Comedian Dana Gould gives the ‘Planet of the Apes’ character Doctor Zaius his own talk show. Also, writer Erika Krouse on how her face launched her career as a private eye. And critic Keith Phipps guides us through the 40-year career of actor Nicolas Cage.
Featured in this Show
Comedian Dana Gould Is 'Hanging with Dr. Z'
Dana Gould started his stand-up comedy career when he was only 17 years old — and he’s been busy ever since. When he’s not performing stand-up, he’s acting, writing or working as a voice actor.
Gould has performed several voices on “The Simpsons” and served as a writer on the show. He’s also the host of the popular podcast, “The Dana Gould Hour.”
These days, Gould keeps busy turning his obsession with the “Planet of the Apes” movie franchise into comedy gold. Remember Doctor Zaius, the intelligent and very evolved orangutan from the “Apes” films? The one who served as the Minister of Science and the Chief Defender of the Faith? Well, now this character has a whole new career thanks to Gould. Dr. Z is now hosting his own YouTube talk show, “Hanging with Doctor Z.”
“And my dad must have said it because I was too young to read, I think, 4 or 5,” he said.
“‘Planet of the Apes’ — just something about it — I found interesting.The next year, in 1971, I was 6. I saw the next movie, ‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes‘ was playing, and I made them take me, which was no small feat for a 6-year-old.”
Gould said that there was something about the concept and the visual style of the makeup that he found very compelling: “I just have a weird connection to it that I really can’t explain.”
He did not see the original “Planet of the Apes” movie under he had seen the two sequels. Gould finally saw the original film on TV in September 1973 when it made its TV debut. He was unaware of the twist ending.
Fast forward to 1990 and Gould is working as a writer and performer on the original version of “The Ben Stiller Show,” which aired on MTV. Gould used his “Planet of the Apes” obsession to create content for Stiller’s show.
“I wrote a sketch called (it) ‘Planet of the Apes: The Musical,’ which was an advertisement for the musical,” he explained. “The Hamiltonesque thing ever.”
There was only one problem. “The Ben Stiller Show” was canceled before they had a chance to film the sketches.
Several years went by and Gould found himself on the phone with author, actor and humorist John Hodgman.
Hodgman had found a photo of actor James Whitmore, who plays the President of the Assembly in the original “Planet of the Apes” movie. Whitmore was reading Mark Twain’s biography on the set.
“And I said to him, ‘I saw that thing. That’s so funny. I wrote that as a sketch 20 years ago,’” Gould said. “And he’s like, ‘What do you mean?’ Well yeah, I wrote that.”
So Hodgman invited Gould to perform as Doctor Zaius (complete with the makeup) at San Francisco’s annual Sketchfest.
“Because the makeup would be flawless, there would be two giant laughs,” Gould explained. “There would be the initial laugh when I walk out. And then there would be a secondary laugh when people realized that it wasn’t just a mask, that it was really the makeup, and because you don’t see that in real life. And as a comedian, I just got very greedy to get those laughs. I just wanted those laughs.“
Gould really fleshed out the Dr. Z character when he joined Ben Mankiewiecz on Turner Classic Movies to introduce “The Planet of the Apes.”
“I’m going to play it as like, he’s an actor and this is a movie that he did and just play it like when I was a kid,” Gould said.
“And it wrote itself, and I actually think that’s the only way you can do it. And then that became his character,” Gould continued. “I get to use my vast warehouse of worthless knowledge about old showbiz and create this weird, goofy character.”
Fast forward to the pandemic and Gould is talking to his collaborator Rob Cohen. They were thinking of doing a documentary about Dr. Zaius inspired by the 1975 documentary, “Henry Miller Asleep and Wake.”
“We thought that would be funny with Dr. Zaius rattling around his Hollywood mansion. But then Rob, he just went, ‘Why don’t we just do like his talk show? Like it was a ’70s talk show?’ And I was like, bang. That’s it.”
'I look familiar. I look ordinary': How Erika Krouse's face launched her career as a private investigator
Editor’s note: This story contains language and descriptions surrounding sexual assault.
Writer Erika Krouse is the author of a riveting book called “Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation.” It’s a combination of memoir and literary true crime. Krouse shares her story of how her self-described “ordinary looking face” led to her career as a private investigator.
At the start of that career, she was assigned to investigate a sexual assault. The case involved a college student who was attacked at a party.
Krouse was leery of accepting the assignment because of her own personal experience with sexual violence. But her skillful ability to get people to talk to her and provide details illuminated a culture of sexual abuse on campus. And it began what would become a historic civil rights case.
What is it about Krouse that gets people to share the most intimate details and secrets of their lives with her?
“I thought about it a lot, actually, because I was like, ‘OK, well, it’s something. I look familiar. I look ordinary. I look like somebody. I look like everybody’s third grade friend, right?’” Krouse told WPR’s “BETA.“
Even during the pandemic, when faces were mostly covered with masks, people were still sharing with her.
