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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview with Jason Patric, Peter, Paul and Mary, David Milch
Aired April 10, 2004 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you wish to stay here, in the Alamo, we will show the world what patriots are made of.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Jason Patric, the hansome, mysterious star of "The Alamo" opens up on his run in with the law, his grandfather Jackie Gleeson and portraying an American legend in this new movie.
Plus, musical giants, Peter, Paul and Mary, a living chunk of America's cultural history. And more, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We begin tonight with a terrific actor who's just opened in a sensational movie that I saw yesterday. It opened wide yesterday. The movie is "The Alamo," and the star is Jason Patric, who plays Jim Bowie. Fresh from the Broadway role as Brit in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
How did this project come to you?
JASON PATRIC, ACTOR: The director, John Lee Hancock, you know, had seen a few of my movies. And he just had this big project where he wanted to meet. It was really just over a couple of beers he told this yarn.
But I didn't -- I'm from New York. You're from New York. I didn't know anything about the Alamo.
KING: Did you see the first movie, with John Wayne?
PATRIC: I didn't. I've seen some of it, you know, on the Million Dollar Movie and things like that. But I don't remember it, very much.
KING: Did you want to see the script first?
PATRIC: He had a script, but there was about three different versions. There's so many versions of "The Alamo." So I really just listen to -- this was a guy who grew up in Texas, John Lee Hancock, and this is a story he learned from the crib. They used to play Crockett and Bowie when they were kids. It was just his passion.
And so I had a lot of opportunity to create the role and write the role with him.
KING: You say a lot of opportunities. They gave you a lot of leeway with it?
PATRIC: John did. You know, he thought -- there's not a lot I know about Bowie. He's the most enigmatic out of the three there at the Alamo.
KING: He invented the knife, right?
PATRIC: His brother did. His brother made him that knife. I think he got in a fight once where his gun jammed and he got shot. And he never after that didn't have a knife on his side.
KING: He is the darkest -- if that's the correct word -- character of the heroes at the Alamo, right? He's a little offbeat. He's different.
PATRIC: He is. He's more that he's real America, archetypical rogue. And he's one of those great characters. And those guys survived back then. Most of the guys at the Alamo ended up there because they failed at other places. And you know, the times in life.
He was a land swindler. He was, you know, a slave trader. He was a fortune hunter. He was a great leader of men, a great military man. And there was something incredibly, just enigmatic and charismatic about him.
KING: Do you enjoy doing a film like that, as opposed to, say, a lot of interior kind of work?
PATRIC: Well, the last movie I did was "Narc," which was a really small, hard-edged sort of cop movie, where we had no time, you know, no money.
And you know, as an actor, you like to try different things. I just got off Broadway. You want to go on Broadway, you know, at least once. I'd made a lot of small, interesting movies.
And to do an epic -- most movies aren't actually worthy of the epic scale, I find, these days. We pump them up. The studio makes you believe you're seeing a big movie, but there's few American tales that are worthy of something that size. And I think this story was. So yes, it's good to be a part of it.
KING: Were you glad that they also finished it off? They told you what happened after the Alamo?
PATRIC: Yes, and I know a lot of people think they do that so that somehow you can see the Americans winning, because you know, the Alamo was so devastating. But in truth, you know, that was really the birth of what would become, you know, Texas and the sort of manifest destiny and the western expansion.
And I think there's also something, I mean, and you may feel that, too, there was something about the bloodlust in that battle of Santa Ana) that was sort of just, you know, pointless from both sides. You know, the pain of war.
KING: The stupidity of it.
KING: Over a piece of land.
PATRIC: Yes. And just the sadness.
KING: And Sam Houston's fervor to have Texas. And be a nation.
PATRIC: Be a nation, that he would -- that he would lead. And also the sort of sadness that if he defeated Santa Ana in 18 minutes, I mean, what would happen if he came to the Alamo?
KING: How'd you like working with Billy?
PATRIC: Well, I mean, you know Billy. Billy's -- he's one of those characters. He's one -- he is a true American character, like -- like Crockett. You know, in today's business, everything is so cookie cutter and so formulaic, for a rube like Billy to hit like he has is a great thing.
KING: He had him down, too, didn't he, too? I would imagine that's the way David Crockett was.
PATRIC: I think so. I mean, I think that, you know, Billy can play the hillbilly. He can also play the Hollywood game. And that's the same thing as Crockett.
KING: How about the third -- well, Dennis Quaid, everyone knows his work. He plays Houston.
