tv Charlie Rose PBS March 8, 2014 12:00am-1:01am PST
>> charlie: welcome to the program. we begin with lord john browne, former ceo of b.p. his book is called "elements that change the world." we talk about the environment today. >> every time anyone says we're at the end of tech knoll, they're very embarrassed because something happens with human ingenuity to make it bet around better and i'm confident we'll do that. >> charlie: we continue with annette bening, the actress, her new film called "the face of love," co-stars with ed harris. >> even when you're an actor and you love and are trained to do what you do, there's a part of you that says, don't do this, don't give this up, don't feel this pain or whatever it is. a lot of it is working within one's self and finding a way to say, no, i want to go as deeply as i can into this idea. >> charlie: we conclude this evening with b.j. novak, the
multi--talented actor/director/writer, his new book is called "one more thing," stories and other stories. >> i think, in a way, the perspective and the voice of a character is what i'm good at and what i've learned and really honed in on, is every character speaks a little differently and they would text a little differently and email a little differently and their facebook page would be a little different and knowing and respecting that as each character's voice even if they're an impatient billionaire or a tortoise that wants to renotch a hair, tall characters, i wanted to do justice to their voice. >> charlie: lord john browne, annette bening, and b.j. novak when we continue. #
>> charlie: lord john browne is here, served as ceo of british petroleum b.p. till 2007. he is in a private equity firm and has a new book called "seven elements that have changed the world," an adventure of ingenuity and discovery. i am pleased to have him back at this table. welcome. good to see you. >> thank you very much. >> charlie: when i first picked up the book, "seven elements that have changed the world," i thought, here is another book about an informed thinker writing about what factors were affecting geopolitical decisions in the world, but this is about real elements. >> it is. it starts with a scientific bent, but then moves through economics, politics and human behavior. >> charlie: and you were moved by sir william bragg. >> i was, originally. my late father gave me a wartime book, said, read this, you may understand something, and it was about the elements, and i read it and then i became a scientist and then i became an engineer. >> charlie: what is story you
tell to look into these seven elements? >> it's really a simple story. it's a story i see every day in my professional life. all the elements do good things and they do bad things. people focus very often on the bad things, but it's worth reminding people of the good and the bad are converted to the good with great regulation, rules and purpose. >> charlie: i want to spend a lot on one of these elements. the elements are iron, carbon, gold, silver, uranium, titanium and silicon. >> that's it. >> charlie: i want to talk about carbon. >> i thought you might. [ laughter ] >> charlie: tell me where you are in terms of your own assessment. >> i think several things. first, we're not going to run out of hydrocarbons in probably the foreseeable forever. we have enough coal, oil and gas to do almost anything we want, and every time we think we're running out, we find more. the shell gas, peak oil is not
something anyone talks about anymore. >> charlie: right. so the question is what do we do with it, and i'm a firm believer that we have to figure out a way of replacing, over time, the burning of heavy carbon, so coal, with lighter carbon, gas. >> charlie: we do that by putting a price on carbon? >> yes. >> charlie: yeah. or else making gas cheaper, so effect we put a price on carbon and build renewable energy and nuclear. renewable energy is doing amazingly well, producing more electricity in the world than nuclear power is at the moment. >> charlie: it's producing more. >> yes. >> charlie: but is it yet becoming cost-effective? >> not everywhere. some places yes, where the wind blows strongly, where the sun shines for a very long time, but it's getting cheaper every year. that's the important thing. solar's come down by 50% in price over the last five years
and no reason it can't happen again. >> charlie: is it likely there will be nor technological developments to help us harness sun and wind at a cheaper, more productive rate? >> no doubt. every time someone says we're at the end of technology, they're very embarrassed because something happens with human ingenuity to make it better and better and i'm confident we'll do that. >> charlie: fracking and gas and slate have made america face the potential of being energy-free, correct? >> well, partly energy -- north america being energy independent. >> charlie: energy independent, right. and, at the same time, if you look at china and look at other regions of the world, they have more than we do, so that will happen to them, also? >> maybe. i think there's an unproven case yet, but i would expect them to find more resources of hydrocarbons within their borders. so that will help them for the future. >> charlie: do you have any problem with fracking? >> i don't.
