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Britain Approves COVID-19 Vaccine; Interview With Riz Ahmed. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired December 2, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The U.K. was the first country in the world to preorder supplies of this Pfizer vaccine, securing 40 million
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Warp Speed comes to Britain, where the first COVID vaccinations to be approved for use will begin next week.
RIZ AHMED, ACTOR: I can't hear you. Do you understand me? I can't. I'm deaf.
AMANPOUR: When sound is everything. The profoundly moving story of a drummer who loses his hearing. Riz Ahmed, star of "Sound of Metal," and
director Darius Marder join me.
JONATHAN ALTER, AUTHOR, "HIS VERY BEST": If you prioritize peace, whether you're a president or former president, there are always going to be people
who call you weak. And Jimmy Carter always put peace first.
AMANPOUR: Jimmy Carter, the most underrated president? The presidential biographer Jonathan Alter makes his case to our Walter Isaacson.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Help is on the way. That was Britain's health secretary as regulators gave emergency authorization to the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. The
U.K. is the first in the world to approve it and will begin mass vaccinations next week.
It is an extraordinary feat of science that's gone from concept to reality in just 10 months, with the manufacturers promising 95 percent protection
against the virus. The CEO of BioNTech says this is a significant moment in the fight against COVID-19.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UGUR SAHIN, CEO, BIONTECH: This is really, of course, a very important milestone. So it will be the first time that people outside of clinical
trials will get access to our vaccine.
And we believe that it is really the start of the end of the pandemic, if you can ensure now a (INAUDIBLE) out of our vaccine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, let's look now closely at this news and all its implications with Professor Devi Sridhar. She is chair of global public health at
Edinburgh University, and Donald McNeil, science and health reporter at "The New York Times," and he is actually in New York.
Let me start with you, Professor Sridhar.
This is -- you have heard the officials here saying help is on way. You just heard the CEO of BioNTech calling this a major milestone. How do you
see this, as a public health official?
DEVI SRIDHAR, UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH: Well, I think this is quite an exciting move forward.
This is a vaccine that has gone through phase one, phase two, and now phase three trials, has a trial with 40,000 people, and looks to actually stop
severe COVID-19 and stop deaths.
And so I think right now time is of the essence, because Britain is still facing hundreds of deaths a day. And so trying to roll it out to the most
vulnerable groups is the imperative right now.
AMANPOUR: So, what does -- this authorization is called temporary authorization. What does that mean for this particular vaccine? We have
just heard the prime minister say tens of millions of doses have been ordered.
SRIDHAR: Yes, so one of the interesting things throughout this COVID-19 crisis is the front-loading of manufacturing of ordering of doses, so that,
when the science was ready to go and said it was safe and effective, that the doses would be ready to go.
So, in Britain, for example, in the next week, they're planning to start actually putting it into people's arms and start deploying it. But we're
going to be monitoring that in real time to see actually -- it's not going to be like you just do it and leave it.
There's going to be studies to make sure at every point that any adverse events are recorded, that people are followed up on, and that we're
actually doing research in real time.
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you, Donald McNeil, because there was something of a race, I guess, a race to this moonshot. And it looks like the U.K. has
got there before the USA.
How is that going down in the U.S.? And will that cause a sort of accelerated authorization from the FDA? How do you see it playing out in
the United States over the next several days?
DONALD G. MCNEIL JR., "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I don't know what it will cause. I know there's certainly a lot more talk about, gee, the Brits have
approved this before we have.
I mean, the truth is, the good news about the vaccine already came out a few weeks ago, and there's been a fair amount of reaction to it. And it's
changed people's views of vaccines.
So, I think this may end up being a race between the United States and the U.K. to get the first doses that are coming out of the factories. I think
there's at least two factories are coming out of. I get a little mixed up about which is which.
But, yes, there's going to be a competition for getting what's now a very scarce resource. And that will probably happen again with the Moderna
vaccine, although I don't know what the U.K.'s role with them is, and again with the Oxford vaccine once that's approved.
So, I imagine there's going to be a lot of racing get -- by the major nations who put up money to get their hands on the first doses.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to ask you both, first to you, Devi Sridhar, because it's about this particular one.
I mean, there are plenty of people in the world who will pour cold water, who will say, hold on, who will say, why so fast? And, indeed, the health
policy spokesman for the European People's Party, Christian Democrats, which is the largest political group in the E.U., he said today: "I
consider this decision to be problematic and recommend that E.U. member states do not repeat the process in the same way. A few weeks of thorough
examination by the European Medicines Agency is better than a hasty emergency marketing authorization of a vaccine."
Devi Sridhar, is he raising legitimate concerns, or what? I mean, suddenly, you have this milestone, you have this celebration, and then, boom, you
have somebody already pouring cold water on it across the Channel.
SRIDHAR: Well, I think, of course, with the vaccine and the speed it's been developed at -- I mean, 10 months ago, we didn't even know what was
causing this pneumonia-like cluster in Wuhan.
To actually having a vaccine that's been approved and is being used in wider populations is pretty remarkable. But I think, in the U.K., I mean,
the one maybe mistake they have made is not making transparent all the data that they have behind this decision.
