Barbara: Those are really three questions, so I’ll answer them separately. I left Los Angeles, which I had immensely enjoyed during my early years there, and which I still think has many very wonderful things about it, because I was tired of earthquakes and riots and smog and the physical danger of living in a large city. The riots were the last straw for me. They were a nightmare, those supposedly "spontaneous" riots. I lived quite high on a hill, and had a view of the city; from my terrace, I saw ten or twelve very large fires start almost simultaneously in widely separated areas of Los Angeles. We learned later that as the fires started, groups of men were spreading throughout the city, breaking into and clearing out stores that sold weapons. At one point, the rioters were only three blocks from me—but then, they were only three blocks from almost everyone. I got out my gun, and was trying to decide the best way to drive out of the city without running into more rioters; fortunately, they left my area before I had concluded that it was time to go. And on television, I saw the concerted effort of the rioters to destroy Korea Town and everyone in it, to destroy—no, that’s too polite a way to put it, "to kill" is exact—the most hardworking, industrious, and intelligent people imaginable, motivated of course, as mobs always are, by bitterness and envy. The city became an armed camp. Each subsequent day, as I drove to Korea Town to do volunteer work, I would pass areas of the city that were guarded by wooden barricades and by men with shotguns; these men knew that the police could not defend them, so they were prepared to defend themselves.
Working in Korea Town, I saw tremendously moving examples of courage and steadfastness. Most of the people, who had shops, lived above their shops. So when their shops were burned down, as so many of them were, their living quarters and all their possessions were gone. Yet many of these people, who now had nothing, came to the volunteer areas to help others. And they somehow managed to send their children to school the moment the riots ended. I was profoundly impressed by the fact that to these people, nothing mattered more than educating their children.
It was shortly after the riots that Los Angeles was hit by another earthquake. I stood dutifully in a doorway of my apartment, as one is supposed to do, while the building rocked gently back and forth under my feet—and wondered: "Precisely why am I living in this city?" Since I had no answer, I decided it was time to leave. Before this, it was primarily my friends who kept me in Los Angeles, but by now many of them had moved away and were scattered over the United States and Canada.
As to why I chose Winnipeg: I was born and brought up there, I still have friends there with whom I grew up and who are very dear to me. I have a sister-in-law, I have two very special elderly aunts, and cousins I’m close to—and most appealing of all, my two nephews live there. One of them has a boy and a girl who have always made the sun shine for me. I did not intend to stay very long, perhaps a couple of years, until I decided where I wanted to live permanently. I knew that Winnipeg would not be my final home.
Q: Do you still talk to Leonard Peikoff’s mother?
Barbara: Of course. She’s my aunt, my mother’s sister. She’s a lovely, warm, and intelligent woman, I hadn’t seen her in several years until she visited Winnipeg while I was there. I was very happy to see her and I know she was very happy to see me. Sadly, she is now quite ill.
Q: So what brought you to Santa Fe?
Barbara: In March of 1997, a friend and I visited a mutual friend who lived in Santa Fe. I had passed through New Mexico when Robert Berole and I left New York late in 1968 and drove to Los Angeles; its unique beauty had made me decide that I wanted to come back one day, to see more. And now I was back. The first evening of my visit, I went outside the dining room where we were eating, to smoke a cigarette (I am no longer a smoker, by the way) and to look at the city. I have felt, all my life, like a wanderer—which suited me very well. I’ve never had a desire to stay permanently in one place. The time always came when, however much I loved the city I lived in, I’d begin to wonder what was over the next hill—and I’d know that soon I had to leave and find out. As I stood outside that evening, unable fully to believe the beauty of the mountains, the city, and the sky—I suddenly felt, for the first time in my life, "I’m home." I felt that I finally had found what was over all the hills. By the end of June, I was living here. It probably was the most impulsive decision I’ve ever made, and one of the very best. New Mexico in general and Santa Fe in particular are beautiful and…nurturing, beyond belief. There are more interesting things to do here and wonderful things to see than can be done and seen in a lifetime, there is world-class opera under a star-filled sky; the people are remarkably warm and friendly and interesting; the painting and sculpture is in large part spectacularly good. Santa Fe is called "the City Different" and "the Enchanted City" for an endless number of good reasons. Would you believe that my house sits between two mountains, one of which is called "The Sun," the other, "The Moon!" D. H. Lawrence, who spent some of his final years here, once wrote—I wish I could remember the full quote, but I do remember the essence, that when he first saw the "radiant morning sunshine" shining over the mountains and deserts of Santa Fe, "something in my soul stood still." I understand that very well.
