Harris: The Siskel & Ebert Interviews special airs tonight at 8 on CBS, channel 9. We’ve had Ebert on the show many times over the years, and now, it’s Siskel’s turn. Good morning, Gene.
Siskel: Good morning, Paul!
Harris: I know that you must be in a good mood this morning, I know that you’re a huge Bulls fan and they beat up on the Knicks big time last night.
Siskel: We finally got some distance on them, winning by 13 points. It was a great series, always a very physical series, a lot of personal animosity between the two sets of players. Now it’s rest up, get our backs in shape. We have an old team, and they’re hurting a little bit…Scottie Pippen’s ankle, his back, Michael’s back, Tony Kukoc’s back, Dennis Rodman’s finger. We get four days off and then it’s Orlando.
Harris: Will you be traveling to the away games?
Siskel: That’s part of the fun, going to the away games, because you feel under pressure yourself, see if you can get out of the auditorium without getting hit by a hot dog. I hope they can take’em for a few more games. Orlando has a fabulous starting five, they’re not as deep as the Bulls, but their starting five is impressive.
Harris: And who do you see the Bulls playing after they beat up on the Magic?
Siskel:: I think it’s gonna be Seattle. All Seattle had to do was win one series to give itself the confidence that they could win, and I think they’ll be a strong team.
Harris: Listen, I want to ask you about a movie related thing, before we get to talking about the special tonight. I’ve wanted to ask you this for a long time. About 5 or 6 years ago, you and Roger were on the Tonight Show on the same night Chevy Chase was the lead guest and you guys came out and you panned Chevy’s movie right in front of him.
Siskel:: Absolutely, that was a famous story.
Harris: What was the movie, I can’t remember?
Siskel:: Three Amigos.
Harris: Which you were certainly right to pan.
Siskel:: In fact, backstage he told me he didn’t even like it. But you know, really, if you think about it Roger and I and all critics really have one absolute essential part of our credentials and that is that you believe that that is actually what we think. The moment that you think we’re faking it we’re lost to you. Roger and I are now in our 20th year and I think people tune in because they know that for better or for worse, these are our opinions. We don’t pretend to disagree. Shows will go for weeks where we agree 4 out of 5, 5 out of 5 times. And we’re really there to try and express our enthusiasm for films. We’d rather see a picture that we liked then dump on one we didn’t. We were on the Tonight Show and Johnny [Carson] said “I don’t think I would have asked that question.” It was embarrassing I suppose, but there was no other answer other than that we didn’t like it.
Harris: Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t have somebody like Chevy who said the movie wasn’t that good, somebody who thought they did a great job, and you slammed them and then you meet them?
Siskel:: Oh, absolutely, now this is kinda embarrassing to me. I wasn’t a big fan of Silence of the Lambs. Most people liked it, but I thought it was way overdone, and the end of the picture was basically just Jodie Foster in the old horror house being chased around. At any rate, I’m in a vast minority, the world completely disagrees with me and I had to meet all of those people and they just sorta smiled at me, for not getting it.
Harris: Nobody ever took a swing at you?
Siskel:: The only actor who I think probably might have possibly taken a swing at me if he could have would be Burt Reynolds. He used to call Roger and me the Bruise Brothers, out of Chicago. Now I think he understands that he didn’t live up to the promise of his career, but while he was fighting whatever demons he was fighting, he was not making good pictures. The guy who was so great in Deliverance and other films, just made a lot of dumb action pictures. He seemed to be very angry at us, very angry.
Harris: He didn’t take the swing did he?
Siskel:: No, he didn’t and now I’m rooting for him, I think he’s in a picture…is he in Striptease?
Harris: I think so, yeah.
Siskel:: I’m rooting for him because he had so much potential and obviously America was interested in him for a while.
Harris: And then Smokey and Bandit II came out and that was pretty much it.
Siskel:: At that point you’re really just lining your pockets. In fact, Cannonball Run II. I used to pick that as the worst movie ever made. I’m sure no one is listening that saw the picture, but they actually animated the race when they travel the country. In the film they had dots on a map because they didn’t want to travel, they just wanted to stay in basically Los Angeles County and the San Diego area and not go across the country. It was such a cynical piece of film making. It was saying we’ve got this audience, this good old boy audience, car racing audience in our hip pocket and we don’t have to try, we’re gonna sucker ’em in anyway. That kind of attitude, and you see it sometimes with these remakes of old television shows like the Beverly Hillbillies, basically they just remade the pilot.
Siskel:: They know they got the TV ad, they know they got the name recognition, they know that they can do a tie in with McDonald’s or some fast food outlet and the money is just gonna flow in. That’s probably when I get the most angry at American movies, when they just so cynically manipulate the audience without even trying to give a good story.
Harris: It must be hard for you sitting through all these movies, you must go to a half dozen movies a week. When you get to the bad ones, have you ever walked out of a movie?
Siskel:: Well, I finally did, I just couldn’t take it anymore. After 27 years, I walked out of my first one a few months ago. Black Sheep with Chris Farley. The guy…I can’t take him. It’s like I’m watching a guy on a treadmill to his own death or something. I knew John Belushi and he’s no John Belushi. And it’s just there’s no subtlety there and I don’t find anything funny. The history of big men who are funny in the movies is storied and wonderful and this guy is not a Belushi, he’s not a Babe Hardy, he isn’t John Goodman either for that matter. John Goodman is more that just a big guy, he’s a wonderful actor.
