tv Tavis Smiley PBS July 21, 2010 3:00pm-3:30pm PST
tavis: good evening from los angeles. i am tavis smiley. today, a conversation with hellen mirren and. taylor hackford the two have teamed up on a new project called "love ranch." the cast includes joe pushy and geena -- ging gershon. actress hellen mirren and director taylor hackford coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help>> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports tavis smiley. tavis and nationwide insurance,l literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. >> nationwide is on your side
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- tavis: we are pleased to malcolm -- to welcomek andh -- to welcome taylor hackford hellen mirren the husband and wife team have teamed up on "love ranch." >> what is this about him moving index "is going to train here at the ranch. >> this is a business. >> where do you get off telling me what to do for business? >> come on. >> is there a problem?
>> there is no problem. there is not a problem, right grace? >> she looks pretty mad. >> she is not mad. you know how women are. [laughter] tavis: grace, nice to have you here. >> great to be here. tavis: i am going to follow you in. how did your husband -- i have read -- how did he get you into his film this time? >> the great thing about this film was to have something that interested him and something that interested me. he liked the boxing. i like the sex. [laughter] that was a joke. i keep getting into trouble these days. i need to shut my mouth. it did have -- my husband will
speak for himself in a minute, obviously, but i knew he has always wanted to do a boxing film. he is a boxing fan and knows a great deal about boxing. he found a subject that had a lot to interest him in and a wonderful role for me. tavis: you were making a joke but what is no joke is that these photos of you are all over the internet. >> oh my god. tavis: people are searching for it. they want to see hellen mirren in the bathtub. >> that are not going to see much, i am afraid. i think it is weird. it is ridiculous. i am old. it is only because i am old. it is a weird, pure -- three assassination. tavis: what did you make of the interest?
>> my wife is a sexy girl. she was when i met her. she remains so now. i did not even know. she said, "i did this focus session. i was as surprised as anyone else. the fact is that she is a person with a very strong personality and is somebody who has never been ashamed of her sexuality. that is a strength. >> talking about photography, which we have to do a lot as actors, i love photography and i love the art of photography. the photographer for this photograph was actually a very high level art photographer. so when i am working with someone like that i give them artistic freedom because i want that for myself when it is my turn to do my work. i think a photographer -- i never try to control it or say, "i will only do this." i said, "what do you want to
do?" i will do it as long as they are a bone of the day art photographer -- as long as they are a donbona fide art photographer. tavis: for now, do you want to give me the story line? >> i used to be a journalist right here at kcet. in the 70's -- when you have a big story that affects the culture, you have to be aware of it. the mustang ranch was the first legalized brothel in america. we come from the puritan tradition. we are interested in sex but uptight about sex. the mustang ranch was in northern nevada. it broke 200 years of puritan mores by having sex legalized for sale. the man who started this whole thing was notorious in any way
you look at it. in the mid-70's, there was a great fighter, a boxer named oscar. these forces came together because joe comforte was a boxing fan. oscar had fought ali. ali liked him. ali took him to the limit. he stopped him in the 14th round. he knocked out joe frazier down twice. he had no style. but he had a punch. he had a left hook that knocked your head off. when these people came together, smart as flu, explosions. it is kind of an operatic story. a journalist friend of mine who works for "new york magazine" -- 30 years later, he found the story. i remembered researching it. i was looking for a role for my wife. it is a fascinating triangle.
you have this madam in the middle, the guy who is the promoter, who is played by joe peschi, who had to be charming to convince voters to vote in competition. then you have this fighter who is young, virile, and on the way down. joe could not be the manager because he had a criminal record. he made his wife the manager. they became involved. we did not do a doctor-,. we took dramatic license. -- we did not do a docu-drama. we took dramatic license with it. tavis: i want to follow up on your point about dramatic license. it has been fascinating to me. you two are members of the guild. it has been fascinating watching the academy awards. you are familiar with them.
