Open Studio with Jared Bowen

FULL EPISODE

Jared interviews Kate Burton and Chris Cooper

Jared welcomes Tony- and Emmy Award-nominated actress Kate Burton and Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper.

AIRED: February 28, 2014 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome to Open Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen.

Coming up on Open Studio, from Scandal toThe Seagull.

Actress Kate Burton joins us.

>> I just... I'm blown away by how extraordinary this play is.

>> BOWEN: On this Oscar eve, we'll talk to Oscar winner

Chris Cooper.

>> Everybody just wanted to give it their best.

>> BOWEN: Plus, Roman ruins come to life.

>> But Pompeii really goes into artists' minds

in a much deeper and more complicated way.

>> BOWEN: It's all now on Open Studio.

First up, Kate Burton is one of the great theater dames,

not to mention a blueblood as the daughter of famed actor

Richard Burton.

On stage or on camera, she's a force in her own right.

From her very savory turn on TV's Scandal

as Vice President Sally Langston to her starring role

in The Huntington Theatre Company's upcoming The Seagull.

So Kate Burton, you've done a host of television, theater,

film, theater especially.

But The Seagull is something you've been longing to do.

What is it about that piece?

>> Well it's the one Chekhov that I've only done once.

Actually I've done Uncle Vanya once.

But the last time I did it was almost 35 years ago

at Brown University when I was a senior.

And it's always been the sort of role,

Madame Arkadina, the actress, that I knew was something

I was eventually going to play.

And you know, honestly, you know, being here in Boston,

it's... I had such an extraordinary experience

during The Cherry Orchard seven years ago,

and then The Corn is Green five years ago that I...

you know, I just... I know that this is the place

I love to do that kind of work, so that's why I've taken it on.

And as I'm getting to know The Seagull-- and we've just

had two days of rehearsal-- I just... I'm blown awa

by how extraordinary this play is.

I mean, I always knew it was great.

I've seen it multiple times.

But just doing it and working on this character

is really interesting and challenging.

It's unlike any other Chekhovian character I've ever played.

And the added number one bonus is that my son, Morgan Ritchie,

is playing my son.

>> BOWEN: Now, when you approach a piece like this,

is there something that you have to identify with?

What's your process for finding your way into her?

>> So I think it's that notion of all the things

that one worries about in modern times, which is wh

Chekhov is so relevant today.

You know, worried about getting older, worrying about

will I be as vibrant, you know, in five years as I was

ten years ago, you know, taking care of people.

Who's going to take care of her?

She takes care of so many different people.

And so it's a fantastic combination

of a very secure woman and yet a very insecure woman,

which is always the most interesting characters to play.

>> BOWEN: Chekhov described this as a comedy.

And maybe not in the sense that we know it today.

But how is it comedic?

>> I have to say it's... you know, I also

have that question.

I think it's a human comedy.

And I think that what happens, you know, just with all

these great plays, but particularly with him,

because I just love Anton Chekhov so much,

is that we see ourselves in these characters.

And ultimately, you know, that's what great art is,

is that you go and you recognize something... some part

of your soul, whether it be poetic or prosaic,

you know, that you see in a painting

or a piece of music, listen to a piece of music,

or go to a wonderful play or a wonderful film,

you just really... you know, you connect.

>> How much does she stay with you

after you leave the theater?

I mean, if you're sitting in the car coming over here,

for instance, is she...

>> I always play these kind of reall

larger than life ladies, and I think that it sort of

sneaks up on you.

Like, I've found with Hedda Gabler

when I was playing... I played her for a very long time,

also at the Huntington and on Broadway,

is that suddenly I would find myself in just

a really dark place, and I would think, "What is my problem,"

because that's just not me.

That, "Well, I'm playing Hedda Gabler."

And I think it is that wonderful thing,

and perhaps I've even said this to you before,

but Flaubert has this wonderful quote about...

and of course it's translated a million ways.

But "In order to be mad and wild in your art,

you have to lead a very orderly life."

And I feel that that's what I've always done.

>> BOWEN: So while I have you here

I want to ask you about a couple of other things,

including Sally Langston...

>> Oh, my god.

>> BOWEN: ...the Vice President you play so well on Scandal.

>> A little too... too scary.

>> BOWEN: Yeah,, should I be afraid at how evil

you seem to be?

>> You know what?

Here's the thing.

This is always... I've always heard this, that when you're

playing what is perceived as a quote-unquote

evil character, you always have to find out

what makes them tick.

And for me, with Sally Langston, she's a very devout woman--

she's very, very devout.

And I'm not.

So that's been a complete, you know, sort of departure

for me.

>> You are my original sin.

You are pretty and stupid, and you can't make a living

to save your life.

What you have given me is our daughter,

who can't keep her knees together.

I suffer you.

I've got myself here, and I am taking myself

to the Promised Land.

