The Jim Carroll Website Home > Background > The Basketball Diaries > Pascal Ulli's Stage Adaptation > Interview with Pascal Ulli

An Interview with Pascal Ulli

With Caroline Ulli

    Pascal and Caroline Ulli  outside St. Mark's Theater -- click to enlarge
    Pascal and Caroline Ulli in front of St. Mark's Theater

--Photo by Cassie Carter
In August 2001, Swiss actor/director Pascal Ulli presented the first-ever stage adaptation of Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries at the St. Mark's Theater in New York City (for details, see my synopsis and review); he also presented it in Zurich in 1999 to much acclaim. Ulli is well-known in Switzerland as a cult film star, TV actor, and up-and-coming stage actor and director. He and his wife Caroline, who handled the sound and lighting for the New York performance, met with me and journalist Brad Balfour at Paprika restaurant on St. Mark's Place for an hour-long interview on August 24, 2001.

How this interview came about seems to me a very New York scenario. While standing in line outside the St. Mark's Theater to see Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries for the first time on August 23, I met Brad Balfour, a journalist making the rounds at the Fringe Festival. After the show, we were so engaged in talking about the play that we barely noticed that the audience had cleared out. Pascal Ulli emerged from backstage and we talked to him until the entire stage crew was lined up anxiously along the side of the stage, wondering if they were ever going to go home. We moved our conversation to a restaurant across the street, where Pascal, his wife Caroline, Brad, and I talked for another hour or so over a bottle of wine. In the end, we decided it would be a lot of fun for the four of us to do a formal interview for

The four of us met on August 24th at Paprika, a restaurant on St. Mark's Place, and put in more than an hour on this interview. If I was impressed by Pascal Ulli's performance, I was even more impressed after talking with him with the incredible sensitivity and intelligence he put into this play. I am equally impressed with unassuming Caroline Ulli, who looks like a supermodel and who always came to the rescue when Pascal was at loss for English vocabulary.

This interview is transcribed verbatim from a digital recording. In transcribing the interview, I made every effort to preserve the phrasing to show how each individual speaks.

I'd like to thank Brad Balcour for conducting this interview so beautifully, and Pascal and Caroline Ulli for so generously donating their time. And thanks again to Pascal for helping me edit the interview and correcting all of the foreign words and phrases I wasn't able to translate.


Brad Balfour: So you've spent time in the United States. Is that one of the reasons why you decided to do this? Tell me about how you discovered Jim Carroll.

Pascal Ulli: First of all, what made me put a book into a play, this happened because I saw an actor in Zurich doing Camus' La Peste [The Plague], and I was really deeply impressed. Like it's such a great thing that an actor plays . . . acts out a book in these times when people don't have time to read, and it's really a great thing when you go home and pick [up] the book again, so I was looking for a book actually that is close to me, and I thought it has to be in the first person, like if I want to do it solo, that was my thing, I want to play a book. But I did not want to act out the characters; a diary would be the best, I thought. So I was looking around for the perfect book. I did a similar thing a little bit with a book from Birger Sellin, who is an autistic guy who started type and wrote a book. This is an amazing book, but it was to heavy to do this, it didn't work. So I was looking for this book, then I saw a movie, The Basketball Diaries, right? So I thought the movie was . . . I liked Leonardo DiCaprio a lot. And then I saw that it was made out of a book, of a diary; that caught my attention, so I bought the book, and then I fell in love with the book. And I thought, hey, well the movie itself as a movie is okay, but the book for me, that's something, that's art, that's really something, and I think that doesn't come out in the movie, the literature. It's not in the movie--it's a movie, right? But the book, the language of Jim Carroll, the writing of Jim Carroll that's in there, so I thought even though there was a movie made out of it, that this was the perfect book for me. And also because this character Jim Carroll as I read him there in this book, he had some sort of similarities with me--that he thinks he's smarter than other people . . . You have to see that it's a really crazy thing to do to produce, direct, and bring it on stage, and play it and act it out, and I was producing a TV spot in Zurich for that, and I was opening my mouth so big in Zurich. And so all these people packed in this house to see . . . well, yeah, and it worked. I really tried to bring the book [to life] because I knew the book works, you know? The hard thing was how can I . . . because there are so many different things in the book that . . . I left out a lot of homosexual parts of the book; actually there's just one thing in it . . .

Cassie Carter: That's pretty much it anyway. There's the first entry, and then you mention the . . .

Pascal Ulli: . . . yeah yeah, "The fag hustling scene gets hairier and hairier. . . ." I focused on the drug part because . . . This is actually a story. I used to do drugs, not heroin but other drugs, and I have friends who died, and I thought reading the book, if these guys had read the book before, I think it would maybe [have] turned out differently. So I concentrated on the drug part of the story. Which also in Zurich is a big issue. Like we had it all over there, our famous Needle Park . . . and so the Swiss government is actually doing a lot. Like they give heroin away for very heavy addicts so they don't have to buy it in the streets, the shit, so they give a lot of . . . proper thing that . . . anticriminalizes it? . . . de-criminalizes it (laughs). So there's a lot happening. And also the play was finally produced with money from [the] Anti-Drug League of Switzerland.

BB: How did you get together with them?

