TIME Opinion

50 Years Later: Why My Fair Lady Is Better Than You Remember

Audrey Hepburn In 'My Fair Lady'
Audrey Hepburn in a scene from the film 'My Fair Lady' Archive Photos / Getty Images

Think it's a sexist relic? Think again

I know what you’re going to say about Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. A snobby British guy in a Sherlock suit tries to “improve” a working woman by teaching her to talk pretty and look bangin’ in necklaces?! Screw you, Henry Higgins! Lean in to the flower business, Eliza! There’s nothing “loverly” about misogynistic woman-shaping narratives! Put My Fair Lady in a folder with all the other movies that “send bad messages,” like Grease and Gone With the Wind!

Screw Henry Higgins, indeed, but please do not underestimate My Fair Lady, a movie that, on Tuesday, celebrates the 50th anniversary of its premiere. And although it may be easy to dismiss the 1964 movie musical as an outdated rom-com from the shady period before feminism got rolling, it’s much more than just a relic of a sexist time. The movie itself isn’t misogynistic– it’s about misogyny.

First, a little history: The 1964 Audrey Hepburn movie version of My Fair Lady is based on the Broadway musical (starring Julie Andrews) with songs written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. The musical was based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play, Pygmalion, which was itself based on the part in Ovid’s Metamorphosis when a sculptor named Pygmalion falls in love with his statue of the perfect woman. That part of Metamorphosis was based on every guy who ever thought he could create the girl of his dreams (specifically, Freddie Prinze Jr. in She’s All That, of which Ovid was reportedly a mega-fan).

Even studio execs are always trying to cultivate the perfect girl, and that led to a bit of behind-the-scenes drama when it came to casting Eliza Doolittle. Julie Andrews had played Eliza on Broadway, and had already mastered the character and the vocals, and her stage co-star Rex Harrison was going to play Higgins in the movie. But studio head Jack Warner didn’t think Julie Andrews had the name recognition or glamor to carry a major motion picture. “With all her charm and ability, Julie Andrews was just a Broadway name known primarily to those who saw the play,” Jack Warner wrote in his 1965 autobiography My First Hundred Years in Hollywood. “I knew Audrey Hepburn had never made a financial flop.” But Andrews got the last word — losing the My Fair Lady role allowed her to make Mary Poppins, for which she won a Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Actress.

Audrey herself was still pretty good, even if she had to have her songs dubbed by another singer. As TIME wrote after the movie came out in 1964:

The burning question mark of this sumptuous adaptation is Audrey Hepburn’s casting as Eliza, the role that Julie Andrews had clearly been born to play….after a slow start, when the practiced proficiency of her cockney dialect suggests that Actress Hepburn is really only slumming, she warms her way into a graceful, glamorous performance, the best of her career.

From Ancient Greece to Edwardian England to 1960s Hollywood, the narrative remains the same: an overbearing male “genius” who transforms a pliable (read: vulnerable) woman from her meager, inadequate self into his personal ideal of womanhood. But thanks to Lerner and Loewe’s songs, My Fair Lady critiques that narrative as much as it upholds it. Their musical is not about a genius attempting to transform a weak woman. It’s about a strong woman attempting to retain her identity in spite of the controlling machinations of a small-minded man.

Take, for example, the undisguised misogyny in nearly all of Henry Higgins’s songs (spoken, with droll irony, by Rex Harrison). This is from a song near the end, fittingly titled “A Hymn to Him,” in which Higgins asks “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”:

Why is thinking something women never do?
Why is logic never even tried?
Straightening up their hair is all they ever do /
Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside?

This comes shortly after he says women’s “heads are full of cotton, hay and rags” calls men a “marvelous sex.” That’s not the only song where he drones on about how amazing he is compared to women: in “You Did It,” he takes complete credit for everything Eliza does, and in “I’m an Ordinary Man,” he idealizes his woman-free “bachelor” life.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Lerner and Loewe were themselves misogynistic jerks, and these songs were meant as appreciative bro-anthems. Maybe if they had been alive today, the music videos would have featured naked models on leashes. But more likely, they wrote these songs to humiliate Henry Higgins, to show the audience that he’s a jerk and they know it.

