tv Tavis Smiley PBS July 26, 2011 2:00pm-2:30pm PDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. over the course of the next few weeks we will bring you a number of conversations including the week on china, this will start monday, august 15, and you can visit any of our past programs visiting pbs.org, check for betty white, bobby brown, ashley judd and many more. tonight look at actress and playwright, anna deavere smith, in her program, called "let me down easy," and then j.j. abrams on his list of projects, "super
8," one of the biggest box office surprises, thank you for joining us, coming up now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where wal-mart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television]
tavis: please welcome to anadeavere smith to this program, on her addition to the acclaimed show, one time jackie, it runs from july 20, and now from a scene of "let me down easy." >> i want to apologize but we can't find your records. could you tell me what kind of cancer you have. i said this is appalling, and you said hey, it's not just you. it happens here quite a bit. i said, i am an associate dean at the medical school. now he looks up.
at this medical school? i said at the yale school of medicine, he found my files within a half an hour. tavis: so i saw this as you know in new york city, and loved it. and i am so honored to have you here, i was able to catch you since you were in berkeley for the moment and flew you down here. >> i am honored. tavis: i enjoyed the piece on the camera, you think it's better than in new york? >> don't make me look look a br braggert. tavis: how could it be better? >> well, i have been performing since 2009, and it should be better, no, i have a chance to get deeper in the character.
tavis: this thing has 20 different characters and how do you not crisscross? >> why are you putting that idea in my head. i have to go back on stage, don't give me that idea. but don't you remember on talk shows and ask aretha franklin, and oh my goodness, when you think of such and such song, and hit the note and that's how it is for me, technical stuff. tavis: part of this what makes it so fascinating is the research you did, and tell about that research. >> for this play i interviewed 320 people on three continents and just like you do, you don't act the people who sit here.
i would love to see that. tavis: no you don't. and so you interviewed those people and what did you get? >> this is a confession, i often think of you since that wonderful event with the people in new york, remember we talked together. you have an expression that says, tell me something, like tell me something good. and what i am, is a student of expression. i am looking for people to say something in a fantastic way. and everyone does, and what i think i have with the 20 people i do, is 20 great expressive people. and they really teach me something when i get in from and learn what they do. tavis: as we saw in the clip and the one they are playing now over my voice, you are not just recounting your conversation, you are in character. whether a cowboy or lance
armstrong, are these 20 characters, some are people we know. they are well-known people. what is the process for actually getting into their characters? when you talk to them, obviously you are studying them, not just for voice and not just content but something else as well. >> right, my acting technique comes from a black man that only had an eighth grade education, my grandfather. and he said to me, if you say a word often enough it becomes you. and this project on the search for american character, that i started a long time ago, and this play let down the 18th in that series. i have been trying to absorb america by going around and putting down my tape recorder and talking to people and say it
over and over, and the way you think of walking in someone's shoes and i am walking their words. and in this play i also went to africa and germany. tavis: what do you learn generally talking to the american people about the health care crisis? >> that's a big question, and i would say what i learned and again many interviews. is a lot of the disparity of who gets what. and the gap between rich and poor is bigger than ever. and if you have a lot of resources, fantastic things can happen to you, and if you don't, you probably won't get that chance. and what i learned about america, and it would be impossible to think of it as a person. but what i see recurring, that hope is something that is a part of the american personality. this belief that things will be
better and that we can make it better. tavis: hope even about an issue as contentious as health care, and i ask that when the debate was so ugly, and now that we pass it and don't know how much congress will try to roll back what happened. let me ask you what the debate as we sit here today? >> i don't think that the debate is helpful, and they should be but this one isn't. and the democrats admit when it first got rolled out it wasn't explained well. and i think that the debate is causing more confusion, and now i will make my plug for art. i think we have an opportunity, artists do, you do, anyone with any bit of public space, we have an opportunity to try to present
points of view to the people. and ask the people to use that chance to talk about it among themselves. it's very important that we have a real national conversation. tavis: let me ask you permanent permanently -- personally what you get out of, this you have distinguished yourself of these one-woman plays and i assume it does something for you, and there is a lot of work and research. and when you are not doing your one-woman thing and in the american president, and there is something that brings you back to the stage of these one-woman shows. >> that's a fantastic questions and i appreciate it, that you see the work that goes into it. and well, that reminds me of another character. sally jenkins a great writer and
when she talks about athletes they really love the process. it's really about the process, it's not just about winning. and for me, first of all i love people. i love ideas. i love how people talk. i love that since i was a little girl. i love studying how people are. not just what they are saying but how they are, what they are doing. and i love these portraits i make of people. that's what i love to do, i love to wake up and think about it. i don't think i will ever be tired of doing it. that's what keeps me doing it, i truly love it. and i love meeting people that are different from me. i feel that my work has been my
past of freedom having grownup in a segregated environment. i guess fame and fortune could be what that path is for some people. for me that path is learning about the very person i shouldn't care about. tavis: segregation brings immediately to black-and-white as the old construct. and we live in the most multi, ethic america ever, as you travel, do you think we will make it? is the jury still out and are you certain that we will make it given that these tensions have cause for divides on a variety of issues, politically, socially and ethically? >> i am a hope aholic, and probably a fool, but that's probably also bragging. because being a fool is the
highest praise you can claim as an actor. you are to see the world upside down and ask questions and stuff like that. i am concerned about our divisions. i am concerned about how big the gap is, not just between who has and doesn't have and who knows and who doesn't. you know i have been teaching a long time at new york university. and that saddens me and upsets me. and not just that you learned enough to have a trade. but i see as many people don't get and your enterprise is evident every night is just the sheer join of learning. and to be cut off from that is not really not good. and in some ways i see that happening everywhere. even with people that have access to education. so i real questions right now about our values and how we can
turn some of that around. tavis: questions are good though, i is -- i have a lot more questions and no more time. you are at berkeley now. >> berkeley repertory theater. tavis: and then at the stage in july, at l.a., i will see it again and decide if it's better or not. >> ok. tavis: good to see you, anna deavere smith, "let me down easy" is the play. pleased to welcome j.j. abrams back to this program. if you have been in the dark, because mr. abrams wanted that way, and the cat is out of the back, we have scenes from "super 8." >> and action.
