tv Tavis Smiley PBS November 9, 2009 12:00pm-12:35pm EST
[captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. first up tonight, a conversation with best-selling author mitch albom. a veteran columnist for the "detroit free press" and the author of best-selling books like tuesdays with morrie is out with another book atop "the new york times" list. his latest is called "have a little faith." also tonight, actor chiwetel ejiofor stops by.
the two-time golden globe nominee stars with john cusack and danny glover in the upcoming film "2012." we're glad you've joined us. author mitch albom and actor chiwetel ejiofor coming up right now. >> there are so many things that wal-mart is looking forward to doing. like helping people live better. but mostly we're looking forward to help build stronger communities and relationships. because of your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide insurance. working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
tavis: mitch albom is a long-time columnist for the "detroit free press" who has become one of the biggest selling authors of our time with a number one "new york times" best seller like "tuesdays with morrie" and "the five people you meet in heaven." he is at the top of the best seller list, "have a little faith." a true story. he joins us from new york. mitch, nice to have you on the program. >> thanks, tavis. tavis: let me start with a crazy question. i know you don't write books for the purpose of being a -- atop the less but there is something about the stories that you choose and the way you write that makes everything you write pretty much a perennial best seller. what does mitch albom make of that? >> i'm stunned. pretty much. i mean, "tuesdays with morrie" was an accident. i was just trying to pay morrie's medical expenses and a tiny book, very few publishers wanted it. many said no, it wasn't worth publishing and when they
printed 20,000 copies at the beginning, well, we'll be lucky if we sell those. and everything that's happened ever since then has kind of been stunning to me. tavis: speaking of trying to pay morrie's bills, this one "have a little faith," you are as we say in the church tithing on this book. tell me about that firgs. >> well, the story moves between two worlds. and two men of faith in those worlds. and the one that you're referencing is in my hometown of detroit. where there's a pastor for a church called the i am my brother's keeper ministries. he used to be a pretty rough character when he was younger. he was involved in pretty much everything you could think of. drugs and crime and thiefy and he was incarcerated and turned his life around when he thought he would be murdered by his drug dealers and said jesus, if you get me out of this, you can have me in the morning. and he got out of it. and 20 years later, he's now running this church in detroit where it's kind of a homeless shelter as well as a church inside.
only it has this terrible huge hole in its roof. where rain and snow literally come in and land on the pews. and it's freezing cold inside because they can't afford to heat it because the heat goes up through the hole. one of the things i decided to do with this book was tithe the profits to a foundation called the hole in the roof foundation. to fix that hole and then to fix any other types of holes or repairs that need to be done in places of faith that help the homeless. i think at the very least, those places deserve to be warm and dry and safe. tavis: very cool. very cool. you talked -- you mentioned your hometown of detroit. you still say that with a great deal of pride. >> i do. tavis: tell me why with all what detroit is going through. >> well, maybe because of all that detroit's going through. you know, there are still an awful lot of good people. even though we have 30% unemployment. and about 100,000 abandoned buildings in the city. there's still people pulling together. helping one another. and believing that we can come back from it.
and this little church that i chronicle in here, sort of been forgotten by almost everybody. and yet the people come in on sunday mornings and at one point it was so cold in there that the homeless population of this church actually built a plastic tenlt inside the sanctuary so they who have a place to be warm and dry and pray. while the sanctuary was getting rained on and snow coming in, and freezing cold, this little plastic tent was up front and on sunday mornings, people would come in with their coats and huddle and pray for a better day. but they prayed for a better day in detroit. you see that kind of spirit, you kind of say i'm not leaving, either. i'm going to stick and fight it out. that's why it stays my home. tavis: back to the text, have a little faith. who knew that mitch was such a person of faith himself? i'm being somewhat funny here. i didn't know this about you. that you would be attracted to a subject matter like this. >> well, you were right. i didn't know about me, either. the fact is i was raised with
faith as a kid. actually pretty heavily indoctrinated with it. went to a religious academy when i was 11 years old and stayed there through high school. but walked away from it like a lot of people do. when i started to have some success and do well and i was young and healthy and like a lot of people saying it's not that i don't believe in god but figure i can go my way and he can go his and i'm busy and doing ok and we'll be fine. and then about nine years ago, i went back to the town where i grew up in new jersey. and the rabbi of the synagogue that i had belonged to my whole pulled me aside, he was 82, and he said i want to ask you a favor. i said ok. and he said, i would like you to do the eulogy at my funeral. and this just stunned me. because although i had known him my whole life, i wasn't particularly religious. and who was i to do a eulogy for the guy who does eulogies? and so i sort of said the only way can i do that is if i get to know you as a man. and he said i accept. and that began what i thought
would be a couple of months worth of visits. but turned out to be eight years. he lived another eight years through several strokes and cancer scares. and it became like this second -- i don't know, education or lassoing of me in the beauty of faith, when you see it at a small level. you know, not on the big pulpits or the grand stage but with these two men of god in the off hours, away from the pulpit and out of the robes. and that really was inspiring to me. tavis: what are you -- do you take away from being able to profile these two men who have different faith? >> that they're not so different. that's the thing. i remember toward the end of the rabbi's life, i was visiting him and we were talking about heaven. and he said, you know, that he hoped i got a lot more years on earth so when we saw each other again in heaven, we would have a lot to talk about. and i said, do you really think we're going to see each other again? and he said, well, don't you? and i said well, let's face it. i don't think i'm going where you're going.
