Calendar +

Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.

April 14, 2020

Stories

My Grandmother 25 minute read

Joan and Hailey wear blouses and jewellery by Chanel
01
02

For reasons I won’t get into, I didn’t find out that Joan Tewkesbury was my real grandmother until I was a teenager. When we did finally meet it was clear that our trajectories and preoccupations were eerily similar (making a strong case that divergent thinking is hereditary). Somehow, knowing her blood was in my blood gave me ammo, or the permission to be the kind of person I was so clearly becoming...

Photography Rel Schulman

Interview Hailey Benton Gates

...Part of the last ten years of my life has been spent piecing together her history in conjunction with my own. Here is some of what I know to this date: Joan Tewkesbury grew up in Los Angeles. She is a screenwriter and director, she wrote the Robert Altman films Nashville and Thieves Like Us. She only drinks añejo tequila on the rocks and every man she ever loved was named Robert. She used to have waist-length dark hair like mine. We both began our dance careers as ballerinas and ended them with shattered right kneecaps. We are both Aries, whatever that means. 

She lives in Santa Fe these days and spends most of her time teaching screenwriting at the Sundance Institute. At the moment, her toenails are painted hot pink and thunder is clapping across the desert.



H I feel strange doing this because I didn’t grow up with stories of you; I didn’t even know you. So in some ways, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to ask you questions, but in other ways, I’m intimidated, because where do I even start? But I guess I’ve always sort of understood that the beginning for you was ballet.

J Yes. I was born in 1936, and at that point in time, every mother’s dream was for their daughter to be Shirley Temple. They were just coming out of The [Great] Depression. Shirley Temple was rich. So at age three, I started dancing lessons, which was acrobatics, ballet, and personality.

What’s ‘personality’?

God only knows. How to smile, curtsy, and do all those girly tap dance things. It was all about being perky and cute and—

That’s sort of offensive—classes in personality.

Totally, and I hated every minute of it. Probably from that moment on I really didn’t like anything having to do with performance.

What kind of a kid were you?

I was very well-behaved, but underneath was a lot of judgement and not saying what you thought, simply because you knew it was going to get you in trouble. It was better just to shut up. There was this strange undercurrent in all the relationships at home; it was a household of silence unless they were fighting, and there was a lot of fighting going on. As an adult, I realised more and more how something like the Depression, where everything financial is taken away, affects you, and how it resonates through adults to children. I, of course, went in the opposite direction of my parents, which was to earn money and spend every dime I could as quickly as possible.

How old were you when you started earning money?

Ten. I was then studying with Ernest Belcher. MGM was casting a movie called The Unfinished Dance in which they needed 36 little girls. So they came to dancing school and I happened to be the right height [laughs].

The thing that it taught me at age ten was—and it infuriated my father because my mother put money in a bank account for me—I could earn money. I could always get a job. I never had to be reliant on someone. 

Which gave you some sort of freedom?

Freedom, and also this sense of, ‘Oh, hey! Okay, fine!’

My mother was great at getting me to the door. After that, she’d disappear. So I was sort of on my own [laughs], and it just seemed to me that it was a great way to make money. But I had no real interest in anything except what the camera was doing. That was always what was fascinating me.

But what was your understanding of Hollywood, growing up in California?

I had a very jaundiced view.

...there came a point when I knew I was in the wrong costume...



Then, when you were a teenager at seventeen, you went to New York to be in Jerome Robbins’s Peter Pan.

Yup. The show was cast in Los Angeles and we did six weeks in San Francisco, six weeks in Los Angeles, and then we went to Broadway. Jerome Robbins choreographed and directed. And shortly after that I realised I wanted to be a choreographer. I could not be a gypsy dancer; I don’t take orders nicely, and—

I mean, he was an orders master.

