By pure coincidence, the first two episodes of public-radio correspondent and former New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell’s new one-guest talk show are both major scoops: The premiere features director-actor Sydney Pollack, who died in May, and the second episode offers a rare extended talk with Bill Murray, who has been the subject of much gossip since his wife’s recent no-holds-barred divorce petition.
The credit sequence suggests that Mitchell’s ego will be a bigger factor than is actually the case—he’s clearly a little uncomfortable on camera, so the guests do most of the talking. Pollack and Murray basically speak uninterrupted for 30 minutes each, and the insight provided into their personalities and work is fairly stunning. Pollack, a multiple Oscar winner, surprisingly adopts a defensive stance against “intelligentsia” who say he wasted his career directing nothing but star vehicles. It’s obvious his true passion was for acting, and while many won’t need his lecture on the history of the Method, the chance to watch someone like Pollack ramble on is a big part of what makes Under the Influence so enjoyable.
The Murray interview (July 14) stresses the influence element of the title, as the comic discusses his favorite actors at length (including the Marx Brothers, Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden), with a heavy focus on their physical technique. When talking about collaborators, he offers sincere but iconoclastic tributes to their skill and professionalism (had Murray entered the business at the same time as Tootsie ghostwriter Elaine May, “I would have chained her to a typewriter and made love to her every four hours just to keep her going”), instead of puffy platitudes. Future installments will feature Laurence Fishburne and Quentin Tarantino, and watching them be themselves with Mitchell promises to be every bit as absorbing.