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Exclusive Tim Robbins Interview!!! EMBEDDED dvd, Film & Stage Version of 1984, and that dope in the White House!

Harry here... can't wait to read the Talk Back on this one. And as those in the zone say, "Debate - don't Hate!"


Yes, it’s Mr. Sheldrake here, reporting live from New York City in the Flatiron District on the way to Tim Robbins’s office. It’s nice to see you too, and thanks for the cards and letters. All right, the card and letter. From the same person. I didn’t KNOW they knew words like that, and the same to you. Anyway, moving on, the city looks clean and beautiful this morning. The sunlight is dancing on the tarmac, or whatever. This is one of my most favorite-est parts of the city, a part that hasn’t been built over by new construction and franchises, but still has lots of funky little shops and arty restaurants around. Did I mention I’m running at top speed? Well, I am.I mean, physically. Moving legs rapidly, pumping arms, the whole thing. No, I haven’t pissed anyone else off, and how rude of you to ask. It’s just this: Tim and I have been trying to schedule an interview for almost two months—when I first saw the DVD production of his play EMBEDDED, about soldiers, journalists and politicians and the war in Iraq—and I was in a different part of the city when I got the call from his assistant. Now would be good, and step on it because he’s off to another continent to make a movie in about two hours. And one of those hours before he left—it was mine.

I’ve always loved this part of town, and I’ve always loved when it rushes by me in a blur, as it is now—and these days I’m sober! So, like I said, I’m running, I mean RUNNING--I’m running past jogging moms pushing their baby carriages, fruit carts, models on go n’sees, Muslim taxi drivers who’ve stopped their cabs to get their rugs out and engage in a little point-and-pray, NYU film students, real estate dealers hawking loft apartments, uh-oh—a pack of about a hundred school kids on their way to—I dunno, maybe uptown to the museum or the Park— I run across to the sidewalk on the other side of the street, dodging the pack, then cross back over—and I realize this is it—right in front of me, THIS building—yeah, the right address. Tim’s place. God, I hope they have coffee. I ride the elevator up to the top floor and come out into Revolution’s offices, in a brightly lit and white walls and blonde oak floors space, very New York, very cool and lofty, with maybe twenty people running around, doing…stuff. What do people do in a movie star’s office? Hmm. Why don’t I NOT ask that question. The decorations are great. Movie posters everywhere, some great pictures of Tim and Susan up on the walls. In the bathrooms there are gas masks with delicate floral motifs and George W. Bush toilet paper with his face printed on it. Yup, haven’t seen Tim yet, but he’s in the house. I meet his wonderful assistant, Kelley, and I am shown into his office.

Well, by now you’ve seen the picture I took of him—he directed the shot. Tim Robbins, as cool as they come, right in front of me. Makes movies. Stars in ‘em. Writes plays. Directs em. The man gets things done, and his personal stamp goes on everything. I remember when Bob Roberts came out. It was clear, then, that this was someone to contend with. You might not like what he has to say, and I can’t WAIT for the talkback on a Tim Robbins interview, but his personal vision is unmistakable. But I think the popular press has him wrong, because if you read the interview, I think you’ll get what I got from it: make no mistake, folks, this man is in love with America, and in love with the freedom we have here. Anything else you hear is bologna: I’ve talked to him. He’s soft spoken, very, very sharp, incredibly well-informed, and funny as hell. What he cares about most, in my opinion, are these things: the truth, justice, freedom, being humane, always, and being smart, which also means standing firmly against stupidity and incompetence. That’s what I got out of this. But make up your own minds. I know you will anyway.

EMBEDDED, the object of this exercise and the play Tim wrote and directed about the war in Iraq, ran downtown for quite awhile, but I never got down there to see it. Now I’m sorry I didn’t. For those of you who live outside New York—make sure to see this on DVD or television. This really lets you know what it’s like to go to a play in New York that’s not a Broadway mega-production, but a smaller play ABOUT something, for a smaller audience. This is New York guerilla theater at its most powerful and politically astute. It’s electrifying, to drag out that tired critical praise-word. The thing looks great, too, for reasons revealed as you read the interview—no interview spoilers HERE. Tim’s in it, both as a soldier and a politician who supposed to be…well, read on to find out.

And if you don’t want to buy it on DVD, good news: it will be on television on August 21st on the SUNDANCE CHANNEL. Check your local listings for time and channel.

Here’s the talk with Tim. Enjoy.



SHELDRAKE: Tim Robbins, thanks for doing this interview with Ain’t It Cool News. We’re sitting in your office. God, you have some great movie posters. So you’re a real fan of movies, besides everything else. Cool.

