Our guest grew up as a privileged son of Hollywood royalty. George Stevens Sr. made such classic movies as Gunga Din, Shane, and Giant, and in time invited his son to join his filmmaking team. But George Stevens Jr. went on to forge his own formidable career in Washington D.C. as founder of the American Film Institute and co-creator of the Kennedy Center Honors. His newly published autobiography My Place in the Sun is filled with great stories from both worlds, some of which he was kind enough to share with Leonard and Jessie.
In his earliest screen appearances (remember Quest for Fire?) Ron Perlman was buried under a ton of makeup and prosthetics. That’s also how he became the Emmy-winning star of television’s Beauty and the Beast. Since then he’s shown his versatility, especially in his collaborations with the gifted filmmaker Guillermo del Toro like Hellboy and the forthcoming Pinocchio. His new film
The Last Victim, casts him as a weary sheriff in the modern-day West. As Leonard and Jessie quickly discovered, Ron has the soul of a poet and the heart of a movie buff. Wait till you hear him singing the praises of Gary Cooper!
Karen Gillan first came to prominence playing Amy Pond during two seasons on Dr. Who. Then she was cast as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and her career went into overdrive. She’ll be reprising her signature role in Thor: Love and Thunder and in Volume 3 of Guardians next year. Meanwhile, you can see her play opposite herself in the science-fiction feature Dual, now playing in theaters, and in Judd Apatow’s The Bubble on Netflix. Leonard and Jessie are suckers for anyone with a Scottish accent, but Karen ups the ante with her outgoing personality and upbeat approach to her burgeoning career.
His performance as the devilish media baron Logan Roy has helped make Succession must-see television. But Brian Cox has been giving inspired performances for decades, on stage, screen and television; he was the first actor to play Hannibal Lecter in 1986’s Manhhunter. Now he’s gathered his best stories in a candid, witty book called Putting the Rabbit in the Hat. He is also a fanatic about Hollywood’s golden age and a guest programmer for TCM this month. Needless to say, Leonard and Jessie had little trouble finding topics of conversation with the man who names Spencer Tracy as his all-time favorite actor.
The success of Ray Donovan has introduced Eddie Marsan to a legion of viewers who may not have seen (or recognized) him from the hundred-or-so feature films he’s been in, from Gangs of New York and War Horse to Mike Leigh’s wonderful Vera Drake and Happy-go-Lucky. He is the very model of a modern working actor, ready to take on a new accent and persona with each new assignment…and that’s the way he likes it. Leonard and Jessie are charter members of his fan club and were delighted to find that—unlike some of the nasty guys he’s played on screen—he’s a devoted family man with four children. You can see him right now in The Contractor starring Chris Pine.
Television viewers may know him best for his seven-year run as the star of Without a Trace (or his Emmy-winning appearances on Frasier) but Anthony LaPaglia has had a long and varied career on stage and film. Early credits include 29th Street, Innocent Blood, Betsy’s Wedding, Jessie’s favorite Empire Records and Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam. Now he’s starring in Nitram, a drama about one of the most shocking incidents in Australian history. It’s playing on AMC+ and available in selected theaters and VOD. Anthony is a bright and thoughtful man with a good sense of self: he admits that he had to improve his Australian accent when he went back to film in his home country!
Neal McDonough is one of the busiest actors in show business. Now he is adding “writer” and “producer” to his resumé with a feature called Boon that comes to theaters and VOD on April1st. His talent and work ethic have earned him the respect of men like Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood, so he’s got great role models to follow. From Band of Brothers to Minority Report, Desperate Housewives to Arrow and The Flash, he has built a rock-solid career in front of the camera. It will be interesting to see what happens next. Leonard and Jessie enjoyed meeting Neal, whose wife is now his producing partner—having already produced five children together!
Sue Lloyd was raised by her grandfather, the legendary silent-screen comedian Harold Lloyd—the guy in horned-rim glasses and a straw hat who dangled off a clock on the side of a building in his hit comedy Safety Last. (Her grandmother had been his leading lady on screen.) He introduced her and her friends to his film vault and paved the way for them to protect his movies, which she makes available today at festivals, online, and on home video. Sue has wonderful memories of her privileged upbringing and the people she met along the way. She has even published books of her grandfather’s famous 3-D photography. Leonard and Jessie love stepping into the past with Sue as their guide.
Adrien Brody has written a new role for himself in the indie picture Clean, now in theaters and on VOD. It’s the latest in an ever-growing rogue’s gallery that includes his Oscar-winning role in The Pianist, his recent appearance on Succession, and an appearance as L.A. Lakers coach Pat Riley in an upcoming miniseries. He’s part of Wes Anderson’s elite corps of favorite actors and has played everyone from Salvador Dali to Harry Houdini. Leonard and Jessie enjoyed hearing his take on Spike Lee, Peter Jackson and other filmmakers who have called upon his formidable talent.
