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A chat with Tennessee Williams that ultimately sounds more like jazz than words

In audio from 1959, Frankly Speaking quizzes the playwright on his Mississippi childhood.

“We live in an age where everything seems to be in dire danger of extinction, don’t we? Where nothing may survive at all.” Not a quote from this year – but from 1959. It was delivered by Tennessee Williams, on a brief visit to the UK, while submitting to an intense and unrehearsed interview for the BBC (broadcast in an archive slot on 10 June, 2.10pm).

Looming over him, like the Council of Krypton bearing down on the insurrectionist General Zod, a trio of interlocutors quizzed the playwright about his Mississippi childhood (he was the son of a violent, alcoholic shoe salesman) and behaviour as a youth (“Difficult years,” Williams admitted, “shocking fiascos”).

As he talked, his three questioners – you can imagine them narrowing their eyes into Nancy Drew slits – patently melted, so rewarding were his answers. When asked what he did while waiting for first-night reviews, the response was immediate: “I just sit and die.”

His voice. So distinct. As though he’d mostly forgotten he was an American, he would go long stretches sounding flintily English, like a chipped kerbstone, only to swoon suddenly into the full Blanche DuBois. The questions were gorgeously direct. “Are you frightened of pain?” might faze someone on Graham Norton’s couch now, but Williams was open in response, unportentous. At one point he blithely revealed that he was gay, quite in passing ­(remarkable for 1959).

None of it sounded like an effort; it was as though to him all of this was mere small talk, which perhaps it was. So many of his answers sounded like lines from a play of his, tossed away for free. “Friends?” he frowned, “I have a few. But a few is a very great many.” To the question “Do you live alone?” he offered a shard of a smile: “Not always.” It was one of those interviews that ultimately sound more like jazz than words, played by a musician capable on a broad range of unusual instruments.

His staccato use of the word “no”, in particular, was unforgettable. “Do you like the films of your plays?” “No.” “Do you like working in the movies?” “No. I hate it.”

And the interviewers were briefly silenced, wondering if this was the beginning, middle and end of the answer.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

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Casting the Brexit movie that is definitely real and will totally happen

Details are yet unclear as to whether The Bad Boys of Brexit will be gracing our screens, or just Farage's vivid imagination.

Hollywood is planning to take on the farcical antics of Nigel Farage et al during the UK referendum, according to rumours (some suspect planted by a starstruck Brexiteer). 

Details are yet unclear as to whether The Bad Boys of Brexit will be gracing our big or small screens, a DVD, or just Farage's vivid imagination, but either way here are our picks for casting the Hollywood adaptation.

Nigel Farage: Jim Carrey

The 2018 return of Alan Partridge as "the voice of hard Brexit" makes Steve Coogan the obvious choice. Yet Carrey's portrayal of the laughable yet pure evil Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events makes him a serious contender for this role. 

Boris Johnson: Gerard Depardieu

Stick a blonde wig on him and the French acting royalty is almost the spitting image of our own European aristocrat. He has also evidently already mastered the look of pure shock necessary for the final scene of the movie - in which the Leave campaign is victorious.

Arron Banks: Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais not only resembles Ukip donor Arron Banks, but has a signature shifty face perfect for the scene where the other Brexiteers ask him what is the actual plan. 

Gerry Gunster: Anthony Lapaglia

The Bad Boys of Brexit will reportedly be told from the perspective of the US strategist turned Brexit referendum expert Gerry Gunster. Thanks to recurring roles in both the comedy stalwart Frasier, and the US crime drama Without a Trace, Anthony Lapaglia is versatile enough to do funny as well as serious, a perfect mix for a story that lurches from tragedy to farce. Also, they have the same cunning eyes.

Douglas Carswell: Mark Gatiss

The resemblance is uncanny.

David Cameron: Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott is widely known for his portrayal of Moriarty in Sherlock, where he indulges in elaborate, but nationally destructive strategy games. The actor also excels in a look of misplaced confidence that David Cameron wore all the way up to the referendum. Not to mention, his forehead is just as shiny. He'll have to drink a lot of Bollinger to gain that Cameron-esque puppy fat though. 

Kate Hoey: Judi Dench

Although this casting would ruin the image of the much beloved national treasure that is Judi Dench, if anyone can pull off being the face of Labour Leave, the incredible actress can.