Interview: Terry Fator

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Terry Fator is pure entertainment. His act, including more than a dozen puppets and an astonishing range of impressions and characters, is non-stop fun. There is something to make anyone laugh, but, even harder to find, there is a lot to make everyone laugh. In this divided world, Fator manages to find a way to make everyone in the audience feel comfortable and welcome, and to leave his audiences astonished by his versatility and delighted with his gentle humor. He is one of the most popular performers ever to appear on “America’s Got Talent,” where he won the top prize, and is now a headliner at The Mirage in Las Vegas. In an interview, he talked about getting started in grade school, the only thing that made him nervous on “America’s Got Talent,” and the trick to doing Donald Trump.

Copyright 2017 Terry Fator

Have you always loved performing before an audience?

Yes, I was always an entertainer from the time of about two or three. I could always impersonate everything and anything. I was the kid that probably was incredibly annoying because I could be at K-Mart and then they would say, “There’s a Blue Light Special in the Boys Department.” And I would go, “There’s a Blue Light Special in the Boys Department” in exactly the same voice. When a siren went by I tried to impersonate the sirens. I was one of those kids that just knew how to copy people and things and animals and everything else.

I remember standing on a table, singing to an audience and they were cheering and laughing. I remember distinctly thinking, “I really like this feeling. This is a great feeling.”

You appear in the wonderful documentary about ventriloquists, Dumbstruck. Some of the families are not very enthusiastic about ventriloquism. What was your family like?

I was always kind of a weird little comedy kid anyway so I kind of brought laughter into the family. We had a difficult childhood. My father was very abusive and we worked a lot. I was always the kid that could find the comedy in whatever situation so you know we also worked a lot. My parents had a janitorial business. Because there were no other workers other than the family there were times when we had to work thirty-six straight hours with no sleep. We would clean apartment complexes and we would have to do two hundred fifty apartments in a weekend and so we would just work, work, work a whole weekend without any kind of rest or sleep. I was that kid that was always finding the comedy in whatever and cracking jokes. So I think when I started doing ventriloquism, it was something new but I was making them laugh so they didn’t really care. 

My dad was never supportive but my mom was supportive and my brothers and sister were. One time, I was maybe eleven or twelve, and I told my family. I said, “I can’t seem to get a rapport with my puppet. It doesn’t feel like it’s a real person so I’m going to carry my puppet when I’m around the house and bring my puppet to dinner. And don’t think I’ve lost my mind. I’m not losing my mind. I’m just trying to learn to talk with my puppet as if it’s a real character, a real person.” So I would sit there and I would have the puppet interject at the dinner table and I never did cross a line. I felt like they were family members – the puppets you know. And no, I’m not afraid for a puppet to sit alone in the room with me at night. They don’t come alive unless I’m holding them.

What kind of an adjustment did you have to make going from relatively small audiences to the kind of audiences that you get now?

The odd thing about the “America’s Got Talent” thing, the only time I got nervous was when I was when I wasn’t sure if I was going to go through to the next level or not. That was when the nerves were but it was more of trepidation. “Oh my gosh, is this the end? Am I going home or am I going to get to go through?” It never even occurred to me that I was on television in front of millions of people. I totally forgot that there were cameras there. All that mattered as soon as I set foot on that stage was the live audience and the judges.

An audience is an audience and I do it for the love of the audience and for the love of the craft. Being famous has its perks and being successful is great. But the only reason, the real drive for me and the reason I want that fame is because it translates into people in my audience that enjoy what I create. The rest of it just doesn’t matter to me at all. It really matters that for every person that’s there to give them the best show that they can and the fact that somebody is enjoying what I create is what drives me.

What makes someone a great ventriloquist?

I think the real key is creating characters that people fall in love with and identify with. We are kind of magicians in a sense in that we make inanimate objects talk.

How long does it take you to introduce a new character?

Every character is different. It depends on who that character is and the characters also evolve over time. With Donald Trump I tried really, really hard to get the voice but it’s really physically impossible to do Donald Trump’s voice without moving your lips and the reason is you have to purse your lips in order to get that certain tone. So I really didn’t focus as much on trying to get a real legitimate impersonation of his vocal tone and more just to keep the bigness of his character. I don’t do political humor, I don’t bring politics at all into my act. I’m one of those people that just feel that you know we’re entertainers and it’s not our job to try to convince one person, any one of our political opinions one way or the other. They are there to be entertained. The reason that I never had a Barack Obama or George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton puppet is because those people are known specifically for politics. With Donald Trump, he is an iconic person that we all know of for several different reasons, whether it’s a reality show or the guy who owns the Miss Universe pageant or the Trump Tower or a casino owner. I don’t make fun of Donald Trump because I don’t want to irritate half of my audience. I just have fun with the bigness of his character, with his personality. I just want to have fun and make people laugh so I am a very positive person and all my comedy is very uplifting and positive.

Originally published on Huffington Post

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My interview with Gretchen Mol about “A Family Man” appears on Where to Watch.  She talked about giving some complexity and depth to the “you’re never home” wife character.

The movie is not “A Family Woman.”  So much of it is his perspective and his journey. But one of the important things about playing a part like this, that it’s so important for my character to love him. She is there to show the audience that he is loved and loveable even when that might otherwise be hard to believe.  It’s hard sometimes not to judge her for loving him but I had to as the actor kind of come to a point where I had to understand why she does.  It’s funny because when I initially read the script I didn’t think of them as being super successful necessarily, but I did think she is attracted to his sort of kind of cockiness or that nature of that person. When he says, “What’s not to love?” she really loved that.

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It’s not necessarily experiences that we have all gone through but I do think that there is something about The Glass Castle that still resonates and feels very familiar. We may not have gone through something to that degree but I think everybody has a Rex Walls in their life. Everybody knows what it feels like to want to love somebody so badly and have the struggle of how difficult that can be with someone who is either an alcoholic or has ups and downs in their life or who can’t be what we need from them. And it’s incredible to watch somebody like Jeannette go through something like that and come out the other end, not just learning how to accept that part of it but to take it and make it something that makes her so much of a better person. That’s really inspiring to me.

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Interview: Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, Directors of “An Inconvenient Sequel”

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For rogerebert.com I spoke to Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, directors of Al Gore’s new climate change documentary, “An Inconvenient Sequel.”

We see ourselves as filmmakers and as storytellers. We want to make films that move people emotionally. The most effective thing that cinema can do is get into people’s hearts and have them see a new perspective on life—step inside someone else’s shoes and mind for 90 minutes and experience the world in that way. Take them away, make them laugh, make them cry, all those things movies are good at. We also think they can be incredibly effective ways to see social issues through their characters. That’s why we make movies about remarkable people like President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives in “The Island President” and Al Gore in this film, who get up every day and are driven in an almost inhuman way to make a change in a problem that they see in the world and shine truth into a very dark arena where bad actors try to lie to the American public to gain profits for fossil fuel companies. To us, that’s a natural drama. And that’s primarily where we work—character-based films that we hope will bring issues to life through their stories.

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I realized that with a silent section in our movie it gave us the opportunity to hire deaf actors to play hearing characters. Deaf actors were hired all the time in the silent movie era because they were so expressive. They knew how to tell a story without spoken language. And so we used six deaf actors as hearing people. We had these amazing days on the set with hearing actors, deaf actors, sign language interpreters. The rest of the cast, the crew and everybody worked together.

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