Sunday, August 12, 2007

How to interview a celebrity

As a public service to any toadie journalist assigned to do an inane starlet profile here is the style sheet YOU MUST FOLLOW!!!

Whether it’s for the LA TIMES, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, PARADE, or MERCENARY LIFE there is a specific protocol you are advised to follow to the letter. So please take note:

The interview must be a lunch date at a chic café, clearly identified.

The celebrity will arrive late. You must report how late and what her excuse was. And you must forgive her. Even if the excuse is, “I forgot” or “I had to liquor up to do this because I find you repulsive” you must be charmed.

It’s important to describe her outfit. Is Natalie Portman wearing jeans? Lead with that. Gwen Stefani has new sunglasses? Hold page one! And for godsakes, whatever you do, describe the celebrity’s hair. Was it pulled back? Tousled? No one gives a shit what Claire Danes thinks but they sure as hell need to know whether her hair was red, blonde, or strawberry blonde? You spent five years in journalism school at Northwestern. Use your tools.

Painstakingly note whether she picks at an egg white omelet or a Waldorf salad. Celebrities don’t eat, they “pick at”.

Note that she eats healthy and it’s paying off. You must compliment a celebrity’s appearance. Jennifer Aniston is “glowing” and “radiant” and when Courtney Love shows up looking like the dog’s breakfast she is dressed “casual” and “fun funky”.

Once the budding young diva starts yammering learn what is print-worthy and what is just utter brain-dead nonsense. Listen carefully because often you won’t be able to distinguish one from the other.

She will tell you that she is now in “a good place”. Report that. She’s learned some real “life lessons” on her last movie. At this point she’ll start talking real fast and you might have a tough time getting it all down. So make it easy on yourself. Write it all out before the interview.

She’ll tell you what she thinks of the world situation. She’ll have suggestions for how to fix it. Ignore!!! All of it. Complete balloon juice. This is where you can pick at your food.

She’ll gush about her latest movie. That’s the only reason she’s there. It’s certainly not to spend time with you. Should you excuse yourself after lunch and go to the bathroom for three minutes, by the time you get back she’ll have no idea who you are.

The thing about this film was that the director (just fill in the blank here) who is a “genius” allowed her to tap into an inner place she didn’t know even existed. He unleashed the “little girl” in her and maybe two or three past lives. It was really “scary” and “profound”. She “suffered” as a result but that’s okay because she is “all about the art”. It’s okay to eliminate all the “y’knows”, “ums”, and “likes”, but you must keep every “I’m all about...”

Do not bring up anything negative. Yes, she killed that pedestrian but it was only one and it was before she was in her “good place” and besides, she’s all about Africa now, so that’s what you need to focus on.

Never EVER talk about yourself or bring up any topic other than her. She will stare at you in disbelief like you just killed her puppy. A call to the publicist (who’s sitting at the next table with five of her best handlers) is certain to follow.

By now she’s sipping her cappuccino (which must be duly reported as well as whether she stirs it lazily, holds the cup with two hands, etc. This is vital information.). Very gingerly, bring up boyfriends. She may volunteer that her relationship is “in a good place” and then you’re home free. Again, no negatives. Do not mention that she ruined a marriage or broke up a home. Listen for these words: “(blank) has given me a real sense of self and opened my eyes to so many things.” It means she’s wrapping it up.

Thank her for taking the time. She will shake your hand and thank you. She’s amazed you got so much information out of her. She usually never is that revealing. You’ll look away for a second, a gesture of modesty. Poof! By the time you look back she’ll be gone.

If you get back to the office, write up the story, and see that you’re short you can always slug in the following: She gets great gas mileage on her Prius (even though she drove up in a Porsche). She never actually sees any of the movies she’s in. She’d like to do a comedy someday because people don’t realize it but she’s soooo funny. Harry Potter changed her life. And she’s all about the truth but she also just discovered power walking.

Write that up, see it three weeks later as a cover story in PEOPLE, and request a transfer to Iraq.


Grubber said...


For any international journo's you may also want to add the obligatory, what do you think of our lovely little country/dictatorship/sweatshop industry?

The celebrity will always respond that it is their favourite country and he/she cannot believe how friendly everyone has been and that they are so impressed they are thinking of buying a holiday house/house/retiring there.

Half of Hollywood would be living in Australia at present going on all the answers to that question I have heard.

Very funny as usual Ken!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget to include that Starlet thought of her fellow actors on said movie as "a real family." They were all "close and supportive." Her boyfriend is never jealous when she has love scenes with Mr. Hunk because he's "secure and trusting." And don't forget to mention that she's wearing Jimmy Choo sandals, a sleek black tee, the latest jeans. Handbags are Prada. And for her next movie, whatever she's being paid is described by temperature, as in "a cool 10 million."

