Ann Dowd is one of today’s foremost character actresses, and finally has an Emmy award to prove it, in recognition of her chilling performance in A Handmaid’s Tale. She fell in love with acting as a girl and set her sights on a stage career; television and movies have helped her reach an even wider audience. Her new movie Mass opens in theaters today… or you can watch her in replays of everything from Freaks and Geeks to Hereditary. Jessie and Leonard have looked forward to this conversation for a long, long time.
The world-class filmmaker with the distinctive voice is our esteemed guest today. He’s not intimidating—quite the opposite—as he describes his early life, what drew him to filmmaking, and how he teaches students by throwing them in the deep end of the pool, so to speak. His passion is undiminished after more than fifty years of memorable, provocative films, most recently a series of fascinating documentaries like Grizzly Man and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Leonard and Jessie were more than happy to sit at the great man’s feet and listen to him discuss his extraordinary life as a moviemaker. This episode first aired in 2018.
If you’re a baby boomer, you know all about Hayley Mills, the charming young actress who became an overnight star in Pollyanna and The Parent Trap under the tutelage of Walt Disney. Her new autobiography, Forever Young, will hold surprises even for the most devout fan, as Hayley was given access to her files in the Walt Disney Archives, where she made discoveries about herself and her loving but protective parents. Jessie and Leonard are very fond of Hayley and are happy to welcome her back to the podcast after four years’ time.
Billy Bob Thornton is in a class by himself. If you haven’t seen his Amazon series Goliath, just about to launch its fourth and final season, you’re missing a great acting showcase…a perfect follow-up to his unforgettable turn on the first season of Fargo. Leonard and Jessie are longtime fans and delight in talking to him about finding his place in Hollywood, working with the Coen Brothers, playing the President of the United States in Love, Actually, and much, much more. This encore episode originally aired on June 30, 2017.
Joe Morgenstern is the age-defying film critic for the Wall Street Journal, a post he has held since 1995. He’s also one of only three film critics to have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Sample any one of his reviews and you will see why he is so highly regarded. An elegant, witty, and knowledgeable essayist, he represents the best of the breed. What’s more, his enthusiasm remains intact after decades of working the same beat. Jessie realizes that she has known him her entire life but this is the first chance she’s had to talk to him at length about his work. Leonard was and remains an ardent admirer.
How many authors get to see themselves portrayed on the big screen? R.L. Stine has—and by the very cool Jack Black, in two movies, based on his phenomenally popular Goosebumps books. Bob has entertained (and scared) several generations of kids—like Jessie—with his scary books for young people, and seems as surprised by their success and durability as anyone in his vast audience. Leonard and Bob rekindled an old acquaintance in the course of this show, with Jessie enacting the role of lifelong fan.
Norman Lloyd was a mere 103 when we recorded this interview in 2018. He lived to be 106…and what a rich life it was. Listen as he talks about people he knew and worked with: Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, Martin Scorsese. Leonard and Jessie will never forget the day they made this recording and think it’s well worth a reprise.
In 2018 Al Pacino—yes, Al Pacino—spent an hour with Leonard and Jessie talking about the theatrical release of his long-delayed film of Salome (featuring a young Jessica Chastain) and its accompanying documentary Wilde Salome. If you also want to hear what challenges him as an actor…or stories about the making of The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon, and other classics of American film, you won’t be disappointed. Hey, it’s AL PACINO.
Penn Jillette is the talking half of one of the most successful acts in all of show business, Penn and Teller. He is a highly principled purveyor of magic and a great entertainer as well. He and his partner have conquered every conceivable medium and show no signs of slowing down—in Las Vegas or on television. Leonard and Jessie loved getting to spend an hour in the company of someone they’ve admired so long.
Rahmin Bahrani is one of the most gifted filmmakers of our time. He proved this with his first ultra-low-budget features, Man Push Cart and Chop Shop—keen-eyed observational portraits of characters living in the margins of society. (Both are now available in comprehensive Blu-ray editions from the Criterion Collection). What’s more, he is a recent Oscar nominee for his searing adaptation of the prize-winning novel The White Tiger, which streams on Netflix. He also teaches filmmaking at his alma mater, Columbia University, inspiring a new generation of storytellers. Leonard and Jessie are long time admirers of his work and loved having an opportunity to discuss his remarkable career.
Jake Johnson is a versatile guy who was inspired by the Second City troupe in Chicago, and set out to emulate them, first in New York and then in Los Angeles where he started landing movie and TV roles. Eventually he won a costarring role in New Girl with Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield. Leonard and Jessie discuss how each job—and personal connection—has led to other projects, from the modest indie Safety not Guaranteed to Jurassic World. His co-wrote his newest film, Ride the Eagle, with New Girl director-producer Trent O’Donnell, and you can see it On Demand and in theaters July 30. Jake’s positivity is a tribute to the creative spirit that even a pandemic couldn’t vanquish.
The music you remember from The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, Angels in America, Finding Nemo, 1917, and the James Bond films Skyfall and Spectre was all written by Thomas Newman. His father was the legendary film composer Alfred Newman (who won nine Oscars and composed the 20th Century Fox fanfare). His brother David is also a film composer, and his cousin is songwriter/composer/performer Randy. Thomas admires them all but still managed to find his own “voice.” Leonard and Jessie are unabashed admirers, all the more so after speaking with this gifted but unassuming musical talent.
