Not My Job: We Quiz 'Black Panther' Designer Ruth E. Carter On Garfield
BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. Hey, everybody. Gather in front of me and prepare to salute because it's the triumph of the Bill.
KURTIS: I'm Bill Kurtis. And here is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Thanks, Bill. Thanks, everybody. Thank you. Thank you all so much.
SAGAL: Hey, if there's one thing we can all agree on these days, it seems to be superheroes. They're everywhere - in the movie theaters, on TV - but surprisingly rare in real life.
KURTIS: That's because supersuits are extremely restricting where it matters. Trust me.
SAGAL: So it's an all-superhero show today, although not all heroes wear capes. For example, Black Panther didn't, and that was because Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter decided he shouldn't.
KURTIS: We spoke to Ms. Carter right after she won her Oscar in February, and she was still pretty excited about it.
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SAGAL: First of all, congratulations on the Oscar win. Have you gotten over it, or are you still sort of abuzz? Do you walk around holding it all day?
RUTH E CARTER: Yeah, I do. I pick it up. I put it down. I pick it back up. I look at it...
CARTER: ...You know? Yeah. It's a good weightlifting tool, too, you know?
SAGAL: Now, you were nominated a bunch of times before, so were you surprised when you finally won, or you were like, it's my turn?
CARTER: It's been 21 years since the last nomination.
CARTER: Yeah. I was like, man, if this is going to take 21 years each time, I better grab this now.
SAGAL: Now, you're the first costume designer we've ever talked to, so I just wanted to go over some basic stuff. So you're the costume designer for a film. Do you ever have to deal with, like, actor egos? Like, you pick out the perfect costume for a particular character and, like, I'm not going to wear that.
CARTER: You know, I guess you deal with actors' egos on a different level. You know, sometimes they say, you know, I can't wear that color, you know? Or - but because we're discovering a character, we are both kind of contributing to the conversation.
ADAM FELBER: So you have to occasionally just say, yes, so maybe your character has a bigger butt.
SAGAL: Yes. So let's get to the fun stuff, which is a movie like "Black Panther" - comic book movie, fictional, fantastical science-fiction country. You are, like, the most qualified person to ask about something that I've always thought, which is that a great problem for making comic book movies is that, unlike in comic books, people wearing superhero suits in real life essentially look dumb.
CARTER: Yeah. Because they don't realize there's a whole process to making that thing. You just don't go to the store and get some spandex and sew it up.
SAGAL: No. So how do you make it so, like, the Black Panther, when he's in his superhero suit running around...
SAGAL: ...Doesn't look dumb?
CARTER: Yeah. Well, we do a muscle sculpt. That helps.
SAGAL: What do you mean?
CARTER: And - well, we take a Vac-u-form kind of mannequin version of Chadwick Boseman's real body form, and we add the clay to his muscles, and we form a superhero kind of physique.
SAGAL: Are you telling me that that's...
CARTER: I'm telling you the secret, yes.
SAGAL: That's not all Chadwick Boseman under there?
CARTER: No. And so it doesn't matter how much muscle milk you drink, you're never going to be a superhero. You got to have some clay muscles to go along...
SAGAL: So you're telling me that that, like, amazing...
SAGAL: ...Superhero suit that Chadwick Boseman is wearing...
SAGAL: ...In the movie...
SAGAL: ...Is just like those padded things that the kids have...
SAGAL: ...At Halloween with, like...
SAGAL: ...The muscles...
CARTER: Yeah. Yeah.
SAGAL: ...Are, like, built in?
CARTER: Yeah. Listen; don't do this at home, kids. It's not exaggerated as you might think. It's just a little - you know, because we don't want to, you know, to really make this an outstanding...
PETER GROSZ: It's like Spanx, but in the other direction.
GROSZ: Kind of, like, pushes things out instead of sucking them in.
CARTER: It's just a little help. It's just more shoulders.
CARTER: You know, it's not much.
GROSZ: Yeah (laughter).
FELBER: Well, when you make my suit, I want more than a little help.
SAGAL: There's a famous line in one of the early "Spider-Man" movies where he refers to his costume, and he says, there's a little binding in the crotch. Is that true of your superhero costumes?
CARTER: No. There's a zipper, you know, so...
SAGAL: Oh, OK.
SAGAL: So you are now an Oscar-winning costume designer.
SAGAL: You've been a leading costume designer in many, many films for many, many years. Does that put some pressure on you to dress when you go out in public?
CARTER: Oh, no. I've always been the anti-fashion. I think that's what makes me kind of unique - that I'm not trying to please or prove myself to anyone. It's not in how I look. It's how I dress other people. Come on.
SAGAL: All right. Well, how about Halloween?
SAGAL: I would expect if I - if you came to my Halloween party, which I hope you do someday, I would expect that you would walk in with, like, the costume. Is this...
CARTER: Yeah. That's why I don't go to Halloween parties.