But they have come out and said they haven't cut any corners, that they have been monitoring this -- the trial throughout. So it's not just one
endpoint, but they were accumulating the data. And, at this point, the balance works out to the benefits of actually starting to vaccinate the
risk groups, which are those over 80, those over 70, health care workers, social care workers, care home residents, so those where the risk of COVID-
19 is very real, and actually could save lives, hundreds of lives, in the coming months.
AMANPOUR: But how should people -- I mean, look, we have talked about vaccine hesitancy and all these other things, like anti-vaxxers. And we're
not going -- we're not -- we don't want to go down that dark rabbit hole.
But we do want to ask you, what does it mean when we hear they have cut red tape or regulations have been fast-tracked? Can you break that down for
people to understand what that means, Devi?
SRIDHAR: Well, I think, usually, you would have much more time, which is what I guess the E.U. colleague was saying, to evaluate everything
carefully, to have the trial go on for longer. But this has been in real time.
And so there has the idea that, as soon as that moment came that it was safe enough, that passed that bar, that it was time to approve it and start
deploying it. And that's why the doses have already been manufactured. It's a really tricky balance.
But I guess my message to those who are vaccine-hesitant, those who generally encourage vaccinations, but are a bit nervous, is that scientists
are stepping up to say, actually, we're willing to be vaccinated with this, that the technology that's been used with this vaccine has also been used
in the Moderna one.
And between the trials, there have been over 70,000 people enrolled, no serious adverse effects. And so, actually, it's quite remarkable that, for
such a large trial, though it's been fast, that we haven't seen anything truly concerning that would make scientists stand up and say, actually, you
just need to stop it.
I think it's just general -- the speed of it is what makes people uncomfortable. And that's why we need to just reassure them with
transparency around the data.
AMANPOUR: Donald McNeil, you have obviously been following this from the beginning. I mean, you specialize in plagues and pestilence.
And when we talked several months ago, pretty much at the beginning of all this, you, like many of us, were pretty -- feeling pretty low about it.
When did you start feeling that -- I mean, did your reporting lead you to more optimism when the news started coming out about these vaccines?
MCNEIL: Even before the news started coming out about these vaccine.
I mean, I started getting optimistic when I was reading the phase one and phase two data and the monkey data and thinking, we have all -- we have
known this mRNA -- mRNA technology looks pretty safe, because you're not injecting a whole virus in anyone. The question is always, will it work?
And as soon as it worked and produced a pretty strong antibody signal, I thought, this could really change things. And the floor that was set for a
vaccine to work was 50 percent efficacy. And a guy named Moncef Slaoui, who's the head of Operation Warp Speed here, the scientific adviser, who
was the head of GlaxoSmithKline for many years and developed some terrific vaccines, said he thought he'd see 70 to 90 percent efficacy around there,
and I tended to believe him.
And he turned out to be right, 95 percent efficacy.
And the vax -- the anti-vaxxers have spread their misinformation in the context of a world in which, at least in the United States and in Europe,
we don't see people dying of vaccine-preventable diseases very much.
But when I was a kid, my parents were terrified of polio, and -- because they had seen kids dying, they'd seen kids and iron lungs, they had seen
kids walking -- my age walking down the street in braces.
And so, when the vaccine came out, they lined up in droves to accept it. And even when there was this horrible Cutter Incident, where a bad batch of
200,000 doses with live virus in it went out, and I think it was 750 kids were partially paralyzed and at least 10 died, that didn't kill the -- it
put a crimp in the case of the vaccine, but it didn't kill it.
And people kept lining up for vaccine. And we wiped out polio. Happened to some extent with rubella, when you saw kids born unable to unable to hear
and unable to see that were dying in the womb. You saw people accepting vaccines.
So, we're in the middle of a pandemic. And I have seen this in Nigeria. I have seen it in Pakistan. When people are really afraid of disease, they
want the cure for themselves and their kids.
AMANPOUR: That's exactly right, and particularly because now this one, unlike the others, have really knocked people's livelihoods as well, with
the economy as well. And there's a lot of so-called COVID fatigue happening amongst health workers and people.
I want to ask you, Donald McNeil, because America has been the standout country where politics has played such an overwhelming role over this last
10 months of this, sometimes drowning out the science and the medical advice.
And, right now, we have seen horrendous numbers of COVID cases continuing in the United States. Do you see any -- any sort of turning point where
leadership and the message will become more science and medically concerned and less politically?
MCNEIL: Well, I'm sure that, starting on January 20, when Joe Biden is president, that the messages from on top will change.
The sad thing about what's going on in the United States right now is that the virus in the spring wave hit the Northeast, and really the Democratic
cities the hardest. In the summer wave, it hit the Deep South the hardest and lots of people. Now it is hitting the Midwest and Upper Midwest and
Mountain states. And these -- and rural areas.
And these are counties that voted for Donald Trump all across -- North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana. These are places
that are solidly Trump country. And that's where people are dying right now.
And unless Donald Trump asks people to wear masks and socially distance -- and all the experts I talk to say, no one is going to listen to Joe Biden.
Those voters are not going to listen to Joe Biden. So they may die as a result. And it would be great if the president would change his mind.