in fact, i think it's a very, very good thing. it's going to be done properly, competent operator, good regulation, transparency about what's going on, but it's well proven it can be done very well indeed. >> charlie: but the most opposition to it, you know people are seriously concerned including al gore. >> of course, it's been done badly in some cases. the predominant amount of activity has been done very, very well. it hasn't affected the environment, hasn't released methane. sometimes it does. we have to get rid of the bad to reinforce the good and that's done by having great regulations enforced and good people to do it. >> charlie: what do you think about the keystone type? >> it's a good thing because it will stop a movement of oil through different means which are less secure -- moving them by rail and this, that and the other. i know people are very concerned about burning oil, but they should be more concerned at the moment about burning gas, and they should be very concerned
about all of it, but we've got to burn these things very efficiently. >> charlie: what does this mean about opec's power? >> not a lot, really, opec is still there. its obituary is written from time to time, but these are the nations solely dependent on the price of oil, or many of them are, and they will act when the price offoffoi of oil is too wey will restrain production. they haven't had to reenltsly because the price of oil is going up steadily. the cost of producing the oil is actually going up so people need to make a bit of a margin. >> charlie: and you expect that to continue to what point? >> well, i think it's going to hover around -- it's very difficult to say what the price of oil is. i spent 45 years avoiding telling what the price is but i think it willhofer around this level. >> charlie: but you have to make economic assumptions and you had to at b.p. about what
you thought the price of oil would be. >> i think in a broadband you do that. the important thing in oil and gas companies is it's not just the price to have th of the pros the cost of getting it out. >> charlie: activity can change that. >> it can. it takes time. >> charlie: technology can change it. >> technology, productivity. it takes time. right now the margin is pretty well constant because the cost of extraction goes up with the price. >> charlie: help me understand. if, in fact, you believe that alternative fuels are coming on stream, perhaps faster than we expected even, although we thought they might happen some while ago and it didn't occur in terms of the price of it all, but it would seem to me that more alternative fuels play a part in the energy equation. the price of oil would decline. >> it might. >> charlie: that's economic reasoning, it seems to me. >> well, depends on whether the actual supply on the market exceeds perceived amount, and
that's where opec comes in. and the moment people think the price -- >> charlie: in other words, what they bring to market. >> correct. and when people think the price might go down, investment starts being curtailed. so it i automatically adjusts. >> charlie: oil is and has always been a political element. >> always. >> charlie: in the middle east. and then you have russia. is europe at the mercy of russia and is there anything they can do about it? >> well, europe, if you put it in those terms, has always been at the mercy of russia. it's fed out a lot of gas which has come from russia over many, many years and that gas has actually been supplied pretty well without interruption except georgia and ukraine, but for the bulk of europe, it's come in and been vital for european interests and there are plenty of different ways gas comes in, some through ukraine, but the majority from other routes. so it's always been a partner of
russia, if you will, in the energy business, and the world has been a partner of russia in the oil business -- still a very big producer of oil. it's in the three, the united states, saudi arabia and russia. >> charlie: what should the states do -- i'm thinking of the united states now -- do in terms of government incentives to the development of alternative fuels? >> well, it needs to make sure that it incentivizes development to get the cost down. it's very good that governments to incentivize and occasionally support energy sources. they have done it in drilling and in the development of all sorts of energies, but as that incentivizes technology, the price comes down, so the support of government should come down, if the cost comes down, and the support of government should come down. so it should do that. it should continue to do that. i believe the u.s. has done this quite well. i mean, it's been one of the
biggest growth areas for renewable energy. that's because of good technology. >> charlie: what other countries are showing a remarkable development project for alternative? >> china is doing a lot because it needs absolutely everything and, so, it's been doing a tremendous amount of development. not as sophisticated, i might say, as the united states when it comes to technology. the u.s.'s technology is much better. >> charlie: they have more money to invest, some would argue. >> they do, indeed, but yo you d a different mindset for what you're investing in and europe has done well. >> charlie: this hemisphere, if imagined well, mas a strong economic future. >> is thathat's right, because s abundant energy resources. it is quite remarkable what is here and what could be developed and, therefor, what it could do. gas, in particular, of course, is not part of the world market and, as gas competes on gas, it
reduces the cost of manufacturing. it incentivizes people to make petrochemicals. it's an extraordinary thing which is happening to the united states economy and i will expect it will spread over a lot of this hemisphere. >> charlie: you built b.p. into the second-biggesto oil company in the world, correct? >> that's right. >> charlie: were you the first major oil company executive to publicly take a stand about the possibility of the impact of co2 in the air and global warming as a result? >> i was certainly the first person to take a public stand. >> charlie: you made an assessment that, look, we don't have to have 100% -- all the evidence is in that man and human kind has contributed to global warming and co2 in the air and all that, but you said if that -- if there is a potential that we have to move now rather than later.
