TIME movies

Selma Actor Common: Don’t Speak Out ‘Just Because It’s Popular’

Paramount Pictures Common as James Bevel in Selma

The Oscar-nominated singer and actor talks award snubs and social justice

When the Oscar nominations were announced last month, Selma made news with what were perceived as a series of snubs by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; the film about Martin Luther King, Jr., had been considered a contender in several categories for which it was not nominated. The film, all told, received only two nominations: Best Picture and Best Original Song.

It’s in the latter category where Selma‘s Oscar story may be likeliest to find a happy ending. The rapper Common and the singer John Legend’s collaboration has already won a Golden Globe Award and high praise for the manner in which it draws explicit parallels between the events in Selma, Ala., in 1965, as King led voting-rights marches, and in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

Common, who also played civil-rights activist James Bevel in Selma, is slated to perform the song with Legend at the Oscars on Feb. 22, making it only the second hip-hop song to be performed at the awards ceremony. It’ll be a career high specifically for Common, an artist who’s been engaging with social issues since his career began. Common spoke to TIME about his experiences with Selma and the ups and downs of the film’s reception.

TIME: What has the reception to Selma, and to “Glory,” been like for you?

The reception has been overwhelmingly inspiring and great. It’s inspiring because you realize so many people want a better world, and want to connect with other human beings. So many people, no matter what color they are, are moved towards love and equality. I get that, because when I’m greeted by people in the streets, a whole variety of age groups and nationalities all say, “I was moved by Selma. It made me want to be a better person.” It has nothing to do with the color of the cast, the color of the director. I’ve never been a part of a film project that’s had this kind of impact. It goes beyond people saying this is a great piece of art. When you have people getting together to buy tickets for student groups and black—and white!—churches getting on the phone trying to see it, it goes beyond just the movie.

Many people were severely disappointed by Selma’s only receiving two nominations at the Oscars—Best Picture and Best Original Song. As the co-writer of the Best Original Song nominee, what’s your take?

Of course I was disappointed, not seeing people who I work with and love and are really talented and gifted, I wanted to see them all receive Oscar nominations and then go all the way. It’s something I would love to see—people I care about who are extremely talented.

I also understand, just like the premise of the movie, voting—it’s a voting process. If someone is not nominated, it’s because of the vote. I think the response that we’ve seen on the internet as far as people enjoying the movie makes me happy. I know that obviously awards are something we all want as artists, but that’s like going to the next level. First, just create something that’s impactful. Create something that moves the meter, that people pay attention to. Ava went from doing a film where she had a $200,000 budget and it got recognized at Sundance, to making a film nominated for Best Picture.

I tend to look at the positive more than I do at things that didn’t happen. If that is happening, there’s an opportunity for her in the future, and anyone who participated in our film could win in the future.

How do you make a song that’s explicitly political and connected to current events without it being overpoweringly depressing, or not listenable?

Oprah Winfrey said something to me on the set of Selma that really resonated with me. She talked about intention, and how intention is one of the most important things you do. Our intention with “Glory” is to uplift, to inspire, to bring people together. To motivate. We have things to overcome, we have walls to knock down. The only way to knock these walls down is together. It can’t just be one group of people: Christians over here, other denominations not participating, or Latinos over here by themselves. It’ll take all of us. I don’t care what religion you are. This is about love and humanity and we’re going to knock this down. You can hear a reference to Ferguson and it’d still come from a place of love and uplift. The intention is not to bring a negative spotlight. It’s to bring hope.

Recently, it seems hip-hop artists have grown more socially conscious than they were maybe 10 years ago. As someone who’s long been engaged with social issues, do you take credit for that?

When I was introduced to hip-hop, a lot of the music was socially conscious. Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five with “The Message,” Run-DMC’s “Proud to Be Black,” Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back—there were always songs that were socially conscious and socially relevant that spoke up for issues going on out there. There were strong topics, in the beginning of [hip-hop], as well as having fun and other topics. As you add many living organisms and life goes on, you don’t talk about social issues as much. Hip-hop didn’t have it at the forefront for years. Now, you do have artists—Kanye, Kendrick, J. Cole, Dead Prez—who are still saying things. Some of the socially conscious things may not be on the radio. But a lot of artists say something. It’s important we know hip-hop is very diverse. It’s not just—if a person does a socially conscious song they can still do a party song or a song about love. It’s a reflection of the person.

How’d the collaboration with John Legend work?

John and I had worked together on music before. It started with me believing he’d be the right person to collaborate on a song for Selma, that we could do something that could be truthful and heartfelt. I gave him three titles and he loved the title “Glory.”