Siskel:: But I’m just saying he’s…
Harris: I guess he didn’t find that one up to the standards of Tommy Boy….
Siskel:: Yeah right, Tommy Boy I sat all the way through, much to my regret. There’s no writing in these films, when you’re talking about Laurel and Hardy, you’re talking about, you know, comic genius. This is Saturday Night Live junk.
Harris: Let’s go from the sublime to the ridiculous, Chris Farley to Brad Pitt, who you sat down with. You and Brad Pitt in a bar in Manhattan for the interview right?
Siskel:: This is his first network television interview that you’ll see tonight.
Harris: And were the women going nuts in the bar while you’re doing this?
Siskel:: Well, actually we were alone in the bar with the crew. We cleared it out but I think the women probably would go nuts if they could have been there. He’s very good looking and one of the things that I wanted to try and do in this interview because this is the first time people are really going to get to meet him tonight in a personal way. It had to be more than looks, because there are thousands of great looking men and women in New York and Los Angeles, and other big cities who cannot get work in the entertainment world, let alone get into a movie, let alone achieve stardom. And Brad appeared in all different kids of pictures from A River Runs Through It to Thelma and Louise to Kalifornia to 12 Monkeys to Legends of the Fall. The guy is not just a hunk by any means, so I try and get from him what does he think he has. And he comes up with sincerity as an answer. I think that’s really true. You’ll watch him struggle a little bit to come up with good answers to these questions, tell stories, tell what it’s like to be good looking.
Harris: Do you make him cry like Barbara Walters?
Siskel:: No, and he doesn’t make me cry and Roger doesn’t cry in his interviews.
Harris: That’s good. And the other one that you did was Meryl Streep?
Siskel:: I took Meryl to Yale University, our mutual alma mater. She went to the drama school, and I have her meet a bunch of the drama school students and she tells about her horror stories. You know she was actually emotionally driven to a psychiatrist there one time because she had teacher come on to her. She had tough criticism from teachers and other students because she was the star of her class and was cast in every production. And she said her acting career subsequently in Hollywood is easier than the days at Yale. She’s just a glorious talent.
Harris: Didn’t you two have this interview over pizza?
Siskel:: Yes, the best pizza in America too, Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut.
Harris: Pepe’s and Sally’s, the two big ones up there, are both great.
Siskel:: Yeah — very good, Paul!
Harris: Well, I worked in Connecticut for a long time, so I know them both.
Siskel:: Oh…I’ll tell you, the nice thing with the interview was I took home six slices to go!
Harris: No, that was Roger’s order.
Siskel:: That would’ve been SIXTEEN slices.
Harris: Now, the last thing I wanna mention here is a movie that’s out that we absolutely slammed when we went to a preview of it last week.
Siskel:: I know what you’re going to say: Twister.
Harris: And you didn’t like it either, right?
Siskel:: No, no, no. The special effects are fine, but the story….again, laughable. How can you be afraid of anything, or tense when you’re laughing at the characters?
Harris: My problem with the movie was the villain. I don’t think the villain was bad enough. Okay, he copied the guy who had instincts about the tornadoes.
Siskel:: [sarcastically] Oh, but they had black vans.
Harris: Yeah, and corporate backing!
Siskel:: The villain I suppose is the tornado. But you know, when they made this, they knew they were going to have great special effects from George Lucas’ Industrial Light And Magic. So they got that in the bag. Why not write a story? Why not spend the extra month and write a story? That’s what I don’t get. In other words, again, that same cynicism which is “the special effects will bring’em in the house…actually, blow down the house.”
Harris: Right. I’d love to see the box office drop off after last weekend, but I’m afraid it won’t
Siskel:: No, because there’s no other competition for it around. It’s got an easy sell, it’s the tornado movie, everybody knows it. Good name, Twister. They’ve got all the things going for it, once they get you in the tent. And little kids will say, “Yeah, I liked it. I wasn’t afraid.” So it’s got the rollercoaster effect going for it. It’s going to be a big hit. But you know what? I would say ignore that, and focus on the pictures that are really good, like I Shot Andy Warhol or The Truth About Cats And Dogs
Harris: That’s a terrific movie.
Siskel:: Or Fargo. These are really fine, fine films. And on this special tonight on CBS, what we do is, we’re not pushing any movies. Typically, when you see interviews with stars, it’s because they’ve got a movie coming out Friday and it’s their “best work ever.” Neither Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, or Brad Pitt has a movie coming out this week that they’re pushing. We’re celebrating their talents by trying to do these interviews in an entertaining but serious fashion about their work. That’s why we’re interested in them in the first place. Spielberg talks about what he thinks ET is really about…his parents’ divorce.
Siskel:: It’s fascinating. He thinks that in a tough situation like that, little kids will somehow dream up imaginary characters, and imaginary friend. To me what he’s really saying is that — remember, the kid in ET is from a broken home — this “ET, phone home” is really, “Daddy, come home” in a way.
Harris: That’s very interesting. Listen, Gene, we’re out of time. I’d love to talk to you more. We’ll have to have you back on the show sometime.
Siskel:: Be my pleasure.
Harris: We’ll all be watching tonight at 8 on channel 9, it’s The Siskel & Ebert Interviews. Hopefully the first of many, right, Gene?
Siskel:: We hope so. Thanks, Paul!
Harris: Thanks, Gene!
Copyright 1996, Paul Harris.
Transcript by Joe Camarda