>> correct is that that was the essence of your argument. >> it was. it was taking out continuous insurance against the possibility that something could happen, and the more likely it is to happen, the more you should spend on the insurance. i think that was -- i mean, everybody understands that. the question is one of, in the order of priority of things to be done in the economy, where does this sit? where does this sit? >> charlie: and how late is the hour? >> well, it's always late, but i think that whatever can be done will moderate the possible outcome. so it's later than it used to be, we should get on and do something, but to say it's past the last chance -- >> charlie: and are we destroying the planet? >> this is about climate change. >> charlie: right. and it means, therefore, it will change -- if this occurs, it will change the planet. >> charlie: is it already
changing the planet? >> it's always too early to say. you can only tell in retrospect. >> charlie: yeah. and i think, you know, we shouldn't be too alarmist about things until we're a bit more sure about what's going on. >> charlie: what would cause you to be an alarmist? >> well, unexplained were the patents that consistently -- patterns that consistently occurred. >> charlie: are we explaining the patterns? >> it looks like it can be explained. >> charlie: b.p. had a huge problem and some came during your administration and some after you left. what are are the lessons for what happened off the coast of new orleans? >> it's difficult to say. that happened well after my departure, and it's very complex. >> charlie: you know all the people and you know the business. >> well, the things that went through my head were, of course, the dead and their families first of all and then the managers that i knew looking at
a very complex problem, i mean, a social, human problem where people are dead and injured, the visible impact of huge amounts of pollution, and then a very complex engineering challenge of how to stop it from simply feeding itself again and again, as we can see on tv every day. so i think very complex. i think the studies of what happened, multiple, multiple causes for what happened. it's complex. >> charlie: and do you think b.p. has been able to repair the damage to its image? >> i think it takes time. i mean, all these things, you can spend -- you can spend time building up good will and reputation into a reservoir, that's like a tank, and it empties very quickly. and then you need time to build it up again and demonstrate that
you're good for your word. and i believe b.p. is doing that. >> charlie: do you keep a diary? >> i don't. i keep a head. i never kept a diary just in case someone else wanted to read it. [ laughter ] >> charlie: will you write your memoirs? >> i wrote some memoirs. >> charlie: i know you did. i think i prefer to write books on topics. i've written this book on seven elements which is a more industrial -- >> charlie: yeah, it is. in the guise of the seven elements, i've written a book which is coming out in the middle of the year "being gay in business." >> charlie: yeah. and then i have another book in my head after this. >> charlie: what is the message of being gay in business? >> we have a lot of unfinished business. it's still a very big issue. >> charlie: would you have come out early or were the circumstances different? >> i come from a generation that thought that it was a defect in yourself and you had to hide it
from everybody because it would surely get in the way of anything you wanted to do. how wrong i was. >> charlie: yes. and i hope young people today think differently. unfortunately, i don't think everybody does. >> charlie: what are your ambitions now? what does john browne say? i've lived my life, i want to do more and this is what i want to accomplish before i die? >> i'd still like to keep changing the agenda. >> charlie: yes. i'd like to add thinking to the debate and help people through some of the challenges that i saw. >> charlie: both personal and having to do with the issues we're talking about. >> both personal and business, and i think time allows you to reflect on lessons with a bit more clear eye, but clearer eyes than you miff done than when you were younger. >> charlie: one last question about the environmental issue. what's the most urgent thing for the country, for world to say to
itself now? >> the most urgent thing to say is we're going to stop polluting the environment. we have to stop it. and places like china, for example, are beginning to do that. >> charlie: it's unbearable to do it. >> it's unbearable to do it and the population is rising up and shows what happens when you leave it unattended. >> charlie: thank you for coming. >> it's a great pleasure. >> charlie: annette bening is here, a four-time oscar nominee. we know her work, the drifters, american beauty, being julia and the kids are all right. her new film is called "the face of love," a story of a widow who falls in love with a man who looks exactly like her late husband. here's the trailer for the film. >> 30 years.
i love you. >> went to the cemetery today. i don't go too often anymore. you've grieved enough. ever go to the museum? you used to practically live there. >> i thought i saw him today. who? garrett. it was a double. it was a perfect double. hi. >> hi. do you do anything outside of school? >> i want to take you on a date.
oh, you have company. what's his name? i want you to accept him. hi, i'm tom. oh, my god! garrett, leave! it's tom. what was your husband like? it's been this big mystery. >> your father was the love of my life. it's like being alive again. >> i could take a bath in how you look at me. you've had a life, i've had a life. right here, right now, i love you. >> i've always loved you. >> charlie: i am pleased to have annette bening back at this
table. wow! welcome! >> thank you! >> charlie: so here is this woman whose husband dies, is killed in an accident, and then, years later, you were at a museum and you meet somebody who looks exactly like him. >> right. actually, what happens is i see him. i don't meet him. >> charlie: yeah, right. but this -- arie posin who directed the picture, his mom is an extraordinary lady, they have an amazing family history, but she lost her husband and was at the l.a. county museum of art and she walked by a man who looked exactly like her husband who had passed away, and the experience just gave her such a sense of peace, actually, and joy, and she just -- she felt right back there, she felt all of the things as if it were with her. so this kind of haunted her. she thought a lot about it.