But, as experts I talk to said, that would mean admitting he was wrong and Tony Fauci was right. And they don't expect it to happen. So, they're
saying that Biden has to find spokesman, representatives who can speak to Donald Trump's base who are believed by Donald Trump's base, so that it
doesn't look like the Democrats and the doctors are trying to shut down the economy again, so that it looks like an attempt to save everyone who is in
danger, regardless of their political stripe.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, to that point, you have seen who president-elect Biden has introduced as his coronavirus task force, et cetera.
Do you see people in the team who can reach across the aisle of doubters?
MCNEIL: Well, this team of expert advisers is small. And I should -- I'm not repeating my opinions. I wrote an article just yesterday that -- in
which I talked to a couple dozen experts.
His team of advisers is small and very expert, in that they understand the epidemiology and they understand public health, but they're not so expert
in messaging. He needs people who are good at -- basically, at marketing, getting people to believe something they didn't believe before or feel a
need for something they might have doubts about.
And he needs people who don't look like the Obama administration returned. They're excellent public health experts, but he needs to be able to reach
out and get Republican doctors like Bill Frist. Many names will come up, even trying to make an effort to recruit Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson of
FOX News or some of the medical spokesman on FOX News as people who can reach other bases with other endangered Americans with that message.
AMANPOUR: So, listen, I can't go to Devi yet without asking you, seriously, you think they will grow a conscience and actually join the
correct messaging band?
MCNEIL: Again, I said, this isn't me. This is people I talk to.
Look, I'm not a psychologist.
AMANPOUR: No, but it's really significant. It's really important. And they're in the -- they're in the messaging business.
MCNEIL: Yes, they're in the messaging business.
When you see people you care about die, and that might just be your audience, I'd like to think you would do something to help them. But, as I
said, I -- look, I study viruses, not psychology. This isn't my -- I'm not going to pretend to know what's going on in the mind of somebody else.
AMANPOUR: And yet I am going to carry on with this, actually, to you, Devi Sridhar, because it is also about psychology, in that it's about modeling.
It's about, as we have said, messaging.
I mean, you're in public health. And Donald was talking about the polio and the other vaccines. They used to bring up major public figures, I mean,
Elvis and the others, to show their fans that these things were safe and had to happen.
And some are even suggesting there may have to be a call for mandatory vaccines. Talk to me a little bit about the messaging that has to happen
even before the vaccines, masks and all the rest of it, right now.
SRIDHAR: Oh, this is massive.
I think this is something that African countries understood really early on, how to use radio shows and celebrities and media to actually get public
health messages out, and where perhaps, in Britain, we have struggled a bit more.
And I guess the challenge, listening to the situation in the United States, is -- sitting in Scotland, is, even when you have really strong leadership
and clear messaging, we have a first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who's out every day in a press briefing explaining the science, explaining the
rationale for decisions, even when you have broad-scale compliance with mask-wearing, people generally wear them, even when you have test, trace,
isolate working, this virus is still really hard to suppress.
It is a challenge. It is a challenge. And so I guess, looking at the United States and the levels of infection that you have, the messages, even if you
do have the messaging, and the masks and the testing and tracing, it's still a challenge.
No country is finding this easy, though some are obviously doing much, much better than others. And so the messaging is one thing we have to get a
handle on. And using celebrities, whether it's football stars or influencers, to actually take the vaccine and say we're up for it, it looks
safe, this is important, that's what we need, rather than just hearing about those breaking the rules.
AMANPOUR: In the meantime, I'd like to play another little bit of the interview that we conducted with the CEO of BioNTech talking about how --
obviously, it's his vaccine that he's done with Pfizer, but talking about how it might give us a normal 2021 winter. Let's just listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAHIN: I personally believe was there's a number of companies now reaching, reaching, reaching their approval in the next few months.
We might be able to deliver a sufficient number of doses until the end of summer 2021 to reach the 70 to -- 60 to 70 percent coverage which could
give us the relief to have a normal winter in 2021.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, he's hoping for a normal winter 2021. That's a year from now.
So, both of you -- let me ask you, Donald McNeil.
I mean, it is also about industrial scale production. Given everything that you have seen so far, and the promise to have brought a vaccine in this
short period of time, relatively, do you have any fears or doubts about mass production, scaling?
MCNEIL: I have -- I mean, I have done interviews. The people who are in charge of it say, we have everything we need. We have assured the supply
lines at least for the first hundred million doses of each vaccine that we have bought and paid for.
The question is, as Moncef Slaoui says, you look at a bioreactor sideways, and suddenly it just goes wrong, the entire brew goes sour, and you have to
throw it all out and start over again.
So, if there are no screw-ups, if there are no major problems -- and that has happened in other vaccines before -- the approved vaccine -- we don't
know how many vaccines are going to be approved yet. There are now two vaccines that are hovering on the verge of approval.
AstraZeneca -- Oxford/AstraZeneca might come in. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine might come in. The Novavax vaccine, which is going to have little
mini-factories around, might come in.
So, how quickly this ends will depend on how quickly large numbers of doses can be brought online. And that will partially depend on how many vaccines
get approved each month. And so it's very hard to say, OK, it's all going to be over by June or it's all going to be over by August or whatever.