Oh [laughs] yes—your eyeballs were choreographed. So I decided that I really needed to get to school. I asked Mr Robbins and he said, ‘Yes, it would be good for you to go to school. But do not take dance.’ But I had to find a school with a dance major so I could get in, because my grades were so crappy from high school. Brigham Young [University] was the only place at the time. It was that or Boston. And so my mother drove me to check out Brigham Young. I took one look at that and thought, ‘Are you kidding me? No Thanks.’ And on the way back, we were in a really bad automobile accident. My knees came under the dashboard and crushed this whole [right] kneecap; I hit my head on the steering wheel and was bleeding down my eye. Right after the impact of that accident I sort of sat up and thought, ‘Oh, thank God. I never have to dance again [laughs].’

Deus ex machina.

It was just heaven. But in those days, part of the recovery for this knee thing was dance. So I did go back to dance, only this time it was modern dance, with Lester Horton.

And when did you realise that you were going to write?

I met my first husband, Robert Maguire, at USC [University of Southern California], and very quickly we got married and had Robin [Hailey: my mom] and Peter. The whole time I was married, I was teaching dance. That was an okay thing to do. But there came a point when I knew I was in the wrong costume and things with Maguire were complex. There was an opportunity to take a play I had directed to the Edinburgh Festival; I said, ‘Yeah, I would do that.’

At any rate, as I started to do that, things in my marriage really began to unravel. I began to do theatre workshops with Theatre East. I also directed several plays that my friend Michael Murphy was in, one of which Robert Altman came to see. He was very complimentary.

Which was what?

It was a one act play that somebody in the group had written and I directed. Then, Murphy took me to see a rough cut of MASH [1970] and I thought, ‘Jesus, we’re doing the same thing.’ I was trying to direct plays on street corners with natural behaviour; only Altman got to do it in a frame [laughs], so people could come in and sit down and watch. 

You were both creatures of environment.

Exactly. And so I just said, ‘Murphy, I’m gonna go talk to Altman,’ and he said, ‘Sure, go ahead. Bob’s easy.’ So I went into the office and I said, ‘I’d really like to know if I can shadow, or if I can be on the set and watch you make something.’ And he said, ‘No, you can’t. You have to have a job.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I know what you can do. You could be the script girl, ’cause I wanna use the script girl as one of the whores.’ 

What a swap!

Exactly. So I thought, ‘script girl’, I knew exactly what that meant. It means that you keep track of every inch of film. It’s not only tedious, it’s riveting. You really have to be on top of it.

Did you feel like you were ready for that?

Oh I went home and I thought, ‘Nah, you can’t do that.’ I called a couple of friends and they said, ‘Well, it’s the pits.’ And so I woke up the next morning and called him and said ‘yes’, because it was one of those things where you knew if you walked away you were leaving your life on the street corner there.

When you were preparing to go into his office, how were you feeling?

Terrified.

Do you remember what you wore?

Yeah, some cute little number. Did you have an idea of what you should look like? It was such a rarity to have women working in those environments. I just wonder what your idea would’ve been of what a woman should look like to walk into his office and get a job. 

The ‘should look like’ was always for me to dress it down, keep it covered and be very business-like. In other words, you weren’t flaunting your tits or your ass. We’re talking late 60s, early 70s here. We were all sort of looking like Cher, but deep down inside my motto was to cover it up. I was really self-conscious for some reason about all that. I didn’t want anyone to pay attention in that way. In this specific instance it was about just withholding enough; there was a power in that somehow, you had to hold your own in your very own costume department [laughs].

It’s frustrating that women’s bodies are such a battleground in that way. I think what I struggle with the most is not doing this Lady Macbeth thing, where I ‘unsex’ myself and wear a pantsuit so that you take me seriously, but instead to somehow maintain my sexuality throughout.

Yes, exactly. And that was certainly my motive too, but it was like a secret. If you’re lucky, you might get to know the secret. But if you’re not [laughs], too bad. 

We were both working on a sleight of hand. 

