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Remembering the Fall of the Berlin Wall 30 Years Later; Christopher Mallaby, Former U.K. Ambassador to Germany, Andrey Kortunov, Director General, Russian Intelligence Affairs Council, and Timothy Garton Ash, Historian and Author, "The Magic Lantern," are Interviewed About the Fall of Berlin Wall; Wendell Pierce in "Death of a Salesman"; Wendell Pierce, Actor, "Death of a Salesman," is Interviewed about "Death of a Salesman" and "The Wire." Aired 1-2p ET
Aired November 8, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
Thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. We look at how that night changed the world for better and for worse. Our panelists were all
witnesses to history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WENDELL PIERCE, ACTOR, "DEATH OF A SALESMAN": You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away. A man is not a piece of fruit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Actor, Wendell Pierce stars in "Death of a Salesman." He joins us to talk Arthur Miller, "The Wire" and working with Meghan Markle.
Plus, Jimmie Fails on his last debut in "The Black Man in San Francisco."
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Thirty years ago, this weekend, the Berlin Wall fell. It didn't only divide that city into east and west, it was the Cold War frontier between
the Western powers and the Soviet Union. Two years later, that black would collapse and Germany would be reunified. In her address to Harvard
graduates this year, German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Berlin made clear just how stark the divide was before that night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): I lived near the Berlin Wall. I walked toward it every day on my way home from my
institute. Behind it lay West Berlin. Freedom. And every day when I was very close to the wall, I had to turn away at the last minute in order to
head toward my apartment. Every day I had to turn away from freedom at the last minute.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Neither the CIA nor Germany at the time had any idea this was coming, that the people trapped behind the wall would muster the courage to
breach it. But after three decades of progress towards freedom and democracy, the last three years have seen a worrying shift back towards
nationalism and even authoritarianism across Europe and the United States.
So, where do we stand 30 years later? Three people who all saw the wall fall with their own eyes join me. Christopher Mallaby, who was a U.K.
ambassador to Germany at the time, Andrey Kortunov, the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, and historian, Timothy Garton
Ash, author of "The Magic Lantern."
Gentlemen, welcome to the program.
Let me start with you Ambassador Mallaby. You were there. You were an ambassador at the time. What was going through your mind when you heard
this wall was coming down?
CHRISTOPHER MALLABY, FORMER U.K. AMBASSADOR TO GERMANY: Well, the very first thing I felt was surprise. I'd be in some sort of reception
(INAUDIBLE). I went home. My wife had her face right against the television screen and she said, the wall is opened. And I said, how many
cases of whisky have you drank?
And then I telephoned the British general in Berlin who was my sort of representative there, and it was true. And so, my second reaction was joy
because, obviously, it was going to open a better era in Europe. And my third was hilarity because then I heard exactly what had happened in the
press conference when the East German, Schabowski, had made the announcement but he botched it several times. And so, actually, it was a
good watch botch.
AMANPOUR: Well, just remind us of what that botch was because that mistranslation or misunderstanding led to the hordes going to the wall and
MALLABY: Yes. He was -- had a piece of paper in his hand which came from a meeting of the leadership of the communist party and he was sort of
squinting at it and not getting all of it right. The main thing he did not get right was that he said that the opening of the fascia would be right
now when it was supposed to be seven hours later. So, a huge difference but it made -- it brought the people out and that was the beginning of a
great improvement in European peace.
AMANPOUR: So, let me turn to you in Moscow. Andrey Kortunov, because this was all about the face-off between then the Soviet Union and the West.
What did you think when you heard what was going on? Because you also were in Berlin at the time.
ANDREY KORTUNOV, DIRECTOR GENERAL, RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE AFFAIRS COUNCIL: Yes, I was in Berlin and I participated in a small meeting of emerging
And when we heard that the wall was going down, we decided to take part in the physical demolition of this structure. So, we went to the Brandenburg
Gate and we made our very modest contribution to the physical destruction of the wall.
And for us, it was a great happening. We were very young. We felt that it was almost a medical or holiday. And, of course, everybody was very
enthusiastic. And as a Soviet citizen, I can tell you that I didn't feel any unease or awkwardness because it was Gorbachev was a magic word for
many Germans around. So, I felt pretty together with other emerging leaders from various European countries.
AMANPOUR: That's amazing. Mikhail Gorbachev, obviously, the leader on whose watch this happened. And to you, Timothy Garton Ash, who was there
at the wall, who saw, you know, the initial attempts to breach it. It is so important that Gorbachev himself said, that we will not send in the
tanks. We will not crush this. This has to be a peaceful situation. Tell me what you thought as a young man all those years ago.
TIMOTHY GARTON ASH, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR, "THE MAGIC LANTERN": So, I had lived behind the Berlin Wall and East Berlin and traveled behind the
(INAUDIBLE) for 10 years before. So, for us, the wall was almost like a fact of physical geography. It was if the (INAUDIBLE). I got here the
next day. I walked through an immediately -- recently demolished great section of the Berlin Wall, actually, side by side with the American
commander who looked rather bemused by this surreal happening.
