Other side of the celebrity interview
MEXICO CITY—It could be the most awkward, intrusive and uncomfortable experience. You could be sitting in your chair seconds before a TV exclusive, girding your loins for whatever questions might be thrown at you. This could be your 25th interview of the day and you’ve thought of every possible answer to the same five questions that you’ve had to field over and over again. And you desperately need to use the bathroom.
You guessed it: It’s the interview.
As unpleasant as this might be—both for the interviewer and the interviewee—it can also be quite lovely, informative and enlightening, provided the interviewer remembers that it’s not about himself/herself (you’re asking the questions; this is not about you), and the interviewee remains calm and keeps his or her “resting b*tchface” in check.
I’ve had my share of interviews throughout my life … the earliest one I can remember was at a press conference for “Annie” when I was 8 or 9 years old.
I don’t remember being briefed or trained by Repertory Philippines’ publicity department, but I do remember Jullie Yap-Daza at the helm of one of them.
I also remember being a guest on the talk show “Two for the Road” (hosted by Nestor U. Torre and the late great Elvira Manahan), and giving mostly monosyllabic answers to their questions (I did not possess the same aplomb that Ryzza Mae Dizon has in spades).
There have been interviews on television, print, even the Internet … ambush interviews with TV cameras in your face backstage after concerts or TV guest appearances … round-robin sessions, press conferences and long satellite interviews (the last one was with Il Divo—three hours worth, fielding questions from various TV outlets across the United States, the day beginning at 5 a.m. for hair and makeup and ending at 10:30 a.m. when the final interview wrapped) … and press junkets where you have a string of one-on-ones with different journalists lasting a couple of days, just to promote a film.
All of these can test how fast you think on your feet, how much stamina you have and how much patience, especially when the person interviewing you turns out to be either incompetent, awkward or inappropriate.
I cannot speak for the journalists who have to conduct interviews as part of their routines (notably my colleagues here at the Inquirer who, I’m sure, have had their share of nightmares), so allow me this little to-do list for those who have been through that same hot-seat experience as I have:
Make the assumption, be it right or wrong, that the reporter standing or sitting before you has performed his or her due diligence in doing research for the interview about to take place.
Therefore, do your own as well about the show you’re about to stage, or the film you’re about to release (know your costars’ names by heart, and those of the screenwriter or playwright, director, producer, musical director, etc.). Also, get a little insight into the interviewer to have a good idea of what to expect. If it’s a TV interview, check out samples of the interviewer’s previous work, whenever possible, even if the interview turns out to be the most painful sight you’ll ever see, one that you cannot ever un-see. If it’s for print, read some of the writer’s previous work.
And I don’t mean with just information, which can always be culled off a movie or concert poster, or press material anyway. I mean, try to speak in clear sentences and ensure that your thoughts are well put together, even under circumstances of great stress. One fault I have is that my mouth tends to run faster than my brain, so this is advice that I could always remind myself to take.
Listen to the question. Ask the reporter to repeat it, if you must buy a few more seconds to come up with a good answer. And when you finally open your mouth, pray that what does fly out isn’t misconstrued or misunderstood.
Face it, not every interviewer is going to be intelligent or fabulous. From time to time you’ll be in an interview room with someone who has absolutely no business being there. It’s your job as the celebrity to hold a straight face, boost your storehouse of stamina, keep a classy demeanor and maintain composure. An interview is a wonderful opportunity to get the general public informed about the work you’re doing.
One of my favorite interviews that I’ve watched is Manny the Movie Guy interviewing Anne Hathaway as part of the press junket for the film “Les Misérables.” He was so disarmingly funny that she became very relaxed, and then both seemed to feed each other’s sense of humor. Neither looked tired, bored, or hostile, and I wished this interview had gone on for longer than it did.
When one enters the room with a smile and a spring in his step, it changes the temperature of the environment, lightening the mood and taking the tension away.
To the interviewers I’ve had the pleasure of sitting with and speaking to, the experiences have been great. If I haven’t already said so, thank you for the opportunity.
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