Yes, exactly. But it was the hardest job I ever had. I have such respect for script people but I would never do it again. After McCabe and Mrs. Miller had opened, I asked Bob if he thought I should go to film school and he said, ‘What the fuck? You’ve just been to film school, for Christ’s sake.’ He said, ‘The only way that anybody is going to let you direct is if you write something.’ So I wrote a dark comedy about the end of my marriage, called After Ever After. And he said, ‘Okay. Who do you see as you?’

Did you know?

Yes. I said, ‘Geraldine Chaplin.’ So, as you might have guessed, this is the beginning of how Nashville… Bob was at Cannes for… maybe it was Brewster McCloud, I can’t remember. Anyway, he arranged to bring Geraldine to Los Angeles so that she could read the script and see if she was interested. And she was, but it couldn’t get financed. So Altman said to me, ‘Do you mind not starting at the top?’

Do you mind not starting at the top [laughs]?

He said, ‘Have you adapted books?’ And I said, ‘All the time.’ For theatre, you know. He was going to do Thieves Like Us and he needed a really quick turnaround. So I wrote the screenplay. The book, by Edward Anderson, was great because all the dialogue was there and I knew exactly who was going to be in the movie. Shelley Duvall, Keith Carradine, John Schuck, Bert Remsen—

It’s so unique to have that opportunity to write for specific people.

So you took what you needed out of the book and just followed the chronology. We shot that in Mississippi, and then Jerry Weintraub wanted to work with Altman. They wanted to do something about country-western music because Loretta Lynn had been on the cover of Time magazine. Bob said to me, ‘Do you know anything about country-western music?’ And I said, ‘No’ [laughs]. And he said, ‘Well, do you want to?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’ And so as we were shooting in Mississippi— 

Were you on set?

Yeah. I was always on set with him. So I went back and forth to Nashville a couple of times from the Thieves Like Us set.

Had you ever been there before?

Never. It was like going to Mars.

What were your ideas about it before you got there?

All I could think of was the thing they did at the Ryman Auditorium on Saturday nights, the television show.

The Grand Ole Opry?

That’s all I could think of. So the first time I went, I went on a tour where they show you Patsy Cline’s hairpins. I thought, ‘I don’t know what this is about.’ So I said, ‘I have to go back on my own.’ I was really like Opal from the BBC (Geraldine Chaplin’s character in Nashville). I just kept wandering into these places. I would find out if something was going on.

Were you like her, though? She’s sort of imposing.

No, I was not. I was just the quietest person in the world. I looked just like you, with long brown hair, and at one point, when I was looking for a location, some woman said to me, ‘Girl, you better tie up your hair or somebody’s gonna cut it off.’ So I made sure that my hair was pulled back after that [laughs].

Why do you think that Altman trusted you so quickly?

I have no idea. I think he trusted everybody. 

That’s not true.

Well, I don’t think he trusted anyone completely, but if you were game and you were part of the hoopla, fine; especially if you’d work cheap and like a dog, that’s great. But what was also apparent was that we were pretty like-minded. I could tell what was going to go ‘pfft’ with him. 

What I began to understand was that Nashville was built in a circle. The last night that I was there I went to this place called Exit/In. A group called Barefoot Jerry was onstage singing this song called The Words Don’t Mean Anything at All There was a girl OD-ing on something at this table in front of me. This black guy came up and sat down and said he’d just gotten out of prison for premeditated murder and shoved a joint up my sleeve.

That’s very generous.

And there was a radio station in the club that was transmitting all of this out into the airwaves. I said, ‘That’s it.’ It’s about simultaneity and the overlapping of all these things that live in a circle. Then it also allowed for the housewife, played by Lily Tomlin, who was me.

Why do you think you’re the housewife?

It was very much about my relationship with children, with a businessman husband, and having somebody—a younger person, the Keith Carradine character in the film—look at you and sort of think you were interesting, whether that was real or not. It was a wake-up call.

Did you have a relationship like that?

Mm-hm. Yeah, with a much younger person. 

I had to watch Nashville at least ten times before I felt comfortable with it, before I felt like I understood it.

The movie was designed that you would go see it several times. And that every time you went you would follow another character, because that’s who you were that day.

