Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S6 E9 | FULL EPISODE

Merrily We Roll Along, WarholCapote, Stronger, and more...

"Merrily We Roll Along" at the Huntington, Adapter Rob Roth on "WarholCapote," Jared sits down with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jeff Bauman to discuss the new film "Stronger," and more...

AIRED: September 15, 2017 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen.

Coming up onOpen Studio,

how one of Stephen Sondheim's biggest flops

matured into one of his most beloved musicals.

It'sMerrily We Roll Along.

>> The entire story depends...

depends on him being a broken man at the beginning.

>> BOWEN: Then, what happened

when Andy Warhol and Truman Capote

met for hours of delicious conversation

and recorded it all.

>> I think you'll experience some great stories

about some really famous people doing strange things.

>> BOWEN: Plus, Jake Gyllenhaal and a story of survival

in his new filmStronger, based on the story

of Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman.

>> The specificity of the story

is what this whole story's about.

And particularly him as a human being,

and knowing everything he went through.

>> BOWEN: And a photographic passage to India.

>> There was an entire railroad yard next to the Taj.

So I spent a week in Agra looking for the right angle.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up, Stephen Sondheim's musicalMerrily We Roll Along

is all about youthful ideals and purity,

especially among young artists.

It's subject matter that hit close to home for him,

but not always with audiences.

That changed dramatically, though, with a production

that debuted in London's West End and just opened

at the Huntington Theatre Company.

So this is how it all turns out--

where a group of friends land

once the dewy ambitions and ideals of youth

harden and fade.

As the title of this musical suggests,Merrily We Roll Along,

until we don't.

>> I'm as sick of myself as you are.

(laughs)

(whispers): I'm just acting.

>> His life's been all about what he's taking from the world

and not what he's given to it.

>> BOWEN: Mark Umbers plays Frank,

a young composer turned movie director,

and one of three friends

at the center of the Stephen Sondheim musical.

It's an unconventional one.

The show rolls backward in time.

>> ♪ 1975

>> ♪ 1973

>> BOWEN: So the beginning is in some ways the end.

We meet the three friends, Frank, Charley, and Mary,

as they've ended up.

>> It's unlike anything I've had to do before.

It's very...

It's really alienating to walk on stage at the beginning.

>> BOWEN: There's a bitterness that pervades the friends,

who are already beset by broken relationships,

alcoholism, and despair.

Meeting them at the outset, there's not a lot to love,

and it's a tall order for the cast.

>> I think any actor wants to be...

obviously wants to be liked by the audience,

or at least have them sympathize with you.

But before we started rehearsing it in London five years ago,

Sondheim sent me a note to say, "Don't try to be liked,"

because the entire story depends...

Depends on him being a broken man at the beginning.

>> BOWEN: But only at the beginning,

sinceMerrily winds its way back to the friends

at the onset of adulthood,

when they're full of life

and dreams of the artists they hope to be.

>> ♪ ...the Tony award.

>> I would like to begin

by thanking all the hundreds of people

who have turned down every show that I have ever written

so that I could win tonight for this one.

>> The heartbreaking thing is,

it's the optimism that they have.

I look at 21-year-olds now, and I think "You are...

You're our last hope."

Like, "You have to get it right."

>> ♪ A hit!

>> When I approached it, I approached it with compassion

and forgiving and love for these people.

>> BOWEN: Maria Friedman isMerrily's director.

Her first experience with the show, though,

was when she starred as Mary 25 years ago.

Returning to the piece with some life lived,

she saw something different in the friends.

>> None of these three have ever been taught

how to love properly.

They're full of love, but they don't quite know

how to operate it in a kind of sustaining way.

It still has to come from a place where you're selling it,

deeply uncomfortable.

It could very easily become,

like, "Oh, here's a bit of shtick.

>> BOWEN: When Friedman directed her first revival ofMerrily

in London five years ago,

also starring Umbers as Frank,

the show garnered the most five-star reviews

in West End history--

a far cry from whenMerrily first premiered on Broadway

in 1981.

It flopped, closing almost immediately.

But in this production, critics credited Friedman

with unearthing the characters' humanity.

>> I think the whole thing about theater is, you know,

you hold out a hand and remind each other, you know,

empathetically or about fallibility or whatever,

but we're sharing that experience together.

>> ♪ We're still old friends

♪ Nothing can kill old friends... ♪

>> BOWEN: Sondheim himself has called Friedman's production

one of his most beloved.

