How to interview a celebrity
I’m the TV Editor on the Sunday Express and I interview celebrities every week. In general terms, they are very friendly though it can sometimes get sticky if you roam into areas which they don’t like. Here are 5 ways to ensure you get the best interview from a celebrity every time.
1) Polite and friendly approach
Whether your interview is face to face, or over the telephone, or indeed in a “round table” set up with other journalists, politeness is the key to a good chat. In Britain, we have famous interrogators on the television such Jeremy Paxman. Under no circumstances, should you approach an interview in this way. You will get nowhere. I have seen celebrities in round table situations stiffen up immediately upon sensing an aggressive style. Obviously there is a place for this, but not when discussing a cosy period drama with a young actress. If face to face with your talent, smile and engage the talent and try to strike a rapport before you turn on the recorder. If taking notes, make sure you look at the talent, too, otherwise you won’t connect. And look INTERESTED even if you’re not!
2) Stick to the boundaries
PRs and press agent now listen to most interviews as they take place as a matter of course. On some occasions with noted celebrities you may find yourself with as many as five other staff connected with the talent in the same room. Their job? To protect the talent. Each interview will have some agreed boundaries. The discussion may be very informal. Stick to it or the interview is likely to be terminated. Indeed you may not even get the access unless you agree to disclose exactly what you want to talk about. Don’t get cross about it. Just work with it. PRs and minders are a fixture on the media landscape and you must learn to work with them.
3) Bullet points
It’s that simple. Eight to 10 should do the trick. You should think these up while you’re doing your research, such as looking at newspaper cuttings or reading stories on the Internet. In a way, these are thoughts rather than outright questions. If you like, they are subject headings that you can expect to come up during the course of the interview. If they don’t, the bullet points are there to jog your memory. If it is an audio interview, for radio or for the interview, you can glance quickly at them and move seamlessly to the next subject. So obviously don’t make the points too detailed on your pad. You want to digest it and move on quickly. Try not to ask questions which only solicit a one word answer. This will make it a very long interview for both concerned!
Again, this is stating the bleeding obvious. Or is it? So many times as an interviewer you can be concentrating on what you next need to ask, and completely miss a new thread to the interview. This is a bad habit of mine. Listen, listen, listen! The best practice for interviewing, apart from doing it over and over, is to do it without questions prepared whatsoever. This is often the case for news interviews, where you are put on the spot immediately. It makes you listen.
5) Don’t be a fan
Difficult not to be too starstruck, indeed nervous when first meeting a celebrity. Thankfully, you have a job to do, which tends to distance you from the star sitting in front of you. The interviewee is simply a person telling you a story, from which you need to get your own story, your own angle. That will concentrate the mind, if nothing else!