fully-loaded computer, multiple keyboards and giant speakers.

LUNN: And then it cuts to a guy alone in a train looking sort of forlornly out of the window. And so the train kept going…

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

LUNN: …And then I got this sort of single piano tune that picked out this guy. It’s quite lonely.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DOWNTON ABBEY – THE SUITE”)

LUNN: I mean, the best theme tunes do give you a rough idea of what you’re about to see.

GREIVING: While Lunn’s bread and butter has been composing for British period dramas, his background is in both classical and electronic music. The Scottish native studied music in Glasgow and at MIT. He’s written three operas, a violin concerto and this piece for voice and orchestra based on a poem by Charles Baudelaire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “LE VOYAGE”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing in French).

GREIVING: John Lunn has pretty much left the classical world behind.

LUNN: I don’t what it is about classical music, but the composers are always seen as this kind of sort of god, you know, and the musicians are all kind of underneath you and have to bow to you. And it’s quite a lonely place. Whereas in modern day now, you’re very much part of a team. You know, I have my own team. I have, you know, an orchestrator. I have somebody who mixes the music for me. They’re all very equal.

GREIVING: Everything in “Downton Abbey” is recorded with a 35-piece orchestra, with Lunn playing the piano himself.

LUNN: There’s no electronics. There’s no samples. It’s like a large sort of chamber orchestra. You could almost imagine it could be fitted into their house itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG)

GREIVING: Lunn wagers he probably wrote 50 different themes for the show, little melodies that function like leitmotifs in opera.

LUNN: You know, there are multiple storylines going on that sometimes the storylines can go through several series, not just one. And so, I kind of use the music as a sort of shorthand of reminding people of what’s going on.

GREIVING: Like theme he wrote for Bates, the damaged manservant.

LUNN: He had this limp. And I felt, you know, sort of sorry for him. He’d been in a Boer war, and he looked like he’d been both physically and psychologically damaged. And I came up with a – it’s a bit of a limp, actually.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DAMAGED”)

GREIVING: Or several tunes for the will-they-won’t-they couple, Matthew and Mary.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG)

GREIVING: Lunn says when Matthew died at the end of season three…

LUNN: He took all my best tunes to the grave with him, actually (laughter).

GREIVING: He admits he was often concerned about tipping things into the maudlin. To avoid that, he made sure the emotions in the music started somewhere personal.

LUNN: If I’m wanting the audience to cry at some point – if that hasn’t happened to me in the process of trying to make that piece of music, if it hasn’t happened at least once, I can’t expect the audience to go for it either. It has to happen to me.

GREIVING: “Downton Abbey’s” success has led to an unexpected market for Lunn’s music. He’s just released the second of two albums of selections from the show. He’s performed the music in concert in Europe and is toying with performing in old stately mansions here in the U.S. But as popular as “Downton” has been for Lunn, he admits this music isn’t really him.

LUNN: It’s not music I’d do if I was left to my own devices. I’d be writing much harder, rhythmic electronica.

GREIVING: Too bad the show’s not following the Crawley family into 2016.

For NPR News, I’m Tim Greiving in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN LUNN SONG, “DOWNTON ABBEY – THE SUITE”)

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Alexander Chee’s Voice Shines Through In ‘Queen Of The Night’


Readers have waited almost 15 years for a second novel from the acclaimed Alexander Chee, following the highly-praised Edinburgh. The wait is over.

The Queen Of The Night is sprawling, soaring, bawdy and plotted like a fine embroidery. Lilliet Berne is the most famous soprano in the French opera. She is offered the role of a lifetime: an original part written for her. But then she sees that the opera must be based on a part of her life she’s kept under wraps.

Who would so precisely, exquisitely and cruelly use her past against her? Lilliet Berne’s journey to discover that, and herself, propels a story of the Second French Empire featuring a number of characters also drawn from history.

In an interview with Scott Simon, Chee discusses the inspiration for his protagonist, opera singer Jenny Lind, and his connections to a character who, on the surface, comes from a very different background and place in history.

Interview Highlights

Scott Simon: Did this story begin for you with a photo of a woman in a cape?

Alexander Chee: In a way it did. That was one of the elements that was the most powerful draw, I suppose — there were a number of things. Back when I began this novel I had a writing exercise I would give my students where I would ask them to take photos that they found particularly compelling, a group of them, and kind of arrange them in an order and make a story out of them. And I suppose I did something of the same. I found this one from the Minneapolis Ice Festival in 1882: a picture of a woman wearing a fur cloak inside of a castle made entirely of ice, holding a torch, and I couldn’t quite see her face in the picture and I just, I just kept looking at it.

Reading Recommendations From Alexander Chee

SS: You spent your childhood in South Korea, Kauai, Truk, Guam and Maine. Does that variety in your background give you some sense of identity with your character?

AC: I think in writing her, I was writing about a certain sense of placeless-ness, of feeling like I was not from any particular place.

SS: A lot of people believe that [Edinburgh] had to have autobiographical themes. This novel doesn’t have such obvious similarities — or am I missing something?

AC: I have joked that it is yet another autobiographical novel from Alexander Chee. But I think the autobiography in this — to the extent that there is any in this — is in things like: When you are a professionally-trained singer in a boys choir, you are very aware that there is a time limit on your voice. And I think it was then that I began to become fascinated with women sopranos who seemed to have less of a limit because I loved my voice so much as a child and I couldn’t imagine myself, once I could sing with it, I couldn’t imagine who I would be without it and so that is very much in this book.

SS: We encounter Lilliet in so many different incarnations. Is there something about her that is always true or does she shape shift within our imaginations?

AC: That’s a very good question. I think one of the things that I always loved about her was her fierce will to live and to have a destiny that she could believe in, in a sense. And so through all of her reversals of fortune, all of her adventures, all of the disguises — that remains. But all of it, in a sense, is done to protect that will that remains. Even, in a sense, when she at one point seems to give up on it. That she has some urge to survive that’s larger than herself.