TIM: You bet, I’m as hardcore as you guys. (laughs) So did you see the thing?

SHELDRAKE: Your play EMBEDDED produced for DVD? Yes, I did. First of all congratulations. I did not see it when it was downtown—it was at the Joseph Papp, the Public Theater?

TIM: Yeah.

SHELDRAKE: Well, my first reaction on seeing it was, wow, this plays really well on DVD. I think in some ways its due to the, you have a play where you’re contrasting the large issues of war via the masked chorus, and the stuff with soldiers is very intimate and very small, so it really works with closbe-ups. And you had nine cameras in the theater for the live performances…?

TIM: Yes. And then we had two days of pickups where I got some of the filmic footage.

SHELDRAKE: That’s what I was wondering. Yeah.

TIM: Yeah. What we did though, the way we used it—because I think it cuts kind of seamlessly--what we did is rather than put the camera right in front of your for the close-up, we’d put the camera back fifteen feet and then zoom in for the close-up, so it has a long lens kind of feel so it FEELS like it was done live.

SHELDRAKE: Oh, interesting? Did you run into depth of focus issues with the low theater lighting because of that…?

TIM: I mean, we had a lot of out of focus stuff, but since we had nine cameras and four performances, we had plenty to pull from..

SHELDRAKE: I was wondering how much you had to refilm that battle scene to make that work onscreen.

TIM: That was all live.

SHELDRAKE: So that all just worked. That’s great. Now I had one friend who saw both the play and the DVD, and he enjoyed the DVD experience MORE.

TIM: Hmm, interesting…

SHELDRAKE: Well, look, the play deals with a lot of complex intellectual stuff, and there are going to be some in the audience who aren’t familiar, for example, with Leo Strauss and his role in political philosophy, or his role as the spiritual father of the neoconservative movement as embodied by Bill Kristol with the Weekly Standard, and his dad, or Paul Wolfowitz. He felt that he was able to understand the intellectual issues much better on the DVD. So, this all boils down to a recommendation to buy the DVD. (laughs).

TIM: (laughs) Awesome! Well, I kinda knew when we were doing it—it FELT like it was going to be for the TV screen, which is why we went to the DVD, and didn’t try to do it a release in the theaters. I saw it in a theater in Venice when we brought it there and it…it plays okay. But I felt it’s better for the intimacy of the TV screen.

SHELDRAKE: And it’s a experience. It’s not a Hollywood movie, or an indie movie. It’s another kind of thing. It’s a play. A play that’s been filmed for DVD—which is not the same thing as just a recording of a play for, you know, the theater’s files or something. This is a recording of play that’s mean to be viewed for entertainment. And it works that way. “You are there” at a theater performance, is what you’re going for.

TIM: Yeah, much like we would see at the Def Comedy Jam, or the poetry slam, or a rock and roll show, the audience is in there reacting. And they’re part of the story in EMBEDDED, too, you know, the audience.

SHELDRAKE: Yes, very much so. Tell us how that worked out. In EMBEDDED some of the action of the play actually takes place in the audience.

TIM: It was realllly interesting…when we first opened, the first show we did was in our little experimental theater out in Los Angeles. Thirty seats. And we just wanted to…let it fly. We didn’t do any advertising, we didn’t ask any reviewers to come. And the first response…it was July 2003, so everything was very fresh. It was all very fresh. Bush had just landed on the aircraft carrier like a month before.

SHELDRAKE: Oh, yeah…jeez

TIM: And I didn’t have any idea how much punch it was going to have.

SHELDRAKE: And the outrage was so intense at that point…

TIM: Oh, yeah! And it was just this kind of kinetic laughter, this kind of barking laughter…RRRAAHA. RAAAAH! RRHAAHAHAA!....they were sitting there, they were gonna release their frustration. The thing they find in the animal kingdom closest to the smile is the bearing of the teeth. It was really connected to what was going on, it was that kind of laughter, it wasn’t belly laughter, or this kind of clever intellectual laughter it was RRAAHHAA this kind of active, involved thing. And we found throughout the course of it, the audiences really drove the play. And drove its success—it was all word of mouth in New York.

SHELDRAKE: So, where you perform the play, it’s going to make a big difference, perhaps. If you play it in the Bible Belt…?

TIM: Interestingly enough, when we went out on tour with it, I mean, we played Arizona, we played Ohio, we played Delaware, Washington D.C. I mean—not QUITE Bible Belt, but not necessarily progressive areas, and the response was even MORE exciting out on the road, because people would leap to their feet at the end of the play—people would come up after the show—and here’s the most beautiful thing about it—and say things to the actors like “You know, I’m a Republican, and I don’t agree with this—but I am SO happy you guys are doing it.”