And Eliza Doolittle has plenty of songs that demonstrate she is anything but a statue; after all, the entire musical is written largely from her perspective. By far the best is “Without You,” which is pretty much the Edwardian-showtune version of Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable:”

Without your pulling it, the tide comes in
Without your twirling it, the Earth can spin
Without your pushing them, the clouds roll by,
If they can do without you, ducky, so can I.

There’s also “Show Me” (where she tells her loser boyfriend Freddy that actions speak louder than words) and “Just You Wait” (where she fantasizes about leaving Henry Higgins for him to drown in the ocean while she goes to meet the King). Lerner and Loewe could easily have made Eliza into a love-sick ingenue, just by writing a few more songs like “I Could Have Danced All Night” (where she’s crushing on Higgins because they danced for a hot second, remember it’s 1912.) But they didn’t.

Of course, the whole Eliza-is-a-strong-woman argument gets compromised by the ending. Because after all her proclamations that she can “stand on her own,” Eliza comes back to Higgins. And when he asks “where the devil are my slippers?” she brings them to him. It’s an ending with the same ashy taste as the ending of Grease, because it seems incongruous: Eliza has no business being with Higgins, and it’s clear she’s independent-minded enough to know it.

Except, it’s 1912. And Eliza has no family connections, no money and no formal education, which means she has nowhere to go but back to the streets (or away with the insipid and financially dubious Freddy). She isn’t brainwashed or stupid — when given the choice between an emotionally abusive man and destitution, she chose the man. Choosing the man doesn’t make My Fair Lady a sexist movie; it makes it a movie about a sexist time.

Of course, 50 years later, there’s another version of My Fair Lady: Selfie, on ABC, is the newest to take up the Pygmalion mantel, when a male marketing exec “rebrands” a girl who has fouled up her social media presence. Let’s see how they do it without Lerner and Loewe.

Read TIME’s 1964 review of My Fair Lady, here in the archives: Still the Fairest of Them All

TIME movies

The Best Soundtracks of All Time, As Chosen by Directors and Composers

From The Wizard of Oz to American Beauty, Hollywood's finest pick the soundtracks and scores that made the biggest impact in the movie industry and beyond

  • John Landis

    (Director, Animal House, The Blues Brothers)

    Various

    The best needle drop example I can think of is the way Stanley Kubrick used an existing Deutsche Grammophon recording of “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss as the music for the space station sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. George Lucas’s use of rock and roll in American Graffiti and Marty Scorsese’s use of rock and roll in Goodfellas are two more terrific examples of “needle drop.”

    As for scores written for specific movies, there are many wonderful examples, from Elmer Bernstein’s rousing music for The Magnificent Seven to his very different scores for The Sweet Smell of Success, The Great Escape and To Kill a Mockingbird. Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcok scores are all wonderful, as are the Maurice Jarre collaborations with David Lean.

  • Amy Heckerling

    (Director, Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High)

    American Graffiti

    When I first saw it, I was a teenager, and I just went crazy for it. I had never been to California, and suddenly there was this sparkly land of cute people and tons of music, and they were in cars, and I thought you had to be really rich to be young and have a car! It just seemed incredibly magical to me, and I had no idea that such a place existed.

    I always loved movies with tons of music, and I was always a fans of musicals. In American Graffiti, it was so organic, because you have car radios, so it made sense. It was automatic to what they were doing, which was running around in cars, and cars have soundtracks. There was a sense of humor to the way it was used. You didn’t feel like, oh, here’s a sad guy and they’re playing a sad song. It was Richard Dreyfuss — who was, I think, about the cutest human being there could be then — “The Great Pretender,” and hanging around with the gang, the Pharaohs, but he was obviously the smart nerd guy. It was just adorable the way it fit together. And then when he goes to the radio station and hears “You Saw Me Crying in the Chapel”? Well, it was a radio station and not a chapel, but it was a form of religion. But it wasn’t saying that in a serious way — it was saying it in a humorous way.