“The clerk at the grocery store would tell me that her daughter was in the hospital. It never stopped. So now I’m just kind of thinking that people are dying to talk and reveal things about themselves. I don’t think it’s like unlocking secrets and cracking things open. I think people are really dying to disclose the hidden parts of them because it hurts to hide,” she said.
Path to PI
Krouse describes her path to a PI career as being very random. One day, she and a lawyer found themselves in the same section of a bookstore.
“And he just started talking to me, and he told me all these secrets about his life,” she recalled.
These secrets included him telling her that he didn’t know if what he was doing had any meaning and he was thinking of leaving his law firm.
“And he was almost a little angry,” Krouse said. “I said, ‘It’s OK, you know, this happens to me all the time. Don’t worry. I won’t tell anybody.’”
The lawyer, identified as Grayson, also told Krouse about a Title IX sexual assault case he was pursuing. After about 10 minutes of conversation, Grayson told Krouse he wanted to hire her as a private investigator in that case.
“And I said, ‘I don’t have any experience as a private investigator.,’” Krouse said. “And he said, ‘Perfect.’“
The case involved a plaintiff whom Krouse refers to as Simone: Between 20 and 30 football players and recruits showed up to crash a girls-only party Simone was hosting. Between five and eight of the players assaulted her that night and trashed her apartment. The case was thrown out by the D.A., which is how Grayson and Krouse became involved.
Tricks of the trade
Krouse said that prior to working on this case, she had already learned many of the tricks that she used to encourage people to reveal more information. She thinks it’s more common for people to learn those socialization tricks if they’ve experienced trauma, as she has.
“For example, in my case, I had a hard home life, so I would do anything to get out of the home,” Krouse said. “So I learned how to make people like me. One of the things that you do is you ask them a lot of questions about themselves. And you ask important questions, too. You just ask the questions other people don’t ask because they’re trying to be polite or they’re trying to be respectful. They’ll say something like, ‘It’s a long story.’ And then you say, ‘What’s the long story?’ And then they have a choice, of course they can tell you or they can not tell you.”
One of the expressions that Krouse would often use to great effect is, “We’re just talking here.”
“That was my favorite,” she said. “And I got that actually from one of my interviewees, a football player. He didn’t want to tell me something, but he did. So then finally, he just said, ‘Okay, we’re just talking here, right?’ And then I used that all the time. I would just tell people, ‘We’re just talking here’ because it was actually true. I wasn’t recording these phone conversations or in-person conversations because it didn’t matter if I was. You can’t take that to court. So I’d say, ‘We’re just talking here,’ and then they’d open up more. Or I’d say, ‘This is off the record,’ but there’s no record.”
Krouse thought writing “Tell Me Everything” was going to be easy. It’s non-fiction, so she wouldn’t have to make anything up.
“With fiction, you have so many choices. Anything can happen,” Krouse said. “But with memoir, you already know the whole story and everything’s already it’s done. It’s fact. So it seemed easy at first.”
But as more time passed, writing her book became more difficult. In fact, she said it was the hardest thing she’d ever written in her life. It was emotionally difficult.
“There were times when I really had to put my head down on my desk and type blindly. And then I’d look up and see that it was gibberish, and then I’d have to do it again,” she said.
What Nicolas Cage's career tells us about the last 40 years of filmmaking
If you’re going to explore the significant shifts of filmmaking over the last 40 years, there’s perhaps only one IMDb page you need to click on. That’s the prolific and iconoclastic career of Nicolas Cage.
Cage has starred in more than 100 movies and inspired nearly just as many memes from his memorable performances.
From the auteur-driven ’70s through the rom-coms of the ’80s, into the action crazed ’90s and even into the superhero franchises of today, Cage has been there for every dynamic turn, sometimes even leading the way.
“I’m confused and interested and sometimes frustrated by the changes that have come to film over the last 40 years,” critic and author Keith Phipps tells WPR’s “BETA.” “Cage has been there the entire time, sometimes playing at the front of Hollywood when he’s one of the biggest stars in the world and sometimes kind of receding into the background as films seem to have a hard time finding room for him for one reason or another.”
Phipps, the former A.V. Club movie critic and creator of the website Dissolve, has inlaid Cage’s career into Hollywood’s history in his book, “Age of Cage: Four Decades of Hollywood Through One Singular Career.”
“I thought it was just an interesting way in to look at a bigger picture. And of course, Cage is himself quite interesting,” Phipps said.
To first understand Cage, Phipps argued, you must first understand Nicolas Coppola. Cage is the nephew of auteur and film stalwart Francis Ford Coppola and a few of his first few credits are under Nicolas Coppola. But for Cage, being a part of one of cinema’s royal families was both a boost and a crutch.
“As he described it, he kind of grew up as the poor relation of Francis Ford Coppola’s family,” Phipps explained. “He likened himself to Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights’ where there’s a sort of jealousy of what everyone has and there is kind of a motivating factor for driving him to succeed early on.”