she told arie about it. he started to dream about it and that's kind of the seed of the story and how he started to write it. >> charlie: so you read the script and said, this is for me? >> you know, i -- i did. i read it right away. the producer, i had done a movie with, so i knew her and i knew she had good taste, so i read it immediately. i happened to be sitting by myself in a restaurant when i got it, and i read it. so then i met arie, because, obviously, any movie, it's about the director, it's their medium, it's their thing. we're just sort of there to help them try to get what they want to say across. so he's a terrific guy, and i really thought he had a strong idea, and i was just intrigued by it. it was a question. >> charlie: so does nikki, your character, is she in love with her former husband or is she in love with her new friend? >> well, i think she's in love with both of them. i felt that there was an emotional -- i understood.
i felt like i believed it. i understood it. i feel like anyof us who eve lost someone, it's interesting how they come back into your life, whether you see someone who looks like them, smell a scent that reminds you of them, taste some food -- the way that the people who have passed can reenter our lives in a moment is very intriguing. so i think she does love him and then ed harris is playing the part, and he's sort of irresistible. >> charlie: yes, he is. so it made perfect sense to fall in love. >> charlie: should she have told him in the beginning? >> yeah, that's -- it's possible she should have. i think it's one of those things where it's just like we are in real life. sometimes we don't always do the thing that makes the most sense. i mean, our job as moviemakers is to convince you that that was right, at least that was true
for her. and i did understand why, because she needed to preserve the fantasy, in a way -- i guess that's a way of explaining it, although i don't think that's what was in her mind. >> charlie: but also, she didn't want him to think that it was about her husband. >> that's right. >> charlie: that it really was him. >> exactly. exactly. and she felt it was him. so that wasn't a lie. >> charlie: so what else is going on with you other than this face of love? your husband is going back to work, we hear. >> yes, it's not a rumor. it's true. yes, he is making a movie, which is a great thing. >> charlie: which is a movie he has been living with for most of his adult life. >> i think that's a fair statement. [ laughter ] >> charlie: we know warren beatty is now shooting a movie about howard hughes as he sees him and what fascinates him about hughes iser hughes. >> right, and he's constructed a story around hughes he has created himself which he's
worked in great detail on. so, yeah, it's extremely exciting. >> charlie: does it get him out of the house? [ laughter ] >> yes! it's great to see him out of the house and running around the movie set and doing everything because, you know, he's writing it, directing it, acting in it. >> charlie: wouldn't have it any other way, would he? >> exactly, that would be wrong. >> charlie: what's your role? i'm playing -- there's a wonderful young girl that comes into the story, and i -- >> charlie: a lot of young people come into the story. >> that's right. you know, you can divulge that. that's very good. see, i'm afraid to divulge that. >> charlie: might be trouble at home? >> exactly, i don't want to get in trouble! [ laughter ] but he knew i was coming to see you. >> charlie: yeah. and i'm playing her mother, so, yeah. >> charlie: so your family -- ben is, you told me, showing great talent as perhaps an actor but he loves politics and lots of other things than acting, and sounds like his father and his
mother. >> yes, but he's very much his own man and finding his way, and i'm sure that he will make the choices that he wants to make, and it wer i respect that about. he's got a lot of moxie. >> charlie: it's great to see the kids participate in the conversation. they're all engaged, whether theater, politics or science. >> well, thank you. and it's very important. used to be we talked a lot, now we have to be quiet. which is so frustrating. i thought we were supposed to be teaching them but they're teaching us. it's true, a lot of debate. >> charlie: are you one of the few people who have perfect balance between -- you know, you have found a great relationship and great marriage and you're getting interesting rolls in film to play interesting women, like nikki. >> well, i'm very lucky to work and to find work that i love. i've always felt bad about working, that's been very fortunate. i don't think anybody has a
perfect balance, and that's not possible. >> charlie: yeah. also, it's interesting about work and creativity, as you know, excess is necessary at times, charlie. do you get me on that? [ laughter ] excess is necessary, and that's one of the tricks of trying to have a family and work is because there are times that you really need to be obsessed, and that is essential, you know. >> charlie: i'm very familiar with obsession. >> exactly, exactly. you know what i'm talking about. >> charlie: yes, i do. i get it. this is the pointy we talk about she runs into a neighbor roger. which i love robin williams. >> thank you. i'll call you, i promise. can i tell you something? no. sorry. it's just all these years i've seen you and garrett, what you had and you guys lit up a room. just wanted a little of that for myself. i hope you understand. >> i do. i do, roger. >> thanks. see ya. >> okay.