  • Pete Docter

    (Director, Up, Monsters, Inc.)

    Alexander Nevsky and Raiders of the Lost Ark

    My parents are classical music lovers and I was introduced to the music from Alexander Nevsky (1938, by Sergei Prokofiev) years before I ever saw the film. It’s bold and sweeping, with themes that get stuck in your head, and dramatic moody parts. I love the “Battle on the Ice” sequence — it starts quietly with great tension, and builds slowly to a driving peak. I used this as the soundtrack for many films I made as a kid, which created the illusion of them actually being interesting. Apparently Prokofiev wrote the music after seeing a rough cut from director Sergei Eisenstein. Inspired, Eisenstein reshot and cut footage to the music — an unusual way to work, which tells of their mutual respect and admiration for each other’s work. It was kind of a shock to me when I finally saw the film; it sounds like they recorded the soundtrack on tin foil and used that to wrap borsht. It’s tinny and thin, a completely inadequate representation of Prokofiev’s dynamic, powerful music. Luckily there are many great re-recordings of the score available.

    I was 12 when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out (in 1981, with music by John Williams), and it instantly lodged in my brain. I came out of the theater humming the theme, and to this day it conjures up images from the film whenever I hear the music. The musical themes evolve along with Indy; the music tells the story. It’s an integral part of the film; you can’t imagine the movie without this score. If that’s not a great movie score, I don’t know what is.

  • Kristin Anderson-Lopez

    (Composer, Frozen)

    The Wizard of Oz

    If I have to pick one (which is unfair because I’d really like to make my top 100 list), I’d have to say The Wizard of Oz (songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg) is the biggest game-changer [and the] most entertaining score of all time. Ask anyone age 5 to 105, and chances are they can sing the iconic melody of “Over the Rainbow,” but more importantly, they can point to a moment in their own experience when they felt what Dorothy feels when she looks to the sky and sings: “If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow / why oh why can’t I?” The story structure is referenced in every single writers’ room on the planet. And let’s not forget: it has a strong female protagonist driving the story.

  • Robert Lopez

    (Composer, Frozen, Avenue Q, Book of Mormon)

    South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut

    South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut (songs by Trey Parker with Marc Shaiman) is by far the funniest movie musical of all time and one of the greatest. The songs (“What Would Brian Boitano Do,” “Blame Canada,” to name two out of the 11) are all shockingly hilarious spoofs, as you’d expect — but also carry the story forward engagingly with grace and masterful economy. Without this movie there would be no Avenue Q or Book Of Mormon – it changed everything for me.

TIME movies

Key and Peele Are Doing a Movie Together and It’s About a Cat

AOL's BUILD Series Presents: Comedians Key And Peele
The comedic duo Key & Peele pose for a portrait at AOL Studios in New York City on Oct. 10, 2014 Taylor Hill—Getty Images

Production begins next spring

Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, better known together as the comedic duo Key & Peele, have just signed on for their first movie together.

The film, titled Keanu, tells the story of a kidnapped cat and will begin production next spring, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The film will be under the banner of New Line Cinema, with whom the two comedians recently agreed to produce a remake of the iconic Police Academy franchise.

The pair’s hugely popular sketch show Key & Peele just entered its fourth season and has been nominated for five Emmy awards.

Although Key and Peele have done individual roles in films like The Lego Movie and Little Fockers respectively, this is the first feature film on which they will be working together.

[THR]

TIME movies

Coming Soon: Guardians of the Galaxy Tunes on Cassette Tape

The Cinema Society With Men's Fitness And FIJI Water Host A Special Screening Of Marvel's "Guardians Of The Galaxy"
Actor Chris Pratt attends The Cinema Society with Men's Fitness and FIJI Water special screening of Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" at Crosby Street Hotel in New York City on July 29, 2014 J Carter Rinaldi—FilmMagic/Getty Images

This chart-topping, ’70s-themed soundtrack is getting a period-appropriate release on cassette

The Guardians of The Galaxy soundtrack is getting a rerelease on cassette Nov. 17, giving film fans their own version of the ’70s mix tape the film’s star, played by Chris Pratt, is never without.