KING: He was not, of course, at the Alamo.
PATRIC: Patrick Wilson plays Travis...
KING: Where did they come up with him?
PATRIC: Well, you know, he's a Broadway actor. He's done some Broadway musicals, and he's just a new kid. And he got a big break, and he really grabbed it.
KING: He's tremendous.
PATRIC: Yes, he's very good. Nice guy and very good actor.
KING: You like working with him?
PATRIC: I like working with new guys. I've worked with a lot of new directors. This is pretty much a new director. Just, you know, you get something from them. You see them creating themselves and this happening. And it reminds you, I think, when you work with young actors and young filmmakers, that spark that you initially had. It's so easy to get jaded as the years go by.
KING: Are you, by nature, experimental? That you like to try things that are different?
PATRIC: I do. You know, I've had, you know, obviously an unconventional career...
KING: You have.
PATRIC: ...compared to most. And I just didn't want to follow someone else's shoes. It just does get boring that way. And let's face facts: the best thing about being in movies is putting yourself in some experience that you've never had with people in a some passionate way. And you want to let yourself go. And you really want to, you know, just let yourself go on the unproven ground. So that's -- experimentation's inherent in that.
KING: What's being on the stage like?
PATRIC: You know, you get to do Tennessee Williams, you know, once every 20 years on Broadway. I've done a lot of stage plays, but there's a difference between playing ball and playing in Yankee Stadium. There just is.
KING: No kidding.
PATRIC: And so when you're on Broadway, and you're speaking Williams, when you're blessed to be able to speak Williams, it's really magical. It's difficult, you know, eight times a week, three- hour shows. It's difficult, but it was -- it was the most arduous, but I'd say the best experience in my life.
KING: Is that because he writes so well that it's almost poetic, the words flow. And they're real.
PATRIC: Exactly. And that's what people miss. And he is poetic, but his poetry lends itself to human behavior. Now, you can play Shakespeare, and there's something poetic about it. And there's something grand. And there's something moving about it.
But I think that Williams' genius is that poetry also lends itself, if you decide to invest it with real behavior that will surprise you, you know, underneath the sort of grandiloquence of it all.
KING: Does that make it easier or harder for the actor?
PATRIC: Both. I mean, easier when you finally -- when it finally becomes embedded in you and it's like part of your fabric. But I think the weight and power of that, and what it should be and can be is -- is a bit of a yoke at first.
KING: Was "Alamo" an arduous shoot?
PATRIC: I got to say, it was very -- for me, the easiest one and the most enjoyable one I've been on.
PATRIC: Probably the director. He was -- I mean, he was...
KING: He replaced Ron Howard, right?
PATRIC: Before it started. And he went in there with his own idea. And you know, for a movie like that -- and this is really, you know, days and means (ph) type filmmaking. Movies are made in computers these days. They're still, you know, wonderful and fascinating, but this is the biggest set ever built in America. You know, on 60 acres. And we recreated it.
And just to have a film like -- the infrastructure that you have to build, just to work every day. And this guy never raised his voice, would get coffee for people. And I just -- I really had an enjoyable time.
KING: You know, you built an Alamo?
PATRIC: Built the Alamo, built the town across from the Alamo. There's not one set on it. When we're inside a cafe or a bar, you walk out and the camera goes and there's the Alamo. And so that's an experience.
KING: How many extras?
PATRIC: Thousands. Thousands.
KING: Our guest is Jason Patric. He stars in "The Alamo," which opened last night. I saw it yesterday morning. It is a -- I saw it, no, during the week. It opened last night. It's a terrific film.
More with Jason Patric right after this.
PATRIC: There's going to be a cold day in hell anybody takes orders from a debtor (ph) who leaves his pregnant wife in the middle of the night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about a land swindler who marries a girl, god rest her soul, for her father's money?
BILLY BOB THORNTON, ACTOR: Hey, hey, hey, hey, fellas, listen. Just because we ain't go nobody to fight, don't mean we need to fight one another.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crockett has a point. We should do this democratically.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can try to get you out with an escort. If you're capture perhaps, given your condition, mercy would be extended.
PATRIC: I don't deserve mercy. I do deserve a drink.
KING: We're back with Jason Patric. The Alamo was filmed not in San Antonio? Right?
PATRIC: Outside of Austin and Triple Springs, yes.
KING: Did you go see the real Alamo?
PATRIC: I didn't until the premiere. You know, I just -- I wanted, like our Alamo and it was so amazing, you know, with the production designer, Michael Corenblith, did, to be our Alamo, and...
