"VOTE!" A Message and Short Film by John Landis

"Anyone who has watched this corrupt administration and the consistent behavior of President Trump and still supports him is either a fool, or someone not to be trusted. To support such an obvious fascist, racist, criminal and the constant abuse of power and disregard for the law by this narcissistic, cowardly pathological liar reveals extraordinary ignorance and/or some deeply creepy close held beliefs of their own. It is essential to vote these bastards out of power. 


- John Landis 

Fülle Circle's SUPER MARIO MAKER 2 Levels!

(Illustration by Kaelin Richardson)
Hey, paisanos! We're taking a field trip to the Mushroom Kingdom to interview Mario, Luigi, and even Bowser in our very own Super Mario Maker 2 levels! Since you as the player control the characters, you are the ones able to answer the interview questions as you adventure through three Fülle stages, and your answers will remain visible in-game to all future players! I decided to make "three" levels as a tribute to my favorite video game of all time, Super Mario Bros. 3. If you're a fan of that NES classic, check out Alyse Knorr's incredible book about the game's phenomenon. 

Below are the Course IDs for each level. You will need both Super Mario Maker 2 for Nintendo Switch and a Nintendo Switch Online subscription in order to access these levels. So what are you waiting for? Let's-a-go! 

Fülle Circle's Conversation with Mario (Course ID: W03-069-LVG)

Fülle Circle's Conversation with Luigi (Course ID: W0Y-M9H-5KG)

Fülle Circle's Conversation with Bowser (Course ID: F7G-2NH-XXG)

Eat Dirt!: A Conversation with Earthworm Jim Creator Doug TenNapel

(Illustration by Kaelin Richardson)
Animator. Writer. Cartoonist. Video Game Designer. Comic Book Artist. Doug TenNapel is all of these things, and in 1994 his many talents funneled into one project when he created the critically acclaimed video game, Earthworm Jim. Originally released on the Sega Genesis, the story follows Jim, a normal earthworm until a "special suit" falls out of the sky and allows him to operate much like a human, at which point he is tasked to rescue and protect Princess What's-Her-Name. Earthworm Jim stood out in the midst of all other titles as being a unique, wildly rebellious dark comedy that played as a parody of other games. The television commercial, which featured an elderly woman eating live worms, was pulled from multiple networks due to complaints from nauseated viewers. However, that did not stop the game from becoming a hit and earning itself a sequel, toy line, and animated series. Today we take a nostalgic look back with the man who told us to "eat dirt" in the 90s...

Jason Anders: Long before creating Earthworm Jim you worked in television animation. What led to your job as an animator on Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and what was your experience on that series like?

Doug TenNapel: That first job was a big one for me. I was like many artists who graduated from college and asked, “How am I going to ever get paid for what I love doing?” I had been a freelance illustrator for just over two years when that opportunity opened up and I lucked out to get it. 
My animation skill was clunky at best, but I figured my workaholism would make up for my lack of skill. 

After a year at that job I learned so much about how television animation worked. I learned how to read an exposure sheet, how to make sure my shots hooked up to the previous and following content, and how to work with others on a large crew. Many of the friends I met on that project in 1991 are still dear friends of mine today and we are dispersed throughout the entertainment industry working for feature, television, and video game animation companies.
Did you meet John Astin while working on that show?

I did not meet John Astin, but our crew was far stranger than his role on The Addams Family! I did get a chance to meet his son, Sean Astin, a few years ago. He's a nice guy.

In 1993 you were an animator on the Sega Genesis adaptation of Jurassic Park. 

After leaving Attack of the Killer Tomatoes I went right back into unemployment despair. I was in San Diego and discovered that many of my co-workers on Killer Tomatoes were getting animation jobs in video games. This was news to me because for some reason I assumed all video games were made in Japan. There were a number of small gaming companies that were alive and well in San Diego. I started contracting on little-known titles and I quickly got a reputation for being able to animate really fast. Due to the limitations of the cartridges at the time, I could do all of the animation for a game in two weeks. That saved the developers a lot of money and I found enough work to keep me busy around the clock. I had a decent amount of animation to show other video game companies that were exploding at the time due to the sheer amount of games being made in the early 90s.

My first real job was at BlueSky Software. They hired me and paid a little extra to not do any side freelance work. I became a company man and got to work as an animator on a number of titles at the same time. Within the first year they landed the Jurassic Park game and I was offered the lead position. I got to visit the Jurassic Park set and meet two of my heroes who were working on the movie, Stan Winston and Phil Tippet. The latter just found out that the movie wouldn’t be using his stop-motion work because they decided to go with computer animation on the dinosaurs.
There are moments were I’m just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. On the day that I visited Phil Tippet, he was so upset at losing the Jurassic Park gig that he threw a stop-motion puppet of one of the Velociraptors into the chair right next to where I was sitting! I picked up the puppet and it felt absolutely amazing in my hands. This was the most high-end puppet I’ve ever touched. The machining of the armature was the best that money could buy, and the foam work on top of the armature felt like real skin. It moved like a dream. I looked at Phil and asked if I could shoot the puppet and digitize the images for the video game. He put us in contact with the studio lawyers and they agreed to let us use it if we took out a $75,000 insurance policy on the puppet.

Like my work on Killer Tomatoes, I wasn’t the greatest animator to inherit such a great project, but I worked long hours to get my stop-motion skills to some level using that puppet. I had done a lot of stop-motion puppet animation on my dad's 8mm camera starting when I was in 4th grade. The game was finished on time and on budget. While I find the gameplay a little clunky, that project taught me a lot about gaming and opened up an opportunity to work for Virgin Interactive where my career was about to step up far beyond what I could have imagined.

Was it fun to animate Sega's Ren & Stimpy: Stimpy's Invention?

I remember that we had to slam that game out pretty quick. My animation wasn’t great, but I really love Ren & Stimpy. We made the game really silly and just wanted the players to be able to get together and have a good time. That’s back when studios didn’t get too involved in our work because they considered video games voodoo. Games are, of course, voodoo. That may be the first time the studios were right about something.