The Marvel film’s soundtrack — previously released on digital download, CD and vinyl — impressively topped the Billboard 200 over the summer, even though it has no original songs — everything on this tape is from the ’70s. Tracks include Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” and David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.”

Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy topped foreign box offices this week after a big release in China. The sci-fi movie has racked up some $732.6 million globally.

[Billboard]

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

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.

MORE: The 10 Best ‘Walking Dead’ Episodes

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.”

MORE: No Guts, No Glory: The Rise of Gross-Out TV

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.

Alien$.
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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TIME celebrities

Martin Short’s Big Fat Funny Autumn

Actor Martin Short during the 52nd New York Film Festival on October 4, 2014 in New York City.
Actor Martin Short during the 52nd New York Film Festival on October 4, 2014 in New York City. Jim Spellman—WireImage

The dynamic comedian talks about his 'Mulaney' role, the joys of working with Paul Thomas Anderson and his famous last words

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

Martin Short is having a bit of a moment. His memoir, I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend, is out in November, and he’s earning huge buzz for playing a drugged-out dentist in the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson film, Inherent Vice. Right now, you can see him on Mulaney, the new Fox sitcom starring stand-up comic John Mulaney. Short plays Mulaney’s boss, Lou Cannon, a narcissistic TV game-show host who comes on to female guests and obsesses over how his eventual death will be covered on TV. “He’s a moron with power,” says Short, 64. “Those people are my specialty.”

It’s surprising that it’s taken you this long to become a regular on a sitcom.
Actually, my first job in America was a small role on a James L. Brooks sitcom called The Associates [in 1979]. It didn’t last a season. Then I was on another sitcom called I’m a Big Girl Now, which was about a think tank in Washington – but then, suddenly, by episode 12, we’d become a newspaper. No explanation whatsoever.

SCTV came soon after that, and SNL a little while later, so I found myself doing stuff that was either a late-night show or, eventually, the movies. At a certain point when you’re not struggling for rent money, you have the luxury of keeping yourself intrigued by something. The idea of being a regular on a series felt limiting; you know, you’re on a TV show every week, and that’s what you do. The eclectic nature of being able to do a sketch show and then a movie and then go out and do live shows with Steve Martin for a bit — that intrigued me.

However, Lorne Michaels, who I have a huge amount of respect for, called me up and said “You know, I know you’ve never really done something like this before, but John [Mulaney] is a great guy and I think you want to be part of this.” Once I met John, I got what he was saying. It made perfect sense. The voice of that show is very specific.

MORE: Fall TV Preview 2014: The Good, the Bad & the Gotham

How would you describe Lou Cannon?
Lou can’t comprehend why people wouldn’t be constantly thinking about what’s most important in life – which is Lou and his well-being.

I think you’ve just described 90% of people in show business.
Oh, absolutely.

Is the character based on anyone in particular?
President Harry Truman. [Laughs] Oh, I don’t know. Every character I’ve done has been based on one or two specific people, but then they’re colored by many, many other folks. It’s the same with Lou. He’s more of a type.

But you know, I do have famous friends who I’ve sat with over the years, and they’ll go on and on about themselves for so long that — since you tend to drift when these conversations take place — I wonder what they would think if they saw a transcription of this exchange. I think they’d be stunned. It’d be me going “Uh-huh” and then pages and pages of them droning on. [Pause] That’s my long-winded way of saying I’m not telling.

He’s essentially sort of a descendant of Jiminy Glick [the preening, clueless fake talk-show host Short played on Primetime Glick], who once said, ”You know, the problem with Charlie Rose as an interviewer is that he listens.” Lou would agree.

