Fresh Air
Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the Peabody Award-winning weekday magazine of contemporary arts and issues, is one of public radio's most popular programs. Each week, nearly 4.5 million people listen to the show's intimate conversations broadcast on more than 450 National Public Radio (NPR) stations across the country, as well as in Europe on the World Radio Network. Though Fresh Air has been categorized as a "talk show," it hardly fits the mold. Its 1994 Peabody Award citation credits Fresh Air with "probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insights." And a variety of top publications count Gross among the country's leading interviewers. The show gives interviews as much time as needed, and complements them with comments from well-known critics and commentators.
A man and his beard: Will Forte plays a man seeking companionship in a world...
Forte tells Fresh Air about landing a job on Saturday Night Live and learning on the set of Nebraska that acting is "all about commitment."

In Fox's television show The Last Man on Earth, Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte plays a man who survives a deadly virus that has decimated the human population. In the show, Forte's character, Phil, despairs when he thinks he is the last human on earth. He drives around a lonely landscape, creating billboards that announce "Alive in Tucson" on the off-chance that someone will see them.

But when Phil meets and marries a woman whom he believes to be the last living woman on Earth, he realizes that maybe being alone wasn't so bad. This is especially true when Phil meets a second woman, whom he likes better than his new wife. Things don't get better for Phil as even more survivors start showing up in Tuscon.

If all of this makes Phil a bit of a cad, the actor says that's by design. Forte explains to Fresh Air's Ann Marie Baldonado that while his character may be the last man on earth, Phil is not meant to be the best person on earth.

"Automatically in the first episode you want your character to be likable, you want people to find him to be sympathetic," Forte says. "We thought it would be interesting to move away from there and create this character who isn't the perfect person. In this show I feel like if you continue to watch, your allegiances will kind of constantly be shifting."

Many people know Forte from SNL, where he was a cast member from 2002 until 2010. He also gained attention for his role opposite Bruce Dern in the 2013 Alexander Payne film Nebraska. Forte's other television credits include a recurring role on 30 Rock and writing credits for the Late Show with David Letterman and That '70s Show.

Interview Highlights

On the beard he grew for Last Man On Earth

I had been living with this beard for about nine months and I had a real love/hate relationship with it. There are a lot of very tricky things when you have a beard of that size. Eating is horrible, personal interactions are tricky ... people are nervous around a person with a beard that size. But I also kind of missed it [when it was gone]. It was like a little security blanket, so it was interesting, I was just completely a different person.

On working with Dern on the set of Nebraska

We spent a ton of time together. It was pretty amazing to watch him make the transformation [into Woody] because for anybody who doesn't know him, he's the most vibrant, feisty in a fun way — he's just awesome and full of life and then the moment the cameras would start rolling he just morphed into the Woody character. It's about as drastically different as you can get. ... The moments we would be done shooting or between takes, we wouldn't be in character we would just be talking like friends. That was such a big part of this experience because I was really nervous the whole way through. I didn't want to mess up Alexander Payne's movie and Bruce Dern's movie. Here are all these legendary people and he was so good about putting me at ease and that friendship that we developed helped me get out of my head and, I think, do a better job in the movie.

On filming the road trip scenes for Nebraska

The very end, after we completed all the dialogue stuff from the movie we actually went to Billings, Mont., and made the trip all the way to northern Nebraska and Alexander Payne followed us in this big RV. He actually had bought the RV that Jack Nicholson drives around in About Schmidt so he had had this RV and they mounted a camera to the front of it and would just drive behind us and pull up to the side of us and get all these amazing shots of that drive. But the whole time, Bruce and I are in this car just for days and days, just talking about life and I could listen to his stories forever. He's a fascinating, wonderful man.

On Dern's acting advice

Bruce Dern was really great about giving me advice the whole way through, and he would always be talking about "find the truth of the scene" and just play that. It just seemed like actor mumbo jumbo for a while, and then after a couple of weeks, it really registered — I started understanding what he was talking about. It's just the same thing as comedy, like you're just trying to figure out the reality of the scene and play it as truthfully as you can. Obviously in an absurd sketch there's going to be a different reality and truth than in the movie Nebraska, so it was just about figuring out that truth and committing to it fully. It's all about commitment, I guess.