Max Casella has been a familiar presence on TV and movie screens since he was a kid, costarring in Newsies and Doogie Houser, M.D. Since then he’s kept busy on Broadway (in The Lion King--as the original Timon), on stage, television (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) and films, working with everyone from George Clooney to Spike Lee. He costars with Kevin Corrigan and Paul Reiser in the pandemic drama Scenes from an Empty Church, which is now available on Video on Demand. And he appreciates the fans like Leonard and Jessie who have been following his career from the very start.
Sam Richardson’s performance as the clueless but good-hearted Richard Splett on Veep endeared him to a legion of viewers…but he started winning fans before that on The Office, in movies like Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers, and on The Detroiters, a comedy series he created and starred in with his best friend Tim Robinson. He has the leading role in Josh Ruben’s new comedy feature Werewolves Within (now available on VOD and in theaters) and is lending his voice to such animated shows as Housebroken and Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K. Jessie and Leonard are longtime admirers, as you can tell from their conversation with Sam.
The moving force behind so many comedy careers, Judd Apatow has just returned from London where he’s made a movie about shooting a film during the pandemic! It’s the latest move in a unique career. From comedy fan to standup comic to writer, director, producer and mentor, he is one of a kind. His credits stretch from Freaks & Geeks and Girlson television to such movies as The Forty Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This is 40, Trainwreck and The King of Staten Island. He’s also working on a followup to his terrific book of interviews, Sick in the Head. Jessie and Leonard are unabashed admirers of him and his family (wife Leslie Mann and daughters Maude and Iris Apatow) and enjoyed having the opportunity to talk to him.
From The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi to such movies as Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and As Good as It Gets, writer-director-producer James L. Brooks has created quality entertainment for decades and has no intention of slowing down. He has served as mentor to the likes of Cameron Crowe and Wes Anderson and continues to work with young talents behind the camera. Oh yes—he’s also produced The Simpsons for the past 30 years. Leonard and Jessie were honored to talk to this multi-award-winning talent about his remarkable career.
Casting directors are the unsung heroes and heroines of the entertainment business. Sarah Finn has cast every single film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as well as their TV and streaming series) so she has great stories to tell about lobbying for Robert Downey Jr. to star in Iron Man, why she approached Vin Diesel to play Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, and how she overcame a slight obstacle to get Chris Pratt hired to lead that merry band. With a solid background in theater, plenty of non-Marvel movies to her credit, and boundless energy Sarah is a major creative contributor to every film and TV show she takes on. That’s why Jessie and Leonard are pleased to shine a spotlight on her in this episode.
Four-time Oscar winner Ben Burtt has crafted and created sounds we all know—from the heavy-breathing of Darth Vader to the pops and squeaks of R2D2, not to mention the voices of WALL-E and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He’s been obsessed with sounds since he was a boy and has never lost that passion, which comes through in everything he does—including this interview with two of his biggest fans, Leonard and Jessie. (Did someone say Wilhelm?)
Since starring in the hit American TV series The Guardian and The Mentalist, Australian-born Simon Baker has returned to his homeland and made two pet projects: the surfing drama Breath (which he also directed and co-wrote) and High Ground, which is now playing in theaters and On Demand. Filmed in remote and spectacular locations, it’s about a culture clash involving Aboriginal tribes and the colonizing forces of the UK—and it’s quite good. It also features the figurehead of Australian cinema, Jack Thompson, in a co-starring role. Simon discussed why these projects mean so much to him in this thoughtful conversation with Leonard and Jessie.
Bob Balaban’s resumé is filled with milestones: he shares an unforgettable scene with Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, plays Francois Truffaut’s interpreter in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and is part of the Christopher Guest ensemble (Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, Best in Show) and the Wes Anderson repertory group (Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel). He writes, directs, and shares an Oscar nomination as a producer of Robert Altman’s Gosford Park. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of a fascinating life and career, which Jessie and Leonard were happy to explore.
Richard Kind is beloved by fans and colleagues alike. A versatile actor and endearing presence on TV shows like Spin City, Mad About You, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, movies including Argo, and A Serious Man, and animated films including A Bug’s Life, Cars, and Inside Out, he has made a lasting impression. He’s also performed on Broadway in such shows as The Producers and accumulated a lifetime’s worth of anecdotes and observations. Leonard and Jessie are among his biggest admirers and had a ball spending an hour in conversation with him.
A onetime piano prodigy is now an Oscar nominee. Having won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition in 2011, Kris Bowers has spread his wings and achieved his goal of becoming a composer for film and television. Among his credits: Green Book, Bridgerton, When They See Us, and the upcoming Space Jam: A New Legacy. What’s more, his charming short subject, A Concerto is a Conversation, which he directed with Ben Proudfoot, is an Academy Award nominee. (watch it at www.concertodoc.com) As you will hear, Kris is engaging, articulate, and equally comfortable talking about Bach and Bugs Bunny.
He’s enjoying the success and acclaim he rightly deserves for The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix’s most-watched scripted miniseries), but Scott Frank is not just a flavor of the month. He’s written movies like Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report, Logan, and our favorite sleeper The Lookout, which marked his directing debut. Scott has a wealth of observations about screenwriting and moviemaking which he shares with Leonard and Jessie, who have belatedly discovered Godless, the exceptional Western miniseries he made for Netflix in 2017. It’s another must-see.
His new biography Mike Nichols: A Life is garnering rave reviews, but that’s no surprise. Mark Harris’s other two books, Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back are required reading for anyone who loves films. A native New Yorker, Mark spent many years writing for Entertainment Weekly, which put him on the front lines of pop culture. He continues to cover the film scene for New York magazine. A diligent researcher as well as a fan, Mark has much to say about digging deep in order to tell a good (and accurate) story, as you will hear.