Transcript: Interview: Tom Stoppard | Feb 25, 1991

The Host and her guest sit in a room with a background of floral green curtains, a small table with a colorful floral arrangement on. The Host is a woman in her mid-thirties with short blond hair in a bob. She wears a black jacket with a matching blouse and a skirt.

The Host says I SPOKE TO
TOM STOPPARD
WHEN HE WAS IN TORONTO
LAST SEPTEMBER, FOR A
SCREENING OF HIS FILM
AT THE FESTIVAL
OF FESTIVALS.
A FUNNY, SMART, VISUALLY
SUMPTUOUS FILM.
QUITE FAITHFUL TO THE
PLAY, BUT NOT ENTIRELY
LIKE THE PLAY.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE
CHANGES THAT YOU MADE AND
WHY DID YOU MAKE THEM?

The Guest is a man in his forties. He has curly long hair to the shoulders and is clean-shaven. He wears dark trousers, a striped light blue shirt, and a green jacket. He sits in front of The Host and listens to her quietly.

The Guest says WELL, THE FIRST
THING IS
THAT ABOUT HALF THE PLAY
IS MISSING, I THINK.
CERTAINLY A LOT OF THE WORDS
HAVE GONE, AND ALTHOUGH
I WROTE A FEW WORDS WHICH
ARE NOT IN THE PLAY,

A picture appears on screen. In it, a man crouches by the statue of a sleeping woman. Then, a different picture shows a man in his fifties with long curly hair staring at a skull.

The Guest continues THE ADDITIONS
ARE MOSTLY
BITS OF COMEDY WHICH ARE
WORDLESS AND REASONS FOR THE
CHANGES ARE PRETTY MUCH
WHAT YOU WOULD EXPECT - YOU
DON'T NEED THAT MANY WORDS
WHEN YOU CAN SEE
MORE AND GET CLOSER.
ALSO, THE THING HAS TO KEEP
MOVING ALONG BECAUSE
FOR OBVIOUS REASONS IN A PLAY,
"ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN"
ARE SITTING THERE LIKE TWO
PEOPLE ON A RAILWAY STATION
AND THIS TRAIN KEEPS GOING
BY AND IN THE MOVIE
THEY'RE THE TRAIN, AND IT
WORKS BETTER WITH LESS TEXT.

The Host says BACK IN 1967, THE
IRREVERENCE OF TAMPERING
WITH SHAKESPEARE AND OF
HAVING FOR YOUR PROTAGONISTS
TWO AIMLESS INNOCENTS, WAS
VERY IN LINE WITH THE TIMES,
AND YET THE PLAY HAS
REMAINED ENORMOUSLY POPULAR
THROUGHOUT THE
WORLD; WHAT IS IT
ABOUT THIS PLAY THAT
FASCINATES AUDIENCES?

The Guest says I RESPONDED TO THE
MUNDANE SITUATION,
WHICH IS TO SAY THAT IT'S A
PLAY ABOUT TWO ELIZABETHAN
COURTIERS TRAPPED IN
THE PLOT OF "HAMLET."
WHATEVER ELSE
IT MAY BE ABOUT,
I DIDN'T CONCERN MYSELF
WITH AND STILL DON'T.
IT HAS CERTAIN
THINGS GOING FOR IT,
ONE OF WHICH IS
THAT THE DOUBLE-ACT,
IN THE TRADITION OF COMEDY,

A slate reads ‘Tom Stoppard. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.’

