I usually only tell celebrity interview stories at dinner parties and over drinks with friends. From pirates in a Manila jail to Oscar-winning stars in plush hotels, there are many odd, funny, adorable and crappy things I’ve witnessed over the years interviewing people.
Getting the best out of strangers with star status in a short amount of time can be tricky – it is an art.
But here are some of my favourite star interview moments.
It’s one thing to do your job professionally when the cameras are rolling but Smith goes that extra mile into the stratosphere. He is so present and in the moment, it’s like this interview is the most important thing in his life. If he was acting, I couldn’t tell, and other stars could learn from him.
Let’s face it, talking about Miss Congenitality 2 with such a beautiful, talented and smart actress was awkward for both of us. She was snooty and mildly irritated but I had the distinct impression it wasn’t with me. I wanted to tell her the movie wasn’t all that bad… but it was, so I couldn’t.
He’s been to the Will Smith School of How To Charm The Journalist. He’s smart, funny and can roll with any direction the interview takes – and he’s just as ridiculously good-looking in real life as on screen.
When expectation meets reality, disappointment results. I love Clooney’s work on screen and his humanitarian work off screen. What I was not prepared for is having my romantic leading man notion exploded. He was shorter than I wanted him to be. Close up, he looked kind of old. And his mouth would purse into the shape of the ABC logo. But that charm – he can turn it on and off like a light switch.
Zellweger was surprisingly casual and might have applied her own red lipstick without a mirror – or a kid with a red crayon scribbled all over her mouth. She wore double denim and was so focused on losing weight, she paced a five metre area back and forth in the 60 seconds between interviews. She might be crazy or just crazy like the rest of us.
Borat aka Sacha Baron Cohen
This interview is a highlight of my career. When it was over and Borat asked if he could make ‘sexy time on my belly’, I broke the 4th wall, looked into the camera lens and whimpered ‘help’. This guy is our generation’s Peter Sellers.
The nuttier they are, the more I like them. Go in with some cleverly phrased questions and he will perform with you – not just for you – giving unique content no one else will have. He also has a flare for fashion so I wore an outrageous belt buckle to all three interviews and he commented every time. He even slapped me in one.
He remembers everything – even reminding me of the last time we met. He ties with Antonia Banderas as having the best male voices in Hollywood.
I wanted to slap him. He had a hangover and turned the interview into an obsession with my boots. Clearly he didn’t want to talk about Jackass. No matter, I ran with what he gave me. An actor who doesn’t want to talk about the movie he’s supposed to be promoting spoke volumes and was a review in itself. I could have run with the angle ‘not even Johnny wants to talk about Jackass’.
This comedic genius is humble without any right to be – but has weird eyes. What’s going on there? Deep set? Maybe. A bit squinty? Perhaps. In real life, they do make him look well, insane.
His eyes aren’t blue – they are fluorescent turquoise. And he blinks less than the average person making him very intense to interview.
Sarah Silverman and John C Reilly
We had some time to kill while the crew sorted a technical difficulty and the conversation shifted from Wreck-It Ralph to what their characters’ porn names would be. With Ralph’s giant hands I suggested he could be called Mr Fisty. They were genuinely shocked.
I interviewed him about the Disney dog film 8 Below. All the media had the same visual material to use and I wondered how I could get something different to everyone else. So I focused on pee. Paul laughed and told a great story about how there couldn’t be crew footprints in the wide shots of the dogs with him, so when the dogs peed, he would carefully sprinkle snow over the top of the tiny yellow patches.
On the set of The Matrix 2 & 3, it was first time I’d seen a living ghost. Straight after the sudden tragic death of his partner and the recent death of their baby, he was in Australia making the two movies. Joel Silver hand-picked a few Aussie journalists to go onto the set and interview key cast. Reeves came in on a rare day off because Silver had asked him too. He looked strange. I thought I was looking through a thin veil of skin over a mountain of unprocessed grief. I felt guilty doing my job that day.
Jon Hamm of Mad Men
Unbearable good looks. I was the first international journo to go onto the Hollywood set and I had a feeling this was going to be a hit series. We were in the boardroom of Sterling Cooper and he was in Don’s 1960’s suit telling me he had never put on pants with a 40 inch zipper. I was trying not to think about his fly when I was asking my first question but I was so distracted I got his character’s name wrong and referred to him as Dan Draper. We started again.
And the worst interview of my career?
This is my most hated interview. When this average actor had the job of promoting Queen Of The Damned, he slouched around, all pouty and self-important. Belligerent in his answers, I calmly pushed on knowing every bit of this was on camera. Then at the end, I leaned over and whispered, ‘You might get paid millions of dollars for what you do but when I’m standing outside the cinema with friends thinking about what we’re going to see – you’re only worth fifteen bucks to me.’
I make no apology for that comment. It’s an important leveler. Stars and celebrities are people like the rest of us. The difference is, they are renting a spot in the limelight. No one owns it.
Some things I learned about interviewing stars:
- You are not there to be friends but a real connection is great when it happens. Let it happen, don’t make it happen.
- Don’t lie about the intention or context of your interview. If you do gossip – be out loud and proud of it. Don’t pretend to be news then do tabloid. Be authentic.
- Thank them for their time and get out of there. It’s not sex. No one needs a cuddle at the end.