SHELDRAKE: Yes, that agrees with that I’ve seen. There’s a certain feeling of celebration of freedom of speech in the real American attitude. It’s always there and it’s fierce and genuine and indefatigable.

TIM: Yes. And they get that more out in the HEARTLAND than we do here in New York.

SHELDRAKE: I think that’s right.

TIM: You know we’re so elitist, y’know, on the coasts, and we think, oh those people out there, they just don’t know. In FACT, there was MORE consternation from the media establishment here, than there was anywhere.

SHELDRAKE: I think there’s a reason for that. I had a conversation earlier this week with a professional journalist with a major television audience who object on the grounds that, well, it doesn’t portray the journalists fairly.

TIM: Very thin-skinned for criticism. nnnyI don’t know if you saw it when I was on Wolf Blitzer, it was kind of the same thing, (laughs), they just kept COMING at me, and, I just kept coming back to this: listen, guys, I find it really curious, that you think that it’s attacking journalists when in fact the hero of the piece IS a JOURNALIST. There are two journalists in the play who are quite good journalists and get things through.

SHELDRAKE: That’s right, there are.

TIM: And so HOW can you look at this play and say that it represents journalists “unfairly.” Yeeees, there ARE three other journalists in the play. One is representing Judith Miller, one is representing some kind of Fox Reporter, and one is representing a ditzy kind of chick who’s in the middle of the action. That’s SATIRE. Sooorrry, you gotta DEAL with that. But the fact the hero of the piece, and the final two reports, the two journalists who get it right giving them…it’s just…INTERESTING that “they” would see what they see.

SHELDRAKE: I made a note to myself on watching this: “The journalists have three choices: bitterness, cheery capitulation or despair.” You may not agree with that, or may not have meant it in the play. But here’s the question: is it POSSIBLE to BE a good reporter, to do your job, in that kind of circumscribed situation? Because your job has changed, has now become twofold. You have not only to REPORT the news, you must also fight the machinery and process that is PREVENTING you from reporting the news.

TIM: Oh—yeah! Absolutely, and there’s a lot of good ones that do.

SHELDRAKE: But you have to really fight what’s going on…

TIM: In fact, I think the problem inherent in this is the same problem that is inherent in us, when we are choosing whether we speak out against something or not. It’s SELF censorship. Because when you DO speak out—yes, there is consternation, and there is marginalization and it happens to you from media outlets. But you DON’T go to a Gulag, you DON’T go to jail. And in fact you DO have freedom of speech. (smiles) I remember this one guy comin’ up to me at an awards ceremony, there this famous actor, famous, ok? And he whispers in my ear (cups his hands to mouth, whispers) “thanks for speaking out against the war.” I look at him, what COUNTRY are you living in?

SHELDRAKE: Yeah, speak out! Fortune favors the bold.

TIM: Speak oouut, use your voice. Come on!

SHELDRAKE: Hmm, it’s that Stuyvesant High School attitude.

Tim roars with laughter, raises fists in air over his head.

TIM: Class of 76, the Watergate…

SHELDRAKE: The birth year of many a rebellion against injustice for people our age, I think.

TIM: Think about, for example, the Baratha cemetery thing , the mass graves for children created by the UN embargo, in the New York Times, it was unbelievable. It was poetic. It was well-written. But it was on page 23! And I was…HAPPY that it was in the Times. I was. But I also knew that Judith Miller had dominated the front page.

SHELDRAKE: Back when I was reading Gore Vidal a lot, in the early nineties, reading him led me to FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (, and one of the things you learn pretty quickly is that placement of the news, placement on the page, the page number, is a manner of speech, and a mode of censorship as well.

TIM: Yes, I’ve been on the board for fifteen years. They’ve been monitoring since Reagan and the points they make are quite astute and…I don’t know, you have the New York Times saying, oh we’re sorry, we kinda screwed up the prewar coverage, we could have been more tough. Okay, you admitted that, you admitted it on the back PAGE, but ok, fine, whatever, but ya DID it. Ok. (pause) But NOW you got the Downing Street memos and they’re saying ,well, this isn’t a story. Well it IS a story. It’s not JUST a story, it’s a BIG story. It’s a story just as important as anything you’re running on the front page about Monica Lewinsky. If you can impeach a president for lying about a blowjob, you can impeach a president for lying about the intelligence that led to a war.



