Greg Dulli Vs Ted Demme

Interview by Frank Broughton
Blah Blah Blah Magazine

It was a meeting of soul men: the raw-throated singer with Black Love in his heart and the rising Hollywwod director with Beautiful Girls on his mind. Where better for an exclusive audience with Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli and film director Ted Demme than in Chris Isaak’s undressing room?
Ted Demme is a bulky, white homeboy with a feathered Tyrolean hat who can walk up to Def Jam’s Russell Simmons and say “Wassup negro?” without getting punched. He is probably best known as the creator of the weekly hip-hop programme, Yo! MTV Raps, although he already has two feature films under his belt, the cartoonish rap whodunnit Who’s the Man, and the bizarre Denis Leary vehicle, The Ref (retitled Hostile Hostages in the UK). And, although he is no stranger to movie making, the fact that his uncle is the more famous director Jonathan ‘Something Wild’ Demme is still a source of humour for Ted and his friends. Ted’s new film is the appositely titled Beautiful Girls. It’s a kind of boys’ version of Waiting to Exhale (except it’s good), with a touchingly comedic script, a talented ensemble cast including Matt Dillon and Uma Thurman, and a spirited soundtarck put together by Greg Dulli whose band, The Afghan Whigs, has a cameo appearance performing in a bar. Greg and Ted have been good friends for a while. They are currently collaborating on a long-form music video of two of the Whigs’ new songs (“a short movie a la Sympathy for the Devil,” explains Ted) and have bought the rights to a book, Spoken in Darkness, which they intend to turn into a film together.

We’re in the vast ballroom of New York’s Manhattan Center, where MTV is preparing to tape Beautiful Girls’ post-premiere party. Here, in a few hours, the stars of the soundtrack – Chris Isaak and The Afghan Whigs themselves – will perform their music, including The Whigs’ terrific feedback-soul version of Barry White’s ‘Can’t Get Enough of Your Love.’ As the TV technicians set up their cameras, and the bands run through their soundchecks, all thoughts are on tonight’s long-limo, red-carpet launch.

Ted Demme: “It’s gonna be a big fat jammy of a night.”
Greg Dulli: “Well, who’s going to be here? Stars after stars? Beatty?”
Ted: “Warren Beatty, Tarantino, Elle Macpherson will be in the house. About 20 supermodels.”
Greg: “And Uma?”
Ted: “She’ll be there. Oooh yes. She’ll be there.”