KING: The real Alamo they've got now is just the initial building.
PATRIC: The facade of the church that was inside there. And it was -- it was interesting to see it again, but my -- my memories and the sort of -- I don't know, the feeling connected to the project really had to do with our set.
KING: What happened to you in Austin?
PATRIC: Well, you know, there's only so much I can say, and I hate when I hear people say that, you know. I've been told by the lawyers. But it's unfortunate, because I loved Austin. I had a great time there. And I've said it's one of the best times I've had.
KING: Great town.
PATRIC: It's a great town. And unfortunately, there was -- there's some bad eggs there. And you know...
KING: They busted you for drunk driving?
PATRIC: No, no. Allegedly, it was public intoxication, and resisting arrest. I did neither. And you know, all that's going to come out.
KING: Is there a case? Will there be a trial?
PATRIC: Yes. Hopefully, that won't be the case. But there's -- there's things going on now about the charges. And when it is resolved, I'd love to come back on the show with a proper panel to talk about these things. Because it's certainly -- I've never experienced it before, and it's -- it's a horrible thing.
And that's coming from someone like me, who's incredibly pro-cop. You know, I'm Irish Catholic. I grew up with them. I play softball with them. And so it was pretty stunning.
KING: Did you know your grandfather?
PATRIC: You know, only a handful of times. And I mean, guys like -- I...
KING: Jackie Gleason, by the way. And some people don't know this, for some...
KING: Jackie Gleason was your... PATRIC: Grandfather.
KING: ...grandfather. I knew Jackie very, very well. He was a great comedian -- I'll always be thankful to him.
PATRIC: Yes, he was an incredibly talented man.
KING: You have his eyes and his eyebrows.
PATRIC: Well, I guess that's where my blue eyes come from. All of my family's brown eyes or green.
KING: Yes, he had blue.
PATRIC: Yes. Well, you know, they don't have performers like that anymore. And you know that, being around as long as you've been.
KING: You must have met him as a kid, right?
PATRIC: Yes. A handful of times. But he was -- maybe because his family life was never great, he was not comfortable, I think, with his own children and grandchildren. And his...
KING: With his daughter, you mean?
PATRIC: My mom, yes. My mom.
KING: He was didn't have a good relationship with his children, or his first wife, or his...
PATRIC: And you know, his first wife, my grandmother, is the greatest woman in the world. And I think -- and he definitely would admit that. I just think that -- I find a lot of people, having been through the years, you know, really talented artists are sometimes uncomfortable with that intimate side to themselves. And I think in a lot of ways, it forces them to, like, you know, demand creativity and -- and makes them ambitious.
But that softer side of themselves, I think, sometimes it's difficult.
KING: When you see his work, what do you think?
PATRIC: Well, it's phenomenal. I mean, I think people my age don't even realize the groundbreaking stuff that was going on back then. You know, when you look at "The Honeymooners," you know...
KING: Live television.
PATRIC: Live. It -- it ushered in television. It was still the very best -- as good as any theater that was playing in New York at the time.
PATRIC: And the writing and performing was done every week. And the newness of it.
And today, when you see the complexity of television and sit- coms, this was on one set with a table, you know, in black and white.
KING: Let's see what got picked up in the genes. He was a perfectionist. Are you?
PATRIC: I think so.
KING: Things had to be right or he'd do it again.
PATRIC: I won't leave until I feel that I've gotten it right. Now a lot of people, they disagree with me on my professionalism. But I won't leave until I think we've got it, yes.
KING: Because he had that in him.
PATRIC: Well, it's there forever. And you know, even on stage I feel that there are times that we're doing "Cat" on a Wednesday matinee, when I know I have another one that night. And you just don't have it in you.
But you -- then you see, you see that lady out there with her two nieces, or her two kids, and you know that they're never coming back. This is their introduction to Tennessee Williams. And they'll never see it again. And that little thing just gets in you, and then you just pull it out.
KING: And you owe them that?
PATRIC: I think...
KING: You owe yourself that, too?
PATRIC: Yes, you have the gift of being able to truly play -- I got to play Brit Pollitt, and I think I did it in a way no one's done it before. And that's a gift. And I got to do it on Broadway. And you know, these people were paying $90 a ticket, and they had to park, and they probably had Italian food before. And they wanted a show.
KING: What's your next film?
PATRIC: I don't know, you know? I never...
KING: You don't know?
PATRIC: No. I do it the wrong way. You're supposed to have your next job when it's -- when the other one's in the can. But I've always tried to invest myself in what I'm doing at the time, and see what happens.