It helped, she says, to have such a reliable collaborator.

>> Working with him

is always inspiring, always exacting, always full of humor.

He's one of the funniest men alive.

He loves what he does, and he loves actors.

>> BOWEN: And they, as Umbers attests, love him,

challenging as the work may be.

>> Your brain has just got to be...

I think that's what's clever about it, is he...

Musically and lyrically, he writes these thought changes

that are so rapid and so, so urban.

It's kind of like a New York speed of thinking.

>> ♪ Albee, Warhol, Kurosawa

>> ♪ They read the books and go to the shows ♪

♪ And swamp the saloons wearing all the clothes... ♪

>> BOWEN: It makes this a show that both merrily and mightily

rolls along.

Next, in the 1970s,

longtime friends Andy Warhol and Truman Capote

decided they'd write a play.

So they met for hours and hours of discussion,

careening from the intellectual to the very gossipy.

The play never happened,

but those revealing, never-before-heard conversations

are the subject of a new play all its own at the A.R.T.

Here's a look.

>> This is the kind of thing I want to do--

reality and art intertwined to the point

where there's no identifiable area of demarcation.

>> And then what do we really talk about?

>> I mean, it will be a small play

in which you see everything about a person.

>> BOWEN: Rob Roth, welcome.

You've adapted these conversations.

Take me back to why Andy Warhol and Truman Capote...

who I understand were friends.

When Andy Warhol went to New York, he...

One of the first people he sought out was Truman Capote.

>> He stood outside his house.

>> BOWEN: Hmm.

>> Yeah, he was definitely stalking him, yes.

>> BOWEN: And why did they come together

to have these conversations?

>> On the tapes and in the play, you hear Andy ask Truman...

Well, say to Truman, "We should work on something together."

And Truman says, "Okay, what should we do?"

And Andy says, "A Broadway play."

And so, and Andy's idea was,

"Can't I just tape you, and can't the tapes be the play?"

>> BOWEN: So it would be based on them?

>> On them.

Truman agreed,

and said, "There will be no discernible line

between what's true and what's imagined."

And if you think about it,

that's a lot of what their artwork was.

Like, if you think of the Marilyn Monroe portrait,

it's a real photograph of a real woman,

then put through Andy's creative imagination,

and it came out art.

And Truman took a real story of the murder of a family

in Tex... in Kansas, the Clutter family,

and wroteIn Cold Blood.

So taking real things

and filtering it through creative imagination

is very much in line with their whole body of work.

And so I didn't realize that

till I was pretty far into the, working on the play.

But it feels like, "Oh, right, this is them."

>> BOWEN: Well, how many hours of conversation

did you listen to?

>> We unearthed 59 90-minute cassettes.

They weren't all full on both sides.

So I think it was about 60 hours.

It was about 8,000 pages.

>> BOWEN: All right, so let's get to the juicy stuff.

What did they talk about?

>> So without giving away too much of the play,

they talk about what it feels like to be a genius,

what art is to them,

what...

The difficulty of being an artist.

And they talk about it very personally and in a real way.

Andy in his diary says,

"I listened to those tapes I made with Truman

"when we were working on the Broadway play,

"and they're awful.

"I talked on them so much, I ruined them.

I should have just shut up."

And when I read that in the diaries,

that's what made me go on the hunt for the tapes.

I thought, "Oh, wait a minute.

If he thinks he talked too much, I have to hear these."

>> Why don't you read it in Tennessee's voice?

>> Oh, no.

>> Oh, please, please, please, come on.

>> No.

>> You do Tennessee's voice so great!

>> No, no, no.

I don't want to make fun of him anymore.

I can't do it without making fun of him.

>> Read it in your own voice, then.

But read it in Tennessee's voice.

>> BOWEN: We know the prisms through which Andy Warhol

looked at things.

We know that Truman Capote could often be a fabulist,

and people questioned whether there was any veracity

to most of his stories,

especially when he was the highlight of the social circuit

in New York.

So do you... do you feel that you are listening?

Will we experience the truth of their lives?

>> I think you'll experience both.

I think you'll experience some great stories

about some really famous people doing strange things,

which... you know, which may or may not be true.

I mean, I really don't know.

I think even Andy questions, "Is this true?"

And then you'll hear things about themselves

that you know is true.

