Rhea Perlman

If you’re among the millions of dedicated television viewers who feel that sitcoms simply aren’t what they used to be, Rhea Perlman may shoulder some of the blame for that. Her 11-season turn as brash, vulgar and uninhibited Boston cocktail waitress Carla Tortelli on Cheers ranks among the most original and imaginative performances in entertainment history. If you don’t agree, tell it to her 10 Emmy nominations. Perlman’s ability to infuse her characters with a stunning range of qualities and emotions—from sugary sweet to disturbingly deviant—has kept her on Hollywood’s A-list for the better part of four decades. Her current project, 13: The Musical (airing on Netflix this August) brings Perlman back to her roots on the stage. Gerry Strauss caught up with Rhea to talk about the arc of her career and what tempted her to say Okay to her latest role in the midst of the pandemic.

EDGE: When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue acting? RP: That didn’t come until after college. I liked acting starting around high school, but never really thought that it was something you could do. I didn’t know anyone who was an actor. I didn’t come from a background of people who went into the arts at all. They didn’t explore that part of their lives in terms of making a living. So, when you talk about making a living, I didn’t know anyone who did that. But then after college I had a good friend who had written many plays while I was in school. He was very talented, and he got into Columbia Film School, and I would go up there sometimes. I lived in New York then, and I’d come act in a movie of his and there were a lot of people around him pursuing acting careers.

EDGE: What were you doing to make ends meet then?

Upper Case Editorial

RP: I was like an assistant at a vet’s office. I thought I could do both of those things. I could be an assistant at Dr. Nelson’s office and try to become an actress. So, I took some classes. It was a slow roll to actually making this into a career.

EDGE: A lot of your fans first got to know you from your recurring role as Zena Sherman on Taxi—a sweet, mild-mannered character who couldn’t have been more different than Carla Tortelli.

RP: That’s funny. Zena was actually called “The Nice Girl” when the character was first created… that’s what she was called.

EDGE: Was it a challenge for you to convince the Cheers people that you could play tough-as-nails Carla?

RP: I really never thought about that when the opportunity to play Carla came up. I just thought, What fun this could be, playing a person that speaks their mind and doesn’t give a damn… someone who can be tough and that stuff. I never thought about having to convince anyone of anything. It just was, Wow, what a great part this is! EDGE: Had you played roles like that before?

RP: Coming from New York, and the little bits of work that I did there that I never got paid for—I mean, off-off-off-Broadway parts—I’d played many different kinds of people. And playing the bad guy was always fun. Carla, although not being a bad guy, had elements of that, and the people who cast me in it, who wanted me to play it, were people who knew me from Taxi: the Charles brothers [Glen and Les] and Jimmy Burrows. The Charles brothers wrote many Taxi episodes and were producers of it, and they also created Cheers. So, they wrote that part thinking of me.

EDGE: Was there anything about Carla that you suggested or made a personal choice to include in your performance?

Netflix

RP: When Carla’s sister, who was very racy, was written into one episode, I just said, “Maybe I can play my sister”— and I did get to do that. As far as Carla goes, the writers were so great at writing all of our characters that I don’t think anybody did anything but enhance what they wrote.

EDGE: You touched on your stage background so I am wondering if that theater experience made the transition to television sitcoms a comfortable one?

RP: Yeah. I think that that was one of the things that made it easy, as you said. You’re right, it does feel like a play, even though you’re being filmed, and you can do things over—which is like the best of all worlds. Because when you’re in a play, you always want to do it over. You end up doing it over the next night, but you wish you could do it over right then [laughs].

EDGE: Your 1996 family film Matilda has become a classic. It’s watched and beloved by children and their parents to this day. Did you ever expect it to transcend generations as it has?

RP: Yeah! [laughs] I mean, I did have kids that were young at the time, and I know how they were with the movies that they watched—they watched their favorites over and over and over. They never wanted to stop watching it, whether it was animated or live action. I didn’t expect it to be, but I wished for it that it would be a classic movie. I mean, it did come from a Roald Dahl book and his books are classic.

EDGE: You’ve also lent your voice to a ton of characters from many of their favorites, including the Disney+ hit, Star Wars: The Bad Batch. Do you find a different type of creative freedom in giving a unique voice to characters who look nothing like you?

RP: I absolutely love doing the voices for animated characters and stuff like that. And I do think it’s freeing and fun and it’s challenging, too, trying to find a voice, although you usually play mostly yourself. If they cast me, they want me—they don’t want me to be sounding like a Wookie. You know what I mean? There are some incredibly talented people in the business who do lots of different voices. They can talk to themselves or even a group. They can be around a table doing every voice. I wish I had that talent. It would be incredibly fun, but I love doing what I do.

Netflix

EDGE: In some respects now you’ve returned to your roots for your latest project, Netflix’s 13: The Musical. How did you get connected to this undertaking?

RP: You know what? Out of the blue. I just got an offer through my agent from somebody at Netflix, or Tamra Davis, who is the director of the film. Someone asked for me and I said, “Okay!” I think I got the offer and had to be there in a week. That was challenging because it was during the pandemic and there were a lot of costumes to get, and there was nowhere to shop…not for me, but for the designers—especially in Toronto, where everything was incredibly locked-down.

EDGE: What excited you enough about the role to make that leap on such short notice?

RP: Well, I loved the idea of working with kids, and that every kid in that show was 13 or 14 years old at most. They are incredible. I just got to watch the movie last week and it’s a ton of fun, with great dancing and singing and those kids work their butts off, getting it together. I think they rehearsed for months. They didn’t film it for months, but they rehearsed for months, and Tamra did a fantastic job. I also liked the idea of working with Debra Messing. I always thought she was great. My part is relatively small in that show, but I liked it, and it was exciting to think about working with these kids.

 

Michael Chiklis

Christian Witkin Inc.

One of the profound challenges for an actor is portraying the humanity of a character in subtle and unexpected ways. Michael Chiklis can do it in his sleep. He made us root for the bad cop on the riveting and often unnerving FX series The Shield and made our hearts ache under fifty pounds of orange rock makeup in Fantastic Four. This year basketball aficionados are loving him as NBA legend Red Auerbach in HBO’s Winning Time and he just finished filming The Senior, the true story of a 50-something college football player. Gerry Strauss wanted to get a feel for how Michael manages to inhabit the myriad characters he has played. Leveraging his own life experience and passion, it turns out, is what makes them leap off the page and onto the screen.

EDGE: What is your process for playing a real person like Red Auerbach?

MC: I basically research them and get a sense of the kind of person that they were from their own words, as well as from others. And then I try to pay deferential homage to them. But I try to keep it real, obviously. To play someone like the late great Red Auerbach is a joy, especially with someone with the pedigree of [executive producer] Adam McKay. My first episode was directed by Jonah Hill and all of my scenes were with John C. Reilly [as Lakers owner Jerry Buss]. We had a great time working together.

EDGE: You grew up a Celtics fan.

MC: Yes, and I wish my dad was still around, because he was such a huge fan and he loved Red Auerbach. I don’t know how a lot of the things that Red did back then would play in today’s world. I mean, can you imagine a guy on the sidelines lighting up a stogie because he feels like the game is over? He was known for his gamesmanship—it wasn’t beneath him to turn the heat up in the guest locker room to 95 degrees and shut the windows. He wasn’t a cheater, but he would definitely push some boundaries, for sure. But I’ll tell you what, when you read books that he’s co-authored or you read books by people like Bill Russell, the way that guys speak about him, his players loved him so much. When you play for someone for years and all you have to say is how much you adore him, there’s something to that, it speaks to a person. Red knew how to manage people. He understood what people needed and treated them with respect. He didn’t just tell them, “I’m the boss, and this is the way it’s going to go.” My understanding of Red is that if you played with him, he loved you and listened to you and collaborated with you. He was very inclusive, progressive and forward-thinking, especially in the city of Boston. That’s why his name is etched in the parquet floor. I’ve had an opportunity to play some really iconic, real-life people through the course of my career, and I approach them all in the same way with tremendous respect— with no ax to grind and no agenda in terms of the way I want to portray them.

MC: I play another real-life guy who was the oldest player in the history of college football. Mike Flynt, at 59 years old, tried out for and made his old college football team. He had been thrown out of school his senior year for fighting with another player and he always regretted it. It’s a redemption tale, an underdog tale, and it’s a really wonderful story and a great script.

EDGE: Your first big role was playing John Belushi in Wired, the film version of Bob Woodward’s book. Not many people outside Hollywood know this story.

Christian Witkin Inc.

MC: It was heavy, heavy stuff for a 24-year-old. I was a well-trained, raw visceral actor. But this was my first on-camera job. Most people I know in this business, they put their toe in the water, they get their feet wet, they’re an extra on something, they get to see how things work. My very first job was playing an icon in an incredibly controversial mess of a film. I didn’t know what a “mark” was! Someone said, “Hey, Michael, Ed Feldman, an Academy Award-winning producer, and Bob Woodward, the guy who took down Nixon. On the other side of it was Mike Ovitz and Dan Aykroyd and all of the Saturday Night Live folks and the powerhouses of Hollywood. And I had no idea, I was really ignorant. I just thought, Wow, I get to play John Belushi. After Wired, I was being told that I would never work again. snuggle up on your mark.” I’m like, “What’s a mark?” I had no clue, from a technical standpoint, what I was doing. When I played Belushi, people said at the time, “Oh, you were so brave for doing that.” I wasn’t brave. I was ignorant. I didn’t know. And the honest answer is, I don’t know if I would’ve done it if I knew it was going to be so controversial—and especially if I knew that the family was against it. On one side of it was To think that [my career] was over for me before it started—that was a scary time. But I have no regrets. I’m glad that I did it because it started my life in film and television, and I learned a lot. I learned a lot about myself.

EDGE: How did that experience change your perspective?

MC: When you go through adversity of that kind early in your life, it gives you an acute appreciation of simple things—your health, the people around you and, of course, your work, how thrilling and awesome it is. I thought, I have no power, there’s nothing I can do about this. All I can do is do the best work that I can do in whatever situation I can find myself in, and hope that the work speaks, and that I can come up that way. That’s the only thing I knew. I didn’t have any recourse at the time. It certainly wasn’t like now, where the world is so full of grievance. So I just did whatever I could to keep going forward. And I’m still here, and I’m still working and doing really cool projects.

EDGE: When did you first become interested in acting?

MC: My parents tell me that when I was around five, I announced to them that I was going to be an actor and they thought, Next week you’ll be a baseball player, or a fireman, or whatever. But I was an oddly focused young person. I always knew that I was going to do it, and I never changed my mind. I had this sort of myopic view of acting. I knew that’s what I wanted to do, and I don’t know why. As a 58-year-old man, I look at that and I shake my head, and I’m like, How? Some people still struggle with what they’re going to be when they grow up and they’re in their forties. I feel very fortunate that I always had that personal awareness that I wanted to do this for my life.

EDGE: Did you have any early influences?

FX Networks

MC: There were a couple of things that flipped switches for me. One was a television show with Frank Gorshin and Rich Little called The Kopykats that was on when I was about five or six years old. I used to do a ton of different voices and I would do them doing other people—like Frank Gorshin doing Rodney Dangerfield. I would stand in front of my big, fat Greek family, and I would go, “Hey, I’ve seen better faces on an iodine bottle.” I’d get a big laugh and that dopamine high from it. So, that was sort of affirming. When I got older I watched movies like On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire—two films that Marlon Brando starred in. They had a profound effect on me. I remember watching those films in the dark and going, I know this is what I’m going to do. I know I have to do this.

EDGE: Who else moved your career along?

MC: This gentleman named Mark Kaufman became sort of an early theatrical mentor of mine. I had an incredible opportunity to help him open the Merrimack Repertory Theater, a regional theater in Lowell, Massachusetts, the town I was born in. I had sort of a backstage pass to watching that whole process happening, to be there every step of the way. It further affirmed to me, yeah, this is my life, this is what I want to be doing. Also, I was taught very early on that people who have longevity in their career are people who have a root or a foundation in classical training. That’s why I went to Boston University. It offered a classical conservatory setting, and I studied the craft in earnest.

EDGE: How did you envision your acting future as a young man?

MC: I thought my path would be off-Broadway, Broadway, and then to the silver screen from there. That was what I had in my head, but the best laid plans, right? At 21, I moved to Brooklyn after graduation and hit the pavement. I took jobs bartending and waiting tables, and then started doing off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway. Those were fun times, very Dickensian times— the best of times and the worst of times—because it was extremely exciting to be in Manhattan pursuing what I always wanted to pursue. But it could be frustrating and terrifying, fraught with all different kinds of problems and issues. But it was amazing too, it was exciting. I was there for three years when I finally got what I have to consider to be my big break in Wired. I mean, there’s nothing normal about the progression of my life or career as an actor. It’s very, very different.

EDGE: The role with which you’re most frequently associated is Detective Vic Mackey, the lead character on The Shield, which ran for seven seasons. Mackey and Tony Soprano and later Walter White were pioneers of the television antihero in the early 2000s. What went into making The Shield so good?

MC: A couple of things. To me, everything starts on the page. In the case of The Shield, you started with the pertinent thematic question: What are we willing to accept in post-9/11 America from law enforcement to keep us safe? There were other sub-themes, but that was the thematic question posed by the entire series. That’s why it holds up today; it’s an incredibly relevant question to this moment. Having said that, you need very, very thoughtful writers—writers who aren’t heavy-handed and just want to proselytize and beat the audience over the head with something—people who actually want to ask questions from every corner. That’s the basis for a great film or television show. Then you have to cast it correctly. When you think about it, it really is an incredible confluence of things to come together for any film and television show to be good, because it’s such a team sport, right? So many things have to go right. And literally, one thing can go wrong and derail the whole project. We did seven years on a show where I think, as a collective, we all looked at each other and knew that we were doing something special and sort of remarkable, and no one wanted to drop the ball. Everyone wanted to carry their own water, if you will. So, I just think that it’s a miracle of cooperation, it’s a little bit of luck, and it’s a lot of thoughtfulness and restraint.

EDGE: How difficult is it to assemble a cast like the one in The Shield?

MC: Artists notoriously have egos, right? We all have our egos. But I think if your egos are healthy, you keep them in check. You know when it’s time for you to add your pinch of salt, and you know when not to be another cook in the kitchen‚ to let other people do what they do well. If you look at any great series, you’ll hear everyone involved say how collaborative people were, how exciting it was to get up in the morning and go to work every day, how the collaboration was rare and distinct in their career. We’ve all done shows that we wish weren’t on our résumés, and that’s part of it—that’s how you learn what you don’t want to do, how not to collaborate, and how things aren’t supposed to go. I’ve been very fortunate…I’ve been in a number of really, really good collaborations. I noticed that you guys did a cover interview with Jason Alexander, who I recently saw on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. That’s an incredible production, incredibly well made, beautifully shot, great cinematography, crisp writing, amazing acting, pacing—that’s a lot of hands, that’s a lot of people. And it’s thrilling when you see something come together that way. It’s thrilling to be a part of something like that.

EDGE: Michael, what keeps you centered at this point in your life and career? I see you’re producing and directing, recording music, getting involved in Alzheimer’s advocacy and even dabbling in martial arts.

MC: All of the above. Peaceful, joyful and centered. Variety is the spice of life, and these things keep me interested and connected to my artistry. I think I’ll never read all the books I want to read; I’m humbled at all that I don’t know—and that I’ll never be able to imbibe. I’m a bit of a seeker in that way. I want to learn as much as I can. The one thing I’m terrified of is complacency. I’ve always felt that, the moment you start to believe in your own hype and think that you’ve got it all figured out, is when the bell has tolled for you. I feel like life is short enough that you can continue learning until your last day. And that’s what I intend to do. I want to try to get better with everything that I do. I’m a drummer, right? When I’m playing drums with friends and singing, it’s pure joy. I don’t go out of my way to promote my music, but I put it out there a little bit so people can find it, but I don’t pursue it in that way. The things that are important to me are very, very simple: my family, my friends, my work, the world, people, I love to travel, I love to read, I love to listen to music of all kinds, every kind. I have the most eclectic music collection of anyone I know. I’ll listen to Rachmaninoff, and then The Tubes, you know what I mean? And everything in between. I guess this is part of my Greekness.

EDGE: How so?

MC: I grew up around a bunch of philosophers. My father is a very philosophical person. And in New England you have the winters and there’s six months at a time where we spent a tremendous amount of time inside talking and arguing and debating and philosophizing. I’m concerned for the world right now because people are increasingly afraid to speak their mind and say what their opinions are, for fear of repercussion. If not for all the debates I had with my friends and my family over the course of years, I wouldn’t have learned so much of what I know. So, I really am a big believer in conversation. I love talking to people, to my children. My oldest daughter is really coming into her own as a writer. She’s a woman of letters, and she’s very bright. My youngest is just going to—I don’t even know—I’m scared of her. She’s so incredible. They’re both incredibly bright. I know I sound like a very, very proud father—which I am—but they merit it, and I’m brutally honest. Fortunately, my oldest lives a mile down the street and my youngest, who recently graduated from college last spring, moved back in, and she’s here temporarily and working hard, and socking money away, trying to set herself up. It’s wonderful that my kids are close. The other thing is, my family loves to cook. The table is a big part of our lives. So we cook together and we sit at the table, and then it gets loud. We’re talking about this thing and that thing, and running things by each other constantly, and it’s impossible to get bored.

EDGE: As you look back at the arc of your career, what thoughts do you feel you can share with actors who are just starting out in the business?

MC: No two people have the same life path, right? So it’s impossible to give someone real advice about how to become a successful actor. There are things I can tell you that I think will help and work for you, and be there for you through the ups and downs. But no two paths are the same. I say this to people all the time that aspire to film and television careers. Actors may have crossover in their careers, but no two actors have the same trajectory. We have crossover in terms of places that we may have worked, or things that we’ve gone through along the way, but I’ve never met two actors with the same trajectory.

 

NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams

Don’t say anything about New Jersey around BRIAN WILLIAMS unless you have something good to say. The Garden State was a springboard into a news career that has seen him defy the odds and reach the pinnacle of his profession. When Williams has to dig deep for strength or inspiration, New Jersey serves as his touchstone. The instant he motors past that center stripe in the Lincoln Tunnel, he feels he is home again. In his chat with the NBC Nightly News anchor, EDGE editor MARK STEWART discovers that what you see (and hear) is what you get. Whether getting a story right, hosting Saturday Night Live, or putting his money where his heart is, Williams is as authentic as they come.

EDGE: To reach the level you have in the business, an anchor must find the perfect balance between being a newsman and a performer. How did you find that balance?

BW: I’ve never had a lesson in performance. I’ve never had anybody tell me how. I have had great role models, from watching Cronkite every evening of my young life—I lived in a household where dinner would not be served until he said, ‘That’s the way it is’—to working beside Dan Rather at CBS and, more importantly, being taken under the wing of Tom Brokaw at NBC. He made sure I was in the right spot at every point. When it was time to be chief White House correspondent, he made it clear to me that it was time to be chief White House correspondent, and I moved down to Washington with my family. So at every point I’ve been so fortunate either to have watched a great example or worked next to one, and be mentored by one.

EDGE: Cronkite was your idol.

BW: He was my absolute, North Star idol. Walter Cronkite was the guy I always wanted to be, and he lived long enough for me to make that very clear to him. That was one of the great moments of my career.

EDGE: You started your climb in Middletown, New Jersey. How did you work your way to the top?

BW: I didn’t have any contacts. I had no way in through the front door or the back. So climbing in the window of the television news business and coming up through the basement is the only way I know how to get ahead. That meant moving out to Kansas, learning the business, and being willing to crawl through broken glass to get ahead. If you have your eyes on a prize in this country, there’s nothing that can stop you—I’m a living example of that. I am not college educated, I did not grow up with honed skills or a family that knew what a prep school was. I didn’t know what the Ivy League was when I was in high school. It just wasn’t in my ken. But if you’re a hustler—and I’ve never regarded that as a pejorative, that word’s a positive in my book—the world is your oyster.

EDGE: At what point did you become comfortable being Brian Williams?

BW: I’ve thought about it a lot. Various local stations in my twenties on my way up made vain attempts to put me with consultants. I had to sit through a focus group once and listen to what they said about me. That is not for the faint of heart, and something I don’t recommend to people. But after a while, as I came up through the industry, I thought Well, this must be working. I have no choice but to be who I am. I went with who ‘brung me to the dance.’ Even so, my daughter will tell you the Brian Williams on Nightly News is not the Dad she knows. She knows someone else entirely. She will tell you that the Brian Williams of Saturday Night Live or Jon Stewart or Conan is much closer to the guy she knows.