MCNEIL: But it's a good bet that sometime in the middle of next year, we will have enough so that everybody who can be vaccinated is vaccinated, and
then will come the question of mandatory vaccines.
AMANPOUR: And, Devi Sridhar, which kind of brings us back to people and social behavior.
You have written -- you wrote a column in "The Guardian," warning people in this country, in any event, in the United Kingdom, to be careful over
Christmas, and to modify their behavior, despite whatever the government says about tiers and who -- how many households can gather.
Tell me what you hope people will do.
SRIDHAR: Well, I think the message to people is, we're so close to having solutions to this pandemic, especially in richer countries.
I think, by the spring, it won't only be the vaccines. It'll be mass testing which we're seeing coming online, better therapeutics. And so
preventing infections over this winter will really pay off.
So, why risk decades of ill health or being in hospital over a few weeks? Really hard over Christmas, but I think right now for people to be
cautious. I think the government has been too permissive in allowing people to travel around, to celebrate in their homes with multiple other
households for an extended period. It's risky.
And so I think, from a scientific perspective, that makes no sense. And so I think, in the richer world, we are closer to solutions by next summer and
the winter. My bigger worry now is what was going to happen in poor countries who maybe don't have the cold chains for these vaccines, won't
get enough doses, are not able to hold off the tide of rising infections in the coming months.
AMANPOUR: It's really fascinating.
Thank you both for your updates on this. It's really, really interesting.
Donald McNeil and Devi Sridhar, thanks for joining us.
Now, imagine being a musician. Sound is your life. Now imagine you're on tour performing and, suddenly, all you hear is muffled and then silence.
This is the storyline of "Sound of Metal," a new film about a heavy metal drummer whose life is thrown into freefall when he loses his hearing during
a gig. Here's a little bit of the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You're hearing is deteriorating rapidly.
AHMED: It will come back. Until then, we just keep going, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: No. No.
AHMED: Let's play tomorrow and let's see what it's like, OK?
I'm going to be like a click track. You can play to me?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You have you understand, your first responsibility is to preserve the hearing you have.
AHMED: I can't hear you. Do you understand me? I can't. I'm deaf. I'm deaf!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: British actor Riz Ahmed plays the main character, recovering heroin addict Ruben Stone, who grapples with trying to retain his career,
his sobriety and his relationship all at once.
Riz Ahmed and first-time feature film director Darius Marder are joining me now.
Welcome to the program.
It is an amazing film. And it's almost, almost like a thriller. You just want to know what happens at the very end.
Darius Marder, why did you choose to do this? I hear and I have read that your own grandmother went deaf. What attracted you to this particular
DARIUS MARDER, DIRECTOR, "SOUND OF METAL": Yes, that was -- well, thank you first for your kind words.
My grandmother, Dorothy Marder, she isn't she isn't the grandmother, you picture in your mind. She was a gay woman, a photographer, an incredible
intellect and a cinephile.
And she lost her hearing after taking an antibiotic when she was too young. And she found herself straddling the world of deaf culture and hearing
culture and not having a place to be in either of them. And she dealt with addiction. And she petitioned for the rest of her life to open-caption
So this came to me after -- years after I was already working on this film, I started to feel her spirit in the project. And it became very clear to me
that I needed to dedicate it to her. And it's a very special thing that way.
AMANPOUR: Now, as we said, it is your first feature. And you have said about Riz Ahmed, who we're going to obviously be talking to, that you
wanted an actor who was -- quote -- "appropriately frightened by the role."
AMANPOUR: What is it about Riz that gave off that vibe?
MARDER: Well, when I say appropriately frightened, I really did try to scare actors for years. And this movie, I have been trying to make now for
over 10 years.
So it took many, many years of casting. And I think the reason for that is that I am so hungry for this movie myself, I really wanted someone who was
hungry like I was. I wanted someone who wanted something from this process, that you would feel on the screen some kind of transcendence.
And I found that in Riz. I think he was very appropriately frightened, meaning I was asking someone to learn ASL, not just their lines, but to be
able to communicate within deaf culture the way this character would after four to six months of being immersed in it. I was asking someone to learn
the drums. I wanted that person to play live in a club without a safety net.
I really wanted someone to feel scared. And then I wanted someone to feel hungry for that feeling. And Riz has that kind of courage. Anyone who's
familiar with his work knows how talented he is. But what really surprised me in meeting Riz was how hungry he was and how hungry he was to be out of
control, not necessarily in control.
And I think that's where transcendent performances come from.
AMANPOUR: Well, that's quite a buildup, Riz.
You have really given an incredible performance. And there is so much you have to learn, including ASL, American Sign Language. You had implants.
There's so much sound distortion that you had to deal with.
Just talk to me about how scary it was for you.
AHMED: Well, yes, thank you again for your kind words.
I mean, I think I'm similar to the character Ruben and similar to Darius in the way that I kind of seek out the feeling of being overwhelmed. I like to
kind of juggle multiple careers. And I'm always on the go.
And part of that is perhaps to kind of workaholism that needs to be addressed, just like Ruben's does. But another part of it is, I think that
when you place yourself in a situation where you really are overwhelmed, where your feet don't touch the bottom of the pool, then you're not in
And when you're not in control, that's when interesting things can happen. When you're off-balance, that's when you can surprise yourself and really,
truly spontaneous things can happen.
