Talk to Me
In 1960s Washington, D.C., controversial D.J. Petey Greene faced some resistance getting on the air. Producer Dewey Hughes got his station manager E.G. Sonderling to give his boy a chance. Playing Sonderling, Martin Sheen made sure that his character was not just the token white guy.
Martin Sheen on Talk to Me
"Well, it was a black station," Sheen said. "It played Motown music. It was obviously geared towards the vast majority of the population of Washington, D.C. which is black, and the inner city. So he knew that he had better appeal to the community if he wanted to stay on the air. Bringing in Petey Green was a business decision and a risky one. You have to remember that the ratings, they were trying desperately in any number of ways to improve the ratings and it just went further and further down. People were not listening. So when Petey Green arrived at the station, it was a big risk because he was so open and just so vulnerable and publicly unchanged from any private behavior including his language. At the same time, it was a business adventure."
The film certainly portrays Sonderling's initial resistance to Greene, but once the audience responds to the talk, Sonderling changes his tune too. "It was not an accident that he chose him. He was feathering his own nest and that's cool. They became very close. In the end, he had an opportunity to sell the station to a white consortium for more money but he realized he owed a debt of gratitude to the black community and he wanted that station to remain in black hands so he sold it to a black consortium who still owns it."
Many biopics composite characters for the sake of expedient storytelling, but Sonderling was a real figure. "He's dead now, God rest him, but he was a good and decent man. He had a lot of heart and he had pretty good taste in radio. He was in on what has to be considered the invention of talk radio. He was 'Petey Green, Talk to Me.' He was the guy. But he was talking to a specific community, one that didn't condemn him for his addictions or his felonies or for being blunt in his language or assessment in the culture, of the society. He said it like it was, man, and this is at a very critical time in our country."
The politically active Sheen appreciated the ramifications of the story. "Remember, I knew this time. I lived in the east coast from 1959 to 1969. I don't remember Peter Green specifically but I remember the time and place and the turmoil the country was involved in in tandem with the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement and they were inextricably connected. It was about where our priorities were going to land in the heavens. It was about human rights, human dignity or force of will. It was a great conflict and a wonderful time to be alive. Very tragic time as well because we lost two of our heroes in Reverend King and less than 60 days later, Bobby Kennedy and the country never recovered. We lost an opportunity with Robert Kennedy and we ended up with Richard Nixon and it's gone downhill ever since. With all due respects to Mr. Carter, and Mr. Clinton, it's gone steadily downhill. It's about corporate America that gets the lion's share and their say. Most of the people on radio now are the voices and the mindset of corporate America. You couldn't get Petey Green on the radio today, I'm sorry. I think that time passed. They wouldn't tolerate him. They couldn't tolerate that measure of truth with that much passion."
Even the shock jocks like Howard Stern and Don Imus don't fit the bill, according to Sheen. "No, these guys are media stars. They're not social activists. They have no real passion when it comes to risking everything for what you believe. They're very well paid, with all due respects, they're very well paid but they're media stars. They don't risk anything as far as furthering the truth of an issue or risking anything by becoming involved in advocating peace and justice issues, social justice. No, never. Not gonna happen."
Talk to Me has a limited release today, July 13th.
For the trailer, poster, stills and additional info, go to the Talk to Me Movie Page.
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