For me, the most important thing about it was the ordinary East Germans who felt liberated, having been stuck behind the wall for nearly three decades.
And I remember one said to me, you know, it's like something in the bible. I think the sick will stand up and lift up their sick beds. And another
one said to me, I just saw a poster which had said, only today is the Second World War over. And I think that is exactly right. That this
moment, the 9th and 10th of November, 1989, the fall of the wall was actually effectively the end of the Second World War, the post war era, and
the beginning of a new era, which is what I would call the post wall era.
AMANPOUR: Well, and we're going to discuss the post wall era. But it is so wonderful to hear your memories of that day because it was such a day of
hope and it was such a day that people thought that this was going to be the end of history in the famous words of the American historian, Francis
But let me first go to a little of the lead up. So, let me ask you, Ambassador Mallaby. You are a British diplomat. The Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher, famously said to Ronald Reagan, I think, in 1984, when Mikhail Gorbachev started to ascend the leadership in the Soviet Union.
She said to Ronald Reagan, president of the United States, I like Mr. Gorbachev, we can do business together. Was that the beginning of this
transformational change in the Cold War adversaries?
MALLABY: Well, the real transformation, of course, begins with Gorbachev himself before it came to any western comments. But when she said that,
and she said it to Ronald Reagan, she did start something. She already, herself, is talking to Gorbachev doing business that others followed and,
above all, Reagan. And that was part of the breakthrough in Europe.
AMANPOUR: And it was really amazing because Reagan, as we all remember, had said things like, the bombing starts in five minutes, he had call it
the evil empire. He had really raised the Soviet Unions. You remember, Andrey Kortunov. I see you smiling. Do you remember the rhetoric that was
coming out of the Reagan White House at the time?
KORTUNOV: Absolutely. And across the years of the Reagan administration were pretty depressive. We saw a real threat of a nuclear confrontation
between the United States and the Soviet Union. But later on, of course, the whole thing has changed completely and Ronald Reagan emerged as a very
popular figure in Moscow as a person who could assist in bringing the end to the Cold War.
AMANPOUR: And yet, let's not forget that Reagan didn't get touchy feely all of a sudden. And in 1987, he visited, in fact, where Timothy Garton
Ash is, right by the Brandenburg Gate --
GARTON ASH: The other side.
AMANPOUR: The other side, exactly. The other side, you're right. Well, explain it us. Because then he said, and he laid down the gauntlet to
Mikhail Gorbachev. This is what he said and then we'll talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENTOF THE UNITED STATES: General Secretary Gorbachev, if do you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet
Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Honestly, I'm sure it still gives everybody chills, that. But as a historian, Timothy, let's just make it very clear that Gorbachev has
written many times that this could not have happened had it not been a partnership, that it was neither him nor Reagan who did it. You know,
everybody claims to have been the one who ended the Cold War, but it was the two of them.
GARTON ASH: No, I don't think it was just the two of them. Both of them were absolutely essential. And the Berlin Wall did not come down because
that have speech. Gorbachev was, of course, absolutely indispensable, the green light that he gave for change in Eastern Europe. And the Reagan
administration one has to say the term, from the arms race of the Reagan first term to embracing (INAUDIBLE) Gorbachev in the second term was hugely
But it's really important to say that there was another major historical actor in this, which were the people of the Eastern Europe. And it didn't
start with Gorbachev in 1985. If anything, it started with the Polish pope, John Paul II, in 1979, the Solidarity movement in Poland which made
the push for liberation in Eastern Europe.
And please remember that in the first half of 1989, Poland had already had the round table talks, the first semi free election in Eastern Europe for
40 years, the appointment of the first non-communist prime minister in Eastern Europe for 40 years. And Hungary had cut the iron curtain between
Hungary and Austria.
I was just talking today to the German president and he has quite deliberately invited on the occasion of the fall of the wall the presidents
of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia as a signal and a tribute to their contribution.
AMANPOUR: You were a Soviet citizen. You'd obviously travelled some. You had come to the West, as you mentioned. Describe the feeling amongst
people behind the iron curtain at this time leading up to the fall of the wall. What did people want in the Soviet Union, for instance?
KORTUNOV: Well, first of all, I think people wanted changes. They were fed up with the old system. I think that, clearly, people underestimated
the problems of political transition and they believed that the victory in the Cold War was not just to the West victory but also the victory for
So, I recall that when the war went down, we felt almost triumph that we, may be in a very small way, contributed to changes in Europe. And, of
course, we were sure that the most difficult mission had already been accomplished. And from now on, we will enter this yellow brick road that
will lead us directly to miracle of the European reunification.
