TIME movies

10 Things We Learned From ‘Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever’

Aubrey Plaza and Grumpy Cat appear on NBC News' "Today" show on Nov. 24, 2014.
NBC NewsWire—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Aubrey Plaza and Grumpy Cat appear on NBC News' "Today" show on Nov. 24, 2014.

From overdoing the in-jokes to underplaying the Christmas cheer, here are a paw-ful of facts we learned from the feline superstar's holiday special

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

Ah, Christmas: It’s a time of year for peace, love, and pop-culture artifacts that cash in on people’s willingness to watch, buy, or listen to anything remotely Christmas-related — which explains Lifetime’s latest made-for-TV movie/pop trend cash-in, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever. One of the Internet’s most famous and profitable memes, the sour-faced kitty (given name: Tardar Sauce) stars as a curmudgeonly talking feline voiced by Parks and Recreation star Aubrey Plaza. It’s ostensibly a caper-cum-heartwarming holiday story; alas, it doesn’t hit either of those marks, and is instead an occasionally entertaining, mostly befuddling mess of a movie.

Here are 10 of the takeaways we got from watching Grumpy Cat in action.

1. If you’re an Internet sensation, people will try and cash in.
Much of the credit for Grumpy Cat’s swift rise to Internet stardom goes to her “meme manager,” Ben Lashes (credited here as a co-executive producer). After a photo of Grumpy’s adorable scowl blew up on Reddit, Lashes started working with the family that owns her, and the rest — Grumpy Cat-branded tees, books, coffee drinks, and this movie — is history. In 2013, New York reported that Grumpy Cat Ltd. was worth about $1 million, and the cat-as-brand has remained extremely valuable, particularly in the currency of the Internet (#WorstChristmasEver was trending nationally on Twitter within the film’s first half hour). Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever may be an easy grab for cash, but it’s also likely to be a successful one.

MORE: Curmudgeons Collide: Aubrey Plaza to Voice Grumpy Cat This Christmas

2. There is such a thing as being too meta.
The movie begins with Plaza-as-Grumpy deadpanning, “You don’t have to watch [the movie]…but I know you’re going to.” And the self-deprecation continues from there: There are winking references to making Grumpy the “most famous Internet meme” of all time and appearances from fellow Internet-famous felines Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat — both of whom, conveniently, are also repped by Lashes.

And then there’s this:

It’s like the producers wanted to show how in on the joke they are, but the constant breaking of the fourth wall comes off as cynical rather than knowing and funny. (The constant exhortations to buy Grumpy Cat products or to tweet about the movie — using, yes, #WhyAmIWatchingThis — don’t really help.)

3. Grumpy Cat is either an extremely patient, or an extremely tired, kitty.
Although Grumpy spends most of her time on screen sitting and scowling, the lady has her moments: She drives a car à la Toonces the Driving Cat, gets dressed up in elaborate costumes, and is made to dance around to Christmas carols. (Leading Plaza to mutter, “Please…stop…making me dance.”) Cat owners know that most felines won’t submit to even one of those things without putting up a claws-out fight, so Grumpy’s “willingness” speaks to either her remarkable patience — or, more likely, that she’s just tired and truly does want people to just leave her alone.

MORE: In Pics: The 25 Funniest Movies of All Time

4. Aubrey Plaza has no problem getting into a misanthropic mindset regardless of a character’s species.
It’s an obvious pairing: Plaza is best known for playing sardonic, misanthropic April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation; Grumpy Cat is best known for, well, being a grumpy-faced cat. It’s not much of a stretch for the actor to give voice to the meme, and Plaza has fun with the role. She apparently improvised many of Grumpy’s lines after the movie was already filmed, and the result is like the bizarre hybrid of a schlocky holiday flick and a lesser Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. Thanks to her, the movie has its moments, though we’ll be glad to see Plaza break free from the grouchy roles at some point.

5. Don’t try to stuff too many different storylines into one Internt-meme feline-centric movie.
The movie revolves around a lonely 12-year-old girl named Chyrstal (Meghan Charpentier) who, over the course of one night in a shopping mall, melts Grumpy Cat’s cold heart and befriends the cantankerous cat. But there are about five different plots crammed into the hour-and-a-half-long flick: There’s the teenager who isn’t accepted and finds a friend in an unlikely place; there’s a love story between Chyrstal’s newly-divorced mom (Shauna Johannesen) and a random dude who plays one of the mall Santa’s elves (Casey Manderson); oh, and did we mention the million-dollar dognapping, or the buttoned-up shop owner who needs a plucky teen’s help to keep his store open? There’s even a hapless mall cop who — dun-dun-DUN! — isn’t what he seems. There’s a lot going on here, and the result is a movie that feels completely incoherent.

6. If your plot doesn’t make a ton of sense, make up for it by going weird.
Though you should be forewarned that including such incoherence will lead to some totally odd scenes. At one point, Grumpy imagines what would happen if the pet store she lives at closes: She becomes a street cat who is eventually…euthanized? Wait, what? Yeah, the movie goes there, and it’s as bizarre as it sounds. There are other one-liners that are absolutely jarring in the context of the movie, too: Toward the end, when Chyrstal’s mom asks if the bad guys hurt her, Plaza jokes, “That’s a different kind of Lifetime movie…if you know what I mean.” There’s poking fun at yourself, and there’s being self-referentially WTF to a fault. Guess which one describes this movie?

MORE: In Pics: The 10 Best Movies of 2014 So Far

7. Despite the title, this isn’t much of a Christmas movie.
Lifetime’s devotion to all things Christmas is so great that the channel has created no fewer than two dozen themed films for the holiday season — there’s 12 Men of Christmas, Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus, The Santa Con, and the list goes on, and on, and on. They present an opportunity to see B-list actors (is that you, Dave Coulier?) deliver gloriously cheesy lines against a holiday-themed backdrop, which is fun in its own way. Like those movies, Worst Christmas Ever takes place during the Yuletide season, but aside from Plaza, the cast is made up of little-known Canadian actors, and little of the plot has anything to do with the holiday itself. It’s less a Lifetime Christmas movie than a movie that happens to take place during the the 25th of December that happened to air on Lifetime.

8. It helps if your bad guys are remotely scary.
One of the subplots involves the heist of a dog valued at $1 million dollars from the pet store where Grumpy Cat lives. The criminals behind the caper have rock-star aspirations, which we know because one has long hair and a Steven Tyler-esque affinity for scarves, while the other wears a leather jacket and eyeliner. (So edgy!) They’re not just amateurish; they’re completely non-threatening, like Home Alone‘s Wet Bandits but without the undercurrent of menace (all apologies to Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci). The requisite third-act plot twist reveals a third accomplice, but he’s as harmless as the rocker bros.

9. Joking about product placement doesn’t make said product placement any better.
Even though the mall in which the story takes place is referred to as a “soul-sucking bastion of consumerism,” the producers didn’t miss an opportunity to shove references to Grumpy Cat merch into the movie. The first comes not even 10 minutes in (buy Grumpy Cat T-shirts!), and a couple more follow. Ha ha, isn’t this funny, us poking fun at how much we want you to buy stuff? Not really — it’s more of a reminder of how crass this whole enterprise is to begin with.

MORE: In Pics: The 10 Worst Movies of 2014 So Far

10. If you talk to cats, people will think you’re crazy.
In the movie, Chyrstal is the only person who can hear Grumpy speak; even though this ultimately helps her outsmart the bad guys, she still gets teased about having an imaginary friend. The lesson: If you can hear a cat talking to you — particularly a very famous, slightly misanthropic Internet cat — it’s probably best to keep it to yourself.

TIME Music

‘The Art of McCartney’: The Making of a Massive Tribute Album

Sir Paul McCartney attends 2014 Women's Leadership Award Honoring Stella McCartney at Lincoln Center on Nov. 13, 2014 in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris—Getty Images Sir Paul McCartney attends 2014 Women's Leadership Award Honoring Stella McCartney at Lincoln Center on Nov. 13, 2014 in New York City.

McCartney covers LP may have the most impressive lineup ever

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

Over the past two decades, producer Ralph Sall has assembled all-star albums honoring everything from Saturday-morning cartoon themes to the Grateful Dead. In 2003, he decided to embark on his biggest project yet: a massive Paul McCartney tribute record. “I never realized this would take me 10 years,” Sall says.

MORE: In Pics: The 12 Strangest Paul McCartney Songs

The Art of McCartney, a 42-track set out November 18th, took so long for a very good reason – nearly everyone Sall approached said yes. The album has one of the most impressive lineups of any tribute record ever: from Brian Wilson, who covered the 1982 deep cut “Wanderlust,” to Billy Joel (“Maybe I’m Amazed”), to Chrissie Hynde (“Let It Be”). The biggest coup of all: Bob Dylan, who rarely participates in these sorts of projects. Dylan chose to tackle “Things We Said Today.” “I was surprised he decided to take part,” says Sall. “That’s not the song I would have picked, but it sure fits him.”

MORE: Paul McCartney: The Long and Winding Q&A

Willie Nelson contributed a stark acoustic “Yesterday,” though it’s not his first time covering the song. “I recorded it when it first hit the market,” Nelson says. “I had a band in Fort Worth, and I told the audience, ‘Here’s a pretty good song I heard by a little country group called the Beatles.’ I just think McCartney is one of the best songwriters around.”

MORE: In Pics: Paul McCartney – A Life in Pictures

In most cases, Sall personally matched the song with the artist he wanted to cover it, and McCartney’s backing band – whom McCartney loaned Sall for the project – provided the backing. Sammy Hagar, who did “Birthday,” was stunned he was asked to participate. “I might have gone with ‘Let Me Roll It’ or ‘Maybe I’m Amazed,’ ” he says. “But ‘Birthday’ does fit my voice. Great guitar riff, too.”

