He’s been a familiar face on TV and in movies for decades—Jessie first saw him in Rush Hour—but lately Tzi Ma has come into his own playing fathers in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Alan Yang’s Tigertail and Niki Caro’s epic new production of Disney’s Mulan, which debuts today on Disney+. In fact, he grew up on Staten Island and fell in love with the theater, as he tells Leonard and Jessie in a fascinating review of his life and career. This charming man will reach an even bigger audience in the upcoming CW reboot of Kung Fu—where once again he’ll play a father to a female protagonist.
What if you loved classic movies and were given the chance to physically re-create Old Hollywood? That’s what happened when producer Ryan Murphy hired Matthew Flood Ferguson as the production designer of his Netflix miniseries Hollywood… and now he’s an Emmy nominee. Leonard and Jessie learn what kind of challenges and decisions Matthew faced while trying to set the stage for a saga set in the golden age of Tinseltown.
A talented Filipino transgender filmmaker, Isabel Sandoval has already won acclaim in her native country and at festivals around the globe. Her new film, Lingua Franca, will reach an even wider audience as Ava DuVernay’s Array Releasing is presenting it on Netflix. As actor, writer, director, and editor she is leading a quiet revolution—yet her movie is not part of a crusade. It’s an honest, persuasive story about a hard-working immigrant set in New York’s Brighton Beach neighborhood. Leonard and Jessie responded to it, just as they did its unpretentious creator. We’ll be covering more Array releases in the weeks and months ahead. @isabelvsandoval
If you’re an animation buff, you should know Jerry Beck…and it’s probable that you do. He is a valued resource—online at www.cartoonresearch.com and www.animationscoop.com, in classrooms at major universities, and in the content of 15 books, about everything from Looney Tunes to Spongebob Squarepants. He and Leonard met decades ago at Leonard’s animation class in Manhattan and have been close friends ever since. (Jessie has known him her entire life!) Join us for an animated conversation about a subject near and dear to all of us.
A likable actor who has built a resumé with and without his brother James’ participation, Dave Franco has now made his debut as a writer-director with The Rental, starring his wife Alison Brie and Dan Stevens. Franco’s career has blossomed steadily over the past decade as he’s appeared in everything from The Lego Movie and Warm Bodies to The Disaster Artist and If Beale Street Could Talk. He’s brimming with enthusiasm and, as you’ll hear, fun to talk to.
Mark Evanier has not only attended every single San Diego Comic-con since its inception, he’s been a vital part of that famous gathering (which is on sabbatical this year)—moderating panels with pals like MAD cartoonist Sergio Aragones, interviewing icons like Ray Bradbury, and more. Mark’s writing career has taken him from comic books to sitcoms and beyond (if you don’t have his book Jack Kirby: King of Comics, you should). Leonard and Jessie are longtime friends and know what a great raconteur he is—as this episode will confirm.
One of our favorite actresses, Emily Mortimer is currently starring in The Relic, a horror film now playing on VOD and theaters. Add this to a roster of movies and TV shows where she’s always a standout—from Mary Poppins Returns to The Newsroom, Dear Frankie, Lars and the Real Girl, City Island, Lovely & Amazing, her own HBO series Doll and Em, and two for her favorite director, Martin Scorsese: Shutter Island and Hugo. She has stories to share about all of them, as well as her glittery upbringing as the daughter of celebrated author and playwright John Mortimer. (p.s. her daughter enjoys hearing Emily’s voice in the English-language version of Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle. So do we.)
You hear his striking, Emmy Award-winning music every time you watch Succession. He’s Nicholas Britell and he’s one of the brightest lights in the world of contemporary film and television scoring. His collaboration with filmmaker Barry Jenkins has yielded two Oscar nominations to date—for Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk. A New Yorker through and through, he remains disarmingly unpretentious and was happy to chat with Leonard and Jessie about the music he provided for Whiplash (which he also co-produced), The Big Short and Natalie Portman’s directorial debut, Eve, among others. He’s still got a big career ahead of him.
If best-selling author and filmmaker Stephen Chbosky weren’t quarantined he’d be shooting the movie version of the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen—which we can’t wait to see. Meanwhile, his beautiful film Wonder is a Maltin Movie Club recommendation. Leonard and Jessie welcome him back to the podcast to discuss his wide-ranging career, starting with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and his mentor, screenwriter Stewart Stern, who wrote Rebel Without a Cause and inspired Stephen from the moment they met.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Leonard’s book Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, and we’re going to celebrate by doing a multi-episode deep dive into all things animation. In part one, Jessie asks her dad how he got hooked on cartoons in the first place and how he met so many people who helped invent the medium we all love.
Will Friedwald is one of the world’s foremost authorities on jazz and pop music. He’s also a quick-witted wordsmith with a fondness for puns. His biography of Nat “King” Cole (Straighten Up and Fly Right) is due this summer, and a revised, expanded edition of Sinatra: The Song is You is one of Leonard’s all-time favorite books on music. What’s more, he and Will have known each other for decades. Jessie says that when they get going, it’s like being at the United Nations without a translator—but great fun all the same.