take care of yourself. okay. what was that all about? oh, i'm sorry. that was roger. >> roger who? he was a friend of ours. you don't introduce me? he was a friend of garrett. so what. garrett left you. to hell with him. i don't understand. >> i'm just -- i'm just not ready. >> ready for what? i just am -- i'm not ready to share you with everyone. >> charlie: why isn't she ready to share him with everyone? >> because she wants him for herself. [ laughter ] and if she starts sharing him with everyone, they might be suspicious about what he looks like. >> charlie: ah, so they'll want to -- yeah. >> it might compromise the relationship. >> charlie: so how did you -- is anything different about preparing for this role than any
other role you prepare for? you just look at the text and the script and say -- >> yeah, i felt an immediate intrigue and connection to the emotional life of the woman. >> charlie: yeah. so because of that -- it becomes more of a question. it becomes more of an intriguing, enticing, appetizing idea rather than, oh, i know that's what i'll do. it's not like that. it's more like, what would i do? but that's an intriguing journey. >> charlie: someone said to me it zitting at this table that acting is about taking off masks, not putting them on. >> yes. >> charlie: finding the truth of yourself in the character. >> right. and it's funny, because it seems like it might be the opposite, though masks can be free freeing. when you're in acting school, you do masked classes. >> charlie: you put on the masks and that tells you -- >> yes, in the classical greek times they actually wore masks
and that was part of the tradition. yes, it's about peeling things away. there's an intriguing thing about one's own psyche that even when you're an actor and you love what you do and you're trained, there's a part of you that says don't do this, don't feel this pain, and a lot of it is finding a way to say, well, no, i want to go as deeply as i can into this idea that this is true for me, that this is my life, and i like that. i mean, i find that intriguing about acting that you can be completely subjective. you're just trying to understand through that person's point of view how the world looks. >> charlie: if you could, and maybe you can, be doing a movie all the time, would you choose to do that? these are films you wanted to do. >> would i choose to do what? >> charlie: be making a movie all the time. >> well, no, i think that would probably drive me mad. [ laughter ]
and doing plays, though -- >> charlie: oh, yeah. doing a play, doing eight shows a week is actually, in some ways more day-to-day demanding because, in movies, generally, there are days that are heavier and there are days that are lighter, and you do the scene and you're done with it. you do it for a day and a half or two days, generally, you're finished, whereas, a play, of course, you're revisiting that entire story eight shows a week. and when you open your eyes in the morning, the first thing you think about is, oh, i've got to get there. >> charlie: but you have been able to do both. >> well, i love to do both. i started just doing plays and that always felt more normal to me. >> charlie: so what's next for you? >> well, quite a few things. i'm doing a play in los angeles that starts -- >> charlie: there you go. -- next week. >> charlie: next week? well, it's a rehearsal. >> charlie: what's the play, can you tell me? >> yes, it's a -- there was a woman named ruth draper who was a new yorker, a great
new yorker, she was an upper east side society girl, born around the turn of the century, went to spence school, was part of this lively, cultured household and she became a monologuist. she started in the drawing room doing her imitations for her friends and family and that sort of morphed into very unexpectedly for her this life-long career of creating and performing her own monologues, different ages and languages, people from all over the world, accents, songs, she was a phenom of her time and she ended up literally touring all over the world. >> charlie: about her or other characters. >> not about her at all. she did over 50 different characters. it's not about her. it's all about the characters she created. so the estate kindly allowed me to do a few of these monologs that she created, different women from different times, so
i'm doing a few. >> charlie: can i embarrass you? your director said her ability to find the exact moment and play it in 15 different ways makes me wish for some scenes i could put five different takes into the movie and put in subtitles saying, okay, five different versions of this moment, enjoy them all because they're all great. >> who said that? >> charlie: your director. on this movie? >> charlie: yes! he is a good guy! >> charlie: that's who said that. you had not heard that? >> no! >> charlie: but you believe it? >> i feel better about myself. i can go on! >> charlie: you don't need to feel better about yourself. you have supreme confidence in what you do. >> no, no, of course not. no one has supreme -- >> charlie: really? no, you deal with fear all the time. >> charlie: if you can't deal with fear, you can't have the kind of performance -- >> yeah, you have to learn to deal wit. you don't try to get rid of it because it won't go away and it
wouldn't be good if it did go away. but everybody deals with insecurities and nervousness and that's a part of it. i used to remember it would go away and i remember going on to the set with mike nicholson and harrison ford and i felt i was the one who needed to be nervous biting my nails and wondering and mike nickels was kind enough to break the news that i'm the same way and we all are. so when i talk to students, i try to remember of sayingeth not a question of not having insecurity or fear or the demons, it's a question of handling it. >> charlie: when you talk to students, do you teach acting? >> i do when i can. i don't have an acting class i always teach, but i try to go and speak to students as much as i can because it meant a lot to me when i was a student when people would come in and talk because having a sort of firsthand person talking about it is sometimes more helpful than the theoretical part of acting chen you're in class --
when you're in classes and doing scenes. >> charlie: what do you try to convey to them? >> that's a big one. understanding the basics of modern acting which is what do you want, what are you doing, what's in your way. and, generally, if you already the. >> charlie: i like that, generally, acting or not. >> well, yes. if you know already and your gut is telling you what's happening, then that's more valuable than anything, that you don't have to go through that exercise. but if you find yourself in a moment where you're a little bit lost or you feel tense or don't know quite what's going on, then you go back to that, what am i doing, what do i want and what's in the way? and having things in the way is a good thing. >> charlie: what would be an example of something in the way? >> your own fear. your wanting to impress someone. you want to -- it can be something physical. you have a headache. you have to go to the bathroom, you have to get out of the room, or it can be something larger,
just your own insecurities, that can be a big obstacle. >> charlie: this is what david thompson said about you -- we've done all this research. >> i'm impressed. i hope it's good. [ laughter ] >> charlie: no, it's just that people have thought about you and put in precise words and write it down. "the thought lingers that bening could be a grander actress had she been at her peak in the 1930s and 40s. you could see her playing barbara stanley roles. she's that good. now she's close to tricky ground dominated by meryl streep, the mature woman in films. she might go back to the stage and playing hemingway's wife with anthony hopkins, what remains to be seen is whether she deserves to be the monster or the goddess herself ."
