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Not My Job: Director Barry Sonnenfeld Gets Quizzed On Confessions

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Finally, back in February, we invited back one of our favorite guests, the movie director Barry Sonnenfeld, to tell us about his recently published memoir.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BARRY SONNENFELD: Oh, hi, Peter.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Your book is amazing. It turns out that you have lived a somewhat unusual life for a big-time movie director. Usually, we think of movie directors as being, like, real alpha people. They're powerful.

SONNENFELD: Yeah.

SAGAL: They've got the vision. That's not you, I don't think.

SONNENFELD: No, you know? As I mentioned eight years ago, I learned from my mother a concept of strength through weakness, that the more sort of needy you seem to be of other people's help...

SAGAL: Yeah.

SONNENFELD: ...They will come to the rescue. So I surround myself with really smart people and really talented people. And then I'll, like, point and I'll stutter. And then they'll say, oh, you want me to talk faster? And I'll go, yeah, that would be great, thanks.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Your book tells more stories about your parents - both your parents...

SONNENFELD: Yeah.

SAGAL: ...Who were - I believe the technical term is a piece of work.

SONNENFELD: You know, what's funny is neither of my Jewish parents...

SAGAL: Yes.

SONNENFELD: ...Wanted me to go into the doctoring or lawyering or finance businesses. My mother wanted me to be an artist. And my father said, do whatever you want to do. And, somehow, you'll make a living doing that, which is unusual, considering he was bankrupt seven times in my life.

SAGAL: Really?

SONNENFELD: So, yeah, he believed in doing what you like to do. He just didn't figure out a way to make money doing it.

SAGAL: Right. Well, he also wasn't that good in telling you about the facts of life. Am I right?

SONNENFELD: Well, here's the problem.

SAGAL: Is that how he started his explanation of the facts of life?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Here's the problem.

SONNENFELD: (Laughter) Here's the problem. See, Dad and I were going to go to a Yankee game. And Dad was my hero when I was about 13 or 14. And we were in a hurry, so I put on Dad's jacket and found a bunch of condoms in there, which was surprising since I can't imagine my parents ever having sex.

So, anyway, Dad decided to take that moment, where I discovered he was obviously having an affair, to teach me about the facts of life. And he got it totally wrong. He explained it to me, for instance, that the only time a woman can become pregnant is during their period. So at least I realized why I was an only child.

SAGAL: That's...

(LAUGHTER)

SONNENFELD: But I had to explain to my father that it's exactly the opposite. And he said, good to know.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I read you had no interest in directing, yet you agreed to direct "The Addams Family." What made you change your mind?

SONNENFELD: You know, I really enjoyed being a cameraman, you know? I write about being a cameraman on Penny Marshall's movie and all these other movies. And this producer, Scott Rudin, sent me the script for "Addams Family." And he said, you should become a director. And I said, OK, I'll direct. It's the way I go through life.

SAGAL: OK.

SONNENFELD: I learned it from Penny Marshall, as it turns out. In fact, I shot "Big" for Penny. And after the first week, she came up to me the second Monday and said, I tried to fire you, but they wouldn't let me.

(LAUGHTER)

SONNENFELD: And I said, who wouldn't let you fire me, Penny? You should have any cameraman you want. She said, no, they wouldn't let me. I called Danny - 'cause she was friends with Danny DeVito, and I had shot "Throw Momma From The Train." She said, I called Danny. He says you're good, but I don't think so.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Barry Sonnenfeld, it is always great to talk to you. We've invited you here to play a game we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Father.

SONNENFELD: OK.

SAGAL: So you wrote a book called "Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother." We decided to ask you about calling your Father - that is, confessing to a Catholic priest.

SONNENFELD: Oh, boy. This is going to be fun.

SAGAL: You'd be good at this. Answer 2 out of 3 questions correctly - you might win a prize for one of our listeners. No, you will win a prize for one of our listeners, any voice they might like on their answering machine. Bill, who is Barry Sonnenfeld playing for?

KURTIS: Barbara Preston of Phoenix, Ariz.

SAGAL: All right. Ready to do this?

SONNENFELD: Yeah.

SAGAL: Here's your first question. Confession can take forever if you've got one priest and a long line of sinners. So one priest in Indiana had an idea to speed up the process. What was it - A, a multiple choice form so sinners could just check off their specific sins and hand it in; B, a golf cart that allows the priest to bring the confessional to you; or C, mass confession where the priest names a sin, and everybody who did it just raises their hands?

(LAUGHTER)

SONNENFELD: Well, it's either 1 or 3. I'm going to go 1.

SAGAL: It was actually B, the golf cart.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Father Patrick at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Indiana likes to cruise around Catholic college campuses in his golf cart and offer the sacrament to anyone who looks guilty.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You have two more chances, and I'm pretty sure you're going to get this. Sometimes, a congregation's sins are too serious for just a couple of Hail Marys to fix, which explains why two priests in Russia did what once - A, started telling congregants to do 1 billion Hail Marys; B, required every congregant to perform an original song describing their sin; or C, went up in an airplane and dumped a bunch of holy water on their hometown?

SONNENFELD: You know, I'm going to get this wrong, too, which makes the third one totally useless. But I'm going to go with 3.

SAGAL: This time, you're right, Barry. That's what they did.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: Upset with the level of, quote, "drunkenness and fornication," the two Russian Orthodox priests went up in a plane and threw holy water on the Russian city of Tver. There you go. Last question. Confession is a right going back a thousand years or more. But this is the 21st century, so, of course, it's been modernized. If you're a millennial Catholic suffering with guilt, you can do which of these - A, get out of that stuffy church and go to a confession brunch held in a Portland diner, where a priest hangs out in a corner booth; B, join the church of a San Antonio priest who is now hearing confessions via Snapchat; or C, join Uber Repentance, where your Uber driver will go to church and confess for you?

(LAUGHTER)

SONNENFELD: Oh, man. Those are all really good. I'm going to go B.

SAGAL: You're going to go B again? You're right, Barry.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: That's exactly right. Of course, the priest is using Snapchat because the images vanish, right? It's perfect for people who want to confess their terrible sins while - with adorable puppy ears. Bill, how did Barry Sonnenfeld do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Two out of three. Barry won.

SAGAL: Congratulations, again, Barry.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: With two for two on our show.

That's it for this week. We have officially run out of things to be nostalgic about.

Thanks to everyone you heard in this week's show, all of our panelists, all our guests, of course, Bill Kurtis. And thanks to all of you. I'm Peter Sagal. Stay safe, stay healthy. And we'll be back with a new show next week. This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.