Actor, comedian, writer, producer and podcaster extraordinaire, Paul Scheer is definitely on a roll. Showtime’s Black Monday is offering him the meatiest acting role he’s ever tackled, alongside his fine work on Veep, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Fresh off the Boat. And he’s still watching and talking about movies on his Unspooled podcast with Amy Nicholson. Whether you know him best from The League, Human Giant, or NTSF:SD:SUV::, you’ll enjoy hearing him tell Leonard and Jessie about his career in comedy.
Julie Hagerty’s first film was Airplane! and believe it or not, that was forty years ago! She’s been working ever since, most recently as Scarlett Johansson’s mother in Marriage Story. Her roots are in the theater but she has made her mark in such first-class comedies as Albert Brooks’s Lost in America, Noises Off, and What About Bob? She also provides the voice of Lois’s sister Carol on Family Guy. Leonard and Jessie delighted in getting to know this endearing actress and learning about her journey from teenage model to movie stardom.
Three-time Oscar winner John Dykstra may go down in history as the man who devised the Light Saber for Star Wars, but that’s just one achievement in a lengthy career in visual effects. In fact, he helped usher in the modern era of fx and has adapted to digital sleight-of-hand…but he misses the scrappy days when he built actual models and then blew them up! His credits range from Spider-man and Stuart Little to Quentin Tarantino’s last four films. Best of all, from Leonard and Jessie’s point of view, he has retained his youthful enthusiasm and is exceptionally articulate about his work.
With films ranging from The Shawshank Redemption to Starship Troopers and recent TV appearances on The Mandalorian, Emergence, Billions, and The Crown (as LBJ), Clancy Brown is the living definition of a “working actor.” He’s also been the voice of Mr. Krabs on Spongebob Squarepants for more than twenty years! Leonard and Jessie have been after him for many months to appear on the podcast and finally found a day he wasn’t on a soundstage; it was well worth the wait.
Craig Ferguson is one of the funniest men on the planet, as he proves yet again in his multi-episode web series Hobo Fabulous, a hybrid of stand-up comedy and documentary on the Comedy Dynamics network. It’s no surprise that the former late-night host is a master of conversation, leaving Leonard and Jessie to marvel at his rapid-fire mind. He has significant film credits, as well, not the least being his voice-over work in the How to Train Your Dragon animated features. Be sure to listen if you’re in need of cathartic laughter.
Actor, musician, director, renaissance man: Peter Weller is all of these, but he’s best remembered as the star of RoboCop. He’s also a fascinating conversationalist, as Leonard and Jessie were delighted to learn, with stories about such luminaries as Mike Nichols and Otto Preminger.
Actor, stand-up comic, filmmaker, pioneer podcaster—Kevin Pollak wears many hats, but he’s overwhelmed by the response he’s now enjoying for his supporting role on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. A natural comedian from childhood, he has parlayed his gift for mimicry (and solid acting instincts) into an enduring screen career. Leonard and Jessie are longtime fans and enjoyed spending time with him, even egging him on to do some of his uncanny impressions.
Greta Gerwig is riding high on the rave reviews and Oscar nominations for her heartfelt adaptation of Little Women (still playing in theaters). In the midst of awards-season chaos she found time to spend an hour with Leonard and Jessie, to talk about her ever-expanding career—which also includes being mother to an adorable toddler. For a high-profile actress and filmmaker she is refreshingly straightforward about her accomplishments, and extremely likable to boot.
The one and only Alice Maltin makes a long-awaited return to the podcast to share her thoughts about awards season and the past year in movies and television. She’s the real critic in the family—and still Leonard’s favorite moviegoing companion. Leonard and Jessie compare notes with her on films they’ve loved and TV shows that have captured their attention. They don’t always agree 100%, but that’s what makes for good conversation.
If you wonder how Netflix became the colossus it is today, meet Ted Sarandos, its chief content officer. He’s been there twenty years and set in place the machinery that’s attracted Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuarón, Eddie Murphy and other A-listers. Leonard and Jessie wanted to know more about the man behind the curtain and Ted traced his personal saga, from video store manager to the most powerful man in Hollywood. It’s quite a story!
Costume designer Sandy Powell has been nominated for 12 Oscars and won three. Christopher Peterson earned an Emmy nomination for Boardwalk Empire. Together they designed the clothing for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman—for the stars as well as the extras, covering several decades. Leonard and Jessie were fascinated to hear their experience on this massive endeavor and their impressions of Scorsese, who appreciates what the right wardrobe can do for his film—and his actors.
He’s played Mussolini and Moe Howard of the Three Stooges. Paul Ben-Victor is one of those face-is-familiar actors who can embody any kind of character from a street hood to a cop. You can see him right now in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman or you may remember his recurring roles The Wire, Everybody Hates Chris, and Entourage. He’s not used to blowing his own horn, but Leonard and Jessie enjoyed coaxing anecdotes and observations from this lifelong performer who builds and rebuilds houses when he isn’t working on a film or TV show.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote completes a quest that has consumed Terry Gilliam for thirty years, but as Leonard and Jessie learned, he bears his burdens lightly. He made his name supplying unique animated sequences for Monty Python’s Flying Circus and his films include Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil, and The Fisher King. He’s a delightful man with stories to tell (about everyone from Robin Williams to Heath Ledger) and a great outlook on life.