and he said, what do you mean? i said, you're a man of god. and he looked at me and he said, you're a man of god, too. everyone is. and tavis, you could have hit me with a brick. for this 90-year-old man at that point, to -- so righteous and pieus to put himself on the -- pious to put himself on the same level as me, not only a humble act but what faith should be about. it's not about i'm more righteous than you are. and not mine's better than yours is but the ability to look at everybody and say you're a man of god, too. you're a child of god, too. everyone is. if we could just say that to one another, you would have to treat one another better. because you would see them as -- as the same as you. and so you would feel obliged to. and so i saw this white 90-year-old surburban rabbi in new jersey, and this african-american, 50-year-old pastor in a broken down church in detroit, and on paper they could not be further apart. but yet united by that thing,
you're a man of god, too, everyone is. they were in one very important way the same. and i thought if i could stitch these two together, then all along that stitching, are people like myself and others who might be able to learn something from it. tavis: there are two questions i want to ask you. i will split them up but both related to the same thing. the first is -- and you didn't plan it this way but your book comes out at a time, if you look at that same list that you sit atop of, the best seller list, one notes very quickly that god is under attack. i think you know what i mean by this. there are a whole bunch of books written by a bunch of people that are selling rather well. that underscore the fact that god is under attack, karl armstrong on this program has a new book out in defense of god if i can put it that way. what do you make of the fact that you have a book coming out talking about "have a little faith" at a time when the majority of books that are selling have anything to do with god happen to be books that are attacking the very notion of god?
>> yeah. i didn't write it in response to that. tavis: exactly. >> but it is interesting that that happens. and it is interesting a lot of people seem to be flocking to the idea that yes, it's ok to have faith. you know, the rev, who i nicknamed the rabbi, told me an interesting story about an ageyift dentist of his who -- atheist dentist of his who would say how do you believe in this stupid god and one time he lost, his brother died and the rev went to his house to pay a condolence call and he came running over to him and very angry, he said, i envy you. and the rev said what do you mean, you envy me? i envy you because when somebody dies in your life you have somebody to get angry at or ask why. and i don't have -- i don't believe in any of that and i have nobody to blame and nobody to ask. and the rev said that's a very sad indictment, you know, to feel like you're so alone in the world. and the rev himself had lost a daughter. what could be worse than that? a little 4-year-old girl. and he too had how old at god
and he had said how could you do this? why? and i asked him, doesn't that make you think that god doesn't exist? and he said quite the opposite. it was the fact that i had somebody to say why. and cry to. and ask and pray to. that ultimately allowed me to heal. and i would much rather live in a world where i felt that god was there but maybe for whatever reason, couldn't answer that prayer than to live in a world where i felt it was nothing at all. and i agree. and i guess we'll all find out who was right in the end sooner or later. but while we're here, i'd like to think like he did. tavis: there are a lot of folk in the sports world like you, i think of james brown on cbs, the nfl on sundays. i think of the great coach and now doing nbc, coverage or commentary, tony dungy from the colts. there are a number of players, a number of athletes, that's just football. but there are a number of athletes who have written books of late talking about their faith. again, yours is a bit different
with these two ministers, these two ministers. but how do you write a book like this, mitch, without proselytizing? >> well, you simply know that that's not your role. you know, i was around two very wise men of different -- different experiences. i had done that once with morrie in "tuesdays with morrie" who i never thought of myself having something to teach about life but i had a teacher who was dying who was sharing what he thought. and here i was in the presence of a man of god faced with the ultimate test of his faith, his death, and i was able to write what he said. here i was with a man who was on the ground with a shotgun behind a row of trash cans when he was 30 years old about to be murdered. and ask god to get me through the night. and somehow, he got through the night. and the next morning, decided i'm going to turn my life around. mugely inspiring thing. 20 years later he's a pastor.