Let's talk about the origins of Earthworm Jim...

That whole game happened because I met David Perry, Mike Dietz, and Ed Schofield when I got hired at Virgin Games. I didn’t do well when I landed at that company. I inherited the Super Nintendo version of The Jungle Book game, and the crew and I didn’t click very well. Within a few months I felt like I made a big mistake leaving BlueSky, but David Perry and his crew had made so many hits for Virgin Games that they decided to leave the company to start Shiny Entertainment under direct funding of Playmates Toys. They were looking for an animator, and I had become friends with Mike and Ed, so I was begging them to put in a good word for me. I was super desperate and not sure if Virgin Games would ever pan out for me. That unemployment knot in my gut was rearing its ugly head on the horizon.

Mike Dietz was also interviewing Larry Ahern (Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island) and he didn’t get back to Shiny because he was on vacation in Hawaii. Shiny said they knew I could animate, but wanted to know if I could be creative. They asked me to come up with a character that weekend and bring it in. I sat down and came up with Earthworm Jim and most of the bad guys. It was one of the easiest things I’ve created, but I was mostly just terrified of not getting the job. When I presented the characters to them, they hired me.

Once I landed at Shiny we started to goof around with Earthworm Jim as a game idea. We put together a pitch for Playmates, but still weren’t certain they would let us do the game. We were entertaining doing the Beavis and Butt-Head game instead, but once Playmates saw our pitch they agreed to make the game. That’s just another instance of how lucky I am. It’s hard to believe that something like that would happen, especially when life doesn’t seem to go the way I want it to when I really need it. But those first three years in animation took me from Killer Tomatoes to working on my own character who became a smash hit thanks to the Shiny team.

Do you have a favorite element that made its way into the Earthworm Jim games?

My favorite part of the game was that the lead character is just a total idiot who does his best and ends up saving the world. He has become a symbol of my whole career! I like how he is a moron but has just enough competence and heart to be a hero. He’s a vulnerable worm that fell into a super suit that cannot be destroyed.

How did the idea of your sequel, Earthworm Jim 2, come about?

While working at Shiny we always overdeveloped our games, so there would be a lot of ideas that didn’t make it in. We didn’t come up with great stuff, we came up with a lot of stuff and threw out the things that were too stupid or too difficult to make. What’s left over becomes the game! We knew we would make a sequel because the game did so well with the gaming press. They went ape for it. I think we needed to just capitalize on the game engine and see if we could squeak out another one. Some of our ideas were a little too aggressive and the game suffered for it, but most people still respected what we were trying to do. I liked having that kind of support. This was at a time when gamers were more about playing and having fun than being professional critics. It was different back then.

Earthworm Jim was soon brought to life as an animated series...

That was a surreal moment. The Simpsons had only been on the air for three years back then, and Dan Castellaneta was a real catch for us. I remember listening to a lot of people trying out for the voice and his was the clear winner. Having my own television series was an even bigger dream come true because I’d been watching cartoons a lot longer than I’d been playing video games. I went from animating other people’s characters to executive producing my own series. Suddenly, I was tracking Neilson ratings and monitoring a mass audience. I became aware of how a lot of people felt about my work instead of just me looking at an isolated image in my sketchbooks.

The Earthworm Jim series was animated by Universal, so I got to spend a lot of time on the Lot. I remember driving my beat-up pickup truck around the sets, sitting in on the record sessions, and reviewing scripts. I didn’t have a lot of input on the show, I just did approvals and designed any new characters that showed up on the series. I was mostly just watching and learning how to make a show by experiencing it from the front row.

Do you have a favorite episode?

I suppose my favorite episode was "The Anti-Fish". It’s just a really stupid, silly episode that I can’t believe exists!
Is there a medium you most enjoy working in?

I like comics best. No offense to the other mediums I work in, they’re all a wonderful experience, but when I make a graphic novel I get to write and draw the whole story by myself with little collaboration from others. It’s where my storytelling is best, and I think it’s the most powerful medium for my skill set.

Creature Tech is such a wonderful story - do you think Fox will ever move forward on production of a film adaptation since they obtained the rights?

I don’t know if they will, but they should if they want to make a lot of money and entertain the masses! Last time I checked that was Fox’s job, so let’s hope they get to it. That graphic novel is one where I just made something very personal and I thought I was the only one who would like it. Come to find out a lot of us are on the same page. It’s a broadly American sci-fi comedy with mile-long flying space eels, so how could it not work?

What is the last thing you drew?


What are you working on now that you are excited about?

I’m finishing up our last season of VeggieTales in the City for Netflix/Dreamworks and I’m excited about that. I’ve got a few pitches in the hopper I’m getting ready to take around to the studios this spring, and I am writing two graphic novels. I’m always excited about what’s next because that’s where I live.

What originally inspired you to get into animation?

When a drawing moves, it seems alive. It’s a study of life. I love life and it's a great magic trick to pull off. I like drawing, but the drawing sits there and someone needs to make that thing come to life!

What inspires you now?

All things that are true, good and beautiful. I find little patience in media that’s ugly, dark, or false… and there’s a lot of that.

How has working in the industry changed since you first started?

Well, the Internet happened. That changed a lot of problems that artists used to have with accessing a mass audience. The audience has a lot more power than when I started, as we are all digitally connected and we all consume a lot more media, so there is a bigger workforce required to create that media. Unfortunately, the quality of storytelling hasn’t progressed much. If anything, I’d say we’re moving backwards culturally.
(The creation of the cover art for THE MAKING OF EARTHWORM JIM book)

What advice would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps?

Turn around and run away! Seriously, I think someone who works harder than the next guy and gets a few lucky breaks can do what I do. It’s not easy, and I still feel that unemployment knot in my gut, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m an artist, no matter if I’m successful or not. I can’t change that.