Pascal Ulli: I called [laughs]. . . and told them what I wanted to do, and I found a pretty nice littletheater in the middle of our drug district. It's called Circle Five -- Kreis fünf -- die Langstrasse, the long street, and I was just playing in that little theater; it had a window where you could see die Langstrasse with all the junkies and the cops. But also it was very interesting that in Switzerland a lot of people were very interested in me, not in the the drug thing, and they couldn't deal with junkies and think, god, it's ugly and they're scary. I mean they lost that totally, that junkies are scary, 'cause like, hey, they're weak actually. You know, as Jim Carroll says, they're as vulnerable as the victim, you know? So I think I helped a little bit to open up to theatrical works that these people are people, human beings.

BB: You were able to relate to this New York experience. You spent some time in New York.

Pascal Ulli: I was here '91-'92, I was in acting school, H-B Studio, Bank Street. Actually I wanted to go to acting school in Germany, but, well, I did fifteen of these exams--I came a long way, but they'd say, "Listen, you're talented, but go try Vienna"; in Vienna they'd say, "Go try Munich." I came to New York and there they took me, and it was very interesting for me. I grew up here in New York, finding an apartment, dealing with the phone company, all that stuff.

BB: It made you more mature.

Pascal Ulli: Yeah, sure. Switzerland is a safe place to live, actually. Everything is neat . . .

BB: So when you read the book, now you read the book after that time you spent in New York. Did it all come together by you reading it and having that New York experience?

Pascal Ulli: No, actually, reading the book . . . of course it's New York, that you read about the streets you know or you heard [about] . . . but that's not the point. The thing is that when you see Needle Park in Zurich, and what is in the newspapers about junkies today. So this made me really [think] this is an interesting scene. We live in the year 2001 now, and I did it in '99. Like '99, and you read the book from '63, not so much [has] changed, like point of view towards junkies, point of view towards rich people using. I mean in Zurich, Bahnhofstrasse, all the bankers, they're all on cocaine, like everybody's on cocaine, and they're pointing their fingers to the junkies. Hey, this is nuts, you know. Everybody knows, nobody says it, you know? This is Lüge? [asking his wife Caroline for translation] this lie, this big lie, you know, this is still the same. So I thought this is very good, actually to bring a play or book onstage, takes place in '63, and you are in '99, to think, hey, well, not much changed. Even though we had Daniel Cohn-Bendit in '68 [leader of the 68' student revolution in Paris] and all that stuff. Hey, doesn't change.

BB: Was it fun for you to go back and explore a little bit of the 60s through the book?

Pascal Ulli: Yeah, I for example learned to know Patti Smith, so yeah, sure, because I didn't know her before.

BB: Really? So . . . the book really opened your eyes in that way. So when you read the book, and you were coming from the point of view of a German speaker learning English, how was it to get the language and to get a sense of the poetry and the rhythm?

Pascal Ulli: This is really a hard part, 'cause like, when this is not your language, I mean, I'm actually glad that people can understand it [laughs], at this moment, and they do. I mean, they can follow, right? And I had the choice to come to New York and show it in German, you know? This doesn't make sense, so only German-speaking people from New York come to see it. So what else, should I find another actor? No, it's my work, so, I thought people would understand, hey, here's this Swiss guy coming here and he does it in English. Well, New York is a melting pot. I mean, I speak better English than most of the cab drivers, right? So Jim Carroll, he's a New Yorker. I'm Swiss, but I'm some sort of become also a New Yorker.

BB: It's so international here anyway.

Pascal Ulli: Yeah, you see, it's English, it's in English, he wrote it in English, so I do it in English, and I hope that doesn't bother 'cause I'm not Jim Carroll, everybody comes in there he knows I'm not Jim Carroll; everybody knows it's not 1963. I mean, I want the people [to] like the character I present on stage, even though he is Swiss or whatever. I try to figure out some characteristic points, like the fun, this really . . . eye twinkling . . . you say that? . . . part of it, you know? Like I hear Jim Carroll do it on audiotapes, you know, where you hear his voice and all? But this is, he does this like literature, and I wanted it to have a human being trying to talk to the audience. It's happening now, like I talk to my diary. At the beginning, the diary is ontstage, you see it, I read out of it, and suddenly you all become the diary, and at the end you go back and the diary becomes a diary again.

CC: It seems like in one negative review I've read, the reviewer didn't understand how it was put together. It may be that you have to be pretty close to that book to really understand the structure of it.

Pascal Ulli: No, you don't have to be close to understand the structure, not at all. I mean, most viewers understood it and also most reviewers (80% of them wrote great reviews by the way) did [laughs]. This specific reviewer you're talking about was actually not reviewing the play but tried to tell the world what he knows about acting, that a monologue on stage has to be done in a certain way, with certain rules which he obviously knows, but hey . . . in art, especially on stage, there are no strict rules and for me, my only "rule" was to be as close as possible to Carroll's text. And well, Jim Carroll writes in his diary and with his writing he talks to the world, to "wake a lot of dudes of their asses" and well, that's what I do on stage, I write in a diary and talk to the world, or better to a very very small part of the world, to the audience who came to see my show and want to listen to the text of Jim Carroll. And if this specific reviewer then writes an essay about acting and how one should do a monologue, how talking to yourself on stage should be done, then I suggest that this reviewer stops writing and starts acting . . . but well I guess he wanted to be an actor in the first place and failed, so became a journalist who does theater reviews . . . [laughs].

