blog: interviewing stars


There’s a lot of hoohah going around in Philippine blogosphere about an entertainment journalist’s cringe-worthy interview with Anne Hathaway during her promo tour of LES MISERABLES. I did not have the heart to watch the video of the interview but I read the transcript, which already made me cringe.

Below is the video of that interview and judge for yourself:

Many have compared that interview with another Filipino reporter (but US-based) who interviewed Ms Hathaway:

I’m not going to add to the critical voices out there castigating the first journalist for such an embarrassing interview. But I do sympathize with him because I know that it’s not easy interviewing someone, much more a Hollywood star.

I haven’t interviewed a Hollywood star but I have interviewed a few of the region’s big stars. The two may not compare because Hollywood is still Hollywood, but I can only imagine the pressure and the stress that comes with it.

See, interviewing someone requires skills of course, but it also depends on timing and mood. Sometimes, no matter how hard you prepare and psych yourself before the interview, things could still go wrong. In my experience, I have two words: Jackie Chan. It was not because he was being a big star or I was ill-prepared with my questions (because I even rehearsed with my colleagues), it was just the circumstances surrounding interviews like this when celebrities are doing the media rounds to promote a film: limited time and pesky PRs who instead of helping journalists get their work done, stand in the way.

Sometimes, it makes me glad that I was trained interviewing people in the political beat. Running after politicians and getting your head hit by a TV camera teach you how to be persistent and watchful (in short, reading the atmosphere). But politicians are different from celebrities. Politicians are accountable to the general public; celebrities are there to please the fans, NOT the media.

There’s always been a love-hate relationship between stars and the press. Ask Jay Chou. But it’s a symbiotic relationship even if these actors and singers and whatnot think that they can get by with sheer talent alone. If there’s no press to cover them, how do they gain the public’s attention? Sure, in this day and age, there’s Facebook and Twitter, but while social media may make stars more accessible to the masses, the media still provide them the legitimacy of being people worth reporting.

Now, back to the controversial interview. I can empathize with the jitters on the journalist’s part being face to face with someone famous; at the same time I can understand the frustration on the celebrity’s part when the person in front of her is asking the “wrong” questions. But are there really “right” and “wrong” questions? For me, there’s none. It’s just a matter of how you ask them.

I do disagree that the success of an interview depends on the interviewer 100 percent. It does not. It takes two to tango. Of course the pressure lies on the interviewer’s shoulders, let’s say 50 percent, but 30 percent of that depends on the interviewee and the remaining 20 percent on the atmosphere. If it’s noisy, there are PRs breathing down your neck, managers interrupting every now and then, that critical 20 percent goes down the drain. If the interviewee is a diva or having a bad day or not just in the mood, another 30 percent is thrown out the door. Now, if the interviewer is nervous, did not do background research (and I mean updated research) and is asking questions that have been probably asked a hundred times to the interviewee, then kiss the interview goodbye.

I can understand though the part of trying to look for a “local” angle when interviewing a foreign subject. It’s not a mortal sin. It is merely bringing something that the local audience could relate to because after all, journalists cater to a niche market. But yes, we interviewers have to bear in mind that this interview is about the subject, and not other people, and our utmost concern should always be to make the subject comfortable enough to answer our questions. If they are comfortable and at ease, no matter how many times they have heard the question, they won’t mind simply because that is what they are there for. If the subject is happy, then we get our story. The rule is just simple: read the atmosphere.

Among the celebrity interviews I did, my favorite would be Jerry Yan. I had low expectations; in fact, bad expectations because of what I have heard and read that he can be a difficult subject. But I was surprised because he turned out to be candid, friendly and warm. It was also a risk interviewing him because among the F4, he’s my F1. As a friend said, interviews may be a disappointing experience if you find out that the person you admire is not who he seems after all. But that would apply to my interview with Van Ness Wu, not that I admire him to begin with. But I had this expectation of a friendly, articulate dude only to find myself face-to-face with a fidgety, shifty-eyed person who not only looked bored but sounded bored as well during the interview. And that is why that interview did not make it to print to this day because I did not know what to do with it.

Based on feedback though, one of my memorable interviews would have to be with Wu Chun. His fans said there were a lot of information they got from it and for an interviewer, that’s a successful interview. I suppose it had something to do with the atmosphere more than me asking the right questions or Wu Chun being a charming subject (he was more an earnest subject). The interview happened right in his hometown in Bandar Seri Begawan, a place where obviously he is comfortable and right at home. He was relaxed with no managers and PRs hovering around, just us two in a cafe downstairs from his gym.

So see, there are a lot of elements why some interviews are a success and some are not. But I think it would be unfair to crucify someone over what many view as a failed interview. Shit happens sometimes you know. Just the same, there are lessons to be learned from this, for the reporter and for the rest of us in the business of asking questions.

And I guess we could learn a lot from Oprah’s interview with Lance Armstrong.

As for the rest, don’t be too harsh until you have been through it and experienced it yourself. And job interviews don’t really count.

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One thought on “blog: interviewing stars

  1. Didn’t surprise me much that u like chunnie and jerry but I was surprised that Jerry was your F1. Hmmm… I would say Ken is amusing and I agree on the Van part, not very polite of him to do so.

    And I guess, RM’s interviews meant different to you.

    U like les miserables? I wasnt prepared to watch such a film but I didnt like it much cos I think it’s filled with alot of negativity. And I can watch like sappy or heavy dramas but those with aspiring or like inspirational ones which I think has a meaning. Maybe because this is a religious movie and I’m more of a buddhist and I believe in faith, universe, balance and myself. And what’s more when the protagonist escaped etc… I mean i know there are good parts but speaking generally and to be frank, the singing makes me feel like laughing.


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