AMANPOUR: That's a good place to now turn the corner from the hope and the promise to, you know, the yellow brick road where, in fact, it lead,
Ambassador Mallaby. So, when you see what's happened in the intervening decades, some of it has been very hopeful, German reunification and many
other issues, the expansion of the E.U. to incorporate former East European countries that was -- that were behind the wall.
I mean, Timothy was mentioning Hungary and the amazing role Hungary played in the lead up to that. And even -- I mean, if you go back and read the
history, the current prime minister was a real dissident for democracy back then. What has happened to turn somebody like Viktor Orban away from pure
democracy to using the leavers and the institutions of democracy to actually concentrate and consolidate power in his own party?
MALLABY: Problems is the answer. You try with perfection and you find some of it doesn't work and then your moral sense owes you back or doesn't
and you may do things then which are not so good.
I want to comment, if I may on what Timothy said about Poland. I do think that Solidarity was a big player and the pope was too in the start of the
change in Europe. And one of the great things was that at that moment, pre-Gorbachev, Britain have decided not to invade Poland and not to crush
Solidarity in the way that had been done in Czechoslovakian and Hungary before that.
So, the seeds have change. The seeds of better behavior were ready that even before Gorbachev.
AMANPOUR: I want to turn you then, Timothy. Again, you mentioned Hungary. To what do you attribute this illiberal democracy, this rise of, you know,
not real democratic democracy, if you like?
GARTON ASH: The first thing to say, Christiane, is this was an extraordinary success story. Probably the biggest success for freedom,
Europe, the West, any of us will see in our lifetime. And we weren't cocky and overconfident at the time. We thought it was a huge mountain to climb,
seeing all the damage that have been done by communism.
The joke at the time, as you may remember was, we know you can turn an aquarium into fish soup, but can you turn fish soup back into an aquarium?
And if some of an aquarium. However, in just the last 10 years, Viktor Orban, who I remember as an idealistic young student leader, has
systemically demolished liberal democracy inside a member state of the European Union. It's really quite shocking.
I would say Hungary is no longer a democracy. I would say it's what political scientist call competitive authoritarian. This is an example of
a very skillful political leader who has exploited all the discontempts that, as Christopher rightly said, have gradually accumulated over the
years with the inequality, with the apparent injustice over transition, with all the changes that come from joining the European Union. And he's
exploited those very skillfully to consolidate his rule.
But let's keep it in proportion. Hungary is an extreme case. Poland, which I followed very closely for 40 years, is somewhere between liberal
and illiberal democracy. And please remember, it's not just Eastern Europe. If we say this is an East European phenomenal, then Nigel Farage
and Donald Trump and Matteo Salvini must all be East European.
AMANPOUR: OK. That's an interesting point and well taken. I wonder whether, Andrey Kortunov, you see it the same way. You know, of course,
that famously, your current president, Vladimir Putin, in 2005 said, and I quote, "The greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century is how he
described the fall of the USSR." What do you make of what we've just been discussing, this sort of move from dictatorship to freedom and back to
authoritarianism in some parts of Europe?
KORTUNOV: Well, President Putin has mentioned recently that he thinks that liberalism is antiquated and obsolete. And I think that President Putin
really believes that this is the case. I'm not sure that this is the case, but what I'm sure of is that liberalism does go through a very serious set
of challenges. And it is no longer considered to be the only way for various countries, including Russia, including Turkey, not to mention China
and some other East Asian communist states.
So, I think that, indeed, they see an alternative. They question universal advantages of liberalism. And right now, it's not clear how it will end
because the jury is still in session. And China, especially, gives an example of an alternative modernization path.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you this. Because, you know, a lot of it is about haves and have not. And we know, I mean, Andrey, the Soviet Union was a
state-controlled economy that almost overnight was encouraged by western partners to turn to the free market. And who got all the state resources
were the well-connected, the oligarchs, members of the, you know, communist party, et cetera, and it led to this kind of what they call gangster
economy. How did that come about, Andrey?
KORTUNOV: I think that, definitely, some very serious mistakes and blunders were committed. But I think it was practically unavoidable, at
least at the first start of the Soviet transformation. And there was a joke that in Poland they had shock therapy but in Russia they had a shock
without therapy. And I think, to some extent, this is right.
Plus, I think Russia was in a more complicated situation because it didn't have any prospects of joining the European Union or Nato. And that's why
there was no incentive from the outside to engage on radical political and economic forums. So, one can argue that these reforms have never been
AMANPOUR: That is really interesting. Let me ask you, Ambassador Mallaby, what happens now? I mean, we heard earlier from Andrey Kortunov that this
war was over. It wasn't just the wall that came down but there was a feeling that this war between the West and the East, in terms of embodied
by the USSR is over.