So it’s like the mood ring of movies.

It was choreography for Bob, basically, and also knowing full well that the actors would bring other stuff to it. So as long as they came in the front door and went out the back door, whatever they did in the middle, fine. Just get in and out the same way so that the thing will glue together.

There’s a kind of saying—if you have something to do, you move forward and do it. For whatever reason, I don’t back off of stuff. If something is interesting to me, I pursue it.​






That’s very balletic. Is that how you learned to juggle so many stories at once?

Dance. I mean, you know this—choreography is all about what the front row is doing, what the second row is doing, and the last row, and then you dump the soloist in the middle of it, and they all have to come together. It’s choreography. Nashville is a single story without ever telling a single story.

It’s such a great exchange at the beginning when Geraldine’s interviewing Lily Tomlin and asks, ‘Do they want to be singers like their mother? Well, my children are deaf.’ Was Geraldine like that?

No, no. Geraldine was raised to be very polite.

Well, you were raised to be polite, but obviously there was something boiling. When did you feel like you had become your full self?

About two years ago [laughs].

Come on.

No, it takes a long time. I was still shy back then. I mean, I was not what you would call a mouthy person. Directing was just fine because, you know, what you need or want and all of that, but in terms of having voice… My first novel took twenty years to write. At the finish of the first novel it’s like you finally heard your voice or found your voice or went into your body. Now, I don’t give a fuck [laughs]. I’m 80 years old and I’m going to say anything I want.

It’s hard to imagine you not.

I know, but I was shy, and I can still be shy. 

Something that really interests me about your life is that there’s a lot of machismo in it. All of these Roberts that were involved with you are really intense male characters. With Robert Maguire, you were subjected to the male-dominated real estate world; with Robert Irwin, to the male-dominated art world; and with Robert Altman, to the male-dominated film world—all in a sort of unique California way [laughs]. How did you negotiate all of them, and why?

I love them. Each soul I have been incredibly in love with. Then things change. But I have always been very much drawn to male energy. Something obviously lives inside of me that resonates with it.

In what way?

There’s a kind of saying—if you have something to do, you move forward and do it. For whatever reason, I don’t back off of stuff. If something is interesting to me, I pursue it.

It’s frustrating that those are considered male characteristics.

I know it is. Perhaps someday they’ll unravel and it’ll just be a characteristic for everybody. But it’s also interesting to know that I have more balls than some of the men that I have met in the course of this thing. And for the most part, that scares people off. The people that I gravitate toward aren’t scared, and that’s really terrific; you’re equals in a relationship—that is, for a while. If you’re involved with somebody who’s in their own field and you’re going up and they’re going down or they’re going up and you’re going down, that gets a little complicated with—

In terms of competition.

Yeah, and it’s not even that it’s competition, but it’s hard on your heart because you two were not ascending at the same time. And so, timing unfortunately becomes everything.

How do you feel about the state of things today in terms of women in film?

There’s a broader reach now. It’s more inclusive to women. It still doesn’t mean that the executives are going to read your script or buy it. So thank God for places like Sundance. The great thing about my involvement at Sundance is it’s like going back to the Altman family: It’s a big dopey family. There are changing faces every year. I’m looking at cross sections of creative people all over the United States, or Italy, or Japan, or Tel Aviv. The selections are made for very specific reasons—and done well. And they are usually done with incredible attention to people who wouldn’t have a chance in hell to get anything made, but have voice or at least a glimmer of voice. So the class really is about getting people to use voice.

Do you think that you were ever punished for being a strong woman?

It’s not that you’re punished. You’re just ignored. Or not ignored even—it’s just like you don’t exist. My business manager always said, ‘If you were a man, first of all, you’d have twice as much money in the bank as you do now.’ But he said also that my output of creations would have been done one after the other, after the other, after the other…

Because there were so many projects that did not happen.

Absolutely. 

It feels like a lot of women of your generation have this kind of graveyard of work.