I have followed Woody Allen since I was a boy, from his heyday as a standup comic to his emergence as one of America’s most original (and prolific) filmmakers, so he is very much a part of my life. At 86 he is as busy as ever. His latest film, Rifkin’s Festival (starring Wallace Shawn and Gina Gershon) opens today in theaters and on VOD. He has another film ready to shoot, a play about to be produced, and a new book of humorous essays called Zero Gravity, all dependent on pandemic conditions. This conversation gave Jessie and me an opportunity to ask about his beginnings as a gag writer while still in high school, his passion for playing New Orleans-style jazz, and his singular work ethic. He was uncommonly generous with his time and typically self-deprecating about his talent.
Ernest Dickerson studied cinematography at NYU where, on his first day, he met and bonded with fellow student Spike Lee. They made six memorable films together (including Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X) before Ernest made his directing debut with Juice, which has just been released in a special Blu-ray edition marking its 30th anniversary. He has gone on to direct such striking TV series as The Wire, Treme, Dexter, The Walking Dead and Bosch, to name just a few. Leonard and Jessie have been following his work for years and are delighted to have had a chance to talk to such a grounded and progressive filmmaker.
Guillermo del Toro is a sorcerer who places no limits on his imagination. His new film, Nightmare Alley, now playing in theaters, is an exquisitely rendered film noir that stands alongside his earlier work (The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) with the promise of more to come—like his “take” on Pinocchio. Leonard and Jessie are longtime devotees and are thrilled to share this uniquely eloquent and passionate creator with all of you.
Lily Rabe is a talented actress with superior bloodlines: her mother was the gifted Jill Clayburgh, and her father is playwright David Rabe. But she has carved her own path and proves it yet again as the loving mother in George Clooney’s new film The Tender Bar, now in theaters and soon on Amazon Prime. One of her biggest fans is producer-director Ryan Murphy, who has crafted challenging roles for her in every season of American Horror Story… an offer she admits she can’t refuse. Smart, sensitive and charming, Lily Rabe won over Leonard and Jessie within moments of starting this conversation.
Corbin Bernsen achieved stardom over eight seasons on the TV series L.A. Lawand hasn’t stopped working since—on both sides of the camera. His latest film as an actor is The Hating Game, now available on VOD. He grew up in a show-business household; his father was producer-director Harry Bernsen and his mother was Jeanne Cooper, a busy actress and one of the queens of daytime drama. With no illusions he forged a career for himself in movies and television (logging eight seasons on Psych) that’s still going strong. What’s more, he’s still having a good time. Leonard and Jessie enjoyed getting to know him.
As the mother of the “farm to table“ movement, Alice Waters has changed the way food is prepared and served in countless restaurants around the world. She opened Chez Panisse 50 years ago in Berkeley, California and is still going strong. She is also a diehard film buff who named her establishment after a character in the timeless Marcel Pagnol movies of the 1930s (Marius, Cesar, Fanny). Leonard and Jessie have gotten to know her as a regular attendee of the Telluride film festival and, through this conversation, enjoyed learning more about her background and philosophy.
Robert B. Weide, Bob to his friends, is a rare bird who has studied comedy and also created it, on a very high level. His documentary W.C. Fields Straight Up won an Emmy and Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth was nominated for an Oscar. His latest documentary, Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, is now playing in theaters and on VOD, and it was forty years in the making. Bob explains why and traces his own impressive career, highlighted by teaming with Larry David to create Curb Your Enthusiasm, which earned him a second Emmy for Best Director. He also wrote and directed a series called Mr. Sloane (starring Nick Frost and Olivia Colman) that deserves to be better known. Full disclosure: Bob is a family friend, and both Leonard and Jessie are fans of his work.
Joe Pantoliano is one of those actors who serves as a secret weapon in scores of TV shows and movies. His latest, Hide and Seek, opens today in theaters and on VOD. His credits include memorable roles in Memento, The Matrix, The Sopranos (which earned him an Emmy) and Midnight Run. He has also written two books about his life and philosophy—not bad for a guy who was challenged by dyslexia. He explains how he came to be called Joey Pants while growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey in an unusually thoughtful chat with Leonard and Jessie.
Ask Jessie or Leonard who their favorite guests have been and they will invariably name the late Richard Donner, who came to our studio in 2018. The man who directed Superman (with Christopher Reeve), The Omen, Lethal Weapon, and The Goonies should need no introduction…but his career began in theater and television and he had many great memories he was happy to share. Is there anyone else who can say he directed episodes of Perry Mason, Get Smart, and Gilligan’s Island? Leonard and Jessie tapped into his prodigious memory for an hour of wonderful anecdotes and observations.
When Leonard feels like discussing vintage animation he calls on old friends like Jerry Beck (www.cartoonresearch.com) and Mark Evanier (newsfromme.com) who never run out of things to say. Mark actually worked for Hanna-Barbera and even shared an office with Tex Avery. Jerry is involved in restorations of other classic cartoon shorts. These three pals wax nostalgic about the cartoon history they inhaled on early television and don’t intend to apologize for it.
John Ross Bowie is a comedic actor you know from such TV shows as The Big Bang Theory and Speechless (not to mention the newly-hatched Feel Good and Generations). His pet project is a new podcast dedicated to character actors called Household Faces. Leonard and Jessie share his interest in these unsung heroes of films and television… and apparently, they also find the same things funny, based on this rambunctious, talkative hour. P.S. the unstoppable Maltin dogs (Mabel and Logan) make periodic audio appearances in this week’s show.
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.