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

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

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Sorry Britain, but nobody cares about your little election – try being relevant next time

Emanuel Sidea
 

Election 2015: The big five of British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power