EDGE: How did the SNL hosting gig develop? Who pursued whom?

BW: I was pursued. Lorne Michaels had made noises about it for years, actually. Lorne, sadly, has to sit through a lot of dinners and charity events that I emcee, and I tend to mix it up during those because they can be as dry as dirt. Finally he came to me and said, ‘This is a serious offer’ and gave me an airdate. I told him I had 26 years of a career to worry about and I knew I could easily dispose of it in 90 minutes. I asked everyone in my life—I asked not just Tom Brokaw, but also his wife Meredith. Jane and I talked about it for hours. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t flushing what credibility I had down the toilet.

EDGE: I recall saying to my wife when you were announced that this was the bravest hosting decision in the history of the show.

BW: When I wrote the monologue, the first thing I said was, ‘I know what you’re thinking…is this really a good idea?’ That was actually my favorite moment in the show, because it was the elephant in the studio.

EDGE: So what made you say Yes?

BW: I had never met Chevy Chase and I saw him outside SNL in the hallway talking to a friend of mine. I went up to him, introduced myself, and asked him what he thought I should do. I explained that I owed Lorne a decision tomorrow. He said, ‘I watched Dan Rather for years and I never got any closer to knowing who he is. I think if you do this, I might get to know who you are.’ And that was the clinching vote. I called Lorne and accepted. I had to reject about fifty percent of the sketch ideas the writers proposed. Their job, of course, is to make a total horse’s ass out of the host.

EDGE: The skit I remember is the one where you played a firefighter. It was a totally authentic performance. Where did that come from?

BW: Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that the helmet on my lap said OVFC #11 and Williams. That stands for Old Village Fire Company, Engine 11, in Middletown Township. That was my gear. As a firefighter years ago, on a volunteer basis in Jersey—who still hangs around New York City firefighters— that was the easiest ‘character’ I could have done. I knew the lingo already, so it was easy.

EDGE: There’s still a lot of Jersey in you, isn’t there?

BW: When I pass into New Jersey there’s something that happens to me at mid-span on the GW Bridge and midway through the Lincoln Tunnel. I call it my ‘power corridor’. I feel most at home there. I speak New Jersey. New Jerseyans are real. It’s the most densely populated state in the union and yet I can tell from your accent if you’re from South Jersey or North Jersey. I can usually tell if you’re from the Mid Shore. We have a lot of different regions, and yet I think there’s a baked-in pride. We have to put up with a lot of crap. I don’t take kindly to a lot of Jersey jokes because I know a lot about my state. Way too many people judge our state based on one stretch of highway on the Turnpike along refinery row. And that’s unfortunate. I think if we had it to do over again, we wouldn’t route so many millions of motorists right past the most heavily industrialized region of the East Coast.

EDGE: So what is it that defines New Jerseyans?

BW: There’s a moxie, there’s a street smartness, there’s a reality to being from New Jersey. New Jerseyans have texture. They have grit. We aren’t always the most earnest members of the jury pool, but we’ll be the jury foreman, and we’ll get you a verdict.

EDGE: What role does grit play in your job?

BW: Grit is what it’s all about! Grit is life experience. It’s having a few layers of paint worn off of you, so you’re not shiny and new. This is not your first rodeo. A little skepticism. Even some cynicism. Grit has served me well in life. I just think grit equals authenticity today. And to make it today, you’ve got to have it.

EDGE: What do you remember when you look back on your New Jersey days?

BW: I had the perfect upbringing; I wouldn’t do it any other way. I get very emotional and gauzy, warm and fuzzy, and romantic about my upbringing—even though at the time it felt ordinary and at times a struggle. There were kids at Mater Dei High School who had a lot more than me, and it wasn’t my proudest moment to look at the back page of the yearbook and see the colleges other kids were headed to. And while I screwed up my education and came within inches of becoming a colossal failure—I interviewed for a police dispatch position out of Freehold thinking that would be a good, steady job—life went in a different direction. But when I go back there now I would like to think I have a flag in that soil that is mine.

EDGE: One of those flags will be in Newark soon, where the Horizons Summer Enrichment Program is opening a new location. You and Jane must get pulled in so many directions, and yet you’ve devoted yourselves to Horizons completely. What is it that you have found so appealing about it?

BW: You know how they say We know you have a choice in airlines and we appreciate you flying with us? My wife and I have been blessed in many ways in life, mostly financially—we never thought we’d have any money—and we have chosen to give most of our charitable dollars to a single cause, because Horizons changes lives in front of your eyes. The children chosen for the program end up in a different life. They are transported, as if by a giant hand, and lifted up. It’s just the most extraordinary program, and it only exists because of the good people who run it. Mr. and Mrs. Williams will only be happy when there is a Horizons-affiliated school in every city, town and hamlet that feels they need one. If people would just go to the web site [horizonsnational.org] and watch the piece we did, it would be the leading school enrichment program in the country. I’ve just never seen a return on the volunteer hour or donated dollar quite as dramatic as Horizons.

EDGE: EDGE readers live and work relatively close to the new location. Tell them why they should volunteer or donate to Horizons?

BW: It’s that feeling you get when you give a gift that’s so great that it gets your endorphins going just to give it away. The feeling you’ve knocked one out of the park. Multiply that by a hundred. Or a hundred thousand. That’s how giving to Horizons will make you feel. Most Americans, in the course of their lives, are lucky if they get to change one or two lives. This is a very easy way to do that on a larger scale, with a tangible, human, smiling result.

 

Rutgers hoops coach Vivian Stringer

Grant Halverson/Rutgers University

If you had to win one game and could take any coach in the state, Vivian Stringer would unquestionably be among your top candidates. If you could select a coach to guide your daughter through the most important four years of her life, the Rutgers basketball legend would be a no-brainer. Coach Stringer has graced the Garden State with her presence since 1995, and during that time she has elevated the state of the game, both on and off the court. A three time Coach of the Year, she is one of only three people in women’s hoops history to win 800 games.

As it happens, EDGE Assignments Editor ZACK BURGESS has some history with his interview subject—they first crossed paths 10 years ago when he covered her Rutgers team for The New York Times. He knows as well as anyone that her triumphs have not come without their share of tragedy. She has persevered through the deaths of her father and husband, a daughter devastated by meningitis, and a son who nearly lost his life in a car crash. Some people define “grace” as the bestowing of God’s blessing. Zack pulled Vivian Stringer off the court to talk about this idea, as well as the dual challenges of being a coach and mother. And yes, he managed to sneak in an Imus question!

EDGE: Given the dramatic ups and downs and challenges in your life and career, do you feel blessed?

VS: Yes, I do. I wake up every day and witness other people’s plights, and just shake my head and wonder, ‘How do you handle it all?’ You just have to understand that when there is life, there is hope. Blessed? Yes.

EDGE: What does it mean to you to go into the Basketball Hall of Fame with Michael Jordan this year?

VS: I really haven’t allowed myself to think about it. I probably would be paralyzed if I thought about it too much. To go in with arguably the greatest class the Hall of Fame has ever seen is an honor. I have to prepare myself for the greatest day in my life, besides the birth of my children. It’s overwhelming. When I started at Cheyney State (in Philadelphia), I never believed that I would find myself receiving such a huge honor.

EDGE: How soon after you got the coaching job at Cheyney State did you know this was your calling?

VS: Are you kidding me? The minute I got there! I was just grateful they gave me a chance to coach the team. It was magical. I was 22 years old and loving every minute of it. It’s what I was meant to do.

EDGE: How do feel you did raising a family and being a college basketball coach?

VS: I did a masterful job as a parent of keeping basketball and my family separate. But now I wish I wouldn’t have kept things so separate. Those trips through the Midwest were tough. We were going from Iowa to Wisconsin. Instead of being on the team bus, I wish I had ridden right behind the bus for those six or seven hours, giving my kids more mommy time. Listening to them say mommy this, and mommy that. I was fortunate enough to have the best husband in the world.

EDGE: Where did being a coach and being a mom intersect?

VS: My son David played Division-I football. So not only do I know what it’s like to go into a home and recruit, I know what it’s like to be on the other end of the recruiting process as a parent. I know during his recruitment process I often looked for who was going to care about my son—who was going to push him to be the best that he can be, who was going to understand how special he is as a person. Ultimately, that’s what every parent wants. They want to know that their child is going to be safe and understood. I try to be the coach I would want for someone to be to my child. I want parents to understand that I am a parent, too. Parents have a right to see their child walk through your program okay, and emerge a better person at the end.

EDGE: Yet you have a reputation for being tough on your players. Is that fair?

VS: They say that I don’t get players sometime because I am known for being hard. What makes what I do any different from anyone else? Players who go to the University of Tennessee know they are going to a place where they just flat-out had better get it done. What I am trying to teach my players is to be good women. I want them to understand that when they come to Rutgers, they are not only here to play basketball, but to become young women who know how to empower themselves as well.

EDGE: Someone once told me talent and hard work always wins out. Do you believe that?

VS: I think perseverance, talent and hard work is what we should say. Thirty-eight years of doing this. I would like to think when my story is told that it’s one of perseverance, because you can have all the talent in the world—and you might even have a good work ethic—but without perseverance, none of it matters.

EDGE: What are the qualities you look for when you are recruiting a player?

VS: She has to have the will and the drive to be the best, and the skill to play the game. Someone who is not satisfied unless she is as good as she can possibly be, which means she is probably never satisfied. The more difficult something becomes, the more she sees it as an opportunity versus an obstacle. These qualities will carry her throughout the rest of her life.

EDGE: Have you ever gone against your rule and taken a player who had the skill but maybe not the drive?

Larry Levanti/Rutgers University

VS: Sure I have. It doesn’t work.

EDGE: Getting back to the idea of grace, I have a final question. Lost in the uproar after Don Imus made those infamous remarks about your players was the fact that you were quite gracious in accepting his apology. Why was that important to you?

VS: I think we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to forgive. My faith wouldn’t have me do it any other way and I knew that. When Imus said what he said, it hit me to the bone. I’ve never been one to be able to smile and say it’s over—I really need to do a much better job—so in order for us to go forward, we just needed to forgive.

EDGE: How many of those girls are still on the team?

VS: We have four kids left from that class who are now going to be seniors.

EDGE: And how are they doing?

VS: One is going to be doctor, one a pharmacist, one wants to be lawyer and another who can do whatever she wants. To see what these young ladies went through and have them come through it with their dignity and honor intact is a wonderful thing. I’m very proud of them.

 

Meghan Duggan

Remember when you played sports in school and there was that one kid on the other team who made you want to take a seat on the bench? You know…an athlete who saw things a split-second sooner, who was a step quicker, and who administered a hard lesson in physics if you were foolish enough to make contact. Meghan Duggan was that kid. She grew up to become captain of the U.S. women’s ice hockey team, which, after silver medals at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, won a gold medal in 2018 in South Korea. After 13 years at the apex of her sport, Duggan hung up her skates, moved to New Jersey and, last spring, became Manager of Player Development for the New Jersey Devils. A new mom in a new job, she brings her leadership, hockey experience and keen eye for championship intangibles to a club looking to hang a fourth Stanley Cup banner from the rafters at the Prudential Center. No pressure, right? EDGE caught up with Meghan to talk about life on her new home ice.

Andrew MacLean/New Jersey Devils

EDGE: Sports fans don’t realize what’s involved in the transition from star player to team executive. For some, it’s a natural transition, for others not so much. What has been the easiest part for you these past six months or so?

MEGHAN DUGGAN: The easiest part of the transition is coming into a culture that’s based around what I’ve built my life around, the sport of hockey. I’m working with hockey minds and that “hockey family” mentality, which I love. There are a lot of people in the Devils organization, and pretty much everyone with whom I interact on a daily basis has played at a high level and was a leader at a high level. I’ve felt welcomed since day one.

EDGE: What has been the most challenging aspect?

MD: Continuing to learn the ins and outs of building a successful NHL team. For a long time, I’d just had to focus on playing and leading a team as an athlete. Now I am digesting and understanding all of those components in a short period of time, including development, analytics, amateur scouting, pro scouting— just learning the terminology and how all the different groups work together toward the same goal—so that I can add value in the best way possible.

EDGE: Having been the captain of a successful team, does that give you a sixth sense about young players who might bring a similar quality to the Devils?

MD: Filling that role for so long, having to go through different experiences and highs and lows, it shaped me as a person and the leader that I wanted to be. I was challenged many times and learned a lot about having the will and the drive to compete. Using what I learned as a captain to identify and help develop great leaders and great culture is something that I want to bring to the Devils.

U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team

EDGE: With the women’s national team, you often found yourself advocating for financial support and better conditions. Is it a relief to be working for a team where those challenges don’t exist?

MD: You know, every situation brings its own challenges. On the women’s side, something that we’ll always continue to fight for is visibility, accessibility and resources. In the NHL, there certainly aren’t those struggles, but we have our own set of hurdles to clear. In both cases, that’s what you have a team for, and why you need a great group of people strategizing and solving problems. But advocacy is always going to be a part of me. Sports has given me so much in my life, I am always passionate about advocating for kids to be involved in sports and around sports, and to have great role models in general. I was recently named president of the Women’s Sports Foundation for 2022. I’m really looking forward to finding ways to marry my two roles, generating excitement about the Devils among young girls and women, and getting them to games here in New Jersey.

EDGE: I am curious about your thoughts on something. I believe that American sports fans don’t quite know how to process a silver medal, particularly in a team sport. What was it like to win silver twice and how did winning gold in 2018 alter that perspective?

Upper Case Editorial

MD: That’s a good question because the way you think about it does change and evolve. As an Olympic athlete, and a hockey player specifically, all the training I did in the four years leading up to the 2010 and 2014 games—and then winning the silver both times—there was a little sting at the beginning, as you might imagine. You don’t train and prepare and do everything you do for second place. You’re not running on the treadmill ’til exhaustion thinking I can’t wait to win silver. In hockey, in order to win a silver medal, you have to lose in the final game. So as competitive as I am and our teams were, it’s tough to swallow at first; it takes a little time to get over that and adjust. But when you are able to step back and reflect on the journey and the process and the lives you touched on the way there—and what it does mean to bring a silver medal back to your country—you can be proud of it.

EDGE: So what happened between 2014 and 2018?

MD: Our team really transformed and took on the challenge of becoming something bigger, becoming something more than silver, figuring out what the missing piece was to get the gold medal. We worked hard for four years and lived by the motto You can’t stay the same and expect a different result. We had to dig a little deeper and we were able to do so. I am very proud of our team for winning the gold medal—and then how, as a group, we used that gold medal for advocacy work, as well.

EDGE: How would you describe Meghan Duggan as a player when you were at your best?

U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team

MD: I’ve been a really competitive person since I was young. I’ve always held myself to the highest standards when it comes to competing and work ethic and the will to do the little things to help my team—win battles, block shots, kill penalties, go to the dirty areas to score goals—so I definitely brought those elements to my game. When I was at my highest level, I was a high goal-scorer and point producer. But as you get older and younger players come in, you turn your identity into something different. I was always a physical player who protected my teammates, created havoc, brought energy and was a really hard player to play against. To be honest, those are qualities I admire and look for in a player in this day and age. It’s not something everyone has, and it’s not something you can pull out of a player. It’s something deep inside players who I find exciting to be around and watch.

EDGE: What’s it like playing on a line where everything clicks?

MD: It’s the best. I had that multiple times in my career. Every night you’re showing up and your line is putting up three, four goals and you’re on a roll. It’s a nice feeling when you find that chemistry. On the flip side, being able to work through the adversity when that’s not happening—I think great players do that.

EDGE: Is that a coaching thing or something the players work out themselves?

MD: It’s a combination. There’s a lot that goes into it, which is something we deal with on the development side with the Devils. You’re trying to develop players from a technical, tactical, mental and physical perspective. However, as a player, when things aren’t going well, you have to be able to evaluate all of those components of your game, too, and find your way out of it.

EDGE: When you were growing up, playing youth hockey in Massachusetts, the American women’s team won the gold medal in Nagano. How did that change your life?

MD: My teammates and I have always said that the 1998 women’s team lit a fire in us. It really did change my life because, growing up, I had idolized NHL players. I thought I’d go on to play in the NHL, because that’s all that I saw. Being able to experience women playing hockey at an elite level was life-changing for me. And then having the opportunity to meet some of them, to put their gold medal on, to put their jersey on, that was pretty special for a 10-year-old kid. From that moment, I told everyone I knew that I was going to play in the Olympics and captain the team to a gold medal. I built my life around it.

EDGE: At what point did you feel like you were being groomed for the national team?

MD: During my freshman season in college at the University of Wisconsin, when I was invited to compete at the training camp for the women’s national team, right after Christmas. From that camp I made the World Championship team in the spring. After that, I stayed on the team for 13 years, until I retired a couple of years ago.

EDGE: You’ve talked about what you like to see in a player. Are you going to be doing a lot of scouting in your role with the Devils?

MD: That’s a major component of my job. Our department has to understand how the young players we’ve drafted or the young pros on the team or the prospects out in the field are developing, and then give them the resources to enable them to become the best players they can be.

EDGE: Is there a “Devils kind of player” that the team looks for?

MD: When you think about what the end goal is, for the organization to win a Stanley Cup, it’s more about finding the pieces that fit together in a great puzzle in order to do that. And there are a lot of pieces: your high-skilled players, your energy players, your identity players, your players who will go through walls, your goal-scorers. The Devils are very well organized. The way we go through discussions and challenge each other to be the best we can be, it’s very exciting to be a part of that. We have dynamic leadership in Tom Fitzgerald, our general manager. I’ve already learned a lot from him. As for my role, I interact with a lot of different groups within the organization. I’m in on the hockey-specific stuff and understand how players are playing right now, and where they are physically. I also have to understand who are the amateur players who might potentially be drafted and fall into the hands of the development group. So I’m still learning, but that’s what I love about my job—it gives me a unique opportunity to see how the organization runs from a number of different scopes.

EDGE: You have two very young children, so you probably get asked a lot whether you’ve gotten them on the ice yet?

MD: My son will be two at the end of February. We got him out on the ice once last winter at 10 months and I look forward to getting him on skates this winter. My daughter was born this fall and we’ll definitely be getting her on skates, as well.

EDGE: Are they looking like forwards or defensemen at this point?

MD: Too early to tell. But we’ll support them either way. I don’t know that I’d be a great goalie parent, though. I think I’d be too nervous to even watch the game. So we’ll steer ’em away from that [laughs]. We’ll see. EDGE

Editor’s Note: Meghan Duggan is an iconic figure in the history of women’s ice hockey. She was a First-Team All-American and the NCAA’s top scorer in 2010–11, and won multiple honors as the top player in women’s college hockey that season. She played six years of pro hockey following her graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Biology. In her eight career trips to the World Championships, Duggan and her U.S. teammates won seven gold medals.

Sarah Chang

As 20th Anniversaries go, Sarah Chang’s is one of the more remarkable. She has been captivating audience since age 8, mastering some of the most challenging violin concertos with awe-inspiring passion and precision when her peers were still proud of how well they tied their shoes. Now 28, Chang’s résumé is pages long when others her age are just getting their career-defining breaks. She has enchanted audiences from Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center to the great concert halls of Europe and Asia. She has shared the stage with fellow luminaries from Pinchas Zukerman to Yo-Yo Ma. Chang’s CDs are best-sellers. She has even carried the Olympic torch. EDGE sent ZACK BURGESS on assignment to profile Sarah Chang. His job was to peel away the layers that typically accompany international stardom and acclaim, and get to the heart of this transplanted Jersey Girl. Sarah made it easy. Her poised and stunning facade notwithstanding, she is still a kid at heart.

EDGE: Every parent of a talented daughter dreams that their child will have the life that you do. So let’s get the obvious question out of the way. Do you ever yearn to be someone other than yourself, to slip out of your skin and into someone else’s?

SC: Maybe for a day, but not any longer than that. I love my life. I have been traveling all over the world since I was a 10-year-old. I’m 28 and have seen and done things that are just unimaginable.

EDGE: When did you request your first violin?

SC: At four. My father played the violin and I wanted to be like him—I’m a daddy’s girl, like most little girls. I was playing the piano at the time and thought it would be great to play something else. Besides, I wanted something to carry around.

EDGE: At what point did you realize that your life was going to be different?

