By Royce Webb
Special to Page 3

  • Chat with Peter Bogdanovich, live, immediately after "Hustle" airs on Saturday.

    Tom Sizemore
    ESPN's original Pete Rose movie, "Hustle," debuts this Saturday, starring Tom Sizemore and directed by Peter Bogdanovich.
    In Hollywood, Peter Bogdanovich is a legend among legends -- the director of "The Last Picture Show" and other hit movies, friend to movie icons, and Dr. Elliot Kupferberg on "The Sopranos."

    And now Bogdanovich is an ESPN guy, as director of the Pete Rose movie "Hustle" (ESPN, Sat., 9 p.m.). This week he sat down with Page 3 as we applied 10 Burning Questions and discussed Rose and the Hall of Fame, Bogdanovich's new book, and his friendship with Bruce Springsteen and Quentin Tarantino.

    1. Before "Hustle," what kind of baseball fan were you? What was your experience with the game?

    Peter Bogdanovich: I played baseball in camp in Maine, when I was a kid, probably around 10, 11 years old. I liked the game. And then I went to a ballgame -- Yankees, I think -- when I was about 10. A friend of mine's father took me. My parents were totally not into sports -- being immigrants, they didn't know anything about it.

    And then I went to a ballgame in 1965, at Dodger Stadium in L.A. Sandy Koufax was pitching. I was driven there by Cary Grant in a Rolls-Royce -- he drove, his wife, Dyan Cannon, sat next to him, my then-wife and I sat in the back seat. He bought us hot dogs. It was a great game.

    He and his wife seemed to know an enormous amount about the game -- much more than I knew -- because they were talking about statistics and this and that and the other thing all through it. Cary was a real baseball fan, which was amazing to me.

    And then we were driven back and she told him to sing a song and he sang an old English music-hall song. It was a very memorable afternoon.

    Peter Bogdanovich and Tom Sizemore
    Bogdanovich, left, has directed several Oscar-winning acting performances.
    2. In the movie, Pete Rose isn't very easy to like. His primary redeeming quality seems to be the way he played baseball. Is that how you saw him?

    I think you're accurate. It is tough to like what he does. Baseball is the big redeeming feature. That's what he's about, that's what his life was about. When that is removed from his life, he didn't have anything else.

    Being a manager wasn't enough. It didn't have something visceral about it, which I guess betting fed him with. It supplanted the actual playing. You can sort of understand it. That doesn't mean you excuse it, but you can sort of understand it.

    There's a scene where they ride in the car -- Paul Janszen says he's got a problem and he wants to get his $30,000 back. Before that scene, we were preparing it, and Tom Sizemore said, "I don't know quite how to play this." And I said, "Tom, he's a movie star." And he whispered, "OK, I got it." You know, because movie stars are proverbially a little bit like that: "Oh yeah, sure, give you anything you want, talk to my assistant."

    There's some ambiguity in the movie about how and when Rose started betting on baseball.

    It was pretty much the way the script was written. The brass, the executive board of ESPN, and the lawyers did a lot of vetting of all that, trying to get it right. And I think there's slight ambiguity about it.

    We try to make it seem as though he made a decision to bet on the Reds at a certain moment. Maybe he'd been betting on baseball but he made a decision to bet on the Reds at a certain moment.

    Tom Sizemore
    Sizemore plays Rose as a dark, tragic figure.
    Sports fans have watched Rose for so many years through our television sets -- we feel like we're so familiar with him. How do you make an actor seem real when you're dealing with a contemporary figure?

    You do the best you can to try to make the actor give the illusion of these people. We had done a Natalie Wood picture in which we got lucky and found someone who looked like Natalie, and she's a good actress.

    Tom Sizemore doesn't look like Pete Rose, but we did what we could to make him look like Pete. We put brown contact lenses on him, and we gave him a brown wig. It wasn't easy, but we create a situation where the audience, hopefully, will suspend disbelief. And if the actor's good enough, it will work.

    3. Do you think Rose should be in the Hall of Fame?

    You know, they took a poll in Ohio, and 50 percent of the population thinks he should be, and 50 percent thinks he shouldn't be. Now that happens to be a swing state, so when they asked President Bush and Senator Kerry about this question, both of them equivocated like crazy. They went, "Well, that's a hard question."

    But I'm not running for office, so I'll answer it. I think he should be. Because what he did wrong came after what he did right. And what he did right on the field cannot be denied. So there's a hole in the Hall of Fame. Yes, what he did was wrong, in terms of betting on baseball, betting on other sports. He has been really punished for it. Taking away even managing baseball is pretty rough when that's all there is in your life. It's an inordinately rough punishment, plus he went to jail for other things.

    Bruce Springsteen
    The Boss, Bogdanovich's pal, provided the opening music for "Hustle."
    4. You had a couple of Bruce Springsteen songs in the movie. His songs have been known to be hard to get the rights to, so how'd you pull it off?

    Well, Bruce and I are old friends, and I'm friends with his business partner, Jon Landau.

    I was the first person to have to right to use Springsteen music in a major movie, in "Mask." But there was a problem, and the music got removed.