And yet, now, all we talk about is how -- you know, we have Vladimir Putin pitted against whoever is running the United States. People like to say
he's really in charge. I know there's a lot of hope and there's been a lot of success. But where do you see the place for maybe restructuring the
MALLABY: Well, I think that Putin's reactions to the problems he faced were very human. I think that it was possible then that there could have
been an attempt to return to some kind of authoritarianism, which he did but not immediately. And I don't think what he's gone all the way. I
don't think that what he's up is as authoritarian as we've seen in Russia for previous decades.
So, I think we ought to look upon Putin as a man who thinks about each step. I don't think he's impetuous at all. So, I hope we can talk to him
because I think he has a logical head.
AMANPOUR: So, finally, to you then, Andrey, because this is now all about Putin facing off against the West and vice versa. Who do you think has the
upper hand right now? Do you believe that Putin is on the way to restoring the grandeur? Like make Russia first, that he wants to do?
KORTUNOV: Well, I think that every leader would like to have his or her country first. No doubt about that. And definitely, now, like it was the
case in the former Soviet Union, more and more people want change. There are discussions about what this change might entail but, definitely,
stability is no longer the perceived as the supreme value.
AMANPOUR: So interesting. We'll see what it brings in the next, I don't know, 5, 10, 15 years. Andrey Kortunov, Timothy Garton Ash, Ambassador
Christopher Mallaby, thank you so much for joining us.
Back then, during the Cold War, the great American playwright, Arthur Miller, wrote his masterpiece "Death of a Salesman." Even 70 years ago, it
was lamenting the death of the American dream. A fresh take is now playing in the west end here in London at the suggestion of Miller's daughter,
Rebecca, the Loman family is African-American led by actor, Wendell Pierce, in the role of Willy Loman. It is receiving rave reviews.
Now, when they say "break a leg." That is usually meant as good luck. But this week, part of the historic theater ceiling fell in during a
performance on Wednesday night. Four people ended up in the hospital. Injuries, thankfully, were minor. And Wendell Pierce met with evacuated
patrons outside the theater and promised all their tickets would be honored during the 10-week run.
Just before this happened, though, he joined me here in the studio to discussion "Death of a Salesman" and his break out role in "The Wire.
Wendell Pierce, welcome to the program.
WENDELL PIERCE, ACTOR, "DEATH OF A SALESMAN": Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: "Death of a Salesman," I mean, it is an American classic. It's 70 years old, right?
PIERCE: Yes, 70 years old.
AMANPOUR: What made you want to do this?
PIERCE: Well, first of all, because it's a classic. It was unexpected as an actor of color. You know, I didn't expect to even have the opportunity.
It's one of the greatest challenges I've ever had in my life. Not just in my career as an actor, but just in my life. It plums that depth of your
AMANPOUR: It is a marathon. It's like 3 1/2 hours long.
AMANPOUR: And --
PIERCE: With intermission.
AMANPOUR: With intermission, yes. But nonetheless, it is a commitment.
AMANPOUR: And you are practically on stage the whole way through, you are.
AMANPOUR: And you are, in this version, progressively kind of losing it.
AMANPOUR: And so, when you talk about psychology and human psyche, I wonder how difficult it was for you just to keep -- you know, to keep your
own spirit together because it's a very dispiriting story. It's the kind of the end of the American dream, the disillusion of a family, and the --
AMANPOUR: -- dissolution of the principle character.
PIERCE: It is really -- I had to -- I took a note from Philip Seymour Hoffman on Broadway. We share an agent. And I asked my agent, what did he
say about playing the role? And he said, it's the 24/7. So, I made that commitment just as in the rehearsal process. And then also, as I'm
performing it now, I realized I have to carve out some time for myself to actually do some self-care when it comes to my own psyche.
I normally look at something very light. I read something light, something comedic. I have a decent meal for dinner. And all to step away from the
fact this man is breaking down psychologically. That he has lost hope. It is an investigation of your own insecurities.
It's the first time I've ever subscribed to the idea of an actor saying, oh, man, I'm so deep in this role. I have to break-away from it. I always
feel as though I can play the character and then just leave it at the theater. But in this case, it was really examining -- self-examination to
the point that you have to be very careful --
AMANPOUR: Not to tip over the edge yourself.
PIERCE: -- not to lose -- not to tip over the edge yourself.
AMANPOUR: And you mentioned Philip Seymour Hoffman. I mean, he's no longer with us.
PIERCE: It's one of those things, as I was doing this play, I thought of that. I actually had to kind of check my drinking when I was doing the
play. I would come home and drink a lot when I was doing rehearsal. And so, you have to be very careful.
AMANPOUR: So, you had to really impose some discipline on yourself.
AMANPOUR: Seeing it again, and I've seen it before, different actors, I just couldn't help but think this is not just a tragedy in itself. Does
that affect you, as well, the fact that this really is, maybe, more than at any other time since it was written really relevant?