SC: I performed with the New York Symphony Orchestra when I was only eight. I knew there was something that wasn’t normal about that. But I didn’t think I had a “gift.”

EDGE: As an adult, have you ever experienced the fearlessness you did back then?

SC: No. I was a kid. I just did it! I didn’t think about it. Of course, now, I’ve been doing it forever and this is my life, but back then I just went with it, like most kids do.

EDGE: What was it like working with older musicians?

SC: Everyone would be going to parties after a performance and here I had to go back to my room or go study. It was frustrating then but, hey, I was a kid, a teenager. Nothing is fair when you’re that age.

EDGE: So today, as a 28-year-old, what is the downside of being Sarah Chang?

SC: The travel. Sometimes I wake up and don’t know where I am, or what city I’m in. But then I remind myself of what I do, and how I get to entertain people all over the world— and that, at an age when others are just breaking into this business, I have been doing this for twenty years now. I’m already booked out to 2012, which is a great “problem” to have when you’re an artist.

EDGE: What’s your greatest obstacle as an artist?

SC: Having to be good every night, even on those days when I don’t feel well. It’s what the public expects from me and, realistically, it’s what I expect from myself.

EDGE: Which can get rather difficult.

SC: Because I’m human.

EDGE: Does it all seem surreal sometimes?

SC: Sometimes. But for the most part I’m used to it. I don’t go through this wow syndrome, where I have to pinch myself. I’ve been doing it for so long. I’m a professional. You know what I mean?

EDGE: How does dating work when you’re Sarah Chang?

SC: It’s a challenge as a young woman on tour. It’s really hard to have a personal life when one person is in one place and the other is somewhere else. I would like to settle down someday, but I would also like to be a committed mother and wife when that happens.

EDGE: When were you finally on your own?

SC: My parents stopped traveling with me when I was around 18 or 19—which presented a challenge because they were no longer there to protect me. I made my fair share of mistakes. But I’m having fun at this point in my life.

EDGE: What was life like before that, as a 13- or 14-yearold?

SC: I was just like any other teenager who thought the world owed me something. In retrospect it was no big deal. You know, here I am performing one minute and doing homework by fax for Germantown Friends and Juilliard the next. I was always struck by how much younger I was than everyone else, and that bothered me. I missed a lot of parties. But now that I’m older, in retrospect it really was no big deal.

EDGE: What do you do on days when you’re not performing?

SC: I’m just like everybody else. I’m human. I have everyday highs and lows just like everyone else. I would say I just like to have a day to myself. No cell phones, no Blackberrys, no emails. But that rarely happens. I probably wouldn’t know what to do if it did.

EDGE: Is there anything you miss about being a Jersey Girl?

SC: Of course. I miss the driving—and the space. I’m a terrible driver, so I could really use the space!

Photos courtesy of Sheila Rock/Opus 3 Artists
  
Multi-tasker Norma Kamali

Timing is everything. NORMA KAMALI knows a thing or two about that. She shook up Madison Avenue in the 60s, put the first Pull Bikini on Christie Brinkley in the 70s, pioneered fashion video in the 80s and Internet shopping in the 90s. In 2008, Kamali launched what might just be the best-timed fashion line ever—a timelessly styled and budget- friendly collection for Wal-Mart. Her Spring 09 offerings are right on the money. Norma Kamali has always followed her own path. As this chat with EDGE confirms, she is at her best when her plate is full…and even better when it’s overflowing.

EDGE: Are you as excited about Michelle Obama as others in the fashion industry?

NK: I am. She is wearing affordable clothes. That is the best fashion statement.

EDGE: In a tough economy, sometimes you have to eliminate a couple of pricey items from your shopping list. What is the one thing a stylish consumer absolutely, positively cannot do without?

NK: If she is stylish, she really has everything, and doesn’t need anything else. However, styles at a price—and carefully chosen—can be a spirit-lifter. Anything expensive and not timeless might make you feel guilty or irresponsible.

EDGE: Last year you designed the costumes for Twyla Tharp’s ballet Rabbit and Rogue. What drew you to this project?

NK: I had worked with Twyla Tharp on a number of different productions. One being The Upper Room. Twyla came to me with the Rabbit and Rogue project as the evolution to this classic piece. The Upper Room is such a success. What drew me to this new project? It was the next wave of The Upper Room.

EDGE: What part of this production influenced you most during the conceptual process—the music, the movement, a dancer, a character?

Photo courtesy of American Ballet Theatre

NK: The concept of dark to light. The speed of the music. The type of music, film music. The music influenced the speed of the dance. Danny Elfman’s music came first and then these visual concepts. My concept for the costumes was to take the dark to light by using black, then silver, then white. I wanted to keep the color concept of silver from the beginning to the end. Brad Fields’s lighting design used the dark-to-light concept as well.

EDGE: Did Twyla coordinate your efforts?

NK: Yes. It’s a process. I would create a costume, the dancer would try it on, we’d tweak it, keep evolving it, until it worked. It’s a lot of fun, building on steps, like a painting or any creative project.

EDGE: Did you approach Rabbit and Rogue in a similar way to your runway shows and collections in terms of practicality? Drape, flexibility, breathbility, etc?

NK: Absolutely. First I figured the colors then I built on it. The way I approach something is to start, then edit and change, edit and change. The product just gets better and better that way. I would do a fitting and take photos with my IPhone. Twyla would look at them and write or call me back.

EDGE: Is designing costumes for a ballet different from designing for a musical on Broadway?

NK: I like dance a lot. It’s my preference. I’m not as excited personally with musicals or other Broadway forms. Other people do that really well. With dance I have an open palette. There’s a more creative spirit to it. It’s more fluid, less defined to a story line.

EDGE: You are a world-famous multi-tasker. What’s on your plate as 2009 starts to unfold?

Photos courtesy of Norma Kamali, Inc.

NK: Anything that relates to the new economy. I like to reinvent and think out-of-the-box.

EDGE: Can you sum up the inspiration for your Spring 09 line in a couple of words?

NK: Yes. Timeless style.

 

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Leah Soltas for making this interview happen. To see Norma Kamali’s new collections log onto normakamali.com

Sofia Milos

Dolce Publishing, Inc.

Series television, almost by definition, thrives on over-the-top characters. Yet the actors who land these coveted roles often stand out by underplaying them. It’s a brave, sometimes risky choice that requires trust on the part of the audience, director and fellow actors. Sofia Milos has made a career out of earning that trust. Her relationship with the camera transcends pure physical appeal and brings depth and nuance to her roles. As EDGE Editor at Large Tracey Smith discovered, what you see on the screen with Milos is just an intriguing tease for what you get.

EDGE: The characters you’ve played tend to project a blend of feminine vulnerability and powerful independence. Is that a European thing?

SM: I think it is partly my very European upbringing, and partly my living here in America. It has brought me to what seems rare sometimes among actors. Typically, either you’re just an artist and not a businessperson, or a businessperson and not a creative person. I enjoy both sides equally. So the characters I tend to play are nuanced women where there is this great sensitivity and passion—very European—but also independent, strong and powerful women in high-ranked positions. Like Homeland Security Special Agent Bianca LaGorda in The Border, my Canadian show. Or Yelina Salas on CSI Miami, whose role changed several times over the years, from detective to undercover cop to private investigator. Or Annalisa Zucca, a mafia boss, in The Sopranos. And quite a few more strong women like that.

EDGE: You were raised in Italy, educated in Switzerland, and then moved to New York. That’s quite a combination.

SM: Yes. And I came here at a young age. I was 19 when I first hit the ground in New York. This is really the land of opportunity. You’re given a chance here no matter what race you are, no matter what gender you are. In Italy, it wasn’t like that at the time. An Italian woman? Are you kidding me? You aren’t supposed to leave the house until you’re ready to get married! Here, I was given the opportunity to find myself and explore things I liked and through that I became very empowered. That empowerment, I think, it shone through in the roles that I picked and did best with.

EDGE: In The Sopranos, you went toe-to-toe with Tony as a female mob boss.

SM: James Gandolfini. I remember him so fondly. For a man this big and so important, playing a mafia boss, he was just a big teddy bear. Truly, he made it so wonderful to work with him. Each of the three episodes that I did, I had a great time. We had some long hours—18-hours a day—and you wouldn’t feel it. I had the best time working on those scenes. I was extremely sad when I heard he had left us—and on top of that in my city, in Rome.

EDGE: How did you work with David Chase?

SM: I was so grateful to have gotten that role, and grateful for his very particular, precise, concise requests, even on how much accent he wanted (laughs) coming from an Italian. He had an exact idea of what he wanted, yet I loved the freedom he gave me. To bring in those silent moments, those silent communications—he loved it and he let me do it!

EDGE: In a way, those Sopranos episodes were a turning point for you.

SM: They changed my career. Instead of having a 70 percent male audience, I suddenly had at least a 50 percent female audience. Women were saying Thank you for that character. Women are very, very strong. They always have been. They have been suppressed by cultures, religion, marriage, fears, customs of different countries, education—but I believe they are much more courageous than their male counterparts. I’d always thought of myself as a strong person, coming to the United States alone as a teenager, tapping into that strength, going out as a warrior while holding on to my traditions. All those things came through for the first time with Annalisa, this traditional Neapolitan, who was very strong and could go toe-to-toe with a mafia boss.

EDGE: How did you prepare for that role?

SM: Tim Van Patten, the director, gave me a book called Women and the Mafia, and I loved it. These were some brilliant, brilliant women, just on the wrong side of the law. I learned the difference between La Cosa Nostra, which is the Sicilian mafia, where the women would be quiet, didn’t see anything, hear anything, don’t talk, and the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia. If the husband dies or is incarcerated in the Camorra, they are next in rank, and they take over. So Annalisa Zucca took over. That’s what she is, her husband. That infamous scene where she goes eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose, lip-to-lip with Tony Soprano and says Bleep you, you’re gonna have to deal with me!—that was the beginning of the fire between them. If Fifty Shades of Grey had existed back then, he would’ve called me Mrs. Zucca (laughing) and I would’ve called him Mr. Soprano!

EDGE: On CSI Miami, how much of Yelina Salas was you, and how much came out of character research?

SM: It was both. Understand that when you come on board a series and sign a contract for seven years, whether it lasts or not, there has to be a big part of you in the character. You are potentially in 20 or more episodes a year. You’re an actor. You have to bring that character to life, even if it’s very far from you. But you also bring something that is yours—your mannerisms, your looks, your little ways of doing something. As far as Yelina, I think the silent and unspoken moments—having a dialogue with your eyes—that was me, very Mediterranean. I’m very grateful for the “silent dialogue” between Horatio and Yelina. People enjoyed that very much, even though CSI Miami was a very fast-paced show. You know, I think that’s a difference between European movies versus American movies. In Europe, there are brilliant silent spoken moments, but overall perhaps the writing here enables actors to work more within the dialogue. I just thank God for all the amazing writers out there. They make my job easy.

EDGE: CSI Miami ran for 10 seasons. That’s extraordinary when you think about it. The show had a lot of moving parts.

SM: It was a brilliant, topical, creative, very aesthetic, choreographed show that required a solid team—from the wardrobe, to the lighting, to the writing, to the performances. I think they did a wonderful job on the clothing. The costume designer was amazing, and at least a couple of times a month I would just ask if I could buy the Dolce & Gabanna suits that my character wore, because I loved them and they fit so perfectly. Obviously she was a well-paid detective. I loved her style. You fit the glove, Sofia (laughing) or the glove fits you!

EDGE: You mentioned European films. As a fan of the movies, if you could jump into a time machine and slip into a classic role, which would it be?

H Magazine

SM: Marriage Italian Style with Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. I thought they were brilliant together. They were the epitome of brilliance. There was so much strength in her character, Filumena—so much pain, passion, attraction, history—to me it was a very ageless role that you could relate to in so many ways, and not just because of the way it was written. I actually have played Filumena, under the guidance and study of Milton Katselas at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. We put up some pieces in our master class and one was from Marriage Italian Style. I received a standing ovation as Filumena. That role had so many facets. It’s a role that I really loved.

EDGE: Elaborate a moment on your work with Milton Katselas. His students read like a Hollywood Who’s Who— including George Clooney, Alec Baldwin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ted Danson…

SM: I was just so fortunate and blessed to have gotten to study with the Beverly Hills Playhouse under his guidance. He squeezed a lot out of us. He really pushed us. He brought us to our knees and then up to the clouds and then to the sky. He “let us have it” so that we could have it.

EDGE: You filmed an episode of Friends before it was even on the air. Did you sense that it had the makings of a hit TV show?

SM: I knew it. I could see that it was a tight family. They were so much fun, so down-to-earth, so willing to give each other freedom. Nobody had an ego, at least when I worked there.

EDGE: How did that ensemble cast differ from The Sopranos cast?

SM: In terms of teamwork, they didn’t, actually. The same thing was true on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Of course, that was an unscripted show, so you got the freedom to bring whatever and it was appreciated. On The Sopranos— especially the ten days in Naples—the whole cast was giddy, singing Italian songs. Seriously, the shortest day was 12 hours and the longest day was 20 hours, but you didn’t feel it. It was great. I had an amazing time.

EDGE: You’re pretty comfortable with different languages and dialects. Is there one you could never quite nail?

SM: No, because I don’t give up until I have succeeded. I can be very tenacious. I am currently studying Hebrew, and you’d think it’s a very difficult language, but after having only studied for a few months, I can have a simple conversation. It doesn’t seem so hard to me.

EDGE: Could you do a Scottish accent?

SM: For you? Now? Nope! (Laughing) But I do like Scottish men!

EDGE: What do you feel defines you as an actress?

SM: When I began in this business, I decided I wanted to have a choice of what I do—and that I would always maintain my integrity. Integrity ranks higher than anything to me. It’s my way of being selfish. I won’t compromise it. My dream would be to have so many offers that I could always be a working actress, yet still have integrity in everything I do. And always feel like OMG am I getting paid to do my hobby? If you talk about freedom in this business, real freedom is the ability to have clean hands. Is it a Hollywood thing to do? Maybe not so much. But it’s a Sofia thing to do.

Christian McBride

Christian McBride may be the hardest-working man in Jazz. The virtuoso bassist has played on nearly 300 records and has earned three Grammys for his own albums, which number more than a dozen heading into 2014. McBride learned his craft from his father (Lee Smith) and great uncle (Howard Cooper), refined it further at Juilliard, and went on to play with a who’s who of jazz luminaries, including Chick Correa, Sting, Pat Metheny, Diana Krall, David Sanborn, Joe Lovano, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Benny Green and Ray Brown. All by age 40! McBride and his wife, jazz singer Melissa Walker, live in Montclair, where they lead the Jazz House Kids program and play starring roles at the annual Montclair Jazz Festival. Next March, he will host Jazz Meets Sports at NJPAC, an evening of music and conversation with sports superstars and jazz connoisseurs Bernie Williams and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Editor at Large Tracey Smith, who knows a thing or two about jazz herself, talked to McBride about the next step in his already over-the-top career.

EDGE: You’ve made a really impressive transition from in-demand sideman to bandleader. How does that journey work?

CM: As a sideman, when someone hires me for a gig, my first job is to serve the vision of that bandleader. It’s almost like being an actor—if someone calls you in for a role in a movie, you have to thrive within that role. Musicians often say they don’t want to have any limitations or work where there are guidelines. Finding your own place within these guidelines? For me that’s fun! It means I can do this but I can’t do that—or vice versa. Hmmm, let me see what I can find in here. I think that’s how I’m able to still retain my own identity while serving the bandleader.

EDGE: Talk about your work with Chick Correa and Sting.

CM: I’ve had a working relationship with Chick Correa since 1996. And every group I’ve played with him in, it’s quite surreal—he allows me to do whatever I want, do whatever I hear. He wants me to read the music he gives me, but once I get off the paper, I can do my thing! He’s really cool. He trusts me. I’m appreciative and honored by that. Sting, on the other hand, now this is how I think most bandleaders are…or at least should be. When I first started working with Sting, he was only just a little familiar with my playing. He’d heard a couple of the songs I had played on, but mostly it came from reputation. A few of the guys in the band told him if he was looking for a new bass player, then he should look at Christian McBride. When I started rehearsing with him, I realized I had to earn his trust, because we hadn’t played together before. To gain a bandleader’s trust, you must do exactly what they ask you to do—don’t step out of bounds, gain their confidence, and then when they start trusting you more and more, with each performance you get to establish more of your own identity, while serving the bandleader’s vision.

EDGE: Isn’t that still constrictive?

CM: Why would I go on Sting’s gig and start playing all my Ray Brown licks? That isn’t what’s called for. It’s about being selfless and serving the vision. After a few months of playing in his band I was able to throw in—every once in a blue moon—some of my own stuff. Sting would look over and give me a wink, or he would look over and give me a frown (laughs) depending on what lick it was.

EDGE: Now you are primarily a bandleader. Did that take some settling in?

Photo courtesy of Christian McBride

CM: Yes. It’s taken quite some time to feel comfortable being a bandleader all of the time. Over the last, I would say, five or six years, the majority of my time has been dedicated to all of my own projects, my band—Inside Straight—my trio, my big band. Before that, I kind of just dibbled and dabbled at it; most of my time was spent playing with other people, being the sideman. It wasn’t a very good balance of being able to do both. I think most people viewed my being a bandleader as something I did every once in a while, when I wasn’t busy with Pat Metheny or Chick Correa. But now the tide is starting to turn.

EDGE: Both roles demand a certain degree of, as you mentioned, selflessness.

CM: I think that would be the main thread. As a sideman, you have to realize that you are there to serve the vision of the bandleader. Too many musicians are always looking for someone to tell them how great they are, even when it’s not their gig. They somehow want to have a lot of “say so” even though they’re not the bandleader. But that’s not what it is…the greatest musicians I’ve ever been around are very selfless musicians, and as a bandleader you have to be sensitive to your sidemen or collaborators. It’s a democratic process. In order for them to help you carry out your vision, they have to be on your side. You can’t be selfish, you can’t be a mean-spirited slave-driver. That only works for a hot minute, it doesn’t work for the long run (laughs). The band will turn on you at some point.

EDGE: Who do you consider your important influences?

CM: My primary influence when it comes to composition has always been Wayne Shorter. I cannot write like him. Nobody can write like him. In terms of what he writes, and how he writes, he’s always been my number-one hero. But then, there are musicians like Duke Ellington, Oliver Nelson, Chick Correa—they have always been some of my biggest inspirations.

EDGE: When I listen to you, I hear Ray Brown with Jaco Pastorius bass lines. Who are your musical mentors?

CM: Well, those two people you just named are my top two influences of all-time. If I could somehow tell someone what my playing is based on, it would be those two guys, Ray Brown and Jaco Pastorius. Again, particularly with the electric bass, I’m not as well-balanced playing both the acoustic and electric bass, at least publically, as I once did with my old band, The Christian M Band. I would say by the end of next year or early 2015, I want to start doing some work with my fourth group, called A Christian McBride Situation, which is a pretty even balance of acoustic and electric instruments. Ray Brown, Jaco, Ron Carter, Bootsy Collins, they are all my top heroes.

EDGE: 2013 has been a busy year for you.

CM: It has. I’ve had two CD releases already—People Music, with my group Inside Straight was released in May, and my new trio’s CD, called Out Here, was released in August. I also performed at the University of Maryland a piece I was commissioned to write for the Portland Art Society, The Movement Revisited. It’s a four-part suite dedicated to four major figures of the Civil Rights Movement: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., performed by my Big Band and Washington DC’s Heritage Signature Chorale, with spoken word selections by special guests, including civil rights activist and artist Harry Belafonte.

EDGE: The digital age has certainly changed the recording industry landscape. How has the Internet changed things for you?

CM: It’s been like the Wild Wild West. It’s definitely a new frontier for everyone in the music industry. I think we’re still trying to plant our feet to try to get some stability. It seems like it is affecting everyone across the board, not just jazz musicians. One could argue that it is leveling the playing field, but I think that is only half-true, because what is happening now is that people are crafty and they are finding ways to get around paying for music. That’s not good on any level, because artists have to make a living. I don’t know how we can somehow change the thinking of Americans. I really feel it’s only an American problem, because people have no problem paying for music anywhere else in the world—even people who don’t have a lot of means. They realize the importance of art, but it seems like here it’s, “Why should we pay for music? All these guys are millionaires anyway!” Someone always has this knee-jerk reaction that all musicians are millionaires, or we don’t need the money, or what we do is not really an occupation, it’s a hobby.