But to come back to your question: I don't think you have to be close to the book to understand the play, the play is even easier to undertsand I think, because I follow in my adaptation the drug part of Carroll's diary entries and I give the entries which in the book are put down in a loose structure by time a clear easy understandable red line (the drug addiction). I think the point whether you can understand the play or not is wheter you are willing to see a junkie as a human beeing and if you are willing to listen to a junkie, because in this particular case of Jim Carroll, the junkie has a lot to tell you and you could learn a lot from him if you are willing to listen. It really depends. I had people in my show, a 40-year-old man, tears in his eyes, came and hugged me and was crying like a baby. These are people who let in their heart the story. And the other people who don't want it, they, when the third act (not here, in Zurich), when the third act comes, and he falls down, the big fall, he goes down with heroin, if you don't want to see this, you just close. . . . You get two possible [reactions]: you leave the theater, you laugh, or you close, so. Or you let it in, and when you let it in, it's heart. And not a lot of people are really . . . like hey, you come to the theater, people maybe they don't know what it's all about, they think Basketball Diaries, yeah, I heard of it, it's a movie, a cool movie, I wanna go see the play, and this hits you hard [pounds fist on chest], you know. And so I understand if people think, look, I don't want to hear this now. Like this is the thing. When a junkie comes up to you, what do you do, you change the streetcorner [move to the other side of the street]. And here you're trapped in the theater, you know, so close.

CC: That's the beauty part of it. You can watch the movie, and you can see there's this big elaborate setting. That's on a screen. That's Leonardo DiCaprio, and he's way far away from you. It's very different when you have a real person there. . . .

Caroline Ulli: We have people faint actually because of the syringe. . . .

Pascal Ulli: Yeah, and getting sick. And we also had a lot of ex-junkies [at] The show. A good friend of ours was [at] the premier in Zurich, and she was grateful that I was not doing the typical . . . cliche thing . . . that I tried to be honest, to show the human behind it.

BB: Did you look at other movies with junkies in them? Have you seen other films or people close to you?

Pascal Ulli: No, but as a method actor, I was in the streets of Zurich hanging out with the junkies. You cannot really have a real conversation because it's all about getting next dope, and so on. But you get the impression. Being out on the street--it was February and it gets so cold. I mean you see what's missing, it's the warmth. I mean, you get the feeling, and basically also what I did with LSD and all that shit. I mean, it still reminds you of . . .

Caroline Ulli: And Tamara . . .

Pascal Ulli: Yeah, and Tamara told me, the friend of mine, the junkie, ex-junkie. She lived in Needle Park in Zurich for like four years. I mean this is deep . . . this is just the same rule, like I say always, New York nightlife ten years ago is now what's happening in Zurich. BB: When you prepared for doing this the first time in Zurich, you were going to do it in Swiss German . . . Pascal Ulli: No, in High German. BB: In High German, now is that how the book was translated when found it? Pascal Ulli: Yes, by Piper Verlag, German translation, also with Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover. CC: Oh really, they've got him on the cover there too? I know there's an earlier translation. There's also a German translation of Living at the Movies. Pascal Ulli: It came out I think after the movie, but there's a picture of Jim Carroll in the back. Not like the new American version . . . in the new American version there's no picture anymore of Jim Carroll. So the German edition is better.

CC: Leonardo DiCaprio sells better.

BB: So obviously because you've been able to read it in both the German and the English, when you experienced it in the English, did you see things that were missing in the German, or what did you learn from reading it in the English and reading it in the German?

Pascal Ulli: It's very interesting. It's fun, like German and English work not bad. Like Shakespeare in German is okay, and Schiller in English is okay; like Molière in English sucks, and also Molière in German sucks. So English and German goes not bad together. The problem is all these fucks and shit and in German this sounds very odd.

BB & CC: That's interesting.

Pascal Ulli: A lot of people now in Europe they mix English words with German. So nowadays it's not a problem to say fuck, Scheisse, shit, fuck, Scheisspolizisten, Bullen . . . and so they really got the good street slang, German street slang, who also exists, so the translation is very good. What loses a little bit, of course, is the poetry part. Like the example with the "solo" [part]: "and I went solo . . . so low." But there are other parts that are okay.

CC: Word play and puns. That's always a difficult thing in translation; that kind of poetry doesn't translate.

Pascal Ulli: Also, actually, the English is much shorter. The German show takes five minutes longer just because the phrases are much longer. But the translation is great and people were laughing at much the same points of the stories, so you get the stories.

BB: So when you went from the German to the English, did you learn some things about the experience that were different for you? Did it make you think about things differentlyt? Did it give you different images in your head?

Pascal Ulli: Already in preparing the German version I was also working with the English version. I always had them both. And . . .

CC: Were you working with the Audio Literature tapes of The Basketball Diaries from the beginning?

Pascal Ulli: No, the tapes I ordered when I knew I would come to New York. So I had Jim Carroll pronouncing all the words in the correct way, you know? That for me was important. But what I was not trying to do was . . . like I could imitate, because I'm a great imitator. But why should I do this? 'Cause he's Jim, and I'm Pascal, and that's the fun of it! Also, I'm getting too old for this. I think I'm going to do it one or two years more and then I have to stop it.