While Cage would launch his career through Coppola films such as “Rumble Fish,” “The Cotton Club” and “Peggy Sue Got Married,” he adopted his stage name to avoid nepotism charges and to focus on bringing his own acting choices to the forefront.
That didn’t stop Cage, however, from using the safety net of his famous uncle to push the envelope both in and out of character. Phipps said on “Peggy Sue Got Married,” Cage brought a drastically different interpretation to his role of Charlie Bodell than what Francis wanted.
“It’s really kind of the emergence of Cage bringing his own eccentric interpretation of the character and sticking with it, and in this case, almost getting fired for it,” Phipps said. “If it weren’t Coppola directing, there’s a chance he might not have made it to the final cut of that film.”
Emboldened at the start of his career by the same family connections he’d set out to distance himself from, Cage carried this eccentric and iconoclastic approach to many defining roles in the ensuing decades.
Following the success of “Animal House” and “Meatballs,” Hollywood in the 1980s began chasing down sex-driven teen rom-coms like “Porky’s” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Cage, who had a cameo as one of Sean Penn’s surfing buds in “Fast Times,” made his own mark with the 1983 “Valley Girl” where he brought an uncharacteristic sensitivity to the jock heart throb archetype.
“I think he stands out right away. He’s a kid from the wrong side of the tracks in this, but he’s not really playing that stereotype too much,” Phipps said. “He’s funny and there’s some big romantic gesture moments in it, but it’s a really sensitive performance, too.”
Cage also shrewdly avoided being pigeonholed into these roles like his contemporaries in the so-called “Brat Pack.” Phipps said his willingness to go cartoony set him apart from those other leading young actors at the time and made him the perfect lead for the Coen Brother’s cult classic, “Raising Arizona.”
“He’s kind of defined in some ways by what he’s not,” Phipps said. “He’s contemporaneous with the Brat Pack and that gang, but not really a part of that circle socially.
With ‘Raising Arizona,’ it’s sort of an outside the box kind of role,” Phipps continued. “You wouldn’t necessarily drop a Rob Lowe or Timothy Hutton in that part. But you know, someone who’s willing to go big and cartoony. But again, as with ‘Valley Girl’, quite soulful. I think it’s kind of ideal casting.”
Cage would follow “Raising Arizona” with the breakout hit, “Moonstruck” opposite Cher. Even against rumors of a tumultuous shoot, and public clashes with director Norman Jewison, audiences and critics were drawn to Cage and the film in general.
Phipps notes how this performance precipitated a pivot to what he calls Cage’s “Sunshine Trilogy” featuring “Guarding Tess,” “Honeymoon in Vegas,” and “It Can Happen to You” that featured more understated and classic performances.
“What’s interesting about them is they really spotlight an aspect of Cage’s acting ability that isn’t really thought of,” says Phipps. “You look at ‘It Can Happen to You’ as a very Jimmy Stewart inspired performance. No eccentric gestures, no expressionistic acting techniques. It’s just kind of inhabiting an everyday nice guy.”
This era would also deliver Cage his lone Academy Award for the lead in 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas” where he played Ben Sanderson, who is addicted to alcohol and drinks himself to death.
“It’s a tough movie to watch, and I think in some ways its reputation has kind of maybe fallen a little bit over the years,” Phipps said. “As much as I admire other elements of (the film) as well, it’s definitely an acting showcase. There’s a lot of subtlety and nuance to what he does in that film.”
While winning an Oscar can lead many actors into more serious realms and projects, Cage once again led a pivot in Hollywood to the now ubiquitous summer blockbuster and action movies with appearances in “The Rock” “Con Air” and “Face/Off.”
“That success led to ‘Con Air,’ led to ‘Face Off,’ led to ‘Gone in 60 seconds,’ these big summer blockbusters where he kind of is given a little bit of free rein to put his own spin on things,” Phipps said. “I mean, ‘The Rock’ works in part because he plays his character as a nerd. It’s an interesting take on trying to be a misfit within a mainstream film.”
Cage continues to bend and flow with filmmaking’s trends. Whether it’s capturing the Charlie Kaufman hysteria in the early aughts with “Adaptation.” or leaving his mark in the superhero era with entries like “Ghost Rider” or “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” or offering a blood-soaked performance in the violent underground classic, “Mandy,” Cage still makes his presence known.
He’s even backing his career on top of itself with the meta film, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” For Phipps, he sees the constant as Cage deliberately putting his own spin on his preparation and his approach.
“There’s a lot of elaborate preparations that go into it,” Phipps said. “What’s interesting is what sometimes kind of feels spontaneous and off the cuff with Cage, and with acting in general, is often quite planned out and deeply considerate.”
- Doug Gordon Host
- Adam Friedrich Producer
- Steve Gotcher Producer
- Steve Gotcher Technical Director
- Dana Gould Guest
- Erika Krouse Guest
- Keith Phipps Guest
Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2024, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.