He happened to be touring in London and not coming back to the States until the end of November. When he was in the studio and laid down the piano and chorus, he energized me. I said, “This is incredible,” and started writing on what I knew Selma to be and what I see in the world today. It was a back-and-forth of how to keep building on the song. I had my ideas and he had his ideas. On one specific text, I said, “This must be what it’s like to be in a group!” It wasn’t a long process. He had similar ideas to mine and we did eventually combine them. It was a true collaboration. I can remember saying “I want it to sound like this,” and he wanted that, too. The person who arranged the strings did an amazing job, and John called that person in — but I was the person who said we needed strings. It was a true collaboration.

The Academy Awards haven’t often honored rap songs. What does it mean that your song broke through?

There have been songs that have penetrated Hollywood and transcended any genre. People said “This is a great song.” That’s what happens with art and music. I do believe with certain pieces of art, it transcends the genre or the class you put it in, the box we put it in. I always use a reference to Slumdog Millionaire. Not many people would have expected that a film with subtitles would have touched people across America. The creation of certain things transcends hip-hop or subtitles, or something taking place in Brazil, or being shot on 35-millimeter film. Some things have a spirit to them that transcends the specifics.

Given your career-long engagement with the news, does it bother you when celebrities try to be apolitical?

It doesn’t bother me because everybody has to do what they feel is purposeful for their life. You have to do what you feel in your heart, what you feel like is your purpose and you’re called to do. If you truly believe in that calling, you are that and live that, then speak up for it. If you don’t believe in something, don’t do it just because it’s popular. If so many people are speaking out and it’s not solid ground under what they’re saying, it could be taken as not serious — a bunch of people just saying things. There’s something about sincerity in what people say. I could say something that’s halfway true and it won’t resonate with you. But if it’s true, you can feel it. There’s something about the truth—if you’re going to speak up about social issues, it should be something you care about. You may want to go beyond singing, be like Harry Belafonte and give to those same movements. I’ve grown into that. I initially was speaking up and giving to a degree, but being part of Selma, I always feel I can do more. Part of that is being present, being active, giving to the community, saying I have to show up and put in work to make the world better.

How has your involvement with the movie changed your plans for your career going forward?

I surely know that it has enhanced me as a human being to want to be more on the ground—do more, pay attention more, not just walk by the news. I don’t always take in the news. Sometimes it’s depressing, or I don’t need to start my day with negative things going on. I pay more attention. I stop sometimes and say, “I’ve got to be aware.” It’s happening to people. This is happening in someone’s life. Selma has been a spark for me. How can I offer my services? I think it’s great to do a song and films that matter. Art can change the world and improve humanity. But being part of Selma makes me say to myself: along with the art you do, let me see you be more active, present, and on the ground more.

TIME Books

Then and Now: Two Interviews With Fifty Shades of Grey Author E.L. James

"Fame is not something I sought," she says

When Erika Leonard first came up with the idea that became Fifty Shades of Grey, she called herself Snow Queen Ice Dragon — or SQID, for short — and wrote on a site for Twilight fans. Her erotic tales involving the characters Bella Thorne and Edward Cullen proved so popular she was persuaded to change some names and amass them into an e-book, produced by a teensy publisher in suburban Australia and written under the name E.L. James.

Kindles were a relatively new thing in 2011 and, as Leonard tells it, a group of women in Long Island, New York, found the e-books and began to tell their friends — of which there were many. As the book’s popularity grew, a group invited Leonard to come to a a reading. Photojournalist Gillian Laub was there for the occasion and grabbed an interview with the reclusive author.

Fast forward a few years, and Leonard is now a multimillionaire author and producer of the movie version of Fifty Shades, out Feb. 13. While media reports suggest that she hasn’t let wealth and fame change her too much, she doesn’t really need to give interviews. But she did consent to answer some (not all) of our questions via email.

TIME: What scene in the movie were you most worried about translating to screen and why?
Erika Leonard:
I was most worried about the scenes in the red room. I wanted them to be tasteful and erotic, and that was a journey, but we got there in the end.

Do you have favorite scene?
The glider scene and the post-graduation bar scene. For me those scenes really capture the spirit of the book.

What made you decide to become a producer?
Because I could. (Christian Grey would appreciate that comment.) I didn’t want to take the money and run — I wanted the movie to be one the readership would love.

What have you enjoyed most about the process of filming?
I enjoyed breaking down the book with the screenwriter Kelly Marcel and deciding what should and should not be in the movie. That was fun — hard work, but fun.

Your life must have changed so much in the last three years. Do you have any reflections on fame?
Fame is not something I sought, and happily I’m still not that famous — I can still roam the streets anonymously, at home and in the States, and I love that. But I have had some amazing experiences, and for that I’m incredibly grateful to all the people who bought and loved the books.

Is there anything you would differently if you wrote the books again?
Yes. Quite a few things, in fact — but the books seem to be so well loved by so many I’ve let all that go…

Do you have plans to write more books?
Yes, I do. But like most authors I’d rather do it than talk about it.