We dive into the seclusion of Chris Isaak’s sizable dressing room. Ted and Greg start fooling around, making jokes about the big star. Greg decides it would be fun to find Isaak’s ultra-quiff hair gel. The search is on. He reaches into the fridge and instead of a tube of Shockwaves, fishes out a can of ginger ale. Ted screams out in mock horror. “Nooo! That’s Chris Isaak’s, you can’t go in there.” But then he feels like a drink. “Ooh, gingy. Can I get one?” “I can see Chris Isaak coming in: ‘Where’s my fucking ginger ale?’,” laughs Greg. “Drink your hair gel chief.”
Ted: “I Like Chris Isaak. I just want to say that. Have you hung with him at all? He’s one of the funniest fucking guys I’ve ever met in my life.”
Greg: “He’s a handsome devil too.”
Ted: “Yeah, he’s pretty handsome. We gotta keep all you guys on the stage, out of harm’s way. ‘Cause you’re all so good looking.”
Greg: (in a big fat redneck accent) “Dank you.”
Blah Blah Blah: When did you guys meet?
Ted: “We met in 8th grade, on the junior varsity football team. Greg was the quarterback, I was the center. And I just never forget the feeling I had when you put your hands underneath me for the first time.”
Greg: “You farted on my hands.”
Ted: “And I turned around and said ‘Hi’. And we were just very close since then.”
Greg: “And then he said, ‘Smell your hands’.”
Ted: “Do you always have to get disgusting? That was the first time we really hooked up, and then we didn’t see each other for a really long time. ‘Til we were 30. His manager was really good friends with my wife and myself. And we hooked up, and Greg brought me a book that he wanted to turn into a screenplay and movie. We started talking about it, becoming friends in the process, and subsequently bought the rights to the book together. And then I started making Beautiful Girls and there was a scene in the movie…” Greg: “Woah, woah, woah! Tell the truth. Ted sent me a script, and asked me to read for the part that ended up being played by Matt Dillon. And two days later I was going to call him back and tell him I was more interested in the part that was eventually played by Tim Hutton. So I was getting ready to call Ted back when he called me and said, ‘Tough shit dude, we got actual movie stars who want to be in this movie’.”
Ted: “See, I didn’t expect to have real movie stars, so I had to rescind my offer, and then I figured, OK let me write a scene in the movie with a band in it. And Greg became the band. And you know what, he was really good at it.”
Greg: “And then, apparently, the Weinstein Brothers who own Miramax, when they saw how long the band was in the movie, they asked Ted if he owed me money.”
Ted: “Actually, everyone was asking me that. ‘Let me ask you something Ted. Why is the band in it for about a minute and a half?’ So I went, ‘Well, it’s part of the scene, I want to set the musical tone.’ And they still went: ‘Why are they in there so long? Money? Sex? Secrets? What does he know about you?’.”
Greg: “When I first saw it, it was like a movie, with a break for an Afghan Whigs video in the middle, and then the rest of the movie.”
Ted: (giggles all round) “It was like part one. Intermission. ‘Ladies and gentlemen the Afghan Whigs, for your intermission entertainment, and stick around for the last part of the movie’.”

INTERMISSION: The band’s contribution to Beautiful Girls comes in a beer-blown bar room scene where they provide the music to an exchange between Michael Rapaport and Uma Thurman. Rapaport’s character is parading the glamourous newcomer in front of his indecisive girlfriend (played by Martha Plimpton), who’s standing at the bar with her other man, the local butcher. The Whigs’ fucked-up white-boy blues are perfect for this little vignette, Dulli’s cracked Motown inflections conjuring an atmosphere of whisky-eyed melancholy. The Whigs, whose inception was a chance meeting between Greg and guitarist Rick McCollum in a Cincinnati jail, and whose gestation was on Seattle’s Sub Pop label, fit Demme’s film to a T.

Ted: “Frankly, when I met Greg I didn’t know a lot about the band. I’m not a real lifelong Whigs fan. I guess I’ve become one. I guess on-the-bandwagon would probably be an honest answer of how I became friends with these guys. I was interested in meeting him anyway. And then I just kinda became a fan of his music. He played me his new album which is fucking great. We’re both soul men, Well, Greg, he’s a big fucking dictionary for soul music. And I’m a big soul fan too. How did we actually come up with putting the Barry White song in the movie?”
Greg: “You challenged me to do Barry White. You said…”
Ted: “We were saying, give us your Top Five of all time – playing that game – and Barry White came up…”
Greg: “And then Ted said, ‘I bet you guys can’t do ‘My First, My Last, My Everything’.’ And I thought about it for a couple of hours and called him back and said, ‘How about if we do ‘Can’t Get Enough?’.’ He was like, ‘OK, if you can do ‘Can’t Get Enough’ and make it good enough for movie, I’ll let you be in it’.” (They both snigger.)
Ted: “Get the fuck out, get the fuck out – I’ll let you be in it! When Greg was calling to agree to be in the movie, he was like, ‘Look I just want to say, Philadelphia was one of my favorite movies, man’. I was like, ‘That’s my uncle’s film’. So he was like, ‘Oh, who’s this?’. ‘This is Ted Demme’, and he goes, ‘Oh, can I call you right back?’.”
Greg: “So I called him back and said, ‘Yo, I just saw Who’s the Man. I loved it, dude. It was crazy fresh, man.’”
Ted: “Greg’s best phone call was when he called me up from Miami, at 8am, which led me to believe that he hadn’t gone to bed yet. Probably rehearsing. So the phone rings and this voice goes (in a campy, precise, gay waiter’s voice): ‘Hi, is this Mr Demme? This is Serge, Madonna’s houseboy. I wanted to know if you’re coming over for the jet-ski brunch.’ I go, ‘Umm, I don’t know if I was invited for the jet-ski brunch’. He’s like, ‘No, you’re invited Mr Demme, come on over for the jet-ski brunch.’ And then he gave me that laugh and I knew it was Greg.”
Greg: “But you never did go to Madonna’s.”
Ted: “I actually did go to the jet-ski bruch. It was fabulous.”
BBB: “A jet-ski brunch?”
Ted: “You’re riding a jet-ski, you’re eating your eggs: eggs are all over the place.”
Greg: “Huevos Rancheros. It’s fucking great man. Sauce all over the place. Madonna’s way into it.”
Ted: “She really loves it.”