MORE: In Pics: Behind Beatlemania: Intimate Photos of Paul McCartney

TIME Music

Bob Seger on Climate Outrage, His Internet-Free Life and Hanging With Eminem

Bob Seger performing at 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' on Oct. 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
BRO/Bauer-Griffin—GC Images Bob Seger performing at 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' on Oct. 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

"I don't use e-mail," Seger says. "No spam for me! I've had enough commercials in my life"

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

Bob Seger does things at his own pace. The Detroit icon’s new disc, Ride Out – a country-flavored collection that mixes originals with covers of songs by Steve Earle and John Hiatt – is only his second LP in nearly two decades. But it also includes his most politically outraged song ever, “It’s Your World,” marking Seger’s coming-out as a climate-change activist. “I’m sure this will alienate some fans,” says Seger, who’s about to launch an arena tour. “But I’m 69. What the heck can they do to me now?”

Most of your peers tour all the time, but you only go out every few years. Do you just naturally crave the spotlight less than they do?
It’s never been important for me to be a public figure. I just read a book by Susan Cain [Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking]​. I said, “Oh, my God, that’s me.”

You’re an introvert about to go on a huge arena tour.
It’s very strange. The road, to me, is a way to expose my songs and nothing more.

Are you going to play a lot of new songs?
We’ll probably start with just five or six per show. I’ll keep playing ones that people really want to hear, like “Mainstreet,” “Night Moves,” “The Fire Down Below.” But by January, I’d like half the show to be new songs.

How do you get in shape for a tour?
Well, right now I’m 10 pounds overweight. I do a TV spot in Los Angeles in 11 days, and by then I’ll be down to my tour weight. I do a hundred-plus miles a month outside on a bike with big, fat tires that make it hard to pedal. I do weight lifts and sit-ups for 90 minutes every other day.

Do you still smoke?
Oh, yeah.

Are you trying to quit?
No. [Big laugh] Some old people never change.

Have your kids tried to make you?
I don’t smoke around them. and I don’t when I work out. I don’t smoke nearly as much as people think, because a lot of them just burn down to nothing.

What made you decide it was time to write about political issues?
There’s a [recent] U.N. report saying that climate change isn’t coming – it’s here right now. It stuns me that people like Marco Rubio, who seems fairly bright, would say climate change isn’t caused by humans.

A lot of your fans probably agree with Rubio.
I’ve been told a good deal of my fan base is Republican. But I don’t think they all deny global warming. I think with a lot of them, cash is king and they want the jobs. I can understand that, but not if it’s gonna wreck the future for our kids.

MORE: Bob Seger to Hit the Road on 23-Date North American Tour

You cover Steve Earle’s “The Devil’s Right Hand” on this album. Do you see that as an anti-gun song?
I would say that it’s anti-violence. I’ve always liked that song. I saw Waylon Jennings play it at the end of that movie Betrayed. I thought, “Wow, does that ever sum up this movie?” It’s a movie with horrific violence. This extremely radical, anti-government groups are killing black people. It’s a tough movie to watch.

It’s not a country album, but there’s definitely elements of country music sprinkled in there.
Well, I listen to a lot of country music because my wife loves it. It’s permeating the house and there’s some really good songwriting in country. They really work hard at songwriting. If it’s a song you really like, I don’t want to change it. I don’t want to do “Adam and Eve” with an electric guitar. I wrote “Fireman’s Talkin’,” which is another one. You could say that’s country-sounding, but I just called it crazed-bluegrass myself.

You cut Ride Out with session pros in Nashville. Did the guys in the Silver Bullet Band mind that they weren’t invited to play on the album?
They understand. It would have taken longer to work with them, because they’re not used to the studio. It’s so quick to record down in Nashville. It reminds me of Muscle Shoals back in the Seventies. They plug in and sound like a record. I was able to fly down there in 90 minutes, cut two songs and then fly home the same day.

What’s your goal for this album? It’s nearly impossible for veteran artists to get music on the radio these days. Top 40 is just dominated by really young pop stars.
You’ve got that right. I listen to what my daughter plays, and it’s all really young artists. You know, I just try and write good songs. If people play them, that’s great. I still think people buy records, maybe for an artist they still care about.

You make it hard to get your albums though. This new one is on iTunes, but let’s say I want to buy Against the Wind or Night Moves. There are no more record stores.
Well, there’s Walmart, Target and Best Buy. Then there’s Borders…Wait, that’s gone. But there’s Barnes and Noble. There are places you can get it. Of course, you can just buy it from Amazon. There are ways to get it if you really like.

Right, but why not have your whole catalog on Spotify, or at least iTunes?
It’s an ongoing issue with my manager and Capitol Records. You have to talk to him about that. They agreed to something many years ago about new media and they don’t want to live up to it. The record business is 50 percent of what it was ten years ago, so they’re trying to cut costs. Until that’s resolved, we let very little out.

MORE: In Pics: The 10 Best Bob Seger Songs

Does this stalemate frustrate you?
Yeah, it does. I wish people could get any song at any time.

Do you ever use Spotify yourself?
No, I don’t stream. I do a lot of listening to music though. I listen to satellite radio. I might listen to the bluegrass station on Sirius or the BB King blues channel. I also listen to local radio.

Do you ever go on Twitter or Facebook?

Why not?
I don’t know. [Laughs] I just have no desire to be that public, I guess. It takes up too much time. I read a funny thing that said “We’re raising screen-agers now.” That’s because they’re always staring at their phones or their pads or whatever. I want to get a little more out of life than looking at a screen. Wait, I should say my office has a Facebook page for me, but I have no idea what’s on it. Occasionally, they’ll ask me a question and I’ll put my answer on it.

Do you use a smartphone?
Oh, yeah. I have an iPhone 5S. I use it for texting. I like my old Blackberry better because of the typing.

Do you ever use the Internet?
Not really. I don’t use the computer much at all, mostly just to write lyrics.

What about e-mail?
No. No spam for me! I’ve had enough commercials in my life.

The vast majority of your early albums have been out print for decades. When are you going to re-release them?
I’m going to eventually do a collection. I’ve been working on it for years. I’ve got so many albums, but I just keep waiting for the right time to release them. It’ll probably happen when the download issue gets settled.

When do you think that might happen?
Probably in the next few years.

I just looked up your 1971 album Brand New Morning on Amazon. The cheapest vinyl was $200.
Oh my! That’s probably just collectors.

MORE: In Pics: The 10 Best Live Albums of All Time

Right, and it just shows how hard it is to be a hardcore fan of your work. You really gotta search for this stuff.
I’m sorry about all this. But, nevertheless, I’ve had the same manager for 49 years and he’s been right most of the time. And I hate to get into that area. He doesn’t mess with my music and I don’t mess with his area. That’s all I can say about that. [Kid] Rock followed my lead for many years. He didn’t download anything because he thought it would kill CD sales. Of course, we all hope people for the CD because that’s the highest quality.

You’re also the only artist I can think of never to release a DVD, documentary or even a box set.
I’m waiting for the right time. Once the issue is settled I can get everything out there.

How are you adjusting to your kids being out of the house?
They’re not quite out yet. They go to college near us. I’m happy as heck they’re still around because I adore them. I think my daughter is going to be the first to go. She’s 19 and wants to go to Nashville or New York next year for school. That’s going to kill me. She wants to be in music management. You know, I recently took her and her boyfriend to see Eminem and Rihanna. She got to meet a CAA agent there.

How did you enjoy the show?
It was sensational. Em is so good. The agent told us that Rihanna is even bigger than Beyoncé in Europe and Asia.

Do you know Eminem?
I’ve met him a few times. I really like him. He’s got a daughter and we talk about kids and stuff like that. I’ve used his studio and he’s always very gracious about that. He never stops working. He goes five days a week.

Do you mind that when many people think of you, their first image is Tom Cruise dancing around in his underwear to “Old Time Rock and Roll”?
No. It’s an iconic moment. I get a kick out of it. It’s been parodied by many people: Nicole Kidman, Ron Reagan Jr. . . .

When was the last time you watched Risky Business?
It’s been a while. I’m more into Liam Neeson. I never miss anything he does. I liked The Grey, which a lot of people hated. The director is from Detroit, and I was rooting for him.

Are you going to see Taken 3?
I have to see the second one first, but I will.

What’s your favorite TV show?
The Good Wife. I love the writing. I try to never miss it.

So many stars your age do whatever they can to look younger. Why do you think you avoided that mindset?
I messed with hair dye in the Nineties, and it felt so phony. You know that joke about Kenny Rogers? They had a look-alike contest and he came in third.

Are you gonna keep touring when you’re in your seventies?
I don’t know. I’d hate to be one of those people that does a farewell tour. The introvert inside me tells me, “Make the decision slowly.” I’ll know when it feels right to stop.

MORE: Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time

TIME Music

Lorde Talks Hunger Games Soundtrack

Lorde attends the World Premiere of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" on Nov. 10, 2014 in London, England.
Karwai Tang—WireImage Lorde attends the World Premiere of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1" on Nov. 10, 2014 in London, England.

"For me it's all about what I want to say with the records"

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

It’s been just over a year since Lorde released her now-platinum debut, Pure Heroine, where she sang wistfully about “getting on my first plane.” The 18-year-old has since racked up major frequent-flier miles, becoming an alt-pop cultural icon (two South Park parodies in one month!) along the way. In October, her tour finally led back to her native New Zealand: “It definitely feels like a bit of a victory lap,” she says. She’s also found time to assemble an eclectic soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – and to give passing thought to a new album of her own. Here’s what we learned checking in with pop’s most talented teen.

MORE: Lorde Shares Alluring ‘Hunger Games’ Single ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’

She’s the Boss
“Everyone my age read the books and saw the films,” Lorde says of Hunger Games. “I got a call: ‘You’ve been asked to write the end-credit song.’ But I wanted ownership in the process. They came back: ‘Would you like to do the soundtrack?’ I was like, ‘Uh, that would work.'” She appeared on five tracks, including a Diplo-produced duet with Ariana Grande and a collaboration with the Chemical Brothers and R&B star Miguel (“He’s the best possible person with vocal melodies that I know”) – and also got Kanye West to “rework” her single “Yellow Flicker Beat.” (“He’s so private I feel weird talking about how he does stuff. I feel lucky to even be in a room with him.”)