these people had their own stories to tell. as someone who when it comes to nonfiction i almost like to let the other people tell their stories and i'm sort of the person in the middle. here's what they said. you read it. you see if there's something that you can embrace and make sense to you. you don't need me to wag a finger and tell you, you have to read this or this is how you have to behave. and for whatever reason, the people that have come to my books seem to find something in them that works for them. tavis: there are millions of folk who can give that testimony. no pun intended. the new book for mitch albom is called "have a little faith." a true story. mitch, you've done it once again. and i'm always honored to have you on this program. >> it's my pleasure, tavis. thanks for asking me. tavis: thanks, sir. up next, actor chiwetel ejiofor. stay with us. chiwetel ejiofor is a talented actor whose film credits include american gangster, talk to me and love actually. he starred in the film "end
game," an apartheid film, seen here on pbs. you can catch him in the movie "2012." the high-profile cast includes john cusack, danny glover, tandy newton and woody harrellson. here now a scene from "2012." >> we're not seeing the soil or any evidence of fracture propagation within the tectonic plates. >> english. >> the seismic activity on the west coast is not caused by -- >> these so-called surface cracks have no nothing to do with shifting fault lines. >> are you suggesting this could be the beginning of the -- >> dr. helmsley is flying to yellowstone this morning to collect more data. >> we have been following the schedule. you established. mr. helmsley. the most important schedule in the history of mankind. now you're telling me, you have to throw it out. >> yes, sir. i was wrong. tavis: a friend of mine yesterday, knowing you and i were going to talk that i am not but if i were a young actor in this town receipt now i would want to be you. you were getting like -- you're
getting all the best roles. in all the best films. i mean, that list i read a moment ago. i love "talk to me." you are amazing in that. >> great time doing it. tavis: you run down the list of things you've been doing and the big movie that everybody is talking about, "2012." and you play a scientist. >> i play a geologist who becomes aware of the situation that's going to engulf the world. and then does. tavis: yeah. more what you can -- you can't get too much -- give too much of this movie away but tell us about the story. >> it's the story about the apocalypse based on the mayan calendar. and a group of people who are trying to survive the end of days. and it's just an exciting, very fun ride, a real adventure. and somebody who i've always admired, somebody who has a great passion for bringing a really amazing visual style, a real visual cinema to audiences. and using every technology available. to give audiences an incredible, unique experience.
and this movie is no different. it's a really amazing ride. and it was great fun to be on. tavis: chris, our producer, my producer and i were laughing before we came on the set with you. you know a movie made by the same people that did "independence day." you ask yourself, what's left to blow up? >> that's true. and it turns out there is stuff. there is stuff left. tavis: and you blow up the white house. and what else is left for "2012"? >> yeah. there's stuff. he travels around a bit in this one. tavis: right. >> and we were doing a press tour and traveling around and it's amazing, you go to places that aren't in the movie like -- we were in sydney doing a bit of press and people come to you, what's wrong with the harbor bridge? why can't you blow that up? tavis: anything to get in the film. >> yes. tavis: back to the part i raised a moment ago. about the choice roles that you're getting. obviously it starts with your talent. but -- and there are a lot of talented folk in this town. in this business. beyond your talent, tell me,
more about your process, how you're going about in your career making these decisions. because you're making some pretty good decisions here. >> i don't know. i'm very -- i've been very fortunate with some of the scripts that have come my way. tavis: "american gangster." >> and you mentioned "talk to me." i had an incredible time working on that film with don cheadle and casey lemons. and i've been very fortunate in that regard. and i read scripts. and i try and work out whether i want to go on the adventure, go on the ride with them. and there are so many talented people out there. and there are so many talented writers. talented directors. and so if they admire your work, and if they want to work with you, you're just very, very lucky to be in that spot. tavis: yeah. speaking of your movies, denzel now, you worked with twice. >> yeah. tavis: tell me more. >> well, we did "inside man" and "american gangster."