KING: Are you seeing scripts?
PATRIC: A couple. I've got a couple here and there. I've been choosy through the years. And you know, you're choosy for awhile and then people choose not to use you, as well. KING: When you see the film completed, are there times that even you, who are in it, say, "Wow"?
KING: The movie, the action scenes.
PATRIC: Yes. Because I wasn't involved in so much of that stuff.
KING: It's good.
PATRIC: Yes. I mean, it is truly -- and it's truly one of the great battles, in the way...
KING: One of the best ever filmed.
PATRIC: And it's funny, because you've heard all this talk about, you know, Disney wanted a PG version. And this is one of the most violent battles you'll...
KING: Not gory, though.
PATRIC: Not gory. But you know, real violence in life is not, you know, slow motion, hands flying through the air.
KING: You die right away.
PATRIC: You die, you drop and you move on.
KING: Thank you, Jason.
PATRIC: You're welcome, Larry.
KING: Can't say enough about this movie, or his performance in it. Jason Patric. The film is "The Alamo," now playing everywhere.
When we come back, two of the great legendary stars of American folk music -- three of the great, Peter, Paul and Mary. Don't go away.
LARRY KING, HOST: We welcome now to LARRY KING LIVE three of the legendary performers in American show business history. They are Peter, Paul and Mary, all with us from New York, known individually, of course, we have Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers.
Their new box CD set is "Carry it On." And they were the focus of a recent two-hour PBS documentary, "Peter, Paul and Marry Carry it On: A Musical Legacy."
We'll start with Peter. How did you -- how did you become Peter, Paul and Mary?
PETER YARROW, MUSICIAN: We were at Greenwich Village at the time of the wonderful crucible of creative alteration of the nation. And folk music was the spirit of it. Mary was a Village fixture. Noel was the Village comedian, along with Woody Allen and Cosby. And I was the interloper for -- from Cornell.
We met. We rehearsed in Mary's apartment, four flights up.
NOEL PAUL STOOKEY, MUSICIAN: And a lot of pasta. That sounded pretty good.
KING: Whose idea, Mary, was it to be a group?
MARY TRAVERS, MUSICIAN: I think it was really sort of Peter and Peter's manager, Albert Grossman. The story goes that they were talking about a group, and Peter saw a picture of me on the wall of Izzy Young's Folklore Center. And he said to Albert, "Who's that?"
And Albert said, "Oh, that's Mary. She'd be good, if you could get her to work."
YARROW: But I have to tell you, Larry, that picture of Mary was attractive to me not because I heard her voice but because she was incredibly beautiful.
YARROW: She was great. And she was a wild spirit in the Village.
STOOKEY: That's right. That's a good way to describe it.
KING: Paul, were you a comic who became a singer?
STOOKEY: I sort of kind of did everything. I was in Michigan State, and in that context, I was a master of ceremonies. And so I did everything from make sound effects like Jonathan Winters, whom I admired very much and still do, to writing songs and having my own rhythm and blues group about a year or two before Bill Haley, as a matter of fact.
KING: Do you still perform, the three of you together?
STOOKEY: Constantly, yes.
YARROW: Since 1978, when we came back together, we've been working anywhere between 25 and 40 shows a year.
KING: And how would you describe, Peter -- you certainly came along as folk artists, right? Is that a correct termination?
STOOKEY: That's correct. Yes. We still are folk artists. Very dedicated, not only to the tradition that we inherit from Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie, Josh White, but also to the spirit of living the music, so that what you're singing about -- "Blowing in the Wind" -- if you're singing about justice, you're going to be on the front lines of it. And the music's going to carry you there.
KING: What, Mary, was your first hit?
TRAVERS: I think the first one was a song called, "Lemon Tree."
KING: "Lemon tree, very pretty."
TRAVERS: And that was the very first one. And I remember the first time we heard it on the radio. We were driving a sort of a beat-up Volkswagen bus and we had to sort of pull over to the side of the road.
STOOKEY: We were giggling too hard.
TRAVERS: And laugh and giggle and say, "Oh, my God! That's us on the radio!"
KING: How many -- how many credited, Paul, hits did you have?
STOOKEY: Oh, probably 20. We really ran the gamut, you know. Not only did we have "Puff, the Magic Dragon" and then we had the serious tunes, you know, much of which were authored by the poets of the time, Dylan and John Denver and Gordon...
TRAVERS: Gordon Lightfoot.