BB: One of the things you figured out that is difficult is that you have to show that transition of time, from him being younger and getting older. How did you work with that?

Pascal Ulli: I cut out everything who tells how old he is, 'cause like I'm not 13 years old. I mean in the [theater] program [booklet] is Kerouac saying that "Jim Carroll writes better prose at 13 years of age than 89 percent of the writers working today," so there you know he did this, because this is fantastic about the book, that he did it so young.

CC: You do have one thing in there that is very powerful. The part about, "I have to go back to high school . . ."

Pascal Ulli: Yeah, sure. These things for American people are, sure. . . it's not me sitting on the stage saying, well, I'm thirteen now. I cut out these things. The high school thing is in it, but . . .

CC: It works fine.

Pascal Ulli: I think it's okay. I look young, and it's not about the age. It's not about age; it's a young guy, and I think the way I act it out you get the impression that he's quite young.

BB: So what other things did you learn or discover by working on this? Did you go back and read other literature, any other things than Jim?

Pascal Ulli: I got actually into Kerouac, I did a beatnik reading session in Zurich with Allen Ginsberg texts. And so I just discovered a lot of people around him. Yeah, my wife showed me Patti Smith.

BB: It's interesting because Johnny Depp as an actor got really involved with the Beats and did that record on the Beats, and the movie The Source. So you should probably meet Johnny Depp and speak to him; he should come and see your performance. I think it's great you're taking someone who's been a little bit lost for a while to the mainstream and you're putting him into another context. And I think that's a good thing to do. What would you say to Jim if you get the chance to meet him? Have you thought about what you would say to him?

Pascal Ulli: No! No, I think I'm the younger guy, so um . . . I think I'd just listen.

BB: What would you like to ask him?

Pascal Ulli: I'd ask him what he thinks about it [the play], and if he'd want me to it more times or shall I stop it.

BB: You were saying you tried to reach Jim. Tell us a little about your adventure in trying to get ahold of him. Pascal Ulli: At first I wanted to try to get ahold of the rights, because it's like . . . Swiss people are correct people and when you do a thing like that and there's an author, he has to get money out of it, right? So I was trying already when I was doing it in German to get ahold of the rights. I heard Piper Verlag told me there's this guy responsible for the rights here in the States, his name was Mr. Michael Wolfe, I think, Wolfe? So I wrote this guy a letter and never came nothing back. Then I went to the people and said I just want to do the German version, and they gave me the rights for the German version. So I did it an paid ten percent to Piper Verlag in Germany. Then I was invited for New York Fringe Festival and I knew I wanted to present it in English, so I started to get hold of the rights. First I talked to a lot of people till I got to William Morris Agency, which apparently seem to have the rights. So I was talking to people there and was from one guy to the other guy to the other guy. It was likeTunesia, from one office to the other office. And finally I had a human being at the other end, Mr. Mc Chesney, and he was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, we find the rights, we've got the rights. Can you send us something?" So I wrote a whole letter: what I do, what I plan, blah blah. I faxed that over, then I heard nothing for two weeks, called again. "Yeah yeah, I'm checking that, I'm checking that. There should be no problem. You should get the rights. This is no problem. But we don't know exactly. . . ." Okay, then I call them again. They say, "Yeah, I'm gonna send you an email in two hours, it's no problem!" So the email never came, and then I get a little bit uptight, because I have other to things to do than call the States for rights, you know? So I sat down and on the Jim Carroll website,, I got [the address] where you could reach Jim Carroll, 'cause he's not in the phonebook, and so I sent a letter, uh . . . to you, Cassie [laughs]. And I wrote on it, this is not a fan letter but a business letter, where I tell Jim actually what I'm doing, that I'm coming here, if he doesn't want me to come here to play I won't come, and that of course I want him to get his ten percent if he could give me his bank account so I can send him money when it's done, when it's a success. So I wrote that letter to him because the people who were in charge of the rights were actually not really interested in it . . . too small. This is a problem, because when you put this book onstage, how I am, like this is a cult classic book, and if you put this one on Broadway, it's dead. You know, if it's on Broadway . . . I think it's dead. It should be like in this kind of theater for fifty people. You know . . . [singing] "Give me the syringe . . ."

BB: Since we haven't met you before or seen you onstage, let's talk a little about your background . . . get the usual biography out of the way.

Pascal Ulli: I was born in Bern, Switzerland, in 1969. I was like four years old and in the circus I saw like a famous clown called Dimitri, a Swiss clown, and from that day on I knew I had to be a clown or an actor. In school I acted, and then after finishing high school--or is that college? Is that college or high school? We don't know . . .

BB: High school is when you're a teenager.

