One of this fall's most buzzed-about movie releases, "Kinsey," stars Liam Neeson as famed human sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey. The film explores the author and scientist's work in the 1940s and the controversial debate that it generated.
Bill Condon, the film's director and screenwriter, was online Friday, Oct. 22, at Noon ET to answer questions about the movie and his career.
Liam Neeson as Dr. Alfred Kinsey in Fox Searchlight's Kinsey - 2004
(Copyright Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Condon won an Academy Award for his screenplay for "Gods and Monsters," a film he also directed. He also wrote the screenplay for 2003's screen adaptation of the musical "Chicago." "Kinsey," which stars Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O'Donnell and John Lithgow, opens in select cities Nov. 12 and in Washington Nov. 19.
A transcript follows.
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Kinsey was extremely influential in promoting a realistic, healthy and open approach to sex. Despite some issues with his methodology, his results were the most accurate up to his time in America and were ground-breaking. Is the focus of the movie on his work and its impact or more on his personal life? How accurate is the film? Also, what books do you recommend viewers read prior to watching the movie to fully understand the context?
Bill Condon: I would recommend Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy's biography of Kinsey called "Sex the Measure of All Things." The film is accurate though not complete because it's impossible to be absolutely inclusive when telescoping a person's life into two hours. As for the first question, the reason Kinsey makes a good subject for a film is there's such a deep connection between his life and his work. The initial impulse to study sex came from a deep personal need and Kinsey would also apply things he discovered to his own life. Therefore, I was able to spend probably half the movie dealing with the work because the work reveals a lot about the person.
Is the movie based on the book by T.C. Boyle, "The Inner Circle"?
Bill Condon: No, in fact I haven't yet read Boyle's book, although I'm going to be on a panel with him in about a month. So I'm looking forward to it. As I understand it, his focus is on the relationship between Kinsey and his research team, specifically centering on the open marriages that Kinsey promoted among the team, which plays only a small part in the film. I felt that as I did research, there are a lot of fascinating ways to approach the Kinsey story. For me the question was, who was this person who thought to do this extraordinary thing in an unlikely place and an unlikely time? I look forward to reading the Boyle book and also to seeing an exhaustive documentary that PBS is putting together that will air in February.
According to a New York Times article by Caleb Crain, you stated in response to a question about whether Alfred Kinsey was a monster: "I think to certain people he is," says Mr. Condon. "I don't see him that way."
If Kinsey is not a monster, then what is he? He hardly deserves public sympathy for his collusion with criminals. What does that make you, Mr. Condon? Are you a monster also?
Bill Condon: Well, I did make a movie called "Gods and Monsters." I guess the phrase I land on there is collusion with criminals. I suppose that refers to the fact that among the 18,000 people he interviewed, he did talk to a pedophile and then went on to use the data. But again for me this gets to an enduring issue in our society. Is the act of talking about something the same as endorsing it? Kinsey was quite clear in his disapproval of nonconsensual sexual acts or any act that involved hurting another person.
Do you have any advice for aspiring screenwriters? For example, should one focus on what Hollywood wants or what you're passionate about?
Bill Condon: First congratulations for graduating from one of the toughest high schools in the country. That's an easy answer: You really have to stick with what you're interested in. It's a lesson it actually took me a while to learn, as I worked in more overtly commercial area to which I probably wasn't that well suited, in the first part of my career. "Gods and Monsters" actually was the first personal movie that I made. It was satisfying on absolutely every level. One other bit of advice though: Now that I'm old enough to have watched aspiring writers who either had careers or didn't, I find that the successes have one thing in common and that is that they simply never stop writing. A script gets finished, it gets exposed as much as possible but it's followed immediately by a new one and then another and then another. That seems to be how it really happens for people.
The cast of "Kinsey" is quite impressive. Was it difficult to get all of these fine actors to sign on or, given your previous work on "Gods and Monsters," was it fairly easy to gather talent such as this?