If you had to sum up your art in three words, what would they be?

Fun, odd, and thoughtful. That’s what I’m trying to do, anyways.

I Put a Spell on You: A Conversation with Eszter Balint

(Illustration by Kaelin Richardson)
In 2012 I was living in Orlando, Florida watching Hulu's SPOILERS WITH KEVIN SMITH, a movie talk show which featured a segment called "Criterion Corner." On the first episode he recommended a movie from 1984 called STRANGER THAN PARADISE by Jim Jarmusch. I quote what Smith had to say about it in the interview below, but I'll never forget rushing to the nearest Barnes & Noble to purchase the disc, described by Criterion as "Americana at its most offbeat. A nonchalant masterpiece of deadpan comedy and perfectly calibrated minimalism." My favorite part of the movie, however, was one of its three leads, the character of Eva played to perfection by Eszter Balint. 

Born in Budapest in July of 1966, Eszter is a Hungarian singer, songwriter, violinist, and actress. She first emerged as a child member of the avant-garde Squat Theatre troupe before making her cinematic debut in the aforementioned film. She's been directed in pictures by Woody Allen and Steve Buscemi, and her television credits range from MIAMI VICE (1985) to LOUIE (2014). She is an accomplished musician described by several critics as having a "film noir sensibility." She has released several beautiful albums, most recently 2015's critically acclaimed AIRLESS MIDNIGHT

What follows is an archival interview recorded in 2012 when Eszter so kindly agreed to let me ask her all about her life and career after I had fallen down the rabbit hole of her work. When I originally posted the audio conversation on iTunes, I was criticized by listeners for gushing over her work. Well, here we are eight years later, and I'm still gushing. 

Jason Anders: In last week's episode of Hulu's Spoilers with Kevin Smith there was a very cool shoutout of your film in which he proclaims, "Stranger Than Paradise empowers the hell out of you.  It's the movie that made me want to be a filmmaker. It makes great use out of nothing. It's a masterpiece of minimalism. It is "indie film" defined. Even just holding the DVD, you feel some sort of power - there's something kinetic about it. If you watch this movie and then don't want to make a movie yourself, something may be very, very wrong with you. It's THAT empowering a document." It was this recommendation that sent me immediately to Barnes & Noble to buy the movie and every word he says about it is accurate.

Eszter Balint: I think that's actually kind of cool because the people who want to interview me, that's the defining thing that they've known for so long. There's a kind of innocence to you just becoming acquainted with it now, that's refreshing and nice.

Has Criterion's release of the film brought any new fans to your live shows?

Mostly, I think the kind of people who would buy the DVD are already familiar with it. Over the years I've definitely had a lot of people comment on that movie - there seems to be something sort of pivotal about it. I don't know if it's the timing of when it came out, but apparently people were very affected by it, which is cool. I still love the movie. I haven't seen it in so long, but it's a wonderful thing.

It took me a while to get past the initial success of this amazing gift that after a while became a defining thing for me that I had to deal with always being labeled "the girl from that movie." That was a little bit difficult. Now I think so much time has gone by that it's easier to be objectively appreciative of the whole experience.

It's so timeless. Definitely not something I associate with other 80s movies.

That's cool to hear that it doesn't have a dated quality. I like that.

You were 15 when asked by Jim Jarmusch to be in the film. Tell me about the theatre shows that you were doing in New York before being approached for the role of Eva.

My father was a founding member of a theatre group, Squat Theatre, that started out in Budapest, Hungary. The authorities back in the Iron Curtain days weren't fans, so they made it very difficult to do the work. The theatre group eventually decided to leave - which on its own was a difficult thing, but we managed to get out.

We all lived in France for a year and a half, I was ten at the time, and we performed at a lot of festivals, traveled all over Europe, and then settled in New York in the summer of 1977 - which was a pretty crazy, interesting, amazing year to be an eleven year old kid moving to NYC. Looking back, it was an insane time of adventure, but when you're young you think it is normal - no matter what the circumstances are. You do all these shows, people come, it gets written about, everything is at stake when we perform, and it's a matter of life or death. We all lived together in this building next to the Chelsea Hotel and it was a really exciting time to be alive and in the arts. I still have trouble adjusting to the fact that that's not what normal life is like.
I totally relate to that because I grew up in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee where my dad was a musician at several theatre shows where I would run the spotlight, my mom would work the concessions, and my sister would dance onstage. 

I know Pigeon Forge! Dollywood!

I grew up thinking Dolly Parton was our mayor. It was a bizarre place to grow up, but I'd give anything to go back to that time of putting on shows every day. 

That's the magic of childhood, you just sort of live what comes your way as the norm. Sometimes that can be terrible, but sometimes it can be amazing.

I wasn't so much performing my music onstage back then, but I had studied music as a kid. I studied classical violin. Pretty early on I started getting substantial roles in the plays, life just happened me into it. It was not a conscious decision to pursue a career. I later became more involved in helping pick out music for the shows. There was also a period when the theatre group functioned as a night club for bands, which was also incredibly exciting because the early 80s were a pretty amazing time for music in New York. I became the DJ at the theatre. I was just really into music, and it was later that I would start pursing my own non-classical music as a so-called "career." I have a lot of problems with that word.

Who were originally your influences in classical music?

My father was a really big influence, as were his partners in the theatre group. My grandfather as well - he was a visual artist, a great painter and incredibly prolific, and very well known in Hungary. His father had been an intellectual and journalist in the arts, so it's a long lineage of artists on my father's side. These people were all a huge influence on me because they were taking their art very seriously, which is not to say humorlessly, but they just lived for their art. That shaped my world view at a very early age to some extent.

In the later years, when Squat Theatre became a center at the time for other artists to come perform and be in the audience, it became sort of a cultural hangout. That sounds pretentious. It was filmmakers, artists, writers, and musicians gathering there and it was pretty exciting.

