Monthly Archives: February 2017

Encore: Mahershala Ali Plays An Unlikely Father Figure In ‘Moonlight’




ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The first cast member of “Moonlight” to take the stage last night was Mahershala Ali. He won the Oscar for best supporting actor. In the film, he plays a man conflicted about being both a drug dealer and father figure to the story’s hero.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Our colleague Kelly McEvers spoke to Ali last fall about how he got into the business and whether he anticipated the limited number of roles Hollywood offers to young black actors.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MAHERSHALA ALI: My dad had introduced me to indie films. So the stuff that I had a taste for, I’d certainly never saw myself in those parts. So growing up, it definitely affected my confidence or me understanding what could be accomplished because of only seeing myself in a very limited way.

It’s been really hard for me to say I want to be a leading man, like to really say that. Because when I was growing up, I didn’t see that. But I did see people helping the leading man. And the people helping the leading man always looked like me. And then when you feel it from the inside out, it’s a little frustrating, but the industry’s changing. So these young men in this movie, they’re going to have an entirely different experience than I’ve had…

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Right.

ALI: …Being in this business now for a decade and a half. I’ve been working for 16 years.

MCEVERS: You know, in the past couple years, you have played a really diverse range of characters – of course Remy Danton…

ALI: Oh, yeah.

MCEVERS: …Ruthless power broker on “House Of Cards.”

ALI: My buddy.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: Your buddy, really. And then of course there’s the complicated villain who kind of has a heart, Cottonmouth from “Luke Cage” on Netflix. I don’t know, you’re just, like, playing, like, this spectrum of, like, black maleness. Does it feel – I don’t know, do you feel a – like a weight of responsibility? You know, I mean, there’s a lot of complicated nuance in these characters.

ALI: I feel the responsibility to try to do great work. And that keeps me up at night sometime, just, you know, trying to figure out what my in is with these characters and how to really connect to them and sort of lose myself in them for that 16 hours a day. I have no interest in playing myself. I really don’t think I’m that interesting.

I think that these characters though, the ones that I say yes to, are really interesting to me. And I respond to the ones where I feel like there’s a shaft of light, like there’s a little opening there where I can power the entire person through that one little connection. So whether he’s a drug dealer or a gun runner or what have you, that if I can just make him human, then that is the goal for me right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF DUKAS’ “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”)

SHAPIRO: That’s Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali talking with our co-host Kelly McEvers back in October.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF DUKAS’ “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”)

Copyright © 2017 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 Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

‘La La Land’ Producer Reacts To Best Picture Blunder




AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Actress Emma Stone summed it up nicely at the post-Academy-Awards press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

EMMA STONE: Is that the craziest Oscar moment of all time?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Unintelligible).

STONE: Cool.

(LAUGHTER)

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It was the last award of the evening – Best Picture. Presenter Warren Beatty was handed the wrong card, the one for best actress. Faye Dunaway didn’t notice and read the name she saw.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FAYE DUNAWAY: “La La Land.”

(APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: And while the cast and crew began their acceptance speeches, Oscar producers scrambled to correct what they knew to be a colossal blunder.

SHAPIRO: Out of the nearly two dozen people on stage, “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz had the presence of mind to call the stage the rightful winners, director Barry Jenkins and the cast of “Moonlight.”

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You know (laughter).

JORDAN HOROWITZ: Guys, guys, I’m sorry. No.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: There’s a mistake.

HOROWITZ: There’s a mistake. “Moonlight,” you guys won Best Picture.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: “Moonlight” won.

CORNISH: Now, Jordan Horowitz was kind enough to join us at our studios today. And I asked him about that moment just after he’d finished his acceptance speech.

HOROWITZ: A stage manager kind of came onto the stage, and it was clear something was going on. And at a certain point, he came up to me and took the envelope I’d been given. And when he opened it, it said Emma Stone, “La La Land.” And so there was a scramble to find the correct envelope. Eventually, that envelope was found. It said Best picture on it. Opened that envelope – it said “Moonlight.” And, you know, sort of – I needed to right the wrong.

CORNISH: But in your head, is that moment – on TV, are you like, my eyes widen there? (Laughter) Or, like…

HOROWITZ: You know, there’s, like, a physical moment where I say I saw myself take three steps backwards. And that, for me, is the moment that I was like, oh, this is…

CORNISH: Yeah, ’cause you snatched that envelope out of Warren Beatty’s hand with (laughter) purpose.

HOROWITZ: Yeah. It’s funny ’cause when I went up to the mike and told everybody that “Moonlight” had won, I think there was a lot of confusion. And I think it was just needing to have sort of a physical manifestation of that. I saw it out of the corner of my…

CORNISH: So no conspiracy theories – no – none of that.

HOROWITZ: You know, just, like, that needed to end, you know? It just – it needed to be clear and decisive and clean. And he was kind of standing next to me, and I saw it out of the corner of my eye. And I just kind of – I took it and showed it. It was just kind of instinctual.

CORNISH: What does it say that people are praising you for ’cause I’ve thought about it, and I thought, well, like, kind of what else would he do, right? (Laughter) You couldn’t skip away with the award.

HOROWITZ: I’ve had – I’ve had the same thought. I did – listen…

CORNISH: Like, people are kind of being like – it’s nice of him to do a thing that probably he should have done.

HOROWITZ: I’ve been getting a lot of – a lot of that this morning, and it’s overwhelming – like, a lot of kindness, a lot of generosity…

CORNISH: Or, like, saying you gave them the award, which is weird.

HOROWITZ: That’s odd ’cause I didn’t. They won the award. The spotlight needed to be on them and needs to continue to be on them. You know, we spent a lot of time with those guys. We premiered our film during the fall festivals. They did, too. We really got to know them then over the past couple of months. So to be able to right the wrong and put the spotlight on their – on their beautiful film – you know, I was – I was grateful that I got to do that.

CORNISH: Well, Jordan Horwitz, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with us.

HOROWITZ: Thanks for having me. I appreciate having me on.

CORNISH: That’s “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz. And a note – we at NPR did reach out to “Moonlight’s” director, Barry Jenkins, and writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney, as well. We have not heard back from them. Their now award-winning film “Moonlight” is this moving portrait of a young Miami boy grappling with a drug-addicted mother and his own sexuality, one that took home the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, as well. Here’s McCraney and Jenkins on stage last night. Jenkins goes first.

BARRY JENKINS: You know, I tell my students that I teach sometimes be in love with the process, not the result. But I really wanted this result ’cause a bajillion people are watching. And all you people out there who feel like there’s no mirror for you, that your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back. The ACLU has your back. We have your back. And for the next four years, we will not leave you alone. We will not forget you.

(APPLAUSE)

TARELL ALVIN MCCRANEY: Amen, brother. I just want to echo everything you just said and all those thanks, but I also want to say thank God for my mother, who proved to me through her struggles and the struggles that Naomie Harris portrayed for all of you that we can really be here and be somebody. Two boys from Liberty City up here on this stage, representing 3-0-5…

(APPLAUSE)

MCCRANEY: This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-confirming who don’t see themselves. We’re trying to show you – you and us, so thank you. Thank you. This is for you.

(APPLAUSE)

Copyright © 2017 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 Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Remembering Actor Bill Paxton, Of ‘A Simple Plan’ And ‘Twister’ Fame




TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. At the Oscar ceremony last night, when Jennifer Aniston introduced the tribute to members of the Hollywood family who had died over the past year she teared up when she said one of the people being mourned was the beloved actor and friend, Bill Paxton. His death had been announced earlier in the day in a statement by his family, which attributed the death to complications from surgery. He was 61.

