Hal Holbrook, Basking In 'That Evening Sun' After a lifetime of acting, the 84-year-old Hal Holbrook is still racking up new accomplishments. Last year, he received his first Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his performance in Into The Wild. This year, he stars in a new film, That Evening Sun.
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Hal Holbrook, Basking In 'That Evening Sun'

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Hal Holbrook, Basking In 'That Evening Sun'

Hal Holbrook, Basking In 'That Evening Sun'

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TERRY GROSS, host:

So, here is the interview we were just talking about that our TV critic David Bianculli recorded with Hal Holbrook. The 84-year-old actor is most famous for playing Mark Twain on stage in a one-man show that he has been performing and constantly reshaping for more than 50 years. In 1972, Holbrook starts with Martin Sheen in the made for TV movie, �That Certain Summer,� TV's first dramatic depiction of a homosexual relationship. He played Deep Throat in the film �All the President's Men,� and in 2007, he was nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role as a lonely old man in �Into The Wild.� Holbrook stars as a lonely old man in the new movie �That Evening Sun.�

He plays Abner Meechum, a crusty old farmer who slips away from his nursing home and returns to the farm he used to run with his late wife. Abner's son has rented the farm to his father's old enemy and Abner wants it back. In this scene, Abner's son, played by Walton Goggins from �The Shield,� is basically telling Abner that his life is over and he should just give up the farm.

(Soundbite of movie, �That Evening Sun�)

Mr. WALTON GOGGINS (Actor): (As Paul Meecham) There's nothing out there for anymore dad. Things change, life goes on and you got to go on with it, there ain't anymore to it than that.

Mr. HAL HOLBROOK (Actor): (As Abner Meecham) Life goes on, huh?

Mr. GOGGINS: (As Paul Meecham) For those who let it.

Mr. HOLBROOK: (As Abner Meecham) I'm a 80-year-old man with a bum hip and a weak heart. How much life do you think I got left to go on with? I'm no fool, Paul, the road ahead ain't long and it ain't winding. It's short and straight as a Goddamned poisoned arrow. But it's all I got and I deserve to do with it as I please. And what makes me so angry is that I cut and scraped and did without, so that you could go to an expensive school and learn a trade, which you now seem intent on using to do me out of what has taken me a lifetime to accumulate. This must be God's finest joke.

Mr. GOGGINS: (As Paul Meecham) So, you're angry at me for getting an education?

Mr. HOLBROOK: (As Abner Meecham) I'm angry at you for not caring about the only thing left that matters to me.

BIANCULLI: That's Hal Holbrook and Walton Goggins in Hal's new movie �That Evening Sun.� Hal Holbrook, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. HOLBROOK: Thank you, thank you. Good to be with you, David.

BIANCULLI: I have to ask you about one sequence in �That Evening Sun.� It's flashbacks of you with your late wife in the movie, who's played by your real life wife, Dixie Carter. And it's just scenes of you two, you know, embracing each other, caressing each other, looking at each other�

Mr. HOLBROOK: Dancing�

BIANCULLI: �and dancing. And it just seems so tender and so intimate. What was the camera actually capturing there?

Mr. HOLBROOK: They were just capturing me and Dixie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLBROOK: We weren't acting, we weren't acting at all. We were just enjoying, we were just loving each other's presence and face and eyes and everything, that's all. You know, I told Dixie, I mean, she said, well, it's a tiny little role, Hal, I don't know whether - and I said, believe me, darling, this moment in the film is going to be important because it's the only time you're going to see this, you know, grouchy old guy who was trying to stay alive and keep his farm and fight this character and - it's the only time you're gonna see him sweet, vulnerable. You see a whole �nother side of his life that we never see at any other time and it gives a kind of dimension to the character and the situation, I think.

BIANCULLI: Your most famous film role, I think, is a very small one but so indelible and so iconic. I'm talking about your playing Deep Throat in the 1976 movie version of �All the President's Men.� You're only in a few scenes but, boy, you know, what scenes. I'm going to play one. Here you are meeting Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, played by Robert Redford, in an underground parking garage.

(Soundbite of movie, �All the President's Men�)

Mr. HOLBROOK: (As Deep Throat) Forget the myths the media's created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys and things got out of hand.

Mr. ROBERT REDFORD (Actor): (As Bob Woodward) Hunt's come in from the cold. Supposedly he's got a lawyer with $25,000 in a brown paper bag.

