Over the years, I've interviewed hundreds of film personalities, mostly actors, directors, and producers. To get into the zone, I have to approach the interview subject not as a fan but as a professional with a comprehensive knowledge of their work.
Most of them believe that media interviews are part of the process of marketing their most recent film and are professional and accommodating. Some of them, however, are painfully shy and unforthcoming. Robert De Niro and Harrison Ford are two of the more challenging interview subjects, tending toward the monosyllabic answer.
Screenwriters typically are the best interviews because they have a way with words and, I think, they work in isolation and are happy for the social interaction.
Preparing for the interview is also a challenge. You need knowledge of the subject's work. It helps to have an angle in order to tell the story.
When I interviewed Diane Keaton for Something's Gotta Give, I framed the piece with the fact that she was the only member of the original Broadway cast of Hair who didn't take her clothes off and then, nearing 60, did do a nude scene in the new film. When I interviewed Albert Brooks after he received his first Oscar nomination, I framed it with his thoughts about trophies.
I usually ask a few softball questions first to relax the subject, get to the more delicate of questions in the middle of the session, and end with the less difficult questions in order to leave the subject calm and resolved.
Often the subject's representatives will say certain subjects are verboten (i.e., "Don't ask Tom Cruise any questions about Nicole Kidman or Scientology), but I usually gain the subject's trust and they answer candidly.
When the subject is a celebrity, the challenge is to get behind the mask of his or her public persona. I have to ask questions that readers are interested in but that others are unlikely to ask. Usually I make a list of the obvious questions and ask only one of them, pushing myself to ask the less obvious ones.
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