Scott Rudin On 'Book Of Mormon' And Edgy Humor The seven-time Tony-winning producer, who is also a force in the film industry, talks about the musical The Book of Mormon, which has been nominated for 14 Tony Awards this year despite its notorious irreverence and vulgarity.
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Scott Rudin On 'Book Of Mormon' And Edgy Humor

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Scott Rudin On 'Book Of Mormon' And Edgy Humor

Scott Rudin On 'Book Of Mormon' And Edgy Humor

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The last time producer Scott Rudin was on this program, it was 2008 and he had two movies up for the best picture Oscar: "No Country for Old Men," which won it, and "There Will Be Blood." This year, he also had two nominees: "The Social Network" and "True Grit."

And now, in this year's Tonys for Broadway plays, there are nominations for four Scott Rudin productions, including "The Book of Mormon." That's the big Broadway hit of the season, nominated for 14 Tonys. It is a cheerful and incredibly vulgar musical about Mormon missionaries who take their unbounded optimism to a disastrously poor Ugandan village, which is ravaged by warlords and HIV.

(Soundbite of musical, "The Book of Mormon")

(Soundbite of doorbell)

Mr. ANDREW RANNELLS (Actor): (as Elder Price) (Singing) Hello. My name is Elder Price, and I would like to share with you the most amazing book.

(Soundbite of doorbell)

Unidentified Actor: (as Elder Grant) (Singing) Hello. My name is Elder Grant. It's a book about America a long, long time ago.

(Soundbite of doorbell)

Mr. RANNELLS: (as Elder Price) (Singing) It has so many awesome parts.

(Soundbite of doorbell)

Mr. RANNELLS: (as Elder Price) (Singing) You simply won't believe how much this book can change your life.

(Soundbite of doorbell)

Unidentified Actor: (as Elder Green) (Singing) Hello. My name is Elder Green. I would like to share with you this book of Jesus Christ.

(Soundbite of doorbell)

Mr. RANNELLS: (as Elder Price) (Singing) Hello...

SIEGEL: "The Book of Mormon" risks offending Mormons, Ugandans, HIV patients, you name it. So the brains behind it should be no surprise: Robert Lopez, best known from "Avenue Q," a musical with foul-mouth puppets, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys behind "South Park."

Producer Scott Rudin has worked with Parker and Stone before, and insists there is a line in comedy that "The Book of Mormon" does not cross.

Mr. SCOTT RUDIN (Producer, "The Book of Mormon"): I think the line is unadulterated meanness. I think that's the line you don't cross. What, Trey and Matt and Bobby are very careful in this show to satirize only what they have a larger idea about. It's not scattershot jabs taken randomly. It's all to make a larger point about doctrine and religion and faith and belief.

So they have a very specific reason for the profanity and a reason for the obscenity, and it's all in service of a much larger idea. And I have never been in a situation where I felt the slightest lack of trust that they would cross a line. By the way, I personally - I'm not so sure there is a line, but they believe there's a line.

SIEGEL: They believe there's a line.

Mr. RUDIN: Yeah. And I think the line is offense for its own sake. I don't think that's what they're about.

SIEGEL: That there should be some - in a way, we think of Marx Brothers humor having some point to it all, having some...

Mr. RUDIN: I think it's more - I mean, I think it's Marx Brothers. I think it's Swift. I mean, to me, it's, you know, it's like the satire in "Gulliver's Travels." I think it's like Perlman. It's very scabrous. It's take no prisoners. But I think this - the secret weapon in this show from the very first workshop I saw of it, which is now four, almost four years ago, is how openhearted it is.

It makes a very, very positive point about faith and belief and self-sufficiency, and it embraces a whole idea of community. And I think for people who think it's only going to be obscene, they get this extra thing that I think they haven't counted on, and that's why I think they walk out so happy.

SIEGEL: Well, thinking of the titles that I just mentioned in the introduction, of "No Country for Old Men," "The Social Network," there's something common to all of this. I mean, there's something to things that you produce, as improbable as the capsule description of what they're all about might be, that there's a common germ to all of them that you say, that's what I do, that's a Scott Rudin thing.