SHELDRAKE: Let’s talk a little bit about London. One of things I read in the press that really struck me, someone said that one of the first casualties of the bombings was the BBC documentary THE POWER OF NIGHTMARES, a 3 hour documentary that tracks in parallel the rise of the neoconservative powerbase in America in tandem with the founding of extremist Muslim ideology, also, strangely enough, in America, both movements a response to a perceived decay in American morality. I’m sure you’ve seen it.

TIM: Oh my God, yes. Powerful.

SHELDRAKE: Incredible piece, brilliantly formed and conceived. It depicts how Leo Strauss and Sayyed Qutb BOTH came out of 1940s America and both responded to it with strident ideological utopian visions: Qutb with a utopian vision of a pure Islam, one that would respond to and drive out the Western elements already forming in Egyptian society, specifically in response to the Westernizing forces of Nassir; and in America, Leo Strauss with neoconservativism, he had the idea that American society had become lax and was falling apart morally, and that shows like GUNSMOKE and PERRY MASON provided USEFUL MYTHS. Useful, okay. Useful for what? For motivating large numbers of people to do things. Lots of different things. Go to work. Go to school. Go to war. It provides useful myths for forming a populace and for getting them all to do something that needs to be done and isn’t pleasurable. In a way it’s the collapse of the Pleasure Principle, the pursuit of happiness, as being a sufficient motivator. And your play incorporates this Straussian worldview into its masked chorus.

TIM: Yes, absolutely.

SHELDRAKE: Strauss also believed, and the neocons believe, that American society was/is tiered intellectually. We’re back to The Republic, right, with the Gold, Silver and Bronze men. And the bronze men, the lowest order, get the myths to motivate them, because they don’t have the mental equipment or training to effectively deal with the real situation. They’d rather watch Perry Mason, or anything, American Idol, The Apprentice, whatever. Only the philosopher kings can manage things with their trained minds. But, “Quis cusotdiet ipsos custodies,” who manages the managers? This was all in the POWER OF NIGHTMARES.

TIM: Yes, that’s it. That documentary blew my mind. That’s some SERIOUS shit there. It’s really important filmmaking.

(Shellie says don’t believe us, read the transcripts yourself:

SHELDRAKE: Now let me tell you what people DON’T like about it. And people I respect. They think it’s beautifully made, beautifully argued, beautifully put together. But they think the whole story is almost TOO well made, the story’s a little too pat. They’re not entirely sure, these professional journalists, that Al Quaeda doesn’t exist, as POWER OF NIGHTMARES argues. Neither am I entirely sure. And this is the question I’ve been dying to ask you today: what do you think about that point?

TIM: (pause, thinking carefully) Well—I’m not sure. I don’t know, for sure. But it makes sense, what that documentary suggests, that what Al Quaeda WAS was a fledgling organization until WE empowered it. And NOW I’m sure it exists, and NOW I’m sure it’s more powerful than ever, beCAUSE they have the most powerful recruiting tool that you could possibly have dreamt of—the war in IRAQ. Now they have a place to go and fight! And a REAL war they can recruit for. London’s interesting though, and it relates to POWER OF NIGHTMARES—the timing of it. You have to look at what the result is—and, what was about to happen? That day, the ensuing two days after that, the West was about to get positive press for relieving debt and for increasing aid to Africa, including countries many countries with enormous Muslim populations

SHELDRAKE: So the technique is, drive it off the front page.

TIM: Well Yes and the deeper technique is, how does a fundamentalist worldview take hold. It can’t take hold in a free and open society. It simply cannot. Just imagine a fundamentalist in the middle of a rock concert. “I see the light! You guys are being decadent!” In the midst of that freedom, that voice is unheard. But once you start regulating things… In a way, I think, what they want to do when they do things like that, they WANT the British government to overreact, to start rounding up young Muslims indiscriminately, so that they can say, “See? This is Western Society! They hate Muslims. They just round them up indiscriminately. Look at Guantanamo Bay. Look at Abu Graib.” Falling into that…

SHELDRAKE: It sets up a whole machinery that has a life of its own, generates a certain kind of press…

TIM: A fundamentalist ideology—CAN take hold—in a fascist state. When Putin overreacts and starts cutting back on Democratic reforms, it’s the worst thing he can do, because its now setting up an environment of oppression for a certain section of the population, and once that oppression starts happening, then those ideologues can come into the vacuum and say, “you see this is not a free society, that’s an illusion” –

SHELDRAKE: Which, by the way, was Leo Strauss’s message, that our perceived freedom was an illusion, very Horkheimer and Adorno, Frankfurt School, if you come at it from the other side, the fear of authoritarianism that Europeans brought here after the war. We live under the Veil of Maya and at night all cows are black.