At what point in all of this are you approached about Stranger Than Paradise

Jim saw me in a featured role in a play at Squat Theatre - we used a lot of film in the plays and I was in those as well. That played a role. John Lurie, who was in one of our house bands, The Lounge Lizards, may have suggested me for the role. I knew Jim casually, who was also in a band at the time that I saw at other clubs. I don't remember the exact moment of being approached, but it all seemed natural. Everybody was doing stuff back then, amazingly.
(Stranger Than Paradise, 1984)
Was the idea of starring in a movie overwhelming, or did it seem natural since you were already onstage and in films?

I was already in a few student films as well, so it all seemed very organic. That's not to say that I wasn't scared shitless. Of course I was. I was when we performed plays as well. It was a combination of on one hand taking it for granted that this is what I'm asked to do, what I'm supposed to do, and what's expected of me, and on the other hand a tremendous amount of insecurity. It went hand in hand.

Was your family supportive of the idea?

It was a combination of things. Of course, my father was incredibly proud of me. I really idolize the theatre for its values, but there was a lot of snobby judgment coming from people in general - not about the movie per say, my father was friends with Jim and he loved the movie. But being supportive and nurturing wasn't one of the main agendas of the theatre. I was very precocious and probably acted pretty cocky and self-confident, so maybe people saw that and didn't feel I needed their support.

Did it ever cross your mind while on set that you were making something that would have such a huge cultural impact? 

Absolutely not. It was really just one more project of many. No one had any idea what that movie would become, so it was kind of a shock to us all. We were making it casually on a shoestring budget,  fleshing out the script in rehearsals at Jim's house, which served as his office at the time. It was a modest effort that turned out to just hit at the right time. We didn't anticipate that.

It's beautiful for me personally now that I am old enough and wise enough, and enough time has passed, that I can actually appreciate it. At the time I didn't want to be put in that box as being known for this one thing that I was a part of, now I've graduated from that phase.

You were also directed by Woody Allen in Shadows and Fog

A really funny story, actually. My meeting with him was one of the more hilarious moments of my acting career. My agent called and said that Woody Allen wanted me to audition for his next movie and I was really nervous. It was this really dark room in the catacombs of the basement in this hotel in Central Park West where I am waiting for Woody to come in. When he arrived I couldn't even see him because is was so dark in there. He extended these nervous, slightly clammy hands and said, "Thank you very much," and left. I got a call an hour later from my manager at the time saying, "Woody loved you!" I just thought, "Wow, that guy is really intuitive." His instincts function on a plane higher than I can ever understand.

It was a very tiny role and I had no communication with him. There was no hang, no getting to know him. He was very secretive about the script. I don't know if he still works like that, but at the time no one was allowed to read the script before you showed up on the set. It was an abstract experience.

I was also in a Steve Buscemi movie that I'm really proud of.
(Trees Lounge, 1996)
Trees Lounge (1996) is such a wonderful film, one that I have read is very close to your heart. The song you wrote for it is beautiful. 

Aww, thank you. That film has such a great pace that you don't see in movies so much anymore. I did another independent movie during that time which only got a very limited release, but I'm happy with Trees Lounge having been the last film I really did that was of any importance before I moved away from acting altogether.

You've explained it as a "self-imposed exile from a Hollywood that managed to extinguish whatever small flames of passion I ever held for the film industry." 

That sentence has definite validities to it. Living in Los Angeles and really giving it a try to do it for a living was so not suited to me and my personality. If things came easier my way then maybe it would have taken a lot longer to feel like this isn't really, truly me.

It was a struggle. I didn't fit easily into any sort of mold. I was trying so hard for something that I didn't truly want. I found myself auditioning for things that I was dreading to get, things I wouldn't have been proud of. I grew up in a different way where people were very creative and doing their own thing and not just told what to do by others. I guess I was a little bit spoiled because I was privileged by having grown up in this extraordinary theatre group that did really exceptional work, and then having been in a few exceptional films, it was hard for me to just become part of the grind. Just the whole system of living out there and trying to get work by hustling and promoting yourself, trying to get script breakdowns and finding out what's out there, having agents and managers... it just wasn't my world. I know this sounds snobby, and I don't mean for it to.

When you see someone on the cover of a Criterion Blu-ray, it's easy to assume they are able to pick what they want to do as working actors. 

Oh no, that's a Kodak moment - which is an old fashioned analogy now. After this film, it was a lot of struggle, coming down to earth, and trying to make ends meet. It wasn't easy and it wasn't like I automatically got offered all these great roles in great movies. Nothing like that.

It's all for the better. I'm not even sure that the highest level of actors get to do what they really want. Stranger Than Paradise's reception as a film was way beyond anyone's hopes and expectations, but for me personally, as a ticket to stardom - no, it was a real struggle.

Is music your main focus now?

Yes, it has been slowly simmering over the years more and more. I never quite parted ways with music, it was always somehow a big part of my life. For a while I actually studied classical singing, thinking that I might want to do something with that. While living in Los Angeles I took some music courses again, which I hadn't done since I was a youngster. As a kid I took music theory, choir, sight reading, ear training, piano - and then I realized that classical music was definitely not where I'd be going with this, but I was still interested in the basic foundations of music.

It was a really good time living in Los Angeles in the 90s when I turned around to commit myself to music fully. It's where my heart was. Songwriting especially. Words have always played an important role, I've been writing, scribbling, and journaling my whole life. I like to think of myself as a reader. So the combination of words and music just clicked for me and made sense.

Now I'm not sure it makes so much sense because it's so hard! Talk about a difficult way to function in today's world with all the changes. It's always been difficult to be a musician, with the digital age changing the rules of the game completely (plus a recession) it's now ten times as hard. You've got to be really crazy to be trying to do this today.
Do you feel with today's technology it is easier to succeed as a musician, or more difficult?