JET-SKI BRUNCH BREAK: This celebrity piss-taking turns out to be a tad disingenuous. Not only does the freakish image of ocean-going scrambled eggs turn out to be a genuine part of Madonna’s life, but the laddish Demme, being a real-life film director, really does move in these circles. Later, at the premiere, he introduces his movie with a roll-call of the stars who made it to the screening. The list of big names and pretty faces grows ever longer. The delicate newcomer, Natalie Portman arrives, escorted by her mum. Matt Dillon is here, hanging with some other buddy-boy cast members. There are plenty of the usual NYC celebs in attendance, and the audience gives a big Manhattan whoop as Demme reveals “…and Uma’s in the house”. As the celebs file by, before they can grab their gratis popcorn and 7-Up, they are collared by TV crews doing paparazzi interviews. In between mindlessly flattering TV fluff, there’s one question that everyone is asked: What is the movie actually about? Back in the dressing room, sucking down more of Chris Isaak’s ginger ale, the director explains the story.

Ted: “It’s about these five lifelong friends that live in a small town, and one of the friends has been away for a while: Tim Hutton. He comes back, after being away. It’s about what happens when you come home, to a town, and to friends…”
Greg: “And you fall in love with an 11-year-old.”
(In the movie, Tim Hutton falls for his next-door neighbor’s daughter, a Lolita-like character played by Natalie Portman.)
Ted: “Shut up. She’s 13, actually.”
Greg: “Tim Hutton plays Jerry Lee Lewis.”
Ted: “Nice.”
Greg: “I must admit: I felt stirrings for Natalie Portman as well.”
Ted: “Easy…”
Greg: “Just stirrings, I didn’t act on it. Stirrings are stirrings.”
Ted: “I’ll give you that.”
Greg: “So there are a lot of beautiful women in the film.”
Ted: “Beautiful girls. Beautiful Women’s the sequel. Beautiful Hos: that’s the one you’ll be in.”
Greg: “That’ll be a change for me.”
BBB: So Ted, you’re married. And Greg, whare are you at with a relationship?
Greg: “I’m single. Available. Maybe tonight though…!”
Ted: (conspiratorially) “There’s gonna be some groupies here tonight. Usually they’re like big fat grips though.”
Greg: “I’m gonna film my own movie tonight: Beautiful Groupies.”
Ted: “Ohh.”
Greg: “With my camcorder.”
Ted: “Hip hop hooray!”
Both: “Hoooo haaaay!”
BBB: You’d better tell us about beautiful girls in general.
Ted: “Well, I’ve got one. I’m married to her.”
Greg: “New York City has the most beautiful girls in the whole world.”
Ted: “Easily, easily. And by the way, this spring and summer was a particularly good season.”
Greg: “A good harvest.”
Ted: “It was a good one. Lots of mini-skirts, lots of tight blouses.”
Greg: “Lots of just flat-out nudity. I remember seeing naked girls this summer. They had pumps on…nothing else. Right near Madison Square Garden.”
Ted: “Well, actually those girls are fabulous too, around Eleventh Avenue and 25th Street.”
Greg: “And what they wanna do is really expensive. I barely know you, why should I take you for a $200 date? I don’t mind working up to that when we get to know each other, but right off the bat..”
Ted: “For God’s sake…”
Greg: “…that’s a big hit.”
Ted: “The girls are especially fine in the city.”
Greg: “And then Zurich is next. You’ve never been to Zurich have you?”
Ted: “I haven’t. Really.”
Greg: “If you’re there in spring and summer it’s unbelievable. It must be the confluence of all those like Italian, German, Dutch, Austrian genes mixing around. It’s fascinating. So I’d say Zurich was number two, as far as beautiful girls…”
Ted: “How about Cincinnati?”
Greg: (reluctantly) “There’s a couple of them there.”
Ted: “Don’t get in trouble. You live there.”