Right. You could get real bitter about it, I suppose, but there’s no point. You must keep laughing at this shit.

What did you take from the Altman sets you were on—any directing tactics, gestures?

To keep it light and that it was a friendly place to come to work. To be open to listening. To be flexible. If it rained, you shot in the rain. Whatever happened that day, happened, and it wasn’t terrible. The world did not end. The great thing about working with Bob was his attitude that, so what, it’s only film. He would say this over and over again. You’re there already, shoot it again.

...when you have kids, if you get ten minutes and you’ve got an idea in your head you go sit down and you do it, and then you go back to what you’re doing. That’s why I think women make great directors. They can withstand anything.






How did you learn how to talk to actors?

You just talk to them. It’s the same way I talk to you. Casting becomes very important, because if you can’t talk to an actor—you can almost tell by the way somebody turns the knob. 

You’re casting week after week after week, and you’d get to the point where you could see who was right by how the door opened. It’s about being able to be direct and immediate with people, without all of the ‘let’s have a date first’ conversations.

That’s how the industry has changed. You are not allowed to choose. You are given all this crap you have to go through, which makes it so uninteresting. The thing that’s really sad to watch is when people come to Sundance with their films and they have been working with a particular actor in mind and it just gets taken away from them.

Because the producers need to have an A-list, with foreign value and Internet influence. You get a binder now with numbers next to the names.

I know you do. And to me it’s just not very interesting anymore. But the thing that is most startling to me is the movie executives’ ideas about what a story should be. How the fuck do you know?

It’s crazy.

And they have so diminished the audience for film. There is nothing for people to go and see that might apply to them.

Because the stories are so vague.

And it’s all about not having to experience anything. The thing that was really important for me in terms of film-making is that you experience something, that you take something away, that something impales you, or makes you think, ‘Oh, I never thought about it that way.’ 

I was wondering if there seems to be a story that you feel like you keep retelling.

Probably bravery, stories of bravery. A professor once said to me, ‘The selection of your material is the most important thing.’ It meant to me that you better be careful about what you choose to do, because it’s going to follow you. And so I became really snotty about the kinds of things that I would direct. What I was interested in were people who managed to climb out of some kind of adverse situation, whether it was being poor, or… I was really drawn to stories in the South, because they were really about the grind of what goes on both for blacks and whites. But I would say that the material I’ve followed is usually about people who are struggling against something, either politically, or socially, or personally. It’s about being brave enough to do it.

Which of the characters that you’ve written do you feel is most like you?

They’re all me. I mean, whatever you write is you.

Is there a time of day you like to write?

Usually what I do is I exercise in the morning, to try to keep body and soul together. Then, all afternoon, I just stay here, and if nothing’s coming, too bad. I used to go shopping. I don’t do that anymore [laughs].

And do you feel like you write better in Santa Fe?

It doesn’t matter. I used to go to hotel rooms. And because there were so many distractions at home there was a separate office I’d go to, and Nashville was written there and then in a lot of hotel rooms, as time went by. But when you have kids, if you get ten minutes and you’ve got an idea in your head, you go sit down and you do it, and then you go back to what you’re doing. That’s why I think women make great directors. They can withstand anything. 

When you were beginning your work as a director, did you feel like you had to lie about having kids?

I didn’t lie. I just didn’t talk about it a lot. It was inclusive, certainly, in the theatre world; it was perfectly fine. In the film world, I took Peter and Robin whenever I could—Peter came to Mississippi when we were doing Thieves Like Us, though Rob wouldn’t let Robin come. And it was okay with Altman because he had all these kids and it was messy and sloppy. But for other kinds of things, when you said you wanted to be a director and you were a mother, give me a break! It just wasn’t going to happen.

You have to see this film, Mustang, directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. She was pregnant while directing it and she said everybody was like, ‘Whoa! Wasn’t that just so hard?’ And she said, ‘It was actually incredible because you’re so economic about your decisions, because you can only use the amount of energy that you have.’ So when things didn’t work, which they never do when you make a film, she said, ‘I just made decisions very quickly,’ and that it was actually the best problem solver.