EDGE: Who’s on your playlist when you are listening for pleasure?

CM: I really don’t do as much recreational listening anymore. I’m working on so many different projects, that most of my listening is dedicated to that. But James Brown usually dominates any of my musical devices. And there is always plenty of Cannonball Adderley, Ray Brown with Oscar Peterson, plenty of Quincy Jones—especially during his big band stuff. Those are always going to be in my player.

 

Terence Winter

New Jersey has been good to Terence Winter. The Garden State furnished him with the inspiration and settings for two of the most iconic series in television history. Winter was a writer and executive producer for The Sopranos, and the creator of Boardwalk Empire. The Brooklyn born ex-lawyer sat down with EDGE Editor at Large Tracey Smith to talk about the two shows and their protagonists, reveal a nugget or two about the upcoming Boardwalk Empire season, and his upcoming film, The Wolf of Wall Street. What’s the key to writing a great series about crooks? Honesty…what else?

EDGE: Explain how you were able to transition so easily from The Sopranos to Boardwalk Empire?

TW: It might have looked easy but it wasn’t. There was a lot of research involved for Boardwalk that I didn’t need to do on The Sopranos. For example, on The Sopranos, because it was contemporary, I didn’t need to look up pop culture references, I knew the way people spoke, acted, and dressed. For the 1920s, it’s a whole different ball game. I needed to learn about World War I, I needed to learn about the Temperance Movement, I needed to learn about the year women got the right to vote—I needed to put myself in the mindset of characters who were born in the 19th century. So colloquialisms, what books did they read, what movies were out then required months and months of research before I was even able to begin to write the pilot. So even though they are a similar genre, and the characters cover some of the same territory psychologically, it’s almost a hundred years earlier, so the prep work was massive.

EDGE: One of the first things Tony said on The Sopranos was that he felt like he was coming in on the end of something. Steve Buscemi’s character in Boardwalk Empire, Nucky Thompson, is right there at the start of something.

TW: Right. Prohibition was the single event that made organized crime possible. That, more than anything else, was the impetus for criminals to start working together to make money. The interstate trafficking of alcohol made millionaires of criminals overnight, and enabled them to then infiltrate other businesses, and ultimately become organized throughout the country.

EDGE: How do Nucky and Tony compare as protagonists?

TW: In terms of their psychology, they both at their heart are depressed people, sort of searching for something that will make them happy. They are both very smart, both natural leaders, and both are ruthless. Tony’s fatal flaw is that he has a conscience. If he were more of a true sociopath, he wouldn’t pass out, wouldn’t have panic attacks, and wouldn’t care. Nucky, I think, is the same way. We’ve explored a little bit of the psychology of Nucky. We learn by the end of the first season that his wife lost a child very early on, and he is still haunted by that, and that he had a difficult relationship with his father. He’s trying to repair a broken childhood and to recreate a happy family life that he can’t quite seem to replicate.

EDGE: How did Steve become your Nucky?

TW: I’ve been a fan of Steve’s since a movie he did in the 90s called In the Soup. The moment I saw him I was just fascinated with this guy. I was lucky enough to get to know him when he directed a few episodes of The Sopranos that I wrote, and we became friends. Then, of course I got to work with him as an actor when he portrayed Tony’s cousin. I’ve seen everything that Steve’s ever done as an actor. I’ve seen him portray every possible color of human emotion, back and forth, every which way. So for me there was never a question of whether or not he could be convincing as Nucky. When we started to cast for the show, Martin Scorsese and I were talking about who is going to play the lead role. Our Nucky is based on a real person, Nucky Johnson. We fictionalized him as Nucky Thompson, so he’s a version of that person. But we realized since nobody really knew what the real Nucky looked like anyway, it didn’t really matter who we cast in terms of whether or not they looked similar. So Marty said, “Well, let’s just pick an actor that we both like. Who are people you want to work with?” I’m pretty sure it was me that said, “What about Steve Buscemi?” He jumped on it and said, “Oh my God, I love him.” About a week later, Marty called me up and said, “I can’t stop thinking about Steve Buscemi.” I told him I couldn’t either, and he said, “Let’s do it.” HBO was on board—their feeling was Wow, what an interesting choice. That was it. We were off to the races.

EDGE: Why didn’t you use Nucky’s real surname?

TW: I wanted the opportunity to take my Nucky into places where the real Nucky might not have gone. For example, I’m pretty certain the real Nucky didn’t kill anybody. I’m pretty certain he didn’t embrace gangsterism the way our Nucky does. Fictionalizing him gave me artistic latitude and allowed me to sleep at night.

EDGE: How difficult is it to develop so many characters simultaneously?

TW: It’s a massive juggling act. There’s a lot of plotting out, there’s a lot of characters on the show, we’ve got action taking place in several different cities—it’s a big, big, chessboard of characters. That’s the work that goes on in the Writer’s Room. It all starts with “What if?” If suchand- such happened, what would the result of that be? What’s the fallout from that? Where do we want to end up? I’ll come into the season and have a pretty good idea of where I want things to end by episode twelve, sort of like a roadmap. We’re gonna drive from New York to California—alright, well, how do we get there? Those are the story beats that bring us to various places, and it takes a lot of sitting around the table and talking and banging your head against the wall, and plotting, and figuring it out. Eventually, it all works, but it’s a big, big, juggling act.

EDGE: And now you have two new characters to blend in.

TW: Yes. Jeffrey Wright plays a character this season called Valentin Narcisse. He is a Doctor of Divinity who also happens to be the most powerful gangster in Harlem. He crosses paths with Nucky and Chalky in Atlantic City, and that is about as much as I can tell you at this point. If you know anything about Jeffrey and his work, he’s a phenomenal actor, just incredible. We were so thrilled to be able to work with him and have him on the show. The same with Ron Livingston. I’ve been a fan of Ron’s for years and years. He’s so versatile. His work on Band of Brothers, Office Space—I mean, he’s one of these actors that can do comedy, drama, anything in between. He becomes an acquaintance of Jillian Darmody’s, and has a really interesting storyline as well. I’m really excited about both of those guys.

EDGE: A lot of people were shocked when you killed off Jimmy Darmody at the end of season two, just as they were when Tony killed Christopher in The Sopranos. What’s involved in the decision that a major character has to go, especially a protégé?

Photo courtesy of HBO

TW: First and foremost, I try to write the show truthfully. I try to avoid making decisions based on what would be the popular choice, what the audience would want me to do, what the conventions of television would be, which is: You don’t kill your second lead on the show, a beloved character. As season two was playing out, it became really clear to me that if we were going to tell this story honestly, Nucky would kill this guy…and he would kill him immediately. If I were watching this and he at the last minute changed his mind and Jimmy got off with a stern reprimand, I’d say, “This is not true, this is a TV show!”

EDGE: It is a TV show.

TW: But I want it to feel real. I think over 60 or 70 years of TV history, we’ve sort of lulled our audience into a sense of complacency. People say, “Oh, well, they’re obviously not gonna kill this guy, I know it looks like they are, but they won’t, because he’s one of the stars of the show. So, of course, people couldn’t believe when we did it, which made me even more certain I’d made the right decision. The louder the uproar, the louder the outcry, the more I was convinced we did the right thing.

EDGE: You have some interesting projects coming up with Leonardo di Caprio, Martin Scorsese and Bobby Cannavale.

TW: In November, Wolf of Wall Street opens. That’s, as you said, directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo di Caprio. It’s the true story of a stockbroker named Jordan Belfort who, in the 90’s, made tens of millions of dollars a year as the head of his own stockbrokerage firm. He found a way to sell very inexpensive stocks to rich people. He sort of cracked the code, and he and hundreds of young brokers working for him made a fortune. It was just an incredible roller coaster, a wild ride with incredible amounts of money and drugs. Leo is terrific in it and, of course, we’ve got the master, Martin Scorsese, directing. I’m also working on another series with Martin Scorsese for HBO, this one involving Mick Jagger. It’s set in the world of rock music in 1973 New York City, starring Bobby Cannavale as a cocaine-fueled, A&R executive for a record company. That was the year that punk, disco and hip hop were all invented in and around New York City, a time of great change, of great upheaval in the city. I’m really, really excited about that project. Hopefully, the pilot will be directed in the early part of next year, and we’ll go into series right after that.

EDGE: Cannavale was like a bull in a china shop on Boardwalk Empire.

TW: Oh yeah! There was nobody better to play the Gyp Rossetti role than Bobby. He was great. I think we had one conversation about who that character is and what motivated him, and Bobby got it immediately and ran with it and became Gyp Rosetti. It’s so funny, because nothing could be further from the real guy. Bobby is just the sweetest, funniest, most gentle person in real life, and as an actor he can sort of give you anything. He can turn into Gyp Rosetti on a dime and then go back to being himself again—it was pretty amazing to watch.

EDGE: How many more seasons?

TW: I would love to do seven seasons all together. We’re starting down the homestretch in season four; whether or not we’re fortunate enough to get to do them remains to be seen. It all really is going to depend on what the public’s appetite is for this show, and HBO’s, of course. I would love to do three more years, I think that could take us to the point in Nucky’s story, and the point in history that I’d like to get us to. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to do that.

EDGE: Are you a nostalgic person?

TW: Very much so. I love history. I am the family’s historian. I’m the one who archived all of the family photos and films, the genealogy and all that stuff. I love the idea of leaving that behind for my children, and grandchildren, and their children. I’d give my left arm just to read about what my great-great-grandfather’s day was like. “What did you do, where did you go, who did you talk to?” That stuff is fascinating to me. 

Editor’s Note: There are no short conversations once Tracey Smith gets you talking. For (a lot) more on Nucky, Chalky, Margaret, Richard and Van Alden—and the inside story on the brilliant “Pine Barrens” episode of The Sopranos—visit edgemagonline.com and read the rest of our Q&A with Terence Winter.

50 Cent

Fate is a cruel mistress, especially in the entertainment industry. Reaching the top, even for a moment, is a longshot at best. Staying on top is a near impossibility. In the world of rap music, this is especially true. Which is what makes Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent, someone worth talking to. He has used his top-selling albums as a springboard to do well in a number of other businesses—consumer electronics, energy drinks, boxing promotion and movie-making, to name four—and more importantly, to do a lot of good. EDGE’s Tetiana Anderson connected with 50 Cent at a technology trade show in Berlin, where he was promoting SMS Audio’s newest headphones. In a wide-ranging Q&A, she discovered a three-dimensional thinker with the drive and vision to redefine what a celebrity can (and should) be.

EDGE: Why is diversifying into multiple forms of entertainment so important for you?

50 CENT: The artist community can create a negative energy for you. My first record, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was the largest debuting hip-hop album. I went on to sell 13 million records. Later in my career, people compared me to that first impression I made, and you don’t get a second chance at a first impression. In order to allow me to explore my passion for music, I moved away from it, gave myself other projects to be involved in. This is why there is such diversification of the portfolio of the things that generate an income. It secures the freedom to do things creatively as I please.

EDGE: You had two movies out in 2012—Freelancers and All Things Fall Apart. In All Things Fall Apart you dropped 60 pounds to play a college football star dying of cancer. How did you prepare for such a huge personal commitment?

50 CENT: I had all the emotions necessary for it ’cause I lost my best friend growing up under those circumstances. That was why I committed to a project that would take so much physical discipline. The scene where I’m on the bed with Lynn Whitefield and I actually start crying, my friend said the same words to me. He said, “Why is this happening to me? I haven’t done anything wrong.” Interestingly, everything that he was saying he didn’t do was something I did—a mistake I made in my past.

EDGE: How so?

50 CENT: When my mother got killed, I moved to my grandmother’s house as the new ninth child. We lived on my grandfather’s income, so there was not a lot of finances around. You kind of got things when someone was done with them. I was given a special want for nice things from my experience with my mom—everyone that I’d seen that had something nice was from her life. They had nice cars, jewelry, beautiful women around. It’s pretty tough to suppress that want for instant gratification when you see people that have things…and when you don’t have someone to say, “You go that route, you’re gonna have a bad outcome.”

EDGE: So to get those things you turned to selling drugs?

50 CENT: My mom’s involvement in it kind of gave me birthrights. There are no requirements, there’s no specific level of education you have to have.

EDGE: Getting back to the movie, you actually financed the project.

50 CENT: I look at money like it’s freedom. It gives me the ability to better myself and to go after my ideas, like SMS Audio. You’ll see a lot of other talent sign licensing agreements with companies and receive an advance on the royalties of sales of products with their likeness. I invested in it. I own this company, so it’s a huge difference between what you’ll see from those other artists and what you’ll see from me.

EDGE: SMS Audio donates a portion of sales proceeds to Feeding America and SK Shot—your energy drink company—does the same thing to help feed hungry children in Africa, while creating entrepreneurial opportunities for people there. Do you feel others in the rap industry are doing a good job of giving back?

50 CENT: You know, the traditional way of giving back, we gotta modify it. Most rappers that have some success have organizations that they put together in their names, but those things are being done for tax purposes. When you reach a certain level of success, you start to be interested in what your legacy is. The people who resonate the strongest are those people who consistently helped others. In terms of what SK Shot does, traveling the last time in Africa it was unbelievable. The numbers are astronomical. You wouldn’t even believe that that many people die from not having something to eat—and meanwhile we choose what we’re gonna eat, and throw away what we’re not.

EDGE: How does that affect you?

50 CENT: When you get to a certain point you become more interested in philanthropy. You start to look at who you are. You start asking yourself what’s really important to you. It’s not an actual dollar amount. It’s about your happiness.

EDGE: How have you incorporated that philosophy into your businesses?

50 CENT: You create a model. When you see people in the park on Occupy Wall Street or Occupy LA and Chicago and all, it’s clear that they feel the major corporations don’t care about people, period. But if they adopt models like SMS Audio or like the SK model— where every product that is sold provides for someone in need—it says they’re conscious. To promote conscious capitalism is the way we actually find the finances for social change. There’s no other place that I see enough money.

EDGE: Is that something that is missing in the hip-hop industry?

50 CENT: Well, because a lot of talent comes from not having very much, it’s about living life on the highest level possible. Overall, within hip-hop, we haven’t had people get to where they’ve actually stopped being conscious of having more than someone else and say, Am I actually comfortable? Am I happy? What do I want? If you ask a person what defines their life, and they offer the answer I’m gonna make a billion dollars, I’m gonna be a billionaire, that would be pretty vain, wouldn’t it? But if you ask someone who is completely content with their financial space and conscious of their surroundings What defines your life? they’re probably going to say their loved ones. We get tunnel vision. We’re ambitious. We move from one goal to the next goal to accomplish the next thing and the next thing. I could easily be mistaken for a workaholic, but I exercise that “Whistle While You Work” concept. I’m enjoying myself. This is what I am supposed to be doing.

EDGE: Yet, there are tremendous stresses that come with succeeding in your industry—including pressures to stay on top, to make money to remain relevant.

50 CENT: There’s a level of confidence required to be yourself enough to create a separation. You’ve got to understand the history of music and entertainment. You build entertainers to destroy entertainers, for the sake of entertainment. The way around the destruction process is having something to fall back on. That allows me to do what I actually feel like is the hottest material right now. Otherwise, I would pull my hair out trying to second-guess what someone else is going to think or feel.

EDGE: You branched out into boxing promotion this summer with TMT (The Money Team). Where would you like to take professional boxing, which now gets stiff competition from mixed martial arts?

50 CENT: Doing the research, 56 percent of UFC’s (Ultimate Fighting Challenge) demo is 18 to 34. With boxing it’s 30 and up. I think professional boxing lacks what the UFC has. So, to bring youth culture, maybe you need to bring the theatrics you see at a WWE event into professional boxing. You have to pay attention to the successful models that people have utilized elsewhere in order to make minor changes to the natural sport of boxing.

EDGE: Can Atlantic City reclaim its status as a Mecca for professional boxing?

50 CENT: Absolutely! Between Atlantic City and New York City, I’d be looking forward to put on shows in those areas.

EDGE: If you had a choice between your next record going platinum or developing one of your fighters into a heavyweight champ, which would you choose?

50 CENT: My record. I have a stronger passion for music than anything. I love having the ability to be a part of the other businesses, but I remember they came by way of music. If I didn’t have the finances or the popularity from my music, I wouldn’t be able to be a part of those projects.   

All photos courtesy of SMS Audio.

Editor’s Note: If Tetiana Anderson’s name sounds familiar, you may have read her interview with Roberta Flack earlier this year in EDGE—or seen her face and heard her voice on television. She’s chased storms for the Weather Channel, covered Operation Iraqi Freedom for MSNBC from Baghdad and is currently a freelance reporter/producer for organizations including NY-1 and CNN. A journalism fellowship recently took her to Berlin, where she crossed paths with 50 Cent at an SMS Audio media event.

Frank Vincent

In the opening moments of Goodfellas, a murderous threesome played by Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta struggles to dispose of made-man Billy Batts. It’s the beginning of the end for these characters, but for actor Frank Vincent, the part of Billy helped catapult him to iconic status. As “Shovel Ready” roles go, one might say this was the capo di tutti capi. EDGE Editor-at-Large Tracey Smith has made a study of the mob movie over the last year or so. Through her interviews, she has uncovered a rich tradition of storytelling, a dynamic passion for filmmaking, and a core of actors who care deeply about their craft. Frank fits this mold as well as anyone in the business. An accomplished performer long before he made his screen debut, he is always looking beyond the camera and over the horizon.

EDGE: You’ve delivered several indelible performances as a New York mobster, including Billy Batts in Goodfellas and Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos. But for the record, you’re a Jersey Guy.

FV: I couldn’t think of myself as anything else, even though I wasn’t born here. Of course, I know New York well. I’ve done a lot of New York movies and know all the boroughs. But I’m a Jersey guy. I’m proud to be from Jersey. I think it suits me.

EDGE: When did you move to the state? My father’s family came to America and settled in North Adams, Massachusetts. I was born in Massachusetts and so was one brother. My second brother was born in New Jersey. My father’s friend had a girlfriend in New Jersey, and he (my father) went out with them one time and met my mother, who was from Jersey City. They wound up getting married and eventually we moved back there.

EDGE: Who were your role models growing up?

FV: Like most men, my biggest influence was my father He was a very charismatic man—uneducated but very smart and hardworking. A great work ethic. He was the guiding light in my life. I loved my mother, but she was more of the disciplinarian in the family; my father was my idol. When I was a little boy I would watch him getting dressed in front of the mirror. He was a flashy guy, he loved to groom, his hair was always impeccable He wore Old Spice cologne and had a pencil-thin mustache. He saw himself as kind of an Errol Flynn type. My mother dressed nicely, too—when they dressed up, they dressed up. My brothers are the same way.

EDGE: Before acting there was a career for you in music. Was that your father’s influence?

FV: I think that actually started with my mother. I would come home from school for lunch and she always had music playing in the house. We would sit together and eat and listen to the radio. That implanted a love of music in my head. My father thought of himself as a singer, but he didn’t really have the ability—I think he was tone deaf. Yet he had the moxie to do it in front of people. Anyway, when I told my parents I liked music they made me take piano lessons, which I did not like because it took me away from the kids in the street. The Jersey City Department of Recreation had a drum and bugle corps, and I joined. I wound up being a bugler because I had taken some trumpet lessons. Many of my friends went on to become cops, fireman or went to jail, because it was a pretty rough neighborhood. But I stayed with the guys that played music. I finally ended up joining the St. Joseph’s Cadets from Newark. I traveled the country with them, and we were national champions. Competing in front of 70,000 people at Yankee Stadium as a 14-year-old gave me the confidence to go further. I was never afraid of an audience.

EDGE: How did you end up with your own band, playing the drums?

FV: I bought a set of drums for $100, auditioned for a band and got the job. Now all of a sudden I’m in show business! We were Bobby Blue and the Aristocats. We played in a lot of top clubs here and in the city. We were good. We were well-dressed. We were the real deal. One of the guys worked as an arranger for Frank Sinatra. Eventually I took over the band, and over the course of time we became a trio, Frank Vincent and the Aristocats. Between dates, I was in and out of New York sometimes four or five times a week working in recording sessions— backing up artists, working on albums, playing jingles. A record producer named Bill Ramal got me into that part of the business. He worked with Del Shannon, Dion and the Belmonts, Steve and Edie, and Paul Anka.

EDGE: What happened with the trio?

FV: Well, my piano player left me in 1969. That summer I hired a young guitar player who used to come to our club dates and occasionally sit in with us and sing. Our first gig was July 4th at the VIP Lounge in Seaside Heights. We ended up being the toast of the Jersey Shore that summer. We went from being piano, bass and drums to guitar, bass and drums.