MORE: The Best Movies For Fall 2014

You originally came up with Glick when you were doing an actual talk show, right?
It was a syndicated talk show, and I wanted to create a celebrity interviewer who could go to junkets and looked nothing like me, so that people literally wouldn’t recognize it was me. Since my show was being broadcast at all sorts of different hours, including during the day, I thought, Well, I’d better take a look at daytime TV and see what it’s like. These were the pre-Ellen days, mind you; Rosie [O'Donnell] was on, and that was cool. But other than that, it was mostly people with large staffs and huge budgets who had no business being on TV whatsoever. To me, the notion that they’d be terrifying to the people who worked for them and that there would be some production assistant who’d be scared that they’d messed up someone’s tuna-fish sandwich order made me laugh. That’s where Glick came from.

You’ve got a busy fall: There’s your memoir, and you’ve got a small role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice.
If you ever have a chance to play a horny, swinging, coke-snorting dentist, you really have to take it. I was expecting Paul to be this brooding auteur, but he’s really a regular guy. He likes doing fast takes, and lots of them. I’d improvise something and he’d say, ”That’s great, Marty, do some more of those.” ”You sure it’s not too big, Paul?” ”Nah, nothing is too big!”

He keeps a very relaxed, cool vibe on his sets, which is something he and Mulaney have in common. You have some actors where they need the World War III of it all to be creatively juiced; unnecessary tension stifles my creative instincts. I just find that to be such pretentious bullshit. But those guys aren’t like that at all. They keep it loose. The best stuff happens that way.

MORE: The Best TV of 2014 So Far

SNL is coming up on its 40th anniversary. Do you have fond memories of your time on the show?
I was on during the Dick Ebersol years – or the George Steinbrenner years, as we called them, since that was when he brought in a bunch of players who were already well-known and gave us one-year contracts. You’ll get horror stories from some folks, but I was treated like a prince.

My situation, of course, was very different. Having just come out of doing SCTV for three years, there was a part of me that really wasn’t sure whether I wanted to jump back in to something like that. Dick called me up and said “We’d love to have to have you on the show for the next year, along with Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest.” I thought, well, they certainly aren’t going to do it, so I said “Hey, as soon as they agree, phone me, Dick!” I figured I was safe until they’d called a press conference announcing those guys had joined, so I jumped aboard at the last minute.

Since I knew I was only going to be there for a short time, I treated every show like a stand-alone TV special. I drove myself crazy, putting all this pressure on myself, so it was like final exams every week. That’s my only regret, that I didn’t enjoy it a bit more or be a little more open to the idea of staying for a few seasons and seeing what I could have done with it more.

Is there a surefire way to get a laugh?
You know, I had done some stage work in the Seventies and was a funny guy at parties but having to come up with it on demand? But as I watched a bunch of my friends go to Chicago when Second City opened up a sister company in 1973 — people like John Candy, Eugene Levy, Gilda [Radner], Danny [Aykroyd] — and thought, well maybe I could do that. It still took me four years to join them, of course.

But what I quickly leaned was that it was usually the reaction that got a laugh. The fact that you could have a drycleaner sketch and you could say “I cleaned your stain out, mister” — and if you said it right, you could get a laugh. When I first played Ed Grimley at Second City, I’d stick his hair straight up to try to make [scene partner and Danny's younger brother] Peter Aykroyd laugh. Then the audience laughed too. So, basically, a funny look is a surefire way to get a laugh. That, and falling down.

Lou’s ideal last words are “I did it for the laughs”. What would yours be?
Something more practical: ”Pass me a tissue,” maybe. ”Could you hold this for just a second?”

MORE: The 50 Funniest People Now

TIME movies

Disney Announces Animated Feature Moana Coming in 2016

From the directors of 'Aladdin' and 'The Little Mermaid'

A new animation feature announced Monday by Walt Disney Animation Studios will tell the tale of a teenage girl navigating a journey through the South Pacific.