TIM: (continuing) “—it IS about our mindset, Western society IS an attack on us, we SHOULD rebel against it.” When we make the mistake of torturing people, when we make the mistake of not living by our code.

SHELDRAKE: I forget which philosopher, maybe John Rawls in his Theory of Justice—no, that’s not it, it’s Richard Rorty, the neopragmatist – who notes that one thing you do when you make a society, you define yourself by saying, these things we do not do. Americans don’t torture people. It’s not a statement of fact: it’s part of our code. We don’t do things like that. It’s not like us to do that. It’s unlike us.

TIM: That’s right. Real Americans don’t torture people.

SHELDRAKE: And I think we really have to insist on that. Gentlemen, find another way. I was raised, in part in tent revival fundamentalism in the South. Fundamentalist was for me, my family and the people we knew, an expression of the poor’s complete disconnect from the mechanisms of power in the society. Why vote, it won’t help me, the people I choose won’t vote for what I need. Why go to school, it won’t get me a better job. Heaven is my hope, not this earth which is—what?—yes—an illusion. Fundamentalism was the empowerment mechanism we sought. I think what’s new for me, and Americans in general, is the marriage of violence to fundamentalism.

TIM: Well, it’s scary. As hell. How do you fight terrorism. Well, it seems like the way they operate is…I dunno…manipulative, clever, big statement kind of event kind of thing. In other words, I dunno who made this statement, it’s in POWER OF NIGHTMARES, At no point, even 9/11, nothing was going to tear apart the character of the American people. Nothing. It’s about chess, really. They’re playing chess. They don’t have the REAL power to take over our country.

SHELDRAKE: Well, we’re the white pieces, we have the initiative, and they’re playing the black pieces. So they’re playing for the draw, or waiting for us to make a cataclysmic mistake. But realistically, the best they can hope for is not victory, but avoiding defeat. Stalemate, in chess speak.

TIM: Right. Now, they HAVE the ability to reduce us to a state of fear—IF we go along with that. But think about it in terms of—what kind of damage are they going to do to us.

SHELDRAKE: Hmm, well, you know, the attack downtown had a profound effect on NYC that had nothing to do with fear. It had a profound economic impact on New York City, we’re still recovering from it. I’m one of the ones who was deeply affected by it economically and mentally. They CAN have a sort of limited and local effect that isn’t simply about fear.

TIM: Oh, yeah, and they can have a far larger MENTAL impact.

SHELDRAKE: Psychotraumatic disorders.

TIM: But I think we have to think in terms of strategic response, rather than military response. You see, this is NOT war on the old paradigm, this not an invading country and then we go conquer the country that invaded us. The people that invaded our country are DEAD. All right? So how do you respond to four suicide terrorists? Or nineteen? They’re dead. They come from an organization—yes, go dismantle that organization. Find ways to do that. But it wasn’t a STATE, see, that was behind it. Now when we went into Afghanistan, by the way, and because they seemed to be showing some evidence that Al Quaeda was operating in that state—I had NO problem with going in there. I wanted to see us go in and very cleverly dismantle that terrorist organization. So I didn’t protest when I was asked to about that war. I AM sure now, that Iraq was a mistake. It just…seemed like going to the old paradigm in the wrong situation, to fight a war that’s operating in a whole new way…

SHELDRAKE: And the Bush Administration has just never understood that. They just don’t get it. It’s like Nixon at the Lincoln Memorial talking to “the kids,” only its 24-7 for eight years straight.

TIM: And I think what I was trying to get to with EMBEDDED was that, ideologically they THINK that what they’re doing is a good thing.

SHELDRAKE: Yes, they’re men of good will in many ways, as you show in EMBEDDED. Genuinely caring, engaged people. But if I may wax Straussian here, they have neither the training, the gifts nor the moxy to handle this situation.

TIM: Yeah, you’re right, they just don’t get it. This overwhelmingly negative message that we’ve already sent to the rest of the world.



SHELDRAKE: I’m beyond envious that you got to work with Gore Vidal in Bob Roberts. From all Gore fans, thank you for putting him in the movie.

Tim laughs.

SHELDRAKE: I’ll bet you do a great Gore Vidal impression.

TIM: (laughs, surprised) Uh, not really.

SHELDRAKE: Damn, I wanted to do Dueling Gore Vidals with you.

TIM: I’ll, uh, work on it, and I PROMISE I’ll get back to you.