Paxton appeared in many Hollywood blockbusters including “Titanic,” “Aliens,” “The Terminator” and “Apollo 13.” He also starred in smaller films like “A Simple Plan,” “One False Move” and the thriller “Frailty,” which he also directed. On the HBO series “Big Love,” Paxton played Bill Henrickson, a polygamous man trying to keep up with three wives, eight children, three homes and a small chain of home improvement stores. Paxton had just completed production on the first season of the CBS spinoff of the film “Training Day,” which began airing last month.

When I interviewed him in 2002, we talked about his early memories of going to the movies in Fort Worth, Texas, where he grew up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BILL PAXTON: I’m very close to my dad. And when I was a kid growing up in Fort Worth, my dad loved movies and plays. And he would take me and my older brother, Bob, to – downtown to Fort Worth where all the – that was where there were like three kind of main old movie palaces. I remember The Palace, The Worth and The Hollywood. My dad would never take us to a Disney film. If we wanted to see something like that then we had to go to a Saturday matinee.

My dad liked to see, you know, movies like the “Bond” films and different things. I remember seeing the “The Ipcress File” and “Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte.” And when we’d come out of the films, he would talk about the artifice of the films. He’d say, I really liked the lighting or the props or the camera work or Sean Connery’s tailor. And (laughter) in a way, at first we thought, what in the hell is he talking about? And then after a while, it – we started kind of digging the artifice and we would discuss it.

I guess from an early age I was aware of the illusion of filmmaking. And I’ve always loved the illusion. I’ve always loved, you know, the idea of image-makers and, you know, creating these other worlds that are fabricated.

GROSS: What did your father do for a living?

B. PAXTON: My dad worked for his father in a family-run hardwood lumber business. They were hardwood wholesalers out of the Midwest. It started in Kansas City back – oh, before the first World War. And after the – after World War II, my dad and his brothers went to work for their dad. My dad – there was a yard in Chicago. And eventually, after he married my mom, he moved down to Fort Worth, Texas, because there was a yard there as well.

And he traveled mostly calling on the trade – cabinet-makers and musical instrument-makers. He loved people, and he loved art. Over the years, he’s kind of been my greatest resource. He sent me books like “Simple Plan” and “Lords Of Discipline” when they were still in hardback and said, hey, they’re going to – they just sold this to the movies, you got to go in there and try to see if you can do this. And he’s been a great inspiration to me.

GROSS: Now, I understand that one of your father’s dreams was to act himself.

B. PAXTON: (Laughter) Yes.

GROSS: And he actually has a small part in the movie “A Simple Plan” that you starred in.

B. PAXTON: Yes, he does.

GROSS: And I thought I could play the scene.

B. PAXTON: Oh, terrific.

GROSS: Let me introduce the scene. Jump in if I don’t have any of the…

B. PAXTON: Yes.

GROSS: …Details straight. OK. In “A Simple Plan,” you, your brother and a friend – and your brother’s played by Billy Bob Thornton – the three of you stumble on – he thinks maybe he was cheated.

B. PAXTON: He’s been overcharged. Yes. Oh, yes.

GROSS: And the customer is played by your father.

B. PAXTON: It is.

GROSS: Here’s the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “A SIMPLE PLAN”)

JOHN PAXTON: (As Mr. Schmitt) You listening to me, Hank? Every Monday I come down here and buy two bags of feed regular as clockwork – two bags a week, four times a month. That’s eight bags I’m supposed to be billed for. I don’t know how else to get through to you…

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) Well, December started on a Monday, Mr. Schmitt. So there were five Mondays in the month so you came in here five times.

J. PAXTON: (As Mr. Schmitt) Are you telling me there were five weeks last month?

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) No, sir, I’m telling you there were five Mondays.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) Excuse me. Oh, I got it. Yeah?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hey, Hank. It’s me.

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) Hang on a second. Listen, check the calendar over there if you don’t believe me, sir.

GROSS: That’s Bill Paxton and his father John Paxton in a scene from “A Simple Plan.” What’s the story behind the scene?

B. PAXTON: Well, there’s a few stories. I mean, my dad sent me this book when it was a hardback, and I think it had only been out about four weeks. This is the debut novel by a great writer named Scott Smith. And he sent it to me, and he said you won’t be able to lay it down. It’s got a lot of hair on it. I don’t know what that means, but that means it’s good, especially coming from my dad. I sat down to read this book. I could not lay it down. And I called my dad after I read it, and I said, dad, I’ll never get to play this part. It’s a brilliant part, but I’ll never get to do it. I think there’ll be a lot more prominent actors who will be lining up to do this.

And over five years, I had watched other actors who were slated to do it, but for one reason or another, the film kept capitulating. And eventually, I kind of won the role by default, one of the greatest roles I ever got to play. I go up to star production – Sam Raimi directed the picture – and we started production actually in northern Wisconsin. But the production office I landed in was in Minneapolis. I walk into the production office to see Sam, and I’m looking up at the wall. And they usually put our, you know – the actors’ 8x10s on the production office wall. You know, there’s Billy Bob. There’s Bridget Fonda, Brent Briscoe. There’s my dad. There’s Chelcie. Wait a second. What’s my dad doing up there?

Now, my dad – I’ve got to back this up a little bit – my dad retired from the lumber business about 10 years ago, and basically said I really always wanted to be an actor. And I said, oh, my gosh, you mean my life’s work is just some continuation of your fantasy? And, anyway, he had written Sam Raimi a letter and said I’ve always admired your films, and I was wondering if there were any small parts that I’d possibly be right for.

GROSS: And he didn’t tell you he was doing that?

B. PAXTON: And he didn’t tell me that. And I – and Sam, a real gentleman, said, well, I liked your dad’s letter, so I thought I’d give him a chance.

GROSS: Oh, that’s great. Was it bizarre to work opposite him in a scene?

B. PAXTON: It was very bizarre, very bizarre, and I realized he was – you know, he’s an older guy. And he’s – he was kind of falling into a rhythm with his lines, and so I had to kind of shake him up a little bit. And I said, you know, come in and give me the business like you give it to me as Bill, you know?

Like, my dad will want me to send an autographed picture to some guy in an auto body shop, and, boy, he will fax me, he will call me, he will just rail me till I take care of it. And so I said this is – give me some of that. Once I thought I had him – a good froth worked up with my dad, they rolled the cameras. And he really nailed it.

GROSS: We’re listening to an interview with actor Bill Paxton recorded in 2002. He died Saturday. We’ll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to our 2002 interview with actor Bill Paxton. He died Saturday at the age of 61.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: Now, I want to play another scene from “A Simple Plan.” And, again, in this movie you, your brother played by Billy Bob Thornton and a friend come upon this plane that’s crashed – a small plane, and there’s $4 million there. You decided to keep it, although your character knows that it’s morally the wrong thing.

B. PAXTON: Yes.

GROSS: But you do it anyways because it’s too irresistible. You have to cover up that you’re keeping the money and then you commit a murder, and you have to cover up the murder. And one bad deed leads to another bad deed.

B. PAXTON: Once you start digging that hole, the more you dig the deeper you get in.

GROSS: Right. In this scene, your brother who’s kind of a little mentally slow and socially slow, your brother played by Billy Bob Thornton has asked you to meet him at the farm that your parents used to own and…

B. PAXTON: Poignant scene.

GROSS: Yeah. You’ve already both murdered somebody. Your brother’s asked you to meet you at the farm. It’s now broken down in total disrepair. Your brother tells you that he’d actually like to buy back the farm and live there. Let’s hear the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “A SIMPLE PLAN”)

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) Jacob, farming? Come on. You don’t just buy a farm. You got to work it. You got to know about machinery and seed.