STOOKEY: But then we also had the other end of the spectrum, which was, like, "I Dig Rock 'n' Roll Music." So we really -- in a sense, I think we saluted the community of expression of folk music.
KING: You did "Leaving on a Jet Plane," too, didn't you?
KING: What was -- what was the biggest, Peter?
YARROW: Probably that. "Leaving on a Jet Plane," "Blowing in the Wind," "Puff, the Magic Dragon," "If I Had a Hammer." They were the -- it's hard to say, because record sales don't really reflect how it's penetrated the American culture. Because we've been out there now for 43 years.
And I think that not only did it affect the way in which people thought and felt about each other in that era, but it also affected the music that came afterwards.
KING: Did you know right away, Mary, like a song like "Blowing in the Wind" had to be a hit?
TRAVERS: I don't think we ever thought about songs being hits.
TRAVERS: We thought about songs that really moved us. And that one really moved us right away. And the funny thing is that it's a song that has -- not only did it move us when we sang it, but it's traveled to countries we've never -- we've never been to. It's moved people across the world. And inspired people who were thinking about justice and equality and democracy all across the world.
KING: Who's the audience now, Paul?
STOOKEY: We reach -- we pretty much reach four generations. Your age group, our age group -- we're constituents, I think, aren't we?
KING: Social Security beneficiaries.
STOOKEY: But there are children in the audience who learn these songs at camp. And there are parents, you know.
The -- in 1960, when this music happened on the America's scene, it kind of broke the mold for what pop music could talk about. And suddenly, it wasn't just boy-girl relationships. It was the world around us. And because of that, the nature of the music really is very attractive to a community. And we, you know, the community talks about a variety of human concerns.
KING: And you never get tired of listening to it. Let's sing a little something as we go to the first break here.
STOOKEY: I think we're going to...
TRAVERS (singing): How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?
STOOKEY (singing): How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?
YARROW (singing): Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly before they're forever banned?
TRAVERS, STOOKEY, YARROW (singing): The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.
KING: The new box CD is called "Carry it On." PBS did a two- hour documentary on three American legends: Peter, Paul and Mary, who are still doing their thing.
What was it like at the historic March on Washington when King gave that famous speech?
TRAVERS: It was -- it was the most incredible day, certainly, of my life. I had a real epiphany that day. I -- I understood that -- that Americans, joined together, could fulfill the American dream by working together and caring together. And I know that when we heard Dr. King give that incredible speech, that we knew we were in the presence of not only greatness but a moment of history.
KING: Paul, Did you sing that day before he -- before he spoke?
STOOKEY: Before he spoke, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I give you now, Peter, Paul and Mary.
STOOKEY: And we've had occasion to sing, as Mary has pointed out, several times: with Nelson Mandela, with Bishop Tutu. That song travels very well.
KING: Do you remain politically active, Peter?
YARROW: Well, indeed we do. I think the one thing about folk music that makes it so special -- there are many things, but one thing is that it really allows people to coalesce their feelings about things that they really care about. That happened that day, in the 1960s, '63, at the -- there were marches thereafter. In Washington, certainly, in the gender equality movement, the environmental movement, the anti-Apartheid movement. And in today's political climate, you better believe it.
KING: So, I would gather, Mary, you're opposed to, let's say, the war in Iraq?
TRAVERS: I think it was a mistake. But it is a tragic mistake, because it has cost a great many American lives, as well as Iraqi lives. And I'm not at all convinced that we have an exit policy for this war any more than we had a very good one for Vietnam.
KING: Do you get -- folk music is not played every day on the radio anymore. Do you get any new material, Peter?
YARROW: Absolutely. There's a wonderful festival called the Kerrville Folk Festival, where we hear many of the new songs there. Folk music is pretty much the way it was, to a certain degree, when we came upon it, which is that it's very much a part of the American culture. And it exists. It's not at the top of the charts, but it's very strong.
And we just did a new album of songs of -- most of which came from these new singer-songwriters, which is -- it's the first album we've done in a decade.
KING: Do you think, Mary, as things are cyclical, folk music might come back?
TRAVERS: Well, I don't think it's really left. I think that what's happened -- in the '50s folk music was sort of regional. You know, there were Kentucky Mountain songs and Delta blues. And then with the advent of radio and the Weavers, and then the '60s, it became national.
And I think now most Americans look upon folk music as part of their heritage and part of something that they -- they grew up with or that they have learned in schools and in concert halls, at camp. And it's a wonderful -- there's nothing -- nothing beats singing together. It's the best experience. KING: So therefore, Paul, there are, rather, no thoughts of retirement?