On landing his job at Saturday Night Live

I just lucked out and Lorne Michaels came to one of the shows. I already had a job so I didn't even think that it was possible to go over to SNL. I was under contract with ... That '70s Show, so I was nice and loose because I was very happy as a comedy writer, too, so I just didn't even think that it was an option. Then I ended up having a good night, probably because I was so loose, and he invited me for an audition. I was terrified, I had to really get talked into auditioning. I went out, auditioned, and got the job and then turned it down, for the same reasons I just said — just terrified that I wouldn't be good at it and I would be giving up this amazing job at That '70s Show, which was such a fun job, great people. I liked the show so much, and I turned [SNL] down. I regretted it for the entire year that I had to wait until Lorne, thank God, came back the next year and asked me if I would change my mind, but I decided I had to go for it because I would never forgive myself if I didn't at least see what it would be like.

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Detail from cover of Ross Macdonald: Four Novels of the 1950s...
A reissue of four of the detective writer's 1950s novels excavates the dark depths of California's suburban decay. Maureen Corrigan praises Macdonald's "psychological depth" and "penetrating vision."

Ross Macdonald had a smart answer to the tedious question of why he devoted his considerable talents to writing "mere" detective stories: Macdonald said that the detective story was "a kind of welder's mask enabling writers to handle dangerously hot material." Like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler (the great hard-boiled masters whom he revered), Macdonald set out to excavate the dark depths of American life, but to find his own "dangerously hot material" Macdonald descended into uncharted territory. His hard-boiled predecessors had walked the mean streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles; Macdonald moved to the suburbs — a California landscape of mortgaged dreams that already seems exhausted in the four mystery novels of the 1950s reprinted in this Library of America collection. All those images of suburbia-gone-sour that distinguish the work of a John Cheever, Richard Ford, Tom Perrotta, or even the early seasons of Mad Men owe something to Macdonald's penetrating vision.

It took Macdonald a while to find his voice, as he explains in a couple of moody autobiographical essays that appear at the end of this collection. His hard-knock life story reads like something out of a James M. Cain Depression-era noir. Macdonald was born in California in 1915, but grew up in Canada. His father abandoned the family when Macdonald was 4 and he and his mother bounced from relatives' homes to rooming houses.

Like so many lonely kids before and after him, Macdonald escaped into reading, falling in love with the novels of Dickens and then, fatally, Hammett. Thanks to a life insurance policy pay-out upon the timely death of that absentee father, Macdonald went to college and, then, graduate school in English — the first of our hard-boiled masters to earn a Ph.D. If you look closely, you can spot the influence of the Romantic poets in Macdonald's quick and always surprising imagery. Take this phrase from his 1959 masterpiece, The Galton Case, where he characterizes a tough-but-naive dame as possessing an "asphalt innocence."

For a long time Macdonald's wife, Margaret Millar, was the more successful mystery writer; Macdonald's own early novels sounded too much like Chandler knock-offs. But when he entered psychotherapy in 1956, Macdonald — and his detective hero Lew Archer — came into their own. You can hear the transformation in the opening pages of Macdonald's breakthrough 1958 novel, The Doomsters. A troubled young man bangs at Lew Archer's door in the wee hours of the morning. Archer tells us: "A pre-breakfast client was the last thing I needed that morning. But it was one of those times when you have to decide between your own convenience and the unknown quantity of another man's trouble."

Sam Spade would have rolled over in bed and ignored the knock; Philip Marlowe would have been out walking the LA streets in the rain; later on, Mickey Spillane would have just shot that annoying predawn visitor. But Lew Archer is as much a social worker, a counselor, a father confessor as he is a private eye. Macdonald gave us a detective with psychological depth; a gumshoe capable of throwing around words like "gestalt."

The four 1950s novels gathered in this Library of America volume offer readers the thrill of watching a writer evolve. I could urge you to read Macdonald because other great writers — from Eudora Welty to George Pelecanos — have paid him homage. I could make a sociological argument about how these novels offer a panoramic tour of 1950s California — a landscape of cars and Beat poetry joints here dismissively referred to as "culture caves." But, mostly you should read Macdonald for the reason you read any great writer — for the thrill of the language and vision. I leave you with this passage from The Galton Case where Archer describes his visit to a rich old woman who implores him to find her long-lost grandson.

"[Mrs. Galton] spoke like a little girl betrayed by time and loss, by fading hair and wrinkles and the fear of death. ... She was chanting in a ritual of hope [about being reunited with her grandson]. If she said it often enough, it would come true.