It depends on the person, but for me it's harder. I drown in the sea because skills that I have not acquired are competing and promoting, it's just not where my interests lie. Being a mother I have limited time, and writing and being a musician for me is very time consuming. I don't just roll out of bed with the confidence to grab my guitar and write a new song every day. There's a lot of time that goes into practicing my instruments, singing, and writing my lyrics. My lowest priority is being a self-promoter.

How many children do you have?

I have one, he's eight and half. You give up your life but there's an incredible reward. I've been very unproductive for my standards since I had a kid, and that's okay. I have had a lot of other issues in a pretty tumultuous eight years. Without going into too many details, I am bringing up my kid. That's the kind of time commitment that spills over in these invisible ways into every minute of your life. You're not necessarily shoveling coal for twelve hours a day, but even when you're doing nothing you're still standing by. It's a very large chunk of time.

Where do you see yourself looking ahead to the near future? 

I've had an incredible amount of disruptions and distractions - just real heavy life stuff that we all have to deal with sooner or later (as I like to say, "no one escapes") - but I've had a concentration of it the last few years. Right now I'm coming out of a personal health issue, too.

I would like to see if I can get my next album out in the next six months to a year. I have a lot of the material done, but not all of it. I'd like to get back into performing. I feel like I have a little more air to breathe now after the last few years of intensity. I want to alternate good work habits, which haven't been my forte with having a child, and all this other stuff that constantly distracts me. I do always have this little exit strategy, which is if it becomes too hard I will still keep doing it for my friends and channel my energy towards writing. Writing is something I am passionate about and is a lot simpler in terms of not needing to organize rehearsals with and depending on other musicians, and also finding the money to pay them. I've been incredibly fortunate to work with my favorite musicians, but in this day and age it's very difficult to be a musician and thrive. I'm going to really give it a shot for the next two years, but if it becomes too exhausting to make it work then writing short stories and prose is my exit strategy.

... I may miss music to much to do that.

What are your favorite things to read?

I read a lot when I was younger. Being a mom cuts down on your reading time a great deal. I love poetry, short stories, and novels. I go through phases of non-fiction, like books about how the brain works. I'm also interested in Buddhism.

What do you love most about making music?

I think it's performing live with someone else. When you're in sync with someone else, in the zone and communicating something to an audience, it's a beautiful, wonderful feeling. Music has often transformed pain and struggle into a glimpse of something transcendent that matters more than those little tunnels we can get ourselves into.
What I love most about your music is that it is so authentic, you feel that direct connection...

Authentic, that's a great word! That's what I strive for. If that comes through, even a little bit, then I feel like something's working. It's my little guidepost, even though it's not always easy to know where authenticity is. It's just a thing that I'm chasing. That's something I feel that I got from my incredibly fortunate upbringing. My family strove away from artifice, which maybe explains why the world of "trying to make it" as an actor in Hollywood didn't quite click for me, I don't know that authenticity is the highest value in that universe. "Direct connection" is another good one, thank you for coming up with all these words! I hope I translate in a way that resonates. You are totally making me not worry about the exit door.

Vist Eszter at EszterBalint.com. 

"Lions and Tigers and Birds, Oh My!: A Conversation with Tippi Hedren"

(Illustration by Kaelin Richardson)
She's appeared in over 80 films and TV shows. She's worked with everyone from Charlie Chaplin and Ed Wood to Alexander Payne and David O. Russell. She's voiced characters for Batman animation, and played herself in sitcoms like Cougar Town. She took artistic risks like starring in Ted Post's controversial film THE HARRAD EXPERIMENT (1973), and producing and starring in what has come to be known as "the most dangerous movie ever made", ROAR (1981). She is a single mother to daughter Melanie Griffith, a successful actress and producer, and granddaughter, actress Dakota Johnson. As an animal rights activist, she started her own non-profit organization to support an 80-acre wildlife habitat where she personally contributes to the care and preservation of animals like elephants, lions and tigers. She was instrumental in the development of Vietnamese-American nail salons in the United States. Cary Grant once called her "the bravest woman I've ever known." Finally, and perhaps most famously, she starred in two Alfred Hitchcock films, THE BIRDS (1963) and MARNIE (1964). In 2016, she published a memoir in which she spoke openly about the dark pain she endured while working with the controlling Master of Suspense.  

The legend, the star, the icon. Tippi Hedren was kind enough to join me on the Universal Pictures Lot in the summer of 2017 for an evening of conversation in front of a live audience to discuss the jaw-dropping stories of her career and remarkable life.

Jason Anders: How much time would you say you've spent here on the Universal Lot during your career?

Tippi Hedren: I practically moved in! Your calls are very early and you work late, so it became a home for me. Things have changed dramatically - in fact, yesterday I decided to try and drive by my old dressing room and see if it's still there. I didn't arrange the time correctly, but maybe on my way out. I had a really wonderful dressing room and a whole makeup room with a shower, all done in French blue and French furniture... I was spoiled. It's good to be spoiled.

Have you been on the Studio Tour recently?

No, I haven't. We should do that, (to audience) let's do that!

Was your first visit to Universal Studios for the casting of The Birds?

Yes, it was. I received a phone call asking if I was the girl in the Sego commercial, which was a diet drink. I had been doing a number of commercials, which was great because they pay so well. I was doing one commercial after another which came about at the end of my modeling career with Eileen Ford. I had been modeling for about eight years and that's a long time. It was dwindling and I had my little girl, Melanie, thinking what am I going to do, I don't type! Melanie and I packed up our dog, cat, and bunny and moved back to Los Angeles.

All of a sudden I get this call telling me, "there's this producer who is interested in you." I said, "Oh? Who?" They said, "come down to the studio and we'll talk about it." That's how that whole thing happened.
(Tippi Hedren being interviewed by Jason Anders)
Growing up in Minnesota, when did you know that you wanted to become a model?

I got off the streetcar coming home from high school one day and this woman came toward me and handed me her card saying, "Would you ask your mom to bring you down to Donaldson's department store? We'd like to have you model at our Saturday morning fashion shows." So, bingo!