it is amazing how is -- how a movie can get buzz. as the bus continues to grow and build there is the risk that somebody is going to throw a chain in the armor and raise the notion that, "they took too much dramatic license." when you're in the process of working out the script, does that ever -- do you think about that? >> i do. in fact, we do follow pretty closely to the fact. but there were nuances of the characters that i thought could be more dramatically exposed. in reality i do not think anybody is point to talk about this. sally is gone. joe lives in brazil. he is a tax exile. it is fascinating. here is somebody who truly have the talent to convince the voters of nevada to make his
business, and he had a monopoly, legal. all he had to do was pay taxes and he would have had a license to print money. do you think he did? [laughter] he had operated under the radar for so long he resented paying taxes. finally the irs got him and he had to flee. the premise of this piece is this. my thumbs of always been about working-class people. the brothel is a work place. it is aberrant, but a workplace nonetheless. i was not interested in glamorizing this as an erotic place. it is a place of business. the commodity is sex. the girls choose to be there and they make a lot of money. but to look at that world and to see behind the passat i thought was really interesting. and then the premise is can you actually fall in love -- can you actually find true love in a place that sells sex? this triangle -- all three of these characters seem cynical.
they are professional. they have been through it all. to see the three of them caught up in this passion and ultimately to explode i thought was interesting. tavis: speaking of interesting, helen mirren, in this hour we all live in the script is usually the other way around. it is not an older woman and a young guy. it is the other way around. >> that is true. nobody comments on it when it is that way around. everybody is so used to it is accepted. the great thing is these relationships have gone on to history, younger men and older women. they have always existed through history. sometimes it is love. sometimes it is political. sometimes it is economic. when it is older men with him or women. it has always existed.
the important thing in this story is that it did exist. they did have a relationship. she was a lot older than him. tavis: who fell for home? >> what a great picture. do you see it all their? >> sally kind of looked like helen. tavis: no she did not. who falls for whom it in the movie? >> i think the way taylor wanted the story to play out is it starts with cynicism and people playing each other. certainly, he is trying to play her. he is trying to find a way into this world that he suddenly sees as economically successful and quite alike, and he is playing her. but that relationship changes. and through the root -- their mutual difficulties that we show
in the movie, they find love together. >> it is interesting. you have to see this brothel. you see it operating. you see all of the hoopla and the process you expect. >> the front of house. >> you proceed into this and you see these two very professional, tough individuals, grace and charlie bontempo. and you see they have worked as business partners. if there was any spurt in the relationship it is long gone. you see their inner life, their sexual spark, they're kind of emotional life is at an end. they are just going through life. to see that person come alive -- my wife is very brave. in the beginning of this film, to see her tired, with a negative prognosis from her doctor about her life and
health. in the process of going through the drudgery, this guy comes into her life and you see everything change. part of the process is hair, makeup, and costume. the pleasure of working with an artist like this who can let that life come inside -- you see helen come alive. by the end of the film she is a different woman and at the beginning. to be able to tell the story and be able to touch an audience. at the start, you think it will be a grab as movie. it is not. you watch these cynical, tough people open up. tavis: i was so happy, being a happyp -- being a joe pesci fan. he took a sabbatical. >> 10 years, self-imposed. tavis: how did you get him to come back? >> he is an excellent actor.
tavis: and a great singer. >> do you know who turned me on? jamie foxx and i went up to quincy. we sat there listening and it was a really good jazz player. i said, "this is the best singer i have heard in two years?" >> that is how i heard about it. >> he does not like to go out and perform. i think he finds it painful. i said, "you are the only person i thought of. i need you to play this role. it is not the mad dog killer that you played in "good fellas" or "casino," but a small man with a big dream." he had this dream to legalize prostitution and have this whole thing. it is in the idea of a brothel
being a service to society. would you let these crazy people out that our pent up with sex? give them an outlet. he charged a reasonable price at that time. he had a dream. he actualized a dream. he had his wife who ran the place for him. i said to joe, "this is an opportunity for you -- for you to come back you can do something new with." at the end of this film -- charlie samples the merchandise. he is caught up with young girls. at the end of the spill -- and of this film, you see joe pesci reach levels of the motion i had not seen. i am thrilled he agreed. tavis: how much hell are you going to catch from the christian right for idealizing prostitution? >> i think that women are the audience for this film. this is a woman's picture.
>> i have to say i do not think prostitution is remotely romanticized in this film. it is the opposite of the film with julia roberts. >> "pretty woman tavis: >> that romanticized prostitution. this does not romanticize prostitution. it shows how hard it is. tavis: it is a business. >> it is a tough business. there are people in it who loved it, who are in it for various is functional reasons. but it is a business. there is. it is a business that is never going to go away. as much as you bring in litigation or whatever you want to try to do to get rid of prostitution in it will never, ever, ever go away. so that is something that we all as grownups have to face and look at straight in the eye, you know? we try to show -- obviously, it is from the '70s. it is a period piece.