As a mother, you are the best director on the face of the earth. You are so used to making critical decisions on a minute-by-minute basis with your children—

Because it’s problem-solving in the end.

Totally. That’s it. There’s nothing too creative about it. Maybe where you have the guy put the camera and how you talk to your actors, but basically, you’re on a machine. And the machine is a certain amount of time and money and you have to get a certain number of pages done each day, but—

But sometimes it gets sick and sometimes a diaper needs to be changed [laughs].

Yeah, exactly. 


Do you procrastinate?

Yeah, of course [laughs].

I feel like I can’t read anything unless I have a deadline the next day [laughs].

So I make up these deadlines, and now I have an editor who says, ‘Okay in two weeks,’ and that’s nice. But I have to clean out every closet; I have to throw out all the stuff that I haven’t worn in forever.

Vacuum the floor. Do your nails. Floss [laughs].

Anything, of course. But the thing that is going on that whole time is that you are in process. I mentioned I used to go shopping—the first thing I would do when directing on location was find out where the stores were. And I’d go shopping to look at beautiful clothes, textures, all these things. It was like a little vacation, but meanwhile, you could be problem-solving during the course of that.

I feel like I’ve been taking on really cumbersome cooking. The other day, I just didn’t want to write, so I roasted 30 pounds of pork. For six hours.

Fabulous [laughs].

It’s totally psychotic. Then I had people come over to eat it. Then, because I’d cut the slab in two and they didn’t even touch the second, I had to have people over the next night.

That’s so sick. Was it good?

Yeah, it was delicious. But there’s something about monotonous, dexterous tasks.

It’s about process. You’re lining up the process.

[Laughs] I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about it. In my mind I can justify cooking as being generous, because I’m going to give it to somebody else.

No, no, absolutely. It’s another form of expression.

Writing by hand, another dexterous task, is very important to you.

It’s a direct connection to the brain. It’s kinetic, and perhaps this also comes from dance, where the things are embedded in the body. I didn’t really use a computer until maybe seven years ago. But it’s great for editing. I have now gotten to the point where I can compose on a computer. But any things that I’m trying to figure out are handwritten. I have spent a fortune on typists throughout my career.

You just would hand over your notes?

Yes, it was great. I’d hand over that stuff and when the stuff would come back, it would seem like somebody else had written it. 

And then you could edit it.

You could edit the shit out of it. So it was a really good way of getting you to be compressed. Not minimal, but compressed. As you go through what you have written on a first or second draft of a novel and you start to pull it in, you just go, ‘How in God’s name did I write all that to get—’

Here. 

When it was here, all you needed to do was put the end over here. But in the meantime, you wrote 85 miles of bullshit. 

As a mother, you are the best director on the face of the earth. You are so used to making 
critical decisions on a minute-by-minute basis with your children






I feel like with the computer, the idea of a first draft is very muddy. You’re just constantly editing.

Well, you have to. What I have to do is, I can’t go back. You start writing. If I go back and read the day before, that’s gone.

You’ll delete everything.

I would, so you just have to keep going.

Your writing class has a handwriting-only policy. How did you develop your class?

‘Designed Obstacles, Spontaneous Response’ came out of the fact that people kept saying, ‘Can you come and teach screenwriting?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ You can’t teach anybody how to write. But you can help them access imagination. And it really came out of dance again. More specifically, the idea of ‘designed obstacles’ came from the fact that there were so many problems in film-making. There’s always an obstacle. 

It started at ArtCenter [College of Design, California]. A friend of mine was the director there and he said, ‘Well, okay, we can try this and see.’ It was very interesting. Then I taught it at UCLA. There were 40 or 50 people in the class. They all thought they were gonna get what you usually get in film school, which is to look at movies. Nah. Their first assignment was to go get on the bus in Westwood, take the bus downtown to the contemporary museum [The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA] that had just opened, where there was a Red Grooms show. After they went to the Red Grooms show they had to have a meal in Little Tokyo, because they were right next to each other. And after that, they were to get on the bus and come back. What they were to collect all day long were scraps of dialogue, events, whatever, and to create a scene out of everything that they had written down. I lost half the class.