These books are an exploration of a fantasy. Have you been surprised by how much they’ve resonated?
Surprised doesn’t quite cover it. I get the most extraordinary, heart wrenching emails from readers who have been deeply touched by the books. I’m honored that so many people have shared their moving stories and their love of the books with me.

TIME Music

10 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Won Grammys

Who said you had to be a pop star to win a Grammy?

  • LeVar Burton

    The 42nd Annual GRAMMY Awards
    J. Vespa—WireImage/Getty Images

    Best Spoken Word Album, 2000:

    The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Lewis Black

    The 49th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Press Room
    John Shearer—WireImage/Getty Images

    Best Comedy Album, 2011:

    Stark Raving Black

    Best Comedy Album, 2007:

    The Carnegie Hall Performance

  • Zach Braff

    The 47th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Press Room
    Steve Grayson—WireImage/Getty Images

    Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media, 2005:

    Garden State

  • Chris Rock

    Comedian Chris Rock throws his Grammy Award in the
    Matt Campbell—AFP/Getty Images

    Best Comedy Album, 2000:

    Bigger & Blacker

    Best Comedy Album, 1998:

    Roll with the New

  • Kathy Griffin

    56th GRAMMY Awards - Press Room
    Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images

    Best Comedy Album, 2014:

    Calm Down Gurrl

TIME movies

Vanessa Bayer Gets Fifty Shades of Awkward for Audi Video

The Saturday Night Live actress just wants handcuffs and a good car

Audis: are they sexy, or are they suburban mom cars? In a new video featuring Saturday Night Live actress Vanessa Bayer, they can be both.

Bayer spoofs the movie’s sleek elevator scene by propositioning strangers (“I’m working out right now — Kegels”) and mistaking one man’s Audi key as a gift for her (“Anastasia got one”).

Fifty Shades of Grey hits theaters Feb. 14, but some of us would probably rather see two hours of Bayer’s dorky-sexy routine.


TIME Music

Everything You Need to Know About the 2015 Grammys

Getty Images (3) From left: Beyoncé, Sam Smith, Iggy Azalea

A primer for the 57th annual ceremony

Correction appended

If you haven’t been paying attention to music this year but still want to watch the Grammys, airing Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. on CBS, don’t worry — you’re more prepared than you think. You’d have to be a real hermit to have survived 2014 without hearing Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” blast from a passing car, or Sam Smith’s cherubic falsetto finding your ears in a shopping mall. You might not know what the “bass” is, but you know some girl named Meghan is all about it. You might avoid Taylor Swift whenever possible, but you know the phrase “haters gonna hate” will never land the same. You might not know who this Sia lady is — in fact, she prefers it that way — but your Facebook feed probably hasn’t seen the last of Maddie Ziegler’s mesmerizing moves.

The Grammys call themselves music’s biggest night, if only because the hits being honored are so massive that you couldn’t avoid them if you tried. If that doesn’t inspire confidence in your music knowledge, here’s a guide that will bring you up to speed:

Who that, that do that? Rapper LL Cool J is returning for hosting duties for the fourth year in a row.

Will Missy Elliott make a surprise appearance? Probably not, unfortunately, but you can relive her show-stealing Super Bowl moment here.

Who are the nominees? You can find the full list here, but the artists with the most nods this year are reigning diva Beyoncé, “Happy” hitmaker Pharrell Williams and soulful newcomer Sam Smith, who all had six nominations. That makes Beyoncé the most-nominated woman in the Grammys’ history, with 53 total. Behind them, the following artists all received four nominations: Beck, Drake, Eric Church, Gordon Goodwin, Iggy Azalea, Jack White, Jay Z, Miranda Lambert, Sia, Tom Coyne, Usher.

Who’s performing? Nominees such as song-of-the-summer queen Ariana Grande, the spotlight-averse songwriter Sia and Super Bowl entertainer Katy Perry are set to hit the stage, but the show will also include lots of firsts: Madonna will perform her new single “Living for Love” for the first time; and Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney will also debut “FourFiveSeconds.” As for other group performances, Beyoncé will join Common and John Legend for the Selma song “Glory,” while Mary J. Blige and Sam Smith will team up for what will likely be their one of their The London Sessions cuts.

What are Grammy Moments? That’s when a relatively new artist performs with a more established artist, or when two artists from very different genres unite for a one-of-a-kind collaboration. The concept is enticing, but as TIME’s Daniel D’Addario writes, the execution makes Grammy Moments “the worst thing about the Grammys.” Yes, Tina Turner and Beyoncé rocked the stage together in 2008, but does anyone really want to see Tom Jones team up with… Jessie J?