>> BOWEN: Well, how is it to... I mean, these men,

they're monuments at this point.

They're characters.

They're not actual living, breathing,

with-blood-running-through-them people.

How is it, then, to hear them

when they think the recorder is off,

and to hear them as just two guys talking?

>> It's amazing.

You know, they were geniuses, both of them.

And very articulate.

Even Andy, who gave the impression

of being inarticulate,

which was part of his art.

You know, the wig, and the, "Gee, oh, gosh."

You know, I think that was partly him,

but he also manufactured that when he was on television

or when he was giving interviews--

he put that part of himself forward.

But he's very, very smart, and you will see that in the play.

>> BOWEN: And Truman Capote-- I just recently finished

the George Plimpton biography about him.

And he talks about

he had to put on this act, because he had to do something

to distract people from his effeminate appearance,

and how small he was, and some of his peculiarities,

so he gave them this great personality.

Does that kind of come away at, at any point

during those conversations?

>> Oh, yeah.

Because when they're alone together,

they don't have to put on the personalities.

And that's very clear in the play,

and it was very clear to me

listening to the conversations,

that, again, sometimes they were aware

that they were writing a Broadway play,

And they were going to tell stories, especially Truman.

And he tells some really great stories.

And then they talk about personal things.

They had a lot of stuff going on.

Truman was very addicted to drugs and alcohol,

and really struggling with that.

And Andy was, at the time, in 1978, '79, breaking up

a very long relationship that he had with Jed Johnson.

And though doesn't talk about Jed by name in the play,

he does talk about being lonely, and the isolation of fame,

and how...

They don't talk about this,

but I think you'll get this from the play.

I think they both thought being famous was going to fix them.

You know, they were two very,

as they say in their own words, peculiar men.

And I think they both pursued fame very avidly, and got it.

And when they got there,

it didn't fix it-- it didn't fix how odd they were.

>> BOWEN: And finally, before I let you go,

I just have to ask you if...

This is going to sound glib, but if they hold up.

And I mean, because there has been an entire generation,

maybe even two now, who don't necessarily know who they are.

The notion of who they might be in the world

has certainly changed.

Who knows if the world could exist

or could have people

like Andy Warhol and Truman Capote anymore?

How do they hold up?

>> They hold up great, they really do.

First of all, I would say

that Andy Warhol is as famous now...

more famous now than he was when he was alive.

Like, I'm wearing a UNIQLO T-shirt.

You know, it's...

He's in the pop, young people culture

very, very much.

Truman Capote a little bit less so.

Also, they predict the future.

I mean, Andy Warhol, the diaries, that's blogging.

You know, he says in the play,

"I think everybody should be bugged all the time.

Bugged and photographed."

And hello, we are.

So they're very current, and they're hip.

You know, they're just smart, hip guys.

And I think that's very clear in the play.

And sad guys.

I think... as I said before,

I think that fame didn't solve it for them.

>> BOWEN: Well, Rob Roth, we thank you

and your Andy Warhol T-shirt for coming today.

>> Thank you so much, Jared-- this was really fun.

>> BOWEN: Next, after the Boston Marathon bombings,

Jeff Bauman became one of the most visible emblems

of resiliency.

His story reaches theaters next week

in the new filmStronger, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Based on Bauman's memoir, the film takes us

through that harrowing day and his recovery

after losing both legs.

Here's a scene from the film.

>> (yelling)

I can't do this, I can't... I can't, I can't do it.

>> This is the first time you're in this week,

and you had three appointments.

>> You just have to show up.

>> Show up?

I showed up for you!

>> BOWEN: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jeff Bauman,

thank you so much for joining us.

>> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: So let me ask, first of all,

how important was it to both of you

to get to know one another and have...

Was there a partnership in creating this film?

>> It was essential, you know?

I mean, I don't think that we could have done it

without Jeff every step of the way.

Not just with me and the character,

but in terms of the whole movie and screenplay.

You know, John Pollono, who wrote the screenplay,

was involved years before I got involved,

and then we've known each other for a few years now,

and, you know, Jeff has been so open with all of us,

and it's essential.

The specificity of the story is what this whole story's about.

And particularly him as a human being,

and knowing everything he went through.

So, I mean, we just wouldn't make it

if he wasn't around, you know?

>> BOWEN: Well, I wondered about that, seeing the film,

and how reluctant you were to talk about your story,

and to be the focus of attention.