Also mention the waiter, who either does or doesn't recognize the starlet according to whether you're in a restaurant in L.A. or NYC.

Anonymous said...

Awesome, awesome post!!

The only missing piece is when she runs off to the ladies room to purge.

Feisty Crone said...

Very funny. Thanks for making me laugh before I schlep off to work.

Joel said...

In all these celebrity profiles, the subject is either "picking at" or "munching" their food. I've even read that male subjects "pick at" their food. I don't care about what they're eating, much less in what disgustingly-described way they're eating it.

(Though I do admit that I've done profiles that described what people have ordered at the nondescript Starbucks in which I'm asked to meet the person, even though I'd rather speak to them at their homes or somewhere that can give a much better backdrop to the story.)

Nice job capturing the experience, Ken. You might want to add the "Men's Magazine Corollary" to this: it's the point where the starlet says or does something that's completely innocuous but the writer makes the reader think it was a flirtatious move towards the obviously handsome (fat) and testosterone-filled (bearded) writer.

Stephen Green said...

You're right that these articles always describe the interviewee "picking at" his or her food. Does it never occur to the interviewers that their subjects are picking at their food because their eating keeps getting interupted by having to answer questions? I can eat my dinner in front of the tv in five minutes. The same meal eaten in a restaurant on a date would take me more than an hour to eat, and not just because I use the utensils in the restaurant. I actually have to listen to and intelligently respond to the person I'm eating with on a date. That takes time and effort.

Anonymous said...

Now do one on the opposite side, the "hard-hitting" interview, where you can call them any name in the book simply by saying it's what "others" are saying. You know, "what do you say to people that think you're just a talentless wannabee who has no business getting any acting job?"

Anonymous said...

Very funny piece. This is why, for many years now, with ANY celebrity interveiw show (But mostly Letterman, since it's the only one I look at regularly), the words "My first guest is ..." are my cue to fire up the DVD player and switch off the show.

You know, vacuous male celebrities get interviewed too. They are anxious to explain how their new vanity project is in black & white, because they saw a 3 stooges short in back & white, and once the repairman explained to them that there was nothing wrong with their TV, they loved it for it's emotional honesty and insisted that their vanity project ("Stupider and Stupidest") would be more hard-hitting in black & white. The execs greenlighting it so the star would then do TEENAGE MUTANT ANACONDA GARGLERS agrees to shooting the vanity proj in B&W since it will be less money lost anyway.

The male celebrity will explain why leaving the mother of his 7 children for someone named "Jolie" was "Painful but ulitmately positive." That while shooting HACKSAW MEETS DRILL PRESS he and Miss Jolie shared deep experiences that bonded them forever as he was pretending to snip bits off of her. (And this isn't new. Vincent Price & Coral Browne's romance/marriage began back in 1973 when they fell in love as he electrocuted her in THEATER OF BLOOD)

If the male star is Matthew McConaghy, he will explain why wearing shirts is emotionally dishonest. If he's anyone else, he will be shirtless at the interview, even if it's backstage at the Kennedy Center Honors.

No matter who you are interviewing, he will take a cell phone call from Angelina Jolie during the interview.

The Australian interviewer above, not being from a third-world country, doesn't realize that the essential component to a celebrity forgeign interview, is explaining why the celeb found it necessary to adopt 20 of their country's children, and how the kids's real parents, the ones being restrained by bodyguards just outside while shouting "KIDNAPPERS!" is completely onboard with their children's new last name being "Federline".

When a celeb couple is interviewed together overseas, they will adopt an additional child during the interview, ordering off the desert menu.

There are terms one must learn the meaning of. "We grew in different directions." means the now-divorcing male celeb just made a film with Angelina Jolie.

"He/she's a genius!" means "We just worked together."

"It's all about the craft." means "It's all about the money and publicity."

"It's a difficult work that looks at uncomfortable truths." means "No one will see it."

It's a searing indictment of human bigotry." (Not to be confused with animal or vegatable bigotry) means "It's about kids in bathing suits having sex at the beach."

"It's incredibly honest." means "I did my own nude shots."

It really opened my eyes." means "I'd never heard of World War II until the script treatemnt was read to me."

"This was the most difficult movie I've ever done." means "This is the most recent movie I have ever done."

"I reached deep into my soul and found out things about myself I never knew." means "The bastard director insisted I MEMORIZE my lines! I had him fired."

"It was written for me." means "I screwed the writer."

I turned down three other movies because I wanted to work with him. His movies illuminate The Human Condition." means "It's another Woody Allen movie no one will see."

I really grew making this movie." means "I just aborted my co-star's baby."

This could go on. And does.

* said...


You hit the proverbial nail. I'm off to get work...

Paul Rinkes said...

you forgot to mention what brand of cigarette she was smoking.

Rob said...