"I'm hungry," she said. "I want my lunch. ..."

That meditation on human yearning and mortality ends with the intrusion of something baser. Macdonald's encompassing awareness distinguishes his writing: He gives us the good, the bad and the ugly — all the stuff that makes us human beings tick.

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The Job cover detail...
"Your heart is pounding; your adrenaline is shooting out of your ears," Steve Osborne says. "And you got one second to get it right." He retired from the force in 2003. His memoir is called The Job.

In his 20 years as a New York City police officer, Steve Osborne made thousands of arrests. He says that when he was in uniform, it wasn't unusual to handle 20 jobs a night. And in plainclothes, in the anti-crime unit, his teams would make several felony collars a week, mostly robberies, assaults and gun arrests.

Osborne nearly got run over by a train while chasing a suspect through a subway tunnel. He dealt with decaying corpses discovered in apartments. While making one arrest, when he was rookie, a crowd gathered around him and starting throwing bottles and rocks at him. But he loved the adrenaline-inducing work — and how in certain situations he had to make a split-second decision.

"You really got about one second to make a life-and-death decision," Osborne tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "Your heart is pounding; your adrenaline is shooting out of your ears. Half the time you're doing it in the dark — it's nighttime or you're in some darkened hallway or abandoned building — and you got one second to get it right. Luckily, over the years, I got it right."

Osborne tells his stories in a new book, The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop.

One thing that surprises people, he says, is that he never shot his gun on the job.

"Nobody wants to fire a shot; nobody wants to take a life," Osborne says. "All I want to do is go out, do my job, do it well, and go home in one piece. When I lock a guy up and I tell him, 'Turn around, put your hands behind your back,' and he does it, I'm happy. I would much rather buy a guy a hot dog on the way to jail ... which I've done, rather than roll around in the street and fight with him."

When Osborne retired in 2003, he was a lieutenant — a commanding officer of the Manhattan Gang Squad. He says he remembers the precise moment that he was knew he was burned out and he had to retire. He was doing paperwork, he says, and a detective came into the office and said he had a lead on a gang member who was wanted for murder.

"We had been looking for this guy for several months and couldn't find him," Osborne says. "He was a Mexican gang member. He had no roots in the community, nothing, so he kind of just packed up and we couldn't find him. My detective says to me he 'had info from a confidential informant that we may find this guy up in Yonkers.' ... Normally that's something that would really get my juices flowing. ... When he said it to me, I felt nothing. I felt just kind of numb inside and that wasn't me. At that moment, I realized that I was just burnt out and I really didn't want to do the job anymore. And that's when I decided to put my papers in and leave."

Interview Highlights

On whether he ever fired his gun on the job

That's, like, one of the most common questions. And when I tell people, "No," they seem disappointed. It's like you watch TV and you think cops are firing their guns every night, but that's not true. And over the course of 20 years, I was involved in thousands and thousands of arrests. On top of that — I couldn't possibly count — tens of thousands of civilian interactions. No, I never had to fire my gun once, believe it or not.

I had plenty of opportunities. There's at least a half a dozen guys that are still walking around out there that I would've been completely justified using deadly physical force, but at the last possible second I found another way to resolve it. But make no mistake about it: If I had to do it, I would do it. I was fully prepared to do it. Luckily for them and luckily for me, always at the last second, I found a way to resolve the situation without having to resort to deadly physical force. That's what you have to remember: ... You have different tools. You got a nightstick; you got mace; you got a Taser; you got a gun. Your gun is your last resort, after everything else fails.

On a dangerous rookie mistake he made

When you're a rookie, you do dumb things. You don't like to see guys get away. The guy came running out of the store with the manager chasing him yelling, "Call the police!" so it looked like he had robbed the store. I started chasing him on foot. We went down into the subway station and when he reached the end of the platform, I thought I had him. But he jumped onto the tracks and ran down into the tunnel. And, dummy me, I followed right behind him. Next thing I know, there was a train coming. ...

He found some place to hide out. And the next thing I know, I'm standing there all by myself. And before I knew it you could feel this little slight breeze coming. And that was followed by the floor and the walls shaking. And the next thing you know, it's like a hurricane force wind and I turn around and there's the F train heading right for me. There's not too many places to hide, you could either lay down in that trough between the rails, but that's disgusting, it's filled with garbage and stagnant water and rats, or you can try to jump into one of the cut outs, which isn't so easy. I found a little spot between two girders up on a platform and I managed to jump up there. Literally, the train missed me by inches.