In addition to Grace Jones (“this high priestess presiding over us all”) and Charli XCX, the LP spotlights rising artists like Raury, Tinashe and XOV – “artists I heard on YouTube and had 10,000 hits. I thought what they were doing was cool and could be taken to a different, interesting place.”

MORE: In Pics: Lorde: The Rolling Stone Cover Shoot

Nirvana Changed Her Life
Lorde is still processing her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance with the surviving members of Nirvana last April. “I knew it was a big deal,” she says, “but I don’t think I really understood how much weight those three minutes had. It was over in the blink of an eye for me, but it’s kind of lasted. There’s a song on the soundtrack that’s just me and an organ, and it’s cool to hear my voice again in that kind of vein that I did with ‘All Apologies.'”

MORE: Rolling Stone’s 25 Greatest Movie Soundtracks of All Time

She’s Taking Her Time With Her Next Album
“I’m very tentatively starting,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of writing, lyrically, but I started the soundtrack just as I was getting into album stuff, and that took up all of my creative head. But I have been plotting out ideas. I guess other people don’t write like that, but for me it’s all about what I want to say with the records. I don’t really have any sort of timetable. I’m not in any kind of rush. Part of me thinks that the longer I leave it, the better a musician I’ll be. [Laughs] I used to do the same thing with homework! But I don’t know if I’ll be good at having time off.”

MORE: Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time

TIME celebrities

Being Bill Murray

Actor Bill Murray goes jogging in black tie outside of "Late Show with David Letterman" on October 15, 2014 in New York City.
Taylor Hill—WireImage Actor Bill Murray goes jogging in black tie outside of "Late Show with David Letterman" on October 15, 2014 in New York City.

When you’re one of the most beloved stars in the world, you can get away with almost anything. So what’s that kind of freedom like?

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

Many of us have random impulses, but Bill Murray is the man who acts on them, for all of us. Consider, for example, the time a couple of years ago when he caught a cab late at night in Oakland. Facing a long drive across the bay to Sausalito, he started talking with his cabbie and discovered that his driver was a frustrated saxophone player: He never had enough time to practice, because he was driving a taxi 14 hours a day. Murray told the cabbie to pull over and get his horn out of the trunk; the cabbie could play it in the back seat while Murray drove.

As he tells this story, Murray is sitting on a couch in a Toronto hotel. Wearing a rumpled shirt with purple stripes, he looks like he’d rather be playing golf than doing an interview. But his eyes light up as he remembers the sound of the cab’s trunk opening: “This is gonna be a good one,” he thought. “We’re both going to dig the shit out of this.” Then he decided to “go all the way” and asked the back-seat saxophonist if he was hungry. The cabbie knew a great late-night BBQ place, but worried that it was in a sketchy neighborhood. “I was like, ‘Relax, you got the horn,'” says Murray. So around 2:15 a.m., Bill Murray ate Oakland barbecue while his cab driver blew on the saxophone for an astonished crowd. “It was awesome,” Murray says. “I think we’d all do that.”

In fact, most of us wouldn’t (although we probably should). Most of us don’t crash strangers’ karaoke parties, or get behind a bar in Austin to fulfill all drink orders from whatever random bottle was handy, or give a kid $5 to ride his bike into a swimming pool. Murray has done all those things, and more. The world has an apparently bottomless hunger for true stories of Bill Murray making strangers’ lives stranger, and he obliges, whether he’s stealing a golf cart and driving it to a nightclub in Stockholm or reading poetry to construction workers. He makes our world a little bit weirder, the mundane routines of everyday life a little more exciting, or as Naomi Watts puts it, “Wherever he goes, he’s leaving a trail of hysteria behind him.”

When Lost in Translation was released in 2003 (Murray got an Oscar nomination for playing an aging movie star stranded in the same luxury Tokyo hotel as Scarlett Johansson), I asked director Sofia Coppola what her wish for the following year was. She looked startled. “My wish came true,” she said. “Bill Murray did my movie.”

Murray, 64, has not made it easy to get him to be in your movie. Unlike any other actor of his stature, he has no agent, no manager, no publicist. If you want to cast him, you get a friend of his to persuade him. Or you call his secret 1-800 number and leave your pitch after the tone. If he checks his voicemail, maybe he’ll call you back. After he agrees to be in your movie, you may not hear from him again until the first day of shooting, when he’ll show up in the makeup trailer, cracking jokes and giving back rubs. Sometimes his inaccessibility means that he misses out on films he would have excelled in – Little Miss Sunshine, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Monsters, Inc. – but Murray isn’t particularly concerned. It’s a worthwhile trade-off for him, considering that what he gets in return is freedom.

“Bill’s whole life is in the moment,” says Ted Melfi, who directed Murray in the new movie St. Vincent. “He doesn’t care about what just happened. He doesn’t think about what’s going to happen. He doesn’t even book round-trip tickets. Bill buys one-ways and then decides when he wants to go home.”

To persuade Murray to be in his movie, Melfi left a dozen voicemail messages, sent a letter, mailed scripts to P.O. boxes all over the country – and then on a Sunday morning, he got a text asking him to meet Murray at LAX an hour later. They drove through the desert for three hours, stopping at an In-N-Out Burger for grilled-cheese sandwiches, and by the end of the ride Murray had signed on. Melfi had one request: Please tell somebody else that this happened, because nobody is ever going to believe me.

MORE: Bill Murray Talks Turning Down ‘Forrest Gump,’ ‘Philadelphia’ Roles

Murray plays the title role in St. Vincent: a Vietnam vet with a weakness for booze and gambling. He becomes the cantankerous baby sitter for the kid next door, in a relationship that feels like a reprise of 1979’s Meatballs, if Murray’s counselor character, Tripper Harrison, had a few decades of hard living under his belt. The movie walks the line of mawkishness, but it works because of Murray’s unsentimental performance.

Like all of Murray’s best film work, it originates in his stress-free mentality. “Someone told me some secrets early on about living,” Murray tells a crowd of Canadian film fans celebrating “Bill Murray Day” that same weekend. “You can do the very best you can when you’re very, very relaxed.” He says that’s why he got into acting: “I realized the more fun I had, the better I did.” On the set, the pleasure he takes in performing doesn’t end when the camera stops rolling.

“It was sometimes challenging to get Bill to come to set,” Melfi says, “not because he’s a diva but because we couldn’t find him.” He would wander away, or hop on a scooter, or drop by an Army recruiting center. The movie hired a production assistant just to follow Murray around, but he was always able to lose her.

Murray’s St. Vincent co-star Melissa McCarthy confides, “Bill literally throws banana peels in front of people.” I assume she’s using “literally” to mean “metaphorically,” as many people do, but it turns out to be true: Once during a break in filming when the lights were getting reset, Murray tossed banana peels in the paths of passing crew members. “Not to make them slip,” McCarthy clarifies, “but for the look on their face when they’re like, ‘Is that really a banana peel in front of me?'”

Murray transforms even the most mundane interactions into opportunities for improvisational comedy. Peter Chatzky, a financial-software developer from Briarcliff Manor, New York, remembers being on vacation at a hotel in Naples, Florida, when his grade-school kids spotted Murray having a drink poolside and asked him for autographs. Murray gruffly offered to inscribe their forearms but ended up writing on a couple of napkins instead. Jake, a skinny kid, got “Maybe lose a little weight, bud,” signed “Jim Belushi.” Julia got “Looking good, princess. Call me,” signed “Rob Lowe.”

Murray grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, the fifth of nine children. His father, a lumber salesman, died when Bill was 17. He spent his 20th birthday in jail, having been busted at a Chicago airport with eight and a half pounds of weed. After he got out on probation, he pursued acting; six years later, he broke through on the second season of Saturday Night Live. These days, Murray spends a lot of his time in Charleston, South Carolina, where he is part-owner of the minor-league baseball team the Charleston RiverDogs. As “director of fun,” Murray will dress up in a hot dog costume, or even run around the tarp-covered diamond during a rain delay, concluding with a belly-flop slide – safe at home. So many people in Charleston have Bill Murray stories and sightings that a local radio station instituted a regular “Where’s Bill?” feature.

MORE: In Pics: A Short History of Bill Murray’s Offscreen Antics

Recently, Murray attended a birthday dinner in Jedburg, South Carolina, invited by the chef Brett McKee. “My youngest daughter used to date his youngest son,” McKee says. “The party was in the middle of freaking nowhere, with people Bill didn’t know, and he was great – he was just hanging out like a regular dude. A couple of the guests were old country people, and they were showing him their moose calls.” After dinner, there was dancing; Murray commandeered the remote control and was captured on video getting down to his selections: Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny,” and DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What.”

In April, Ashley Donald and her fiancé, Erik Rogers, were in downtown Charleston, posing for their engagement photos in front of historic houses. “As our photographer took a picture,” she recalls, “we noticed a guy standing behind him, lifting his shirt over his face and rubbing his belly.” Then he pulled down his shirt, revealing that he was Bill Murray. The betrothed couple were flabbergasted, but had enough presence of mind to ask him to take a picture with them. Murray posed, congratulated them and kept walking.

Murray made international news in May when he gave a toast at tech-startup manager EJ Rumpke’s bachelor party, at a steakhouse in Charleston. Murray didn’t technically crash – one of Rumpke’s friends spotted him at the restaurant and invited him – but he took the opportunity to drop some bona fide wisdom, telling the guys that just as funerals are actually for the living, bachelor parties are actually for unmarried friends. He advised the guests that if they found someone they thought they wanted to spend their lives with, they shouldn’t plan a wedding and book a caterer, but should travel around the world. And if they were still in love on their return to the States, “get married at the airport.”