    But a new version of "Mask" just came out on DVD, the director's cut, eight minutes longer and with 25 minutes of Springsteen. Now it exists in the form that it should have existed in 20 years ago. I think you'll find it a much better picture.

    Because of Springsteen and Jon Landau and their generosity and their desire to be in the director's cut of "Mask," they basically made Universal an offer they couldn't refuse.

    5. Speaking of "an offer you couldn't refuse," is it true you turned down the opportunity to direct "The Godfather"?

    I was asked if I'd be interested in directing a Mafia picture -- a Mafia novel -- for Paramount, and I wasn't interested in doing a Mafia story, and that's how it went. I didn't actually hear the words "The Godfather," but I found out later it was "The Godfather." I wasn't interested in the Mafia at that time. I would be now.

    And now you're in a very popular show about the Mafia, "The Sopranos." Is there a whole new generation that's familiar with you now?

    I used to be recognized on the street as being a director from being on television, talking about movies or something. And people still come up to me and say I liked that movie or I liked this movie.

    But now, they say, "You're on 'The Sopranos.'" I had five 15-year-olds come up to me and say, "Aren't you on 'The Sopranos'? Wow, you're such a great actor, man. God, that is a great show. Wow, wow." They didn't know my name, but, yes, "The Sopranos" has given me a certain currency.

    And you enjoy it?

    Oh, yeah, I love it! I love acting anyway. I just wish I'd done more of it. I'm trying to make up for lost time.

    Quentin Tarantino
    Quentin Tarantino has made multiple movie shoutouts to his homey Peter B.
    6. Why has Quentin Tarantino thanked you in the credits of his last three movies?

    On "Jackie Brown," he thanked me because he was inspired in that film by a film of mine called "They All Laughed," which is a romantic screwball comedy. Which doesn't have anything to do with "Jackie Brown," but he thought that the casualness with which the actors approached each other -- he was inspired by my film.

    "Kill Bill I" and "II" -- the connection's really esoteric. But what happened was that Quentin knows, because he's such a movie buff, that when you hear a disc jockey's voice in my pictures, it's always me, sometimes doing different voices. In "The Last Picture Show," I did about five different disc jockeys, and it's always me.

    So he called me and he said, "I stole your voice from 'The Last Picture Show' for the rough cut, but I need you to come down and do that voice again for my picture, and I need you to say a certain thing about Texas. Would you come down?" So I came down, and we recorded it. Took an hour because Quentin directed me 500 different ways. (Laughs.) And he put it in the picture. So my voice is in both "Kill Bill" pictures.

    7. Are there any young directors who remind you of the rocket ride you were on with "The Last Picture Show" and "Paper Moon," your great early movies?

    Well, I think Quentin's had a ride with that kind of thing.

    I think Wes Anderson has put two pictures together -- "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums." He's a good writer and a good director.

    That was a kind of an amazing explosion when that happened to me. You can't keep that kind of thing up. I didn't.

    8. Your new book, "Who the Hell's In It," has 25 chapters on 25 different actors. Which person or chapter meant the most to you personally as you were putting your recollections together?

    They all had different kinds of things that were personal. Cary Grant was the first chapter I wrote, probably because I knew him the longest and I think he was my favorite.

    But the River Phoenix chapter meant a lot to me because he was a kid I adored, and I directed him in his last picture. So those are two that come to mind.

    You knew a lot of the greats -- in fact, you approached them to get to know them.

    I did approach a lot of the greats. I was trying to teach myself about the movies by asking questions, sort of the Socratic method of teaching myself. The great director John Ford used to say to me (in Ford's voice), "Jesus Christ, Bogdanovich, can't you do anything but ask questions? Have you ever even heard of a declarative sentence?"

    9. For those of us who have grown up on "Spider-Man," "The Matrix," and "The Lord of the Rings," what are a couple older movies that you think would turn young people on?

    I don't see how anyone could not enjoy "North By Northwest" or "Rio Bravo," two 1959 films that I happen to love. How anyone could fail to enjoy "Anatomy of a Murder," also from 1959? Those are three that are just very, very easy to like. Great acting, good stories, entertaining -- those are not esoteric in any way.

    And two of them are in color. (Laughs.) Kids seem to think black and white is anathema.

    I rather like black and white; I did two pictures in black and white. For some reason it's all connected to family. Kids turn against anything that's older than 1980. It's a sign of flat-out stupidity (laughs). Or maybe it's just ignorance. The other thing is that kids have no idea what to look at. You go into a video store and see some of these older films -- how do they know? What's the difference between "Tall in the Saddle" with John Wayne or "Rio Bravo" with John Wayne?

    10. What do you want to do next?

    I have two pictures that I really want to make, called "Squirrels to the Nuts" and "Wait for Me." I'm going to try to put more attention to getting those made than I have of late, because, you know, nobody invites you make a picture, you have to push your way through.

    Now the Pete Rose movie came out of the blue, and I really was very happy that it did -- I liked doing it. So things come out of the blue.

    In show business, life changes with a phone call. It's unlike any other business. Look at what happened with "The Sopranos." A phone call in June of 2000 -- or 1999, can't remember now -- and boom! So that's the good thing and the bad thing. No, that's the good thing.