How was it, then, to participate in this?

>> What was great about it is that I could, like...

Especially working with John Pollono,

and also with the book, with Brett Witter,

I could hand it off to, like, to great people around me

to be, like... I did want it to be truthful.

And I knew if it was just coming from my mouth,

probably, I would exaggerate.

>> BOWEN: Was there any fear in seeing yourself

become this character on a giant screen

that so many people will see?

>> Yeah, yeah, I...

You do have fears.

You're, like, "Is he... What's he going to do?

What's he going to do with this?"

Like, "How is it going to be?"

And it was just a real...

I mean, after I saw it,

I don't know if I necessarily...

Necessarily say I was, like, relieved,

because I was like, "Whoa."

It was, like, "What just happened?"

>> BOWEN: And Jake, what's that weight like,

to be portraying somebody who you then come to know very well,

and you know who's going to be seeing it and, to some degree,

judging it?

>> Yeah, well, I know Jeff is a very smart guy,

so he'd be doing more than judging it--

he'd be picking apart.

So it's a lot of weight, it's a lot of pressure.

I mean, I felt it from the beginning.

I think I felt pretty fraudulent from the start, you know?

There's nothing that I, I could do that could match

what Jeff went through.

>> BOWEN: How did you begin to find your way into him?

Was there, did you have discussions?

Did you, was there sort of silent study?

What did you do? >> Both.

I think... You know, at the time...

I think Jeff's changed a lot

since I first met him, you know?

He was a different guy even when I met him

a few years ago to now,

and this past year he's made even more exponential growth,

and so much more open, and even more vulnerable

than when I first met him.

But it was a lot of spending time

and just observing, yeah.

I think asking somebody a question

about how they feel about this or that

never really produces an interesting answer.

I think, you know, just watching and listening

and observing and spending enough time with the people

around him is really how I got into...

...into his head, and understanding how,

how he kind of works.

And, you know, he can be confusing sometimes.

>> I'm so confusing.

(laugh)

>> But I think it's a little bit of both, you know?

>> BOWEN: I heard your friends teased you

that this is your boyfriend here,

because you spent so much time together.

>> Yep, we're, you know, we're really close.

I've gone Hollywood.

(laugh)

Unfortunately.

>> BOWEN: No more Chelmsford for you?

>> No more Chelmsford for me.

>> BOWEN: And finally,

I just want to ask you both

about the notion ofStronger.

I think we all have a pretty defined, singular notion

of what it means,

but this film shows us something else.

Because a lot of it is about despair,

and it's about weakness.

So I'm interested, from hearing both of you,

just in the time that we have left,

what that actually means.

>> I think being strong is about being vulnerable,

and being able to show that, you know,

as much joy as the world can bring,

you know, sometimes it's met

with its own pain and its own sadness,

and that we need to acknowledge both.

And I think that's what the movie says.

I think the things that Jeff goes through,

it's so important for us to show the pain that he went through

so we can feel the joy, as well.

>> It wouldn't be, like, the film it is

without that authenticity and that realness.

And, you know, that's what I love about it.

And I, I'm coming around to it,

because it does, it's showing my weaknesses

and where I was, and it's...

But it's true, so I can't really say anything about it.

>> BOWEN: And in the end, you have to find a way out of it.

There's no alternative.

>> That's right, that's perfect.

Yeah, you're right.

Yeah, there is no alternative.

And people always say that.

They're, like, "How do you do it?"

And it's, like, you're right-- there's no alternative.

There's no... What, am I just

going to sit on the bottom my whole life?

No, you got to work your way up.

And it's just work and putting in the time.

And it necessarily shows I didn't want to do,

or I was hiding from, avoiding.

And, you know, people around me were, like,

trying to get me going, and then, you know, finally...

>> Yeah, I mean...

>> It took someone leaving, and then I got the message.

>> And people talk about the event a lot, you know,

that he went through, but I think really

this story's about him, you know?

And I think... I think that's really

what is so beautiful about it,

is watching just Jeff, you know,

get through it and be able to do it.

Because it's not, it's not the allure

of the moments that we know from the media,

or even from the image that was so devastating of him.

It's really him, just him,

in those moments alone,

and everybody who makes headlines leaves.

And how you get through it,

and how you actually do get to a better place,

and he has.

And it's a beautiful story-- inspires me every day.

>> BOWEN: Very well.