Pascal Ulli: Yeah. So I was going to acting school and I was doing exams, and I came to New York to do an exam at H-B [Studio] and was [accepted]. I was there in '91-'92. And I had the decision, should I stay in New York or go back to Switzerland. I though, I'll go back to Switzerland, which was a good decision. But I saw off-off Broadway plays and I wanted to do actually off-off Broadway in Zurich. So I founded a theatre company called Off Off Stage -- Off-Off Bühne in German-- and we started to work with a play I bought the rights [for], David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago. That was a fun story, because at the moment in Switzerland, Europe, Mamet was unknown, like nobody knew him. And  was producing the play. It took me two years for the first time -- it's hard to produce the thing -- and got the money. And when the premier, opening night was coming, a month before it came out, Oleanna [1994] [was] in all the major theaters in Europe. So all of a sudden he [Mamet] was like in Vogue, all the double-size pages all about David Mamet, and we came out a month later with the first play he ever wrote. So this thing was sold out twenty times, and we were doing also with movie screens -- we got two screens onstage. And so we were famous with the first play we did. And then so we got money from the government, from Zurich the city, and when we did our next play we were invited to a big German festival called Impulse, and in '98 we won the first prize -- for the first time the prize went not to a German or an Austrian group but to a Swiss group. We were the Off-Off Bühne who won the prize. At the same time I was doing a film called Nacht der Gaukler -- Night of the Tricksters -- and this became a cult movie in Switzerland. It was done with 100,000 Swiss Francs.

BB: What was the story?

Pascal Ulli: It's about a civil servant who observes a murder done by the dictator of the country. He is like a typical civil servant -- he goes to say, "hey, I saw this murder," so guy calls the big chief and they put a big box in his apartment, and he goes there, and actually the big box is his, uh, grave? His sarg?

BB & CC: Sarcophagus? Coffin?

Pascal Ulli: The coffin, the coffin, yeah. It was done in black and white, and it came out at the Locarno Film Festival.

BB: You played the lead?

Pascal Ulli: I played the lead, and this film was big. We won five international prizes at different festivals, and I was nominated for Best Promising European Actor in Geneva at the festival "stars of tomorrow" . . . this is the only actors festival in Europe. Banderas was nominated in the 80s; Franca Potente won two years ago. I was actually the first Swiss actor to win there. I wasn't only nominated; I won the audience award. So suddenly I was in the business in Germany. I was known. And I met famous people! a year later I was invited as guest of honour at the Geneva film festival and I met Udo Kier. And then it took a bit but then I did my first major movie in Germany called Over the Rainbow and this also for an actor was a heavy experience. There was a famous rock star . . . actually I play a rock star in that movie . . . and one of the side characters was done by a real German rock star, Bela B. from the German rock group Die Ärzte, and he's like a huge star in Germany. So I as this Swiss actor was the main actor in this film and touring with this super German star.

BB: What was the story in that one?

Pascal Ulli: Three girls, they bet all the time, and also they do this bet that they come to my apartment and throw away the key, and the girl who is the longest in the apartment can have me. And at the end, I'm dead; they kill me with drugs. It's weird story.

BB: And this didn't get distributed in the States? It sounds like a movie we'd like over here.

Pascal Ulli: No, no. But it for me was a big experience to do a major German film playing the main part. And so now I work for German television also, and in theatre, basicallythis year I do four plays and four movies.

BB: We were talking earlier about who you look like. You look a little like early Jack Nicholson.

Pascal Ulli: [Does an impression of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.] It's funny because they compare me all the time with someone. I know, I've seen Easy Rider. Jack Nicholson is one of them. But the European press calls me "the Swiss Alain Delon," and this, because I'm a big Belmondo fan, this gets on my nerves. But it's not bad to be compared with Alain Delon, I mean it's okay. And then we did a short movie called Dr. Younamis' Couch where we were making fun out of it. So I played this actor-psycho who goes to see a shrink because he thinks he's Alain Delon. So I was watching all of these Alain Delon movies, and there are angles where you cannot tell -- I mean there were casting agencies from France writing back if I'm nuts to send a headshot of Alain Delon along with my casting papers. So it's really amazing sometimes. But I can look like . . I did movies with blonde hair, I looked like Klaus Kinski. I don't look like myself, and I change a lot, like you saw on the website. But this compare thing, this is okay; this is what happens to every actor. I mean, yeah. I'm having a good life in Europe, and, actually, through that movie where I played the Alain Delon character, I went to the bookstore to read books about Alain Delon, and who do I meet in this bookstore? My wife! And we fell in love, and we married, and we have this kid now.

BB: [To Caroline] What book were you looking for?

Caroline Ulli: I was working there . . .yes, because I was studying . . . I was studying film.

Pascal Ulli: You call it day job, right? [laughs]

BB: [To Caroline] So you were a film student at the time, but you're not acting?

Caroline Ulli: No, I mean we did some things together, but I wasn't in school to study acting.

BB: [To Caroline] You always wanted to be on the other side of the camera.

Caroline Ulli: Yeah, basically. I mean, I'm quite old to be starting now. . I was working there . . . yes, because I was studying . . . I was studying film. I mean, I don't mind.

BB: [To Caroline, with irony] Oh you're so old. You're so old.

Caroline Ulli: Yeah, I think you have to start quite young, to be good at it. Whatever. I mean, whatever happens. We'll do something together. But I really love directing. That's what I like.

BB: [To Pascal] Have you thought about directing a film?

Pascal Ulli: Yeah, that was my first job as a director, which was easy [with] me as an actor; it goes together well. But then I directed, together with her, an old actor, an old Swiss actor, 63 years old. That was very challenging. Yeah, and I want to continue that. I'm not the kind of actor that does things that people tell me. Sometimes I meet the person that I want to do a project with and then I say, okay, it's your movie, I do what you say. But this is rarely. I'm a producer, actually. What I show to the people, I take responsibility for that. And so when I'm just acting, sometimes I can't. When I was 20 years old, I was sure I was just acting, what I could get . . . to learn. Now things changed. I'm responsible for what I do. So the best thing is that I produce and act.