EDGE: And that guitar player was…

FV: Joe Pesci. We had such chemistry. Not just playing. We’d do bits back and forth. I had a sort of Don Rickles thing going. The club entrance was right near the stage, so as people walked in off the street I’d always have something to say. We both got a lot of laughs and before you know it, we’re doing two hours of comedy a night. A couple of years later, this movie producer is in the audience and likes what we’re doing. He asked us both to audition for a low-budget movie called The Death Collector. Later they changed the name to Family Enforcer and put our faces on the cover. Joe played a little mob guy and I played a Jewish businessman. Bob DeNiro and Martin Scorcese saw that film and hired Joe to play Joey La Motta and me to play Salvy in Raging Bull. That was our first studio movie. I got my SAG card and an agent, and Joe got nominated for an Oscar. Thirty years later, 60 or 70 movies, TV shows, commercials—that was how it began.

EDGE: You mentioned Sinatra. Was he one of your main influences?

FV: Yes. The utmost person in my life, besides my father, professionally was Dean Martin. He wasn’t a great singer, but he was a great stylist. From him I learned timing, how to speak to audiences, how to carry myself, how to smoke a cigarette. Dean Martin was hypnotic. Frank would be second. Musically, I don’t think anyone in the world compares to him. I probably know the lyrics to every song he sang—that’s how much I listened to him. I learned to play the drums listening to his records. The style of music my band played was the music he sang.

EDGE: Do you think your father had an impact on your professional career?

FV: Sure. I learned to be fearless from him, that you cannot be afraid to fail. That’s what kept me going through my music years when I worked from week to week or month to month. When the acting came around, I wasn’t intimidated by Robert DeNiro or Bruce Willis or anybody that I worked with.

EDGE: What was your first meeting like with DeNiro?

FV: I had to audition for Raging Bull at a hotel on Central Park West. I went up the elevator and got to the door, knocked, and a production assistant let me in. I came face-to-face with DeNiro, and he said, “Hello Frank. I’m Bob and I loved your work in Death Collector.” I said, “Hello Bob, I loved your work in Deer Hunter.”

EDGE: How did you get along with Scorcese?

FV: He’s a first-generation Sicilian like myself, and I think that shared culture really opened a lot of doors for us. That’s probably why I did three movies with him. And, of course, Joe and I had that chemistry, which he utilized really well. Marty really knows what he’s doing when it comes to putting a cast together. His mother and father were wonderful people, in fact, may they rest in peace. It was like being home, this was the way my home was! At my house we always had Sunday dinners, I spoke a little Sicilian and Neopolitan, and we always had espresso and played cards afterwards.

EDGE: About Pesci—he beat you up in Raging Bull and again in Goodfellas. Then you gave him a “well-deserved beating” in Casino. Did that even the score?

FV: You know [laughing] when you’re on a film, you don’t think “revenge” as you’re doing those scenes. It’s what the characters are doing, not you personally. It’s only afterwards, in interviews, that it comes up. But yes, it’s true, Billy Batts got his revenge. Although I think technically Billy got his revenge at the end of Goodfellas, when Joe got killed. And for the record, in those scenes those are stuntmen.

EDGE: All of the characters you’ve done have given you some interesting “street cred” in the Rap and Hip-Hop world.

FV: They have. In 1996, Hype Williams was directing the big-budget rap video for “Street Dreams” by Nas. It referenced the movie Casino and I was in the video. Hype asked me if I would serve as an acting coach for his first movie, Belly, which starred Nas and also DMX, Method Man and T-Boz. The rappers had already interviewed three traditional acting coaches and rejected them. They wanted a real “made guy” [laughing] so I went to meet with them and they agreed to work with me because of the image I portrayed. That’s the truth. And you know what? They had no knowledge of acting, but they were brilliant. They were all poets, so the dialogue came easy to them. It was keeping them on the spot so they stayed on camera that we had to work on. I also was in a couple of scenes. That movie was quite an experience.

EDGE: What roles do you look back on and feel like you really enjoyed doing?

FV: I liked Lou Maranzano in Chicago Overcoat, which we shot in 2007 and was released in 2009. Lou had some interesting issues. Frank Marino in Casino was a good role for me, too, although it wasn’t a great speaking part. People think you have to speak a lot to have a big role but that’s not true. And of course, I enjoyed playing Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos because the writing was so brilliant. The level of discipline on that show was a real eye-opener as an actor. We shot each episode like a movie, on film, but in only 15 days. You could not deviate from the script. To change a single word—an uh or an and—you had to get permission.

EDGE: Is Billy Batts the character you relate to most? It seems to be the one your fans gravitate towards.

FV: That’s certainly my most iconic role. You know, I didn’t realize how big Billy Batts would become—he really didn’t have a lot to do in that film. The fact I did that “Get your shine-box” scene with Joe is probably why it worked so well. If you played back all the takes we did at that bar, I mean, the timing of each was perfect every take. Marty said that to us. By the way, he also let Joe ad-lib in the famous “Do I make you laugh?” scene with Ray Liotta. Watch that scene again—you’ll see that Ray didn’t know what was coming.

EDGE: So will we see Billy again?

FV: In a way, you will. I have been working on a memoir with Steven Prigge, which I’m calling I Went Home and Got My Shine Box…Now What? Steven was my coauthor on the first book, A Guy’s Guy to Being A Man’s Man, which, by the way, is being optioned for a Hollywood comedy by J.C. Spink, who produced the Hangover films.

Editor’s Note: You may recall that Frank Vincent was our “cover boy” for the Gray Matter Issue earlier in 2012. You may also have seen him channeling the Rat Pack in a commercial for Ciroc Vodka with co-stars Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Williams and Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame. Ever the entrepreneur, Frank is busy promoting Iso-Test, a performance-boosting dietary supplement. He is also prominently featured in Alan Robert’s new Killogy series of graphic novels, which debuted on Halloween. And if you are stumped for that perfect holiday gift, log onto frankvincent.com and check out the MOBblehead Doll, which utters Frank’s favorite movie lines, including Go home and get your shine box! Nobodys breakin’ up my party! and Give those Irish hoodlums a drink!

Vince Giordano

Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks perform in Atlantic City

Bix Biederbecke once said the thing he liked about jazz was that he didn’t know what was going to happen next. The legendary 1920s bandleader could just as well have been describing HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. It is loud and loose and right on the edge of crazy. Vince Giordano and his band, the Nighthawks, supply the music that drives the hit series. They can be seen performing in the lavish party scenes, and heard throughout each episode. Authenticity is the hallmark of the show, and Giordano is as authentic as they come. The Nighthawks work off the original band arrangements from that era— Giordano just happens to own the world’s largest collection. In 2012, he won a Grammy for the Boardwalk Empire compilation soudtrack…and suddenly, everyone is talking about (and downloading) the joyous music of the Roaring ’Twenties. EDGE Editor Mark Stewart—also a devotee of early jazz—spoke with Giordano after his weekly gig at Sofia’s Restaurant on West 46th St. in New York.

EDGE: At what point did you get the call for Boardwalk Empire?

VG: Right from the get-go. The same music team I worked with on The Aviator with Vincent Scorcese was asked to put together the music for Boardwalk Empire. They knew I had two houses bulging with 60,000 scores. We had such a fun time on the movie I said, “Let’s do some more!”

EDGE: With the added bonus that the show is filmed in Brooklyn.

VG: It’s really convenient. The set we work on is actually the recreation room of an African-American church in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The Boardwalk Empire team went in and rewired and repainted it, basically got it up to code, so when the show is done they’ll have a nice recreation hall. Some other scenes were shot in a mansion built in 1804 that’s part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

EDGE: How much acting direction do you and the Nighthawks get?

VG: When Scorcese supervised the pilot, he had a lot more direction for us. I even got some speaking lines. In subsequent episodes we’re more in the background. Our job is to mime the music we’ve recorded in the studio. So we have to look like we’re having a good time and make sure were in synch. We have these little devices called earwigs, which are wireless speakers we put in one ear. So when they want to knock out the music so they can capture the dialogue, we’ll still have it playing in our ears. You don’t want to be strumming or fingering and be really off—it looks bad.

© Zoetrope Studios

EDGE: People are always trying to spot that in movies, aren’t they? Hey! He’s not really playing!

VG: Oh, yeah. In the old days there was some real bad sidelining—that’s what we call it—where they put Joe Blow up there with a bass or a trombone or a saxophone and it was really apparent he had no idea what he was doing. You watch those scenes and say, “Oh my God, they couldn’t find some out-of-work musician to do this?”

EDGE: What was the first movie you and the Nighthawks were in?

VG: In 1984, a small version of the band was in The Cotton Club. Richard Gere portrayed a trumpeter named Dixie Dwyer in the movie. He had actually played a trumpet in his high-school days. He tried to get his lip back, which is pretty hard. The trumpet is a very demanding instrument. But he pulled it off. He did a pretty good job recreating those big Louie Armstrong solos. Richard was a very nice fellow, too. Very interested in our music, and very open to any suggestions we could give him.

EDGE: Do you have an opportunity to get to know the actors on a series like Boardwalk Empire? I ask because I know that Michael Pitt is a musician. By the way he’s definitely been bumped off, right?

VG: Oh, yeah. He’s gone. A lot of people were upset that they killed off Jimmy. I say just don’t kill off the band! No, but generally we don’t get a chance to hang out much. We’re so far away from the main actors on that set, and with time clicking away and so many people involved there’s just not the opportunity. Movies can be different. When we did The Aviator, Leonardo di Caprio came over and mentioned to me that he was very surprised that this music had so much spirit and fun to it. He said, “This is really exciting music!” Being a younger person, he was like a lot of people who’d never been exposed to this vintage music. It was a revelation.

EDGE: When you won the award for Best Soundtrack it was not on the Grammy television show. How did you find out?

VG: It was on the Grammy internet channel. The news came sometime the afternoon before the Sunday evening broadcast. I was playing a jazz party up in Connecticut and I got a text that said: WE WON. So you can imagine, we were running around screaming. People thought we were a little nuts. I’m happy we won. I’m even happier that the music will now get a little more attention.

EDGE: You shared that soundtrack with other musicians who’ve devoted themselves to the music of the 1920s and 1930s. Performers like Leon Redbone. What’s the feeling in that larger group? Does the Grammy give you all some validation?

VG: Definitely. All this work we’ve put in for all these years with doubting Thomases saying, “What are you doing with this old music? Get with the times!” We hung in there and it did something good for all of us.

EDGE: The Nighthawks formed in the 1970s. It’s quite something to keep a musical group together for 30-plus years. What was the band’s first break?

© Elektra/Asylum

VG: In the early 1980s we were bouncing around different night spots in New York City. We were playing at this club on the West Side called Sweetwater’s. An interesting fellow came in with thick glasses and a goatee. He asked for my card after the show. It was Ahmet Ertugun from Atlantic Records. Ahmet was extremely connected. He called Peter Sharp, the owner of the Caryle Hotel, and said, “You gotta get these guys in your room.” We worked there Sundays and Mondays. Those were Bobby Short’s dark nights. We did two seasons there. He and his wife also got us a lot of charity balls and private parties. We were working like crazy—the guys were actually complaining!

EDGE: You also played with Woody Allen.

VG: Yes, I was fortunate to work with Dick Hyman as a side man on about a dozen Woody Allen films. Dick called me up and said, “You really love playing this music. Sometimes I get musicians who are really talented, but who don’t have the spirit for this older music.”

EDGE: You’ve had this spirit all your life.

VG: Since I was five years old. The impact of this music really came from winding up my grandparents’ old Victrola and listening to their 78 collection. I have it in my home now—it’s my Rosebud, so to speak. Anyway, as a teenager I tried listening to rock ’n roll, but it just never sat well with me. The other kids were listening to the Beatles, of course. Coming home after school and turning on the TV you’d see those old comedies—The Little Rascals, Laurel and Hardy, the Warner Brothers cartoons—and they used a lot of that peppy music from the 1920s, with synchopated brass and whining saxaphone. So people would say, “There goes Vince with that ‘cartoon music!’” They just couldn’t understand what I was doing. It was tough as a teenager.

EDGE: Let’s talk about your vintage music arrangements. Is that the right term?

VG: Or stock orchestrations. These are band charts—not just the old piano sheet music you see in antiques stores. So if you were a bandleader back in the 1920s you would buy this packet of music and hand it out to all the fellows in your band. If you didn’t have your own arranger, these stock orchestrations were enough to get your band up and running. There were thousands of bands all over the world doing the exact same arrangements.

EDGE: Is it fair to say the “value” of these scores is that you don’t have to listen to the 78s and deconstruct the different parts?

VG: That’s quite true. For us to play this music exactly how we hear it on the recordings, it takes away a lot of the guesswork. Also, sometimes I’ll hear a great recording and pull out the arrangement, and see that someone in the band or one of the arrangers did something really special.

EDGE: How did you begin amassing your collection?

VG: I was a member of the musician’s union and put an ad in this publication that went out to the whole country, VISIT US ON THE WEB www.edgemagonline.com asking if anyone had these arrangements from the ’20s and ’30s. A lot of bandleaders who were getting up there in age—or their widows—offered to box them up and send them to me if I paid the postage or gave them a few bucks. This started in the mid-’70s. Then I went even further and began contacting the families of old musicians who had passed away. I would hand-write letters to their relatives explaining who I was and what I was trying to do. Many people called me and said, “Wow, we were going to throw this out—come over and take it.”

EDGE: And now you’re up to 60,000. Where do you keep them all?

© Stomp Off Records

VG: I own twin houses in Brookyn. I moved there in 1979. The people across the driveway we shared passed away and I put a bid in for the house and got it. Once I got the second house my collection expanded. I am like the goldfish you put in a bigger pond who gets bigger.

EDGE: What’s the end game? Where does the collection ultimately reside, say, 50 years from now? What’s the ideal scenario?

VG: I plan to donate these to a foundation that is being set up by Michael Feinstein.

EDGE: I would think that a college or university would love to get its hands on these vintage arrangements.

VG: Our institutes of higher learning don’t seem to see this as valuable music. The jazz music they’re teaching kids is more modern—it starts with Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. I’m all for that but, unfortunately, it almost seems as if one style of music is being erased by another.

 

 Editor’s Note: Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks play every Monday and Tuesday night right on the other side of the tunnel at Sofia’s. To keep track of Vince log onto vincegiordano.com. To read about how Vince began his musical career, log onto edgemagonline.com for exclusive content.

Roberta Flack

Genius loves company. That may be the simplest way to account for one of 2012’s most ambitious and successful album releases, Let It Be—a reinterpretation of Beatles classics by Roberta Flack. For someone whose musicianship covers every genre from Classical to R&B to Jazz, however, nothing is simple about the 12 songs that made the final cut. Each one is like taking hold of Flack’s hand and finding a new walkway through lyrics and melodies that are as familiar to most of us as breathing. As Tetiana Anderson discovered, for the fourtime Grammy winner it’s all about the journey. Indeed, from Flack’s early years as a music prodigy through the twists and turns of a fascinating and celebrated career, she has become quite adept at discovering the path less taken. And, the title of her new album notwithstanding, Roberta Flack has never been one to simply let it be.

Photo courtesy of Roberta Flack

EDGE: You really want people to make connections through your songs. Where did that come from?

RF: I don’t know where that came from. But I can tell you that connecting through songs is what I am all about, period. I was watching recently some footage of Bill Cosby introducing me at a jazz fest back in the ’70s. He was telling the audience that Roberta Flack tells stories so you can understand them. I think that is a true description of how I feel about music. It speaks to me. I try to speak back and once I get the conversation going—and figure out what the whole point is—I’m ready to dig in and come up with a very individual interpretation of a particular song.

EDGE: Your own story is incredible. You were the youngest person to ever enroll at Howard University, and later the first black teacher at an all-white school. Do you think of yourself as someone who breaks barriers?

RF: No. But I do believe in destiny and fate. If you are practicing five or six hours every day—and that’s all you live for as a child because there are no other options—if you are able to grasp that and hold onto it, it will tell you where you are supposed to go. I did go to Howard early. And I did become the first black teacher at an all-white school in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which was a little tighter wound in terms of the people and their personalities than Virginia. When you’re a child and you have the gift of music, the gift of art, the gift of conversation, nothing stops you.

EDGE: What impact did the church and gospel have on your appreciation for music?

RF: I belonged to an interesting church and my mom was the church organist. The choir director was a Howard University graduate, and many of the choir members were people who had graduated Howard or gone to school with him. That church, as we would say as young kids, was “uppity.” It was uppity because the church that Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, the Soul Stirrers and the Five Blind Boys visited was not our church. That was Macedonia Baptist, down the street. I spent a lot of time as a young person going between churches. Actually, the first genre of music I was exposed to was not gospel music; my background was actually classical. But I loved gospel. What is there not to love? It doesn’t have to be something where people are shouting. It can be a song’s subtle embellishment, it can be the malisma that Whitney Houston brought to her pop music. Melisma is a gospel characteristic when you take a note that’s supposed to be da and go dahahahahahaha and add all those other notes up and down the scale. That is a beautiful experience and it’s also very moving. Your soul cannot help but be stirred when you hear Aretha Franklin sing “God Bless the Child” or “Amazing Grace.”

EDGE: Do the classical works of Chopin and Bach give you the same goose bumps as gospel?

RF: Yes. Yes. I can play some Chopin for you that would make you say Girl, that ain’t Chopin! I’ll tell you who uses the melodic flow of romantic composers like Schuman, Brahms, Chopin, Shubert and Beethoven: Stevie Wonder. When you hear him sing, when you hear him play any of those songs that are so melodic, like [singing] A Ribbon in the Sky for our love…he does a lot of that.

EDGE: You worked on songs with Stevie Wonder but are perhaps best known for your partnerships with Donny Hathaway and Eugene McDaniels. What did you learn about the craft from those two?

RF: I was humbled by their talent. I’ve been watching a performance Gene and I did in the studio of a song that Gene wrote for an Eastern Airlines commercial. It was called “Chasing the Sunshine.” How clever is that as a title? This is the same guy who wrote “Reverend Lee,” “Feel Like Making Love” and “Compared to You.” He was a profound writer, Gene McDaniels. Absolutely, absolutely brilliant. Donny and I cut “You’ve Got a Friend” in 20 minutes, which isn’t hard to understand. I am a musician, not just a singer, so you don’t have to teach me something. I have the presence of mind and the ambition and the appreciation for my craft to sit down and practice. So I practiced, came to New York, and Donny and I did “You’ve Got a Friend,” which went to the top of the charts. So they said Let’s do an album. Okay, so the next thing we did was “Where Is the Love.” Donny and I finished that first album in three days! I should say that I did whatever Donny asked me to do as a duet partner. In terms of putting it together, sketching it out, bringing all the pieces together so that everybody understood what was happening—that was Donny, that was the kind of mind he had. Three days.

EDGE: You accompanied Donny on piano on the classic “For All We Know.”

RF: Yes. When we finished that album the producer asked, “Ro, you got another song?” I said, “Donny do you know this song?” He said, “Yeah I know the song but I don’t know the words.” So I wrote down the lyrics of “For All We Know.” I played it and he sang it and we recorded it. You know, I had really cut my chops as an accompanist. I’d played piano while I was teaching school in DC at the Tivoli Opera Restaurant. I mean we were doing Aida and Madame Butterfuly, we were doing Tosca and La Traviata and Verde and Chelini. Oh, it was just so wonderful. Here I am this little girl from Black Mountain, North Carolina. I’d never read that stuff but my musicianship, my gift—thank you, God—allowed me to do it with the same kind of comfort that I’m playing for Donny. I just looked at him and listened to the way the song was developing. When we did that together it was one of the highlights of my recording career.

EDGE: You also worked with Bob Marley. How did you meet? What was he like?

RF: Beautiful. Fine. Sexy. He was a friend. We were both Aquarians. I am on the 10th and he’s on the 6th. When he got sick I was so upset. I lived for seven years in Jamaica accidentally. That was part of that Eastern Airlines – Gene McDaniels thing. Part of my payoff from the airline was to close my eyes, pick from their map any place, and my finger landed on Montego Bay. I stayed for about two days and said, Now I want to go to Kingston. I was with a couple of guys. We went to Kingston and ran right smack into some Rastas who said, “Sistren let me take you, let we go see brother Bob.” So he and I became friends and as a matter of fact I brought down later my band and we went into his studio and worked on “Killing Me Softly.” Then I came back to the States and recorded it, and of course that was a hit for me, too. But Bob was a wonderful friend. He spent several hours in my apartment in New York sharing musical ideas and good vibrations and was just a beautiful person. When he was sick I tried to find some holistic doctors for him to see. I was able to introduce him to a few, but it was a little bit past the time where they could help.