BILLY BOB THORNTON: (As Jacob) I know that.

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) No, you don’t. Fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, drainage, irrigation, the weather – come on, you don’t know about any of that stuff. You’re going to end up just like dad.

THORNTON: (As Jacob) Why do you think he ended up like that?

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) I’ll tell you how we ended up like that. He had two mortgages riding on the place. He couldn’t make the payments.

THORNTON: (As Jacob) Where do you think the money went?

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) He was a bad businessman.

THORNTON: (As Jacob) Where do you think the money went? No, you think he spent it all on the farm. I’ll tell you exactly where the money went – four years of college, bud. Yeah. Didn’t you ever think about how he paid for that? Didn’t that ever occur to you?

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) No, my tuition was…

THORNTON: (As Jacob) Listen. I’m supposed to get the farm. What do I get? I’m supposed to get the farm.

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) Jacob, you got the whole world. You can…

THORNTON: (As Jacob) I don’t want to hear that.

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) You can go anywhere you want.

THORNTON: (As Jacob) This is what I want. This is where I want to be. It’s my home, Hank.

GROSS: That’s Billy Bob Thornton and my guest Bill Paxton in a scene from “A Simple Plan.”

B. PAXTON: That’s a very poignant scene, the idea that the brother Jacob wants to stay and fix up the old farm. That movie has – is an intensely personal film for me because my relationship with my older brother, Bob, who is a – one of the great gentle lambs of the world, but I think in his heart of hearts he wishes we still all lived on Indian Creek Drive in Fort Worth, Texas, and he’s had a tough adulthood and been through a lot of stuff. I drew off of that relationship. So for me, being in the movie was, again, it was very, very personal.

GROSS: In what other ways does he remind you of the brother in your movie?

B. PAXTON: He has the same kind of sly sense of humor, my brother, and has kind of a penchant for saying the, you know – the appropriate thing at the awkward moment. Actually, I had Billy talk to my brother on the phone several times, and he drew his character from my brother as well as kind of the innocence of his own relationship and the innocence of his own children. He was kind of playing that innocence in the role.

GROSS: Did you feel a responsibility to guide your brother in the same way that your character feels a responsibility toward his brother in the movie?

B. PAXTON: Yeah. I’ve been very involved in my brother’s life. He’s kind of my closest sibling in many ways just because physically we grew up together. We went to camps together, and after his accident when he was 24.

GROSS: What accident?

B. PAXTON: He was in a car accident and lost most of his eyesight, and he had had emotional problems before that and just compounded everything. He came up and lived with me in New York City. I was struggling. I remember I was working as a doorman at the Paramount Theater up on – up in Columbus Circle there. And we lived in a – kind of a one-room flat with my girlfriend down in the East Village. And those were kind of tough times, but we look back, and we laugh about it now. We’ve always been close, my brother and I.

GROSS: You got started in movies working on Roger Corman low-budget films. Which ones did you work on?

B. PAXTON: My first film, I was as a set dresser in the art department on a movie called “Big Bad Mama” that starred Angie Dickinson, William Shatner, Tom Skerritt and Linda Purl. I had a 20-foot van, a panel van just full of everything from phony Saguaro cactuses to all kinds of period furniture and things. This was a period film set in the early ’30s, so I had an old – I think – 1929 Sears and Roebuck catalog that I kind of used as a guide to pick out furnishings.

GROSS: What’s the coolest or most unusual thing you had to find?

B. PAXTON: Well, that’s a good question. Let me – I’d have to think back. Those Saguaro cactuses were pretty bizarre from Walter Allen Plant Rental. I remember going to places like – that are no longer – this was, you know, in the mid-’70s I remember going to Western Costume. It was a giant eight-story costume house right next to the Paramount Studios. You’d pull the shirt off the rack, and it might say made expressly for Tom Mix or John Wayne or Gary Cooper.

And the people that who had to work there – it was kind of a generational-type of job. There were people who worked there going back to silent films, and I guess I’ve always loved the history of the business I’m in, and it’s a shame that more of it hasn’t been preserved out here.

GROSS: Bill Paxton died Saturday at the age of 61. Our interview was recorded in 2002. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we’ll talk about the connection between bipolar disorder and creativity. My guest will be Kay Redfield Jamison who has written extensively on this subject. Her new book focuses on the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell and the connection between genius and mania in his life. Jamison is also the author of a memoir about her own experiences living with bipolar disorder. I hope you’ll join us.

FRESH AIR’s executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I’m Terry Gross.

Copyright © 2017 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 Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

In NYC, ‘Sweeney Todd’ Baker Serves Up Some Bloody Good Pies


The Barrow Street Theatre has been transformed into a near-perfect recreation of Harrington’s Pie & Mash — one of the oldest working pie shops in London.

Joan Marcus


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Joan Marcus

The Barrow Street Theatre has been transformed into a near-perfect recreation of Harrington’s Pie & Mash — one of the oldest working pie shops in London.

Joan Marcus

Sweeney Todd is a piece of theater that should make you lose your appetite. The grisly musical by Stephen Sondheim tells the story of a demonic barber whose clients become the filling for meat pies. Many productions leave the stage soaked in blood.

And yet, at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York City earlier this month, theater-goer Mary Alice Kellog eagerly dug into a hot meat pie. It’s part of the pre-show experience. Kellog said she’s seen every New York production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street since the show originated in 1979. Knowing what the show is about, she was still willing to eat a meat pie before the show. And she loved it: “The pies are really delicious, they’re flaky, they’re light, no fingernails in them or anything.”

The little 130-seat Barrow Street Theatre has been transformed for this production. It is now a near-perfect recreation of Harrington’s — one of the oldest working pie shops in London.

“The tiles, the kind of yellow, slightly dirty walls — it’s all as it would be if you walked into Harrington’s,” says Rachel Edwards, founder and artistic director of the Tooting Arts Club, which stages the production.

A few years ago, Edwards’ shoestring theater company in South London first mounted this production of Sweeney Todd in Harrington’s after the pie shop closed for the day. The shop could accommodate 32 people per night. “It was thrilling because it was so tiny,” says Edwards. “It did really serve as a kind of pressure cooker and Sweeney is singing two inches away from your face. So it’s pretty intense.”

The production got such raves that the composer, Sondheim, dropped by. So did the mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh — who offered the company a slightly larger 70-seat venue in London’s West End. And now the production has come to New York City, where it is in previews.

To create the pre-show meal of pie and mash, Edwards decided to hire a local baker whom President Obama once dubbed “The Crustmaster” – former White House Pastry chef Bill Yosses.

The two gigs aren’t all that different, according to Yosses. “The White House has a very theatrical feel, even though it’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to be real. You know, the day is pretty scripted and the speeches obviously are scripted. The visuals are scripted, in the sense that the administration wants to present this best face forward. Who doesn’t? And in that way, it’s very theatrical.”

Former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses now bakes pies for New York City’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Joan Marcus


hide caption

toggle caption

Joan Marcus

Former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses now bakes pies for New York City’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Joan Marcus

Yosses was trained as a classic French pastry chef. Before he worked in the Obama White House, he hadn’t made very many pies. But President Obama has a famous weakness for pies, so in the Obama years, Yosses says he became a “pie machine.” His new role is really “just inertia. I just couldn’t stop.”