What’s the difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year again? Song of the Year honors songwriting, while Record of the Year refers to the actual recording. A worthy Song of the Year is the kind of track that sounds just as good stripped down and played acoustically as it does in an arena with all the bells and whistles. A worthy Record of the Year is about the quality of the production, engineering and performance. You may not want to sing “Fancy” at a campfire singalong, for example, but you can appreciate the trunk-rattling thump of its opening notes or the catchy way Iggy Azalea spells out “I-G-G-Y.” Overlap between the categories isn’t rare — four songs were nominated for both this year — and neither is having the same track win both in the same year.

Are there any laughable Best New Artist nominations? This category has been easy to make fun of in the past — Imogen Heap was once nominated eight years after her debut — but this year’s contenders are indeed all fairly new. Technically, Iggy Azalea did release her first mixtape in 2011, and technically Bastille did drop a self-released EP that year as well, but that’s not what the category is about. “Our Best New Artist category probably has the most complicated set of rules of any of our categories,” the Recording Academy says on its website. “Essentially, a ‘new artist’ is defined for the Grammy process as any performing artist or established performing group who releases, during the eligibility year, the recording that first establishes the public identity of that artist or established group as a performer.”

What races should I pay attention to? Best Hip-Hop Album is one to watch, as polarizing Aussie emcee Iggy Azalea received a nod for The New Classic. Last year, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won the award over the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, dealing a major blow to the Academy’s hip-hop credibility. This year, the Grammys can either redeem themselves or turn the category into the show’s biggest joke.

But if Azalea does win, she’ll also become the first solo woman to win that category (Lauryn Hill won it with the Fugees in 1997) on a night that could be historic for many other female artists; similarly, Nicki Minaj may become the first female rapper to win the Best Rap Song award with her ode to big butts, “Anaconda.” If Paramore takes home the award for Best Rock Song, Hayley Williams will be the first female recipient of the award since Alanis Morissette in 1999. And if St. Vincent snags Best Alternative Album, she’ll only be the second woman to have done so ever (the last was Sinead O’Connor in 1991, the first year the award was presented).

Though Beyoncé is up for several awards, 2014 was really of the year of the upstarts, thanks to Sam Smith’s ascension, Ariana Grande’s summer hit streak and Meghan Trainor’s retro takeover. Sunday night might make it official: Smith is nominated in four of the most important categories, and given the success of “Stay With Me,” he’s unlikely to leave the Staples Center without a little bling; Trainor is up for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year; and Grande is up for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with “Bang Bang.” That song, along with Grande’s “Break Free” and “Problem,” also helped Swedish mega-producer Max Martin earn his first non-classical Producer of the Year award, even though he’s been delivering No. 1 singles for the past fifteen years.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the date of the 2015 Grammys award show. It’s on Feb. 8.

TIME Music

See Art Kane’s Most Memorable Music Portraits

A new book collects a lifetime of work from the photographer who captured everyone from Louis Armstrong to The Who

On a Sunday morning in August 1958, Art Kane waited on E. 126th Street in Harlem. He was waiting for Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie and dozens of other jazz greats he’d invited to show up for a group photo that would appear in an Esquire special issue on jazz. It had been a crazy idea to think that 57 of the biggest names in jazz would convene on one Harlem stoop, and at 10:00 in the morning, to boot. But they came. And Kane’s career as a photographer was on.

That photograph, along with more than 200 others painstakingly curated by Kane’s son Jonathan Kane and his wife Holly Anderson, fills the pages of a new book published by Reel Art Press, titled simply Art Kane. The first and only definitive collection of Kane’s work, the book provides a comprehensive survey not only of the enduring music photography that followed the “Harlem 1958” photograph, but also Kane’s work on social issues, fashion, editorial and celebrity portraiture.

After studying painting at Cooper Union and becoming, at 26, the youngest art director of a major U.S. magazine (Seventeen), Kane, Jonathan says, “was growing impatient and unhappy with putting together other people’s work.” He wanted to make his own. He went to study photography under Alexey Brodovitch, whom Jonathan describes not only as a teacher but also a “spiritual guide” to many great photographers of the 20th century, and then began booking work as a freelance photographer.

Kane approached his work, whatever the subject, as a conceptual photographer. “He would come up with an idea for his subject and make them do something that was his vision of how he wanted to interpret [them],” says Jonathan. When it came to musicians, this meant buying every single one of the artist’s records, immersing himself in the music and getting a sense of what the artists were trying to say. He would sketch the concept before the shoot, and the end result was often an uncanny photographic rendering of that initial sketch.

The first of Kane’s photographs to embody fully this conceptual vision was his portrait of Louis Armstrong, which also appeared in the Esquire issue on jazz. Kane saw Armstrong not just as an entertainer, but as the leader of a revolution in jazz. Rather than capture him playing the trumpet, Kane flew Armstrong out to Death Valley on a four-seat Cessna plane and photographed him with the sun setting behind him, sitting in a rocking chair like the one he sang about in a hit song from 1929. Says Jonathan, “It’s the story of his life in one frame.”