And I think that's what I was looking for. I had just come off the back of doing a couple of bigger films back to back, which was a tremendous
learning experience in another way, films like "Bourne" and "Star Wars" and "Venom." And I wanted to go back to something that was fully immersive and
all-consuming, in the way -- in a way that only kind of low-budget, short- amount-of-time indie films that are character-driven can be.
And this was such a kind of particular proposition and provocation that Darius was offering in terms of the preparation that would be needed. And,
above all, it was just such a beautiful script. His writing just sings on the page, that I just kind of relished the opportunity and the challenge.
And so I went on this journey of learning the drums every day for seven months, alongside American Sign Language. And it was challenging, it was
scary. But it was also a tremendous privilege, in particular being welcomed into the deaf community by Jeremy Stone, who is my friend and instructor,
and understanding just the richness of that culture, and realizing, just as Ruben does in the film, that deafness is not a disability.
For many people, it's a culture. And it's just a way of being. And both for Ruben and for myself, it was actually an opportunity to connect more with
other people and more with myself than I had within hearing culture.
AMANPOUR: So, I'm going to dive a little bit deeper into that, because the film does address and straddle this issue about whether it is an issue that
has to be -- quote, unquote -- "fixed," or is it a culture that has to be and should be embraced and celebrated and lived with?
But, first, I want to ask you, because I'm going to play a little clip now, because then we can talk about the sound, which is a major co-star in this
film. The sound is everything.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Wow. I mean, just watching that clip, you can feel -- I mean, I'm going to just use the word claustrophobia, but the claustrophobia of
losing and feeling closed in by something. You don't know what's happening.
Darius, I read that it took you, I think, six times longer to engineer the sound after the film -- after the shooting schedule ended.
MARDER: Yes. And that's just after the schedule ended.
The actual sound design in this film started over a year before we started shooting. And it went all the way through shooting. And then, -- so, yes,
it was. But the mix itself was 23 weeks. And it's interesting when we talk about small films, because there's really nothing small about that.
It was a pretty extraordinary bit of lifting. And it's a real testament to my producers that they supported that, because it was an audacious vision.
But, yes, it took a really specific kind of work to find that language and to find that experience and bring people into a -- that visceral experience
that you're describing as claustrophobia, and also that feeling of being in that sense of suspense or that sense of horror.
And I think the...
MARDER: Yes, go ahead.
AMANPOUR: No, no, because, at the beginning, I said it's almost like a thriller. And you have just said sense of horror.
There is a certain sense of horror, because you don't want to lose one of your senses. But, again, that goes to the very heart of the characters and
the issue of deafness. And you had -- I believe you had deaf colleagues working on it. And you really worked very closely with the deaf community.
So, I want to ask you both. There has been writing about whether you are -- whether you are more saying that this is a problem that can and perhaps
should be fixed, because we know the Riz Ahmed, Ruben, the character, does go for an operation to try to restore his hearing.
So, let me ask you first, Darius, about why you chose to go that route.
MARDER: Well, first of all, the question of the -- of whether or not hearing should be fixed or shouldn't be fixed is really not a question that
I want to answer in this movie. That's not -- that's a very big important discussion within deaf culture and that's really their discussion.
What the film does is it's coming at this the from a hearing perspective initially, you know, Ruben is a hearing person. He's invited into deaf
culture. Deaf culture in this film represents itself. It's not represented by me. Everything you see on the screen it's from deaf culture and it was
really a gift to me, it was a gift to the film and I hope it's a gift for people watching it.
The question is -- this is really not a film that seeks to say cochlear implants are good or cochlear implants are bad. I don't have the answer to
that. I think that there isn't a clear answer in that. I think what we know is there is for of a societal sickness around the idea of always fixing
something. That's a very able-bodied perspective. And I think in the film I wanted to enter into that able-bodied perspective and have us collectively
question that. What is it to always want to fix something and is that part of our own sickness and is that connected to a larger feeling of an
addictive of pattern, this idea of looking for a fix?
AMANPOUR: Yes, yes, no, I hear you. Riz, what reaction have you -- if you have had any reaction yet from the deaf community, from your, you know, co-
stars, from the others, because I thought one of the most poignant scenes actually is we just showed a little bit of the video of you and the
director of the place where you were, and he actually did ask you to leave because he said that, you know, here we're a lot of people, everybody has
to believe in themselves, there's a code of trust and if one person does something different, well, you know, I have to ask you to leave. It was
really a painful scene.
RIZ AHMED, ACTOR, "SOUND OF METAL": Yes. No. Thank you. I mean, the actor -- the other actor in the scene, Paul Raci, is a tremendous -- just a
tremendous actor, and I can't wait for people to see what he has to offer as a performer, but he's someone who is culturally deaf, who's also kind of
existed within in this limbo within hearing and dead culture, he's CODA, he's a Child of Deaf Adults.
And, you know, as hearing people we're just not aware of the richness and diversity and range of deaf experiences that exist within deaf culture and
between hearing and deaf culture. So, yes, I think that the people in the film who are all kind of cast or, you know, authentically and asked to
bring their own experiences to the table will hopefully give audiences a glimpse into that and to the richness of that.