PIERCE: Well, that's the thing that makes it a classic. What makes it a classic is the fact it speaks to the humanity across time and place, age,
race, gender, and, well, it was written 70 years ago, it is relevant today and it will be relevant 70 years from now because it is a cautionary tale
of the ugly side of human nature and the mistakes we make in our communities of giving into this idea of just materialistic wealth that that
is more important than the individual finding character within himself.
And it is so significant today because we have to understand that our value are in the people of our communities, period.
AMANPOUR: And, again, so relevant. Because the idea of the inequality, the left behind and the resulting populist backlash, the nationalist
AMANPOUR: You mentioned being a person of color that this was a great opportunity for you. But actually, it's completely unprecedented ensemble,
AMANPOUR: It's the first time "Death of a Salesman" has been done with an all-black cast.
PIERCE: Yes. And it's not all black, it's just the Loman family that's black.
AMANPOUR: Sorry. Yes.
PIERCE: Yes. It has been done before in regional theaters in America in different community theaters around. But on this scale, it's historic. To
be on the west end, to be exposed to so many people here in the heart of London, which is the capital of theater in the world is quite historic.
AMANPOUR: It's 2019, 400 years since 1619 when --
AMANPOUR: -- the first Africans came as slaves to America. I wonder what you think about where you are as people today given we see the really tough
edge of racism still so present, we also see such a huge focus, there's novels, there are films, there's theater, there's, you know, massive
articles and radio pod casts on the African-American experience. And basically, telling the world that American, essentially, was built to a
large part on the back of your people.
AMANPOUR: In every which way, meaning music, art, literature, everything, agriculture.
AMANPOUR: How do you see it?
PIERCE: Well, I am an accolade of Albert Murray. And he believed, as do I, that the uniqueness of the African-American experience is something that
contributes to the overall understanding of the human experience, that that is our specific contribution that we gave, that there is a concurrency that
happens. That in the face of oppression, of violence, of prejudice that there has to be something in the human spirit that adapts.
That is improvisational, that within that restriction, you can find ways of freedom in being unrestricted and uninhibited. That's the essential nature
of what jazz is, right.
And a finite amount of notes that you have to honor but you can put them together in an infinite amount of possibilities in the individual who plays
the solo. And his solo can go or her solo can go wherever it wants to go at the same time honor the chords, right, and honor the framework.
Ultimately, that contribution is unique to our experience that we, within this framework of coming from 1619 to now 2019, to understand that over
those 400 years that we have come to an understanding of how to adapt in the face of that oppression and how you cannot only adapt to survive but
adapt to thrive. Because we have given so much to the discussion of western civilization and culture.
With that in mind, with that in mind, we also have to remember that it's an ugly part of human nature. One of the most detrimental things that we
could subscribe to is this idea of being (inaudible), right. Because ultimately, it is -- the original sin of America is in our DNA.
And we have to be vigilant at fighting it like a chronic disease. It's not something that is going to go away. And we have moments like now that we
lift the veil and actually see the ugliness.
I think it's naive. I think it is naive when people say where is this coming from? I didn't realize this.
Oh, you know, I hate when people say that. I never really knew that this sort of thing happened. They see Charlottesville and they're shocked, you
know. And it's a danger because even with overwhelming proof of videos where we've seen unarmed black men murdered, there's still people that
doubt their lying eyes.
So there's a vigilance that we as an African-American community also understand that along with all the achievements that has to be the duality.
Be ever vigilant because there are those who do not have your best interest at heart.
AMANPOUR: I mean it is very heavy. It really is because I mean it just still, such, as you say, it's such a vigilance that we all have to
PIERCE: But here is the other thing with that. But the blues, which is what Albert Morris so eloquently spoke about is that duality, that in spite
of that, you can still achieve and actually fulfil some sort of human development, right.
Because that's what the blues is all about. The blues is not oh I got no shoes, oh, and my feet hurt. The blues is oh, I got no shoes and my feet
hurt but I'm still going to walk to Chicago because they got a job up there.
It's a duality that always brings to light that the two can coexist. Never let one overwhelm the other.
AMANPOUR: Music features unusually strong in your production of "Death of a Salesmen."
PIERCE: Yes. Music in for the African-American is a defining art form. An art being a form where we reflect on who we are.
Entertainment is just the by-product of art. Art is actually formulating a prospective about living a purposeful life.
The first song is a hymn that we sing in the play. It's about someone who is going to see their loved ones again, hoping to take that river and
travel them back to who they are. It's really emblematic of really trying to find his truthfulness.
The first day of rehearsal it was played, and I just wept because I realized it was exactly the story that's been in my family my entire life
that I always heard. Harris (inaudible) as a baby with his mother in Kentucky.
It's a one white man sold, enslaved people to another. And his earliest memory is his brothers and sisters and his father on the banks of the
And at night, his mother will leave him in prayers saying one day -- excuse me -- (inaudible) if you ever get free, go back and find your family. He
never it and no one in the family has ever made that reconnection to find the Christophs in Kentucky.