Bill Condon: I'm not sure if it was due to "Gods and Monsters" or to what the cast thought of as the important subject matter. But I must say it was amazing how easily we were able to gather this group of extraordinary actors, especially considering how little money we were paying. We made the movie in New York, not because it's set there but because there are over 100 speaking parts, many of which are cameos of people recounting their sex histories. I was intent on having the best group of actors to choose from and that's why we did it there.
Are you going to be honest with your questioners and mention that Kinsey's work was badly flawed and can no longer be taken seriously?
Bill Condon: Yes, there's definitely reference in the movie to the fact that there were statistical flaws in the methodology. Kinsey with the help of Ray Kroc of McDonald's fame solved one problem that sex researchers had always faced, but in doing so created another. The problem was simply this: People who are willing to speak openly about their sex histories are inevitably people who are more sexually active and therefore using them as a sample wouldn't accurately reflect the general population. Kinsey instead interviewed entire groups of people who had gathered for a reason that had nothing to do with sex, a bowling league for example, or a ladies' sewing circle. While this took care of the initial problem, Kinsey's hope that these groups would represent the entirety of society in microcosm turned out to be not the case. But I would add that Kinsey's 18,000 sex interviews are still used as a main source of contemporary sex research. And when run through contemporary statistical models, often yield similar results.
Tenleytown, Washington, D.C.:
Mr. Condon: "Gods and Monsters" was a terrific movie, and deserved a better reception from the public than it received. It sounds like you might again be working with similar thematic elements in a biographical setting? What draws you to biographical materials?
Bill Condon: A very good question. Sometimes I worry it's a basic lack of imagination. But I think in both of these cases, it was really the complexity and contradictions of these real-life characters that drew me in since I think complicated stories make for the best drama.
Dear Mr. Condon,
I wonder how you create dialogue and characters for your movies. Do you watch films and talk to contemporaries of your subjects?
As an aside, Bob Woodward is said to go through a similar process in his writing. Do you read for enjoyment; if so, what are your favorites?
Bill Condon: It's interesting you compare me to Woodward because that is a freedom I have that the journalist doesn't. I'm working as a dramatist, so you can more freely imagine conversations. What happened when Kinsey first told his wife abuot his bisexuality, for example. No one was there with a tape recorder. The Kinseys are long dead. There are some anecdotal stories about the difficulties they went through in their marriage. That's the challenge for the dramatist, that they can imagine both sides of the argument and create it.
I'm looking forward to your movie very much, although I don't know much about Dr. Kinsey's life or work. I've been intrigued by previews that mention the McCarthy trials. Could you please tell us a little about how your film deals with the McCarthy era?
Thanks so much.
Bill Condon: The reactions to the male and female volume were very different. Tha male volume was published in Jaunaruy of 1948 when the country was still in that optimistic post-war glow. The female volume was published in 1953 when the Cold War had taken hold. And in a way, that's not so different from today. Everything was filtered through that prism. Kinsey's discussion of female sexual activity was seen as an attack on the American family and therefore in some quarters, an attack on our entire capitalist system. There were hearings held by B. Carroll Reece, a Republican Congressman from Tennessee into tax-exempt organizations that were so thinly disguised in an attempt to attack Kinsey and his work.
Dumb question ... there's a great Calypso song from the 1950s called "The Kinsey Report" that was done by many artists of the era. Was any version of this song used in the movie? It's a very witty look at how the average person reacted to Kinsey's studies.
Bill Condon: No, I'd love to hear that. I know the song "Ooh Dr. Kinsey" that Martha Raye had a hit with. I'd love to find a way to hear that. We definitely have "Too Darn Hot" with the immortal Cole Porter lyrics: "Accordig to the Kinsey Report/Every average man you know/Much prefers to play his favorite sport/When the temperature is low."
Thanks so much for all the questions. I wish we had more time and I hope you go see the movie.