Because nobody wanted to get on the bus?

[Laughs] Because nobody gets on the bus in LA.

Exactly. The obstacle of just getting yourself to get on the fucking bus—come on, get real. So it started with that. And then, as happens with these things, it developed from there.

In terms of the work at The Sundance Lab, when the material comes through, I don’t read the script at first. I just read what their intention was in writing the screenplay. And it’s interesting because, as I go through that material, I find that a lot of things resonate with each of them in the same way. 

In the couple of times that I’ve done it, by the time I get to the end I’m so surprised by who I’ve become [laughs]. Do you ever have moments where you write something and you read it again and you think, ‘Who the fuck wrote this?’

Sure. That’s what it’s all about. You write to inform yourself. It’s like a fucking gold mine that you never access because you’ve layered it over because you’re embarrassed, or ashamed, or scared, or whatever you are. And so in accessing just one corner of it, it opens up a whole part of information for you to use. But it’s also for you to gain wisdom about who you are. That’s why I don’t let people talk in class. The only thing out loud is reading the material, so there’s no judgment, nothing’s wrong or right. It’s simply to access, and that’s what’s fun about it.

It’s an act of generosity to me, as far as I’m concerned, that people will tell me these stories. And in doing that, it begets the next; it allows me to go further into areas that I hadn’t thought about before to bring forward more stuff for them. So I get probably more out of it then they do.

Do you ever feel like people are using it as therapy?

I don’t let them. I read what you got. That’s why there’s no talking. I don’t want to hear your excuses—I know nothing. Read. If you don’t want to read, there’s the door. I’m not going to tell you how to get an agent or how to write a screenplay. If you came here for that, you’ll be very disappointed. It’s interesting; you can watch those attitudes come in the door. Again, we go back to walking in the door. You can see who is there to accelerate their ambition and who is there because they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, or they’re scared, or whatever. But no, there is no opportunity for anyone to get psychoanalytical with this shit.

But it does become… It’s not therapy, but it is accessing parts of yourself that you don’t necessarily deal with on a daily basis. It does feel like something [laughs].

It feels shaky, and that’s great, because it’s at that point where you begin to access other ideas for yourself.

Was there anyone that you looked up to who had a career that you thought you might want to have?

Altman. Men.

No women?

Not really, no, because I didn’t want to be an actor. I love Julie Christie. I thought she was the most incredible actress force, and it’s because she’s not wrapped up in Hollywood. Fay Kanin [the second woman to be named president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences], who was a wonderful writer. We all read Pauline Kael religiously. I looked up to Joan Didion. They were writers or people who were not actors or exposed in that way. But in terms of directors, there were none. I mean, Joan Micklin Silver, Joan Darling, me—

All the Joans.

All the Joans. There was a handful. And the older women directors, Ida Lupino… who directed Barbie Stanwyck in that series? Maybe it was Ida Lupino. So I thought Altman was a pretty good role model.

What’s the thing, when you look back at everything, that makes you feel maybe not the most proud, but the most fulfilled or sufficed?

Well, just in terms of life, the incredible family that this turned into. I was an only child. And so here are two incredibly capable adults, Robin and Peter. And then there are you guys. There are now six of you. That’s pretty astonishing for an only child. And everybody’s not crazy. They’re okay.

Debatable [laughs].

But in the grand scheme of things, this is not terrible. So that, to me, is first and foremost.

Do you have a sense of how much your trajectory has helped the rest of us?

No. My sense is that in hands-on teaching, in the class work, you can get a sense of where to put things for folks so they can get going on it. But in terms of outside-in, no, I don’t. When you’re trying to work and do your stuff, you’re just going as fast as you possibly can. But I’m very grateful, and if that has done something, that’s terrific.