EDGE: You’ve seen more than one great talent leave this earth before their time, whether its Bob Marley or Whitney Houston. That’s got to be tough for you.

RF: It is tough. I think about it especially since Whitney died. I think about it a lot. A couple of days ago I found myself rattling off names of people that I have known and worked with, or knew musically in a very special, intimate way, who are gone. I said, Okay I gotta stop this. You start to feel your own vulnerability.

EDGE: You mentioned “Killing Me Softly,” which went to number one. What do you recall about that?

RF: When “Killing Me Softly” was released as a single I was performing in Germany. My one source of Englishlanguage entertainment was the army base radio station. I had it on and woke up to Well, here it is again, Roberta Flack’s next big single, Killing Me Softly! I remember thinking Oh, boy! But at the end they finished by repeating “…killing me softly with his song” over and over and then fading out. I said “No, that’s not it!” I called the producer and asked, “What did you do?” He said, “Oh I just faded it.” I said, “No! No! No!” He said, “Man, only like a million three hundred fifty thousand of these have been sent out all around the world. Can’t you live with that?” I said, “No.” So they changed it.

EDGE: Let’s fast-forward to your new album. One of the interesting things about the Beatles is that they evolved so rapidly and had such a huge effect on popular music. When you went back and sorted through their catalogue of songs what are the things that made you go Wow?

Atlantic Recording Co./David Redfern

RF: When I was looking at “I’m Looking Through You,” which is the first song we laid down, there is the line Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight. Disappearing overnight. Every time I sing that it makes me almost want to cry, because love does have a nasty habit of vamoosing overnight. You can be ever so intense and sincere and real, then all of the sudden it’s like Who is this person? What am I into? I’m married to who? What and why did I do this? Because the love you thought you identified as love was something else, and wasn’t based on something that could stand all the pressures of being, of becoming, Roberta Flack. I was married to a wonderful bass player who worked with Roland Kirk, the great jazz horn player. Roland thought I was a great musician and he’d say, “Ro, come on, you need to play some jazz girl. Come on.” My husband said to me one day, “You can’t do this, because if you do, you’ll change.” I asked him, “How will I change?” He said, “I don’t know, but women always change.”I told him I wasn’t going to change, that I’d been playing the piano and singing and helping other people play and sing all my life—so this is just another format, another audience. I’m doing it. I want to do it. He said, “If you do, we can’t stay together.” I said, “Okay. Bye. See you later.”

EDGE: You chose your music.

RF: Of course! How could I not? I had no choice. I wasn’t selling my body. I wasn’t prostituting. I wasn’t doing anything except making music, which I had been doing all my life!

EDGE: So back to the Beatles, is what grips you their lyrics?

RF: No, it’s everything.

EDGE: How did you decide which songs to include and which to cut?

RF: It wasn’t easy. I listened to myself and I listened to my heart mostly. I think if you’re a trained musician like I am, or like Alicia Keyes or Stevie Wonder or Donny Hathaway, it helps. You have the ability to see how a song is built from the bottom up. And after you see the song and you fall in love with the song, then you get inside of it and break it down again. It’s an incredible process.

EDGE: Still, the process took five years.

RF: Yes, well the longer I worked on the songs the simpler they became, and the easier it became for me to hear them in their finality. Even though I hadn’t finished them, I could still hear what was going to be the final song. I could hear my voice singing the lyrics and singing the melody and putting it all together, and the accompaniment underneath. I wanted mostly guitars, because I think of the Beatles as guitarists. There were three major players in their band—John, George and Paul—so I wanted it to have that sound.

EDGE: Do you think songwriting and popular music has changed dramatically since the Beatles were around?

RF: It has to. Can you imaging doing the Hand Jive? Can you imagine doing the Charleston? Can you imagine every song sounding like something Billie Holliday had to sing? Weren’t we glad when Esther Phillips came out and sang “What a Difference a Day Makes?” The world must evolve and everything must change, especially music. If it doesn’t, where do we go? I can’t imagine doing all of the Beatles songs the way they did them.

EDGE: I have to ask—you crossed paths fairly often with John Lennon when both of you had apartments in the same building on Central Park West. Were you buddies?

RF: He invited me to the studio, and I did work with him a couple of times on stage and stuff like that, but it was never like buddy-buddy. It wasn’t buddies, no.

EDGE: So what’s next for Roberta Flack?

RF: I really wish I knew what was next. I have an album of songs I’ve done with a group of young people. We all call ourselves the Real Artist Symposium—symposium meaning a group of very musical people. We’ve come up with an album we want to release under the title: Real Artist Symposium featuring Roberta Flack. Not because I want to be featured, but because using my being a member of the group will attract interest and people won’t have to look at something and say What’s RAS? Maybe they’ll be curious enough to check out the music of these other young artists who are with me. I’ve done some of the music already and I am excited about it.  

Editor’s Note: If Tetiana Anderson’s name is familiar, it’s probably because her face and voice are, too. A television reporter who has chased storms for the Weather Channel and covered Operation Iraqi Freedom from Baghdad for MSNBC, Anderson is currently a freelance reporter/ producer for organizations including NY-1, CBS Newspath and CNN. Needless to say, she knows her way around an interview.

Mekhi Phifer & Dulé Hill

Anyone who questions whether acting is a craft needs to spend a little time with the cast of a play like Stick Fly, which opened to rave reviews this past winter at the Cort Theatre on 48th Street. Produced by Alicia Keys and directed by Kenny Leon, Lydia Diamond’s engaging family drama explores themes of race and class through the story of an upper-class African-American family. While this may be unfamiliar territory for most Broadway theatergoers, the two male leads of Stick Fly are instantly recognizable. Mekhi Phifer (ER) and Dulé Hill (The West Wing and Psych) rank among the most beloved and talented ensemble television actors of our time. Hill is an old hand where Broadway is concerned, while for Phifer Stick Fly marks his debut. EDGE Assignments Editor Zack Burgess met with the co-stars before a performance at the Cort over the holidays. Three-way Q&A’s can be tricky—especially with so much ground to cover—but as usual, Zack just pointed his subjects in the right direction and they took it from there.

EDGE: Did either of you have a professional relationship with Alicia Keys prior to this production of Stick Fly? Dulé Hill: No. But I have always been a fan of hers. Who’s not a fan of hers? Mekhi Phifer: I knew her, but of course not to the level of our friendship since this project got started.

DH: I had done a version of Stick Fly about five years ago in L.A. It was a staged reading with mikes. It kind of reminded me of old-school radio. It was fun. I hadn’t thought about it since then, and then I got a call back in the summertime to do a project. I knew they had an offer out to Mekhi, which really piqued my interest. Once I was told the name of the play, I said I’m in. Alicia’s involvement was the icing on the cake.

EDGE: You both have done lots of television and film work so you have a good background in terms of shared experience. The exception is probably that Dulé has spent time on the Broadway stage. Mekhi, how has Dulé helped you adjust to performing on stage?

MP: Dulé has done Broadway four times. I’ve never done a play, so I’ve asked him a lot of questions. It’s always helpful to be surrounded by people who are veterans and who are good at what they do—who know what is entailed in making this thing work. Being able to go to Dulé was very helpful for me to get acclimated to this environment.

DH: Remember that the other pieces have mostly been musicals. This is only the second produced play that I have done. So it’s still kind of a new world for me. I’m not going to be putting on any tap shoes or singing.

EDGE: Dulé, what did you see as Mekhi’s immediate strengths in terms of stagework when you guys started rehearsals back in the fall?

DH: It comes down to being a brilliant actor. He brings it every time. That’s the case whether he’s on ER playing Dr. Pratt or the star of Paid In Full, coming on Psych or playing Flip in Stick Fly. That alone is it. Having those skills. There are things you have to do when you’re dealing with the stage versus film and television, and Mekhi took everything in, learned and adapted. He asked questions and processed information very quickly. You wouldn’t know that this is the first play he’s ever done. I really respect him for that.

EDGE: Dulé, are there any parallels between the LeVay Family in Stick Fly and your own experience growing up in New Jersey?

DH: I grew up in a middle-class family, although I don’t think we had anywhere near the type of money of the LeVays. But I definitely relate to the LeVays’ dysfunction. I have a great family, but we have our level of dysfunction, too. There are things we don’t talk about. We don’t always address issues when we should and they end up simmering underneath and then exposing themselves in other areas.

EDGE: What about similarities to your character, Spoon?

DH: Spoon is trying to figure out where he wants to go in life. And that is foreign to me because I started doing theatre at the age of ten, and started tap-dancing when I was three. I’ve always been on a journey of self-discovery and owning who I am as Dulé—not trying to fit into the mold of what other people think I should be. Spoon doesn’t own his vision. He starts to figure it out during the play, but in a way his family never supported him or gave him the opportunity to really find out what he wanted to do. I’m very thankful that my parents supported me, exposed me to new experiences and let me find where I want to go in life.

EDGE: Is that what Stick Fly is about?

DH: It’s about family dysfunction, self-identity…and daddy issues.

EDGE: Daddy issues in what respect?

DH: The idea that, when you’re a child, your father is perfect. For instance, I love my dad to death, but growing up there’s this issue of trying to fit into the mold of who you think you should be because of your father. Then one day you realize that your father is a man just like you. He has his own faults and Achilles’ Heel.

MP: My character, Flip, emulates his father. He’s a doctor, like his dad. He’s just living life. He’s off the cuff. Flip has what is seemingly a closer relationship with his father than the one Spoon has. But I think what makes Dulé’s character stronger than mine in certain respects is that Flip took the more accepted route by becoming a doctor.

EDGE: What was your family background like, Mekhi?

MP: I grew up in a single-parent home and never met my Dad. At the same time, my mother was a schoolteacher, a dancer and a choreographer. She always stressed academics, but she was also about the arts. There was never one way to do something. She favored an obtuse way of thinking versus an acute way of thinking. So my mom wanted me to have great grades and she looked over my homework. But she was always supportive of the arts. So when I was a kid and I would do little talent shows, or rap in freestyle and battles, she was always very supportive.

EDGE: What nuggets of wisdom have you guys picked up from your co-stars over the years?

DH: We’ve worked with phenomal co-stars.

MP: I agree, we’ve both been blessed to work with some dynamite co-stars.

DH: On The West Wing, Martin Sheen used to say to me, “It’s got to cost you something. If it doesn’t cost you something, then it’s meaningless.” Whether it’s the journey of the character or you as an individual, you really have to put yourself into it. Something—time, energy, whatever— has to be sacrificed if you’re going to have a successful career. For example, if I’m hanging out all night partying and then try to come on stage the next day, it’s just not going to work. You have to make choices and say, “This is where I want to go. This is what I want to do.” That always stuck with me. What also struck me about Martin was his humanity, how personal and gracious he was with everybody. I try to take that part of him and apply it to my own life.

MP: The first piece of advice that really stuck with me came while I was doing my second film, Tuskegee Airmen. Laurence Fishburne told me then that “less is more”— especially when you’re dealing with film and television. Another piece of advice I got was from Bill Cosby. He said somebody had asked him what was the key to success, and he said he didn’t know, but he did know the key to being unsuccessful, and that’s trying to please everybody. Those two poignant statements have stuck with me throughout my career.

EDGE: From Martin Sheen and Laurence Fishburne we move on to Jon Lovitz…Mekhi, what do you take away from a crazy comedy like High School High?

MP: Jon Lovitz was wonderful. We were all young in that movie and I always remember him being so nice. He was extremely successful at that point, just coming off of doing SNL. That was early in my career and it was a little bit of a whirlwind for me. But Jon’s one of those guys that will stop you on the street and talk to you, and after awhile you’ll be like, All right Jon, enough is enough. Enough jokes. I’ve got to go. So like Dulé said about Martin, yeah be successful, but be gracious as well. Live life and get to know more people.

EDGE: Dulé, you got to know Wesley Snipes working together on Sugar Hill. What insights did he give you as an actor?

DH: There was one thing that Wesley told me that stuck with me. I had just gotten to L.A. and it was right before I got The West Wing. I was auditioning for stuff and I wasn’t getting the roles, the scripts weren’t very good, and I was going to get dropped by my agent. I ran into Wesley one day and he said, “If there’s always one way, there’s always another.” I asked him what he meant by that and he explained that if you see a bunch of people going up a hill and falling back and not making it through, then try to look on the other side. There’s not just one way to get to your destination. I don’t know what he meant for me to receive from that, but it always stuck with me. From then on I’ve always looked for different angles on how I approach a character, and my career.

EDGE: I am curious how the involvement of a major musical personality changes the culture of a movie or a TV show or a stage production. For instance, Mekhi, when you worked with Eminem on 8 Mile, was that a very different experience than the other films you’ve done?

MP: It was great. Pure fun. I’m 26, 27, we’re in Detroit, Eminem is at the apex of his career. We had a month of rehearsals so that Eminem could get dialed in. We partied hard and it was fun. It was a great experience working with a director like Curtis Hanson and all these actors who were relatively unknown at the time. We had a blast. What I loved about Curtis was that he trusted us. Even when we were doing the battles—that stuff was not scripted. And the people in Detroit were great. What made those battle scenes real is that those people were real people. They were not day-to-day extras, they were real people from the neighborhood.

EDGE: Every successful actor has that role that he almost got, but it went to someone else. So tell me, each of you, what was the “one that got away”?

DH: That’s a tricky question, because if it got away then it was never really mine. There are roles throughout my career that I wanted, but I’m very happy for the actors who got them. One was Savion Glover’s role in Tap, because I’m a tap dancer. To work with Gregory Hines, Steve Condos, Harold Nichols, Jimmy Slyde and Sammy Davis, it really hurt when I didn’t get it. I just wanted to be in that space with those great actors. A lot of those guys started passing on right after that. Antwone Fisher was another role I really wanted. I would love to have shared the screen with Denzel Washington for that amount of time. Derek Luke got the role and Derek’s a good friend of mine. It really exploded his career. I was happy for the actors who got those parts, but I would be lying if I said I hadn’t wanted those roles.

MP: Right after I did Clockers with Spike Lee, I auditioned for Dead Presidents. I was right down to the wire for the role of Anthony and they decided to go with Larenz Tate, which was fine because Larenz is a friend of mine. They were shooting in New York, it took place in the Bronx, and the Hughes brothers were just riding high off Menace II Society. I remember meeting with the casting director, who thought they were going to give me the part. But I guess the Hughes brothers already had a relationship with Larenz—who had stolen the show in Menace II Society. I guess they figured We’ll ride with him.

EDGE: Have you ever walked out of an audition thinking you’d messed it up?

DH: Going back to Antwone Fisher, I got a chance to read with Denzel. Now normally after I read a script, I don’t usually get caught up in the things that are in parentheses— words like ANGRY or UPSET. I leave that alone and go with my own journey. For some reason in that particular situation, I saw the word ANGRY sticking out. So when I’m in the room and it’s me with Denzel, that word kept popping into my head. So I’m reading and I’m being angry. The first thing Denzel said to me was, “Why you so angry?”

EDGE: But your career survived.

Photo courtesy of Nadine Raphael

DH: It did. So to all the people out there, I say just because you mess up on one thing doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.

EDGE: Back to Stick Fly—Dulé, how does this cast compare to some of the others you’ve worked with?

DH: One of the perks of being in this business is just the camaraderie that exists with the people we work with. That’s what makes a show like Psych successful. These people are really good at what they do. And they also happen to be really nice people—people that you want to hang with and have drinks with later. Look at Stick Fly. When you work with actors like Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Tracie Thoms, Rosie Benton—they challenge you just to step up to another level. Ruben is a bona fide professional veteran, Tony Award winner and dynamic actor. You can’t half-step it with Ruben. It’s not going to happen. They’re all phenomenal actors. Then you get blessed to be in a situation where you’re seeing someone like Condola Rashad—someone who is already great, but her career is just getting started. I’m really honored to be on the stage with her. She’s knocking it out of the park now, but in ten, fifteen years I truly believe I will be saying that I was a part of her journey to greatness.

EDGE: What does your director, Kenny Leon, bring to the show, and how might someone in the audience at Stick Fly experience that?

MP: Kenny brings a realism to it. I’ve been to many Broadway shows and the worst thing in the world is to sit there and you’re bored out of your mind. You start fidgeting, you start falling asleep. Kenny not only stresses pace, but telling a story and being good at what you do as an actor. A good analogy would be a dog race. We, the actors, are the rabbit. The audience is the dog. We want them to come up to our speed, and I think we succeed. Doing a play is a totally different machine when it comes to directing. I love Kenny’s direction.

DH: I have to say that most of the directors I have had a chance to work with have been brilliant. But there are things about Kenny that remind me of George Wolf, the director of Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk. They are both very specific about every little detail. Everything we’re doing on stage in Stick Fly is meant to draw the audience’s attention to where Kenny wants it to be. That’s cool, because sometimes as an actor you forget those things.

Editor’s Note: Zack Burgess writes about politics, sports and culture for a variety of publications and web sites. You can read his work at zackburgess.com.

Chazz Palminteri

As a performer and storyteller, Chazz Palminteri holds a special place in American popular culture. Coming of age in the Bronx during the 1950s, he was surrounded by the neighborhood characters and themes that would one day populate A Bronx Tale, the beloved one-man show and film that catapulted him to stardom. Palminteri’s creative journey has been marked by artistic, critical and financial successes—both as an actor and writer (and, yes, even as a restaurateur). Yet as EDGE’s Assignments Editor Tracey Smith discovered, as far as Palminteri has come, his comfort zone is still that stoop at 187th and Belmont. All these years later, for an observer of the human condition, it’s still the best seat in the house.

EDGE: The apocryphal story about A Bronx Tale is that you turned down a million dollars for the movie rights because you wanted to write the screenplay and play Sonny yourself. True?

CP: Yes, it is absolutely true that I turned down a million dollars. I wrote Bronx Tale: A One Man Show to showcase myself and show people that I could play eighteen different characters. I wanted to play Sonny. I wanted to write the screenplay. It’s about my life and I didn’t want anybody from Hollywood taking it and doctoring it up, sanitizing it or whitewashing it. I wanted it to be real, you know, and truthful. They felt they couldn’t make a movie without a star. I wanted people to see what I could do. So I just said no.

EDGE: That’s commitment.

CP: Everybody in Hollywood went crazy. The first offer was $250,000, the next offer was $500,000. I just said no. Don’t forget now Tracey, I was running out of money. I was down to my last $200. Actually $187.00 to be exact. I kept saying no and then they said $1,000,000—and I said no again.

EDGE: Enter Robert DeNiro.

CP: Yes, a week later Robert DeNiro walked into the theater and saw it, loved it and came backstage. He told me how much he thought it was great and how great I was, and said, “Look, you’d be great as Sonny. And you should write the screenplay, because it’s about your life. You should be Sonny and it’ll be real and I’ll make it real. You make it with me, I’ll make it come to life, I’ll play Lorenzo, your father, and I’ll direct it and we can be partners. I give you my word.” I shook his hand, and the rest, as they say, is history.

EDGE: You and DeNiro became good friends.

CP: Bob is a really good friend. We’ve been friends for 25 years. We’ve done several films together, and been involved in many projects. He’s the best. He wants everything right, you know, and he doesn’t care how long it takes. He’s a perfectionist, as am I. That’s why we get along so well. We have great chemistry.

EDGE: How would you rate him as a director?

CP: I’ve always said that the reason why A Bronx Tale turned out so good is because I had a great director who wanted to make it “life.” A bad director can spoil a great script, and a good director can make a bad script into a movie. But a great director can make a really good script fly, and that’s what Bob did. I wrote a really good script. Really good. And Robert DeNiro made it fly. He made it real.

EDGE: Which parts of the story were autobiographical?

CP: I would say a good 80 to 85 percent of the movie is autobiographical. It really stems from when I was nine years old sitting on the stoop and I saw this man kill another man right in front of me. Just like they did in the movie, exactly the same. My father came down and grabbed me upstairs, and then the cops came. The reality is I never went down and did a lineup. I just said I didn’t see anything, and that was it. Also befriending the wiseguys when I was a kid, throwing the dice for them, going to get things for them—that’s all true. Also my dad was a bus driver. He worked right off of 187th street. My mother used to be out the window all the time. I fell in love in with a black girl at the age of 17. Some of the guys I knew died in a racial attack with some black youths. The majority is true. But I had to blend it all in the same timeframe.