“He grabbed my leg and threw me up in the air,” Rumpke says. “And then he snuck out.” Rumpke got married without a global journey, but Murray says that one of his own friends tried the scheme – and it worked out terribly. “The next time I saw him, he leapt all over me, because he was on his way down the slippery chute and he found out that was really the wrong thing,” Murray says with a grin. “He was very happy about it.”

The website urban dictionary defines “Bill Murray Story” as “an outlandish (yet plausible) story that involves you witnessing Bill Murray doing something totally unusual, often followed by him walking up to you and whispering, ‘No one will ever believe you.’ ” Ask Murray about his reputation as the master of surreal celebrity encounters and he grimaces, not eager to explain his motivations. But he will concede that he’s aware of how his presence is received. “No one has an easy life,” he says. “It’s this face we put on, that we’re not all getting rained on. But you can’t start thinking about numbers – if I can change just one person, or I had three nice encounters. You can’t think that way, because you’re certainly going to have one where you say, ‘What did I just do?’ You’re a disappointment to yourself, and others, imminently. Any second.”

Sitting at a table in the upscale Toronto restaurant Montecito, which he co-owns, filmmaker Ivan Reitman laughs as he remembers a day 40 years ago. He was producing a theatrical revue called The National Lampoon Show, starring John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and Bill’s brother Brian – before SNL. Reitman walked down the streets of New York with Bill, who was totally unknown, but was already treating the universe as his own private playground. Murray adopted what they called “the honker voice” – the obnoxious voice he later used in Caddyshack. “As we were walking across the street,” Reitman says, “he would yell at the top of his lungs, ‘Watch out! There’s a lobster loose!’ He would see somebody in the street and say, ‘Hey, get some hot butter, it’s the only way to get ’em!’ They would start laughing. They didn’t know who this crazy person was, but they knew he was funny.”

MORE: In Pics: The 20 Greatest Bill Murray Movies

In 1978, when Reitman was putting together Meatballs, he spent a month persuading the 27-year-old Murray to do the movie. At that point, he had a phone number that you could actually get him on. Murray wanted to spend his summer off from Saturday Night Live playing baseball and golf, but Reitman pleaded, and Belushi advised Murray that it didn’t matter what the movie was, so long as he was the star. Meatballs set the template for Murray’s working methods: He closed his deal the day before the movie started shooting and routinely ignored the script. His first day, he improvised his way through a scene where he’s introducing all the counselors-in-training – he showed up, read the pages and threw them away, saying, “I got this.”

When Murray first saw an action scene cut together from 1984’s Ghostbusters, he says, “I knew then I was going to be rich and famous. Not only did I go back to work with a lot of attitude, I was late. I didn’t care – I knew that we could be late every day for the rest of our lives.”

Reitman leans back. “He lives his life to his standard, even though sometimes he’s lazy and sometimes he’s eccentric, and he’s frustrating to other creative people, and, frankly, unfair, because everything has to go on his clock,” he says. “But he’s worth it.”

Melfi says there’s no difference between the public Murray and the private Murray: “What you see is what you get. He throws people in the pool in public, and he throws people in the pool in private.”

Sitting in his hotel room, Murray gently disagrees. “The private me just gets lost and wanders, and is more easily bushwhacked and taken down for dreaming nonsensical stuff. The public me can get a bit more emotional because people are pushing my buttons. But when I’m at my best? The working part of me. I get a lot more done. By really getting into your work, the nonessential stuff drops away.” Through this lens, Murray’s ongoing adventures with the public can be considered an effort to make real life more like the movies.

In 2011, Murray filmed a promotional video for the Trident Academy near Charleston; one of his six sons was a student there. (Murray has been married and divorced twice.) Director David W. Smith was working on the shoot. “He came in hot and a little grumpy,” Smith says. “He was about 30 minutes late, and he complained that there were too many lights. He had a script, but he sat down in the school library and ad-libbed the whole thing. He got all these teddy bears and had a conversation with them. We’re looking at each other – this guy is off-his-face crazy – but there was a method to his madness.”

Murray loosened up as he played basketball with the school’s kids, and stuck around for lunch (his request: a tuna sandwich with no crusts), ultimately signing autographs and taking pictures. Smith recalls, “As the shoot went on, he became more and more like the guy that everyone thinks they know, which I guess is who he actually is.” Smith asked Murray if he would walk down the hall with the crew members so they could make a short film of it. Murray was confused, but he complied – when the camera cut, he kept walking, heading to his car without breaking stride.

Smith played the footage in slow motion, set an old Kinks song to it and had a short Bill Murray film that looked like an outtake from a Wes Anderson movie. Ultimately, about 2 million people watched an online one-minute film of Bill Murray (and four other guys) walking down a hallway in slow motion. Smith had internalized one of Murray’s principles: Don’t accept the world as it is, but find some way to inject life into its most mundane moments.

Another essential Murray principle: Wear your wisdom lightly, so insights arrive as punch lines. When pressed about his interactions with the public, he admits that the encounters are, to a certain extent, “selfish.” Murray shifts his weight on the couch and explains, “My hope, always, is that it’s going to wake me up. I’m only connected for seconds, minutes a day, sometimes. And suddenly, you go, ‘Holy cow, I’ve been asleep for two days. I’ve been doing things, but I’m just out.’ If I see someone who’s out cold on their feet, I’m going to try to wake that person up. It’s what I’d want someone to do for me. Wake me the hell up and come back to the planet.”

Doing a Q&A at a Toronto movie theater, Murray is asked, “How does it feel to be Bill Murray?” – and he takes the extremely meta query seriously, asking the audience to consider the sensation of self-awareness. “There’s a wonderful sense of well-being that begins to circulate . . . up and down your spine,” Murray says. “And you feel something that makes you almost want to smile. So what’s it like to be me? Ask yourself, ‘What’s it like to be me?‘ The only way we’ll ever know what it’s like to be you is if you work your best at being you as often as you can, and keep reminding yourself that’s where home is.” As the audience applauds, Bill Murray smiles inscrutably, alone in a crowded room, safe at home.

MORE: Rolling Stone’s 50 Funniest People Now

TIME Music

Stevie Nicks on Twirling, Kicking Drugs and a Lifetime With Lindsey

Stevie Nicks performs at Madison Square Garden on October 7, 2014 in New York City.
Kevin Mazur—WireImage Stevie Nicks performs at Madison Square Garden on October 7, 2014 in New York City.

"Of all the elite bands of the Seventies, we're the only one touring with the same lineup we had in 1975"

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

You can’t keep a gold dust woman down — and Stevie Nicks is one busy gypsy these days. In the past few years, she’s made two of her best solo albums, toured the world with Fleetwood Mac and sung for the witches of American Horror Story. Her excellent new 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault has songs she’s written over the years but never recorded before, reaching back to 1969. This fall she hits the road again with the Mac — this time with the long-lost Christine McVie back in the fold. “The five original cast members,” Nicks says proudly. “Of all the elite bands of the Seventies, we’re the only one touring with the same lineup we had in 1975.”

The rock goddess took a break from band rehearsals for a late-night chat, calling from her house by the ocean, gazing out onto the waves in Santa Monica while discussing music, memories, drugs, hats, ponchos, band politics, her “Crackhead Dance” and the essence of twirling.

What’s it like playing with the whole Mac again?
We’re starting from scratch. The Christine songs are brand new to us after 16 years, and God bless her, she has to learn them all over again. She came up with that part in “Silver Springs.” [Stevie sings piano solo] She hasn’t played those songs in 16 years. And I am here to tell you that none of us just sit around listening to Fleetwood Mac records. We’re always moving forward, so once we finish something, we’re on to the next thing. It’s not like we have record parties and listen to our old stuff.

So you’re back on the road with Fleetwood Mac — a week before you release your solo album.
I’m running two careers at the same time. But I don’t walk into band rehearsals and expound upon the record I just made, because I am a smart woman. I’m not pushing it down their throats — I’m not trying to cause any trouble here. Nobody from Fleetwood Mac has heard this record yet. When the time comes to hear it, they’ll like it. Lindsey will love it — half of these songs are about him!

Lindsey actually likes that?
Well, of course! We write about each other, we have continually written about each other, and we’ll probably keep writing about each other until we’re dead. That’s what we have always been to each other. Together, we have been through great success, great misunderstandings, a great musical connection. He has more appreciation for that now — I think it’s because he has two little daughters and a lovely wife, so he’s really in Girl World now. That’s gotta soften him up a little bit. He’s more aware of a feminine point of view.

How did you record these songs so fast?
Fleetwood Mac took a three-month break, and I thought, “I don’t wanna just sit around. But I don’t have time to make a record. Or do I?” So I called Dave Stewart and we went to Nashville. We cut all the tracks in three weeks.

We should all have your energy level.
And without drugs! [Laughs] If somebody had told me back then, “You don’t really need to do barrels full of cocaine — you have the energy. You were born with it. You never need drugs to do your work.” But we got thrown into a bad time in the world when everybody said cocaine was inspirational and safe and non-addictive. And everybody was having fun, until they weren’t. It sort of backfired.

MORE: Hanging Out at Stevie Nicks’ House: An Intimate Interview With the Iconic Singer

When you did “Stand Back” on the last tour, I counted 18 twirls during the guitar solo. Are you ever tempted to just stand there and take it easy onstage?
Well, I’m very practiced at twirling. I would be so bored if I was up there just standing. I took a lot of ballet — I always wanted to work the dancing in. The reason I wear the ponchos and the big shawl-y chiffon things is because I realized from a very young age, if you were 5 foot 1, and you wanted to make big moves and be seen from a long way away, if you weren’t twirling a baton of fire, you needed something that was gonna make you show up. Like a Las Vegas showgirl, really. You need big moves. If you’re gonna dance, you gotta really dance.