A thin man with a quick smile and bright blue eyes, Yosses serves pies and mash to the audience as they enter the Barrow Street Theatre. With a paper hat and an apron that says, “Harrington’s pie shop,” he is playing a part — and seems to be enjoying himself. But his role ends well before the curtain rises on the musical.

Yosses’ day starts much earlier, in a nondescript warehouse district in Queens, where he runs an online pie business called Perfect Pie. The bakery sits across the street from a Gothic cemetery, adding to the morbid humor.

“Across the street, especially for Sweeney Todd, we have an unlimited supply of, uh, produce,” Yosses jokes.

Inside, pie shells are baked and filled with the chicken and vegetables, cooked in a little white truffle butter, then sprinkled with truffle zest. Traditional British pies are not made from chicken. But Yosses has an explanation for that. “When they talk about exotic meats, they say everything tastes like chicken. I thought, I’ll make chicken.”

Jokes aside, Yosses says this new role is an example of life coming full circle. The first time his parents visited him after he moved to New York from Ohio, they went to see the original 1979 production of Sweeney Todd.

“And they had never seen a live musical before,” he recalls. “And they said, ‘Now we understand why you want to live in New York.’ And they never really accepted it before that. So it was really kind of a huge moment for me.”

It’s nearly 4 p.m. At the bakery, Yosses’ assistant pulls the golden pies out of the oven and packs them into sealed crates for the trip into town in his Jeep.

At the Barrow Street Theatre, people line up more than an hour before the show to eat. The audience sits at benches and long tables for both the performance and the meal. These pies never appear on stage. Beautiful, flaky and delicious, they are only pre-show fare, served with a side of mashed potatoes and a green herb sauce known as “liquor.”

After the plates are empty and the dishes are cleared, actors take their places, the factory whistle sounds, and the blood starts flowing. Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre officially opens on March 1.

For Barrow Street Theatre, pie shells are baked and filled with the chicken and vegetables, cooked in a little white truffle butter, then sprinkled with truffle zest.

Joan Marcus


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Joan Marcus

For Barrow Street Theatre, pie shells are baked and filled with the chicken and vegetables, cooked in a little white truffle butter, then sprinkled with truffle zest.

Joan Marcus

Truffle Chicken Pot Pie From ‘Sweeney Todd’

Pie crust

3 cups flour

2 tsp salt

10 oz butter

3 oz cold water

Method: Cut butter into small pea-size pieces and place in freezer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place flour and salt in standing electric mixer and mix on slow speed with paddle attachment. Add the butter slowly, taking care that is does not jump out of the bowl. Mix loosely and then add cold water down the side of the bowl with mixer on slow, until the dough comes together. Remove from bowl and work into a ball with floured hands, then push down to a disk, wrap with plastic film and refrigerate for 2 hours. Roll out on a floured surface to ¼-inch thickness and then place in a pie dish, crimping the edges. Cut away excess and add to remaining pie dough, re-roll to a ¼-inch thickness into a circle for the top.

Filling

2 chicken legs and thighs, deboned

2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small dice

1 celery, chopped into small dice

1 vidalia onion, chopped into small dice

12 button mushrooms, sliced thin, or chanterelles if available

Method: Bring 3 quarts water to a boil and add chopped vegetables, except the mushrooms, to the water and cook lightly, about 3 minutes. Then add the chicken meat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove chicken, cool and chop into half-inch dice. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and skim the fat off the top of the liquid. Boil the cooking liquid for 30 minutes to reduce the stock and when it is down to one quart of liquid, add 2 tablespoons of corn starch dissolved in cold water. Stir continuously with a whisk, bringing it back to the boil until the liquid thickens.

Strain and cool. Mix together the vegetables, chicken and mushrooms and moisten with the reduced chicken stock until it is like a thick ragout.

Prepare the pie: Prebake the bottom pie shell lined with aluminum foil at 350F for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and fill with the chicken vegetable mixture. Prepare an egg wash — two eggs and pinch salt — then brush the edges and cover with the dough circle, pressing firmly to seal the edge. Poke the surface several times with a fork to make air vents and then paint with egg wash. Bake in a 350F oven for 40 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling. Serve warm.

Photographer Builds A ‘Photo Ark’ For 6,500 Animal Species And Counting


National Geographic contributing photographer Joel Sartore is 11 years into a 25-year endeavor to document every captive animal species in the world using studio lighting and black-and-white backgrounds. So far, he’s photographed 6,500 different species, which leaves approximately 6,000 to go.

Sartore tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that presenting the animals in the studio, rather than in nature, gives them equal importance in the eye of the viewer. “A mouse is every bit as glorious as an elephant, and a tiger beetle is every bit as big and important as a tiger,” he says. “It’s a great equalizer.”

Sartore chronicles his project in the new photography book, The Photo Ark. The ultimate goal of his project is to help ensure that the future existence of his subjects, many of which are either endangered or on the verge of extinction.

“I’ve been a National Geographic photographer for 27 years, and I photographed the first 15 years or so out in the wild doing different conservation stories, on wolves, on grizzly bears, on koalas all in the wild — and can I say that moved the needle enough to stop the extinction crisis? No, no it did not,” Sartore says. “So I just figured maybe very simple portraits lit exquisitely so you can see the beauty and the color, looking animals directly in the eye with no distractions would be the way to do it.”

Interview Highlights

On what it takes to photograph animals in captivity

There’s millions of species in the wild and there’s about 12,000, maybe 13,000, animals in captivity … in human care at zoos, aquariums, wild life rehab centers (where they take injured and orphaned wildlife in and raise them and let them go again) and also at private breeders. …

The reality is that the animals that are in captivity around the world, they are used to people. They’ve been around people their whole lives, born and raised. And so it’s just much easier to convince them to come into a room and most of the time, we shift animals into a room that has been prepped with black and white … paint or cloth or paper. And then we feed them during the shoot, and it takes a few minutes, and then they leave. So most of the time they just think they’re coming in to get lunch by the time I get there.

The majority of these animals are not tame, they’re not trained, but they’ve been living in human care for many years, and for many of the species, Terry, they only exist in zoos and aquariums now. They don’t live in the wild anymore. A lot of the species that you see in The Photo Ark would be extinct by now if it weren’t for captive breeding programs.

On using Photoshop to alter the photographs

Since the name of the game is speed, we put all these animals on black-and-white backgrounds, but if they poop or they drag dirt in, we’ll clean that up in Photoshop because we don’t want to have to grab the duck, remove him from the tent, clean the tent, put him back in. I mean ducks go to the bathroom every 60 seconds, so we just want to put him in there and get the best portrait we can and we will remove any extra things in Photoshop after the shoot … with some of the big animals, some of the flighty animals (like gazelles, zebras, giraffes), we don’t even use lights, because it could scare them.

On the pressure of The Photo Ark project

I enjoy saving the animals, but the photographic process is a lot of work for the places I go. … I will be very glad when it’s done, because there’s a lot of pressure. …

I know of at least four or five animals now that are the very last of their kind in the world’s zoos and I’ve got to get to them, and it means I’m gone all the time, and once I get there I’ve got to do the world’s best picture of this animal before it’s lost. … There’s a type of oxen that’s on a remote island in the Philippines that I have to go to, to get this. They’re down to about nothing in the wild and there’s one left, an old animal in captivity. There’s a type of gorilla, a sub-species of gorilla that’s in a zoo in Belgium, the last one. …

There’s lots of examples like that, a lot of birds especially. Birds and amphibians. A lot of them are down to the last ones, so I will be greatly relieved when all this is done, but I figure another 15 years or so, that’s what it’s going to take. No matter what, I’m going to get it done if I can still do it, if I can still walk and talk and shoot.

