Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Five Favorite Celebrity Interviews

Celebrity interviews: I love them and I hate them.

The love side of the equation is obviously that you get to talk to interesting people and, perhaps more importantly, accumulate cool stories to tell folks you’ve just met or family members you don’t see often thus making you seem like the raddest person alive.

The hate side for me comes from the crippling nervousness I tend to get before these interviews, which I went into detail on in an earlier post. I’ve actually gotten a lot better with this in the last couple years, though I’ve also gotten to interview far less celebrities, so there you go.

Back when I was at Wizard, I had the opportunity to interview many folks from the worlds of film and television; honestly, I had the opportunity to conduct many more interviews than I actually did, but weaseled out of many due to the aforementioned nervousness and dished them off to my colleagues (one of my biggest regrets is never getting to do a set visit on account of anxiety; I was set to go to Canada for the Fantastic Four sequel but chickened out and Rickey went instead).

Most of the interviews I did end up doing though, I recall quite fondly and, of course, recount every chance I get. Those I enjoyed most went so well by the end I felt like me and my interview subject had really bonded on a level transcending mere professionalism and would of course be crushed to meet them today and find that they have no idea who I am despite the memorable 20 minutes we spent on the phone together five years ago.

So that said, here are my five (plus one) very favorite celebrities I got to chat with and the anecdotes that come with (I left off professional wrestlers because though they are indeed famous folks, I have done enough of those to get a whole other post, and I’m certainly not wasteful).

HONORABLE MENTION: DEAN CAIN
I was a gigantic fan of Lois & Clark as a kid, so it was a total joy/dream for me to get to talk to Dean Cain—the live action Superman of my childhood—when he did a guest spot on Smallville and I had to include it here. It’s only an honorable mention however, because despite Dean being really nice, I can’t for the life of me recall a single thing we talked about. Oh well…

5. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ
One of if not the very first non-comics people I interviewed for Wizard was movie director Robert Rodriguez, less than a month into my tenure if I recall correctly. It was for our Holiday Special as part of the Wizard Gift-Giving Guide. The thing is, if I’m getting my timeline right, I have no idea why I would have been speaking to Robert Rodriguez for Wizard in the fall of 2004, as Sin City was still months off and his most recent credit at the time was a Spy Kids sequel. I do distinctly remember that we discussed cooking and he told me an awesome quesadilla recipe he may or may not have used on the Sin City set.

Honestly, maybe I’m a year off on this and it took place in late 2005, meaning the Sin City DVD was the gift in question. Regardless, I wasn’t too familiar with Robert’s work outside of Desperado, but even just by his laid back voice and chill laugh, you could tell the dude was cool as ice and it radiated through the phone. I felt about a thousand times more bad ass just by talking Mexican cuisine with him for 10 minutes.

4. ROSARIO DAWSON
End of 2005 (for sure this time), I had just seen the movie version of Rent and totally gotten hooked on it. I saw it like three times in the theater and bought the DVD as soon as it came out. I’ve still yet to see the stage show, which seems ridiculous, but the film really spoke to me for some reason, and I thought Rosario Dawson was tremendous in it. She had also just come off Sin City, where she kicked ass, and was getting set for Clerks 2 plus she was producing her own comic, OCT, making her a nice coup for a Q&A in the Wizard Hollywood issue for winter 2006. I definitely campaigned for this one and was pleased to get it.

Rosario was on West Coast time, so I ended up calling from my shithole old apartment to speak with her and her uncle, Gus Vazquez, a comic book artist and real cool guy. Going completely against what my editor would have wanted, I kicked off the “interview” just telling Rosario how much I loved her in Rent, which she really appreciated, but then went off on a lengthy tangent about how she had just seen the original production it was based on in Rome.

And that was how the next hour went: a lot of tangents.

Rosario was incredibly sweet and answered every question I had and then some, but damn, that girl can talk! She talks super fast and goes off in about a billion different directions every other minute. It was actually pretty impressive because in the course of a single question she’d end up speaking confidently and knowledgably about multiple subjects, some related to the topic, some not so much. The read I got was that she was incredibly intelligent as well as extremely energetic and enthusiastic—it made for a really enjoyable conversational experience, but a total nightmare transcribing later on.

Guilty secret I don’t think I’ve told anybody but my wife in the last five years (hello, Internet!): Rosario and her uncle thought and I had hung up when I really hadn’t and started chatting; I totally listened in for like two more minutes. I don’t remember what they said (it was nothing salacious), but I still feel kind of bad about it.

Summation: Rosario Dawson is awesome and I wish she was in more stuff.

3. JAMES MARSTERS
Covered this one at length in a prior post.

2. TOM WELLING
Ah, Tom Welling: one of the big reasons I can never write off Smallville since it stars one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever had the pleasure to interact with.

The background on this one was that it was early fall of 2005 and earlier in the day I has just gone to the doctor to get tested for lactose intolerance.

Had I known what the test for this was, I would not have scheduled it on a day I had to interview friggin’ Tom Welling.

Basically, they (or at least my guy) inject you with a vial full of concentrate lactose, and if you feel like crap later, you’re lactose intolerant. I believe there may have also been a blood test or something involved, but that’s the part I mainly remember—and folks, I am definitely lactose intolerant.

So I drag myself into the office and am feeling absolutely awful. My stomach is gurgling like nobody’s business and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I vomit. My “office” at the time was a little corridor off the main hall that I shared with Rickey, and I’m pretty sure he can still remember and attest to what bad shape I was in. I basically told him that if I had to puke during the Welling interview, I was grabbing the trash can, tossing him the phone and question list, and it was his show.