What I've heard and what I've read and what I've seen and what people have said to me from within the deaf community is just -- I'm just -- my mind is
blown by how positive the reaction has been. I've been really moved and I think Darius as well will speak to you, but it's -- for you -- but it's
been very moving to hear what people have said. I think many people in the deaf community who have seen this film from my understanding, it feels as
though this experience has really not been portrayed in film before.
You know, just the fact that the entire movie is captioned, for example, it is such a statement and it just really includes deaf audiences in this
experience alongside hearing audiences. But, no, I just feel tremendously privileged to have been part of a film that deaf audiences are saying it
feels like a tremendous leap forward.
AMANPOUR: I don't want to be a grinch, but I'm assuming you're expecting to be asked, Darius, why you didn't cast a deaf actor I know that the
character was a hearing character before he lost his hearing, so maybe that's the answer.
MARDER: Well, it is, but it's actually -- I think it's even a little deeper than that because this was a very on-purpose decision. I really
pushed the dial for many years to make sure that everybody in this movie was from deaf culture, who was portraying anyone from deaf culture and that
meant saying no to people that could have financed this movie. The character of Ruben is different because I actually wanted to engage in a
meta process of taking a hearing person and taking someone from outside of deaf culture and actually experiencing palpably that feeling so that Riz
could experience being a minority in another culture.
And the only way that someone could really experience that is if they were outside of that culture. So -- and I think much of what you see, much of
the energy that you see and feel on the screen is in fact that feeling that Riz as a person and playing the character of Ruben, we shot
chronologically. So, literally, experienced that in sequence, and that is such a magical experience, that has so much to do with the experience that
we as an audience going through in this film. Actually, as hearing people, we are minorities at that time in this move. And so, that's really very
much on purpose and I want people to know that that's not about not wanting to cast a deaf person, that's about having a very palpable specific
experience in this movie.
AMANPOUR: And, Riz, I just want to end on a much more directly personal issue. I know you lost a family member to COVID and you've just been
hearing about the vaccine and the big news. I just wondered what you were thinking about where we all are, obviously, COVID is affecting film-making
and just about everything right now. I just wonder what you're thinking, and would you take a vaccine and all the other stuff?
AHMED: Well, I guess I can only speak from a personal point of view. I'm not a scientist. But what I would say is that, you know, COVID is real. You
know, I've lost close family members. And for people who doubt, you know, whether or not it's real, I'd say perhaps step outside of your own
experience and ask around and you won't have to ask very far to find out about someone who's lost someone close to themselves. So, you know, stay
staff and be careful.
I do think that strangely -- not to bring everything back to this film, it's something that Darius and I were discussing, you know, only a moment
ago, is the idea that, actually, the journey of Ruben in "Sound of Metal" is similar to our journey as a society during this pandemic. In the -- you
know, here you have Ruben who, like our culture, is workaholic and he's confronted with a health crisis just as we were and has king of sent him to
a kind of lockdown or a purgatory where he's forced to reassess who he really is what really matters.
And, you know, is that Ruben emerges from that experience with a greater sense of clarity and a clearer sense of what really matters and how he
might live and conduct himself, and that's my hope really for us, is that these deaths aren't in vain and the cracks that this pandemic has revealed
in our society will push us to kind of maybe fix them once and for all, whether it's health care or realizing that actually we're not individuals,
we're a community and we're only going to overcome the biggest challenges that we face together.
AMANPOUR: That is a really great way to end. Riz Ahmed and Darius Marder, thank you very much. "Sound of Metal."
And turning now to U.S. politics and a one-term president. Jonathan Alter is an award-winning journalist and author of three bestselling presidential
biographies. The latest is called "His Very Best" and it tells the story of Jimmy Carter who was elected in 1976 and then defeated by Ronald Reagan in
1980. Here he is speaking to our Walter Isaacson about why he thinks Carter's tenure has been grossly underrated.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And, Jonathan Alter, welcome to the show.
JONATHAN ALTER, AUTHOR, "HIS VERY BEST": Thanks for having me on, Walter.
ISAACSON: All of your books, whether they be about Obama or Franklin Roosevelt are about character as is this one about Jimmy Carter. Tell us
why that's so important right now as we come out of the age of Trump.
ALTER: Well, I mean, you know, I think if you were to summarize in civil terms what's been so terrible about the Trump presidency is that he's a
person of poor character pretty much across the board. He really doesn't have any positive character attributes that I can think of off the top of
my head. Now, Jimmy Carter, by contrast, was as flawed individual like all people, and he, you know, arguably was a political failure as president,
but I argue not only was he a substantive success but his character is a model for us moving forward, his core decency, honesty, accountability,
compassion can help light our way to a better place.
ISAACSON: He had a certain humility that comes out in the book and yet, he was able to combine humility with ambition. Explain that to us.
ALTER: So, I actually don't believe there's any such thing as a humble politician. I think it's a contradiction in terms. But Jimmy Carter and his
wife, Rosalynn, who he has known for 93 years since just after she was born and Lillian Carter, Jimmy's mother was a nurse and delivered Rosalynn in a
small town of Plains, Georgia, that they both lived.