I do this long dance during “Gold Dust Woman” — we call it the Crackhead Dance. It’s me being some of the drug addicts I knew, and probably being myself too — just being that girl lost on the streets, freaked out with no idea how to find her way. Years ago Lindsay would have said, “You can not do the Crackhead Dance onstage. Lose that.” But now he likes it, because it gives him a chance to jam and play guitar. When Christine saw it, she said, “Wow, we’ve always known that ‘Gold Dust Woman’ was about the serious drug days, but this really depicts how frightening it was for all of us and what we were willing to do for it.’ We were dancing on the edge for years.

“Mabel Normand” on the new album has a sad story. Why did you relate to her?
Mabel Normand was a movie star from the 1920s. A beautiful girl who had it all at her fingertips, until she got into the drug world. She was a really bad cocaine addict — and this is the Twenties. I watched a documentary about her in 1985, my worst time, six or seven months before I went into Betty Ford. She was like me: If I bought coke for me, I also bought it for 500 of my closest friends. And if you’re buying drugs for you and all your friends, and you’re the only one who has money, and then somebody’s trying to get you off drugs, the seedy side of the drug-dealer world isn’t happy about that.

MORE: Stevie Nicks Details Release Plan for New Solo Album ’24 Karat Gold’

Did you ever think Christine McVie would come back?
Never. We reformed with The Dance in 1997, but that only lasted a year before Christine flipped out and said, “I just can’t do this any more — I’m having panic attacks.” She sold her house and car and piano and moved back to England, never really to be heard from again. Then last year she called me and said, “This is crazy — I don’t need to sit out here in this castle 40 miles outside London watching gardening shows. I’m ready to come back to the world.” So I said, “Chris, it’s your band and we’d love to have you back. So meet up with us in Dublin and see the rock monster we’ve become. And get a trainer.”

One of the great moments in the Mac live show is when the roadie brings out your top hat for the encore. Does the hat have its own roadie?
Absolutely, because that’s the one. It’s a very special top hat — it’s from the 1920s, that one, and you can’t find another one like it. So the hat has its own roadie, its own box and its own cage — it’s always protected.

People really lose it when you sing “I’m getting older too” in “Landslide.” Yet you were so young when you wrote that song.
I was only 27 — I wrote that in 1973, a year before I joined Fleetwood Mac. You can feel really old at 27.

MORE: In Pics: Stevie Nicks’ Life in Photos

My favorite song of yours is “Ooh My Love,” from 1989. People always forget that one.
That’s one of my favorites too. In fact, The Other Side of the Mirror is probably my favorite album. Those songs were written right before the Klonopin kicked in. “In the shadow of the castle walls” — that song was very important to me. I was lucky those songs were written when they were, before that nasty tranquilizer. It was a really intense record. People don’t talk about that record much, but it was different from all the others. It was a moment in time. I had gotten away from the cocaine in 1986. I spent a year writing those songs. I was drug-free and I was happy.

Then the Klonopin really kicked in. To go from The Other Side of the Mirror to Street Angel…that was difficult. I was a wreck and the album was a wreck. They’re called “tranquilizers” for a reason. You stop being so committed. This doctor had me on it for eight years. Forty-seven days in rehab to get off Klonopin was way more horrific than 30 days to get off coke. The word “tranquilizer” should scare people to death. Xanax should scare people to death. My godson died three years ago at a frat party — Xanax and alcohol, goodbye.

This doctor was a groupie — he just wanted to hear me tell stories about rock & roll. So he kept upping my dose for years. Finally I said, “I’m taking enough Klonopin every day to sink a boat. That’s why I gained all this weight, and that’s why my writing is terrible, and that’s why The Other Side of the Mirror was the last good record I made. This was all your idea.”

How do you get past that anger?
That doctor — he’s the only person in my life I can honestly say I will never forgive. All those years I lost — I could have maybe met somebody or had a baby or done a few more Fleetwood Mac albums or Stevie Nicks albums. So I’ll never forgive him. If I saw him on the street and I was driving — well, I don’t have a drivers license and it’s good, because I would just run him down.

You’ve been on such a creative roll lately. How does it feel to revisit these old songs?
It’s always intense to look back, but it’s always good to remember who you were and what it was like then. It makes me remember how beautiful and frightening it all was. So many of these songs are about me and Lindsey moving to L.A. in 1971, asking each other, “Now what? Should we go back to San Francisco? Should we quit?” We were scared kids in this big huge flat city where we had no friends and no money. But we didn’t quit.

I believe Lindsey and I would have made it if we’d stayed in San Francisco. He does too. If we never joined Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham Nicks would have taken off. We would have stayed together, gotten married, had a kid — and then we probably would have gotten divorced, because it would have been too hard. There’s this whole other way it could have gone.

But all those little songs, all that pain I went through — it got me here. I look around me now — I’m in my little house right now, looking out at the beautiful ocean, picturing my dad leaning against the wall over there like a ghost, saying, “Do you realize what a lucky girl you are?” I’m lucky that my favorite evening is still going to a grand piano in a beautiful room with incense and candles and sitting down to write a song for the world.

MORE: In Pics: The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Songs

There are so many young new rock artists who are obviously hardcore fans of yours — Sharon Van Etten and White Lung and Sky Ferreira.
It’s sweet how that happens. It’s crazy to think about all these people listening who weren’t born back then. We put “Seven Wonders” back in the set because of American Horror Story. Our monitor guy said, “I’m not familiar with that song.” I said, “Because it came out when you were two.”

You’re like David Bowie that way — every generation discovers you.
Well, I’m a big fan of David Bowie. Especially his movie The Hunger, with Susan Sarandon and Catherine Denueve. Just creepy and strange and amazingly beautiful. I’m always surprised Bowie didn’t make more vampire movies.

TIME Music

How Meghan Trainor Became 2014’s Most Unlikely Pop Star

Meghan Trainor attends the "All About That Bass" #1 Party on October 14, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Ed Rode—Getty Images Meghan Trainor attends the "All About That Bass" #1 Party on October 14, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee.

20-year-old star discusses her biggest hit, celebrity encounters and songwriting breakthrough

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

For the past seven weeks, the Number One song in the U.S.A. has been “All About That Bass,” Meghan Trainor’s catchy pep talk for those who don’t have model-skinny bodies. Trainor, who grew up in Nantucket, Massachusetts, had long aspired to a career in music – but she always thought it would be as a songwriter, not a singer. Now, the 20-year-old Trainor, who is brash enough to refer to herself as “M-Train,” is also modest enough to say of hitting Number One, “It’ll be OK if it never happens again.”

Her label Epic Records, however, very much wants it to happen again, so on a hot Tuesday in Los Angeles, an army of filmmakers descends on an abandoned downtown movie palace to shoot the video for Trainor’s upcoming single, “Title.” Because Trainor’s version of feminism is roughly the same as that of Sixties girl groups like the Shirelles, the song is about making sure that a guy you date gives you the title of girlfriend. Trainor, wearing a sparkly dress and a lime-green fake fur, winningly lip-syncs her way through a ska-inflected bridge while flanked by hunky guys with sashes (the video’s concept is a “Mr. America” pageant).

Between takes, Trainor is surrounded by hair and makeup people, blotting sweat and adjusting every loose strand of blonde hair. “It’s a thousand degrees in here,” she says during a break, “but I look good and I smell all right.”

What was the spark behind “All About That Bass”?
My producer Kevin [Kadish] had the title “All Bass, No Treble,” but he hadn’t figured out what to relate it to. And I was like, “What about booty?” At the time, my slang was that I’d say “I’m all about that” about everything. Kevin grew up as a chubby kid too, so he totally related. We wrote it in 40 minutes, and we were just laughing while writing it. He was the one that wrote the “skinny bitches” line. And that’s when we said, “We’ll never make a dime off this. No one will like this, no one will cut this.”

You were looking for someone else to sing it?
We tried. Labels were like, “We love this, but what do you expect us to do with it?” But L.A. [Reid, head of Epic] was the first one to say, “Who’s singing it? Go find that voice.” I met his A&R guy Paul Pontius and I sang for him. A week later, I was in L.A. and I texted him, “Wanna get some coffee?” I was just making up stuff to get his attention. He was like, “Wanna play for L.A. Reid tomorrow?” All I had was my ukelele. I was so nervous, but L.A. was doing the shoo-wop-wops and dancing with me. Then they made me wait in the conference room for 20 minutes with no cell phone, and I almost killed myself. I thought I had screwed up my whole career. Finally he came back and said, “We got you a record deal, girl!” That was one of my goals. Even if I wasn’t a pop star, I wanted to at least say I got a record deal and I got dropped.

Do you think of yourself as thick?
I ain’t teensy-weensy, but I think I’m regular. One person wrote, “I really like your song, but I wish you were bigger.” Sorry, thank you. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not.

MORE: Meghan Trainor Beats Out Superstars on Chart With Leftfield Hit

Tell me about the first song you ever wrote.
It was for my aunt and uncle. They got married when I was 11. My uncle is from Trinidad — we went there on a family vacation. We took my aunt, who was young — around 21 — so she could babysit us. This carnival performer on a truck jumped down and danced with my aunt. Apparently, I walked up to them, at age seven, and said, “You should get her number, she’s totally single.” They went on a date, and now they’re happily married with three babies. I wrote new lyrics to “Heart and Soul” on the piano and played it for them at a party.

What was the first song you wrote for yourself?
It was called “Give Me a Chance,” and it was about my brother’s friend. I wanted to dance with him one time: “I’m older now and I’m wiser. Give me one dance, I’ll kill it, you’ll love me.” I was 13. It never happened, probably because his best friend was my brother. I never let them know it was about him — that was a big secret, and now it’s out [laughs].

From there, what was the point when you thought you could do music professionally?
At 18, I got a publishing deal, so I was like, “I can do this for real and not go to college.” When I was a teenager, my parents dragged me to a lot of songwriting conventions. It’s hard on the island [Nantucket], because it’s an hour boat ride and a two-hour drive to Boston just to get on the plane. We’d pay $300, and I’d sit in a room of 20 other songwriters who would listen and judge. I’d be like, “I’m 16 and I produced that myself. Don’t hurt me; I’m very delicate.” Eventually, I got signed from one of those things, so it all worked out.