SHELDRAKE: One of the points Gore Vidal has always made about the elite class in America is that there doesn’t need to be a conspiracy,

TIM: …right…

SHELDRAKE: …because the children of the elite all go to the same schools, they all have the same teachers, they all come from the same families, and so by the end of their oh-so-careful training, and the exquisite tuning of their sensibilities, they all naturally share the same worldview and very naturally make the same sort of decisions. I wonder if this argument could me made…it’s almost an SAT test, as in “The elite class in America is to the network of independent schools as the extremist fundamentalist Islaamist are to the independent hate groups that comprise their militias.” So if there is no Al Quaeda…

TIM: Oh, there is an Al Quaeda…

SHELDRAKE: …yees, but I don’t know that it makes much difference if there is or not, you see. I don’t think this is about defeating Al Quaeda any more than it’s about defeating a nationalistic state. It’s about defeating a worldview. You’re being motivated, not by a military hierarchy, not by your commander, but by your vision of God, your relationship with the Quoran and all the hate sermons you’ve heard and internalized during the twenty years you’ve grown up with your family, that’s what’s driving you to battle the infidel, the evil, impure West. If that’s the case then killing a commander may not have much of an effect at all, if what’s motivating the infantry is a thought system that incubates feelings of deep fear and hatred towards the enemy. God is telling them to do it! I wonder if at day end we won’t find out that the Al Quaeda network was more one of facilitation than of command. It may be that’s why we don’t see much of an effect when we take down one of their leaders. Ultimately he’s just another guy in the field. They’re gonna attack what they see as evil, whether someone is ordering them to do it or not. Hatred of evil is a GREAT motivator.

TIM: True. You notice there haven’t been that many attempts since Sadat, really, to take down leaders, coming from their other side. Now in Iraq the indurgents are starting to do it. But there’ve certainly not been any attempts made against Western leaders. It’s why I think, it’s all about the chaos they want to ensue. These attacks seem, indiscriminate—doesn’t matter who they kill---

SHELDRAKE: --you’re saying it’s—

TIM: --it’s the CHAOS that ensues afterwards. I think, what the attempt is, I think what they’re trying to do is GET US TO REDUCE OUR FREEDOMS. Because once we do that, once we reduce our freedoms, THEIR worldview becomes more acceptable, and more possible, see, than it would be in a free society.

SHELDRAKE: OK. Complete change of topic. A few years ago a friend and I came up with an comedy idea we called “Chick Movie Marine Sergeant.” A marine sergeant who drills his troops on the individual movies, like, oh, THELMA AND LOUISE…

Tim smiles. It dawns on Sheldrake what he’s just said.

SHELDRAKE: Oh! Uh…well, that was unintentional… Anyways, Tom and I laughed our asses off about this for about a week.

Tim starts laughing--

TIM: So, HA, like GUFFAW like “Beaches”!



Sheldrake is laughing so hard he’s having trouble breathing.



SHELDRAKE: And that character is in EMBEDDED! Damn it, Tim, you stole my character. In EMBEDDED YOU HAVE an infantry sergeant who loves musical theater!

TIM laughs.

(Sheldrake, having thought about this later, now realizes that there’s actually a dramatic reason for this. The sergeant is the character who manages the conflict between the military and its demands, on the one hand, and the journalists and their demands, on the other. That he loves something as counterintuitive as musical theater is a way of dramatizing the insanity and irresolvable conflicts of his situation.)

SHELDRAKE: Ok, enough of this. Let’s talk about the masks in your play. I want to know what inspired that part of the play. There are three groups of characters in EMBEDDED: the journalists, the soldiers and finally the masked chorus. Now, that’s an unusual thing to see in a movie or on television. The last time I can remember seeing something like that is maybe MIGHTY APHRODITE, where you have a funny masked Greek chorus. Often the chorus plays the part of the all-knowing God in the play, or the means to warn the hero of what’s to come. “You’re such a Cassandra.” But you use it to different purpose here – to dramatize the souls, and the arguments, of the men DESIGNING, poorly, the war. You’re one of the characters in there. People I showed it to said “THAT’S Tim Robbins?”

TIM: Yes, I’m one of the red masks. That’s the great thing about those masks…you know, people ask me, who are these characters…

SHELDRAKE: Is it the COMMEDIA DELL'ARTE kind of thing…?

TIM: Well, those are not commedia dell’arte masks. We DO work with commedia dell’arte masks--we train with them in the Actor’s Gang, mainly because—you can’t lie in a mask. Your emotion has to be very, very true in a mask or it doesn’t work. The mask demands an ABSOLUTE commitment to an emotion. So, you can GET BY lying sometimes without a mask, on stage, but you NEVER can with one on.

SHELDRAKE: So it’s about, what’s the emotion...