And that search for the Connection of who you are and your identity is in the music. And it's a creation of jazz itself in Congo Square, this
example of that where enslaved Africans found freedom in their creativity before they found their own physical freedom.
They took the bamboula, African six, combined it with the brass music of Europe and made jazz. Those are the contributions to the human existence
that the African-Americans have made. And that's music and that's what we try to put in the play as well.
AMANPOUR: I want to get back to your -- the origins of what motivates you want to be an actor. You came on a school trip or a family trip to London
when you were 15 years old.
PIERCE: Yes, at 15 years old, I was standing at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts which is Performing Arts High School in New Orleans and came
here with Elliot Keener, my teacher and my mentor.
And I saw the RSC, the Royal Shakespeare Company, in "As You Like It". And I saw (inaudible) on the West End in --
AMANPOUR: "The King and I".
PIERCE: "The King and I", yes. With a 30-minute long curtain call. I'll never forget that. He was great. I'll never forget that.
AMANPOUR: He was great.
PIERCE: And then I saw "Avita", I saw "The Mousetrap", which has been running for 70 --
AMANPOUR: I think it's still on, right?
PIERCE: It still is on. And I realized then, wow, you can be a professional actor. At that point, I only thought that, you know, you
could do community theater because that's just basically what is happening in New Orleans, community theater.
And I never -- and I knew there was New York and there was that possibility but when I saw the tradition of theater here in London, people go to
theater here the way we watch television in the United States. That sparked me to be an actor.
AMANPOUR: I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about "Suits" because many people got to know you in "Suits" and also because we're in sitting here in
England. You were the father of Meghan Markel's character.
AMANPOUR: She's going through a hard time right now in the press. And there's all sorts of allegations certainly by her own husband, Prince
Harry, that the tabloid press is piling on in a very unfair way with tinges of racism.
Do you feel -- do you see that? What do you think?
PIERCE: People talk. Meghan, as any woman of color who has a great parent like her mother, probably knows and prepared because all parents prepare
their children that way and saying there are people that don't have your best interest at heart just because of who you are.
And what you need to do is focus on those who do have your best interest at heart and who do love you. And so that's to be expected because that's the
ugly side of human nature.
And so I would just hope for her that she focuses on two people right now. That lovely child named Archie and that wonderful man who is prince, Prince
That's the only thing that is important. And be the patron to the arts that she is. I'm thankful to her because if it wasn't for her, "Death of a
Salesmen" wouldn't be on the West End.
PIERCE: Yes. She's a patron of the arts here. The entire community here is subsidized in a way by this government and monarchy that is not done a
new place else.
So she's indirectly -- well, no, really actually directly responsible for the theater that I am so happy to be a part of.
AMANPOUR: That's nice. Has she come to see your performance?
PIERCE: She hasn't. She was having the child the first time. We did communicate. I sent the invitation to her and her office came back and
said we'll look for an opportunity.
So hopefully -- I'm here for a couple more months so hopefully they'll be able to come through.
AMANPOUR: How does this all stack up? And I'm going to play a little clip from "The Wire." How does "Suits" or "Death of a Salesman" -- I know
they're all very different but "The Wire" kind of exploded you into the public consciousness. So it's a very important part your work.
PIERCE: It's the most important part of my career, so far. People wouldn't know who I was if it wasn't for "The Wire."
AMANPOUR: I'm going to play a clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BUNK: My father had me on the street, like any young man. So I would turn up at all the house parties where the tough boys were. They
knew I wasn't one of them.
In my case, they would come up to me and say go home schoolboy. You don't belong here. Didn't realize at the time what they were doing for me.
As rough as that neighborhood could be, we had us, a community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That's really poignant, that community, because you were talking about. So you are Bunk, the police officer who was chastising Omar for a
life of crime.
PIERCE: Yes, it's a homicidal life of crime. He is actually a killer who's leaving all of these bodies.
I found that most African-American police officers became police officers because the criminality that was happening in their neighborhood did not
reflect the good people that were there. It was just maybe one percent making it very difficult for the 99 percent that get up every day, law-
abiding, just trying to live a good life and provide for their families, educate themselves, and enjoy a better quality of life.
And that's why they became police officers. But African-American police officers would speak to me about that role all the time, said that's the
thing they appreciated the most, because that's the thing that they want people to know, that we became police officers because we saw the
criminality that was disproportionally affecting my neighborhood that I wanted to be able to do something about it.
AMANPOUR: It's a great place to end on community. What a body of work. Wendell Pierce, thank you very much indeed.
PIERCE: Thank you very much. Really happy to be here.
AMANPOUR: And just a note, for London Theater goers, the play has moved from the Piccadilly Theater to the Young Vic through this weekend.
Now, from a veteran actor in the role of a lifetime, to an incredible debut from our next guest Jimmy Fails. "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" is
a semiautobiographical film which follows Fails as he tries to regain his grandfather's house in, you guessed it, San Francisco.