BB: [To Pascal] Tell us about what feedback you've gotten about the play here in New York at the Fringe Festival, both good and bad.

Pascal Ulli: The thing is, actually, the bad ones you don't get. Like the people will walk out; they don't talk to you.

BB: I told you a few things honestly.

Pascal Ulli: Yeah yeah, sure. There is the question about me with my accent of a Swiss person, and can I play a New Yorker, and that is also what I asked myself. But yeah, I answer that question for me, so many people in New York are talking English, and this is the melting pot, and it happens that maybe my character was born in Switzerland. I think it's not the important issue in this play. Like, sure, if it really keeps people away from listening to what I say, then it's bad, you know? But if people listen to the thing, then it's okay.

BB: The biggest criticism I had was on the pacing. Because maybe the pacing changes a little when you speak with a German accent. Also the fact that it's in three acts, and that it gets a little rushed at the end, that maybe you need to stretch it a little more.

Pascal Ulli: Every night is different, and sometimes I stretch it much more; it depends on how the audience is there. You know, when I feel, okay, now we need a little bit of tempo [snapping his fingers], because this is life, so I do little bit of tempo. Like I read a review where they say, well, I couldn't stand the third act, it really made me puke, I say, maybe we don't do it that hard this time. You know, it really depends. The night that you were there it was so packed; there were ten people more than should have been in this theater actually, and it was hot. So I think it was the right decision to be a little bit faster, because the people were right there; I don't think I lost the people. But, hey, this is life, and I'm not perfect, and I really give my best to let you in this character and so on.

BB: So if you got chance to do it here with a little bit more of an elaborate environment, how would you change it?

Pascal Ulli: I would get a language coach, I think. Because I'm very good at imitating, and what you see here is the result of two months, and I haven't spoken English for almost ten years. And I don't think it's bad, to be honest. And I learned a lot; I improved in these two months, and every night it's better. If I were really coming here to do it for real, not at the Fringe but as a show, I think I'm gonna take a language coach where we work on it. But I don't want to lose the personality that I have, because this happens -- I have the same problem with German, like I know how to speak properly German so no one can spot me as a Swiss -- but sometimes you lose a little bit of your personality, and I think this is also part of this play, is my personality. The thing about this play is it's my person doing Jim Carroll's book. It's my show, basically . . . with his text, yeah, but still it's my adaptation.

BB: You've done this play in a couple cities in Germany, and I would think it would be really appropriate to Berlin because of the Bohemian tradition.

Pascal Ulli: Yeah, but German theater is so way out of what we do here, method acting or what I like to do. Like these people puke on stage, they now are bringing real Nazis on stage, and they also have the plays where they put real homeless people on stage throwing tomatoes at the public. So I'm not quite sure they're . . . uh, you know, Berlin, yeah. It's a big city, my agent lives in Berlin, and I want to try, if I find the right theater, to do it there, but no, I think Zurich is much . . . because Zurich is the second most important German language city at the moment in theater. Much more than Hamburg. Zurich is number two at the moment; Berlin is number one, and then comes Zurich. Like we have the Schauspielhaus,we have a very big guy, Marthaler, we have the the Gessnerallee who's the big theater of the free German speaking theater, we have the the little theaters very known, Neumarkt, we have a great opera house, one of the world's best opera houses. Zurich is the place to be in theater. Not in film but in theater.

BB: With regard to theater art, I'd be curious to see what would happen if you toured this at some of the major festivals, like Edinburgh.

Pascal Ulli: No, I think that I want to try for sure . . . it depends a little bit. I'm a happy working actor, so I have a lot of things to do. Coming to the festival, like New York was a dream for me to come here, and also I hoped that . . . [laughing] if Jim Carroll doesn't respond to my letter, then he sees an ad in the paper and goes, "Who the fuck is doing my [book]?!" and comes to see it. So I'm here! I'm facing the dragon! So, yeah, Edinburgh is interesting, but it really depends. Like I have a lot of work and Fringe New York doesn't pay me -- usually I get paid much better when I play.

BB: What's coming up next?

Pascal Ulli: Next I go home and I do a TV series called Mannezimmer. It's one of the famous sitcoms. I do two episodes where I play a cocaine addict. And then I do, together with my wife, I direct a play which my wife adapted for the stage. It's also a book; it's called Views of a Clown by Heinrich Böll, his great novel of the clown. It's Views of a Clown. This guy has an alcohol problem . . .

BB: You're covering all the drugs!

Pascal Ulli: [Laughs] And also, as I told you, that I wanted to become a clown. So for that show, I have a real clown number, which I was rehearsing with one of the great clowns, the founder of the Theater am Geländer from Prague. And we were there with Maxim (my son) and my wife; we were Tessin and I got a crash course in pantomime clown. That's the opening of the show, and the opening night is the 26th of September. Then I've got to do another play called Factory, which I also co-produce with Off-Off Bühne, Off-Off Stage, where I play one of the main characters, and where we were improvising over the internet. This will have opening night the 12th of December. And then I'm gonna make . . . nothing, I hope. There's a film from France, but not yet signed, so we don't know, but a lot's coming up.

