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Carrie Fisher's 'Essential' new job

Story Highlights

• Carrie Fisher new co-host of TCM's "The Essentials"
• Fisher calls herself "a fan of the movies"
• Says making movies has been learning experience
By Todd Leopold
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(CNN) -- Carrie Fisher seems a natural to join Robert Osborne as co-host of "The Essentials."

After all, as the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, the actress and writer was born into the film business. Some of her earliest memories are of watching classic movies with her mother. By 18 she had a supporting role in "Shampoo" (1975) and two years later starred as Princess Leia in "Star Wars," which, for two decades, was the highest-grossing film of all time.

In the years since, she's acted in films such as "Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986) and "When Harry Met Sally ..." (1989). She has also become a novelist and in-demand script doctor, writing uncredited dialogue for a host of films. (She's also made her share of bad movies -- see sidebar.)

Still, when queried as to how she ended up as co-host of the Turner Classic Movies showcase, which begins its seventh season Saturday at 8 p.m. ET, she seemed as much at a loss as if she were a tourist unexpectedly selected for a role off a studio lot.

"Well, they asked me to, and I pretty much just watch TCM," she says. "I watch news or old movies."

The prospect, she says in a phone interview from Los Angeles, was a little intimidating.

"I felt a little nervous, because I've seen they have really good people and seem very, very intelligent talking about these things and analyzing the films," she says, her voice taking on a mock-professorial tone. "I'm just sort of a fan of the movies."

'Spirited conversation'

TCM -- which, like CNN, is a division of Time Warner -- had higher praise.

"We're excited to have Carrie team with Robert for this very special installment of 'The Essentials,' " said TCM executive vice president and general manager Tom Karsch. "[Carrie's] love, experience and understanding of film will bring a new outlook to our franchise."

"What she brings to the table is Carrie Fisher -- and that's quite a mother lode," adds Osborne, TCM's longtime movie guide, in an e-mail interview. "There are few people in this world brighter than she is. And she couldn't have been nicer to work with."

"The Essentials" has been a mainstay of TCM for six seasons. Past hosts or co-hosts include Rob Reiner, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdanovich and most recently, film critic Molly Haskell.

This season premieres with "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) and includes "The Great Dictator" (1940), "My Fair Lady" (1964), "The Lost Weekend" (1945), "King Kong" (1933) and the neglected "Dodsworth" (1936), hailed by writer (and April TCM guest) David Mamet in his new book on the movie industry, "Bambi vs. Godzilla."

The movies were chosen from an initial group of 50 which Fisher selected from TCM's 7,000-film library. Osborne went with 30 of those. After watching the films, their conversations about the films were taped.

"What's most fun," he says, "is when there's a movie one of us likes and the other is lukewarm about -- it makes for a spirited conversation."

Growing up, Fisher says she was attracted to filmmakers such as Billy Wilder, David Lean, Frank Capra, William Wyler and George Cukor. "I was raised on all of that," she says.

Inevitably, she has a personal story when asked about the movies she loves.

"And I love -- you know, 'Badlands' and Terry Malick ... [his films are] so beautiful. And I was actually up for one of his films, the second one ['Days of Heaven']. It was going to be me and [John] Travolta, and it went on and on and on until Travolta couldn't do it or whatever. And it was devastating not to get it."

The film, which ended up starring Richard Gere, still almost ended up with Fisher. But "I had no chemistry with Richard Gere," she laughs. Brooke Adams got the lead female role.

Figuring out 'producer'

She admits to holes in her knowledge through the years. Her mom was appalled one day when Fisher and a friend didn't recognize James Dean's name. "We thought he was the hot dog guy, and [my mother] was so offended." The happy result, said Fisher, was being allowed to stay up to watch "Rebel Without a Cause."

She also says she didn't understand much about some aspects of filmmaking when she first started acting.

"When I started doing 'Star Wars,' I couldn't figure out what the hell the producer did," she says. "I used to watch Gary Kurtz hang around the set and I would make fun of him. I would say, 'Are you producing now? What are you doing?' ... It took me years to figure out that they assemble the picture and hire the [staff]."

But now, she says, she looks at film with a more educated eye.

"I love watching them to see how long shots last. I love breaking them down," she says. "It's hard to write them, but I like writing dialogue. I would have made one of those people [in the studio system], someone who wrote 'Additional Dialogue by ...' "

Though Fisher likes current movies, she says the past was something special.

"These movies that we watched for 'The Essentials,' they're older movies that come from another time," she says. "They were when people were passionate about movies. You made a movie because [MGM co-founder] Louis B. Mayer wanted to see it. He was passionate about it.

"It was just an amazing era."


Carrie Fisher begins a season as co-host on "The Essentials" on March 10.


March 10: "Breakfast at Tiffany's"
March 17: "Hud"
March 24: "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"
March 31: "Fear Strikes Out"
April 7: "That Touch of Mink"
April 14: "The Great Dictator"
April 21: "Roman Holiday"
April 28: "The Adventures of Robin Hood"
May 5: "The Producers"
May 12: "My Fair Lady"
May 19: "Ball of Fire"
May 26: "King Kong"


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