STOOKEY: No. Mary's painted the image of us standing in front of the White House with walkers and canes. So I don't think -- I don't think retirement. We'll certainly do a reduced schedule, but I think we'll always be interested in the new music that's made.
We'll always be interested in how to move along the -- be part of the American dream, how to encourage people to be a community. Even in the thing called cyberspace, you know? It's important for us to remind each other of our humanity.
KING: Was it a kind of magic, Peter, that the voices worked so well together? Is that just lucky chemistry?
YARROW: You know, I've sung with a lot of people, but when I first -- and I still do -- when the three of us sing together, there is something internal and very naked now after these 43 years. And I feel -- that these guys are kind of in my soul and we know each other really, really well. And it was -- it was immediately there. And it was astonishing.
KING: We salute you. I've loved all three of you for many, many years.
STOOKEY: Thank you.
TRAVERS: Thank you.
KING: Sing us another song out...
KING: ...before we talk with Stephen Spinella and David Milch.
STOOKEY: You're going to sing along with us here?
KING: All right. Go ahead.
YARROW: All right. Here we go.
YARROW, TRAVERS, STOOKEY, KING (singing): Puff the Magic Dragon lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mists in a land called Honalee. Oh, Puff the Magic Dragon lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mists in a land called Honalee.
KING: Peter, Paul and Mary. We'll be right back with Stephen Spinella. Don't go away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, good luck!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, how's it going with your brother?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff, these are my girlfriends: the Connie and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Jeff. Welcome to the doll house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you all work at the handlebar too?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we all work there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Worked? Jeff, these broads have transformed that dive into a legit cabaret. I wish I was in that show. Hint
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hint.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We heart you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hint.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Back off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, darling. Let's get out of here.
KING: One of the great Broadway shows ever was "Angels in America," and our next guest, Stephen Spinella, won a Tony for his appearance in that wonderful theatrical production.
He's now starring in Universal Pictures' "Connie and Carla." Stephen Spinella. That movie was written, by the way -- that's "Connie and Carla" -- by Nia Vardalos, who shot to fame as the star of "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding" and is also in the movie.
This is an unusual movie, right?
STEPHEN SPINELLA, ACTOR: Yes, I guess you could say it's unusual. It's -- It's about drag queens, a lot of men dressed as women.
KING: Two women on the run who fake being drag queens...
SPINELLA: Well, yes. They're on the run from the Mob. And so they -- they hide out in a city where there's no culture at all, so they go to Los Angeles. And they dress themselves up as drag queens to perform one night, because they want to be singing again. And...
KING: And they're a hit.
SPINELLA: They're a huge hit. And they become this sensation, this L.A. sensation.
KING: And who do you play?
SPINELLA: I play one of the bartenders at the bar. And -- who wants to be a performer, who wants, you know, whose big dream is to perform in the drag bar.
And so every night at the bar, I'm bartending in a different, completely outrageous outfit. And finally, they let us perform. And we become an act, and they are, like, five guys. And we think that they're -- they're guys. And so there are six of us all performing, and...
KING: There's a lot going on?
SPINELLA: Yes. Yes, yes. And they're trying to -- they're trying to keep under cover while they're becoming more and more famous. And then my brother comes.
KING: David Duchovny.
SPINELLA: David Duchovny, yes. And -- who I've been estranged from. And Nia falls in love with him, Nia's character falls in love with him. And so then she's this girl dressed as a guy dressed as a girl and so she's got to -- and she wants to be with Duchovny, who is not gay. And so...
KING: You like comedy?
SPINELLA: I love comedy. Comedy's great. Comedy is just -- especially when you get to so stuff like -- it's a very, very well written, very sophisticated with, like Tom Stoppard. Or just sort of broad outrageous fun, like this movie.
KING: And my friend Debbie Reynolds is in it, too.
SPINELLA: Debbie Reynolds. Debbie Reynolds, oh, my God.
KING: How did you get the part in "Angels in America"?
SPINELLA: Well, I went to New York University, and while I was there I met this guy who's a directing student, Tony Kushner. And we had this big argument about the -- the good qualities of -- it was an argument over whether the "New York Review of Books" or the "Village Voice" was the better periodical.
KING: An artistic fight?
SPINELLA: Yes, an artistic argument, exactly. Actually, it was more of a political argument. And we just ended up being friends, and he started writing parts for me. And he wrote a couple of plays for me and then...