and "inside man" was my first experience working with denzel. and, you know, he's an amazing person. and he is just the most incredible actor. to be around, to watch, to learn from. it's really i think every experience i have with him has been just remarkable. and so i'm excited to see if there's another one in our future. who knows? tavis: what's your -- speaking of watching him and learning, what's your process for how you learn? is it watching other people? who are -- contemporaries, watching folk who have made their mark in the industry? where do you pick up pointers and cues from? with regard to other actors? >> i think it's -- i think with acting, what's important is -- i don't think you can take -- i don't think you can use like one source of something. i think you have to use life. i really do. and i think it's about experiencing life. and i think it's about trying to gain knowledge from anything from what you read, to what you
watch, to what you listen to. to find any kind of artistic inspiration, to find any of those connecting points between a character and the person and yourself. i think you can't necessarily play a part if it's not in you. somewhere. you know, but it doesn't have to be literally the same experience. you just have to connect to a character emotionally. and then that's when you can go on the journey but you can only do that if you experience -- experience life a little. tavis: i read, i don't always believe what i read so let me ask you, but i read that you decided you wanted to act when you were 13. after watching carey grant. true? >> not completely true. but carey grant is still one of my favorite actors ever. and he -- he could do -- i just felt he could do anything. and i was so -- he was so charismatic. i was so mesmerized by his performances. and i found him so completely believable. and he could do drama. he could do comedy. he could split between these different things so effort
helessly that i was impressed by him -- so effortlessly that i was impressed by him and the first time i responded to cinema and cinema acting. but i was -- i was inspired to become an actor because i wanted to be a stage actor. and i was inspired by ñ shakespeare when when i was studying shakespeare. i was -- i found it very -- for years, i found -- when i started, i found that just in english class, learning shakespeare, i found it very dull. i just couldn't get my head around it and didn't understand it at all. and staring out the window. and then one day, we were doing something from one of the shakespearean plays. it was "henry the iv" and it captured my imagination and i got it. and that was it. i really ran with it. and i was telling everybody that i've discovered this incredible writer. he got something here. and they were like, yeah,
people know him. and i went down to the theater immediately. and did my first shakespeare play there where i was 13, 14. tavis: do you recall when you got it? when you got what shakespeare was really all about, how brilliant his work was? do you recall what it was in the writing that you connected to? >> it was -- i just felt that there's a sequence in henry the iv part one where -- hal is talking about the ideas of -- he's a prince. and he's going to live this life and he's considered to be slightly ridiculous. and he's running around town and he's -- with people who are considered kind of low lifes but having a great time. and he has this speech about his sense of his own future. his sense of his own -- his hope for his destiny. and i think every adolescent connects to that. i think everybody feels that the pangs of being in either a family environment or a life
environment or whatever that you're frustrated. you have so much you want to offer. you're waiting to become an adult. you're waiting to get out there and do something. whatever it is. and you feel held back by your age or by whatever's or maloneyly happening. -- or hormonally happening. and he said this in an incredibly succinct and poetic way. and just talks with a great fluidity and a pro fundity and i was sitting there and i was 13. and i understood it. 400 years. and i understood directly and connected directly to what shakespeare was talking about. and so i thought, you know, he's got to be on to something. tavis: i don't know your full schedule obviously but it would appear to me, to your fans, that we're seeing a lot more of you on the screen these days than on the stage. so given that you started out wanting to be on the stage, are you happy with this balance or lack thereof? between stage and screen? >> i've been able to do a lot of plays. over the years.
which has been great. and, you know, i've been able to kind of balance that as much as i can. and it's been -- i fell in love with making films as well. it happened later for me. i didn't immediately think of myself as a film actor. and i -- and i did a lot of plays and started working the films when i was 19. and i was here in los angeles working on "amistad" which was my first -- the movie cinema film. and over that process, although i went back to london and carried on that phase, after that process, a little while, i did a film called "dirty pretty things" and fell in love with cinema of that and i wanted to be part of it and still do. so i was excited to try and get that balance and try and do as many movies as well as plays that i could do. tavis: you try -- we mentioned "talk to me" and i keep saying i love that film. smaller budget as compared to
"2012." is there any balance that you attempt to strike in terms of big budget versus independent or is it just about the script and what's being offered to you at any time? >> yeah. i think it's -- on the hole, it's just about the -- it's just about the script. it's about the characters. and i don't know. that could change. it's a kind of complicated industry and business in that way. and different things hold your attention at different times in your life. so that could change. but certainly up until this point, i've always felt that it's what takes precedence for me is like just what -- what the character is, whether i connect to the story. the exact same reasons that i wanted to start being an actor is the reasons why i continue. but -- and also now as well, i do like people seeing movies that i find entertaining. i don't feel like every movie has to be part of a kind of serious genre. but it's good to do.
a few different things. tavis: that's the perfect word for "2012." it is entertaining to be sure. chiwetel ejiofor, a lot of good stuff and one of the best actors around for my money today. not that that matters but i enjoy having you on the program. good to see you. >> pleasure. thank you. tavis: that's our show for tonight. catch me on the weekends on public radio international. you can access us at pbs.org and i'll see you back next time on pbs. good night from l.a., and thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: i'm tavis smiley. join me next time with author andrew ross sorkin on his best seller. too big to fail plus piano
virtuoso lang lang. >> there are so many things that wal-mart is looking forward to doing. like hping people live better. but mostly, we're looking forward to helping build stronger communities and relationships. because of your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports "tavis smiley." tavis and nationwide insurance. working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- >> we are pbs.