A passion project for its star. He and Director Joe Talbert first conceded the film when they were just teenagers. And he told our Hari Sreenivasan
how he feels now that it is one of the best reviewed films of the year.
SREENIVASAN: What is the movie about?
JIMMY FAILS: God, a bunch of things. I mean I guess I always just say it's a love story between a man and a house, as weird as that sounds.
That's usually what I would go with.
But it's also about friendship and identity, masculinity, vulnerability. It's about a lot of those things. Family.
FAILS: Because I felt a certain way about how my city is changing. That's pretty much what inspired it.
Me not feeling like I even belonged in this place that I was born and raised in and that I feel like made me who I am.
SREENIVASAN: So people that watch this show all over, how is San Francisco changing?
FAILS: Well, first of all, the title, right. There's not a lot of black people here. That's a big part of it. There's just doesn't even seem like
there's much of an art scene anymore.
SREENIVASAN: Is it because it's less affordable today? Is it --
FAILS: Yes. A lot of them have moved to Oakland. A lot of my artist friend that I know. And Oakland is even starting to change now so pretty
soon I don't even know if they'll be able to afford Oakland. You know what I mean?
SREENIVASAN: There are a lot of scenes in the film where when you're traveling through town, the director chooses shots where people are looking
back at you. They're kind of glaring, they're staring, kind of an oddity.
SREENIVASAN: Is that based on what it's like to walk through San Francisco today?
FAILS: Yes. But, I mean, that's more of like gentrification in the beginning sort of thing. Now it's like they don't even look at you. They
They're probably looking at their, you know, phone or tablet or whatever it is. They don't really care that much.
That's another thing that was lost in, you know, the older San Francisco with more artists and more people. You could meet someone on the bus and
strike up a conversation or just from a glance on the street because people were curious and they looked at other people, and like oh, he looks cool or
whatever. But now, you know, that sort of thing rarely happens.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen that house?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. I mean I'll be there all the time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not your old house. And that's not your black ass neighborhood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your disrespectful (inaudible).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: How much of this movie is autobiographical?
FAILS: Yes. I like to leave that a little bit open but there's real, you know, everything is emotionally real. The main story is real and true
about my grandfather and the house and my family history.
SREENIVASAN: Your grandpa had a house here in San Francisco?
FAILS: He had several. But yes, that was the main family house that I was in.
SREENIVASAN: Why is a house important to a family?
FAILS: It's the foundation. It's their home base. It's what brings everyone together.
A house is important because that's where the family is. I lost my house and since I haven't had a family sort of thing. You know what I mean?
I lived there with my aunt, my uncle, my cousins and all sorts of stuff and we're barely in contact any of us now. So that was the last place I had a
family dinner with my family when I was, like, 6 years old, probably.
FAILS: You know what I mean.
SREENIVASAN: So when you lost that house, the family went with it?
FAILS: Pretty much.
SREENIVASAN: In the movie, your character has a past that is slowly being revealed in the film. One of the plot points is that he lived in a car for
a while and that the car got stolen it looks like.
FAILS: That's a true story.
SREENIVASAN: It is? You lived in a car?
FAILS: Yes. I lived in a car and it got stolen by my dad's friend.
SREENIVASAN: Yes, let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I like what Junior dad did with it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So much you drove off with it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I borrowed it. I didn't -- come on. I drove off with it. I borrowed it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a matter of fact, I saw your dad the other day. He was good and lonely by his self.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told him we need to get you a cat or a dog, a woman or something. Damn. He's at home alone. He's alone with no home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you live in a car by yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but I'm not alone. People like me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: It's kind of a profound point just slid into the end there about what loneliness is. And what was it like living in a car?
FAILS: Fun, I guess.
SREENIVASAN: How old were you then?
FAILS: I was probably, like seven to like nine or something. It was awhile we lived in the car. So seven, eight, seven and eight. I mean it
SREENIVASAN: Did you realize that (inaudible) friends --
FAILS: Yeah, I mean it was something that I thought about but it was, like, you know, you couldn't just think about that sort of thing. It was
like I just looked forward to going to school so I didn't have to be in the car then and whatever else going to park and going to someone's house
You know, you look forward to things that aren't that, basically. But it's also, like, you know, it was me and my dad on the road all the time. You
know, my dad, you know, showed me a lot of older music that I was kind of brought up on, you know, so that was always cool.
And that's some of the good memories I have of my dad even though we were in the car or whatever. You have to make the best of your situation.
SREENIVASAN: How is your relationship with your dad now?
FAILS: All good. I see him a lot. I mean that's who raised me. So he actually lives close. He lives down the street so I see him often.
Probably go see him after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your grandpa built it. He was the first black man in San Francisco. That's what they called him anyways.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This house? I do mean to talk about this all the time but (inaudible). Always exaggerating. Trying to be all special.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were in a group home?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, for like a year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: There's a lot of relationships between black men in the film that is not like what you see Hollywood portray black male relationships
as. I mean, do you see black men allowed to be vulnerable?