EDGE: There are a lot of complex themes in A Bronx Tale. What affects people most deeply? What aspect of the story do they identify with the most?

CP: I wanted to talk about the working man and what my dad instilled in me. Yet as good as my father was, he had some qualities that he had to change. And regardless of how much of a bad guy Sonny was, people loved him. They were sad when he died. Taking the best of Sonny and the best of my father and becoming this man who I am today—that’s what resonates most with everybody. Also, I think because it’s not about black and white or good versus evil, people just love the story. They identify with the different characters.

EDGE: Out of curiosity, how does one play 18 characters in a one-man show?

CP: A lot of practice and a lot of rehearsals. But God has given me the gift and somehow I’ve mastered it.

EDGE: What prompted you to write the one-man show?

CP: Desperation. It was desperation. I was doing a lot of small roles and couldn’t break into the higher echelon. I thought, if you won’t give me a great part, I’ll write one myself and show you how good I am. I’ll make my own story, and make you listen to me.

EDGE: Your next role after A Bronx Tale was Cheech in Bullets Over Broadway. You played a mob heavy with a genius for writing dialogue…and were nominated for an Academy Award. Was that character in the original script, or did it evolve after you got the part?

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

CP: Woody Allen always tells people, “When I found Chazz Palminteri, he was born to play the part.” It was written that way. When I first read it I was like “Holy smokes, this is amazing!” I couldn’t get over it.

EDGE: After these two films, how did life change for Chazz Palminteri?

CP: Oh God! More money! Much more money! And more opportunities, oh yeah! I exploded out of the box!

EDGE: Of the 50-plus films you’ve done since then, which ones should I go back and watch again to see you in a really interesting performance?

CP: Okay, let’s see, Hurlyburly is one. A Guide to Recognize Your Saints is one definitely. And I would say Mighty Fine, the one I just did with Andie McDowell, is a great one. Mulholland Falls is another one.

EDGE: You have a recurring role as Shorty on the hit series Modern Family.

CP: Modern Family is a great show, I love the people. They write me in as often as they can and I return. They’re like family, I truly enjoy working with the cast. I play Jay’s longtime best friend. It is just hilarious, a great show.

EDGE: Okay now to the serious stuff. The Yankees. What happened in the playoffs?

CP: Well, you know, they just didn’t win. It’s that simple. We won 97 games during the regular season. I never liked five games as a playoff format. I think everything should be seven games. That’s how you can tell who the best team is.

EDGE: You are playing Babe Ruth in the new movie Henry & Me. How great was that?

CP: That was great. Anything to do with the Yankees is not bad. I have always loved sports. My father used to take me to the games at Yankee Stadium. I loved Mickey Mantle back in those days and collected his baseball cards. I love the Giants, the Rangers.

EDGE: I read that John Franco was one of the producers of Henry & Me. Were you okay working for a Met?

CP: That didn’t bother me. I’m not rooting for his baseball team, but that didn’t bother me at all. John Franco is a very nice guy.

EDGE: So when is the long-awaited Chazz Palminteri autobiography coming out?

CP: I write screenplays and I write plays, but not a book yet. It’s just not time. I get my point of view out in my movies or my plays. My new four-character play, Human, should be out in 2012. I’m very excited about that. Maybe when I have more time and I’m older, I’ll sit down and write a book about my life.

EDGE: You are performing A Bronx Tale at the Mirage in Las Vegas this March. This past summer, you had a nice run in Atlantic City. Having performed this play in various places, have you noticed any regional differences in the way you relate to the audience—or the way they relate to you?

CP: I thought I was going to see that. But it’s the same thing everywhere. No difference from region to region. I can’t explain it. What I find flattering and a little strange, though, is how certain lines from A Bronx Tale have seeped into the dialogue and culture.

EDGE: How so?

CP: Once, I got on a plane, and as soon as the door closed, the pilot said, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, now you’se can’t leave.”

EDGE: Sonny’s line from the scene where the wiseguys lock the door at the bar and work over the bikers!

CP: Right. I laughed. I was like, Wow!

Joe & Gia Mantegna

 

There is no greater joy for a father than seeing his daughter follow him into the family business. Because of the business he’s in, Joe Mantegna is granted the added pleasure of literally watching his daughter, Gia, as she makes a name for herself on stage and screen. Every Hollywood family deals with this dynamic a little differently, of course. Yet as J.M. Stewart discovered during a leisurely meal at Taste of Chicago in Burbank, Joe and Gia handle it particularly well. If you’re one of those people who thinks that acting is an art and parenting is a job, well, this interview may change your mind. For the Mantegnas, it’s clearly the other way around.

EDGE: I would like to start by avoiding the obvious question, which goes something like, ‘Gia, what have you learned about acting from your father…’ (simultaneously)

JM: Everything. (simultaneously)

GM: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

EDGE: Okay then. Well, in the spirit of avoiding that question, Joe, what have you learned from watching Gia?

JM: Part of what I’ve learned is that what we do is inherent. It’s just there. When I became an actor, I saw the children of actors working and wondered, What’s that about? Would they have even gotten into acting if they weren’t following their parents? I came from a background of no actors, nobody in my family was is show business at all. I thought, This can’t be genetic. It must be one of those things where the kids go, ‘Oh, my dad’s doing it so I’m going to do it.’ But then I’d see Jane and Peter Fonda, and Jeff and Beau Bridges and think, Oh, they’ve got it. As I got more into the business, I started to realize that they’re good because it’s in them. I’ve been around enough actors now to know that you can teach some things, but you’ve either got it or you don’t got it.

EDGE: Like sports.

JM: Right. You can see the kids that have the kind of natural ability they can improve upon. And then there are the kids that, well, it’s not their cup of tea. Gia does have it. I’m not kidding myself because she’s my daughter. I would be the cruelest critic of all if I felt she didn’t have that thing she can build on. I would have told her years ago, ‘I know that you think this is fun and all, but it’s not for you.’ If anything, I have to instill in her not to be like I am, not to be lazy about it.

EDGE: Lazy in what respect?

JM: I found myself thinking, I can do this, I don’t need to work on it that much. I’m not the most driven actor in the world. But I’ve gotten by and made it in spite of that.

EDGE: If you were more driven, how do you think it would have affected your career?

JM: Maybe things would have happened sooner if I had focused more attention on it. Maybe not. I don’t know. But it wasn’t me. I’ve seen other actors do that. Every day they devote twenty-four hours to How can I succeed? I was, like, If it happens, it happens. I never pushed myself to where it infringed on my life, to where I really had to sacrifice something. I enjoyed it, I wanted it to be fun. That’s my approach to a lot of things. I didn’t think, Oh my God, if I don’t make it I’ll die! I was, like, If things don’t work out, I’ll become a forest ranger.

GM: A forest ranger? Really?

JM: In reality, I probably would have been a photographer.

EDGE: Gia, what percentage of your father’s work have you seen?

GM: Five percent. I’ve seen very little because most of it was released when I was too young to watch, or it was R rated. Half the films he dies in and I was too frightened to watch. I remember flipping through the channels watching a movie, and I saw my dad walking down the street with a bouquet of flowers. I went, Yes! Dad’s on TV in something I can watch, this is so cool! A couple of minutes pass and he’s shot down with a machine gun. It affected me much more than I thought it would. I remember seeing Baby’s Day Out when I was four. We thought, Finally he did a movie that the family could watch. We’re sitting on the bed, my sister’s right next to me, and here comes the scene when the baby’s in his pants, lighting his crotch on fire.

JM: Yeah, we’re thinking it’s a great family movie. But I get beaten up by gorillas and blown up. It was a horror film to them.

GM: It was awful. I remember running out of the room crying. And dad’s hitting his face, saying, ‘Look it’s me, I’m okay. I’m here.’ So I never really sat down and watched my dad’s movies, because he was probably going to get the crap kicked out of him.

EDGE: Even now?

GM: Well, I watch Criminal Minds. But I can’t really watch it alone because it’s such a terrifying show.

EDGE: Joe, Gia has been in a couple of movies where she’s strung up and begging for her life—

GM: Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I guess.

EDGE: Joe, do you have the same reaction?

JM: I know the process. I’m totally familiar with it. I can disassociate. It’s disturbing, but I know what’s going on.

GM: My mom sometimes has to leave when she’s on set during those kinds of chilling scenes. She freaks out.

JM: In his book, David Mamet writes about a memorable directorial moment during House of Games. He was shooting the scene at the end when I get shot. It’s a night shoot, we’re up at Sea-Tac Airport. My wife is watching on the monitor sitting next to Dave. I get shot, and she starts crying.

GM: I never knew that.

JM: Dave was like, Wow, this is wild. She’s into it. She’s crying. She’s totally in the scene. He remembered it and put it in his book. I didn’t know about it—I was doing the scene. So, I understand that anyone can get caught up in the moment.

GM: I saw Three Amigos last night. It was pretty hilarious. I didn’t even know you were in that until I turned it on, and there you were. If I’m ever watching something that you’re in, it’s probably coincidental.

EDGE: Have you had a moment watching your father where you said, ‘Wow, that was really good?’

GM: I’m not going to lie to you. It’s very hard to watch anyone I know in a movie or on TV and be objective, or even remove myself from thinking of the technicality of the scene. I’m always thinking, How did they do that in one shot? Was there a problem with the continuity? Why did the actor make those particular choices? I’m young. I’m still learning. I’m trying to figure it out, break it down. If I analyzed everything he did, I’d drive myself crazy.

EDGE: Joe, have you ever seen Gia’s work and gone, “Wow, that was impressive?”

JM: The time I saw her in Annie. There were open auditions and my older daughter, Mia, who is autistic, was also trying out for it. They came home and said, ‘We both got in!’ My wife and I were really excited, but I have to admit that we were mostly excited about Mia, because she was going to be cast in a play. It was a big deal. I thought they both would have been cast in the chorus. We asked, ‘Who are you going to be?’ Mia says, ‘I’m going to be Pepper.’ Great! I said, ‘Gia what are you doing?’ She says, ‘I’m Annie.’ I didn’t even know she sang!

EDGE: How old were you?

GM: I was really young. We had to lie about my age. I was turning the minimum age you had to be, but I wasn’t there yet. I was ten.

JM: That’s when I first knew she had it. Based on her age and everything, you could tell. I sent the tape of the show to my old drama teacher and he said, “It was like seeing you again, Joe, when you were starting.’

EDGE: Will we hear you sing again, in a movie or on stage?

GM: Oh, no.

JM: You should. You really should.

GM: My mom thought that I was going to be a singer. But I was always terrified of the music industry because I felt like there was so much competition, and you had to pick your style and stick with it. Every five minutes I’d be changing my genre. Acting was just something that was a little more natural for me. Maybe in the future I’ll sing. My mom and dad would like that.

JM: That’s one thing I think you should really do, musical comedy. You have the talent. Why not just give it a shot? That’s what I thought I was going to end up doing, because I did so much of it when I started out. I did Hair. I did Godspell. It didn’t work out that way, but you never know.

EDGE: When did you do Hair?

JM: In 1969. It was the first professional play I did. I was naked on stage every night.

EDGE: What did your mom think of that?

JM: She came opening night. The other actors were not keen on having their parents there, so they asked me, ‘Is she cool?’ I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, she’ll get it.’ And after the play my mother comes backstage and says, ‘You look good up there naked…some of these other kids look out of shape.’ The cast couldn’t believe it. But that’s my mother. It’s all a mystery to her.

EDGE: How so?

JM: My mother just turned ninety-six and I’m still not positive she knows what I do. I asked my brother, who is eight years older than me, ‘You know all the times I was pursuing acting in high school, in junior college, and professionally, and banging around Chicago…my parents never said one word about it to me, did they say anything to you?’ He said, ‘Yeah, one time they pulled me aside and asked, What’s with your brother and this acting? Should we say something? Should we stop him?’ They were looking to him for advice. Luckily, my brother in his wisdom said, no, just leave him alone. It’s not dangerous, and if it doesn’t work out he’ll move on to something else. I think they were relieved. It’s like the sex education talk my father never gave me. I was seventeen and he came up to me and said, ‘Listen, we need to talk about sex.’ I said, ‘No… we don’t.’ He was like, Okay. Being Sicilian he was quiet anyway, but it was another burden off his shoulders.

EDGE: In the film Uncle Nino you worked together as father and daughter. Was it totally natural, or totally nervewracking?

JM: I thought it was totally natural.

GM: I thought that situation was great because it gave me the opportunity to experience a set for the first time with my dad helping me through it.

JM: It was a perfect film for her to start with. It was a feelgood movie. Bob Shellcross wrote and directed it. I loved the guy.

GM: Yeah, it was like a family.

EDGE: Gia, where would you like to be five years from now as an actress?

GM: I hope that I am doing something that makes me happy, and I hope that I can continue to stay with the choices I make for myself instead of being told what to do. At my age it’s very easy to be typecast in a certain way, and I’ve been so scared of that. I have friends who are working every day, making money, supporting themselves, but they’re not happy. I’d rather be making five amazing, little independent films, playing lots of different characters, doing something fun, instead of doing one role that you can’t break out of.

JM: She doesn’t want to be a Disney kid.

GM: Okay, dad, I didn’t want to say that.

JM: I don’t mean specifically. I mean generally. You’re put in a bag in a cookie-cutter kind of way. That’s all I’m saying.

EDGE: Okay, so here’s the big Joe Mantegna’s daughter question—

GM: O-M-G! Bring it.

EDGE: Which question about your dad are you most tired of answering?

JM: Why is he so good looking.

GM: Yeah, that one. You know I actually creep on my dad’s IMDB sometimes, and people say things like Joe Mantegna is SO hot.

JM: I better check that out.

GM: So disturbing.

Editors Note: Gia Mantegna is 21. She played Vanessa on the series Gigantic and has a lead role in the featured film Leashed, which will be released in 2012. Joe Mantegna is the star of the CBS hit Criminal Minds. He will play Bugsy Siegel in the 2012 film Kill Me, Deadly. J.M. Stewart is a freelance writer who lives north of Los Angeles. As the waiters were clearing their table, Gia said that it was nice to “sit down with my dad and talk. We don’t do that that much. We just have dinner and that’s it. Thank you.”

Vincent Pastore

Vincent Pastore is a hard man to pin down. His interests are many, his gears constantly turning, his attention often divided. Tracey Smith chased him all summer for this interview, hoping to capture the essence of a show business Renaissance Man. To her delight, Pastore turned out to be that Renaissance Man in every conceivable way. Indeed, one can easily imagine him perched upon the throne of a 16th century city-state…or transforming a block of marble into a masterpiece for a wealthy patron…or dodging the business end of an enemy lance at the vanguard of an attacking army. From his tour de force as the conflicted criminal underboss Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpinsiero on The Sopranos to his unforgettable stints on reality TV, Pastore has become one of the most cherished characters—and character actors—of our time.

EDGE: The bad guys on The Sopranos could be warm and vulnerable and then suddenly turn and become cold, heartless killers. Your character had the added dimension of being deeply conflicted about being an informant. Did you enjoy that extra challenge?

VP: I did. David Chase wrote that role for an actor who could play a tough guy who also could be sensitive. I saw Big Pussy as a man with a big heart, and that was my choice of how I played that role. In that scene where he is crying in the bathroom at Anthony Jr.’s confirmation, you knew it was not just because he was a rat—he was betraying his friends, which was even harder to deal with.

EDGE: Was Big Pussy the most subtly textured character you have played in your career?

VP: Hmm, that’s a tough question. Probably. Going through so much mental turmoil over such a long period of time, dealing with the tension of if and when he was ever going to get caught by his friends for being an informant. I can tell you that it stayed with me as an actor, over five days a week of taping. It was rather tough.

EDGE: In addition to your acting, you are involved with a lot of plays.

VP: I try to produce three plays a year. It really enables people to see the actors work. I started doing this four years ago. It’s enabled me to continue working with several actors from The Sopranos, including Maureen Van Zandt, Nicholas Giangiulio, Joe Lisi, Garry Pastore, Tony Rossi, Anthony Ribustello and Janet Sarno. I don’t make a lot of money because I own the theater company, but we’ve had a pretty good run.

EDGE: Is that a different kind of stressful?

VP: Yes. The behind-the-scenes aspects of theater can be very stressful. I recently co-produced the revival of Lamp Post Reunion by Hoboken playwright Louis LaRusso. Danny Aiello played the lead character. There were frequent worries about who was ready or on cue. Plus the mood of the main character was dark.

EDGE: Your television and film roles are typically big, rich characters. How much of what we see on screen is you, and how much of that is you slipping into character?

VP: That depends on the role. I am currently being filmed as a mayor in Surviving Family and I’m not acting like the typical wiseguy that I’ve played in the past, like Angelo Ruggiero from Gotti or Big Pussy from The Sopranos. In Surviving Family I am acting, whereas those other characters are closer to who I am. I am Angelo. I am Big Pussy. And trust me, playing a mayor is a whole lot different than playing a wiseguy. There’s no comparison.

EDGE: What about the over-the-top Vincent Pastore we’ve sometimes seen on reality television shows, like Famous Food, The Apprentice and Celebrity Fit Club?

VP: What reality producers try to do is put me up against certain situations to bring out the best or worst in me, which is what the reality television mission is, in all actuality. They place you in a bad improvisation scene with someone you genuinely don’t like, and you’re forced to work with them. They want drama, emotion and conflict. Sometimes my temper shows, but I believe that as long as you don’t take it home to your family, and keep it out of your personal life, it’s okay.

EDGE: You pointed out in a previous issue of this magazine that not everyone can play a wiseguy. By the same token, no two wiseguys are alike. Big Pussy was a fictional character. But the part you played in Gotti was not. What was the challenge in interpreting that role?

VP: Angelo Ruggiero was a real person, so it was key to know the relationship between the two men. John and Angelo had a priceless bond. Armand Assante, who played Gotti, told me that the song The Wind Beneath My Wings reminded him of Ruggiero. He was always right behind John Gotti. He was loyal, and he never ratted. So you have to do the research, know the character. It’s true—not everyone can do this, not everybody can play a wiseguy.

EDGE: You mentioned that Angelo Ruggiero and Big Pussy are “you.” How often do you reach back and draw on your experiences outside the theater, to the real-life characters you’ve known, when you play a part?

VP: A lot of people think I grew up with those kinds of people. The truth is that I grew up in a pure Italian-American home. Tradition. We lived in New Rochelle in an Italian neighborhood. I can still smell the pizza! Roller skating every Friday night at the Boys Club. Great memories. We saw bookies and loan sharks. But to play these roles you don’t rely on memories. You use your own personality and come up with a great character. And for the record, I never knew any rats.

EDGE: Your family lived above a social club.

VP: The Forester’s Club of America. It’s still there. When I was a kid, I packed the cases of beer, cleaned up after the card games. I still can remember the smell of the stinky ashtrays—which probably had an influence on me later owning a bar. Most days I would get there at 3:00. My dad was a school custodian. He’d get back around 6:00. My mom cooked for the men at the bar on the weekend. There was a big hall in the basement where they would play team games and card games. There was an annual picnic, a Christmas party. A lot of meetings took place here.

EDGE: Sounds like a typical Italian-American social club.

VP: Yes, but not like a John Gotti “social club.”

EDGE: Is it true that you got into acting through Matt and Kevin Dillon?

VP: It was really Kevin Dillon who got me my first break. I used to drive a limo in New York and that’s when I met the brothers for the first time. I told them about my dreams of becoming an actor. They ended up seeing me at this community theater I was doing, and Kevin helped me out. He gave me the direction I needed to finally act. From there, Danny Aiello really became my mentor.

EDGE: One last Sopranos question. Your partner in crime, Pauly Walnuts, went from one line in the first episode to mob superstardom. How did that go down?

VP: The Sopranos was my dear friend Tony Sirico’s last hurrah. He had been in the business for twenty years, had come up through the ranks of indie films, and he had to make an impact. He had to get physically and spiritually more space. In the pilot his one line was Barone wants to talk to you. My part was much bigger. David Chase liked Paulie Walnuts, so he made Tony a technical assistant, and eventually wrote him in more and more.

EDGE: What was it like sharing a scene with a character like Paulie Walnuts?