I cannot wait until you meet your maker.

I cannot wait until you are judged

for your lies.

You know, the thing is that when you look

at all these characters on Scandal, they're all...

it really feels like we are in some craz

larger-than-life, you know, uber alternate universe

to, thank god, what actually happens in our government.

But that it's all driven by passion and love,

and, you know, power.

It's all... I mean, the entire... it's a power play.

The entire show is a power play--

power play between all these magnetic humans

who are trying to grab the power.

>> BOWEN: And you said... you were saying

before we started taping that you're as sh...

I mean, we're definitely shocked by what we see

as audience members, and you're shocked when you get the script.

>> We're not allowed to look at the script

until we read it for the first time.

So we're not... when we sit down to do our quote-unquote

table read, which in most television shows

you sit all together, the whole cast sits,

and we all read it together, and then the whole crew

sits there.

And that's the first time for the writers

to hear it out loud.

And we never know what's going to happen,

and we're not allowed to look ahead.

So we literally, like... turning the pages of...

we literally all together read it, and... you know,

and then you... and there's always a moment at the end

where everybody goes, "Oh my god,

I can't believe this."

You know, it happens every single time we read it.

>> BOWEN: Finally, I just want to ask about your father,

the actor Richard Burton, whose diaries I just read.

They were just published last year.

And he writes so affectionately about you

every time that you're coming to visit, which reminded me

that you were part of that whole... what was a maelstrom

that I didn't leave through, but, I mean, it's legend now,

the Taylor-Burton times.

>> Yes.

>> Did it feel like a maelstrom when you were living it?

>> You know, my father was married to Elizabeth Taylor,

who was my wonderful stepmother, and then my mother

Sybil Williams, or Sybil Burton at the time, then married

my stepfather, Jordan Christopher.

And, you know, so I grew up with kind of two families.

But I spent most of my time with my mom and my stepdad.

You know, I didn't have anything to compare it to

except for my mom and my stepdad.

But, you know... so you think of all the, you know,

shenanigans that were happening that were... they're so famous.

And, you know, but that's my dad, and that's my stepmom.

So I didn't judge it.

You know kids really are extraordinary,

and they can take in... and they just let it

kind of roll off, whatever.

But, you know, on the other end, I lived in New York Cit

with my mother and my wonderful stepdad who is a musician

and an actor.

And by the way, my mother, who was, like, the classic mom

with a capital M, had a nightclub called Arthur,

which was like Studio 54 of the '60s.

So that's my mom.

This is my solid mom.

You know, had a nightclub, by the way.

And so, you know, I was able to kind of maneuver myself

between these two very colorful family groups.

But to watch them in their heyday,

they were incredible.

Delicious... two delicious, delicious people.

The legacy of my father, the thing that makes me

so happy, is that people still think about him,

and they still regard him as such a great actor,

which, of course, he was.

>> BOWEN: Well, we will get to continue the conversation

live on the Huntington stage...

>> Excellent.

>> BOWEN: ...coming up.

and until then, Kate Burton, it's always a pleasure

to speak with you.

Thank you so much.

>> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: Next, the Academy Awards

are this Sunday night.

One man who's been there, won that, is actor Chris Cooper,

who landed an Oscar for his role in 2002's Adaptation.

He costarred with Meryl Streep in that film, and they recentl

reteamed in August: Osage County.

He spoke with us recently about his famous costar,

about going home, and about his crippling shyness.

So Chris Cooper, the Oscars are this Sunday.

What is that experience like?

I mean, do you still think about it?

I mean, so many actors talk about that's

the paramount experience.

>> Yeah, of course, for years and years, you know,

I watched the Oscars.

And what I came away with was so many actors

were so excited and so, you know, taken

by the experience.

They said, "Well, it went so quickly I didn't even...

I couldn't even remember it."

And I was determined, you know, to remember that night.

And I think it was maybe the first year

that it was at the Kodak Theater.

And, you know, they set us down pretty close to the stage.

And as the... you know, as the theater was filling up,

I just looked back at these four levels of seating

and I said "I'm just going to... I have a chance here,

"and if I win I'm just going to reall

just take a breath and remember it, remember it,"

you know.

And I did, and it was a pretty delightful,

pretty delightful experience.

>> BOWEN: So lets talk about August: Osage County.

>> When you say you don't eat meat,

you mean you don't eat meat of any kind?

>> Right.

>> Is that for health reasons, or...

>> Well, when you eat meat, you ingest an animal's fear.

>> Ingest what?

Its fur?

>> Fear.

>> I thought she...

>> How can you do that?

You can't eat fear.

How do you see that film and that story sort of capturing

the American family?

>> Well, I mean, what I saw when I was approached

by John Wells, the director... of course I grabbed the script

and read it a number of times and certainly related to it

in some aspects.

I think everybody that has a family can...

you know, has one or two stories to tell.