>> that's really good! >> charlie: yeah. michele won the oscar for the silent movie -- >> charlie: yeah. the french guy. and he's just making a movie about the war in chechnya. he just finished shooting it so it will be coming out next year. it's very timely given what's going on in crimea. >> charlie: right. this is a war movie he's directed. >> charlie: about terrorism? about what happened in chechnya. >> charlie: the war. and it takes place in the second war which was right at the turn of the century, the year 2000. >> charlie: right. so he was kind enough to ask me to be in the picture. we just finished shooting it and i think it will be interesting to see that movie in light of what was going on right now in that part of the world. >> charlie: what role do you play in thatfilm? >> i'm playing in one who worked for the international red cross who's running an orphanage
because in that war, like all, there were a huge number of refugees and flowing out of chechnya because of all the bombing so i'm playing an american running an orphanage nearby. >> charlie: i love your glasses. >> io dow? >glasses. you do? >> charlie: i do. they're perfect. i love you for coming. >> thanks, charley. >> charlie: b.j. novak is here, you might owe him as a writer or actor. he's in an award winning comedy "the office," he's a director, producer, moved in movies and in quintin tarantino's glorious basterds. i am pleased of b.j. novak at this table for the first time. welcome. >> great to be here. >> charlie: great to you. how did all this start in terms of deciding to write a book? >> i was a writer on "the office" for its run. and we were in a writer's room that was very all-encompassing.
every idea you had in your life went into these characters in this room. >> charlie: yeah. an collected a lot of ideas over those years that hadn't found any outlet on the show. i loved them but they made no since for jim and pam and dwight and a paper company in scranton. soy collected the ideas, and when i cleared my ced, i wanted to write something fully my own and not have the others voices in my head, which they were charmingly, but i wanted to know what i sounded like when i wrote on my own. after a couple of months of not knowing what to write, i thought, i'll write them all. if an idea only lives half a page, then it will be half a page. >> charlie: doesn't have to fit anywhere else. >> right. and i wanted the book to be a jagged-feeling book where some thoughts might be sharp and short and some thoughts might be expansive. >> charlie: there's a story jane seymore evidently had a
conversation -- >> yes, it's a change fact of sort of the life i have led. i was at a barbecue. my assistant at the time on "the office" was the daughter of jane seymore, and she invited me to a barbecue around season three of "the office." she said, what's on vaccines sen three? she said, you are sick of going to work every day. you have a million ideas that no one will let you put on the show. you brilliant. no one understands you. i said, yes, that's me! what kind of medicine do you practice? she says, that's what happens to every writer on a show at this point. she said, do not leave your show. >> charlie: because? she said, stephen speilberg, whoever you picture as the most
powerful person in hollywood, they can't make what you have right now. these shows, you never know what it's going to take for something to be this special like your show is right now, and ride that as long as its there because you will be remembered for the rest of your life based on the work you do on this show, and write down every idea you have and don't touch it till you're done with the show, and that's what i did. >> charlie: and these are stories. >> yeah. >> charlie: tell me what kind of stories we'll see here. >> well, the first one i wrote was about the duke of earl. >> charlie: yes. the real duke of earl visiting america in 1962 and every time he's introduced to people, they sort of smile and say, you're the duke of earl, and they start singing to themselves, and he thinks, what an amazing country america is and he goes home the rest of his life dreaming about america. ates very selective experience he had, but all stories start with some slight of imagination that could start anywhere, sort
of the smallest idea, but wouldn't make the final book. >> charlie: let's assume it's genius. >> yeah. >> charlie: the creation of character, is that what you do best is this. >> i think, in a way, the perspective, the voice of a character is what i'm good at and what i've learned and really honed on "the office" is every character speaks a little differently and they would text a little differently and email a little differently and their facebook page would be a little different and knowing and respecting that as each character's voice, no matter if they're an impatient billionaire or a tortoise that wants to rematch a hair, i wanted to do justice to their voice. >> charlie: is this part of a stage act? >> yes. i always admired david sadaris that makes his reading a show. >> charlie: yeah. i love that you can see a writer read and feels like a concert.