KING: Did you have to be gay to play that?
SPINELLA: No. No. I don't think you have to be -- I don't think you have to be gay to play any gay character. I think that what being gay gives you is it gives you a certain cultural understanding, so you don't...
KING: Would you be able to better play it? Two actors of equal capability, one gay, one not?
SPINELLA: You know...
KING: You don't know?
SPINELLA: How do you do that? I mean, how do you -- how do you make a -- I just honestly, I feel like I want to play straight characters; I want to play gay characters.
KING: You're an actor.
SPINELLA: I'm an actor. And I just want to be able to play all different kinds of characters. I don't want -- I don't want them to think, because I am gay. I want them to think of me as only being able to play gay characters.
KING: Were you surprised at how big a hit that play was?
SPINELLA: I actually was, yes.
KING: Because it was in two parts.
SPINELLA: It was in two parts. It took seven hours to see it. And it was very political -- very political. I mean, there were jokes about -- there were jokes about Ed Koch being gay and having really, really edgy stuff.
KING: Did you want to be in the HBO?
SPINELLA: I would have loved to play it, but I'm a little...
KING: So you had nothing to do with the casting?
SPINELLA: Well, I'm a little long in the tooth for that, really.
KING: Really? You're too old for the part?
SPINELLA: He should be 30. He really is 30, and...
KING: How old are you?
SPINELLA: I'm older than 30. And...
KING: You don't look older than 30.
SPINELLA: Very kind. Thanks very much. But...
KING: Did you like the TV production?
SPINELLA: I did. You know, I was talking to Tony about it and I said, you know, I had like about 50 things wrong with it and about 10,000 things right. I just thought there were so many beautiful things about it. And I thought Patrick Wilson was absolutely exquisite as Joe Pitt. And I thought Al Pacino was sensational. I mean, there were some scenes that I never thought have ever been better. I have never seen them better.
KING: I knew the lawyer that Al Pacino played.
SPINELLA: You did, did you?
KING: He had him down.
KING: But the guy on Broadway had him down, too.
SPINELLA: Yes. Ron was great. Ron was really great. But, you know, Ron and then F. Murray Abraham played him on Broadway.
KING: Did he? I didn't hear of it.
SPINELLA: Both of them were really, really sensational.
KING: Was that a tiring play to do? I mean, did it wipe you out every night?
SPINELLA: Because it was -- it was two parts. You only had to really do the whole play four times a week. Because you have to perform eight times a week when you do Broadway.
And it was -- it was exhausting, physically, but sort of...
SPINELLA: Spiritually. You know, it fed you all the time. Every time you were doing it, every night you went on there was something that fed you. Great writing always does that. The exhausting stuff is the bad writing.
KING: How do we follow up "Connie and Carla"?
SPINELLA: Well, I'm actually -- David Duchovny, while we were shooting "Connie and Carla," came up to me and he said, "Do you" -- I'd really love you to read this movie that I wrote and I'm going to be directing. And I'd love you to play a part in it. And so, you know, there are a lot of parts that are just one day, you know, and choose anyone you want, and I love you to death.
And so, you know, how do you...
KING: Can't say no to that.
SPINELLA: Exactly. How do you say no to that?
KING: Continued good luck, Stephen.
SPINELLA: Thanks very much. KING: Stephen Spinella, the Tony-Award winning actor from "Angels in America." who's one of the stars of "Connie and Carla."
And when we come back, an old friend, David Milch, creator and executive producer of HBO's new hit, "Deadwood." He's also responsible for "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue." Don't go away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: E.B. Barnum (ph), how do you do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got some mighty clammy hands there, partner.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Them palms run in my family. You a prospector, Mr. Hicock (ph), or know the business.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here to get a room. Could we get 2. We're worn out looking at eachother.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll arrange that by tomorrow, but today I can't fix it. Unless you kill a guest.
KING: He lectures and writes at Yale. He graduated the major university. He's a profound thinker. He likes horse racing. And he's come up with some of the greatest series ever on television: "Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue" and now, the newest hit on HBO, "Deadwood." Maybe the most honest western ever.
How'd you come up with this, David Milch?
DAVID MILCH, CREATOR, "DEADWOOD": Desperation, Mr. King.
MILCH: Desperation. I had actually developed a show about Ancient Rome, cops in ancient Rome at the time of Nero.
KING: You're a weird guy, David. Go ahead.
MILCH: Stop the presses. And for various reasons too tedious to get into, we couldn't do that. So I was looking for a place to locate the same themes. And what I was interested in in the other show was a society which had order without law. And at the time of Nero, there was a lot of order and no law. And "Deadwood" was a similar environment.