Q: That’s nice! Say, what made you stop smoking? You know, that’s such an "Objectivist thing."
Barbara: It should never have been an Objectivist thing, it shouldn’t be anyone’s thing. I started smoking when I was fourteen, in order, of course, to be grown-up, to be as glamorous as the older girls my brother brought home, to have something to do with the eight hands that seemed to sprout from my arms in social situations. In the past twenty or more years, I have tried by every means known to man to stop smoking. I was smoking close to two packs a day, and that scared me. I have been to Smoke Enders three times, I quit cold turkey for two hideous years until I finally could not bear the withdrawal symptoms a moment longer, I’ve been hypnotized, I’ve worn the nicotine patch on two different occasions. Hypnosis was typical of what happened. All during my session with the hypnotist—who had a fine reputation among former smokers—I said, as he directed me to say, "I don’t want a cigarette, I don’t want a cigarette, I don’t want a cigarette." But in my mind, I was saying, "What is this nonsense? Of course I want a cigarette!" The moment I left his office, I lit one. I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. Friends of mine who live in the Netherlands and who were very concerned about my smoking, sent me a book, Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. They knew two people, former chain smokers, who had read the book and immediately stopped smoking. I was delighted to receive the book, but I was terrified that it would not work and equally terrified that it would work—and then I promptly lost it for several months. Oh, the power of the subconscious! When I finally found it, it was in precisely the place it should have been. And then I was much too busy to read it for another two months—but not too busy to read a number of other books. Finally, in fear and trembling, I read the book. Near the end, Allen Carr writes that when one finishes the book, one is immediately to smoke what one knows will be the last cigarette one will ever smoke in one’s life. That’s enough to terrify a smoker out of his wits! I finished the book, I closed it, I lit a cigarette, I smoked half of it. And then I put it out—because I did not want it. I have not had a single withdrawal symptom since then, I have not once wanted a cigarette. I can scarcely believe it, but that’s what happened.
Q: What’s the secret?
Barbara: Before he finally stopped, Alan Carr was smoking as many as a hundred cigarettes a day. He was in despair because all his attempts to quit had failed. He writes that after once stopping for six months, then smoking again, he wept, knowing that he probably had not long to live—and he was only in his forties! But after a long process of thought following that episode, he gradually began to wonder if his difficulties were not a result of his being addicted to nicotine, but the result of his conviction that he was addicted. When he finally became convinced that that was so, he immediately became a non-smoker without the least difficulty. In his book, he presents a powerful case for his conclusion that almost everyone—smokers and non-smokers alike—has been brainwashed into believing that smoking is an addiction and that one must go through the tortures of the damned in order to overcome it. His case for his conclusion is very convincing. Clearly, it convinced me. And by the time I was nearing the end of the book, it no longer was an absolute in my mind that I would continue to have a problem quitting. And I didn’t!
Q: That’s amazing!
Barbara: So now I’m thinking that researchers ought to go back to the drawing board, and reconsider whether or not tobacco is an addictive substance, or, at minimum, whether or not all or even most smokers become addicted. One might say that, reading Alan Carr’s book, I was brainwashed into believing that I could stop easily. But I don’t think that’s the case—because until I had read almost the entire book, I didn’t for a moment believe that it would work.
Q: I wonder if it works with chocolate!
Barbara: I believe Alan Carr has written a diet book. It’s probably very good indeed. May I tell your readers how they can obtain the book on smoking? It’s not yet published in this country, though it will be, perhaps even late this year. For now, it can be obtained by sending a check for $15.00 to Laura Cattell, 12823 Kingsbridge Lane, Houston, TX 77077. Phone: 281-597-1904. E- mail: ACatt38826@aol.com.
Q: Someone should give David Kelley that book!
Barbara: I’d forgotten that he smokes. I’ll tell him about the book. You know, people who learn that I’ve stopped smoking keep congratulating me on my strength and will power. But the fact is that it required neither strength nor will power. All it required was that I read a book. Obviously, I can’t guarantee that it will work its miracle for everyone, but I haven’t smoked for over a year, and I know, without question, that I’ll never smoke again.
Q: Tell us how a movie has come to be made from your book The Passion of Ayn Rand?
