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.
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.