Tom continues IS SO
WELL-ESTABLISHED.
IT'S A TRIED-AND-TRUE -
IT'S ALMOST LIKE A FORMULA,
OR CERTAINLY IT'S A
COMIC DEVICE - TO HAVE
THIS PAIR OF PEOPLE
ENCOUNTERING THE WORLD
AND ONE OF THEM IS USUALLY
RATHER ANGRY WITH THE OTHER ONE,
WHO TENDS TO BE MORE INNOCENT.
SO YOU GET THESE PAIRS OF
PEOPLE - ABBOTT AND COSTELLO,
AND LAUREL AND HARDY - AND
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN
FALL INTO THAT PATTERN;
AND IT CLEARLY
IS QUITE ATTRACTIVE
IN ITS OWN WAY.
SO, PERHAPS MARGINALLY,
THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS
WHY THE THING STILL WORKS.
IT PARTLY STILL WORKS 'CAUSE
PEOPLE STILL KEEP DOING
"HAMLET" AND IT'S QUITE
FUN TO PLAY WITH "HAMLET."
IT'S QUITE FUN TO PLAY
WITH A KNOWN COMMODITY,
BUT I'M NOT GOOD AT
SELF-ANALYSIS OR CRITICISM
AND I TEND TO TRY TO INVENT
ANSWERS OUT OF COURTESY
WHEN, IN FACT, I JUST
WRITE WHAT I TRY TO WRITE
AND THAT'S WHERE I STOP.

The Host says YOU SEEM TO BE
A WRITER
WHO LISTENS TO THE CRITICS.
YOU WERE ACCUSED OF HAVING
NO DEFINITE MORAL STANCE
AND THEN YOU WROTE
"PROFESSIONAL FOUL,"
"EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES
FAVOUR"; YOU WERE ACCUSED
OF SHYING AWAY FROM
BASIC HUMAN EMOTIONS
AND THEN YOU WROTE
"NIGHT AND DAY,"
"THE REAL THING"; WAS
THIS COINCIDENTAL OR WERE
YOU LISTENING TO
YOUR CRITICS?

Tom says NOT ONLY WAS I
NOT LISTENING,
I DIDN'T REALLY ACCEPT
THE PREMISE EITHER.
I KNOW ONE THING, THAT YOU
CAN'T WRITE WHAT YOU THINK
YOU OUGHT TO BE WRITING,
I MEAN, NOBODY DOES THAT.
IT'S TOO DIFFICULT.
IT'S HARD ENOUGH TO WRITE
WHAT YOU WISH TO WRITE.
THE STUFF I DO
TENDS TO GO OFF
IN DIFFERENT
DIRECTIONS EACH TIME.
I THINK THAT THERE SEEMS
TO BE MORE DIFFERENCES
BETWEEN MY PLAYS
THAN SIMILARITIES.
I DON'T ASK WHY.
THE TROUBLE WITH WRITERS AS
INTERVIEWEES IS THAT
THEY DON'T REALLY WORK
FROM A SET OF PRINCIPLES,
IN MY EXPERIENCE.
THAT'S THE MAIN
MISAPPREHENSION ABOUT
WRITERS - THAT THEY SOMEHOW
FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY OUGHT
TO BE DOING AND THEN TRY
TO FULFILL THE PROGRAM.
I DON'T THINK MANY PEOPLE
REALLY WORKED LIKE THAT.
I CERTAINLY DON'T.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'LL DO
NEXT AND IT WOULD PROBABLY
INTERFERE AND DISTURB AND
GENERALLY SUBVERT WHATEVER
COMMON THEORY EXISTS ABOUT
THE RUN OF MY PLAYS,
THE SEQUENCE OF MY PLAYS.

The Host says YOU'VE WRITTEN ONE
NOVEL, "LORD MALQUIST AND
Mr. MOON,"

A book cover appears on screen. It reads ‘Tom Stoppard. Lord Malquist and Mr. Moon.’ The cover has a drawing that presents a man with a cape and a hat riding a horse. The background features a lion and a few trees.

The Host continues AND I'M WONDERING
WHY YOU HAVEN'T RETURNED
TO FICTION BECAUSE YOU SAID IN
ONE INTERVIEW YOUR PROBLEM
ISN'T COMING UP WITH IDEAS,
IT'S COMING UP WITH PLOT.
AND I WOULD THINK THAT THE
NOVEL FORM IS A LOSER
STRUCTURE FOR PURSUING IDEAS
AT THE EXPENSE OF PLOT.