TIM: …definitely. And it’s also the discipline—because it’s in the eyes—the discipline of keeping that mask still—is another really good training for actors.

SHELDRAKE: I’m not an actor, can you explain a bit—wow, this is GREAT, welcome to another AICN exclusive, an Acting Master Class with a Mr. Tim Robbins—

TIM: Well I think what has happened in the course of realism and Method kind of acting, it’s kind of a…BLURRY kind of thing of, behavioral thing, where you see people moving all over the place. And with this, because of the masks, when you move the masks around, they don’t work. So they demand this STILLNESS and this emotion, very, very still. Because you’re making something that is intended to be seen, see. And when you see EMBEDDED – none of the actors are moving at all. They’re just moving their eyes. Otherwise they’re not moving at all. The idea is you create the emotions out of the mask, see. You have to find the mask. Then the mask will help you find the character. So we had a guy come in and do a PERFECT Rumsfeld imitation in one of the masks, and it didn’t work. Because the MASK was asking for a different voice. It’s really interesting. I’m constantly AMAZED by these things, these masks. They’re made by this… INCREDIBLE artist in Paris named ERHARD STEIFEL, and he’s this guy whose been working in masks for years and years and years. He makes masks for the Théâtre du Soleil in Paris. I went to his workshop—he doesn’t sell them—with a friend, I’d met him many years before this, and I said I’d like to buy some masks, and he was like, ok, well, I don’t really sell them but—ok, let’s play around with some masks…I showed him what I could do with a mask, and I showed him what I wanted to do with the mask. And I think he understood that I was going to USE them. He didn’t want them hanging up on a wall. And they’re used CONSTANTLY by the group. And these are some wooden masks he had made. They’re made out of this LIGHT wood and they’re crafted so beautifully, and sometimes you can’t even tell that they’re masks.

SHELDRAKE: My understanding is that when an actor puts on a mask, one concern is how heavy the thing is. If they’re too heavy, it’s a problem if you’re onstage for awhile.

TIM: These masks are not heavy at all. When they’re made well, there’s two things to look for: the weight of the mask, and how the eyes work out. When you see a mask that has little eye holes, it’s worthless, it’s not gonna do anything other than just be One Thing. Whereas with the right eyes it can be all different emotions and all these different characters. So when people ask me, “who are these people,” meaning who do the masks represent, well, they’re KIND OF based on people—like my character is KIND of based on “a talk radio guy” and Karl Rove, but it’s not an imitation of Karl Rove. It’s what the mask demands—it’s the voice of the mask—the voice that came through out of the mask.

SHELDRAKE: Hmm, and Roland Barthes suggests that there’s no face underneath, that it’s just masks all the way down. Interesting color choices for the masks. Most were one color, I seem to remember white, and then were two red ones. Condy and Karl.

TIM: For me, the red was about, corpulence, power, red kind of ruddy—but to say that’s Condy—yeah, here name is Gondola, the character, but it’s not Condy. She’s not doing a Condy imitation. She too is speaking out of HER mask, see.

SHELDRAKE: I was watching this with a friend, and he began picking out which masks belonged to which members of the current administration, and I hadn’t done that—I’d just sort of immediately realized they were conglomerations. It didn’t even occur to me to match ‘em up…

TIM: …yeah, I know, I could have named them more obscurely and muddied it more, but you know, Rum-Rum, and Woof-Woof– ha – we were just having fun. (He grins)



SHELDRAKE: As of yesterday, we have retitled our ministrations in Iraq. No longer the “War on Terror,” they will henceforth be known as “The Struggle Against Extremism.”.

TIM: (in a spooked tone of voice…) yeahhhh….yeahhhh….

SHELDRAKE: The sleight of hand is so…contemptuous. So naked. Jihad directly translated into Arabic is “struggle.” Interesting counterjuxtaposition.

TIM: We don’t want to make it a “war” because we’re not winning the war. And you can’t WIN a “struggle,” it’s like the struggle against evil, there’s no victory, it goes on and on and on…

SHELDRAKE: It incorporates it into our lives in a long-lasting fashion…it’s like, the War on Drugs, phht, yeah, right. The fifty year war. How about “The struggle against narcotic substances?”

Tim’s eyes wide, we’re both laughing hard.


TIM: It’s another appropriation, just like BOB ROBERTS—another appropriation from the left. Because, WHY DO YOU THINK THEY CALL IT A ‘STRUGGLE?!!!’ Some one says, “gee, well, don’t you think it’s kind of a worthless fight, to try to get environmental regulations, “ and, no, that’s why they call it a struggle, it’s going to go on and on and on. You might not win but you have to fight. (he laughs) So once again…they’re gonna call it a struggle now…(Tim shakes his head and laughs)

SHELDRAKE: When do wars become struggles--when they become permanent fixtures in the culture. So we have a permanent war on drugs, we have a permanent war on crime, thanks to Rudy—who may be President some day…

TIM: No way.