MORE: In Pics: 25 Must-Hear Albums for Fall 2014

Tell me about a mistake you made.
Growing up, I didn’t get the talk of “Make sure boys take you on a date and treat you right.” So I was the girl who wasn’t dating and would just text. I dated these guys who didn’t have jobs and I would always be paying. At one point, I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, “You’re too pretty and cool to be treated like this.” That was when I changed: “You wanna talk to me? Okay, I need food and a movie.” So when I started writing an album for the world to hear, that was one of the main concepts I wanted to get down.

What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
My dad gives good advice: “Being yourself always wins more than trying to pretend you’re someone else.” Now everyone’s coming up to me, trying to give me advice on the famous life: “You don’t know who your friends are, don’t trust nobody.” It’s supposed to be fun, right? You’re making it sound scary.

Has it been fun?
Oh, yeah. I met Cody Simpson last night. He’s, like, the Australian Justin Bieber. I haven’t met a lot of celebrities. But the guy from Workaholics, Adam DeVine, was dancing in front of us, and I was pretty starstruck. I saw Macklemore walk by at the IHeartRadio festival. Hilary Duff was the best: I got to talk to her, and I was a Lizzie McGuire fan forever. And T-Pain called me on the phone: He didn’t know who I was, but he said he wanted to do the remix. I am such a big T-Pain fan, I was trying so hard not to cry. I’d love to write with him — I think we’d write a smash.

MORE: Rolling Stone’s Top 25 Songs of 2014 So Far

What’s your favorite book?
Ah. I don’t read books. I read On the Road in high school, and that was awesome, so I guess that’s my favorite book. To Kill a Mockingbird, even though I didn’t read it, that’s the greatest story. SparkNotes came in when I was in high school, and that was the greatest invention. Reading is too soothing for me: No matter what time of day, if I’m reading a book, I’m going to fall asleep. I wish I read books because they help with talking. I want to say something in a cool way, and I can’t think that fast, especially in interviews. And if I get nervous, I stutter. If I read this and it sounds stupid, I’m going to be pissed [laughs].

Are you a confident person?
I got to be, overnight. I was so insecure, and I hated myself. I would sit in class, and I wouldn’t be bullied, but I would go in a mental cycle of “My God, he’s looking at me and I look awful right now and he hates me and I’ll never have boyfriends.” My mom would tell me, “They probably don’t think about you as much as you think.” And I have this habit of picking my skin when I’m nervous. But now? Hair and makeup helps a lot. I am finally at a point where I look in the mirror and think, “I’m looking on point today.” I never had that.

Even when the song first hit Number One, you weren’t feeling good about yourself?
When the video first got sent to me, I cried. I remember being like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” And I edited the crap out of it: We need a different shot there, my face looks weird. And they did it for me, which is amazing. And now I look like a pop star! When I got signed as a songwriter, I immediately thought, “Oh, no one sees me as an artist because I don’t look good enough.” So I shut down the whole idea. And now I hate that I ever doubted it. This is what I’m supposed to do.

Are you dating anybody these days?
I’ve never been so single! I don’t understand! If you know anyone, let ’em know.

MORE: Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time

TIME Music

Julian Casablancas’ Radical Reinvention

Musical guest Julian Casablancas and The Voidz perform at the Tonight Show on September 23, 2014.
NBC—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Musical guest Julian Casablancas and The Voidz perform at the Tonight Show on September 23, 2014.

The Strokes frontman on getting sober, lefty politics and his wild album with a new band

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

This place is pretty cool,” says Julian Casablancas. It’s a late-summer evening, and the 36-year-old Strokes frontman is browsing through a volunteer-run radical bookstore a few blocks from his Lower East Side apartment. There’s a pet white rat perched on the shoulder of the spiky-haired woman near the checkout counter, and Jimmy Cliff is on the stereo. Casablancas is leafing through a copy of Noam Chomsky’s How the World Works, then notices a book about CBGB, the historic punk club that closed in 2006. “We were about to play ‘Modern Age’ for the first time, and the sound guy shut us off,” he says, recalling an early Strokes show from 2000. “They were such dicks. I mean, the place is obviously legendary, but I didn’t cry for it when it closed. I’m like, ‘Just open one in Times Square.'”

The Strokes’ days as a club act didn’t last long: The year after that CBGB gig, Casablancas’ band would reinvigorate New York rock with its debut, Is This It, and pave the way for a generation of rockers from the Black Keys to the Arctic Monkeys. (“They opened doors for us, because we started getting booked into clubs for being a garage-rock band,” says the Keys’ Dan Auerbach.) Casablancas would become famous as the deadpan, elegantly wasted personification of New York cool. These days, though, he’s the sober, married father of a four-year-old boy, Cal, and spends most of his time at his home in upstate New York. When he stays up late, he might be jotting down passages from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States or checking out lefty websites like Truthout and Truthdig. “Anything with the word ‘truth’ in it, I’m good,” he says with a self-aware smile.

He’s also just completed a new solo record, Tyranny, released on his own label, on which he’s backed by a band called the Voidz. The album is musically dense and politically charged. It’s a far cry from the Strokes’ sharp tunes, and Casablancas is clearly OK with that. “This is the final destination – this record is what I’ve been wanting to make since the first record,” he says, referring to his debut solo LP, Phrazes for the Young. “If anything, I’m just hungry to try to inspire something as big if not bigger [than the Strokes], but with more meaning. You know? Especially now that I’m a little older.”

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Wearing torn jeans and a denim jacket, Casablancas is approachably low-key. In conversation, he’s enthusiastic and earnest, genially holding forth on issues like Net neutrality and media bias. “He’s extremely affable and outgoing these days,” says the Strokes’ longtime manager, Ryan Gentles. “I’m not talking about the guy I first met. I’m talking about now: the sober, mature, grown-up dad Julian.”

As Casablancas leaves the bookstore, he drops $5 into a jar for donations and heads out into the street. Over the next few hours, he’ll be approached by a couple of fans who treat him like an old friend. At one point, a guy carrying a skateboard and wearing a baseball cap says he loves the new stuff with the Voidz. “Thanks, man!” Casablancas says. A few moments later, he adds, “That was a cool-looking dude.”

Part of the Strokes’ early mystique came from the perceived glamour of their Manhattan private-school background. Many early stories on the band noted that Julian’s father, John Casablancas, was the founder of the massive Elite Model Management, which had supermodel clients like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell. His parents divorced when he was eight. His relationship with John was contentious, and Julian was already drinking a lot by the time he was in high school, eventually dropping out. “He was such a charming, larger-than-life guy,” Casablancas says of his dad, who died last year. “I think I always just wanted to be closer to him. That translated into teenage rebelliousness.”

He was closer to his stepfather, the artist and academic Sam Adoquei, who grew up in Ghana and introduced Casablancas to the music of radical Nigerian funk titan Fela Kuti. Adoquei has been shaping Casablancas’ view on art and music throughout his career, even offering suggestions on songwriting. (Casablancas has played a role in his stepdad’s art, as well. Adoquei’s 2011 book, Origin of Inspiration, a treatise on the best way to live a creative life, is full of ideas he used to try out on Casablancas. “I told Julian once that I wrote it because he left and became busy, and the kid I was sharing my ideas with was no longer there,” says Adoquei.) His stepdad still gives Casablancas notes on his work, sometimes tough ones. “He will sometimes say, ‘You might not like it,’ ” Adoquei says. “I am tough on junk art.”

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Tyranny incorporates everything from hardcore punk and African rhythms to metal solos and robotic voices. “We’d listen to a world-music song and a metal song, and we wanted to bridge those gaps,” Casablancas says. The writing process was sometimes emotional: Julian’s father died while his son was writing songs for Tyranny: The 11-minute-long track “Human Sadness” seems to address some of that grief when Casablancas echoes the poet Rumi: “Beyond all ideas of right and wrong there is a field/I will be meeting you there.” Says Julian, “It was intense. Even if you were not close with your father, once that leaves, it’s like the roof came off your house.”

Casablancas and the Voidz spent more than two years writing the album, and recorded it over seven months in a studio above New York’s Strand Bookstore, usually working from 7 p.m. until sunlight. “I thought I was a perfectionist until I met Julian,” says Voidz bass player Jake Bercovici. “I think we spent 20 days looking for one keyboard tone.”

Casablancas fought hard to get to this point. After the Strokes’ initial success, the youthful fun many associated with the band had evolved into a serious alcohol problem for Casablancas. He got to the point where he was drinking vodka in the morning. “I was probably charming 10 percent of the time, when I had a perfect buzz,” he says of his drinking days. “You think, ‘I’m brave and I’m crazy and I can drink.’ But it’s really like, ‘I can’t socially talk to people without having a stupid fake confidence that’s obnoxious.’ You think it’s like truth serum, but it’s more like asshole serum.”

He began a long period of recovery. “I was hungover for, like, five years. Like, literally four years after I stopped drinking, I still didn’t feel 100 percent. I still had that feeling of being a little hungover, and you just don’t want to go downstairs to the deli, and you just want to stay inside. I felt kind of really roughed up by it.”

In 2009, he released his solo debut LP, composing songs on his laptop in his apartment. At the same time, he took a step back from his leadership role in the Strokes, ceding more control of their songwriting, “keeping the peace,” he says. The results, as heard on their last two albums, 2011’s Angles and 2013’s Comedown Machine, lacked the hooks and emotional impact of their first three albums. “I maybe wasn’t as iron-fist-y as I had been in the past, but that was on purpose,” he says. “Because that created all these issues [with the rest of the Strokes]. I wouldn’t want to fight or argue about it. I was like, ‘You like it better that way? Fine.'”