Ken, I think you've missed the new wave of celebrity journalism, as practiced by Merry Miller of NBC News. Or is it ABC? Hell, she doesn't know either.

See for yourself.

Boy how I miss the days when talk shows were frequented by people who had nothing to promote but had something fun to say. I agree with d. mcewen, after the monologue with Conan or Dave, I'm usually tuned out.

Rob said...

Let us not forget these comments:

"I didn't realize how hard a job being a parent is."

Translated: My nanny looks really tired.

"People don't realize how hard it is being the daughter of a celebrity."

Translated: I couldn't get into bars until I turned 12.

"Saving the environment is important to me."

Translated: I replaced all the lights in my 18,000 square feet poorly insulated mansion with CFLs.

"Having a kid really made me grow up."

Translated: I once changed a diaper full of number 2 and now I go to bed an hour before the sun comes up.

"I think all children should have a name that celebrates its uniqueness."

I named her Apple because I really dig my iPod.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Last Friday I saw Halle Berry on The View (Oh, like you don't!). Talk about giving unselfconscious narcissism a bad name, Berry lectured Barbara Walters about celebrity interviews. When an interviewer recently displayed a firm grasp of the obvious by telling Berry she seemed moody and impatient, Berry claimed that her exasperation was a response to banal interview questions. She offered as a solution to both their problems to interview herself. The magazine accepted, and if her piece hasn’t appeared already, it will. I was light-headed from the synchronicity of this scene’s simultaneous affront to irony, Jacques Troufaut and my will to live.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

By the way, who's the pictured well-adjusted looking babe? I can't tell you how many of my ex-girlfriends she reminds me of.

Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed to admit how old I was before I stopped taking these publicist-primed interviews at face I won't say how old I actually was. But I've noticed that all it takes is one step forward in terms of believability for me to start listening again. In other words, when the celebrity's answer to the "tough" question is not the usual stock answer, for a moment I take it seriously.

My guess is that once the insincerity of some stock answer becomes too obvious, some PR genius (Ken, no offense, maybe these PR people are the real creative talents in that town) sits down and thinks, "What would someone say about this subject if they really were being thoughtful and sincere?" They come up with an answer, train their client to mouth those words, and away we go. And a new stock answer is born.

Anonymous said...

The interviewer must also mention what the celebrity does over lunch to save the planet.
She's a saint who gave up toothpicks.

Ellen said...

When interviewing someone in the crossword world, always begin the article with "What's a ___-letter word for ___?"

Anonymous said...

Halle Berry has always irritated me. Her Oscar speech seemed to imply that she was the Rosa Parks of the Academy Awards:

"Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I'm sorry. This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened. Thank you. I'm so honored. I'm so honored. And I thank the Academy for choosing me to be the vessel for which His blessing might flow. Thank you."

Guess she forgot about Hattie McDaniel opening the door decades earlier. Of course, Hattie only won best supporting actress. And she didn't star in Catwoman. And she didn't have Jesus on her side guiding the Academy's hand.

Anonymous said... you think you can get Talullah to tell us what it was like to be on a talk show before there was television?

dbreckman said...

Man that was wonderful! Just about dead solid perfect! I'm still shaking my head!

And here's one more puff-piece cliche, Ken. It's the news copy you see right AFTER the headline (and the headline, by the way, is always something like "OWEN WILSON, SERIOUSLY").

More times than I can remember, the next line will go something like, "He's goofy, loves Captain Crunch and Almond Joy, and just might be the best actor of his generation."

That particular line, "the best actor of his generation" seems to come up again and again and again, typically after some "quirky" or "whimsical" phrase meant to humanize the subject, like, "THE ETHAN HAWKE INTERVIEW: Scarfing White Castles and playing X-box with the best actor of his generation"... or some such nonsense. Look for it.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Leo Marvin, based on the file name for the picture, that is Uma Thurman as a zombie. If you Google Image "uma thurman zombie", it returns that image, and further down, the original before-Photoshop image.

Dwacon said...

That's not how I would interview a celeb.

I'd prolly turn her over my knee and spank her until the police drag me away... then while in the holding cell rehearse my explanation at the inevitable press release.

That should be worth at least 15 minutes...

Gil said...

You forgot to mention that if the starlet is a guest star or an addition to an existing cast, that "the cast was really warm and welcoming and made me feel right at home." If she's a real Chatty Cathy, she'll go on to say that "Everyone is like a big family and, you know, it's hard joining an existing family, but everyone gets along so well."

Anonymous said...

So hooray for Henry Rollins who actually asks interesting questions and lets his guests talk about things other than their latest projects. And for ten or fifteen minutes solid. He has one of the few talk shows worth watching as far as I'm concerned.

Dickie LeRoo said...

I adore observational comedy, and this is it to a tee. Strong work, sir.

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