GROSZ: Now you're done getting accolades, I feel like you don't have to, like, force your way to get accolades at Halloween parties. That's, like - that's for amateurs. That's amateur hour.
GROSZ: Once you win an Oscar...
SAGAL: You're an Oscar - if you walked into a party...
CARTER: Everybody wants me to do their costume at Halloween.
GROSZ: Yes, exactly.
SAGAL: Yeah. Do you get that? Do you get, like, people - because it's Hollywood. People have money, and they call you up and say, I want to be an amazing Halloween costume.
SAGAL: Can I hire you to do it?
CARTER: Because they think costume is a joke, you know, and I'm going to do a Halloween costume after I designed the Black Panther.
CARTER: But I'm here to tell you I'm not going to do it.
SAGAL: Well, Ruth Carter, what a pleasure to talk to you. We've invited you here to play a game we're calling...
KURTIS: I Hate Mondays.
SAGAL: You designed "Black Panther," so we decided to ask you about the orange panther - that is, Garfield...
SAGAL: ...The inexplicably beloved comic strip character.
ROXANNE ROBERTS: (Laughter).
SAGAL: Answer 2 out of 3 questions correctly, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anyone they might choose on their voicemail. Bill, who is Ruth Carter playing for?
KURTIS: Brent and Angie in Indianapolis. They are winners of the Wait Wait Quiz, available now on your smart speaker.
SAGAL: You ready to play, Ruth?
CARTER: I'm ready.
SAGAL: Here's your first question. "Garfield" was invented by his creator, Jim Davis, back in 1978. What inspired Mr. Davis to create the beloved character? A, his own cat, a beloved tubby tabby named Taft; B, his brother, who was fat, lazy, loved lasagna and occasionally cleaned himself by licking his hands...
SAGAL: ...Or C, a desire to create, quote, a "good, marketable character," unquote, that would make him a lot of money?
CARTER: Aw, his tubby tabby.
SAGAL: It was C. He wanted to make a lot of money.
CARTER: Really? Aw, that's disappointing.
SAGAL: He did some research, and at the time, there were all these dogs in the comics, but no cats. And he figured there were, like, 15 million cat owners who might enjoy a cat comic. So he created it to be popular, and it worked.
SAGAL: All right. You have two more chances here. In 2004, "Garfield: The Movie" came out. It was panned by critics, of course. But Garfield was voiced by legendary actor Bill Murray. Why did Bill Murray agree to play Garfield? Was it, A, the producers agreed to pay him with a lifetime supply of Italian beef sandwiches from his favorite Chicago restaurant...
SAGAL: ...B, he mistakenly thought that the movie's screenwriter, Joel Cohen, with an H, was Joel Coen of the Coen brothers...
SAGAL: ...Or, C, he was still angry that he wasn't allowed to provide a voice for the gopher in "Caddyshack"?
CARTER: Oh, I'm going to try B.
SAGAL: You're right.
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CARTER: Yeah. That makes sense.
SAGAL: As unlikely as it sounds...
GROSZ: Oh, my God.
SAGAL: ...He thought that he was doing a movie that was written by one of the Coen brothers. And he says he didn't realize his mistake until he was in the studio recording his lines, and all of them were terrible.
SAGAL: All right, last question. If you get this right, you win. Here we go.
SAGAL: Not every "Garfield" strip has been embraced by his fans, such as which of these examples? A, a 2007 strip in which Odie burns an American flag while screaming, death to America...
SAGAL: ...B, a 1997 strip in which Jon's girlfriend Liz catches him wearing her underwear; or C, a series of strips the week of Halloween 1989 written as a horror comic in which Garfield faces his greatest fear, existential loneliness?
CARTER: Oh, brother. Let's see. I'm going to try B.
SAGAL: You're going to try B, in which Jon's girlfriend Liz catches him wearing her underwear.
CARTER: No. Wait; no. Don't do that one.
CARTER: I'll take C. C. C.
SAGAL: So you're going to go for C, the...
SAGAL: ...Existential horror.
SAGAL: That's what it was.
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SAGAL: If you...
CARTER: That was a hard one.
SAGAL: It was hard. But...
CARTER: That was a hard quiz.
SAGAL: If you've never seen these very real comics from 1989, I highly recommend you look it up because Garfield, as opposed to being funny and chubby and angry - he wakes up in an empty house where no one is left. And he spends all week panicking because he's facing his greatest fear, loneliness.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Ruth Carter do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Ruth got 2 out of 3, which is a win for us.
CARTER: I won. I finally - oh, I won a second prize. Yay.
SAGAL: You did. And it's got to be better, right? It's just all uphill.
SAGAL: It's like, Oscar, WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, Nobel.
SAGAL: Ruth E. Carter won the Oscar for costume design for "Black Panther" just this year. A museum exhibit featuring her designs is now travelling the world. Ruth E. Carter, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
CARTER: Yay. Thank you.
SAGAL: Congratulations on the movie and the Oscar. And we'll look forward to what's next. Take care.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.