The art of artistic conversation

Share

It's possible that, when the Welsh actor Rhys Ifans gave "the interview from hell" to a journalist from The Times recently, he was having an off day. It's possible, as his people subsequently claimed, that a combination of medication and some unspecified bad news had made him behave out of character.

It's also possible that, as the kind of man who tells an interviewer to "fuck off", that he's "bored with you. Bored. Bored", and then exits in a rage, that Ifans is a rude, self-regarding pain in the backside who joins that exclusive club of stars (members include Tommy Lee Jones, Lou Reed, Philip Seymour Hoffman) that all but the most masochistic journalists would swim through molten lava to avoid.

Celebrity interviews can, of course, be tricky. A common perception is that they are power struggles: on one side the famous person and their publicist, looking to impart the least revealing information for the maximum number of column inches, and on the other the journalist and editor, looking to get beyond the flannel to deep-held neurosis and indiscretion.

Certainly, gone are the days of journalists invited into the inner sanctum of the Rolling Stones à la Lester Bangs. The power has shifted. The journalist may have the last word but rarely calls the shots.

So is the celebrity interview now a "sham", as claimed by the media commentator Roy Greenslade in the wake of the Ifans debacle? Well that would depend who is doing it and what prior agreements have been made.

In the past week alone I've read three insightful and superbly written newspaper interviews – the Ifans one included – which have shown famous individuals in a new light. On the other hand, press junkets, in which movie stars sit with a bottle of water and a rictus grin in a swanky hotel as journalists rattle by on a conveyer belt serve no one, least of all the reader. I did a couple of these in my early years as a journalist, and what I found was that a 20-minute interview isn't worth the bus fare, since it takes that long to break the ice. I've learnt that instructions from publicists about what not to talk about are to be ignored. Copy approval is, of course, a no-no. And I've discovered that it pays to get your interviewee out of their hotel. Fresh air is a rare luxury for a person on the promotional trail.

There have, of course, been interviews where my subject has been less than enthusiastic. "I could be at home waiting for the plumber" was Amy Winehouse's huffy opening gambit. But there have been plenty more – Patrick Stewart, Marianne Faithfull, Lady Gaga, Johnny Vegas – where the celebrity knows that a stilted 20 minutes is never going to represent them accurately. Thus they have welcomed me into their domain and have treated the interview like a real conversation.

It's easy to bang on about the iniquities of PR, but it's up to journalists and editors not to be dazzled by big names and to resist any ludicrous demands. If it means losing the interview then so be it. The world is full of more interesting people, many of them more than willing to share their stories.

twitter.com/@FionaSturges

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ashya King in hospital with his mother  

Ashya King: Breakdown in relations led to this PR fiasco

Paul Peachey
Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development holds a carton of eggs during a speech to Better Together supporters  

When the course of history is on the line, democracy is a raw, vicious and filthy business

Matthew Norman
Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York