Encore: Mahershala Ali Plays An Unlikely Father Figure In ‘Moonlight’




ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The first cast member of “Moonlight” to take the stage last night was Mahershala Ali. He won the Oscar for best supporting actor. In the film, he plays a man conflicted about being both a drug dealer and father figure to the story’s hero.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Our colleague Kelly McEvers spoke to Ali last fall about how he got into the business and whether he anticipated the limited number of roles Hollywood offers to young black actors.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MAHERSHALA ALI: My dad had introduced me to indie films. So the stuff that I had a taste for, I’d certainly never saw myself in those parts. So growing up, it definitely affected my confidence or me understanding what could be accomplished because of only seeing myself in a very limited way.

It’s been really hard for me to say I want to be a leading man, like to really say that. Because when I was growing up, I didn’t see that. But I did see people helping the leading man. And the people helping the leading man always looked like me. And then when you feel it from the inside out, it’s a little frustrating, but the industry’s changing. So these young men in this movie, they’re going to have an entirely different experience than I’ve had…

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Right.

ALI: …Being in this business now for a decade and a half. I’ve been working for 16 years.

MCEVERS: You know, in the past couple years, you have played a really diverse range of characters – of course Remy Danton…

ALI: Oh, yeah.

MCEVERS: …Ruthless power broker on “House Of Cards.”

ALI: My buddy.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: Your buddy, really. And then of course there’s the complicated villain who kind of has a heart, Cottonmouth from “Luke Cage” on Netflix. I don’t know, you’re just, like, playing, like, this spectrum of, like, black maleness. Does it feel – I don’t know, do you feel a – like a weight of responsibility? You know, I mean, there’s a lot of complicated nuance in these characters.

ALI: I feel the responsibility to try to do great work. And that keeps me up at night sometime, just, you know, trying to figure out what my in is with these characters and how to really connect to them and sort of lose myself in them for that 16 hours a day. I have no interest in playing myself. I really don’t think I’m that interesting.

I think that these characters though, the ones that I say yes to, are really interesting to me. And I respond to the ones where I feel like there’s a shaft of light, like there’s a little opening there where I can power the entire person through that one little connection. So whether he’s a drug dealer or a gun runner or what have you, that if I can just make him human, then that is the goal for me right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF DUKAS’ “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”)

SHAPIRO: That’s Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali talking with our co-host Kelly McEvers back in October.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF DUKAS’ “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”)

Copyright © 2017 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 Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

‘La La Land’ Producer Reacts To Best Picture Blunder




AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Actress Emma Stone summed it up nicely at the post-Academy-Awards press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

EMMA STONE: Is that the craziest Oscar moment of all time?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Unintelligible).

STONE: Cool.

(LAUGHTER)

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It was the last award of the evening – Best Picture. Presenter Warren Beatty was handed the wrong card, the one for best actress. Faye Dunaway didn’t notice and read the name she saw.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FAYE DUNAWAY: “La La Land.”

(APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: And while the cast and crew began their acceptance speeches, Oscar producers scrambled to correct what they knew to be a colossal blunder.

SHAPIRO: Out of the nearly two dozen people on stage, “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz had the presence of mind to call the stage the rightful winners, director Barry Jenkins and the cast of “Moonlight.”

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You know (laughter).

JORDAN HOROWITZ: Guys, guys, I’m sorry. No.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: There’s a mistake.

HOROWITZ: There’s a mistake. “Moonlight,” you guys won Best Picture.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: “Moonlight” won.

CORNISH: Now, Jordan Horowitz was kind enough to join us at our studios today. And I asked him about that moment just after he’d finished his acceptance speech.

HOROWITZ: A stage manager kind of came onto the stage, and it was clear something was going on. And at a certain point, he came up to me and took the envelope I’d been given. And when he opened it, it said Emma Stone, “La La Land.” And so there was a scramble to find the correct envelope. Eventually, that envelope was found. It said Best picture on it. Opened that envelope – it said “Moonlight.” And, you know, sort of – I needed to right the wrong.

CORNISH: But in your head, is that moment – on TV, are you like, my eyes widen there? (Laughter) Or, like…

HOROWITZ: You know, there’s, like, a physical moment where I say I saw myself take three steps backwards. And that, for me, is the moment that I was like, oh, this is…

CORNISH: Yeah, ’cause you snatched that envelope out of Warren Beatty’s hand with (laughter) purpose.

HOROWITZ: Yeah. It’s funny ’cause when I went up to the mike and told everybody that “Moonlight” had won, I think there was a lot of confusion. And I think it was just needing to have sort of a physical manifestation of that. I saw it out of the corner of my…

CORNISH: So no conspiracy theories – no – none of that.

HOROWITZ: You know, just, like, that needed to end, you know? It just – it needed to be clear and decisive and clean. And he was kind of standing next to me, and I saw it out of the corner of my eye. And I just kind of – I took it and showed it. It was just kind of instinctual.

CORNISH: What does it say that people are praising you for ’cause I’ve thought about it, and I thought, well, like, kind of what else would he do, right? (Laughter) You couldn’t skip away with the award.

HOROWITZ: I’ve had – I’ve had the same thought. I did – listen…

CORNISH: Like, people are kind of being like – it’s nice of him to do a thing that probably he should have done.

HOROWITZ: I’ve been getting a lot of – a lot of that this morning, and it’s overwhelming – like, a lot of kindness, a lot of generosity…

CORNISH: Or, like, saying you gave them the award, which is weird.

HOROWITZ: That’s odd ’cause I didn’t. They won the award. The spotlight needed to be on them and needs to continue to be on them. You know, we spent a lot of time with those guys. We premiered our film during the fall festivals. They did, too. We really got to know them then over the past couple of months. So to be able to right the wrong and put the spotlight on their – on their beautiful film – you know, I was – I was grateful that I got to do that.

CORNISH: Well, Jordan Horwitz, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with us.

HOROWITZ: Thanks for having me. I appreciate having me on.

CORNISH: That’s “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz. And a note – we at NPR did reach out to “Moonlight’s” director, Barry Jenkins, and writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney, as well. We have not heard back from them. Their now award-winning film “Moonlight” is this moving portrait of a young Miami boy grappling with a drug-addicted mother and his own sexuality, one that took home the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, as well. Here’s McCraney and Jenkins on stage last night. Jenkins goes first.

BARRY JENKINS: You know, I tell my students that I teach sometimes be in love with the process, not the result. But I really wanted this result ’cause a bajillion people are watching. And all you people out there who feel like there’s no mirror for you, that your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back. The ACLU has your back. We have your back. And for the next four years, we will not leave you alone. We will not forget you.

(APPLAUSE)

TARELL ALVIN MCCRANEY: Amen, brother. I just want to echo everything you just said and all those thanks, but I also want to say thank God for my mother, who proved to me through her struggles and the struggles that Naomie Harris portrayed for all of you that we can really be here and be somebody. Two boys from Liberty City up here on this stage, representing 3-0-5…

(APPLAUSE)

MCCRANEY: This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-confirming who don’t see themselves. We’re trying to show you – you and us, so thank you. Thank you. This is for you.

(APPLAUSE)

Copyright © 2017 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 Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Remembering Actor Bill Paxton, Of ‘A Simple Plan’ And ‘Twister’ Fame




TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. At the Oscar ceremony last night, when Jennifer Aniston introduced the tribute to members of the Hollywood family who had died over the past year she teared up when she said one of the people being mourned was the beloved actor and friend, Bill Paxton. His death had been announced earlier in the day in a statement by his family, which attributed the death to complications from surgery. He was 61.

