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.
Listen up! When Quincy Jones speaks he may be imparting Yoda-like wisdom or talking about his collaborations with Steven Spielberg, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, or Hal Ashby, to name just a few. His film credits range from The Pawnbroker and In Cold Blood to The Color Purpleand the must-see documentary Keep on Keepin’ On. As a musician, arranger, film composer, and entrepreneur he is without peer, and arguably the coolest guy on the planet. It’s been four years since Leonard and Jessie spent a lively hour with him and they still marvel at the experience. Keep On Keepin’ On, is now streaming on Amazon Prime, iTunes and other platforms.
If you’re in your 30s like Jessie, you grew up with Thomas Nicholas onscreen. He starred in Rookie of the Year and A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, then—a little older—he appeared the hugely popular American Pie series. He’s led a band for many years and has never forsaken acting, but with the release of Adverse on VOD he officially joins the ranks of producers. Leonard and Jessie enjoyed meeting him and recalling some of the highlights of an enduring career.
Whatever you may think of the Golden Globes, their voters hit a bull’s-eye when they gave a special award to Norman Lear, the youngest 98-year-old in Hollywood. He could easily coast along on his many accomplishments as a writer, producer, director, and political activist; instead he is engaged in new projects on a daily basis. He also penned a candid, entertaining autobiography called Even This I Get to Experience.
Jessie and I were privileged to spend an hour with him as he was just settling into his new office suite on the Sony Pictures lot two and a half years ago. He gave birth to such TV series as All in the Family, Maude, and The Jeffersons and was then busily involved in a reboot of One Day at a Time. He’s worked in television since 1950, but no one seems to talk to him about the movies he wrote, produced, and/or directed, like Cold Turkey, or those for which he was a midwife (like The Princess Bride). We relished spending time with this highly amusing, soft-spoken giant—even when he fielded a cell phone call from a political fundraiser in the midst of our interview!
A familiar and welcome face as one of the hosts on Turner Classic Movies, Dave Karger has paid his dues as a working journalist for many years. He spent 17 of those years as a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, and has made frequent appearances on The Today Show, E! and Access Hollywood. Chronicling celebrity culture requires diplomacy and savvy in equal measures, and Dave is more than up to the task. Jessie and Leonard are admirers and welcomed this opportunity to talk to him.
Hi, it’s Leonard Maltin. Jessie and I are taking some time off but we want to share another of our favorite episodes of Maltin on Movies. Whether you know her best as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, Jessica Fletcher on Murder She Wrote, or the scheming mother from hell in The Manchurian Candidate, you’ll be glad to know that the real Angela Lansbury is alive and well at age 95. She was merely 93 when we recorded this conversation in her lovely Los Angeles home. Enjoy.
Leonard and Jessie spend quality time with the one and only Mel Brooks, who’s as spry as ever and bursting with great stories. He reveals the name of the funniest comedy he ever saw, talks about Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and The Producers, and explains how he and his pal Carl Reiner screen movies together almost every night. You don’t want to miss this one.
Two of the world’s foremost authorities on movie music—whom we also count as good friends—join in a buoyant conversation filled with insight and laughter. Jon Burlingame writes for Variety and teaches film scoring at USC; his books include The Music of James Bond. Steven Smith’s latest book is Music by Max Steiner: The Epic Life of Hollywood’s Most Influential Composer. Together they represent an unbeatable storehouse of knowledge which they are eager to share with all of us.
As the granddaughter of animation pioneer Ub Iwerks and daughter of longtime Imagineer Don Iwerks, Leslie Iwerks automatically earns a niche in film history… but she’s forged a great reputation of her own, with Oscar and Emmy nominations to show for it. Her six-part series The Imagineering Story helped launch Disney+, while her provocative profile of hackers from Macedonia, Selling Lies, earned critical praise this past year. She’s chronicled the history of Pixar and Industrial Light and Magic and pursued a wide variety of topics that pique her interest. Leonard and Jessie are admirers of her work—and her family.
He’s earned immortality as that guy from Ghostbusters (and you’ll see him in the forthcoming sequel) but Ernie Hudson is everywhere you look: as the star and executive producer of BET’s The Family Business, as Lily Tomlin’s love interest in Netlflix’s Grace and Frankie, and Gary Dourdan’s father in the new movie Redemption Day, opening in theaters today and on VOD next week. He’s been in scores of movies and TV shows, from Oz to The Crow but the nicest thing about this nice (and talented) guy is that he still loves acting.