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Throughout all this, the Strokes have remained a beloved, huge concert draw. Fans flew in from all over the world to see them play their first show in three years at the Capitol Theatre, in Port Chester, New York, last May. “I was almost in tears,” says Gentles. “I’ve missed a total of maybe 12 Strokes shows ever, and it was the best I’ve ever heard them.” The next week, they played at New York’s Governors Ball festival, to the largest main-stage crowd of the weekend. (After the band had finished its set, the crowd noticeably thinned out for headliner Jack White.)

The same day as the bookstore stop, Casablancas is eating dinner – an avocado salad in a Dominican restaurant where he also had lunch – and thinking about all the conflicted emotions brought up by the band and its continued fame.

“It feels humbling and validating that you’re doing some things right,” he says about the Strokes. “But it’s the same thing with an actor: If a movie does really well at the box office, they make 10 of those afterward because that’s what they think people like. . . . If something has commercial value, it doesn’t mean it’s good.”

The night before the release of Tyranny, the band plays a secret show at a loft in Brooklyn, billing themselves as Rawk Hawks. When word of who is really playing gets out, a crush of fans packs the small space. Wearing an oversize New York Jets jacket despite the sweltering heat of the room, Casablancas attacks the mic and howls his aggressive new songs. The sound is light-years from the Strokes, but girls still scream at his every gesture and people yell for him to turn up his vocals.

For now, Casablancas will take that over an arena gig with his original band. “It’s still fun to see people react,” he says of the Strokes’ recent concerts. “But do I emotionally feel anything from it? No. Like a little while ago, I saw someone perform a cover of some Top 40 song in an empty bar, like he probably just learned it two days ago. He was probably enjoying playing that more than I enjoy playing ‘Last Nite.’ I just smiled about it.”

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TIME Television

Transparent Creator Jill Soloway on Making the World Safer for Trans People

Comedian and TV Writer Jill Soloway attends LGBTQ TV on October 11, 2014 in New York City.
Anna Webber—Getty Images for The New Yorker Comedian and TV Writer Jill Soloway attends LGBTQ TV on October 11, 2014 in New York City.

The 'Six Feet Under' and 'United States of Tara' vet explains how her Amazon instant hit was inspired by her family

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

One day three years ago, writer-director Jill Soloway got a phone call with some life-changing news: Her father was coming out as a transgender woman. “It was a total surprise,” she says. But as the elder Soloway, now a retired psychiatrist in her late 70s, explained the transition over the phone, “I reacted like a parent myself,” says Jill. “I tried to make sure that the person knows that they’re safe and unconditionally loved.” (To avoid confusion, Jill uses gender-neutral terms like “parent” and “they.”)

The experience became the basis for Transparent, an Amazon Instant series and one of the fall’s best new TV shows. It tells the story of the Pfeffermans, whose patriarch (Jeffrey Tambor) goes from Papa Mort to “Moppa” Maura. The cast also features Gaby Hoffman as Maura’s daughter Ali, Amy Landecker as daughter Sarah, Jay Duplass as son Josh and Judith Light as ex-wife Shelly. Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein plays Ali’s friend, Syd, and The Office’s Melora Hardin is almost unrecognizable as Sarah’s lover, Tammy. Ultimately, it’s a family drama with a singular purpose: “I wanted to make something that would make the world safer for my parent,” says Soloway.

The prolific Soloway – who has producer credits on Grey’s Anatomy and United States of Tara and won a directing award at Sundance last year for her film Afternoon Delight – had wanted to make a “family show” since her two-year stint writing for Six Feet Under ended nine years ago. “Pretty shortly after they came out,” she says, referring to her parent, “I was thinking, ‘I’ve got a TV show now.’ It just immediately hit me as this is the show I’ve been waiting my whole life to write.”

The show’s first season premiered in its entirety on Soloway’s birthday and, even though critics were buzzing favorably about the show, she recalls being in a fugue state. As she tells Rolling Stone about all the ways making Transparent had been positive for her and her family, it seems as though the feeling of being stunned has transformed into happiness. “It’s exciting to know that it resonates so much with people,” she says. “But it’s definitely a new feeling.”

How long have you had the idea for the show?
Ever since I was working on Six Feet Under, I had an idea of doing a family show. And then the trans aspect made itself clear to me when my own parent came out as trans.

My sister worked on the show — she wrote the seventh episode [“The Symbolic Exemplar”]. She’s kind of, like, my other half. But when I imagined this show, there was always a brother. I actually think Ali and Josh are more like my sister and I are. In some ways my sister and I are like Sarah and Ali, and in some ways we’re like Josh and Ally. But in imagining the family, there were always three kids.

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Who are you most like in the family?
I feel like I’m a lot like Josh. I really relate to the feeling of falling in love 10 times a day and wishing I could never stop falling in love. And then there are parts of me in Ali and parts of my sister in Ali. Faith is the person who would be living on her Price Is Right money for a few years, and I’m more of a Silver Lake mom, so in some ways I’m more like Sarah. And my sister Faith is gay, so in some ways she’s more like Sarah. So I think autobiographical stuff is all thrown in a blender and mixed around and evenly distributed amongst all three kids.

How much of the show is autobiographical?
I would say it’s almost 98 percent fictionalized. The Pfeffermans are just very real people. The reason I wanted to cast Jeffrey is because he’s always reminded me of my parent. They really have a very similar sense of humor and that was just immediate. Other than that, it’s not really autobiographical.

My mom had a husband who had frontal temporal dementia, who couldn’t speak, similar to the story of Shelly and Ed. He passed away a few years ago, the same summer that my parent was coming out. So I’d say that stuff is all informed by what was going on in my life at the time. A lot of things that I was experiencing and saying to myself, this feels like a TV show and thinking, “Good thing I have a TV show that I’m writing so that I can process all this stuff.”

Something to help you work through it.
I was really working through it. I felt kind of lucky actually.

What I like about Ali is she seems like a character you could do almost anything with. Is that why you chose Gaby Hoffman?
I saw her in an episode of Louie, and I just loved the way she was talking the whole time and he’s trying to get a word in edgewise and he lets her break up with him. I just loved the way words rolled off her tongue and nothing seemed written. I loved how free she was. I was just like who is this really cool, Jewish lady? And she’s not even Jewish.

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You might say the opposite of Judith Light.
With her, I knew that even though America knew her as the Who’s the Boss blonde person and even as the character that I remembered her from on One Life to Live. She’s been playing these Jewish moms on Broadway and that she, herself, was Jewish. When I started to imagine her without blonde hair, I was able to see Shelly in her.

When I was casting her, [actor-filmmaker] Josh Radnor called me to say, “I just hope you realize she’s a magical being. She has spiritual power and can understand people’s emotional lives in an instant.” I was down for that. On one of the early days of the shoot, a bee stung on the top of my head when we were in the park – filming the push-up scene – and then later that afternoon I was shooting a scene with Judith, and she was doing Reiki healing on me and fixed the pain. That and the Vicodin fixed it.

How did you connect with Carrie Brownstein?
Originally, when we were trying to cast Tammy, her name came up. But I always felt Tammy was really tan and blonde, like Lady Diana or someone who spent some time in her childhood on a ranch. And Carrie just seemed too Jewy to play Tammy, but I really, really wanted to work with her, so in the writers’ room we created this character of Syd for her.

You’ve said you really wanted the show to be five people who were equally lovable as well as unlikable. Is that a hard balance to strike?
I’m always going for truth and honesty. I’m a fan of Louis C.K., I’m a fan of Lena Dunham. I love shows about people that other people would consider unlikable, or like the work of Woody Allen and Albert Brooks. I love a kind of shambling outsider protagonist who always feels like they’re “other.” And so the challenge was to make five of those people in the family instead of just one. I’ve written scripts before about a single odd outsider and someone who’s trying to make sense of the world. I like that idea that all five of these people would be connected over their common legacy of feeling different, feeling on the outside.

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What does your parent think of the show?
They love it. All four of us in our family – my sister, my mother and my, I guess you could use the word “moppa” – were all just kind of standing back and watching this thing that feels a bit like a tribute to our family but mostly like something else entirely, something so much bigger than us. We’re just all watching it together and checking in with each other every day. “How are you doing? And what do you think?”

There’s this zeitgeisty moment in the trans community, and this show happened to land in the right place, by accident really. It’s probably a show that couldn’t have been made five years ago, and five years from now [it] wouldn’t have that same feeling of “Holy shit, we’ve never seen this before.” It’s kind of fun actually to be all experiencing this together.

How much work did you need to do with Jeffrey to create Maura?
I keep saying this weird feeling that Maura Pfefferman existed out in the universe, this whole family did. She was waiting for me to notice her and waiting for me to go get Jeffrey so she could appear through him. Somebody said in an email I was sent that Maura felt spiritual to them. I was feeling that a lot when I was talking to our hair and wardrobe people about her costumes and her hair — that she should be a California hippie, kind of a Wiccan, two spirits, high priestess. It all felt so organic.

Early Maura was a little bit more awkward, who hadn’t felt her sense of style…that had one sort of feeling. And I think in the fourth episode when Davina helps her use her own hair on top and use her silver extensions underneath, she really transforms into somebody else. Even the hair and makeup people said that Jeffrey was a certain level of comfort.

I never felt like I was working with Jeffrey to “do” her, I just felt like I was trying to stand back and let her come through.

Do you have ideas for Season Two?
A little bit. I’m starting to see the beginnings of what the characters would do in a second season. But I love the writers’ room process so much. I think more of what I’m going to be doing is trying to stop coming up with too much of it so we can all do it together when we all get back together.

Your parent must be very proud of you.
Yeah, they are. They came to the set on Jeffrey’s 70th birthday actually. It was a really special day. We gave Jeffrey a big cake. And they came to the premiere as well. It was really cool.