When Kane did a cover story for LIFE on rock musicians in 1968, he sought to make similarly singular statements in his portraits of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, the Rolling Stones and a host of other chart-toppers. By that time, he was in high enough demand that LIFE approved his request to spend thousands of dollars—an outsized sum for a photo shoot at the time—to construct translucent cubes in which to photograph the Jefferson Airplane. The stacked cubes had a dual meaning in Kane’s concept for the shoot: First, he needed to make the Airplane fly. Second—and lost on all but the most discerning readers—they invoked sugar cubes, a common delivery system for LSD.

Kane’s portrait of the Who, arguably the definitive photograph of the band, illustrates that for all his deliberateness, he was not opposed to a dash of spontaneity when the time came to click the shutter. Kane was photographing the band feigning sleep with the British flag draped over them—the image that would run in LIFE and become one of the most imitated music photos ever—when a couple of kids wandered over, their clothes just happening to match the colors of the Union Jack. Kane’s quick instinct to have the kids sit on the steps by the band echoed the notion he had a decade earlier, when shooting “Harlem 1958,” to let the neighborhood kids who had perched on the sidewalk remain in the photo alongside Count Basie.

Readers voiced their disapproval of these long-haired rockers in letters to the editor the week after the story ran. “Thank you for exposing the tremendous immoral influence these dirty people have on our susceptible youth,” wrote one. “What is happening to LIFE?” lamented another, calling the “psyched-out, hung-up, off-their-rockers” musicians “outrageous,” and not in a good way. More than anything, Jonathan says, the hate mail represents the generational divide of the late 1960s. “I haven’t met anyone who was between the ages of 10 and 25 years old at the time that didn’t tear these pictures out of LIFE Magazine and hang them on their walls until they went to college.”

Kane’s work, after all, was not meant to shock or offend, but to tell a story, to formulate a statement about a person or a thing and wrap it up in a finite image. Looking back on his father’s work on apartheid—a subject that has little in common with rock and roll but which he approached with that same conceptual outlook—Jonathan reflected on the power of the images.

“People who didn’t know what to think about an issue would look at this picture, they didn’t even have to read about it. You could look at a picture like this and you could go, yeah, I understand now.”


E.L. James Had Final Say on the Fifty Shades Movie Ending

Fifty Shades of Gray
Chuck Zlotnick—Universal Pictures Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan star in Fifty Shades of Grey

The last word was a matter of debate between the book's author and the director

When Fifty Shades of Grey opens in theaters next week, E.L. James will have the last word — and as it turns out, that word was quite a matter of debate between the author of the books and the movie’s director, Sam Taylor-Johnson.

James was given an unusual level of control over the movie adaptation when she sold her book rights to Universal, according to The Hollywood Reporter. So when she was unhappy with the movie’s ending as imagined by Taylor-Johnson, she demanded that one single word — albeit an important one — be changed.

Spoiler alert: the debate came down to whether the protagonist, Anastasia Steele, would ask her lover, Christian Grey, to cease a consensual beating by saying “stop,” or using their safe word, “red.” James favored the former, Taylor-Johnson the latter. While Universal did not comment to The Hollywood Reporter, fans can see for themselves whether the true-to-the-novel ending works on Feb. 14.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

TIME Television

Q&A: Bob Odenkirk on Becoming the Man Who Would Be Saul

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman - Better Call Saul _ Season 1, Gallery - Photo Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC
Ben Leuner/AMC Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, a.k.a. Saul Goodman

The star of Better Call Saul on his much bigger workload, how Jimmy McGill is the same character only different, and why you can't keep Saul Goodman down.

The long-awaited Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul, premieres Sunday, Feb. 8, on AMC (before settling in to its regular Monday night timeslot). As I wrote in my feature/review on the show in the print TIME last week, the show represents a challenge that’s arguably tougher than creating a great TV drama: following it up with a pretty-good drama. I’ve seen the first three episodes, and they pull it off: Saul is a show with different ambitions and a different kind of protagonist from Breaking Bad, but it’s solidly entertaining, with a familiar streak of dark humor.

Making the show was also a new challenge for star Bob Odenkirk, who appears in nearly every scene of these early episodes, a tall commitment even by cable-drama standards. I talked to him by phone from Los Angeles before I wrote my piece (see also my earlier interview with Vince Gilligan), and here’s some of what he had to say:

Can you talk first about shooting the series just personally in terms of workload? How this was different from when you were working on Breaking Bad?

Bob Odenkirk: Oh, the workload is exponentially, by a factor of one thousand, greater. I mean, my part in Breaking Bad wasn’t that large. I would fly in, do my part, and go home sometimes the same day. Flew to Albuquerque, shot, and then came home. This time, I moved there for four and a half months and there were whole weeks where I was in every scene. So yeah, very different. I had to work harder by a lot.