The two of them are -- they -- I guess they epitomize a sense of character and commitment in what they do pretty much across the board. And so, they
live -- just to take one dimension that does relate to humility. They live remarkably modest lives. I learn that until, you know, the last couple of
years when he's had some health challenges as she has, and they are in their mid-90s now, Jimmy Carter mowed the grass at their church, Rosalynn
would be vacuuming the sanctuary, and I -- you know, I had these, you know, meals with them on paper plates in their community. So, there's a real
modesty there that arguably he took too far when he was president and he -- Gerry Rafshoon, one of his top aides, said that he made the mistake of de-
pomping (ph) the presidency.
For instance, he ordered that "Hail to the Chief" not be played when he came in the room. A couple of years into his presidency they felt -- his
aides felt like he had taken it too far and they restored the playing of "Hail to the Chief" but, you know, he sold the Sequoia, the yacht that
presidents had used and that hurt him because it made it harder for him to lean on members of Congress by taking them out on a yacht. That was his
idea of hell, to be trapped on a yacht with congressmen, and that tells you a little bit about something like what he's really like. He's not a warm
and fuzzy guy in person.
ISAACSON: How would you compare him to Joe Biden?
ALTER: So, it's interesting. Politically, there's some I think compelling comparisons right now because Biden ran a campaign very similar to the one
that Jimmy Carter ran after Watergate in 1976. It was about restoring integrity to the presidency. They both used that word healing and Biden saw
something in Carter very early. He was the first member of the Senate to endorse Carter.
But in terms of their temperament they are quite different. So, I compare Biden in this respect to Franklin Roosevelt in that Roosevelt was described
as having a second-class intellect and a first-class temperament, but Jimmy Carter was kind of the reverse of that. First-class intellect, one of the
smartest people ever to be president of the United States, enormously complicated which kept me interested and I hope keeps keeps readers
interested, he's layered, there's many, many dimensions to him. And yet, maybe, arguably second-class temperament in terms of connecting to other
people, maintaining his relationships within the Democratic Party which he did not do and he considered that, he told me that that was his biggest
regret in the presidency.
ISAACSON: When I was growing up in the south the populous movement had two paths they could take. You could either play the race card and become like
a George Wallace or you could be a populous like Huey Long was in Louisiana or for that matter, a Bill Clinton was and be a populous that tried to heal
the divide of race. In your book on Jimmy Carter, I found it somewhat surprising that initially he was what we would now say is on the wrong side
of the race issue.
ALTER: Yes. I think that's true. He was never an explicit racist. His whole life, there's no sign of racism on Jimmy Carter's part. But he ran in
1970 because he needed that rural vote, he ran a code word campaign and even paid a visit to the founder of the white citizens council in Georgia
just before the election to send a signal that, you know, he was with them.
But then something really interesting happened. He -- through the efforts of somebody who introduced him to Daddy King who became an important ally,
even though Carter have never bothered to meet Martin Luther King Jr., Carter on his first -- in his first moment as governor, literally minutes
after he was sworn in, said the time for racial discrimination is over, and all of these rural segregationists, they felt he had betrayed them. Some of
them even walked out of his inauguration, and the African-Americans in attendance looked at each other and said, he said what? They could not
believe that he said this. It doesn't sound like anything now but in Georgia in 1971 it was a big move.
He lands on the cover of your old magazine, "Time" magazine as the face of the new south, and he runs a very progressive administration in Georgia and
then in Washington, very progressive on race. And now, in Africa, they name children after Jimmy Carter because he's done so much for Africa and -- but
what he said after George Floyd, I thought was very interesting, he said, you know, Rosalynn and I have learned over our lifetimes that silence
equals violence, and they were silent too long because in the community they were living in, if they had spoken up, they possibly would have had
their business dynamited, which is what happened to one of his rivals in business.
So, he was in an environment of white terrorism. And so, he kind of ducked the civil rights movement and then exploit it had a little bit in that 1970
campaign. So, he spent the second half of his life essentially making up for what he didn't do in the first half. And I argue that all of his
amazing good deeds in the post-presidency and much of what he did that was very important, human rights while he was president, this is a form of
atonement. It's driven partly by his faith but partly by his sense of wanting to do better.
ISAACSON: Why does Jimmy Carter have the reputation of being a weak and unaccomplished president?
ALTER: So, I think he's seen as weak, which he considers to be the biggest misperception of him, and I think he's quite right about that. So, two
things happened. First, the Republicans in 1980 did a very effective job of making it seem like he was weak on defense. He had raised defense spending
by 5 percent, which is a lot. He had built the B-2 bomber that helped win the Cold War. He had, you know, used soft power with this human rights
policy to hollow out the Soviet Union, a number of conservatives, including Larry Eagleburger who became secretary of state, and Bob Gates, they
credited Carter with helping to win Cold War with his human rights policy.
But at the time they were saying, he's weak, he's weak, he's weak. Mostly because he would not bomb Iran. He didn't want -- he thought it would get
the hostages killed. And then when he let himself get held hostage essentially by the Ayatollah, that created a perception of weakness that he
was not able to get around. He did not do a good job of handling that whole situation, not because he was wrong in not bombing Iran, that would have
been disastrous, but because he had some bad luck with the Iran hostage rescue mission and also, he was unimaginative and he let them hold these
cards. He paid too much attention to the hostages.