I wasn’t actually speaking to Tom about Smallville, but rather the remake of The Fog he was starring in with Maggie Grace and Selma Blair, though we did talk Superman stuff at the end. Since I was nervous and just wanted to get it out of the way, I was straight up with him after we began talking and exchanged names and told him my situation, right down to “…so if you hear something that sounds like somebody heaving their guts up in the background during this call, that’s totally me.”

Now many celebrities—or, y’know, people—may have been a little weirded out by this, hung up the phone and called their agent about never speaking with Wizard again, but Mr. Tom Welling gave an only slightly nervous chuckle and assured me everything would be fine.

And it was! We ended up having a great interview and I felt totally calm about 30 seconds in because Tom was so eloquent, witty and I daresay quite charming that I really enjoyed the conversation and totally forgot how sick I was.

But it wasn’t the main interview that gets him this high on the list, it’s the back-and-forth that ended the call:

Me: “Well, those are all the questions I’ve got, Tom—anything else you wanted to say?”

Tom: “Just that I hope you feel better, man.”

Me: “Aww…you know, after hearing that, I do already!”

Tom: “Oh great, now I think you’re going to make me puke.”

We both laugh heartily and say goodbye.

And that is why, Tom Welling, you are my Superman.

1. KRISTEN BELL
Not long after I got bumped up from research assistant to staff writer at Wizard, I started getting a decent amount of pull in terms of suggesting features and interviews, and one of the first non-comics things I pitched was an interview with Kristen Bell. This was when Veronica Mars was going strong (creatively at least if not commercially) into its second season and I felt like it was the type of show our fans would be really into if they knew existed, and Kristen was the kind of cool, quirky chick who we’d do well to hitch our wagon to.

For months, no dice.

I pleaded, campaigned and even made charts (for real), but the powers that be did not see the value in speaking to an actress on a UPN show that was a niche hit at best. I played up her being in Fanboys to try and work the Star Wars angle, but even back in 2006, that movie had been delayed like 27 times.

I finally got an opening when she started doing publicity for the movie Pulse, which was more up Wizard’s alley, and we had another Hollywood issue to fill, so I made the pitch one more time and finally got approval.

I was so excited to speak with Kristen I did research and everything (a rarity for me), finding out she went to NYU and was a musical theater major, just like my then-girlfriend, who I had feed me some facts to make it sound like I knew that stuff.

And then, of course, the week of the interview, I got the flu and ended up bedridden for a couple days.

Screw that—with the encouraging spirit of Tom Welling willing me forward, I had my neighbor/co-worker Dylan snag me a cell phone recording device and was determined to do this one from home, even if I needed to pull my “puking in the trashcan” routine without Rickey as a safety net.

Recording device in one hand and tissues in the other, I was connected for the interview and almost instantly I knew it was a home run. Kristen was exactly how she was on TV: really nice girl with a lot of smarts and very sharp wit. I was proud of myself for actually keeping pace with her and even making her laugh more than once, as it seemed like she was enjoying the interview as much as I was. I did a modified version of my Tom Welling opening about how sick I was but mentioned my dedication to doing the interview, then as quickly as I could dropped into the conversation that I had read she went to NYU and mentioned my girlfriend was also a musical theater major (my editor totally made fun of me for this, but I stand by that if you’re a dude who works for a pop culture magazine interviewing a young actress, it very much helps to mention your girlfriend as early as possible to put your interview subject somewhat at ease knowing she’s not being hit on when you try to be clever—seriously, take notes on this).

We were only supposed to be on the phone for 15-20 minutes, but I believe ended up going closer to 40 and Kristen’s publicist actually had to pull her off for another call, which I took as a huge compliment. I got plenty of material for the first of what would be many Kristen Bell interviews to come in Wizard (and also told her when had cast her as Namorita and her Pulse co-star Ian Somerhalder as Namor in a fictional Sub-Mariner movie, which, after I explained to her who those characters were, she got totally excited about—so look for that any day now).

I would have the good fortune to meet Kristen in person a couple times: first at Wizard World Philadelphia later that year, where she was cool enough to write a personalized letter to Megan encouraging her in her acting which remains on the wall next to our bed, and again the next year at Wizard World Los Angeles where I did a video interview with her after being laid up with a cold in the hotel the first two days of the show (yeah, I got sick a lot back then) and she told me to get some vitamins. I’m not sure she had any idea who I was either time, but she certainly made me feel like she remembered me, and that’s what counts.

Unfortunately, the very last experience I had interviewing Kristen Bell wasn’t the best one, as I spoke to her on the phone right before she started on Heroes in 2007. For whatever reason, I was cranky that day, and I remember sounding really morose during the call, which definitely killed the vibe. Floundering, I pulled out a line I had used with Dean Cain to great success about how lucky she was to be in California since it was pouring on the east coast, to which she responded with “Oh…I love New York” and I replied “Yeah, well…” followed by several seconds of awkward silence.

Ugh. I suck sometimes.

Regardless of that nasty bit of business, Kristen Bell is hands down my favorite celebrity I’ve ever interviewed, and I hope someday our paths cross again as she remains one of the most talented actresses around and her fiancĂ© is awesome on Parenthood. Word.

2 comments:

Meg said...

Can we just clarify that your then-girlfriend is now your wife? I think that was misleading and made you sound like a whore :)

Ben Morse said...

You can just come into the next room and tell me things rather than posting them on the blog :-p