Jared interviews Kate Burton and Chris Cooper
Jared welcomes Tony- and Emmy Award-nominated actress Kate Burton and Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper.
>> 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
>> 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
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
>> 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
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.
>> 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...
>> 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,"
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?
>> Is that for health reasons, or...
>> Well, when you eat meat, you ingest an animal's fear.
>> Ingest what?
>> 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
>> 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
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,
Chris Cooper, it is always a pleasure to speak with you.
Thank you so much.
>> Thank you, thank you.
>> 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
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
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
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.
>> Men, they never listen.
They never listen.
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