so i think that was in my idea when i started writing the stories and perform and hone them on stage. i would go to the upright citizens brigade theater in l.a. once a month and have a pen and edit in front of 100 people as i read the stories. >> charlie: based on their reaction? >> well, yes, based on their reaction, but often i knew it was also just keeping myself honest because there's a real tendency in writing to think that you're brilliant and accept that you're brilliant. now, you called me a genius earlier and i think that's fair because you're qualified. >> charlie: i've seen geniuses and non-geniuses. [ laughter ] >> seriously, it's easy to think you're brilliant when you're reading it or a friend says, great job. when you stand on a stage reading for an hour, it's very visceral and personal and if you're failing you feel it in your bones. >> charlie: the same as
standup? >> i knew it from standup. it's the same. i wanted to subject myself to that test. i knew it could to it and i felt it was the hardest thing i'd ever done and it would mick the failures in my writing personal and the successes personal. >> charlie: this was easier, more attractive or better for you than writing a memoir? >> i first thought i'd write a memoir because that's what my contemporaries did so well and i loved those books, but it wasn't coming to me. i didn't really know. i thought i would hide myself if i wrote a memoir. i felt myself in my brain constructing a charming, self deprecating but honest -- >> charlie: is part of it you think your life is not that interesting but you can make a character that is? >> a couple of things. it is that, too. it is that i think the most interesting thing about me is what i thought that day, it's not what i did. i don't live that bold a life,
but the things that i'm thinking of, when people are saying, pay attention, you know, to me, i think that's interesting. so, in a sense, these ideas were the most personal way i could express myself. the other thing is i caught myself being sort of a very modern type of vain when i wrote my memoir in my head and i saw myself constructing a character and i felt it would be better just to write stories and i found myself revealing myself more because once i wasn't technically involved in these stories i wasn't self-conscious so i could put real thoughts in it. >> charlie: this character from kellogg's -- >> yes. >> charlie: -- where did that come from? >> i had a childhood experience where i insisted cheerfully that my mom bought a box of cereal that had a prize and i was certain i would win and cried when i didn't. >> charlie: thought you had been wronged. >> yeah, i just thought it would
work out. but eventually, i think i got fascinated by the small print where it says, you know, employees of kellogg's corporation are barred from entering the sweepstakes. >> charlie: yes. i thought, what if someone found out what their real lineage was, they tried to claim a prize and found out they were related to the kellogg's corporation so it became about finding out. >> charlie: a recurrent bittersweet them is how far people will go in the desperate search for true love. is that central to some of these stories? >> yeah, i found a lot of themes -- you know, i wanted to write a book that didn't have a theme, i thought it would be fun. but the themes that kept coming up were the desire for perfection. to me, true love is almost synonymous with per inspection. it's the -- perfection. it's the highest spiritual thing we can feel. so a lot of the characters in this story feel that they are
very close to true love and perfection in their relationships and if they could only change one detail and often a comically small detail, but if they could only change that one thing, they would have it. they would have that. >> charlie: some of these are not stories, they're just a few lines. >> i think of them as stories, but, yes, all of these have a narrative, have a point of view. the mystery is part of the structure of the story. other people said these are not all stories and part of the meaning of the subtitle could be stories and other stories. well, some people -- the other stories are maybe the ones -- >> charlie: do you have seven books in you? because there were so many stories you were taking notes on when y were writing "the office"? >> i always have more. >> charlie: so if somebody says you have to decide either you are an actor or a writer, not both, what do you decide? >> a writer. someone described james l.
