SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
David Hare, the British playwright, joins us from London, which gives us the chance to ask him, why should we buy an Electrolux vacuum cleaner?
DAVID HARE: (Laughter) It's such a good question that I sold them, and I mistakenly - I sold them in New York in 1965, but I thought Hoover was the generic name for those things that sweep up dust. So an Electrolux is far superior to a Hoover.
SIMON: David Hare is, of course, one of the most acclaimed playwrights and screenwriters in Britain and the U.S, the winner of Olivier and Tony Awards, BAFTAs and Oscar nominations for plays and screenplays that include "Plenty," "Skylight," "The Blue Room," "The Hours," and "Stuff Happens." He's written a memoir of his life and career from boyhood to his first days in fame. It's called "The Blue Touch Paper," and thanks very much for being with us.
HARE: Thank you for asking me.
SIMON: This comes in the mid-'60s. You were touring the U.S., and your sponsor, I think the term would be, was a therapist who arranged for you to stay with the succession of her patients. What was that like?
HARE: Yeah, I got a job, which was to clean and repaint the beach house and also redo the filing system of a primal screen therapist in Los Angeles in 1965. And then as I travel around America, I stayed almost exclusively with her ex-patients.
SIMON: So you would read about them and then meet them weeks later.
HARE: Precisely. I knew what their problems were because I'd redone her filing system. So I would keep these things to myself and think, oh, that's the person who's got this problem, or that's the person who's got that problem. But it certainly gave me a highly colored view of the United States for the first time.
SIMON: Looking back on it, was that a novelistic experience?
HARE: Well, it's funny. I've already had a filmmaker say to me that chapter because I was 17 and I came from the most repressed suburban childhood in England in the days when, you know, England was hugely different from California. And so, you know, when I got out of this plane in Los Angeles and my irises shrunk to pins, then I was overwhelmed by a completely different culture from the one I came from.
SIMON: Yeah, you became a cofounder of the Portable Theater Company. I'm struck by - you've got a line in the book where you say, quote, "without having seen it, we thought everything was rubbish."
HARE: Well, that's what young people always think, isn't it? You know, I thought John Osborne and Harold Pinter were completely ridiculous. But of course, you know, 20 years later, 30 years later, by the time I'd had a go at writing a play myself, I'd come wholeheartedly to admire them. But no, because we went in for political reasons, we went in with the aim of changing society, and Portable Theater was an inspirational group because it went everywhere. We went into prisons, we went into army camps, we went to canteens, we went to village halls, we went to floors, anywhere we could play.
SIMON: You were trying to change not just theater but the audience in a sense.
HARE: Yes, we thought that, you know, the theater of the day was decadent and aesthetic. You know, the only concerns were with how well things were done rather than with what plays were actually saying. And the way that we thought we could get content to seem violent and immediate and urgent was to take it to people who weren't practiced theatergoers. And so we were on a sort of social mission as well as an artistic mission.
SIMON: Wonderful showbiz vignettes in here, Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, I want to get you to tell the Dame Helen Mirren story if you could.
HARE: In the days I knew Helen Mirren, she was not at all the respectable figure who sees - who is before you. And she had wonderful techniques of not listening to the director when the director tried to give her notes. And her best ever technique was saying, I'd come to the dressing room a quarter to 7, and you can give me notes then. And I knocked on the door, went into her dressing room, and she put aside the copy of the Evening Standard, which was briefly obscuring her, and she was absolutely stark naked and said to me, perhaps you'd now like to give me some notes.
HARE: Needless to say, I muttered apologetically and left as fast as I possibly could. You know, but it was all part of Helen's fun. She was really good fun.
SIMON: Mr. Hare, you're hard on yourself about your personal life in this book.
HARE: I don't think so. A lot of people have said this about the book that I seem to be very tough on myself. But, you know, I'm a writer, and an awful lot of writers are driven by self-hatred. My ability to see what's going on in a room or analyze what's going on inside a person are - comes from my own doubts about what's going on inside myself.
SIMON: To fill in the blank of it, you strayed in your marriage, didn't work out. You left your wife with, I guess, three young children, including a couple of 6-month-old twins. Well, I can't say anything that you don't say about yourself.
HARE: You know, I am, by temperament, a nonjudgmental person. In other words, I'm extremely judgmental about art, and I'm extremely judgmental about public affairs. I tend to be less judgmental about people. Those of us who's been inside those moments of which your whole life collapses and in which you believe yourself to be incapable of continuing have a great deal more sympathy for other people who find themselves in that position. I'm a great fan of Oscar Wilde, and Oscar Wilde said, morality doesn't consist of telling other people what to do. It's about how you behave yourself. And the first kind of morality where you just judge others is so easy, whereas the kind where you actually judge yourself, that's a much tougher way to live.
SIMON: David Hare, his memoir "The Blue Touch Paper," thanks so much for being with us.
HARE: Thank you.
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