Paxton appeared in many Hollywood blockbusters including “Titanic,” “Aliens,” “The Terminator” and “Apollo 13.” He also starred in smaller films like “A Simple Plan,” “One False Move” and the thriller “Frailty,” which he also directed. On the HBO series “Big Love,” Paxton played Bill Henrickson, a polygamous man trying to keep up with three wives, eight children, three homes and a small chain of home improvement stores. Paxton had just completed production on the first season of the CBS spinoff of the film “Training Day,” which began airing last month.

When I interviewed him in 2002, we talked about his early memories of going to the movies in Fort Worth, Texas, where he grew up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BILL PAXTON: I’m very close to my dad. And when I was a kid growing up in Fort Worth, my dad loved movies and plays. And he would take me and my older brother, Bob, to – downtown to Fort Worth where all the – that was where there were like three kind of main old movie palaces. I remember The Palace, The Worth and The Hollywood. My dad would never take us to a Disney film. If we wanted to see something like that then we had to go to a Saturday matinee.

My dad liked to see, you know, movies like the “Bond” films and different things. I remember seeing the “The Ipcress File” and “Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte.” And when we’d come out of the films, he would talk about the artifice of the films. He’d say, I really liked the lighting or the props or the camera work or Sean Connery’s tailor. And (laughter) in a way, at first we thought, what in the hell is he talking about? And then after a while, it – we started kind of digging the artifice and we would discuss it.

I guess from an early age I was aware of the illusion of filmmaking. And I’ve always loved the illusion. I’ve always loved, you know, the idea of image-makers and, you know, creating these other worlds that are fabricated.

GROSS: What did your father do for a living?

B. PAXTON: My dad worked for his father in a family-run hardwood lumber business. They were hardwood wholesalers out of the Midwest. It started in Kansas City back – oh, before the first World War. And after the – after World War II, my dad and his brothers went to work for their dad. My dad – there was a yard in Chicago. And eventually, after he married my mom, he moved down to Fort Worth, Texas, because there was a yard there as well.

And he traveled mostly calling on the trade – cabinet-makers and musical instrument-makers. He loved people, and he loved art. Over the years, he’s kind of been my greatest resource. He sent me books like “Simple Plan” and “Lords Of Discipline” when they were still in hardback and said, hey, they’re going to – they just sold this to the movies, you got to go in there and try to see if you can do this. And he’s been a great inspiration to me.

GROSS: Now, I understand that one of your father’s dreams was to act himself.

B. PAXTON: (Laughter) Yes.

GROSS: And he actually has a small part in the movie “A Simple Plan” that you starred in.

B. PAXTON: Yes, he does.

GROSS: And I thought I could play the scene.

B. PAXTON: Oh, terrific.

GROSS: Let me introduce the scene. Jump in if I don’t have any of the…

B. PAXTON: Yes.

GROSS: …Details straight. OK. In “A Simple Plan,” you, your brother and a friend – and your brother’s played by Billy Bob Thornton – the three of you stumble on – he thinks maybe he was cheated.

B. PAXTON: He’s been overcharged. Yes. Oh, yes.

GROSS: And the customer is played by your father.

B. PAXTON: It is.

GROSS: Here’s the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “A SIMPLE PLAN”)

JOHN PAXTON: (As Mr. Schmitt) You listening to me, Hank? Every Monday I come down here and buy two bags of feed regular as clockwork – two bags a week, four times a month. That’s eight bags I’m supposed to be billed for. I don’t know how else to get through to you…

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) Well, December started on a Monday, Mr. Schmitt. So there were five Mondays in the month so you came in here five times.

J. PAXTON: (As Mr. Schmitt) Are you telling me there were five weeks last month?

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) No, sir, I’m telling you there were five Mondays.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) Excuse me. Oh, I got it. Yeah?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hey, Hank. It’s me.

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) Hang on a second. Listen, check the calendar over there if you don’t believe me, sir.

GROSS: That’s Bill Paxton and his father John Paxton in a scene from “A Simple Plan.” What’s the story behind the scene?

B. PAXTON: Well, there’s a few stories. I mean, my dad sent me this book when it was a hardback, and I think it had only been out about four weeks. This is the debut novel by a great writer named Scott Smith. And he sent it to me, and he said you won’t be able to lay it down. It’s got a lot of hair on it. I don’t know what that means, but that means it’s good, especially coming from my dad. I sat down to read this book. I could not lay it down. And I called my dad after I read it, and I said, dad, I’ll never get to play this part. It’s a brilliant part, but I’ll never get to do it. I think there’ll be a lot more prominent actors who will be lining up to do this.

And over five years, I had watched other actors who were slated to do it, but for one reason or another, the film kept capitulating. And eventually, I kind of won the role by default, one of the greatest roles I ever got to play. I go up to star production – Sam Raimi directed the picture – and we started production actually in northern Wisconsin. But the production office I landed in was in Minneapolis. I walk into the production office to see Sam, and I’m looking up at the wall. And they usually put our, you know – the actors’ 8x10s on the production office wall. You know, there’s Billy Bob. There’s Bridget Fonda, Brent Briscoe. There’s my dad. There’s Chelcie. Wait a second. What’s my dad doing up there?

Now, my dad – I’ve got to back this up a little bit – my dad retired from the lumber business about 10 years ago, and basically said I really always wanted to be an actor. And I said, oh, my gosh, you mean my life’s work is just some continuation of your fantasy? And, anyway, he had written Sam Raimi a letter and said I’ve always admired your films, and I was wondering if there were any small parts that I’d possibly be right for.

GROSS: And he didn’t tell you he was doing that?

B. PAXTON: And he didn’t tell me that. And I – and Sam, a real gentleman, said, well, I liked your dad’s letter, so I thought I’d give him a chance.

GROSS: Oh, that’s great. Was it bizarre to work opposite him in a scene?

B. PAXTON: It was very bizarre, very bizarre, and I realized he was – you know, he’s an older guy. And he’s – he was kind of falling into a rhythm with his lines, and so I had to kind of shake him up a little bit. And I said, you know, come in and give me the business like you give it to me as Bill, you know?

Like, my dad will want me to send an autographed picture to some guy in an auto body shop, and, boy, he will fax me, he will call me, he will just rail me till I take care of it. And so I said this is – give me some of that. Once I thought I had him – a good froth worked up with my dad, they rolled the cameras. And he really nailed it.

GROSS: We’re listening to an interview with actor Bill Paxton recorded in 2002. He died Saturday. We’ll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get back to our 2002 interview with actor Bill Paxton. He died Saturday at the age of 61.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: Now, I want to play another scene from “A Simple Plan.” And, again, in this movie you, your brother played by Billy Bob Thornton and a friend come upon this plane that’s crashed – a small plane, and there’s $4 million there. You decided to keep it, although your character knows that it’s morally the wrong thing.

B. PAXTON: Yes.

GROSS: But you do it anyways because it’s too irresistible. You have to cover up that you’re keeping the money and then you commit a murder, and you have to cover up the murder. And one bad deed leads to another bad deed.

B. PAXTON: Once you start digging that hole, the more you dig the deeper you get in.

GROSS: Right. In this scene, your brother who’s kind of a little mentally slow and socially slow, your brother played by Billy Bob Thornton has asked you to meet him at the farm that your parents used to own and…

B. PAXTON: Poignant scene.

GROSS: Yeah. You’ve already both murdered somebody. Your brother’s asked you to meet you at the farm. It’s now broken down in total disrepair. Your brother tells you that he’d actually like to buy back the farm and live there. Let’s hear the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “A SIMPLE PLAN”)

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) Jacob, farming? Come on. You don’t just buy a farm. You got to work it. You got to know about machinery and seed.

