The Ponder Heart

Peter MacNicol stars as Uncle Daniel Ponder in "The Ponder Heart,"
the Masterpiece Theatre film adaptation of the Eudora Welty novel.  It
was filmed on location in and around Ms. Welty's hometown of
Jackson, Mississippi and aired on PBS on Oct. 15, 2001. Co-starring
JoBeth Williams (Edna Earle), Angela Bettis (Bonnie Dee), Boyce
Holleman (Grandpa Ponder) and Brent Spiner (Dorris Gladney).

From an interview with director, Martha Coolidge:

Question: Uncle Daniel Ponder must have presented problems, since
he could easily be depicted as a simpleton.

MC: Yes, that's true. Peter MacNicol and I approached Daniel very
carefully, relying a lot on Peter's natural instincts about the character.
Daniel is a product of how he's been raised and his background. His
strong connection to his family makes him a tremendous symbol of
the South; he's almost a karmic figure. He's not a simpleton at all, but
sweet and innocent about thing other people may be cynical about.
~from WGBH

Behind the Scenes

MC: ...Peter MacNicol was always everybody's first choice for Uncle Daniel. He's got kind of an elfin,
otherworldly quality that Uncle Daniel has. Uncle Daniel is kind of a spirit person, who lives in a protected
reality, who everyone knows would cause no harm and he brings joy to people's lives, but of course leaves in
his wake a series of problems that everyone else has to solve, which is what this story is all about.

MC: ...Peter has that kind of offhanded, joyful charm that Uncle Daniel needs.

PM: As an actor, I respond to the extravagance of the characters. They're flamboyant and quietly mad. The
dialogue is always surprising and a little skewed, certainly, from naturalism.

PM: It's very compelling for an actor, these characters, because they're so recognizable and yet so dramatically
different from anybody we normally encounter. They're familiar and yet extremely exotic.

PM: I went to a small liberal arts college in Dallas, Texas, where we were exposed to all of the Southern
writers: Flannery O'Connor and Caroline Gordon; the Fugitive Poets; Donald Davidson; Allen Tate. And I guess
for me, most principally, Eudora Welty. We can almost regard her as kind of the poet laureate of Mississippi
and maybe the whole American South.

"The whole cast came because of Eudora -- They wanted to be a part of it. Once they knew Peter would
be in it, JoBeth [Williams] wanted to do this -- I think she got a pittance... It's the theme that went
through the whole crew." MacNicol got to spend about an hour with Welty during the filming. "He just
knelt at her feet. It was a huge moment for him," [executive producer Marion] Rees says.

"[Peter] loved doing this... He was carried away with the whole thought of being able to play Uncle
Daniel," recalls Mary Alice White, Welty's niece and foundation board member. "You could tell they all
really appreciated Eudora and her work... They were very sincere in trying to do an excellent portrayal of
the story."
~"Pondering Welty," by Sherry Lucas, The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, MS, Jan. 2001

"In 'The Ponder Heart' [Boyce] Holleman plays the role of Grandpa Ponder. 'Ally McBeal' star Peter
MacNicol plays the lead role of Uncle Daniel.

'Peter is a great fellow and has a real feel for what he does," Holleman said. "He's such a student of
drama, so innovative. He would make suggestions on how a scene should go, and it was always better.
He's another one who just lets things happen naturally, doesn't overdo it.'"
~"Today in Mississippi," The Clarion-Ledger, Jan. 19, 2001

Interview with co-producer, Earl Hamner, April 2001
Eudora Welty Newsletter

EWN: How did you go about trying to find actors and actresses to match the idiosyncratic characters of The
Ponder Heart, particularly characters like Uncle Daniel and Edna Earle?

EH: Well, I think Peter MacNicol [Uncle Daniel] had been in everyone's mind from the very beginning.

EWN: Since you had your hand in the script, I was wondering if you had a tight rein on the actors' and
actresses' interpretation or did the production allow them to experiment with their characters?

EH: I would have to defer to the director on how much she allowed them, whether that was their
interpretation or if they had free rein to do what they liked. My impression of Martha [Coolidge] was that she
spoke with each actor prior to shooting. She and the actor had worked out their common concept of the
character. I remember when she came out of the meeting with Peter MacNicol, she said, "You know what his
interpretation of Uncle Daniel is?" And I said, "I'd be curious to know." And she said, "He calls Uncle Daniel,
God's fool." And I thought, "Gee that is a lovely approach of an actor to a character." I could see how an actor
could work with that in formulating and projecting his concept of the character.
Ponder Heart cover
PBS ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre, American Collection, "The Ponder Heart"
Purchase VHS of "The Ponder Heart" at shop PBS

Peter MacNicol Online
MacNicol, JoBeth Williams, Boyce
Holleman. copyright WGBH