brooks who does a lot of things, said if you woke him up in the middle of the night and said, what are you? he would say i'm a writer. >> charlie: why writing rather than acting? because it's more natural? >> it's just who i am. my father's a writer. it's the way my brain is always going. the ideas that come to me all the time, i don't write down in my notebook, aneed to play a cowboy seeking vengeance. i never daydream about performing the way i did. >> charlie: your dad wrote the famous book by lee iacocca. >> yeah. >> charlie: how many copies? two million 1/2? >> it was the biggest best seller of 1986 and 1987. >> charlie: so what does he do? he writes in conjunction with as told to -- >> yeah, he's a ghost writer. >> charlie: and you inherited his talent? >> i think in some ways i absorbed the lessons that made
him a good ghost writer in my writing. the ear for dialogue, knowing lee iacocca's voice would sound the same way on paper and different than magic johnson or nancy reagan's voice. these are different voices and need to be true to the person throughout, and i think i observed that lesson from him and taking very seriously the way every character, no matter how small, would speak and think, i think i absorbed that lesson from him. >> charlie: do you continue to want to be an actor and act as much as possible? >> yeah, i do like it. when i am performing the stories, which i love to do on the book tour, i catch myself thinking, really, you're a little bit of an actor. because i'm so used to thinking of myself as a writer, sometimes i catch myself is being more performative. >> charlie: how much training did you have as an actor? [ laughter ] >> you might be shocked. >> charlie: don't tell me. not much training. >> charlie: because you just
didn't need it or -- >> because i didn't need it. [ laughter ] no -- well, fortunately, the acting i have been asked to do is extremely naturalistic and subtle, so i don't think that i have been asked to do things that would require me to go too far afield. >> charlie: george saunders, a hero? >> yes. >> charlie: david foster wallace, a hero? >> yes, though i've read less of his. george saunders because he has a recent book out. >> i love george saunders and he had one of the best interviews i've seen on your shows. >> charlie: what have you learned from this? >> i think the lessons they teach anyone who reads them, comedy can come from anywhere and should come from everywhere. >> charlie: what did you say? imagine george saunders wasn't a genius. >> that's the way i'd sell my book. are you a george saunders fan?
imagine if he wasn't -- >> charlie:. [ laughter ] >> charlie: this is what he would do? >> that's what. the genius leached out but that kind of dark table. >> charlie: here he is at the table. >> my sense of fiction is that it does this crazy, wonderful thing. when i say, the man walked up the road, as opposed to showing the man walked up the road in a movie, everyone at the table supplies the man up the road and his method of walking. so everybody's implicated. if i say a beautiful girl, everybody supplies their own. so somehow psychologically i think you're really, quickly, deeply cooperating with the writer in a really profound way. so, therefor, fiction has the possibility of inspiring empathy i think more than any other form. so in a time when, in my view, the big media is kind of driving empathy and compassion and summitty out -- subtlety out because it's a corporate thing and you have to say it quick and
a little dumb. >> charlie: has to be a sound byte. >> and has to have a certain gloss. we have to recognize it as being tv-like, for example, then i think fiction is one place where the full sort of human expansiveness can be accessed. >> he's pretty good. >> charlie: yeah. needs to keep writing. >> reporter: and he does. stephen correll told you about, what, never go for the joke? >> there was a very informative time when i was an author on "the office" and i worked hard on jokes and brought them to steve and he looked at all of them and he said, no, these all feel like jokes. i was like, well, yeah, that's my job! [ laughter ] and i went back and told the other writers, what is he looking for here? but he taught an important lesson -- >> charlie: which was? don't make it feel like a jock and don't think of it as a
joke. think of it as so true to that character that you can't help but laugh. that all comedy should be a by-product of expressing the characters. >> charlie: just imagining the character and you smile or laugh. >> because it's so inadvertently revealed. >> charlie: and as soon as you say something, they laugh before the moment. >> right, if you really geat into the character, which is what he's a master of, when a little kid knows they're being cute, they're not cute or funny. but when the kid does this, you think, oh, my gosh, i know exactly why you would think that. and that's why it was so important to make all the characters so real and true to themselves they couldn't be funny. >> charlie: hal ramos was the director. >> yes. >> charlie: you knew him. yes. the the first thing he said was i'm lazy. he was and he was wonderful. he brought out the best in us by being who he was and candidly
honest about i'm just going to sit here. but i think he was on to some subtle truths about the talent of our cast and writers which is we were at our best when we were not pushed in any direction. the few things he said were extremely insightful and he said them in a very warm way. he just had an energy that you knew. you know how you're smarter, you would know almost better than anyone, you're smarter when you're talking to someone smart. it's just something you pick up. it brings out the best in you. >> charlie: true in sports, true. >> you're funnier when you talk to him. >> charlie: so true. everything goes well. >> great to talk to you. >> charlie: pleasure. thank you. captioning sponsored by rose communications
this is "nightly business report" with tyler mathisen and susie gharib. brought to you in part by -- >> thestreet.com. featuring stephanie link who shares her investment strategies, stock picks and market insights with action plu. you can learn more at thestreet.com/nbr. help wanted. hiring was surprisingly strong in february. more jobs were created than expected. does this signal the economy's not only growing but perhaps accelerating? skilled workers. one aviation firm needs them and has a unique plan to train them to ensure it can meet the dement of the fast-growing industry. and market monitor. our guest tonight explains why buying defensive stocks may be your best offense now. and he's got some names to