But what I noticed was writing that reminded me

of the writers that got me interested in theater

in the first place.

I saw touches of Edward Albee, Eugene O'Neill,

Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller.

Those are the guys that got me... really caught

my attention.

>> BOWEN: How did you see your character, which is

one of the... I mean, this is all sort of

a moral judgment, but he's one of the... seems to be

one of the true good guys, Charlie, in this family.

How did you see him?

>> What I saw was... I related to it

in so many respects.

I mean, like I said, I grew up four hours away from this.

My father and I raised cattle in the '60s and the '70s.

And I very nearly, you know, wanted to continue that.

I loved that life, but I had to come to New York and see

the acting thing through.

But it was very tempting.

I loved that it was very physical.

I know those people.

We had neighbors on either side of our ranch that were,

you know, so similar-- good, hardworking people.

And the whole father-son relationship

was something I felt very, very close to.

So here was an opportunity, here was a character

I didn't have to beat myself up with.

>> BOWEN: Speaking more about process, actors

whom I've interviewed before talk about sort of when you're

on a set with Meryl Streep it revolves around her.

In what way does she inform you and inform actors

that everybody, to a person, raves about her impact on a set?

>> Well I've worked with her twice.

And I worked with her in Adaptation about ten, 11,

12 years ago.

It's not as if she throws her weight around.

She just sets a great standard.

She comes prepared for that day.

And whether it's heavy drama or, you know, fall down laughing

comedy, it's always about the work.

>> BOWEN: And finally I want to ask about

that dinner scene which, I think I've mentioned to you before,

I think, you know, my own personal opinion,

will go down as one of the greats in cinematic history.

>> Well, it's long enough.

>> Which you told me how long it was,

and it didn't even feel that long.

How long was it?

>> It was... it was 18 pages.

And we got it down to around 20 minutes.

And that's... that's a pretty good feat.

We broke it... we shot it over three days, and we kind of

broke it down into six pages a day, working chronologically.

But we had a ball, we had a ball.

And that's what I'm saying.

You know, taking the break between takes,

everybody did what they had to do, whether they wanted

to stay in character or completely step awa

from this dinner scene and just, you know,

take a breath.

But everybody has their own way of dealing with it.

But I say we were all actors, we had this juicy material,

and everybody just wanted to give it their best.

And it was never tiring, it was never taxing.

It was just... we wanted to give a... you know,

give a... give our best day's work, you know,

because there's... there was... we saw so much potential.

>> BOWEN: One other thing I wanted to ask you about,

and I will make a confession, it's because I can relate

to this.

You've talked about your shyness before,

and you've described it as crippling.

How does it not translate?

I mean, I'm sure a lot of people find it incongruous

that you can be such a shy person

in natural life, but be the actor you are.

>> Well because I just... I got irritated with myself.

I said, "I'm... this is..."

and this was in college.

This is when I, you know, took steps in my sophomore year

to start auditioning for plays, because it was crippling.

And I just knew it.

I said "I've got to get out of this."

And I knew I was headed toward theater anyway,

but I'd worked backstage in Kansas City before coming

to university, and I knew I was headed this way.

But I'm handling it a whole lot better, you know?

And I've got a wonderful wife that is kind of... you know,

I so envy her wit and her energy.

I've tried to match it, and I can't do it.

I know better than that.

But she's been a great help, and getting me out there

and being more social.

And I'm having a wonderful time, having a ball.

>> BOWEN: Well I am also a great admirer of your wife,

Marianne Leone.

Chris Cooper, it is always a pleasure to speak with you.

Thank you so much.

>> Thank you, thank you.

Enjoyed it.

>> BOWEN: Now, we promenade through Pompeii.

The Cleveland Museum of Art recently presented an exhibition

looking at how the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD

has and continues to be an inspiration for artists

from the old masters to Warhol.

They all examine the last days of Pompeii--

its decadence, apocalypse, and resurrection.

>> The eruption of Mount Vesuvius--

it's a tremendous, explosive eruption.

But what happens is that the volcanic material

goes way up into the sky and starts to tumble down

actually relatively slowly.

There's pumice, there's ash, but it gives people

time to leave.

And so the bodies that you find in Pompeii and in Herculaneum

are the people who really stayed behind, who didn't

sort of take the signs over the course of, you know,

18 hours, and actually left.

So most people really do leave the city.

But what it allows us to see, though, is that

there's this incredibly intact city underneath.

Artists have been inspired by Pompeii

from the rediscoveries in the mid-1700s

right through to the present day.

but those really have changed over time.

I mean, the way that artists have depicted Pompeii

hasn't been the same, and it really reflects

contemporary interests that change enormously over time.

And so one of the earlier paintings in the exhibition,

from the late 1700s, by an artist, a German artist

named Hackert, I mean, Hackert shows the excavations

of Pompeii.