BILLY BOB THORNTON: (As Jacob) I know that.

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) No, you don’t. Fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, drainage, irrigation, the weather – come on, you don’t know about any of that stuff. You’re going to end up just like dad.

THORNTON: (As Jacob) Why do you think he ended up like that?

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) I’ll tell you how we ended up like that. He had two mortgages riding on the place. He couldn’t make the payments.

THORNTON: (As Jacob) Where do you think the money went?

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) He was a bad businessman.

THORNTON: (As Jacob) Where do you think the money went? No, you think he spent it all on the farm. I’ll tell you exactly where the money went – four years of college, bud. Yeah. Didn’t you ever think about how he paid for that? Didn’t that ever occur to you?

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) No, my tuition was…

THORNTON: (As Jacob) Listen. I’m supposed to get the farm. What do I get? I’m supposed to get the farm.

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) Jacob, you got the whole world. You can…

THORNTON: (As Jacob) I don’t want to hear that.

B. PAXTON: (As Hank) You can go anywhere you want.

THORNTON: (As Jacob) This is what I want. This is where I want to be. It’s my home, Hank.

GROSS: That’s Billy Bob Thornton and my guest Bill Paxton in a scene from “A Simple Plan.”

B. PAXTON: That’s a very poignant scene, the idea that the brother Jacob wants to stay and fix up the old farm. That movie has – is an intensely personal film for me because my relationship with my older brother, Bob, who is a – one of the great gentle lambs of the world, but I think in his heart of hearts he wishes we still all lived on Indian Creek Drive in Fort Worth, Texas, and he’s had a tough adulthood and been through a lot of stuff. I drew off of that relationship. So for me, being in the movie was, again, it was very, very personal.

GROSS: In what other ways does he remind you of the brother in your movie?

B. PAXTON: He has the same kind of sly sense of humor, my brother, and has kind of a penchant for saying the, you know – the appropriate thing at the awkward moment. Actually, I had Billy talk to my brother on the phone several times, and he drew his character from my brother as well as kind of the innocence of his own relationship and the innocence of his own children. He was kind of playing that innocence in the role.

GROSS: Did you feel a responsibility to guide your brother in the same way that your character feels a responsibility toward his brother in the movie?

B. PAXTON: Yeah. I’ve been very involved in my brother’s life. He’s kind of my closest sibling in many ways just because physically we grew up together. We went to camps together, and after his accident when he was 24.

GROSS: What accident?

B. PAXTON: He was in a car accident and lost most of his eyesight, and he had had emotional problems before that and just compounded everything. He came up and lived with me in New York City. I was struggling. I remember I was working as a doorman at the Paramount Theater up on – up in Columbus Circle there. And we lived in a – kind of a one-room flat with my girlfriend down in the East Village. And those were kind of tough times, but we look back, and we laugh about it now. We’ve always been close, my brother and I.

GROSS: You got started in movies working on Roger Corman low-budget films. Which ones did you work on?

B. PAXTON: My first film, I was as a set dresser in the art department on a movie called “Big Bad Mama” that starred Angie Dickinson, William Shatner, Tom Skerritt and Linda Purl. I had a 20-foot van, a panel van just full of everything from phony Saguaro cactuses to all kinds of period furniture and things. This was a period film set in the early ’30s, so I had an old – I think – 1929 Sears and Roebuck catalog that I kind of used as a guide to pick out furnishings.

GROSS: What’s the coolest or most unusual thing you had to find?

B. PAXTON: Well, that’s a good question. Let me – I’d have to think back. Those Saguaro cactuses were pretty bizarre from Walter Allen Plant Rental. I remember going to places like – that are no longer – this was, you know, in the mid-’70s I remember going to Western Costume. It was a giant eight-story costume house right next to the Paramount Studios. You’d pull the shirt off the rack, and it might say made expressly for Tom Mix or John Wayne or Gary Cooper.

And the people that who had to work there – it was kind of a generational-type of job. There were people who worked there going back to silent films, and I guess I’ve always loved the history of the business I’m in, and it’s a shame that more of it hasn’t been preserved out here.

GROSS: Bill Paxton died Saturday at the age of 61. Our interview was recorded in 2002. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we’ll talk about the connection between bipolar disorder and creativity. My guest will be Kay Redfield Jamison who has written extensively on this subject. Her new book focuses on the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell and the connection between genius and mania in his life. Jamison is also the author of a memoir about her own experiences living with bipolar disorder. I hope you’ll join us.

FRESH AIR’s executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I’m Terry Gross.

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In NYC, ‘Sweeney Todd’ Baker Serves Up Some Bloody Good Pies


The Barrow Street Theatre has been transformed into a near-perfect recreation of Harrington’s Pie & Mash — one of the oldest working pie shops in London.

Joan Marcus


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Joan Marcus

The Barrow Street Theatre has been transformed into a near-perfect recreation of Harrington’s Pie & Mash — one of the oldest working pie shops in London.

Joan Marcus

Sweeney Todd is a piece of theater that should make you lose your appetite. The grisly musical by Stephen Sondheim tells the story of a demonic barber whose clients become the filling for meat pies. Many productions leave the stage soaked in blood.

And yet, at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York City earlier this month, theater-goer Mary Alice Kellog eagerly dug into a hot meat pie. It’s part of the pre-show experience. Kellog said she’s seen every New York production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street since the show originated in 1979. Knowing what the show is about, she was still willing to eat a meat pie before the show. And she loved it: “The pies are really delicious, they’re flaky, they’re light, no fingernails in them or anything.”

The little 130-seat Barrow Street Theatre has been transformed for this production. It is now a near-perfect recreation of Harrington’s — one of the oldest working pie shops in London.

“The tiles, the kind of yellow, slightly dirty walls — it’s all as it would be if you walked into Harrington’s,” says Rachel Edwards, founder and artistic director of the Tooting Arts Club, which stages the production.

A few years ago, Edwards’ shoestring theater company in South London first mounted this production of Sweeney Todd in Harrington’s after the pie shop closed for the day. The shop could accommodate 32 people per night. “It was thrilling because it was so tiny,” says Edwards. “It did really serve as a kind of pressure cooker and Sweeney is singing two inches away from your face. So it’s pretty intense.”

The production got such raves that the composer, Sondheim, dropped by. So did the mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh — who offered the company a slightly larger 70-seat venue in London’s West End. And now the production has come to New York City, where it is in previews.

To create the pre-show meal of pie and mash, Edwards decided to hire a local baker whom President Obama once dubbed “The Crustmaster” – former White House Pastry chef Bill Yosses.

The two gigs aren’t all that different, according to Yosses. “The White House has a very theatrical feel, even though it’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to be real. You know, the day is pretty scripted and the speeches obviously are scripted. The visuals are scripted, in the sense that the administration wants to present this best face forward. Who doesn’t? And in that way, it’s very theatrical.”

Former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses now bakes pies for New York City’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Joan Marcus


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Joan Marcus

Former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses now bakes pies for New York City’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Joan Marcus

Yosses was trained as a classic French pastry chef. Before he worked in the Obama White House, he hadn’t made very many pies. But President Obama has a famous weakness for pies, so in the Obama years, Yosses says he became a “pie machine.” His new role is really “just inertia. I just couldn’t stop.”

A thin man with a quick smile and bright blue eyes, Yosses serves pies and mash to the audience as they enter the Barrow Street Theatre. With a paper hat and an apron that says, “Harrington’s pie shop,” he is playing a part — and seems to be enjoying himself. But his role ends well before the curtain rises on the musical.