COITUS INTERRUPTUS: Ahh Uma, beautiful girl Number One. Ms Thurman’s character appears in the settled small town, and offers the men a new perspective on their troubled relationships. The cousin of Stinky, the slobbish bartender, she surprises everyone with a hormonal jolt but gradually makes each realise that what they already have is pretty special.
Ted: “One of the characters talks throughout the whole movie about how he wants to date models, how he loves those fucking guys who date models because they’re not home a lot and they travel light, don’t spend a lot of time with them.”
Greg: “And they make a lot of money.”
Ted: “And they make a lot of bread.”
Greg: “And they don’t have to work much.”
Ted: “You can watch a lot of hockey. So that’s his ideal of a beautiful woman. Uma comes in and she is beautiful. And she drinks whisky shots which blows them out. She knows about football, and she’s just fucking cool. She’s not the most beautiful woman, but to these guys she’s the ideal woman.”
Greg: “But she is because they’ve all had relationships and here comes a new girl to be excited about: the only thing that your wife or girlfriend can’t be to you. She can never be new. To me, that’s the thing that your movie is about.”
Ted: “True.”
Greg: “You may love that woman, sex may still be good, but she can never be a new experience, because you know her so well. That’s why that hooker scene is so great.”
Ted: (whispers) “It’s been cut out.”
Greg: “It’s out now?”
Ted: “It’s on my reel though, believe me. There’s actually this great scene…”
Greg: (whispering) “Thank you for getting me in that scene though.”
Ted: “There’s this great speech which Uma gives to Tim, where Tim says, ‘I look at you and I think it’s great that someone gets to do all these things with you, gets to hang with you, party, smell your skin, blah blah blah’. And she says, ‘Well guess what, there’s a guy who’s looking at you and thinking the same thing, but about you and your girl’. I think it’s one of the best lines in the movie ’cause it’s really true. Because every time you’re with your girl, you see a guy with a girl that’s really great and you just go: ‘Fuck man, that guy’s just so fucking lucky’. There’s probably a moment when some guy’s looking at you going: ‘How the fuck did she and that fat slob get together – what the fuck?’.”
Greg: “But when you’re looking at those two people, you don’t know all the shit that comes along with her and with him. You just look at them and see something that you don’t have, and you want it.”
Ted: “I think guys in general, maybe some girls, but guys definitely, are never ever happy with what they’ve got. What is it about guys? They always think there’s one fucking girl that’s better than the one they have. It’s wild. It’s like cars, you know?”
Greg: “Yeah, you’re right. I like my car but I want that new, faster car.”
Ted: “I just tell everyone, look, guys are guys: they have the chip in their neck that makes them a guy, and girls are girls: they have the chip in their neck that makes them a girl. You can’t do a fucking thing to change that and the earlier you realize that, then the better off you are. Sometimes you’ll be coming down the highway and it’ll be a 90 mile an hour train wreck ’cause you’ll just never agree on anything. But then, the next day, she’s your best fucking friend, and you want to stay in bed all day, and you don’t want to move, you don’t want to see your boys, whatever.”
Greg: “Unless there’s a game on that night.”
Ted: “Good point…”

Thanks to Tanya for typing this up and sending it out to the whigs mailing list back in the day.

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