The film, set to be directed by Ron Clements and John Musker — who also directed Aladdin and The Little Mermaid will follow Moana, who sets out on an “impossible mission to fulfill her ancestors’ quest,” according to Disney’s blog. She’s apparently very good with boats.

Viewers can expect the feature to hit theaters in late 2016.

TIME relationships

Why Parents Let Kids Watch More Movies With Sex and Violence

Girl in Movie Theater Eating Popcorn
Fuse/Getty Images

They're getting desensitized, study suggests

If you’ve felt like PG-13 movies have gotten more violent lately, you’re right. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reports that violent scenes are now more common, with gun violence tripling in movies since 1985. Sex scenes in R-rated movies are up, too.

One possible reason: the more parents watch movies filled with sex and violence, the less they appear to care about the age of children watching them, too, the study suggests.

Annenberg Public Policy Center researchers screened several movie clips in succession for 1,000 parents of pre-teens and teens, asking them what they thought was an appropriate minimum age for their child to watch the movie. The more movie clips the parents watched, the more lax they became about who should watch the film.

At first, the parents rated violent scenes appropriate for kids at age 16.9 on average, and sex scenes appropriate for kids starting at age 17.2. But by the end of the study, those thresholds had dropped. Parents thought kids ages 13.9 could watch the violent scenes and kids aged 14 could watch the sex scenes.

Outside of the lab, parents have input in how movies are rated. Several members on the board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the group that rates movies, have children, the study says. Researchers think that the increase in sex and violence may actually be due to parents becoming desensitized to the scenes. This, the authors conclude, “may contribute to the increasing acceptance of both types of content by both parents and the raters employed by the film industry.”

TIME movies

Robin May Be a Woman in the Batman v Superman Movie

"St. Vincent" New York Premiere
Actress Jena Malone attends the New York Premiere of "St. Vincent" at the Ziegfeld Theater on October 6, 2014 in New York City Mike Pont—FilmMagic

Holy casting rumors, Batman!

As if Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn’t already packed with superheroes (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, to name a few), NBC is reporting that Robin will also be in the film—and she will be played by Jena Malone.

Yep, that’s right: Robin’s a she. An extra anonymously told NBC news affiliate WILX-10 that the Hunger Games: Catching Fire actress is filming scenes this week with Ben Affleck, who plays Batman, and Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Lex Luther. This could explain why Malone has lately been sporting red hair. Two weeks ago, the actress Instagrammed a pic of her new fiery locks with the caption, “Drastic times call for drastic measures.”

Making Robin a woman, though, isn’t all that drastic. Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman movie is reportedly based largely on Frank Miller’s comic The Dark Knight Returns, in which Batman’s sidekick is a woman named Carrie Kelley. In the comics, Kelley—obsessed with the Dark Knight—saves him from some bad guys in order to win his trust and become the new Robin.

This information comes to you at a potentially high price: The extra who leaked the news could be fined a staggering $5 million after signing a non-disclosure agreement to Warner Bros.

TIME movies

Leo DiCaprio Teams With Netflix on Endangered Gorillas Documentary

8th Annual Clinton Global Citizen Awards - Arrivals
Leonardo Dicaprio at the 8th Annual Clinton Global Citizen Awards at Sheraton Times Square on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York. Michael Loccisano—Getty Images

Virunga hits Netflix and select theaters on Nov. 7

Leonardo DiCaprio is coming to Netflix — but not in the way you might expect.

The actor is teaming up with the streaming giant to release Virunga, a documentary directed by Orlando von Einsiedel that takes a look at gorilla preservation in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The movie follows a team of park rangers, one of whom is a former child soldier, as they try to protect endangered mountain gorillas from poachers.

The movie, executive produced by DiCaprio, will hit Netflix and theaters in Los Angeles and New York City on Nov. 7.

“Leo intuitively understands that there is nothing like the power of film to reach people’s hearts and minds,” Ted Sarandos, Neflix’s chief content officer, said in a statement. “With Virunga, we’ll work with Leo to introduce viewers around the world to an incredible, gripping story that will have audiences guessing right up until the final act.”

[THR]

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