Mr. HOLBROOK: (As Deep Throat) Follow the money.

Mr. REDFORD: (As Bob Woodward) What do you mean? Where?

Mr. HOLBROOK: (As Deep Throat) Oh, I can't tell you that.

Mr. REDFORD: (As Bob Woodward) But you could tell me that.

Mr. HOLBROOK: (As Deep Throat) No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I'll confirm. I'll keep you in the right direction if I can but that's all. Just follow the money.

BIANCULLI: That's Hal Holbrook and Robert Redford in �All the President's Men.� Now, what are your memories, first of all, of filming that?

Mr. HOLBROOK: Well, I'll tell you a story that, before the film he started, I was offered this role and I turned it down because it was so small, I thought.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLBROOK: This is nothing, this is nothing and the guy's in the dark. I mean, what the heck? So, I turned it down and I knew Bob Redford very well, we were good friends long in those years, we had time together at various times. And so Bob come over at the house and he said, Hal, I'm going to promise you that this role will be remembered more than anything in the film. And I said, come on, you got to be - kidding.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLBROOK: There's nothing to it. He said, Hal, believe me, believe me. So, I said well, okay, Bob, if you feel that way, okay, okay, I'll do it. So, that was another gift from a friend of mine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLBROOK: Because he was right.

BIANCULLI: Now, did either Robert Redford or Bob Woodward, who was visiting the set from time to time, give you any clues about how to play Deep Throat?

Mr. HOLBROOK: What was important about this character to me, I visualized somebody different from Mr. Felt, who turned out to be the man later.

BIANCULLI: Yeah, Mark Felt, the former FBI�

Mr. HOLBROOK: Yeah, I visualized - yeah, Mark Felt. I visualized someone more like of a sophisticated type of, you know, like Clark Clifford, someone who had - an elder statesman who had served several presidents of either party, both parties. In another words, he was not tied down to serving a president of the Republican Party but both parties. That he had an experience in government and then now he was faced with an extraordinary choice between his allegiance to his president and his allegiance to his country. That is the point about Deep Throat, not who he was but what he had to do.

BIANCULLI: We're talking with Hal Holbrook. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: We're talking with Hal Holbrook, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in �Into The Wild,� stars in the new movie �That Evening Sun,� played Deep Throat in �All the President's Men.� And now, my favorite thing that I think you have done in your career is playing Mark Twain for more than 50 years on stage and once quite memorably on television. Next year, 2010, is the 100th anniversary of Twain's death. What does that say to you that you can still find so much about Mark Twain to say about today's times? I mean, that you can have Mark Twain's saying about today's times.

Mr. HOLBROOK: Oh, he never has ceased to astound me. And astound is the only word I can come up with. He had a bead on the corruption that went on late in his lifetime, in his country. I mean, the corruption is so similar to what's going on today. You know, I give - see if I can remember, it's been - I'm just trying to learn it. But, it's from �What Is Man? And Other Essays.� He says, it's a strange panic we're in. It's like a blight is falling upon us, as if a mighty machine had slipped its belt and was still running and accomplishing nothing. An atmosphere of fear has spread around the land. The phrase, laying off has become common. Laying off of a thousand, two or three thousand men has become familiar. But there's a more disastrous laying off going on all over America. The discharging of one out of every three employee in every humble small shop and industry from one end of the United States to the other.

BIANCULLI: Hal, there's two things that stunned me about that. One is that, just it's so fresh after so many years that it's so vital to today. The other one, I imagine how much work it takes for you as the shaper and the actor in �Mark Twain Tonight,� to constantly go back to his material, constantly revise what you're presenting on stage, and to memorize it. How do you do all that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOLBROOK: I stay up late. I'm driven to do it. I enjoy it. It's hard work. I have to lose a lot of sleep. I cannot give up, I cannot stop worrying about what's going on with our country and the world because I think that this country we live in is now at a far more crucial and critical moment in its history than it has ever been in.

BIANCULLI: Hal Holbrook, I just want to thank you so much on being on FRESH AIR today. Thank you.

Mr. HOLBROOK: Thank you, David, I really enjoyed talking with you.

GROSS: Hal Holbrook spoke with FRESH AIR's TV critic, David Bianculli. Holbrook stars in the new film �That Evening Sun,� it's now playing in L.A. You can download Podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org and you can follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair.

I'm Terry Gross.

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