SHELDRAKE: You don’t think so

TIM: No way.

SHELDRAKE: No New Yorker, huh…?

TIM: Too much, umm, how do we say this…baggage. It’s the Bernard Kerik, the former NYC Police Commissioner thing—you see how FAST he ran for the hills on Kerik? There’s all kindsa stuff like that out there on Rudy.

SHELDRAKE: Yeah, jeezus, don’t get in-between Rudy and those hills! Anyway, let’s talk about your new movie Hot Stuff first.

Sheldrake sips his coffee, places it on what looks like a white piece of paper.

TIM: Uh, let me just move that out from under there…

SHELDRAKE: Oh, uh, is it…

TIM: …you’re resting your coffee on my Edward Smith photo.

SHELDRAKE: Ahh--whoops. Well, it’s very good coffee. That’s the privilege of sitting in Tim Robbins’s office, resting my designer beverages on valuable—irreplaceable?—works of art. It’s a heady feeling. Empowering. Well, as with masks, it shouldn’t be hanging on a wall, it should be USED. So—Hot Stuff. Where are you filming?

TIM: South Africa.


TIM: It’s set in the ‘80s Apartheid struggle. Hmm...struggle…


TIM: I play a policeman. Derek Luke plays a worker in a plant who’s wrongly arrested and radicalized by the experience.

SHELDRAKE: Do you play a racist?

TIM: (thinks) Uh yeah, I would think so…he’s one of the guys who was trying to turn ANC members into informants.

SHELDRAKE: Who’s directing?

TIM: Philip Noyce…quite talented director. The Quiet American…The Bone Collector…

SHELDRAKE: …and The Saint with Val Kilmer, I’m one of the few people who loves that movie…

TIM: Hmm, what else? That’s it for now. I think I’m doing a movie when I come back but not sure about that one yet. In January, beginning of February I’ll be opening and directing another play at the Actor’s gang, a stage adaptation of 1984, the Orwell.

SHELDRAKE: That’s great.

TIM: It’s a GREAT adaptation. It minimalizes everything into one room, and it’s quite an amazing piece of writing by the playwright Michael Gene Sullivan.

SHELDRAKE: How about directing?

TIM: I’m working on it. I’m writing two screenplays right now, the adaptation of 1984. And another that’s this big sprawling thing—it’s wonderful, but I can’t talk about it….it’s “the movie that will never get made.” (He laughs)

SHELDRAKE: Ok, before we end things today, I want to make one infuriating statement to you, that I hear all the time, and see what you have to say about it. Let’s say it’s a mask: put it on, and then let’s see what emotion it evokes.

TIM: (cautiously) All right…

SHELDRAKE: Gore Vidal himself says that, from history’s point of view, it’s never why something was done, only WHAT was done. So here it is: ‘If fifty years from now we have peace and democracy in Iraq, then people will say George W. Bush is a hero.’

TIM: (long silence, he’s thinking)

SHELDRAKE: Waddya think?

TIM: Are we still there?

SHELDRAKE: (takes a moment to get it) You mean fifty years from now…

TIM: Yeah. I mean, as long as we’re dealing in hypotheticals—I wanna know. Are. We. STILL. There? Before I can figure out whether there are any heroes, any at all. And how many lives has it cost us, fifty years from now. (Tim’s outrage builds…) And how many limbs were lost in the last fifty years? How many mothers and fathers were killed. Sons, Daughters. How many innocent Iraqis died? Can we count them, please. I’d like to know. Before we have this “peaceful democracy” fifty years from now. And…more importantly…could it have been achieved from within? Because, ultimately, I think it all has to happen from within. If the Iraqis are going to make it work, it has to happen from self-determination. Without overseeing from us, or from the U.N., it has to happen organically.

SHELDRAKE: As it does with each of us. Peace begins and ends in each individual human heart. That old song—“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…”

TIM: Amen.

SHELDRAKE: Thanks, Tim.

TIM: My pleasure.


Damn, I forgot to tell him how much I loved the final shot in CRADLE WILL ROCK.

That’s all for today, AICN, fans. Another Gore Vidal passage, from his novel Lincoln: The dead never forgive us for what we have done; they are past everything, including forgiveness. May you make peace in your own life today, and may you walk these mean streets without becoming mean.



August 2005

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