A lot of people may not know that your real name is Nathalie...

Yes, and I married a Griffith so I was Nathalie Griffith! I never went by Nathalie, in fact if anyone said my name I would never have blinked an eye. My father was Swedish and he started calling me Tupsa, which was a term of endearment. From Tupsa it went to Tips, and from Tips it went to Tippi.

Was acting ever the goal while modeling?

No. It wasn't until the Hitchcock thing.

And you didn't even know that was who you were coming here to meet, he really is the Master of Suspense!

I think that was sort of a fun thing for him to do. It really was fun, interesting, and exciting. When I realized it was Alfred Hitchcock it was mind-blowing. The first meeting with him was a little bit awesome, a little bit scary. He sat there looking very pleased with himself. We just talked about the weather, didn't even get close to talking about the movie. It was just a simple conversation. You know how he was on his television show? He was very similar to that.
When the conversation finally comes to The Birds, did you have any indication of how physically grueling it would be?

I had no clue. We didn't have the capability then of making movies the way that we do today, so we used real birds. I became very friendly with a raven, his name was Buddy. He was big, shiny, and beautiful. The animal trainer, Ray Berwick, was so kind to all of the birds. I was so happy to see that he cared so much about them. He would tell Hitchcock when the birds were tired and had to rest, and we'd stop filming. He introduced me to Buddy, who got to know where my dressing room was, and he'd come over and jump up onto the table with all my makeup, then sit on my shoulder, then on my head. He really was my buddy, a great relationship. I missed him a lot when it was over, I really did.

Is Buddy the bird holding the match to light your cigarette in the infamous photo?

Yes, that's my favorite picture. I'm sorry that was even taken because it was just plain wrong.
I believe Cary Grant once called you the bravest woman he's ever known...

He did call me that, and now I'm proving it by playing with lions and tigers. He said that because of working with the birds. They weren't tiny and they had great claws, but I was never hurt. I did get really tired, especially at the end when they had me lying on the ground with the birds attached to me - they were all on elastic so that they could move around and jump but not leave my body. The bird on my shoulder jumped at my face and the claw was too close to my eye, and with one swoop I got them all off of me. But I liked the birds and had a good time with them.

What was this whole transition in life for you like?

It was life changing. The whole business was so different - I was certainly used to the photographs, but to be in a film directed by a man as powerful and knowledgable as Alfred Hitchcock was just amazing. I felt so fortunate having that education. It really was stunning.

You'd go on to star in another Hitchcock film, 1964's Marnie, alongside Sean Connery...

It was fabulous! When Hitchcock was looking for the Mark Rutland character he was going through all the different actors trying to find the right man and he couldn't find anybody. Finally, he said he got Sean Connery and I said, "Hitch, in this movie I'm supposed to be a frigid woman who screams if a man comes near her... Sean Connery?! How am I supposed to do this?!" And he said, "It's called acting, my dear."
Tell me about suddenly being surrounded by celebrities, such as Marilyn Monroe...  

I met Marilyn Monroe, but we never had a conversation. It was at photographer Milton Greene's home in Connecticut. He had a party and she was at the house - she came down and sat in the corner of the stairs and didn't move... I'm sorry, that's all I have to say (laughs).

I believe you are the only actor in history to have been directed by both Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin. What was your experience appearing in Chaplin's final film, 1967's A Countess from Hong Kong, like?

The fun thing about being directed by Charlie Chaplin was that his modus operandi in directing was to act out all of our roles, he would get out on the set and become our characters, then he'd say, "and now you do it." I thought it was awesome to watch this magic being performed in front of us, I loved that whole thing. However, Marlon Brando wanted to quit. He really didn't appreciate this method of direction at all. He couldn't quit because he was under contract, so he just had to suffer through it.

You wrote in your memoir about some very important work that you did during a trip to Vietnam, tell us about that experience and what significant events unfolded as a result. 

My mother was always involved in church work and doing things for other people who were having a tough time, and I kind of did that as well. At one point, I was asked to go to an organization called Food For the Hungry at a time when they were working on hurricane relief. I liked that idea a lot and spent several years traveling around the world with them to various places that had been in bad shape because of everything from war to weather.
(Charles Chaplin & Tippi Hedren)
You wrote that the Vietnamese women were the strongest people you had ever met...

I still think that. Food For the Hungry had a place outside of Weimar, California - it was an abandoned tuberculosis sanatarium with these big buildings containing bedrooms and baths, a perfect place for them to reside until they could find their way in the United States. I went up there and met with these women, trying to figure out how we could assimilate them into our communities with a job. All of them were fascinated with my fingernails, which were longer than they are now with some kind of wonderful red on them, and after a few days of them talking about them I decided to bring my manicurist in and see if any of them would like to become one. That's how the whole Vietnamese manicure thing started.

They're still my friends and we meet every now and then, it's really wonderful.

What an incredible spark to have been responsible for... 

Yes, it was. To know these women and how strong they were and are, and how they so wanted to not be a burden on the United States - they all wanted to work and assimilate into our society. It was an amazing time.

Other important work that you are doing is that of the Shambala Preserve. I understand that you found your passion for animals on the set of the 1970 film Satan's Harvest, which by the way sounds like a pretty metal picture. 

(laughs) Yeah, I think so. It was after me and my then husband had been to South Africa, I did two films there and it was thrilling and powerful to see the animals in their natural habitat, running free and not in cages.

We decided to do a movie about the animals in the wild and the problems they have out there, and we chose the great cats to be our movie stars. We're dealing with apex predators here, folks! We contacted several trainers who had a lion or tiger that they would use for movies. Well, they wouldn't let their cat work with a cat it didn't know because they'd kill each other. It became evident to us that we'd have to acquire our own animals to do the movie. It's a romantic notion, isn't it?