It was an illegal settlement. It was on land that had just been given to the Indians about eight years before in a solemn treaty, for theirs to behold as long as the river shall run, which turned out to be eight years.
And I wanted to see how people organized themselves kind of from the get go.
KING: So you researched it? MILCH: Yes. I...
KING: There was a place like Deadwood.
MILCH: Still is. And it's in South Dakota. It became the seat of the second part of the Hearst fortune.
MILCH: The home state line was located there. And William Randolph Hearst's dad came up there. He appears in the second season of the show.
But 90 percent of the characters on the show were real guys.
KING: It's also, I think the -- they ordered next year, ordered two showings
MILCH: God bless them.
KING: You've got great ratings.
KING: Did you expect it to do well, frankly?
MILCH: You know, Larry, I've trained myself not to think about that stuff. You know, I just try and hit the ball straight, and then after that, it's up to other forces.
KING: You write them all?
MILCH: Well, I had a heavy hand in all of them.
KING: Why the idea to use fictional characters and real characters?
MILCH: Well, the -- the real characters are -- are compelling personalities. And the fictional characters should have been there. Which is to say not every character is documented in history, but the characters that I made up are characters who are of a type who would sort of inevitably have been in that sort of an environment.
For the most part, the leads are all -- Keith Carradine, who played Wild Bill Hickock; Tim Olyphant, who plays Seth Bullock. Seth Bullock wound up Theodore Roosevelt's best friend. And Al Swearengen, who's wonderfully played by Ian McShane, was a real guy, a whore master.
KING: And a lot of cursing. Did the research say that the Wild West was pretty loose with its language?
MILCH: That -- that seemed to be the drift of things, yes. There's -- it's actually beyond dispute that this was the language of that time and that place. What makes it controversial is that westerns of the '30s and '40s that were products of what was called the Hays Code, which stipulated that obscenity in word or deed or plot or action were offenses against natural law and God's law and were to be forbidden.
So those great storytellers of that time learned to work within those disciplines and created very compelling personalities who -- whose disposition was such that they didn't swear. They were laconic. They were monosyllabic. And they were very credible.
And to the extent that viewers bonded with them emotionally, they accepted that reality. That's the way the west was. Whereas all the evidence, and there's an enormous amount of it that says otherwise.
KING: No blacks were in South Dakota?
MILCH: Some accounts have a black there. The first season is 1876. There was a guy -- there was a black cowboy named Nat Love, who called himself Deadwood Dick, who claimed to have been there.
But all the research I did said that he was never there. He was a guy who published what they called Penny Dreadfuls, you know...
KING: Like help stories.
MILCH: Yes. But in the next season. There was a substantial black community which developed which was represented in the second season.
KING: How about feature films?
MILCH: You know, that's a very disempowered medium for a writer.
KING: Meaning you don't have the clout?
MILCH: How well you put it. You know, I -- I worked for a guy once, when I had my first horse running in the Breeders' Cup, Manic Depressive. I had 60 people fly down there. And my business manager said, you can't afford to fly these people home if the horse doesn't win.
So I took a job finishing a film. And this guy, this producer who is no longer amongst us, says, "I feel I owe it to my material to have at least 10 writers on a film." That's the mentality in the feature world. And it is the exact opposite of the way that I prefer to work.
KING: I must congratulate you, David. "Deadwood" is terrific. You do nothing but great things.
MILCH: Thank you.
KING: Keep on. Next winning horse, who?
MILCH: Rockhard Tin (ph).
KING: Rockhard Tin (ph), in the Kentucky Derby. You heard it from Milch, who goes with both fists. MILCH: It's good to see you, Larry.
KING: "Deadwood" airs every Sunday night on HBO. It is great drama. "Deadwood," Sunday nights on HBO.
I'll be back in a minute to tell you about tomorrow night and Monday. Don't go away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say your family's massacred by indians on the road to spear fishing. One child may still be alive out there it's no one's concern in this saloon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's this about a massacre.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Goddamnit. I ain't going out there again tonight, I've just made camp. I got myself a (UNINTELLIGLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ride out and show us the place. I'll guarentee your scalp. You riding?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.
KING: Tomorrow night, we'll repeat our interview with Linda Evans and on Monday night, a special hour with Raquel Welch. We thank our guests tonight for being with us. Stay tuned now for more news around the clock on your most trusted name in news, CNN. Good night.
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