FAILS: Exactly. Exactly. Allowed to be vulnerable which is crazy to even say allowed. You know what I mean? Because, yes, in Hollywood, that's
never really a thing.
So, you know, but it's also -- that's also not just something that Hollywood has done. It's, like, also in the culture.
You know what I mean, for black men and other black men not letting them be vulnerable.
SREENIVASAN: Sort of a lenient force --
FAILS: Not just Hollywood. Yes. So it's like -- it was for -- as much for us as it was for everyone to see.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope I never made you feel like you weren't welcome here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never felt like that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care where you've been. You don't have to tell me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: Is San Francisco still home?
FAILS: Yes, always. Whenever I come, it's home.
If I'm here, even when I'm away, it's still home but always, yes.
SREENIVASAN: So you're going to pull a Danny Glover? You're going to somehow figure out a way to have a Hollywood career and live here in San
FAILS: For sure. For sure. That's one of my idols. I definitely would like to do that.
SREENIVASAN: And you got to work with him. What was that like?
FAILS: Crazy. Crazy. Yes, I mean like he called me. Like, before we even cast him, he called me out of nowhere. We were just talking about San
Francisco and he Fillmore. He grew up in the Fillmore, he was telling me all about it.
I was picking his brain for that. And I think it just inspires you to be able to reach that level of expertise in your career but it's also just
amazing. Just like taking a master class. And also he was acting (inaudible) from Jonathan Majors who's like God level actor at this point.
So I just had, you know, Rob Morgan also which was amazing. So it just, you know, it was very helpful for me to have these people being so humble
also and understanding that it was my first.
SREENIVASAN: It was a kick starter campaign.
FAILS: It was.
SREENIVASAN: And then from there, here we are. The people who backed "Moonlight" and you got Brad Pitt's company, some big Hollywood names. Did
did you ever think you would be in that stratosphere?
FAILS: Would you have thought? I know I didn't. I thought at most we would show the movie at a small theater. Maybe the Roxy and then, you
know, our friends and family would see it. Like hey guys, great job, call it a day. That's the most that I thought.
SREENIVASAN: Is this movie a postcard, a love letter, a time capsule?
FAILS: All of those things, I guess, you could say. I mean it's like I wouldn't say it's the best postcard but there's definitely a love letter.
I mean it's an honest love letter.
I think we archived the scene that we know and love. And it's already a period piece. There's some places that don't even exist that are in the
film, like the (inaudible) Projects.
SREENIVASAN: What's happened to them?
FAILS: Completely tore down. I think they're just rebuilding them hopefully and making them better and hopefully they're doing something
positive with it.
SREENIVASAN: You know you say in the movie that you can't hate something unless you already love it. So what is your relationship with San
Francisco? Do you love it? Do you hate it?
FAILS: It's a love, hate relationship as with any family member or friend. You don't love them all the time but -- I mean you love them all the time,
you don't like them all the time.
SREENIVASAN: What are the things that you love about the city? What are the things that would make it --
FAILS: Before most of the natives got kicked out, the people of the city, that's one of the things I loved about it, the community of everyone. You
know, the fact that it was so diverse and there were so many, you know, when you go to the park you'd see Mexican kids, outdoor kids, black kid,
white kid, all together in one group.
You know what I mean? That sort of thing. All the artists and all the interesting history of it. And I mean, it looks beautiful too. I love how
it looks. I love the old Victorians and the old architecture. So those are a lot of things too.
SREENIVASAN: And what makes your blood boil?
FAILS: All the new ugly condos that look like shelves, basically. They just look like big shelves or something. You know what I mean?
Big coverage or something. The remote control skateboards, when I see those, I really hate those like a lot. It kind of defeats the purpose of
even getting a skateboard. You know what I mean? So I don't like that.
SREENIVASAN: You used to skate?
FAILS: It makes my blood boil. Yes, absolutely. There's a lot of things.
Man, I don't want to say too much and I would end up getting into something but those are some things that I don't like.
SREENIVASAN: What do you hope people see in it?
FAILS: I hope see how it feels to be gentrified. That's one thing.
I hope they see black men in a different light as well. And I hope they get a little bit feisty about San Francisco too. I hope they go to see
because whenever they shoot here, there's never stories or real stories of real San Franciscans sort of here. It's always just like shooting
(inaudible) or something or when they blow up the Golden Gate Bridge or whatever.
You know what I mean? It's never real, raw sort of San Francisco. So I think I'll -- I mean I know I do but I hope they see that, as well. The
real side of San Francisco that they're not going to put it on postcards basically.
SREENIVASAN: Jimmy Fails, thank you so much for joining us.
FAILS: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: What a compelling story.
And that is it for now. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast and see us online at amanpour.com. And you can follow me on Instagram and
Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.