Well, that's what we did. The first young lion was about four months old and he came to live with us in our house... in Sherman Oaks. We got to know that little lion. He just kind of took over the whole house like a one-man demolition crew. He'd walk past the couch and just take a bite out of it. I had to hire an expert re-upholsteror! Another little lioness came to live with us and then we learned how unique the male is to the female. At one point we had seven lions and tigers. They grow like you're blowing up a balloon!

One day, one of the little lions looked down over the fence at our neighbor, who looked up and said, "That's a lion!" The next day animal control came pounding on our door saying, "I hear you've got some lions here? You've got 24 hours to get them off of the property." Oh, I've had such a fun life. We got them off the property for a while, but they eventually reached an age that we couldn't keep them at the house in Sherman Oaks anymore. We boarded the cubs with the place that they came from in Acton, but the more we acquired the higher the board bill went, so we eventually bought the place. That's now where I live. I hope that you will all come visit and see the lions and tigers.

The whole time that we were rescuing these animals, I was wondering why our government doesn't have laws against the breeding and the selling of them as pets to anyone who has the money. These are apex predators, top of the food chain! One of the four most dangerous animals in the world and our government wasn't doing anything. There were a few state laws, such as needing a permit to have the animal on your residence, but there was no real control over it... so I put a bill together. It was quick, easy, and to-the-point. I took it to a congressman at the time who said, "Tippi, you're dealing with a huge business. You'll never get this passed." I said, "Well, we're going to try, aren't we?" He joined me in this effort and I eventually went to Washington and testified, not pulling any punches. That bill was passed unanimously and President Bush signed it on December 3, 2003. 
You really are the strongest woman in Hollywood.

Oh, I think so. Definitely. Modest, too. 

Speaking of strength - on the set of ROAR did you ever fear that one day you'd end up being lunch?

I knew I would! It's amazing that we lived through that, and that nobody was killed. Our photographer Bill Dow, who is here, ended up in the hospital at one point. I did, too. There were so many people who had bought these animals as adorable little cubs and what do you do when it starts tearing up your house and taking a good chunk out of your child? So we were taking in a lot of these animals, at one point we had close to 100. That's when I really thought, "I've got to get this bill passed." We are now down to 30 cats and don't have anyone calling to ask if we can take their lion or tiger. 

Is it true that 70 cast and crew members were injured on that film?

Something like that, yeah. But everybody lived. (laughs) That's a strong point.  

What kept you persevering through that at the time?

Just a real determination to get it done. There were a lot of times that we would run out of money, and there we were with all of these animals to support - and they kept coming in. But it was great because we were doing a wonderful service in having this facility where people could bring their little monster that was originally so cute and cuddly. It all worked out. 

I'm really glad that I wrote the book because I have been so fortunate in having one hell of a life. I've just had the best life ever. I've been scared to death so many times. I almost called the book "The Open Door" because I've had all of these doors that would open for me - some of which I slammed shut and some of them I walked through. It's been a good life.

Since we are on the Universal Lot, I have to ask you about MURDER, SHE WROTE. 

Angela Lansbury was absolutely delightful. I wish I had a copy of that episode. 

I doubt you'll remember this, but the first time we met I ranted to you about how much I loved I HEART HUCKABEES. 

That was fun because David O. Russell is fun, that was an amazing time. 

Your first experience working in comedy was actually with John Landis in DREAM ON.

That was so much fun. I didn't have an education in comedy, so I was just watching all the other actors trying to get some kind of information that I could steal. Oh, it was wonderful fun, it really was. 
What is it like for you to have not only your daughter, Melanie Griffith, but also your granddaughter, Dakota Johnson, find success in film? 

I didn't encourage either one of them to get into the business. I always wanted them to do what they wanted to do, not be influenced by me or what I did - or what I would want them to do - that is something that your child should be able to choose freely, what they want out of their lives. All of those things have just been a big surprise to me. They are both incredibly talented. 

Any chance of you working with them in the future?

Oh, I would love that. All that we need is a script. We need a story. We need the money. (laughs)

I think it is important how open you've been about what happened on set with Alfred Hitchcock, I feel you've helped make women stronger in this industry by not being afraid to tell your story. 

Thank you for saying that, because I really do believe that we have every right in the world to say "NO." The earlier a young woman learns that, and knows that there isn't anything that she has to do or be talked into doing if she doesn't want to, is really important. 

What do you love most about acting?

Becoming somebody else. Trying to think like a particular character in what they're doing. Acting is an amazing career to have, I wish I could do more of it. There aren't many roles, though, once you get older. I'm old. I can't believe it, and that's the way it's going to be for the rest of my life. I plan on staying that way. 

How is it that you retain such youth and health?

I practice eating right all the time. I watch my weight, I will not gain a pound without cutting back on my eating - I just refuse to do it. But I also have no sense of taste or smell.

I had two accidents that affected my nerves. I also can't drive because I cannot turn my head, so I am limited in that. But it took my sense of smell and taste away, which is a huge loss. Every day, it's a huge loss. It's dangerous, I had to install more powerful smoke detectors. And I can't even enjoy a glass of champagne. I'm going to cry now. 
It seems you had a good relationship with the great costume designer, Edith Head... 

We became very, very close friends - which was not wonderful only for the clothing aspect, but because of her charm and her wit. Juadavive for life. She was an exceptionally, wonderfully fun and exciting woman to become friends with. We were not only together on the Hitchcock films, we saw each other socially and would have lunch together and do girl stuff. It was a great honor to be a good friend to her and have her as a friend, it was just amazing. 

I had a dress form that was made of my exact measurements which was given to me by her, which I of course brought home and had in my bedroom... sometimes I'd dress it. I'd put scarves and jewelry around it, it was really fun. And then came the little lions... the bedrooms were built into the lower floor in our house on the hill, I came down one day and my little lions had killed that body. It was torn and ripped with the stuffing coming out and I just sat and cried. I eventually took all the stuffing and put it back in, taking a needle and sewing it back up, and I still have it. 