Does it to any extent feel like you’re playing a different character, in that you’re playing Jimmy McGill before he becomes the Saul that we knew?

That is something Vince [Gilligan] and Peter [Gould] thought about, and I thought about it too. I don’t think that they’ve broken the story or character logic they established in Breaking Bad. You see in Jimmy McGill tons of Saul Goodman moments. You see him talking, thinking, behaving like Saul Goodman many, many times in every episode. But I do think that they’ve added so many layers and they’ve taken us so far behind the persona of Saul that there does come a point where you almost ask, Wait, is this a different guy? It can feel that way. It’s just so much richer, but you could isolate throughout every episode moments that you could just say are from Breaking Bad. They’re pure Saul.

I think that the real answer to that is: how different can a person’s persona be from their public face? Which is to say Saul Goodman as we met him is very different. I think that’s realistic–how differently do I behave in church, at my office, at a family gathering, when I’m working versus when I’m alone? We all have different personas and different ways of being depending on the circumstances and where we find ourselves.

How long ago did you start talking about doing the series?

It goes all the way back to almost the first time I played Saul. Everyone joked about it on the crew but then Vince about it in my second season [season three of Breaking Bad]. I was walking down the hall in Albuquerque, he was doing the closing episode of season three, and he said, referencing the jokes everyone was making: What do you think about a show just about Saul? I said what I’ve always said, and said every time he said it afterwards, which is, if you write it I’ll do it. I didn’t want to put any pressure on him with some hopes that I had. I just wanted him to feel confident about his own inspiration.

Having watched the four seasons of Breaking Bad that you were in, I know why it’s such a pleasure to watch this character. But as somebody who plays him, I assume you’ve got to find what you connect with in him. Like what do you like about Jimmy McGill?

I like that he is indefatigable. You can’t stop him. He’s struggling to do the right thing and the right thing isn’t easy to figure out. And I like his journey. I like what Vince and Peter are examining here, with a person trying to become themselves and fit in and be appreciated. I like his stoicism. And honestly having watched only one [episode] I like – it’s funny and sad to see a guy you like struggle so much. It’s funny to see him digging a hole as he tries to dig himself out of a hole.

You’ve seen just one episode?


Do you like to watch your own shows in general?

I’m going to watch them when they air. I love the idea of getting to watch them like a viewer and be surprised by what is happening, you know, when something that I’ve forgotten happens. I look forward to it. I can’t wait to see the show!

TIME movies

Revisiting the Real von Trapps as The Sound of Music Turns 50

Portrait of Johannes von Trapp at the Trapp Family Lodge, alongside a field where music is performed in warmer weather. He is holding a portrait of his father and himself.
Joe McNally for LIFE Portrait of Johannes von Trapp at the Trapp Family Lodge, alongside a field where music is performed in warmer weather. He is holding a portrait of his father and himself.

Read the extended version of an interview with Johannes von Trapp, from the new LIFE book about 'The Sound of Music'

For LIFE’s new book celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of the film of The Sound of Music — which premiered Mar. 2, 1965 — Daniel S. Levy traveled to Vermont to visit Johannes von Trapp, the youngest real-life von Trapp child. Here is an extended version of the story that appears in the book.

To get to Johannes von Trapp’s home one has to drive down a narrow path cut through thick Vermont woods. The spot on a ridge of the Green Mountains in Stowe is a refuge for the steward of his family’s tradition. Here in a timber framed home with a soaring cathedral ceiling and an equally impressive fieldstone heath, Johannes and Lynne, his wife of 45 years, can get away from the Trapp Family Lodge and the weight of history. At home he is surrounded by the life he made, items from Papua New Guinea where he served as a missionary in the late 1950s, family memorabilia as well as a large assortment of hunting trophies from zebra and grizzly rugs to a mounted wild boar, a Dall Ram and scattered antlers.

The house possesses the immaculate feel you would expect from a hotelier. But off to the side is Johannes’ office, which tells much about a life lived fully. His desk literally groans under the weight of books and papers, and the shelves equally brim with books that reflect the world he has grown up in, with such titles as Harvesting Timber Crops, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and biographies of Jack London and Winston Churchill. “I love this spot,” he says as he looks out the window at the snow-covered land, a pond for swimming and a vast forest for hikes. “It allows me to be completely away from the hotel.”

It is a retreat tailored for an ecologists and businessman who doesn’t just think about the success of the lodge’s current season, but where it will be decades after he is gone. A tall, soft-spoken man with pale blue eyes and a fondness for warm vests, he has dedicated more than half his life to overseeing the place his parents Georg and Maria von Trapp first bought in 1942, being the gracious host, joking with his workers, smiling at guests and planning, planning, planning all while balancing his vision with the legacy of The Sound of Music.