BB: So are you looking to do some films here in the United States?

Pascal Ulli: Yes.

BB: Have you talked to anybody?

Pascal Ulli: No. You really have to play this, umm . . . My agent in Germany is one of Horst Buchholz, who is also known in the States, and she's got some also international books on the table, and we're working at this. I mean I did up to now, all in all, ten movies, five of them lead characters, so it's coming. And coming to the States, me with the German accent, I've gotta be the bad guy, right? And I'm a little bit young. But first I want to get a little bit of money out of Germany. Coming to the States is always fun with money in your pockets; it's not fun to come here and, "hey, can you . . ." No, but I want to come here and produce. Want to know my big dream? Be the producer/director and the actor of Mephisto . . . I want to do the movie Faust. I want to put Goethe on screen, and I want to Direct, produce, and play Mephisto.

BB: And you would do it out of Switzerland? Germany? America?

Pascal Ulli: I would produce it in German, of course. German German -- yeah, the original Goethe. And also I wrote my first play a year ago, and so I'm also writing . . . but not as good as Jim is. So I'm really just . . . keep on working, and hope to work with good fellow actors. And also there's something about solo shows that you really look forward to, to play with colleagues.

BB: Who would you like to meet?

Pascal Ulli: Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, and Johnny Depp.

BB: Are there other people that come out of . . .

Pascal Ulli: Oh, yeah. Klaus Maria Brandauer; definitely Klaus Maria Brandauer.

BB: Udo Kier is somebody I'd like to meet.

Pascal Ulli: Yeah, I met him. We had a few drinks together. He's a very charming guy. You know, he's very charming, funny, and he told me a fun story actually. He was doing this book for Madonna, Sex? Yeah? They had an appointmentat 2:00. She shows up at 6:00, four hours late, and he freaks out, like he goes nuts. Like Klaus Kinski he goes, "Blehhhh, are you fuckin' nuts, who the fuck you think you are!" It was the first time within years that someone talks in this tone with Madonna, so she was actually quite fond of him afterwards [laughs]. Because I think this is good, when you come four hours late, even if you're Madonna or who the fuck you are, that's good.

BB: Is there anything else I have missed? Cassie, do you have any questions?

CC: Yes, I have a couple of questions. I think the main thing I want to know is, what is the most challenging thing about adapting The Basketball Diaries for the stage?

Pascal Ulli: The hard thing is to be in public with the audience at the same time [as] being so private, because you're writing into your diary, alone. To really not go too far just talking to the audience, so it's not like, ugh, stop talking to me, but it's still . . . this was very challenging. And also to show . . . I mean you read about what it is to, like . . . I do the shot, I mainline, so . . . how does this look like? How do you do it, actually? Just how it is when you are totally stoned. Just trying to get a feeling, a bit of what this is all about. And all the way showing that kind of . . . how it is, also but still keep on talking and bringing over stories and bringing the poetry to the audience [so] that they get the sense of the book, and always stick to the book. And also do this one hour, like the whole text, the mass of the text. But that you don't get the feeling it's just somebody . . . reciting? Reciting the text. No, but that this is real, that it's just comes out, one word after the other. CC: Is it ever hard to decide what action to put at a point in the text? You've got the text. You've got this very minimal set. Is there ever a time where it's difficult to choose what the action is going to be that's taking place on the stage?

Pascal Ulli: No, I just wanted to have really these passages with no words; there are some of them, not a lot, but some of them. Like with "Horses," the Patti Smith [song] and coming in running [panting] with the hurrying. And with the broken ankle, this comes out of one of the stories. Actually all that I do is in the book. It's in there. I mean, all the actions are in the book, basically. And the big challenge was how do I do it that actually it is a story -- that people get some sort of a story, you know, what happens.

CC: The narrative. The book is not a linear narrative.

Pascal Ulli: No, not at all. I was picking from there, put it up there . . .

BB: Making it flow as a narrative.

Pascal Ulli: Yeah. What I did was very simple. Like you start out when he's already taking heroin, but he's cool. This is great, you know. And he reads some of his first entries and you know what is happening, what the guy is. And then, yeah, then comes already the fall, and how he gets badder and badder. The really important thing for the show is that the people love this guy in the first act. They have to love this guy, or else they cannot stand the third act.

CC: It's challenging. It's hard to do.

BB: It's difficult to show the transition and yet make it all consistent, and also show that there's something of an evolution in the time period.

Pascal Ulli: We did the time period with blackouts, we tried that. It's a hard thing, and it's solo. The thing is, this piece should give me back my independence. Because when I do a big movie, I have contracts and I have this and shit and uggh. And, you know, I cannot do my hair the way I want, and all these things. Or if I do itwith Off-Off Bühne, where there are thirty people involved, I depend on the agendas of thirty people. But The Basketball Diaries gave me back my independence. I can do it almost anywhere. On the stage, what I need is two lights; a sofa most of the time I find in the streets; a basketball, and that's basically it. And I just do it. And if ten people show up I can go eat. So this gives me my independence, and for Jim Carroll I think almost the same: it gave him a lot of independence, that book.

BB: In our discussion before this interview, Cassie raised something I think is interesting to talk about here, about how you add real elements here. How you actually drink the beer, you actually shoot the basketball . . .

Pascal Ulli: [Ironically] Even that real pot on the stage . . .