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TIME Television

Zombies, Aliens and Robots: The ‘Walking Dead’ Producer on Her Greatest Hits

Producer Gale Anne Hurd at "The Terminator" 30th Anniversary Screening on October 15, 2014 in Hollywood, California.
Albert L. Ortega—WireImage Producer Gale Anne Hurd at "The Terminator" 30th Anniversary Screening on October 15, 2014 in Hollywood, California.

The executive producer of 'The Walking Dead' talks about the making of the hit show, the 30th anniversary of 'The Terminator' and how 'Aliens' got its name

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

When The Walking Dead premiered on Halloween 2010, long before it would become AMC’s most popular show to date, one name in particular stood out in the opening credits. It was not Robert Kirkman, the cult hero/comic-book writer whose graphic novels (created with Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard) gave the series its sickening, gory source material. It was not Frank Darabont, the filmmaker best known for directing The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Mist (2007) who would be Dead‘s first showrunner and help set its course. It would not even be one of the cast member’s names, as most of these talented journeymen actors would become famous via the show later on.

No, the name that would give those in the know pause was one of five listed executive producers on the show: Gale Anne Hurd. For genre-film fans, this was the credit that suggested this serialized tale of zombies and survivors might be more than a Sunday night lark. If you grew up watching The Terminator movies, if you ever ran around your front yard pretending to be Ripley or Vasquez or Corporal Hicks from Aliens, if you remember when superhero films were still considered pulpy pleasures instead tentpole collossi, if you still love that certain B-movie thrill, then you knew what this pioneering writer-producer’s name on a project meant. And as The Walking Dead became a gigantic hit, lost key creative team members and experienced growing pains, viewers would come to realize exactly how important her continued involvement would be. Showrunners would come and go. Hurd’s hand on the wheel not only kept things steady, it insured that someone who understood what the series was really about was helping to call the shots. “The title doesn’t refer to the walkers,” she says. “It refers to the survivors. That’s the key to the whole show right there.”

Speaking to Rolling Stone as she was getting ready to attend the Season Five premiere in Los Angeles (“I’m literally trying to get into my dress as we’re talking, so my apologies in advance”), Hurd talked about where The Walking Dead had been and where it was headed, the 30th anniversary of the film that established her as a producer — the original Terminator — and how she and then-husband James Cameron turned the sequel to Alien into a template for blockbuster sci-fi action flicks.

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Let’s go back to the very beginnings of The Walking Dead. Zombies were already prominent in pop culture, but not on TV. What made you think these comics would work as a series?
Anyone who’s read Robert Kirkman’s books can tell you that the story he’s telling…it’s not really about the zombies, or what you need to do to survive a zombie apocalypse — thought you will pick up some tips on that, definitely. [Laughs] They exist to ask a certain question: What does it mean to be human? More specifically, can you maintain your humanity in a world where there is essentially no civilization left, no law and order left? The zombies were simply a way to raise the stakes for the characters in a way that wasn’t, you know, “They are trying to survive in a warzone, they’re experiencing something that people actually went through.” I mean, you could not tell this story if it was set during a real war — it would be genuinely horrible! But you set it in a world beset by zombies, and look at these issues in a situation that could never possibly happen…

So you say!
I think it’s a pretty safe bet that this will remain a work of fiction [laughs]. I was impressed by the way Robert had set it up without losing the key questions behind everything. That, more than anything else, was what drew me to this.

Why not adapt it into a movie, then?
The idea that these characters were all on a journey, one which didn’t really have an end in sight — that meant something longform. That didn’t mean two hours. Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman and I all shared a vision of doing this in a way that wouldn’t rush things and wouldn’t be camp. Thankfully, when we brought this to AMC, they didn’t want to turn this into something silly either. They were committed to taking something that might seem preposterous but playing it very straight, and very, very real.

Did the fact that the show was hugely popular right out of the gate surprise you? Horror TV shows have traditionally been cult hits, not pop-cultural phenomenons — so you can’t really chalk it up to genre.
I’ve thought about this a lot. I think it’s this sense we all have that each and every one of us is dancing on the edge of some sort of abyss. I think social media and the Internet has made every global catastrophe feel like it’s right next door. Whether it’s civil war, an Ebola epidemic , a tsunami, global financial collapse — we now get this news immediately, and it feels as if it’s happening right next door to us. So our characters are in the worst of all possible worlds — a world which, as I said, any one of us is very unlikely to encounter. But the moral and ethical dilemmas they face…we can all identify with those right now. You know, “What would I do if everything collapsed around me?” I think that struck a chord with everybody.

So it’s the moral and ethical dilemmas that keep people tuning in, you think?
If you go on social media after an episode airs, you’ll find a small percentage of people talking about the “kills” — and a large percentage of people talking about the choices and decisions these people had to make. We took a risk in doing an episode like “The Grove,” in which we had a character, Carol, who had grown to love these surrogate daughters — and then had to do something absolutely horrible. When we went on Twitter or Facebook once the episode had aired, we had no idea what to expect. And what we got was a lot of people admitting that they’d cried. That, and a lot of discussions over “What would you have done in that position?” It generated discussions like that for days afterward. They responded to the human element, not the fantastic elements. It made me think, “Okay, this is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. This is still working.”

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There have clearly been a lot of behind-the-scenes changes that have gone on around the show, all of which have been widely reported. In a lot of ways, however, The Walking Dead seems to be very much the same show four seasons in that it was when it started. How has you managed to maintain a sense of consistency when so much was in flux?
[Pause] You know, the great thing about television is that it’s a collaborative medium. So, you absolutely have a showrunner — but you’ve also got a writer’s room, and you have a certain core of our actors have been there since the very beginning. The cast…they know who their characters are, and they would call bullshit if that changed.

It’s not like a movie where sometimes a sequel is really a remake, or it’s a complete reinvention. The world is the same, and you have to put any kind of upheaval aside and say, “You know what? We’re still telling Robert Kirkman’s story.” There is very much a universe, and as long as we stay within that universe and we work with people who embrace and understand that universe, it’s going to remain fairly consistent.

So what can you tell us about Season Five?
[Laughs] Ah, right. Well…we left our characters split up. Beth is gone; we assume she’s been kidnapped. We’ve got Carol and Tyreese with Baby Judith, separated from the rest of the group; we’ve seen a number of people reunited in the worst of all possible circumstances. And we’ve seen Rick come full circle to…it doesn’t matter how tough or bleak the circumstances, he’s embraced that mantle of leadership again. He’s no longer “Farmer Rick.” He’s, excuse my language “don’t-fuck-with-me Rick.”

So they’re in a fairly precarious position when we see them again, and it’s a question of who will get out of this situation and who won’t. There will also be a number of new characters getting introduced — some from the comics, and some not.

That was very deftly played. You managed to do that without really giving anything away.
I have to choose my words very, very carefully, here [laughs].

This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Terminator, which you co-wrote and produced. What do you remember about making it?
Oh God, I remember it all!

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
[Laughs] Good question. You have to remember, both Jim [Cameron] and I worked for Roger Corman at the time. Jim’s first movie was Piranha II: The Spawning for Roger; had he not directed that, there would be no Terminator films! So Roger was the first person we took the script to, and I’m paraphrasing, but he said something along the lines of “I really don’t think you want to do this for me. You should do this for someone who will actually give you a budget.” [Laughs] Even he could see that this was not a quickie, do-it-for-no-money film. He was nice enough to know when someone had outgrown working with him, and that was the point when he basically told Jim and I, you should fly the coop with this.

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Was there a moment when you realized that this would not be something that would just play on the back half of a drive-in double bill, and that it would have life 30 years later?
Oddly enough, it was the guy who was on the financial side of things, this industry veteran named Lindsley Parsons, who caught on very early that this would work. Actually, he saw a rough cut that didn’t even have any of the effects in there, and he still said, “This is going to be a classic.” We thought he was nuts. But that was what we needed to hear, because everybody else looked at it and called it a down-and-dirty exploitation film that they were embarrassed to have been involved in. It’s funny though, that the money guy is the one who had the greatest passion for it and protected us. He was there to make sure the interest of the bond company was represented, and when certain people were coming to take the film away from us, he was the one that threatened to post guards outside the editing room’s doors so we could finish cutting the movie. You just don’t get those kinds of ballsy individuals anymore.

You said in 2003 that The Terminator would not have been made in this day and age. Do you still think that’s true?
We could if we still made it for $6.4 million, sure [laughs].

Really? Because if you look at how the Comic-Con demographic has completely taken over mainstream culture, it actually seems like you get this made in a heartbeat today.
You have to realize that most people underestimated the fact that, once the quality of the entertainment based on genre books and and comic books had the production value and the talent to make them A-picture quality, the audience would show up. Most people in the industry looked down on genre stuff in a condescending way until the one-two-three punch of 2001, Jaws and Star Wars hit within a decade. And even then, it still took a while.

As someone who’s always loved genre movies, it’s an exciting time, but the fear — my fear — is that it’s going to be nothing but tentpole movies based on pre-existing material. So 30 years later, yes, people want to remake the Terminator movies. If it hadn’t been something people already knew, however — it doesn’t matter that sci-fi movies are now accepted. It wouldn’t get made.

So Aliens would get made today, but the Terminator wouldn’t?
Probably, yeah. But the funny thing is, in terms of Aliens…this was a time when people weren’t really making sequels, certainly not like they are now. What happened was, we were all set to make The Terminator, but Dino De Laurentis had Arnold [Schwarzenegger] under contract to make a sequel to Conan the Barbarian. So we knew we were making the movie, but we weren’t going to start for a year. In that time, Jim took a couple of writing assignments — one of which was Aliens, though it wasn’t called that yet.

The story, and it may or may not be apocryphal, was that Jim went into a pitch meeting with the studio executives and the first thing he said was “I am not making another gothic sci-fi film; I’m making a combat movie.” Then he walked up to a white board in the room, wrote “Alien” — and then added a dollar sign to it.

Exactly! That’s how he came up with the name. [Pause] Again, no idea if it’s true, but I’ve heard this story so many times from so many people, including Jim, that, you know…print the legend! [Laughs]

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