What was Hitchcock's method of directing like?

His method of directing was just having conversations about the character and situation of the scene. There wasn't any real solid direction, it was all kind of a thought process. It was sort of magical, actually. It was wonderful. It spoiled me, though, real bad. We would talk about the characters, the film, and the story - everything was discussed in-depth. He was amazing. 

I had the opportunity to see the dailies, which was part of my education... and what better teacher? Couldn't be better. 

What was it like reacting in THE BIRDS to elements that you couldn't see or hear? 

It's called acting. (laughs) On occasion they'd try and make sounds that would get our attention, but mostly we were reacting to nothing. No sound at all. 

Were the other directors who had a unique method besides Chaplin and Hitchcock?

I don't recall any other directors that had as much of an effect on me in their methods. That's aiming pretty high to find anybody better, or anyone even like them. It was pretty amazing. I don't know of another actress who worked with both. I'm it.
(Dakota Johnson, Tippi Hedren & Melanie Griffith)
What was your experience like on THE 4400?

That whole storyline itself was so fascinating, it was wonderful to do. I love stories like that.

Do you prefer working in film or television? 

I prefer film, just because of the time that you can take. It's just totally different. 

Have you noticed a difference in film vs. digital? 

Digital is a lot faster, but I like taking the time with film and putting all of the effort into each scene better. 

Have you ever found yourself starstruck? 

I was starstruck with Sean Connery. I thought, "Oh my god this man is so handsome, so beautiful. How dare he be married!" 

Does everyone here know that you were the mayor of Universal City?

I was! Did you all know that? I ran a very tight ship. I was very concerned about everything. Actually, it was nothing but fun. Just going to parties, it was great. 
What did that entail?

Absolutely nothing. (laughs) It didn't entail anything except that I'd be going to lunches and the cocktail parties, it had nothing to do with any kind of real position of running Universal City. But it was fun and I absolutely loved doing that.

Who initially approached you about it?

Hitchcock! It was he. 

Thank you for being such a wonderful mayor to us all. 

Thank you so much. (laughs) I enjoyed it tremendously. 

Do you have any fun stories from THE BIRDS II: LAND'S END?

Oh god, I forgot all about it. (laughs) I don't, in fact. 

How can we actually get involved to help you when it comes to animal rights?

I would love to invite all of you to the Shambala Preserve. We are not open to the public, it's reservation based and open one weekend a month - and we offer summer sunset safaris, which are quite lovely. The lions roar more at night than they do during the daytime. 

Who's down for a field trip? (audience cheers)

That would be wonderful, let's do it!

Have you been back to Bodega Bay recently? 

I go back to Bodega Bay almost every year, usually around Labor Day. I love going back there - there's so many people who are visiting, it's a very popular place. I'll sign autographs and just have a good time with everybody. It's nice. 

You seem to be a very confident person, is that chutzpah something you've always had?

You know, I found my strength when I was really young. I was a very shy and frightened little girl. Do any of you bite your fingernails? I remember exactly where I was - I was coming home from grade school, I must have been 7 years old, walking up a hill. In the middle of walking up the hill I thought, "I'm not going to bite my fingernails anymore." Now, if any of you used to bite your fingernails, you knew it was a bad habit and you could hardly not do it. I think that was one of the most strengthening things that I ever did because I said to myself, "I'm not going to do that again,".. and I didn't. It was my little coming into a different phase of my life completely. 

... and then you made history with your fingernails.

And then I made history! I see all of these commercials saying "we have the method to help you stop smoking," - you know what stopped me from smoking? It was the first time that they presented the scientific facts that smoking will kill you, make you very ill, or make you look older faster - that one got me. I said, "I'm not going to do it anymore," and I didn't. I put the cigarette out and did not have another one. (audience applause) Yeah, no kidding, I am strong! You have to be able to say, "This could kill me, make me very sick, or make me look older faster. What's attractive about all that? Nothing." 

So, anyway, if any of you smoke just stop it. 
What are your future plans for Shambala?

The plan is to keep it open. The bill that was passed has, fortunately, had a huge impact on the animals being purchased and people breeding them to be sold as pets. We actually do see a light at the end of the tunnel. People will not be buying predators to be a pet now. But as long as there is a lion or tiger that needs a home, we will be there. 

We also had two elephants who lived out their lives with us, Timbo and Cora. I have to say that those were my best years of my life with these animals - they were just so amazing, it's an incredible thing to be a friend of an elephant. I wish I could explain how it feels to walk up to that gigantic being and hear that rumble of thunder - it's not a purr, but it's a welcoming sound that they say to each other, and they would say it to the man who was taking care of them, Chris Gallucci. You'll meet him when you come to the preserve. 

Chris was a Hell's Angel. I was on the roadside and this big black Harley came down the road with a man all dressed in black, long black hair, and black beard. He pulled up and said, "I hear you're hiring," and I asked, "What can you do?" He said, "Everything." And you know what? He was right. So we hired him and he learned all about the animals and the care that they need. Everything. It was just stunning. I have now made him Vice President of Operations & Director, he runs the place. 

I don't think there are enough stories out there about Hitch's wife, Alma Reville. 

Alma was a wonderful woman. I liked her very, very much. We became very good friends. I thought they were such a bizarre couple. I went to their home often for dinner and she was just charming and a good friend. 

Do you still have the bird pin that Hitch gave you?

When we were on our way here I said, "I forgot the bird pin!" But I do have a tattoo on my shoulder of a bird if you would like to see that.

Thank you so much for a beautiful evening of stories, and thank you for writing one of the most beautiful memoirs ever written. You did an incredible job writing this. 

Thank you! It was such a pleasure to be here, very lovely. Thank you for being such a wonderful, caring, informed audience - I'm impressed. I look forward to seeing all of you at Shambala. I will have more books in the gift shop, just in case. 
(Tippi Hedren & Jason Anders)
Watch the full video interview HERE.