it does not, i would say, remotely glamorizes prostitution. it can be absolutely horrible. >> i think the christian right -- we have it in the film. we have people there that did protest this "a moral" situation. as helen was saying, brothels are so much more civilized than the nature of a pimp in the street that is abusive to women, steals from them. the brothel is a society of women. you are never going to have a brothel run by a man. joe was the overall promoter. but the woman is the tough mother. that is what helen is playing. tough mother. mother confessor at times. when she needs to apply discipline, she applies it very strongly. she keeps those girls in line
and says, "this is a business. this is how it is run." when i look at society as a whole, with a health official there all the time to make sure everything is clean, these girls are not exploited and they are making money -- i think in reality it is something i support in our society. we come from a long puritan ethic of being uptight about sex. why not regulate it? it would be a better draw, especially for women. tavis: might spark that conversation again in america, not that it has ever been dead? >> the thing that was interesting about joe and sally is they were the only brothel ever. subsequently, it is quite a business in nevada. one interesting thing -- i went up and did a lot of research to start. i met a madam who has to brothels. she has the wild horse. she was a girl who used to work
for joe at the love ranch. she was fantastic. she gave me a great deal of insight into what this process is. she truly cares about the people she works with. she is a real professional. i said to helen, i need you to meet her." helen said, i do not want to go to nevada. >> i cannot do that. >> but we got there and she met susan and immediately -- >> like this. [laughter] >> susan went, "you are coming with me." we were chatting. hours went by. we got there about 8:00. at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, i said we had to get out of there. she was like -- >> do we have to go? [laughter] tavis: what a difference eight hours max. >> this is not a film
advertising the advantages of legalized brothels. far from it. it is an emotional story. it is a love story about characters. it is based on a true story. what people make of that argument -- we are not trying to influence that argument or add to it or subtract from it. not on any level. tavis: hollywood is so powerful that even when you are not intending to do that a real conversation can take place. >> it is a legitimate conversation to have. i think it is one that will constantly recurring. the most important thing as far as i can see is to make sure that people who worked in the sex industry are safe. an awful lot of them are not safe. the most disgusting, appalling horror of our world that we live in, to me, is sex trafficking and the enslavement of men and
women, boys and girls, in the sex industry. that is the most horrific thing that is happening. and it is happening all around town -- in los angeles, in new york, in london, in paris, all over the world. that is really what has to be addressed. if i was to get on any kind of bandwagon, that would be the one i would get on. tavis: was joe helpful in the project at all? >> we have his rights. he did not really -- there was a lot. we are doing the early era. he is down there. i do not know if he will ever see the film. he cannot come back, although he has tried. [laughter] tavis: i was trying to be kind. >> maybe he is looking at videos. >> we are on the internet now.
>> and he is the director. >> i am. what a faux pas. >> he thinks it is all going to come back. >> i have all the old shows. tavis: you never know. it is obvious. one can feel the energy. after all these years of being married, the two of you still like each other. >> oh yes. >> i love him. sometimes i like him, but i love him. it is a big difference. [laughter] >> is an interesting process working together. we were shooting those scenes. you know what? we really understand the division of labor. i love actors and i understand what has to happen. and the scene is an acting scene. actors never act alone. it is a dialogue seen our love
sang it does not matter. you need to establish a situation. it was not difficult for helen or i, but for sergio, this young spanish actor -- he is fantastic. helen merrin, academy award winner. joe pesci, academy award winner. this actor had to come in and go toe to toe with joe and helen. he is fantastic. >> you have three academy award winners. having to have sex in with the director's wife -- poor guy. >> the last person you should think about is me. i am behind the camera. you had better make it happen. if it does not we are going to do it over and over again and it is worse and worse later on. he was a fantastic professional. he comes from a dread -- from madrid.
the acting guru there has three prize proof -- has three prize pupils, and sergio is one of them. i think he is going to be a star. >> he is fantastic. tavis: if any of your magic rubs off on him, he will be ok. >> he has his own magic. tavis: the movie is called "love ranch," directed by academy taylor hackford taylor and starring academy winner helen mirren. and in real life they love and like each other. that is my show for tonight. catch me on the weekends on pri. you can access our web site at p.b.s..org as always, keep the faith. >> what do you want? >> i want you to be my manager. i just -- i just like you.
>> would you mean you like me? look at me? i am old. i am not like those girls out there. [gasping] >> i am sorry. >> for more information on today' a post- racial america in an age of obama. see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. supports tavis smiley.e proudly tavis and nationwide insurance, working to improve financial
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