Barbara: In a way, it was like a story out of Ayn Rand’s life. So many times, her career moved ahead because one single person believed in her work and fought for it. My book had sold very well, sufficiently to put it on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks, and my editor told me that in all her years in publishing she had never seen reviews as complimentary as the reviews I received. But it was going nowhere as far as film was concerned. Then I met Marilyn Lewis, the head of Marilyn Lewis Entertainment in Los Angeles. She told me that she had read Passion, thought it a wonderful book, and wanted to take an option on it and try to sell it to a movie studio. That was seven or eight years ago. During all that time, Marilyn never gave up, despite one rejection after another. Finally, she and I concluded that it was too early for Ayn Rand in Hollywood, at least for a studio-made movie. Hollywood seems to be the last bastion of left-liberalism. I have no doubt that Ayn will break through there, but it may take a few more years. Marilyn, with my whole-hearted agreement—because I love the medium of television—began to think more seriously about a television film. Because of her efforts, The Producers Entertainment Group, located in Los Angeles, purchased the rights from me, and in turn made a television deal with Showtime. The rest…I was about to say, "was like the plot of a story," but that’s not correct, because a plot requires conflict, and there was none.
Q: Were you afraid at first? Hollywood does such hatchet jobs….
Barbara: I wasn’t afraid, I was terrified! It was impossible for me to have any sort of control over the final product. Unless your name is James Michener or an equivalent, you cannot possibly expect to have a say in what’s done with your book. And usually, the writer of the original material is considered to be the least important person involved in the project, and is rarely even consulted. I know so many writers who have been miserably disappointed because of the—as you say—hatchet job that was done on their work. So you sell it, hold your breath, and wish desperately that you could spend the next year on the moon until the movie is made, shown, and forgotten.
Q: Were you afraid that they would do a hatchet job on it and all Objectivists would point their fingers at you and say "You ruined Ayn Rand and her movement forever!"
Barbara: No, it didn’t stand that way in my mind. It wasn’t an issue of what other people would think of the film, but of what I would think. Besides, it would take more than a bad film to ruin Ayn and her movement. My feeling was much more personal, and much more selfish: I didn’t want my work to be distorted. But Ayn once told me something that I clutched as if it were a security blanket. She said that when she sold The Fountainhead to Warner Brothers, she was extremely worried about its fate, because Warner Brothers had the legal right to make any sort of movie they wanted to. She said that what kept her sane was the knowledge that the book existed, and that no one could alter or affect it. No film studio could do anything to the book. I learned that from her, and it kept me sane…most of the time.
Q: Did you have any dreams about who would be playing the parts?
Barbara: I had nightmares! A movie producer, who was briefly interested, suggested—are you sitting down?—that Madonna would be great as Ayn Rand.
Q: Oh my God!
Barbara: There were other suggestions almost as ridiculous. But to my great good fortune, my producers at the Producers Entertainment Group were wonderful, and the cast is a dream. It’s really a feature film rather than a television cast. Ayn is portrayed by Helen Mirren, Frank is Peter Fonda, Nathaniel is Eric Stoltz, and Barbara is Julie Delpy.
Q: I heard that you played a minor role in the movie. Tell us how and why you were cast and describe your film experience.
Barbara: I had said to the producers months earlier that I would love to "do a Hitchcock" in the movie. He was in every one of his films, usually very fleetingly, sometimes you saw only his back, but he was there. I said that I didn’t care if the viewers knew I was in the movie; I would know, and it would be a source of great pleasure to me. They said, "We’ll see"—which is what producers say quite regularly.
I arrived in Toronto, at the producers’ invitation, to watch a week of the shooting. I was met at the airport and rushed off to the costume department at the set, where I was fitted with a rather lovely dress from the 50’s. By the way, I was enchanted by the fact that at the various sets, one found one’s way around by following large signs that said either The Passion of Ayn Rand followed by an arrow, or "Ayn Rand" and an arrow. Next morning, I was taken to makeup and hair, and transformed into a vision, complete with blue eyeshadow, from the 50s. I was to be an extra at the wedding of Nathaniel and Barbara. We see the end of the wedding ceremony, we see Ayn as matron of honor and Frank as best man. When the ceremony is over, the young couple kiss, then separate, and we see a woman standing behind them with tears in her eyes. Barbara turns around and smiles at the woman very lovingly, because the woman is her mother. The woman is also me. I was my own mother at my own wedding!
Q: Did they have to put the tears in your eyes or were they real?
Barbara: The tears were artificial. I couldn’t have cried, because nothing about the scene was real to me. I felt as if I were in some other dimension.
Q: Did you feel very nostalgic going back and remembering the real scene as it happened?