The at times uncomfortable relationship between reality and what the movie has wrought is something that Johannes, his nine brothers and sisters and his parents long grappled with. The youngest of the von Trapp children, he was born soon after the family and Father Franz Wasner landed in America. He is careful when explaining how the Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer version of their story is an alteration of what happened, and his parents were far different from that Technicolor couple. Johannes clearly misses them—their portraits hang on each side of his equally cluttered, yet more workmanlike desk up near the lodge—and he speaks lovingly of them. He recalls a sweet father who told stories at the dinner table where he might recount his service in the Austrian Navy by arranging cutlery and using a fork to draw a line on the tablecloth and telling his children, “This is the way the French cruiser came and I then intercepted them here.” Georg was a man of faith and principles, and Johannes talks about why they had to leave Austria: “My father really would have stood up to the Nazis, and at two in the morning he would have been taken away.” He remembers his parents as an ideal couple, and how Maria was good for him, and his and their children: “Oh absolutely. There is no question.” He deeply loves her, while acknowledging that his mother possessed an inner strength that “was often positive and at times a negative.” But as he notes, “without her strength we would have quietly disappeared into a concentration camp in Germany or Poland.”

It was Maria’s powerful drive that propelled the family—he calls her “one of the most determined people I know”—a force about whom sister Hedwig once commented, “if it wasn’t for mother we would have all ended up as chambermaids and cooks.” Maria believed they needed to remain united to succeed. “To her, the important thing was that we stay together because together we were a singing group that was pleasant to listen to. Our survival economically depended on staying together.”

The von Trapps arrived in Stowe, Vermont in 1942, settling on Luce Hill, a 660-acre working farm. They continued to sing, and in 1944 started a music camp. With a family so large the farmhouse required expanding, but since brothers Werner and Rupert were off in the War, his sisters had to do much of the hard labor. “One day we were tearing down an old farm structures and my sisters were swinging axes and hammers. My father was talking to an old Vermonter. My father looked around and said, ‘We could use a few more men around here.’ The old Vermonter looked at my sisters and said, ‘Or one more of those girls.’” The original lodge developed into a hodgepodge, and with seven sisters and two brothers along with a gaggle of visiting friends, there were seldom fewer than a dozen at the dinner table. When friends of friends came up they defrayed the cost of their visits, and slowly the spot became a lodge, especially when they rented rooms to skiers during the winter when the family was off singing.

The peripatetic life of this traveling singing troupe made for an atypical childhood. Besides the 28-year span of his siblings, “We had a priest living with us who said mass every morning and we had our private chapel.” From an early age Johannes was mostly home schooled. Father Wasner taught him Latin, his sister Maria handled math, and his mother French. Johannes loved the touring, and he passed long hours on the bus reading “anything I could find.” He graduated high school by correspondence course, and then spent nearly three years as a missionary on Fergusson Island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Back in the States he attended Dartmouth and then headed to Yale’s forestry school. Afterwards he studied forest resources at Berkeley, but the turmoil gripping that campus in the 1960s didn’t sit well with the then young officer in the National Guard.

By then the von Trapps were world famous. And while as a member of a performing family he was used to the attention of others, Johannes found the sharpening focus of unsought for fame more and more unnerving. “It was something that I struggled with and tried to get away from. I called myself John Trapp. It was a bother. It got in the way of friendships. I wanted to be more normal.” In 1969 he returned to the homestead. The family had stopped touring more than a decade earlier, there were lots of nieces and nephews and he realized that the spot had to be set on a firmer financial base. Johannes’ attempts to straighten out the finances were complicated by the collision of Old and New World views. “My older brothers and sisters were all raised in this sort of Victorian manner. You didn’t talk about sex and you talked about money less than sex. So it was almost impossible to have a business conversation because they had no understanding.” He recalls a discussion with his mother where she complained, “’Johannes you are always talking about money. We are here to make people happy.’ I said mother as long as we are not making any money we will lose this place and we won’t be able to make anybody happy.” In the end he says that she reluctantly accepted what he had to do.

The original structure burnt down in 1980 and a new and improved one opened in 1983. By 1994 Johannes bought out the other family shares to the lodge, and has made the place prosper. He is profoundly proud to have preserved and expanded on what his parents started, while striking a balance between history and myth and nodding with a hint of resignation when asked if there are determined fans who show up: “I have to tread carefully. I love the reality of my family’s story, but The Sound of Music representation is such a change to the reality. The most rabid of fans are fans of the film, and they would like reality to be twisted around to conform to the film. I have always taken pains to try to prevent this place from becoming a Sound of Music theme park and have it continue to be an expression of my family’s values, tastes, while at the same time acknowledging and recognizing The Sound of Music.”