Tom says YES, THERE ARE WONDERFUL
BOOKS WHICH DON'T HAVE ANY
DISCERNIBLE COHERENT PLOT,
BUT THAT'S NOT A REASON
FOR WRITING ONE OR
NOT WRITING ONE.
I DID WRITE ONE
YEARS AGO, AS YOU SAY.
I'VE ALWAYS VAGUELY THOUGHT
I'D LIKE TO WRITE ANOTHER ONE,
BUT SOMETIMES FOR
QUITE PRACTICAL REASONS,
IF YOU'RE A PLAYWRIGHT ONE
LIVES THIS LIFE OF ANXIETY
AND DESPAIR OCCASIONALLY
MIXED WITH ELATION BECAUSE
IT'S THIS LIVE ORGANISM
WHICH IS UNCONTROLLABLE.
IT DOESN'T STAY THE WAY
THAT YOU LEFT IT,
AND IT HAS THIS MIND OF
ITS OWN AND IT'S LIKE
A MAGIC MUSHROOM
WITH A MIND.
AND STARTS EXPLODING IN THE
CELLARS AND YOU COME BACK
AND THIS THING YOU'VE
DONE HAS TURNED INTO
SOMETHING ELSE.
THEATRE IS NOT A TEXT, IT'S
AN EVENT AND THE SAME TEXT
GIVES RISE TO A
BEWILDERING VARIATION,
BEWILDERING VARIETY OF
EVENTS ALL PURPORTING
TO BE THE SAME PLAY.
SO IF ONE IS NOT CAREFUL,
ONE STARTS TO CARE TOO MUCH
ABOUT WHAT IT IS THAT'S
HAPPENING AND IT USES UP
ALL YOUR ENERGY AND I'VE
WANTED TO WRITE A BOOK
MORE OR LESS ALL THE
TIME BUT PERHAPS FOR
THE LESS HONOURABLE REASON
THAT THE DAMN THING
WILL STAY THE WAY YOU LEFT
IT, FOR BETTER OR WORSE.
THAT'S ONE OF THE
ADVANTAGES OF MOVIES, TOO.

The Host says YOU'VE EXPRESSED
SOME
IRRITATION WITH INTERVIEWS
ASKING YOU WHAT ARE YOU
WORKING ON NEXT AS IF,
IF YOU'RE NOT WORKING
ON SOMETHING THERE'S
SOMETHING THE
MATTER WITH YOU.
YOU'VE ALSO SAID I DON'T
KNOW WHY ONE FEELS
ONE MUST KEEP ON WRITING.
WELL, WHAT WOULD YOU DO
IF YOU WEREN'T A WRITER?

Tom concludes IT'S THE ONLY
THING I
WANT TO DO, ACTUALLY.
IF I STOPPED BEING
ABLE TO DO IT,
I WOULD TRY AND REARRANGE
MY LIFE SO AS NOT TO HAVE
TO DO ANYTHING AND YOU KNOW
JUST LIVE WITHIN WHATEVER MEANS
I HAD BECAUSE I CERTAINLY
DON'T WANT TO GO AND START WORK
AT MY AGE; I'M FAR
TOO OLD TO START WORK,
IT'S BEST IF I
REMAIN WRITING.
AS A MATTER OF FACT, WRITING
MEANS SO MANY THINGS
NOWADAYS THAT IT'S AN
ACADEMIC QUESTION.
THERE'S ALWAYS SOMETHING ONE
CAN WRITE BUT WRITING
ONE'S OWN PERSONAL, ORIGINAL,
ONE HOPES, PLAY OR POEM
WHATEVER IT IS, THAT COULD
STOP EASILY ANY TIME.
I'M SURPRISED IT HASN'T.
I ALWAYS FEEL IT HAS
STOPPED EVERY TIME
I'VE FINISHED SOMETHING.

Watch: Interview: Tom Stoppard