Barbara: Watching other scenes being filmed, I felt a great many things, some happy, some sad, and sometimes I had tears in my eyes, feeling as if I were re-living parts of my past. But not with this scene…By the way, although I had planned to be on the set for only a week, I could not tear myself away and remained for the five-and-a-half weeks of the shooting. After my glorious film debut as an extra, I told the two producers, Linda Wexelblatt and Peter Crane, that I assumed my name would appear above the title in all adds for the show. They said, "Oh, yes. It will be very, very, very far above the title." They also warned me that if I wanted to see myself in the final cut, I must be sure not to blink. Ah, me, great artistry is so rarely appreciated! At least I won’t end up on the cutting room floor, because a syndicated columnist, amused by the story of my playing my mother at my wedding, picked it up.
Q: Well, we will all be looking for you…and we won’t blink! Did you get to know any of the actors? If so, tell us what they were like and how they reacted to the characters they were playing.
Barbara: I got to know all the lead actors, and several of the secondary players. To be part of the making of a film, I learned, is to enter a separate kind of world, a very special world of its own. The actors, the producers, the director, the crew spend up to sixteen hours a day together. We talked together, we watched the work of whomever was performing, we ate together—it becomes like a family, because everyone is dedicated to one purpose and one goal: to make the best movie possible. When it was over and everyone went home, I felt as if my family had abandoned me. I was told that this sense of family is a very common experience on movie sets. It’s very special.
Q: What did Helen Mirren think of Ayn Rand, her works and ideas?
Barbara: I know what she thinks of Ayn Rand, I don’t know in any detail what she thinks of her work and ideas. Helen, besides being a phenomenally talented actress, is a woman of great integrity. When I first met her on the set, she said to me: "I promise you something, Barbara. I will not let Ayn down. I will not let her be diminished." She kept her promise. We didn’t discuss what she thought of Ayn’s specific ideas, but she told me she saw Ayn as a great woman—great in intellect, great in passion, great in charisma. She was fascinated by her, and determined to do her justice. Her performance is remarkable.
Q: Did she look like Ayn Rand?
Barbara: No, not in the slightest—and yes, eerily so. Helen is a blue-eyed blonde with an English accent. But when I first walked over to the woman I was told was Helen Mirren, I stopped dead in my tracks and backed up a step—because for a second I thought I was seeing Ayn. The transformation was incredible. She wears a wig that is exactly the color and style of Ayn’s hair, she has brown contact lenses—she told me she was seeing the world through a brown haze—a slight Russian accent, and expressions and body language that are typically Ayn.
Q: Did she have many of Rand’s mannerisms?
Barbara: This was astonishing to me. I saw all of the actors doing things that for a while I could not understand. For instance, I knew Helen had read and studied my book, she had read some of Ayn’s works, she had watched video tapes of Ayn—but during the shooting I saw her using certain mannerisms, ways of standing, facial expressions, ways of holding her head and moving her hands—even the way she carried her handbag— that she could not have learned either by watching Ayn or by reading about her. And I saw a similar phenomenon in the other actors. Apparently what happens is that a really fine actor is able to go so deeply into the character he or she is playing, that to some extent what is natural and automatic for the character becomes natural and automatic for the actor. It was fascinating to watch!
Q: What about Peter Fonda who played Frank O’Connor? How did he do Frank O’Connor?
Barbara: Peter had me in tears almost every time he was on. He seemed not to be portraying Frank, but to be Frank. He looks somewhat like Frank, his natural body language is similar, he’s a very gentle man as was Frank. He obviously—and he told me this was so—empathized with and understood Frank in a profound way. I have always respected fine actors, but watching this cast I felt a much deeper respect and admiration. I remember watching a scene with Peter in which he had only a single word to say, which he said twice: the word was "Well." I wept both times he said it because somehow, by a means I don’t begin to understand, it was if he had spoken paragraphs; one knew his suffering and his tragic acceptance of that suffering.
Q: Is that how Frank was in real life?
Barbara: Yes. Of course there were other aspects to his personality and character, but that one aspect was very apparent in him.
Q: Did you ever ask Fonda what kind of research he did on Frank and how he came to understand him?
Barbara: I don’t believe he did a great deal of research. I think that the empathy he felt for Frank, together with his many similarities to Frank and his talent and sensitivity as an actor, led to his remarkable performance.
Q: Did he ever discuss any of Rand’s ideas? His sister is a liberal, to say the least.
Barbara: My impression—and I can’t say I fully know it to be true—is that he is very far from his sister politically. There is no question that he loves his sister, he talked a bit about her and quite a lot about his father, Henry Fonda. But he seems to be a man with an utter loathing of authority. He’s livid when he talks about anybody telling anybody what to do.
Q: What about Eric Stoltz, who played Nathaniel Branden, did he seem at all Branden-like to you?