Mr. RUDIN: No. I think the common germ, specifically, is writing. I mean, I'm a - I'm, you know, I come from the theater, so I'm writing-oriented, language-oriented. One of the things I really value about having worked in the theater for so long is that when you do a play, you cannot write your way out of a problem. You create a problem, you have to solve it in the room. You only have those four walls. You can't cheat. And I like the kind of irreducible honesty of that, you know, figure out what is the math of the story you're telling and how do you tell it? And the math of everything is different.

SIEGEL: How many balls do you have up in the air right now in terms of plays or movies that you're producing?

Mr. RUDIN: We have these four show - these four shows running. We're finishing a movie with Stephen Daldry. We're shooting "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," shooting a Wes Anderson movie, starting a Noah Baumbach movie...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RUDIN: ...and we're making a pilot for HBO with Aaron Sorkin. So those are the main things.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Those are the main things.

Mr. RUDIN: Yeah. Exactly. And there are a few, sort of in orbit around those...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RUDIN: ...but that's the stuff that's, you know, on the docket.

SIEGEL: So, obviously, there's a range here of how deeply involved you are in these projects. Some of them - these couldn't all be full-time jobs that you're doing.

Mr. RUDIN: No, of course not. That's right.

SIEGEL: And on the scale of, you know, I was a little involved and helped them raise money, to I was in there up to my neck, where does "The Book of Mormon" stand?

Mr. RUDIN: Much more in the "in there up to my neck" part of it, but that has to do with kind of why I wanted to do it, frankly, which was, you know, I love working with Matt and Trey, but also, it was the culmination of previous work we had done. I mean - and, you know, I felt when we were doing this, that the "South Park" movie and "Team America" were in a way dry runs for "The Book of Mormon."

SIEGEL: On Broadway, we've had the story of two musicals over the past year. "Spider-Man," the most written about, anticipated, huge, big, high-budget, I gather, production...

Mr. RUDIN: Mm-hmm.

SIEGEL: ...disastrous. "Book of Mormon" - yeah...

Mr. RUDIN: I don't think you can say that, honestly. I mean, I think "Spider-Man" got off to a very rocky start. But I went back to "Spider-Man" last week in this sort of new version, and I think it's hugely improved.

SIEGEL: Really? Good, good.

Mr. RUDIN: One of the things that just in terms of context, you can't fix something profoundly once you've started. I mean, you only get those four hours a day, four days a week. You get 16 hours of rehearsal and tech in which to turn a show around.

So you have a show that's really in trouble, you're going to likely stay a show that's really in trouble. The smartest thing, I think, they did - and I really admired the nerve of it - was to stop, and, you know, sometimes - I mean, look, you know, I'm doing this movie with Stephen Daldry right now. We're taking a three-week hiatus because we found something in the story that we didn't anticipate, and we need to rewrite some material in the last third of the movie to take advantage of what we learned.

SIEGEL: Have you've gotten a good Mormon turnout for "The Book of Mormon," by the way?

Mr. RUDIN: Yeah. Huge.

SIEGEL: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. RUDIN: I mean, astonishingly so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RUDIN: I was sitting - at one of the last previews, I was sitting in the last row, taking notes, and this man who was there with a bunch of kids and a row of kids in front of him as well, turned to me and said, are you a critic? And I said, no, I'm the producer of the show. And he said, my grandfather was the president of the Mormon church, and I left the Mormon church after my mission. I did a mission in Africa. I left after the mission, and I married a Jewish woman, and I live in Montclair, New Jersey. And he said, my kids know nothing about my upbringing, and they've learned more from this than they've known in all their lives with me.

And there was a hilarious moment in the second act where in the sort of big song "I Believe," when Elder Price sings, I believe in 1978 God changed his mind about black people. This guy actually grabbed my arm and said, that was my grandfather...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RUDIN: - but he had tears running down his face. I mean, it was so personal to him. It was very moving.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Well, Scott Rudin, thank you very much...

Mr. RUDIN: Thank you...

SIEGEL: ...for talking with us today.

Mr. RUDIN: ...Robert. Thanks for having me back.

SIEGEL: Scott Rudin, a producer, he is the producer of four plays that have Tony nominations this year. We've been talking about one of them, the musical "The Book of Mormon."

(Soundbite of musical, "The Book of Mormon")

Mr. RANNELLS: (as Elder Price) (Singing) Now, I must be completely devout. I can't have even one shred of doubt. I believe that the Lord God created the universe. I believe that he sent his only son to die for my sins. And I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America. I am a Mormon, and a Mormon just believes.

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