BB: Yeah [laughing], the real pot on the stage. I thought that was interesting that you added that element. Was that a conscious thing?

Pascal Ulli: With the beer, you [Cassie] told me that he doesn't drink beer. Funny thing is, I hate beer, I never drink beer. But first of all, the beer is in the book, "the beer drinking scene," and it's also a thing of what is this drug thing? How does this start? It starts with alcohol. Like you're in the soccer team; when you play good -- we don't play basketball, we play soccer -- when we win, what do they do? They invite you for a beer. Your fourteen years old and you're allowed to drink beer. "Hey, great job, drink a beer." So this sticks in all the heads, you know? You cannot change. First step, he drinks a beer. Second step, he smokes pot. Alcohol, pot . . .

CC: Alcohol and cigarettes.

Pascal Ulli: Yeah, those are first things. Cigarettes, right.

BB: Yeah, cigarettes are the first drug of addiction. But, yeah, I thought that was a nice touch that you added in to it. So, Cassie, I wanted to make sure you got in all the questions you wanted to ask. You said you wanted to see the process of an interview, so I wanted to get all the things out that I would ask someone to bring into in an interview, where you tell a little bit about your background and all.

CC: I would have asked the same things. [Truth: I would not have thought of the questions so naturally . . . thanks, Brad!] Actually, Pascal, I have one more question. What would you do if you had more resources in terms of money, time, space --

BB: How would it look differently, how long would you make it? What are your thoughts there? Are you writing in notebooks saying, okay, I'm going to do this. I'm going to have set changes, or I'm gonna have clothing changes, if you get the idea.

Pascal Ulli: Actually, no. I like it the way it is. Because, you know, the more I add, the more freedom gets lost. I think this makes it this one guy onstage, so close. And I don't want to do it for 200 people; 100 is the maximum to get close, to see me sweating, eh? To see this. It's also very physical thing. I mean, I lose water, I means tons of. And if you are there, you get that feeling, and I think this is what it's about when it's onstage. And then you go home and, hopefully, read the book. But actually I wouldn't change a thing. Yeah, I'd rehearse more in my English, like when I do it in English. But yeah, maybe the costume is also the discussion. But I also tried to have a thing . . . like, yeah, I knew, the school uniform. But then when I use the school uniform, I have to change, and it makes it so complicated. So I tried to have something that passes almost, and you think, okay. And I found this myself, my old rag T-shirt, my own jeans, the shoes I think are okay. That's why I'm presenting it that way; that's how I feel about the book, about me doing it. That's my way to do it.

BB: Would you like to get ahold of something new of Jim Carroll's, something he hasn't shown to anybody else and get to read it first? Do you get to see things before anybody else?

Pascal Ulli: No, actually I would love to see him in concert, like onstage. Yeah, I would love to see him perform, sure. But I would also love for him to come to Europe, when I do the show in German, so he could do a reading in English. So this makes sense. I would do it in German, and he gives a concert, then does a reading, this in Berlin or so. This would be something. You have to know, it's not so known. Even the movie. The movie was not in the movie theaters. On TV, yeah, and Leo became famous with Titanic, and they showed this movie. But this was not like here; I mean, it's not like like, "oh yeah, The Basketball Diaries, I I know hat." Actually in German, the title is In den Strassen von New York. "In the streets of New York." Yeah, they changed even the title.

BB: I guess people didn't understand The Basketball Diaries.

CC: Oh there are some . . . unique titles in translation. "Jim on the basketball court" is one. Titles are very funny. So you're saying that the Basketball Diaries film was not actually released in theaters?

Pascal Ulli: Not in theaters.

CC: Like in Norway they did it with subtitles. I think they actually dubbed it. There was a Norwegian translation that came out at the same time and it was a big deal.

Pascal Ulli: No, we saw it on TV actually, and people really don't know it actually. They don't know the book, that this is a book.

BB: Well, he definitely has the cult that goes along with all the other subterranean, New York, Bohemian, you know, the Beat poetry tradition, which I very much think it belongs in--in the rock and roll tradition, which it very much belongs in, and well it should. Because I think the tradition needs to be upheld, and traditions need to flow. You know, new generations are doing certain things along that line. I think right now we're in a little bit of a lame period. I mean some hip hop kinda keeps up --

Pascal Ulli: It's some sort of a commercial period. This is a period that sucks. I mean, music-wise, hey, what the? No, sorry . . .

BB: I think we should line up boy bands against the wall. I think if anything has brought out my fascism, it's boy bands.

Pascal Ulli: I imagine for people like Jim Carroll, or even the Stones -- although they're commercial, kind of, but still they're artists, you know -- I mean, I don't know what these people think about these times. I mean it's all about . .. That's one of the reasons about . . . I mean, I came into drugs because I wanted to be different . . . of all the normal guys. But then suddenly ecstasy and all that stuff became so much . . . commercialized? And suddenly you're realizing, I'm the biggest motherfucking asshole on this planet, being used by these stupid . . . big comapnies. That they actually think it's great -- hey, it's great, we feed these guys pills on weekends and during the week they're willing to type some stupid things in a stupid computer, so the big fucking companies get bigger. And this [taps on wine glass] is also actually what made me think this book is also true now, with this sentence, "Junk is just a nine to five gig in the end," and that's what it is.


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