And this is what he has succeeded in doing, buying an additional 2,000 acres of land and laying out skiing, hiking and biking trails. The land melds Johannes’ interest in being a lodge keeper and an environmentalist along with his guests’ interest in the film. American, Vermont and Austrian flags flutter from the dark stained wooden lodge with its chockablock of dormers, a bell tower and traditional carved Austrian motifs. On a busy weekend the lodge, guest houses and villas nestled between the Green and Worcester Mountains can welcome close to 1,000 guests who arrive for skiing, tours of the maple sugarhouse and assorted activities. There are sing-a-longs with a harpist who tells a group of gathered guests, “You guys can be the children and I will be Maria,” as she leads them in such numbers as “Edelweiss” but also “You Are My Sunshine” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” They screen films, from The Sound of Music to The Lorax, and the halls are alive with family photos, along with stills from the German film, Playbills, pictures from the American movie and even foreign language posters. As Johannes walks through the lodge he nods at guests and chats with employees arranging decorations as well as the restaurant’s staff who offer beef, vegetables and fruit dishes harvested from the land. During breakfast Johannes proudly points to the Trapp Farm eggs.

Outside he shows off the field where in the warmer weather picnickers can hear the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and other musical groups. There are gardens here with vegetable and berry patches, a fenced in meadow with shaggy Scottish Highland Cattle, a wedding tent for large celebrations, a shrine to Mary as well as Our Lady of Peace, a stone chapel up the hill that brother Werner built after he and Rupert fought the fascism which drove the family away from Europe. And in the shadow of the lodge lays a small tree-line family plot where Maria, Georg and many of Johannes’ brothers and sisters rest.

Appropriately for a man who studied forest ecology there are now conservation easements on 1,600 acres to preserve the land, and he is further sowing what is needed for the future. At 76 he is in the midst of a transition. His daughter Kristina runs history tours and handles special events. His son-in-law Walter Frame is the lodge’s administrator. And his son Sam is the senior executive and will be taking over when he steps down. Snow whips around the ground as Johannes drives down the hill past groves of birch, beech, maple, pine and scattered fruit trees. He has gotten into the microbrewery business, and currently produces 2,000 barrels a year of Golden Helles, Trösten Bier and other Austrian and South German brews. This spring a new $15 million facility will start producing at least 50,000 barrels a year, and he shows off the building containing towering 6,000 gallon German-made stainless steel vats. There are even plans for an adjacent restaurant that should open in the fall.

As Johannes looks back on his life and his family he has made peace with the real vs. the mythic celluloid Von Trapps and is comfortable juggling traditions: Family. The Old Country. The New Found Land. The Film. It helps that Stowe with its forested hills, valley floors with meadows, cows, farms and villages with church steeples is wholly New England while being reminiscent of Austria. He admits, though, to being tired of people saying that it is just like that nation, and there is a sign at the bottom of the hill inviting guests to a little of Austria and a lot of Vermont. “That sort of encapsulates what I am trying to do here, combing the Austrian taste and the concern for aesthetics with the Vermont traditions.” Stowe is definitely not Salzburg, and it has long been for the von Trapps the place they sought to return to. “My family did feel at home here.” In America the von Trapps were freer, and he recalls that while his mother loved visiting her homeland—“My mother would love the food, love the culture. But the weight of tradition and custom is so strong in Austria.”—yet when he picked her up at the airport she would stretch her arms out wide and say, “Oh Johannes, I am so glad to be back here because I can breathe again.”

And as he makes his plans, there is another new von Trapp tradition developing—which is sort of like the old ones—with Werner’s grandchildren carrying on the singing heritage as The von Trapps. And as a new generation takes to the stage, many guests filling the rooms are those who have taken over their elder parents’ timeshares. When they visit they tell Johannes how they enjoyed the place when they were young and still look forward to visiting. “It is nice to know that you have been part of bringing some happiness to people over so many years. That is exactly what my mother wanted. That is what The Sound of Music did, too. It provided inspiration to so many people.”

He then recalls one evening in the early 1970s sitting on the balcony with his mother in sight of the family plot. As they talked he saw someone climbing the fence and in exasperation said, “Oh, not again. He will sue me because he got splinters in his hand.” But Johannes then noticed that the man was a naval officer wearing his formal dress white uniform. “He stood in front of my father’s grave for a few minutes,” Johannes says as his eyes mist up. “He then saluted, did an about face and climbed back over the fence. I was tremendously moved by that. I still am. And he probably would not have known about my father unless for The Sound of Music.” Without that film we all would not have known of Georg and Maria von Trapp and their children, and been poorer for it.

unknown LIFE’s book The Sound of Music: 50 Years Later, the Hills Are Still Alive is available on Feb. 6, 2015.








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