Thank you both, and congratulations on the film.

>> Thank you. >> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: For more than 30 years,

New York City-based photographer Steve McCurry

has traveled the world, creating iconic photographs

of vanishing traditions, armed conflicts,

and contemporary life.

Here at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York,

we find him discussing a passage to India.

>> I went to India when I was 27.

I had worked on a local newspaper

outside of Philadelphia for a couple of years,

and I was getting a bit bored.

I wanted to travel, I wanted to photograph in various cultures.

I just bought a one-way ticket, went to India,

and I was going to just stay there as long as it took.

India has such an incredible depth of culture.

There are so many contradictions.

There are so many people.

The geography, the religions, it's just rich.

You can spend several lifetimes

and never really get to the bottom of it.

India is one of the most spiritual places in the world.

These festivals and these events, these religious events,

are central to life of the people.

You just see them on the street.

Well, this is really the lifeblood of the country.

I was in the city of Jodhpur during Holi.

There was this group of villagers who were performing,

throwing color.

They had this one man who they painted green.

I happened to be on a wall.

I was trying to stay out of the fray,

because it was just so many people and so much color.

They picked this fellow up to take him somewhere,

and I took some pictures of him as they were moving

through the crowd.

I think it's one of my more successful color pictures.

I wanted to do a long-term project

on the train journey in India.

Eventually, I got an assignment to go and do this story,

and lo and behold, the writer was Paul Theroux.

So here I am with this great author,

and we're going off on this adventure

to travel by train through India.

And the first thing that I thought about was,

"I wonder if by any chance the train goes anywhere

near the Taj Mahal."

It turned out that not only does the train go by the Taj Mahal,

there was an entire railroad yard next to the Taj.

So I spent a week in Agra looking for the right angle,

the right time, checking the train schedules,

and made this picture of these workers on the steam locomotive

with the Taj in the background.

I don't think it had ever been photographed that way before.

I did the story on the monsoon.

One of the dramatic things of the monsoon season

is that there's an incredible heat build-up.

The wind blows, the dust storms come up.

And so the monsoon is a relief.

I was in the city of Porbandar,

photographing the monsoon during one of the floods,

and I was up to my chest in water.

And as I was kind of wading through the streets

I saw this man walking down

with a sewing machine on his shoulder,

and it seemed so odd and so surreal.

Everybody from around the neighborhood

started alerting this man that, "There's this photographer

going to take your picture, so, you know, smile for the camera."

He has this rusted sewing machine which was from his shop.

And it's destroyed, but yet he's up,

almost up to his neck in water with a smile.

The best part of the story

was that the German manufacturer of the sewing machine

saw this picture and tracked him down,

and sent him a new sewing machine.

I love portraiture.

I love photographing people.

I love the human face.

I love the stories that are etched into people's faces.

There are certain people I see

as I'm walking around on the street

that inspire me.

And I want to tell that story, I want to photograph

that particular person.

When you make the portrait, you come with that enthusiasm,

with that passion.

And you can get into a relationship,

into kind of a zone

where you create this incredible chemistry

and this great connection.

It doesn't matter so much how long you spend with this person.

It could be a few moments.

But somehow you've established this connection,

and sometimes great things can happen--

you can really make a picture which really reveals

something about that person's personality.

You know, kind of dig deep into their soul.

What I think I want people to take away from this show

or my pictures in general

is, there's this commonality of humanity that we share.

And although we may look differently

or have different religions or speak different languages,

we're all human, and we're all in the same kind of family.

So this sort of shared experience of being alive

at this particular time.

I think this is a look at the world

while I was alive,

and this is what I saw.

I think I spent my life in the best possible way.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, life with the Hoppers--

a trove of sketches and diaries paint a picture

of how Edward Hopper and his wife, Josephine,

lived and worked on Cape Cod.

>> They were concerned with the American landscape,

that's for sure.

>> BOWEN: Plus, the arts champion

with some novel ideas for American opera.

>> If you have nothing to strive against,

how do we achieve joy if we've never known despair?

>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

As always, you can visit us online at WGBH.org/OpenStudio,

and you can follow us on Twitter, @OpenStudioWGBH.

>> I don't know.

The way things are going,

it's just going to be really terrible.

People in the news are going to be the people

that people are going to really attack.

I mean anybody, you know, in the news and stuff like that.

And it's going to be really awful, I think.

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