On responding to a call about a foul odor a year and a half into the job

As soon as I walked into the building, I mean, down in the lobby you could smell it and I knew exactly what it was. I had smelled it before. Once you smell a dead body like that, you never forget it for the rest of your life. When I went upstairs, the mother, she comes right at me and she says, "Officer, I want to see my daughter." I knew the daughter was dead. I hadn't even been in the apartment yet, but I knew she was dead. I convinced her mother just to let me go in and take a look first. Went I went in there, what I saw was horrible. I mean, she had been dead several days in August and the heat — the body had decayed very badly. I was a kid at the time. I was only like 25 years old, and right then I knew I didn't care, I was not going to let that mother see her child in that condition. I didn't care if I rolled around on the floor with her and handcuffed her, I was not going to let her in that apartment.

When I went back out into the hallway, you know, mom was like twice my age, she was my mother's age. And I really wasn't experienced in this; I was only a cop for like a year and a half and I really didn't have the life experience to fall back on. But, somehow in police work, you're in people's lives during times of crises and you have to rise to the occasion — you have to know what to say and what to do. And somehow I convinced mom that it was best to remember her daughter the way she was and not the way she is. Luckily she listened to me.

On how he stopped a knife fight when he was convinced one guy was going to murder another

I was in a crowded park and a lady comes walking by and says, "You better get over there," pointing to the other side of the park. She goes, "They're fighting." So I drove around to the other side of the park and there they were. I saw the two guys fighting.

As I approached, you could see one guy was in this total complete rage, like the veins were popping out of his neck and spit was flying out of his mouth, and he was pointing at the other guy, like accusing him of something. As I got closer, I put the lights on, on the car, and that didn't seem to get his attention. I tapped the siren. That didn't seem to get his attention either. He was just in this total all-consuming rage. At that moment he pulls out a 10-inch steak knife out of his back pocket and he goes to stab the guy. He's going to murder this guy right in front of me, right in front of a police car. ...

I had literally one second to make a decision. ... I would've been completely justified shooting him, but there was no time ... to jump out of the car and get a shot off, so I hit the gas. I tapped them with the car and he went flying. The knife went flying; he went flying. And just in the nick of time I kept him from stabbing the other guy — and saved his life.

On the crowd's reaction to the knife incident

I jumped out of the car. I got my perp; I'm handcuffing him. [And] just as I'm feeling a little proud of myself that I prevented a murder, a crowd had gathered. All of the sudden the crowd starts chanting, "F the police," and somebody else starts yelling, "Yeah, they ran the brother over, he wasn't doing nothing!" Now, nobody actually saw what happened, but because they saw him flying off the hood of the car, everybody just assumed that I was wrong. Next thing I know bricks and bottles start flying, bottles are crashing through the windshield of the car, and a little riot started. I think what hurt more than anything is I saved this guy's life. He was about to die and the crowd, their first instinct was that the cop was wrong and the second instinct was to start throwing bricks and bottles at me. But that's a cop's life, you know?

On going to scenes knowing people aren't happy to see you

You have a job to do, so you do your job. ... Everybody loves a fireman, you know, they're coming to your house to save you. But when the cop comes, somebody is usually leaving in handcuffs. I think over 20 years it kind of burns you out a little bit. You don't feel appreciated. You do a difficult and dangerous job and you just feel like a lot of people don't appreciate what you do.

On working in plainclothes

I always liked working in plainclothes. What we did was, especially in Manhattan, we would drive around [in] a yellow taxicab, which was actually a police car, it was identical to all the other 13, 14,000 taxicabs that are out there, you couldn't tell the difference just by looking at it. We would use that to go out and follow guys. ... Our job was to go out, blend in the crowds, and look for the bad guys before they did their crime.

On his opinion of the cell video footage of police officer Michael Slager shooting and killing Walter Scott in South Carolina (Slager has been charged with murder)

If you're expecting me to defend that guy down in South Carolina, forget about it, it's not going to happen. I saw the video just like everybody else did and I can't possibly explain what was going on in his head. We don't shoot fleeing felons. I've been in that situation thousands of times, and I never had to resort to deadly physical force.

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