Yosses’ day starts much earlier, in a nondescript warehouse district in Queens, where he runs an online pie business called Perfect Pie. The bakery sits across the street from a Gothic cemetery, adding to the morbid humor.

“Across the street, especially for Sweeney Todd, we have an unlimited supply of, uh, produce,” Yosses jokes.

Inside, pie shells are baked and filled with the chicken and vegetables, cooked in a little white truffle butter, then sprinkled with truffle zest. Traditional British pies are not made from chicken. But Yosses has an explanation for that. “When they talk about exotic meats, they say everything tastes like chicken. I thought, I’ll make chicken.”

Jokes aside, Yosses says this new role is an example of life coming full circle. The first time his parents visited him after he moved to New York from Ohio, they went to see the original 1979 production of Sweeney Todd.

“And they had never seen a live musical before,” he recalls. “And they said, ‘Now we understand why you want to live in New York.’ And they never really accepted it before that. So it was really kind of a huge moment for me.”

It’s nearly 4 p.m. At the bakery, Yosses’ assistant pulls the golden pies out of the oven and packs them into sealed crates for the trip into town in his Jeep.

At the Barrow Street Theatre, people line up more than an hour before the show to eat. The audience sits at benches and long tables for both the performance and the meal. These pies never appear on stage. Beautiful, flaky and delicious, they are only pre-show fare, served with a side of mashed potatoes and a green herb sauce known as “liquor.”

After the plates are empty and the dishes are cleared, actors take their places, the factory whistle sounds, and the blood starts flowing. Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre officially opens on March 1.

For Barrow Street Theatre, pie shells are baked and filled with the chicken and vegetables, cooked in a little white truffle butter, then sprinkled with truffle zest.

Joan Marcus


hide caption

toggle caption

Joan Marcus

For Barrow Street Theatre, pie shells are baked and filled with the chicken and vegetables, cooked in a little white truffle butter, then sprinkled with truffle zest.

Joan Marcus

Truffle Chicken Pot Pie From ‘Sweeney Todd’

Pie crust

3 cups flour

2 tsp salt

10 oz butter

3 oz cold water

Method: Cut butter into small pea-size pieces and place in freezer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place flour and salt in standing electric mixer and mix on slow speed with paddle attachment. Add the butter slowly, taking care that is does not jump out of the bowl. Mix loosely and then add cold water down the side of the bowl with mixer on slow, until the dough comes together. Remove from bowl and work into a ball with floured hands, then push down to a disk, wrap with plastic film and refrigerate for 2 hours. Roll out on a floured surface to ¼-inch thickness and then place in a pie dish, crimping the edges. Cut away excess and add to remaining pie dough, re-roll to a ¼-inch thickness into a circle for the top.

Filling

2 chicken legs and thighs, deboned

2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small dice

1 celery, chopped into small dice

1 vidalia onion, chopped into small dice

12 button mushrooms, sliced thin, or chanterelles if available

Method: Bring 3 quarts water to a boil and add chopped vegetables, except the mushrooms, to the water and cook lightly, about 3 minutes. Then add the chicken meat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove chicken, cool and chop into half-inch dice. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and skim the fat off the top of the liquid. Boil the cooking liquid for 30 minutes to reduce the stock and when it is down to one quart of liquid, add 2 tablespoons of corn starch dissolved in cold water. Stir continuously with a whisk, bringing it back to the boil until the liquid thickens.

Strain and cool. Mix together the vegetables, chicken and mushrooms and moisten with the reduced chicken stock until it is like a thick ragout.

Prepare the pie: Prebake the bottom pie shell lined with aluminum foil at 350F for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and fill with the chicken vegetable mixture. Prepare an egg wash — two eggs and pinch salt — then brush the edges and cover with the dough circle, pressing firmly to seal the edge. Poke the surface several times with a fork to make air vents and then paint with egg wash. Bake in a 350F oven for 40 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling. Serve warm.

Photographer Builds A ‘Photo Ark’ For 6,500 Animal Species And Counting


National Geographic contributing photographer Joel Sartore is 11 years into a 25-year endeavor to document every captive animal species in the world using studio lighting and black-and-white backgrounds. So far, he’s photographed 6,500 different species, which leaves approximately 6,000 to go.

Sartore tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that presenting the animals in the studio, rather than in nature, gives them equal importance in the eye of the viewer. “A mouse is every bit as glorious as an elephant, and a tiger beetle is every bit as big and important as a tiger,” he says. “It’s a great equalizer.”

Sartore chronicles his project in the new photography book, The Photo Ark. The ultimate goal of his project is to help ensure that the future existence of his subjects, many of which are either endangered or on the verge of extinction.

“I’ve been a National Geographic photographer for 27 years, and I photographed the first 15 years or so out in the wild doing different conservation stories, on wolves, on grizzly bears, on koalas all in the wild — and can I say that moved the needle enough to stop the extinction crisis? No, no it did not,” Sartore says. “So I just figured maybe very simple portraits lit exquisitely so you can see the beauty and the color, looking animals directly in the eye with no distractions would be the way to do it.”

Interview Highlights

On what it takes to photograph animals in captivity

There’s millions of species in the wild and there’s about 12,000, maybe 13,000, animals in captivity … in human care at zoos, aquariums, wild life rehab centers (where they take injured and orphaned wildlife in and raise them and let them go again) and also at private breeders. …

The reality is that the animals that are in captivity around the world, they are used to people. They’ve been around people their whole lives, born and raised. And so it’s just much easier to convince them to come into a room and most of the time, we shift animals into a room that has been prepped with black and white … paint or cloth or paper. And then we feed them during the shoot, and it takes a few minutes, and then they leave. So most of the time they just think they’re coming in to get lunch by the time I get there.

The majority of these animals are not tame, they’re not trained, but they’ve been living in human care for many years, and for many of the species, Terry, they only exist in zoos and aquariums now. They don’t live in the wild anymore. A lot of the species that you see in The Photo Ark would be extinct by now if it weren’t for captive breeding programs.

On using Photoshop to alter the photographs

Since the name of the game is speed, we put all these animals on black-and-white backgrounds, but if they poop or they drag dirt in, we’ll clean that up in Photoshop because we don’t want to have to grab the duck, remove him from the tent, clean the tent, put him back in. I mean ducks go to the bathroom every 60 seconds, so we just want to put him in there and get the best portrait we can and we will remove any extra things in Photoshop after the shoot … with some of the big animals, some of the flighty animals (like gazelles, zebras, giraffes), we don’t even use lights, because it could scare them.

On the pressure of The Photo Ark project

I enjoy saving the animals, but the photographic process is a lot of work for the places I go. … I will be very glad when it’s done, because there’s a lot of pressure. …

I know of at least four or five animals now that are the very last of their kind in the world’s zoos and I’ve got to get to them, and it means I’m gone all the time, and once I get there I’ve got to do the world’s best picture of this animal before it’s lost. … There’s a type of oxen that’s on a remote island in the Philippines that I have to go to, to get this. They’re down to about nothing in the wild and there’s one left, an old animal in captivity. There’s a type of gorilla, a sub-species of gorilla that’s in a zoo in Belgium, the last one. …

There’s lots of examples like that, a lot of birds especially. Birds and amphibians. A lot of them are down to the last ones, so I will be greatly relieved when all this is done, but I figure another 15 years or so, that’s what it’s going to take. No matter what, I’m going to get it done if I can still do it, if I can still walk and talk and shoot.