watch out! freighter derailed but the cargo on that freighter, we don't know. >> i can't tell anyone. >> i know. >> i understand you have conc n concernings about our cargo. >> we have calls coming in local. >> it's like they all just ran away. got property damage, i got theft. i got nine people missing now and there are things happening that i can't explain. tavis: before we get to the content of the film. i have a few questions about the context, the build up to the
film. first of all, congratulations on a great weekend. but let me start with the purpose, the value is on a film like this in deliberating keeping people in the dark? >> honestly for me it's about the experience of the audience. when i was a kid going to the movies, you weren't force fed information everywhere you looked and you had an experience and got surprised and had fun. and now i go to the theater and see a trailer, and i don't know if you feel this way, the trailer is over, and that was the movie. and you could almost tell someone the story as if you had see seen it. and i like to go to a theater and have a surprise, we weren't trying to be coy and clever but to preserve the surprise.
tavis: since others gift trailer and what is the risk of rolling on out in a different way? >> super risk, "super 8" coming out in the summer, and there may be a number but not a sequel. and i have done sequels and nothing wrong with doing them but easy to sell. so the risk is putting out a movie that you haven't said enough about it and the audience may not want to go, but we hope they do. tavis: what does a studio say when you walk in and say, this is a film but ain't a sequel. >> honestly having steven spielberg on your side isn't a bad thing. we didn't go crazy and go 100
million over budget, it was a relatively speaking responsible amount of money. and steven saying we want to make a movie that feels like those old movies that have heart. that make you feel. it's a love story and fighting with your own voice and a community of people, and a supernatural element and they were into it, and paramount pictures supported the film. and has been shown, and "star trek" the cast of that film, people really didn't know chris pine or zadon as well, and then the movie came out and people still went. i think there is a fun going to movies and seeing people and getting to discover them yourself. and not feeling like it's another star vehicle. i love work with the right actor, and if that actor is
unknown, that is ok too. tavis: a lot of folks saw it last weekend, for those who haven't, what do you want to tell us about it? >> "super 8" is a movie about kids in the late 70's make a movie on super eight film, like i used to. and they snuck away filming at a train depot, and their parents don't know they were there. and the witness of a train crash that something escapes, that's scary. the movie is innocent from that way and then a monster movie and about becoming a leader and not just a follower and finding your own voice. the message of the film is that you can go through real tragedy in your life and still live and
be stronger afterwards. tavis: as directors that are fan of your work, and myself, you can see j.j. abrams touch on the film and it's clear that spielberg's imprint is on there. and you movie in the 70's and that is on this. >> yeah, as a kid, that period of my life, i wasn't an athlete. i was the one chosen at the end to be on a team. i wasn't the smartest kid -- wait a minute, another chapter. not that guy. so a niche of making movies for me was a bit of a salvation. i was one of these kids making
movie. it was not just influence by that context, it was influenced by the movies of that era. so steven spielberg's films had such a profound influence on me as a kid. and this movie never intended to be overly influenced, but that period of time it's impossible to separate the movies from being a kid. tavis: this is not your first encounter with mr. spielberg? >> it isn't, i met him in 1989 as a screen writer, but in 1982, i was 16 years old and there was a super 8 film festival in los angeles, and there was an article in the "l. a. times"
called the beardless wonders, and implying we were incapable of growing a beard. and to this day i am offended. and spielberg's office called matt, and it was cathy who is a big time producer and could you use these your age, and what, nothing makes sense. not taking a copy. these were the original movies. spielberg had done e.t. and raiders and you think one of the great filmmakers not just america cinema, that his early works would be protected by the government. you don't give it to these kids you don't know. huge mistake, but he did.
and we repaired the movies and returned them. and just do watch those movies, no dvds and just to watch the films was unbelievable. they were far better than ours but showed us he started somewhere. tavis: what did access do your confidence? >> there is such in these movies and he was so confident than i ever was, but i don't think that we outgrow that thing we are. that you are deep down, and there was an inspiration i had in watching the movies. and oh my god, watch what he was doing on theaur -- our age and
keep going. tavis: you may not be as confident but i have to imagine, you are not the smartest kid or most athletic, but you are only kid and your partner, getting a call from spielberg. that has to do with your confidence, and your wife, these kids, there is an event that my wife and i chair each year called, beat the odds. and it's inspired by her and it's amazing work to celebrate five kids in different cities, who despite odds that you cannot believe. and lives that are just criminal, literally criminal.
most of the kids, the thing that is so inspired by the kids, they want to go back. when you talk to these kids, most want to succeed and go back and help the kids in those environments. and that's really what it is. they know who they are, and they know the truth of who they are. and they are more confidence despite everything, and that's what is so inspiring. and people leaving those dinners sobbing. so as trivial as it is making movies and entertainment and it's events like that and the work that marion does everyday, in support of the youth of this country. that, you know, it just makes everything else seem trivial. tavis: yeah, my time is up, "super 8" is the movie, but you are such a busy guy and you have a few television shows, you want
to run the list, you have so many do you know. >> "fringe" is coming back and we have a show, "person of interest" and alcatraz. tavis: oh to be j.j.abrams, and "super 8" is the film, and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with betty white, on her new memoir.
see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where wal-mart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.