Barbara: I think Nathaniel should be pleased that Eric is so good-looking! But when I first saw him, I thought that he might be too boyish to convincingly portray Ayn Rand’s lover.
Q: He wasn’t back then?
Barbara: He was very young, but he was never boyish. Eric soon put my concern to rest. The first scene I saw him in was Nathan’s and my first meeting with Ayn and Frank—and one was of course aware of his youth. But as the story progressed, any hint of boyishness disappeared and one saw the progression from student of Ayn Rand to lover.
Q: How well did they re-create the Neutra house?
Barbara: It was not a precise re-creation, that would have been impossible. But the house they chose was beautiful, with the feel of Ayn and Frank’s home and a number of concrete similarities. I was fascinated by what the lighting people did. We were in Toronto in the winter, it often snowed and the sky was overcast—but the house was flooded with California sunshine.
Q: With the portrayal of their apartment, people who have never seen the place but had imagined it, did they have all the rooms right?
Barbara: They couldn’t find in Toronto a apartment that was appropriate for the 50s and 60s in New York. So they built it—in a huge warehouse that was often used as a set. Like the house, it was not identical to Ayn and Frank’s apartment, but had Ayn seen it she might have wanted to move in. The prop people were very careful to have things right; they even had blue-green ashtrays in the living room and the appropriate kind of furniture and accessories.
Q: From the write-ups that have been given, the movie for Showtime seems to focus almost exclusively on the romantic quadrangle. Won’t that give a distorted view of Rand’s life, thought, and achievements? How much time is devoted to her growing up in Russia, her struggle in Hollywood, etc?
Barbara: Originally, the producers had wanted to begin the action in Russia, but it simply was too expensive to do so. And I was pleased that they didn’t do it. You cannot tell the story of so complex and varied a life in two hours unless you race through it. So they decided to focus on the period from the filming of The Fountainhead to the end of Ayn’s life, with the emphasis on 1950 to 1968 when Nathan and I were an integral part of that life. But this was by no means only the period of "the romantic quadrangle" It was the period during which Ayn wrote and published Atlas Shrugged—the period of the Nathaniel Branden Institute and the spread of Objectivism into the culture—the period during which Ayn turned from fiction to non-fiction—the period of intense drama and conflict in her life. It was the climax of all the years during which Ayn had struggled and created. Because of that, we are able to learn as much as one can expect a television movie to show about her ideas, her achievements, and her influence.
Q: Are the ideas presented fairly and accurately?
Barbara: I haven’t seen the final cut, but what I saw was a fair and accurate—though, or course, not detailed—presentation. The script writer, Howard Korder, is a fine writer, but I believe he had not before been acquainted with Ayn’s ideas. From the beginning, from his first draft of the script, the producers sent me what he’d written and asked for my comments and suggestions. And they incorporated a good deal of what I said. This is little short of a miracle—it simply does not happen. Writer friends who have had books made into films can scarcely believe the extent to which I was consulted.
Q: They probably needed you!
Barbara: Apparently they thought so. Particularly during the weeks I was in Toronto, they had me writing a lot of the philosophical dialogue. You can imagine how delighted I was to do so. It made it possible for me to get certain of Ayn’s ideas into the script that I badly wanted to have included.
Q: What other challenges did the writer have or discuss with you in writing the script?
Barbara: I hadn’t talked to the writer until he came to the set for a couple of days. I worked with the two producers, Linda and Peter, and all my input was by way of them or by way of Christopher Menaul, the director.
Q: So you were happy with the final script?
Barbara: I was delighted.
Q: But you haven’t seen the final version of the movie?
Barbara: Not yet. I expect to see it soon. I spoke to Linda Wexelblatt about what was done in the editing, and she told me, among other things, about certain sequences that had been removed. None of them were philosophical or essential to the story.
Q: What sort of things did they remove?
Barbara: There were a couple of scenes that they thought were over-long, so these were slightly condensed in the editing. In one case, they removed a short scene that was not important… By the way, I have no idea what the sex scenes are like. The set was closed for such scenes, to give the actors some privacy. I can’t imagine how they do sex scenes at all; the director and a number of crew members are staring fixedly at them, a camera is in their faces, the lighting people are shining lights at them.
Q: Helen Mirren is a slim lady. At that time was Ayn Rand slim also?
Barbara: Ayn’s weight varied from time to time, but she was relatively slim.
Q: I rather think of her in the heavier years.
Barbara: That was much later. Her body was never very heavy, but her face, as she aged, lost its tightness and gave the impression of extra weight.
Q: All those Godiva chocolates!
Barbara: She loved chocolates. Is there any civilized person who doesn’t?