Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence

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Friday Nov. 7, 8-8:30 p.m. (TCM)

Before assessing the TCM interview series "Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence," a piece of full disclosure: Mitchell and I were colleagues at the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner for a time in the mid-1980s. He was a bit of a free spirit then, as now, and never short on talent or smarts. And given Mitchell's vast knowledge as a student of film, he seems the perfect choice to host a no-frills series of one-on-one interviews with A-list Hollywood actors.

This certainly seems the case from watching him visit this month with Edward Norton (Nov. 7) and John Leguizamo (Nov. 21), with Mitchell's natural curiosity and understated flair elevating the discussion far beyond the typical showbiz babble. Personal and uninterrupted by commercial breaks, "Under the Influence" is the rare actors chatfest that not only respects the audience's intelligence but somehow manages never to come across as pretentious.

Mitchell and Norton -- who acknowledge at the outset that they are friends -- speak pretty much exclusively about the acting craft rather than the personal, with Norton passionately elaborating on his performing influences, including Brando, De Niro, Pacino, Hoffman, Dunaway and Streep along with director Milos Foreman. Norton speaks with such conviction that it's clear he has he given this plenty of thought and has great respect for and trust in Mitchell, as does Leguizamo in their back-and-forth.

The eccentric Mitchell sports dreadlocks over his shoulder and a soft-spoken, deliberate style that's the antithesis of the more pompous James Lipton on his "Inside the Actors Studio." For students of the performance art, "Under the Influence" supplies an intriguing examination of the actor's psyche straight from the source.

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