And it's really a landscape painting

in the tradition of land... European

landscape painting that happens to show

this excavation site in the middle of the landscapes.

What I find so interesting about the painting

is that Hackert makes a big effort to put

sort of country folk in the foreground of the painting.

So he really wants us to understand that Pompeii

is not purely an archaeological site.

You definitely see workers with wheelbarrows

in the background, but it's also, you know,

really seeing Pompeii as also a beautiful landscape.

And that's... whether that's true or not I think

is almost beside the point.

But I think for Hackert's audience

and for the British Lord who ultimatel

owned this painting, it was just as much about

a beautiful postcard of the Bay of Naples

as well as a document of the excavations

as they stood in the late 1790s.

Josef Frank's painting shows three women

being demolished by the eruption.

I mean, literally you see the eruption taking place

in the background.

The women are being tossed aside.

Everything is chaos.

The bodies are pulled right to the front

of the picture plane.

So unlike the painting by Hackert, which was all about

this kind of rational, scientific archaeology,

Frank is interested in the drama and the destruction,

in the real sort of soap opera of the disaster itself.

Frank is an artist who... his painting is based on

some archaeological evidence.

There was some jewelry that was found,

and some bones were found nearby.

and so Frank then spins this invented stor

about how there were these three women who just

happened to be, you know, entirely naked, who were being

tossed aside.

Leave... but, you know, seem to have, like, been

clutching their jewelry right before they were escaping,

trying to escape Pompeii, but an escape that, of course,

turns out to be entirely futile.

So Neti's painting showing the aftermath

of the gladiator battle is on the one hand

extremely accurate archaeologically.

I mean, the building that they're in

is a known archaeological site.

It was actually recently excavated

just before Neti made his painting.

A lot of the details in the painting, for example

the gladiator helmet or the mosaic columns,

these are known antiquities.

So these are really things you really could have gone to

a museum in Naples and seen at the time.

You can still see these works today.

But the story itself is entirely made up.

So it's this gladiator who's killed another one

in the street, seemingly as entertainment,

with this drunken orgy in the background.

You have gluttony, you have vice, you have sex.

And all of this turns out to be entirely made up.

All of these vices are in a way interpreted

as a kind of premonition of the disaster

that was to come.

I mean, they really deserved it.

They had it coming.

Whether that's true or not is a kind of completel

separate thing, but I think this painting is talking

both about the fantasies that people have projected

onto Pompeii, but also this kind of this moral judgment

that has gone along beside that.

In the late '50s, Mark Rothko gets

this really important commission to decorate the walls

of the Four Seasons restaurant in New York,

the top of the Seagram Building.

So this incredibly important, very public commission.

And in the middle of the project, he actuall

goes to Italy.

He takes a vacation with his family.

He goes to Pompeii and really rethinks

the whole composition, the whole room,

the whole project, in light of his experience at Pompeii.

And I think for Rothko it's both the association

with disaster, but also the association with the decadence.

And so his concerns about this restaurant

being merely a place for the richest people

in New York to sort of feed and show off and ignore

his paintings gets, in a way, wrapped up in the wa

that he paints them.

Ultimately, it's this commission that doesn't really work at all

for Rothko.

He withdraws from the commission,

the paintings are never installed,

and they are this incredibly beautiful, moving experience.

But one that is very much associated with Pompeii

in a very direct way, really, even in his own words.

Warhol I think really gets interested in this idea

of complete and total apocalypse.

I think it's something he's thinking about

both in terms of the recent earthquake in 1980

in the Bay of Naples.

I think he's also looking back and thinking about things like

atomic disaster, and I think he's very much thinking

of very contemporary cataclysms.

In the case of the mid '80s we're talking about

the AIDS crisis.

And I'm convinced that these works, at least

on some level, address that contemporary disaster.

And the thing about this exhibition is that

on the one hand we could have just shown paintings

of Mount Vesuvius and the erupting volcano,

and the very straightforward representations of the city.

But Pompeii really goes into artist's minds

in a much deeper and more complicated way.

And so there are abstract artists who are

deeply affected by their experiences of Pompeii

and their thoughts about the ancient city.

And so a lot of the works in the exhibition

aren't necessarily kind of literal depictions of Pompeii,

but really artistic imaginings of Pompeii.

I mean, it's really about the way that Pompeii

has sunk into the modern and the contemporary imagination

over several hundred years.

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

We are taking a spring break, but we'll be back on the air

Friday, March 28.

Until then, you can always hear my take on the latest

in the arts scene every Thursday morning

in the 8:00 hour, first on WCRB,

then on WGBH radio.

I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for watching.

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

And you can follow us on Twitter, @OpenStudioWGBH.

>> But was I hearing it from Mary Ann all the way here.

>> Uh-oh.

>> Men, they never listen.

They never listen.

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