VP: Like sharing a camera with an elephant! He wanted the whole camera, (laughing) but he let me squeeze in there from time to time. Tony was so experienced. I respect him so much. He always came to work prepared, ready, knew his lines, make-up was perfect. I truly learned from him.

EDGE: Is there a brass-ring role that’s out there for you? Is there a character you were born to play?

VP: I’d love to be on a sitcom. I’d love to finally play someone warm and funny. 

Editor’s Note: Tracey Smith is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago. She is working on a book about contemporary films on gangsters and organized crime.

David Goldman

 

In real life, fairy tales don’t always have happy endings. Young and dashing David Goldman was a model in Milan when he met and married a lovely Brazilian woman named Bruna Bianchi. Life was good in their Tinton Falls home, especially after the arrival of Sean in 2000. Everything changed four years later, however, after Bruna took Sean on what was supposed to be a brief family visit to Rio di Janeiro. She ended their marriage with a phone call and refused to return, triggering years of agonizing custody litigation in a foreign land. Though her marriage to David was never legally dissolved in the U.S., Bruna married João Paulo Lins e Silva, scion of a powerful family that had provided legal advice to the country’s elite since the 1800s. Bruna and João produced a baby girl (Sean’s halfsister), but Bruna died from childbirth complications. The legal battle only intensified when the family sought to keep Sean in Brazil. In his book A Father’s Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home, David delivers a heart-pounding blow-by-blow of his remarkable battle to win Sean back. EDGE Editor Christine Gibbs welcomed David Goldman into her home this summer, and rediscovered the very human side of a drama that had been played out in newspaper headlines and cable news reports for more than a half-decade.

EDGE: Describe Father’s Day seven years ago.

DG: On Father’s Day 2004, I had just learned that Sean had been abducted by his own mother, my wife, Bruna. Actually, I don’t even want to remember it as Father’s Day that year. That was the first of many holidays that came and went while he was away. I treated each one as if it was just another day. I tried to keep busy and to keep going.

EDGE: Was there a moment when you thought that you might never see your son again?

DG: I never had that moment, and that’s what kept me going. I always believed that we would be together again. However bleak that hope was at times, I never stopped hoping and believing in something that was so true and so right that it would have to happen. It had to happen. I would not give up until it happened.

EDGE: Did the fact that Sean was with his mother and her family give you any comfort?

DG: Well, yes. I knew where he was. I knew that they would take care of him better than if he had been abducted by strangers. Yes, absolutely. But he was mostly with his grandmother, not his mother. In fact his grandmother recently admitted that Sean had lived the whole time with her and not his Mom. I’m still trying to piece things together. It seems that, to some degree, it was Bruna’s mother who was obsessed with our son, and with Bruna’s returning to Brazil. And Bruna could not go back home without her son; what would people think? It was always about image. I wouldn’t say it was exactly “comforting,” but at least I knew that Sean wasn’t someplace that I might never find him.

EDGE: Eventually, you had to deal with Sean’s stepfather— and his wealthy and influential family.

DG: That’s where it became even more concerning. Bruna and I were never even separated in this country—let alone divorced—so I will never consider him as a “stepfather.” This man is a second abductor in my opinion. That family had a sense of entitlement and narcissism that made them feel they were a powerful Goliath in Brazil. So how dare some Gringo, an American fisherman from New Jersey, take them on and drag them through such a mess by fighting against them! Even when I realized how powerful the family was, it didn’t shake me. I don’t know why. Wait, I guess I do know why. I always believed that the rule of law—the rule of God’s law and man’s law—was on our side. I just had to keep standing in the light of truth.

EDGE: It’s almost a cliché that Americans can’t get a square deal when they are fighting in an overseas courtroom. What were some of the frustrations you experienced in your legal battles in Brazil?

DG: According to the terms of the Hague Convention Treaty, an abducted child must be returned within six weeks in order to disrupt the child’s life as little as possible. I immediately approached the Brazilian Central Authority about this, but they refused to file under the Hague Treaty in order to help me as the left-behind parent. After several weeks of no action, I felt forced to hire a Brazilian lawyer, at which time the BCA said that the matter was now out of their hands. Basically the BCA was complicit in the kidnapping.

EDGE: And possibly there was gender bias.

DG: Yes, there was one judge—who wore rock-star sunglasses in court—who stated that she had just lost her own mother and, although she didn’t know the facts of my case, that “the child always belonged with the mother.” She admitted beforehand that that would be her decision and she would back into it somehow. It was ludicrous and offensive. People were even serving coffee to the lawyers and judge right in the courtroom. The lack of decorum throughout my many hearings in Brazilian courts was astounding and so was the attitude and the decisions of some of the judges.

EDGE: Who turned out to be the biggest help to you here in the U.S.?

DG: There were so many people, like my long-time friends Mark DeAngelis and Bob D’Amico, whose support was invaluable. Obviously New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith was just incredible. He went right into battle with me by getting on a plane and flying with me to Brazil. Both of my attorneys dotted every i and crossed every t. They couldn’t control the judges, but they did use the law to our benefit. They closed every door they could and nailed each shut because we were up against some very slick opposition who would slither under any door if they could. Obviously, Senator Frank Lautenberg and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—just coming on TV and speaking about my case— that was unbelievable. Help came from as high up as President Obama. The people from Dateline on NBC and our local New Jersey media pitched in. I couldn’t possibly pick one as being greater than the others. Every bit of help was important. Remember, we eventually got Sean out of there, but only barely by the skin of our teeth.

EDGE: At what point in this almost six-year process did you sense that things might be breaking back your way?

DG: As unfortunate as Bruna’s tragic passing in childbirth was, it gave us—Sean and me—a second chance at life together. It was at that point that not only was Brazil breaking its own law, but also American law and international law. They would have had to change their own constitution regarding custodial rights, since Brazilian law clearly stated that custody was to go to the fit and surviving parent. Once they started breaking their own laws, well, that was when I really and truly believed we could win.

EDGE: Have all the loose ends been tied up, or are there still unresolved issues that require your attention?

DG: Unfortunately they’re not all resolved. The family is still appealing to overturn the decision that returned Sean home to America. They want to have him returned to Brazil, especially his Grandmother. Bruna’s Brazilian “husband” has even sued me on behalf of Sean’s half-sister Chiara. They’ve opened up lawsuits in both countries. Although Sean’s Brazilian grandparents have claimed all they ever wanted was to be allowed to visit, what they were really after was shared custody. They continued to refuse to acknowledge that this was Sean’s home and that, as his Dad, they should support me. While with them in Brazil, he wasn’t even allowed to call me Dad or to hug me when they finally let him see me. Fortunately, Brazil has now made parental alienation a crime. Ironically, Bruna’s Brazilian “father-in-law” was actually lecturing on how a child can be turned into an attack missile against the left-behind parent—even while that family was guilty of doing exactly that!

EDGE: How would you assess the performance of your legal team, the Brazilian media and the Brazilian public?

DG: I’d have to give both my lawyers outstanding grades for their due diligence, their knowledge of the law, and their teamwork. Patricia Apy, my American counsel, is brilliant in this field. Her legal expertise and determination to advocate for her client is amazing. And Ricardo Zamariol, at the age of 23 or 24, faced off with some powerful opponents in Brazil. The Brazilian media were very, very biased. They tried to make it into a nationalism issue by supporting the kidnappers. Much of the truth finally did come out, but it was amazing how distorted the reporting was. Apparently, the families had some close connections with some of the big media networks. The Brazilian public, in the beginning, was inundated with slander and lies, but once the truth started getting through, the public identified with me as victim even though I was an American. Many of them had been personally victimized by the privileged and powerful in high society. They finally realized that I was one of them. They recognized the miscarriage of justice when they finally could see it. They knew how wrong it was to separate a parent from his child, especially when I was the only surviving parent.

EDGE: What do you hope Sean comes away with out of all of this?

DG: I hope, first of all, that he can grow up in a normal and loving environment as any parent would—that he hasn’t been too scarred by underlying issues. He’s been through way too much already. Losing his Mom had to be tremendously painful, especially at age 7. I want my child to grow up to be thoughtful, caring, considerate, enlightened…but all in good time. Right now my focus is for Sean to be an 11-year-old boy doing ordinary things—going to camp, playing ball, joining a swim team, going to the Sandy Hook beach. I want to instill in Sean good values— honesty, humility, gratefulness, and sincerity. The exact opposite of the values he was taught while in Brazil.

EDGE: What lessons will you carry with you going forward?

DG: To never give up hope, especially when you know that what you’re doing is so right. You have to keep going. You have to keep carrying that torch of hope forward. In all cases like mine, the suffering is not on the part of the parent alone. It’s shared by everyone who is close to the abducted child. So I want to continue to carry that torch—through our Bring Sean Home Foundation—to make change for the better really happen for others like Sean and me.

EDGE: What has been the easiest part of the transition back to life with Sean?

DG: Just doing routine, mundane things together at home, like sitting down and watching TV or playing a video game, playing catch, doing homework.

EDGE: What have you found to be the most challenging?

DG: Some of the most challenging part comes from certain learned behavioral traits that Sean picked up while he was in Brazil, such as avoiding accepting responsibility. Most kids will make some excuses at one time or another, but Sean sometimes takes it to a level well beyond his years. It’s just too mature. So I spend a lot of time trying to determine what is normal for an 11-year-old and, what is a byproduct of Sean’s special situation—which included a good deal of brainwashing. The picture they painted of me, of New Jersey, of America, was obviously not true. When he came home, he saw reality—so much love, so much patience, so much understanding from me, from his grandparents, from the community. Having been told horrible lies for five long years, the reality was shocking.

EDGE: In your book you also talk about the challenge of setting parameters. How does that apply to Sean?

DG: Sean had lived an adult lifestyle with his grandparents— staying up late, getting up late, going out socially with adults, and so on. I have been working on getting him back to being a child again.

EDGE: And how is that going?

DG: Once Sean opened that curtain to his childhood, he just wanted to go right back to being a kid again. He’s learning to let go of the adult behavior and mannerisms. He wants to be a kid as much as I want to be his Dad.

EDGE: How did you celebrate this past Father‘s Day?

DG: We went out on our boat along with Sean’s Pop-Pop, who has said to me that not only did he get his grandson back, but he got his son back, too. Now that Sean is back, every day is Father’s Day for me.

Editor’s Note: David Goldman has testified before Congress and is continuing his effort to eliminate child abduction injustices around the globe. For anyone facing the ordeal of an abducted child, bringseanhome.org offers support, advocacy options, and a summary of ongoing legal activity in this field. A Father’s Love: One Man’s Unrelenting Battle to Bring His Abducted Son Home (Viking $26.95) was released this past spring.

Ken Burns

Ken Burns is an old soul with the face of a choirboy and a gift for storytelling. He is especially passionate about American history, and his need to know is contagious. For the past 30 years, Burns has been a fixture on public television. From his early one-hour films profiling such landmarks as the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty to his monumental miniseries on the Civil War, World War II, baseball, jazz, our national parks and the American West, he has captivated audiences with the fruits of his meticulous research and his drive to document the history of America through the hearts and minds of those who actually lived it. With as many as six films in production at one time, Burns travels the country filming, researching, lecturing and fundraising—ever mindful of the grassroots appeal of his work. October 2 marks the start of his three-part opus Prohibition, the latest miniseries from Burns and his longtime creative team—including producer director Lynn Novick and screenwriter Geoffrey C. Ward. Award-winning entertainment journalist Judith Trojan caught up with Burns in his New Hampshire production office.

EDGE: Historian Stephen Ambrose once said that more Americans get their history from you than from any other source. Do you set out to educate the public about American history or does it go deeper than that?

KB: I don’t know what would be deeper than educating the American public, but my first impulse is more modest: I just want to tell a good story. Because these are stories in American history, and often stories that have been neglected by the distractions of an all-consuming media culture, I think they then become significant educational tools.

EDGE: Historical dramas like The King’s Speech are extremely popular and win Oscars. Why devote your career to documentaries and not docudramas or dramatic fiction?

KB: I’ve been interested in the power of what’s true—the drama in what was and what is—without any human interference. For me, it’s looking at things that actually happen, and I don’t feel the need to change them.

EDGE: Back in the day, films about American history were dry as toast and earmarked for educational markets. Why do you think your films have wide audience appeal?

KB: One of the big reasons is I’ve had the great good fortune for 30 years to work in public broadcasting, emphasis on the word public. They don’t interfere with the process; so I enjoy creative control—though we are dependent upon the kindness of philanthropists in corporate, foundation and governmental circles that complete our budgets. Once you’ve removed yourself from the hurly-burly of fashion and really evolve your own authentic style, then people begin to trust that.

EDGE: Your films transformed the genre and became stylistic benchmarks for historical documentaries.

KB: Well, I’m not interested in excavating the dates and facts of the past—the dusty, dry archaeology that has turned so many people off—but in what I’ve called an “emotional archaeology.” The logical world of the head doesn’t allow much room for passion. Yet we also know how dangerous those baser emotions can be that transform history into nostalgia—something I’m absolutely not interested in. The glue that holds together all of the dates and facts in my films is a higher emotional energy. I notice that the things that compel us most in life—the relationships of those closest to us, the work we’re proudest of, our faith, our patriotism— prove that often one plus one equals three. It’s that wonderful contradictory calculus that I think art pursues that I hope to touch on in my films.

EDGE: Are you driven by your own desire to learn about a subject?

KB: Another reason those historical documentaries were so dry is because it was somebody telling you something they already knew rather than, as I hope in my films, a process of discovery. I’m drawn to a subject not because I know about it and want to show off that knowledge or want to tell people what they should know about the subject, but the exact opposite. I want to share my process of discovery. It’s “Hey, let me tell you this unbelievable story I just heard!”

EDGE: April 12th marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, and 21 years have passed since you premiered your groundbreaking miniseries. Has your mindset about the war changed in any way?

KB: I made the film because I was convinced the Civil War was the most important event in our nation’s history. There is nothing in the last 21 years that changed my mind. All of American history is in some ways governed by those four horrible years when, in order to become one, we tore ourselves in two. It’s the traumatic event in the childhood of our nation.

EDGE: Seventeen years elapsed between your coverage of the Civil War and World War II—the latter in your powerful 2007 miniseries The War. Why so long an interval?

KB: I vowed after The Civil War that I would not do another film on war. It was just very hard and emotionally painful to do it. But towards the end of the ’90s, I learned two awful facts: one, that we were losing a thousand WWII veterans a day; and two, that many graduating high school seniors thought we fought with the Germans against the Russians in the Second World War. I was appalled. I felt, for the reason that we were losing our soldiers and our historical compass, that I had to dive back into the subject of war.

EDGE: After completing two huge projects examining wartime America, did you come away with any life-altering insights?

KB: War is an interesting and troublesome subject. Americans—indeed, human beings—always forget the painful consequences of a war once it’s over. We begin to drape it with bloodless gallant myth. I think it’s the obligation of the artist to try to remind people of what actually takes place, which is in and of itself paradoxical. You, of course, find horrific aspects of human behavior; but also, you see stunning examples of bravery and courage, friendship and devotion, and loyalty and love that you weren’t expecting. So war has become the place at which a much more intensified study of human nature can occur. I’ve now committed to making a film on the history of Vietnam; and this will consume me, in every sense of that word, for the next six years.

EDGE: Your films consistently shine a light on unsung heroes.

KB: Oh, most definitely. I think one of the reasons American history seems like castor oil to so many people is that it’s usually reduced to a sequence of Presidential administrations punctuated by wars. The more engaging history is when that top-down version is balanced with a bottom-up version. I’ve tried to tell our histories from the bottom-up. What was happening to the individual private— North and South—in the Civil War? And in The War, WWII is reflected essentially through the eyes of people from four American cities: Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; and tiny Luverne, Minnesota.

EDGE: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s quote at the end of The Tenth Inning, your latest series on baseball, beautifully sums up why the game is so enriching for the human spirit. She reminds us that we achieve immortality through our memories of communal activities.

KB: It’s so interesting that, in a way, we achieve our immortality through the stories told by the people that come after us. We keep our parents and grandparents alive that way, and then we too become those parents and grandparents whose lives are kept alive by the stories of their children. These are hugely important things; and they become the essential way in which human beings communicate with one another, whether it’s in documentary films or newspaper articles or on the street corner or over the backyard fence. If you tell history as if it’s over the backyard fence, you’ll have everybody’s ear.

EDGE: You’re now the father of two very young daughters, as well as two adult daughters.

KB: Yes, and I just became a grandfather! So my big girl, my baby, just had a baby.

EDGE: Another girl?

KB: Of course! That’s what we’ve been able to grow in the Burns house.

EDGE: Has having four daughters and now a granddaughter influenced your choice of subjects at all? There’s definitely a link between your latest miniseries, Prohibition, and your 1999 film about woman suffrage, Not for Ourselves Alone.

KB: The professional decisions are completely separate, but one ignores the role of women at one’s peril. I’m sure that’s in some way born from my experience living with lots of women who helped and influenced me.

EDGE: When people think of Temperance and Prohibition, Carry Nation immediately comes to mind; but many other women played pivotal roles.

KB: Yes, it was wives who went to their pastors to complain about their drunken husbands. It was women who fought not only for Emancipation for the slaves and a woman’s right to vote, but for Temperance. The highest-ranked woman in the U.S. government, Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt, prosecuted Prohibition violators. And women were instrumental as flappers in flaunting the law and thumbing their noses at it. So it’s a wonderful story, which no one ever tells. I hope our film has been able to tell a much deeper story that at its heart engages women. And maybe that is my daughters speaking to me somehow.

EDGE: Prohibition seems to be a story about many people behaving badly. Did you have certain preconceived notions that were upended by the time you completed your research?

KB: It’s less upended than how superficial our knowledge of Prohibition is. We think of gangsters and Model-T’s careening through rain-slicked Chicago streets and tommy guns flashing and flappers and all of that stuff. That’s in our film, and it’s a very exciting and dynamic aspect of Prohibition; but the first hundred years before Prohibition went into effect are as essential to why it happened as anything, and we detail that in our film. This is a film about single issue political campaigns that kind of metastasized with unfortunate, unintended consequences. It’s about the demonization of immigrants. It’s about smear campaigns during Presidential campaigns. It’s about a whole group that felt like they’d lost control of the country and wanted to take it back. And those themes speak directly to what’s going on today without us having to point arrows at it.

EDGE: You grew up in a left-wing family. Has that had any affect on your work?

KB: No. I’ve struggled really hard to speak to everyone: red state, blue state, young, old, black, white, male, female, gay, straight, whatever. I’m interested in speaking to all of my fellow citizens and saying, “These are wonderful stories.” In a country in which civil discourse has decayed, history is still the table around which many of us can agree to come together. And that’s why I’ve been consciously and decidedly apolitical in my films.

EDGE: What about the use of social media today to connect diverse individuals and communities? Do you use it?

KB: I don’t use it. I’m an old fuddy-duddy and work way too hard and really don’t have the time. Everything’s a doubleedged sword. I think when we see how it’s enabled us to bond with people struggling for freedom in North Africa and the Middle East, we see its positive results. When we see how our children are consumed by social media to the extent that they can’t lift their eyes from their computers or their handheld devices to take a walk out in nature, we understand the pernicious effects. So, it’s very important to understand that everything under the sun has both negative and positive aspects. It’s our responsibility to reconcile those differences.

EDGE: If you were to compare yourself to any notable person in American history, who would it be? Have you felt a special kinship with any of your subjects?

KB: I feel a spectacular kinship with Louis Armstrong, Abraham Lincoln and Jackie Robinson; those three people are the bees’ knees for me. Now, would I compare myself to them? Never! I’ve had the great good fortune to spend a lot of time with them in the work that I do; and I feel that I’ve gotten to know them, even though they’re dead and I have not met them. I try my best to channel—if that’s the right word—the best of them to my fellow citizens to remind us of our greatest possibilities rather than our worst. These are the messages of love that Louis Armstrong gave us, of perseverance that Jackie Robinson displayed, and the wisdom and poetry that Abraham Lincoln exhibited. I’m proud to live in a country that had those three individuals as citizens.

Editor’s Note: Judith Trojan has written and edited more than 1,000 film and television reviews and celebrity profiles for books, magazines and newsletters. Her interviews have run the gamut from best-selling authors Mary Higgins Clark, Ann Rule and Frank McCourt to cultural touchstones Carroll O’Connor, Judy Collins and Caroll Spinney (aka Big Bird). Judy most recently helmed the Christopher Awards, a program that for the past 62 years has honored feature films, TV/cable programs, and books for adults and children that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”