And remember, "Nightline" was originally called "America Held Hostage." So, that's going to create an impression of weakness. But when you actually
look at him and talk to people who know him, they all talk about how tough that he is. And he could be a real S.O.B. And, you know, when he was in
Georgia, they called him Jungle Jimmy because he had such sharp elbows, and I don't think anybody was ever on the receiving end of those icy blue eyes
and that tight smile when he was -- that he used when he was mad at you would ever say he was in the slightest bit weak.
But in American politics, if you put peace -- if you prioritize peace, whether you're a president or a former president, there are always going to
be people who call you weak, and Jimmy Carter always put peace first. I mean, he's close to being a pacifist in seeing war as the last option. This
empowered him to be a really effective diplomat, not just at Camp David and establishing full diplomatic relations with China, which is now the
foundation of a global economy. That was a product of Carter's diplomacy, the Panama Canal Treaties, which prevented a war in Latin America, but
every time you go for a treaty or peace or improve relations, you risk being labeled weak by hawkish opponents, even if you've, you know, put
theater nuclear weapons in Europe, which Carter, not Reagan did.
ISAACSON: A lot of Americans, when they think of the Carter presidency, they think of very long gas lines, they think of inflation, they think of
hostages in Iran. Is he responsible for all of those things that are the most memorable parts of his years (ph)?
ALTER: Actually, no. He was swamped by events in 1979 and '80, and you mentioned them. But he was not responsible for those gas lines. You know,
the oil prices had increased 14-fold, not 14 percent, 14-fold in the prior decade. You know, so, coming out of the 1973 oil embargo, this not only,
you know, eventually led indirectly to those gas lines but also to the rampant inflation that Carter experienced.
And what he did was he appointed Paul Volcker to be chair of the Fed, and Volcker jacked up interest rates, over 15 percent. Can you imagine it being
a general election campaign when interest rates are over 15 percent? That's not even mentioning inflation and unemployment. And -- but Volcker's harsh
medicine worked. It's just that Reagan got the credit for it.
As far as the hostages being seized, that you could say was his fault in this respect. So, Carter knew -- his instinct told him not to let the
deposed Shah of Iran into the United States. And Kissinger, the Rockefellers, every -- the whole establishment is pushing him, pushing him.
Let him in. Let him in. He was our big ally. And Carter at one point says, F the shot. You wouldn't imagine Jimmy Carter saying that. Like I talked to
Harold Brown, the late defense secretary, and he said, yes, I was rather surprised to hear President Carter stay about the Shah. So, his instinct is
telling him, said don't do this.
Then the Shah gets sick and the Rockefeller effort, they pull the wool over Carter's eyes and they send this phony medical report to the State
Department that the Shah cannot be treated for his cancer in Mexico, which was completely untrue. And so, Carter, on a humanitarian basis, makes the
worst decision of his presidency, and he lets the Shah into New York Hospital to be treated. He's only in the United States for a short time,
but he lets him come in. And just days later, these radical students in Tehran seized the hostages at the U.S. embassy and that, you know, did as
much anything to wreck his presidency.
ISAACSON: As you say, we most remember Carter now for the post-presidency. Is that a bit overrated or has it been an important redefinition of his
ALTER: Well, it's both. So, Jimmy Carter revolutionized three things. He revolutionized the vice presidency. He was the first president to ever give
his vice president, Walter Mondale, any responsibility, put him in the military chain of command, give him an office in the West Wing and many
other things. He revolutionized the role of first lady. Rosalynn Carter was the most influential and powerful first lady in American history at that
time, much more influential than, say, Eleanor Roosevelt.
And then, after he left office, he revolutionized the post-presidency, very inspiring work that he has done. Not so much building houses, because he
doesn't actually run habitat for humanity. He does that one week a year, but he's nearly eradicated any worm disease which afflicted 3 million
people in Africa and Latin America, and monitored all these elections. Done these very inspiring important things on human rights and peacekeeping.
Prevented wars in 1984 and Haiti and North Korea. Convinced Daniel Ortega to leave voluntarily, which was the only time a communist leader has ever
The main reason I think it's a little overrated and I don't devote as much attention to it in the book nearly as much as I do to his presidency is
that when you're not president anymore, you don't really have any power anymore, and we forgot how many levers of power you actually have when
you're president. So, he got much more accomplished as president than as a former president. And I think there's kind of a happy lesson for us.
After January 20th, you know, Donald Trump will have his Twitter account. Maybe it will get smart and cancel his account, but he'll probably still
have that and he'll be able to, you know, make noise, but he won't have any power. And so, it will be like, you know, Macy's Day balloon, you know,
you'll see that power hissing out of him. And so, that's why I think his post-presidency has been overrated. And also, I just kind of -- you know, I
wanted to -- and I think I did convince people of that this sort of easy- minded shorthand no good as president, great afterwards, just didn't bear scrutiny.
ISAACSON: Jonathan Alter, thanks for being with us.
ALTER: Thanks, Walter.
AMANPOUR: Valuable perspective. And that is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thanks for
watching and good-bye from London.