How to interview a celebrity: Go easy on the booze and make sure you have enough questions

When Robert De Niro cut short an interview, seasoned hacks wondered if the reporter had been too quick to put a killer question. Gillian Orr hears more interrogation tips

Gillian Orr@gillian_orr
Tuesday 22 September 2015 20:03

Not since Rhys Ifans told a journalist from The Times "I'm bored with you" and flounced out of a hotel room has a print interview been so widely, well, reported. Being quizzed by Emma Brockes for Radio Times, Robert De Niro became offended by being asked how he resists the temptation to go into "autopilot" on set. The actor asked Brockes to pause the tape recorder and accused her of delivering her questions with "negative inference." He ended the encounter by telling his questioner, "I'm not doing it, darling".

Ask any journalist about awkward celebrity encounters when there is a Dictaphone involved and more than likely they will admit to a handful. Here are some of our writers' tips on getting the best out of a celebrity.

Know your subject

With squeezed resources and tight schedules, a journalist can expect, at one time or another, to be asked to interview someone whom they have no knowledge of and even less interest in. One, not particularly au fait with the music world, was sent to report on a Pete Doherty solo show. There was to be some interview time at the end but, knowing little about the singer, he texted a friend for some possible questions. "Is there any truth to the persistent rumours that you're going to get back together with Carl Barat?" was the advised question. When the gig finished, the journalist confidently raised his hand. Doherty shook his head, the room erupted in laughter, and the reporter eventually gave up. Later, asking a fellow journo what had happened, he was told: "Yes, I'd say the rumours were true, because he's just been playing on stage for an hour with Carl Barat. And Carl Barat was sitting next to him."

Ewan McGregor can take what he gives out (Getty)

Stand up for yourself

Stars are often so used to being surrounded by "yes" people that sometimes – and this doesn't come without the risk of backfiring – it can be a good move to stand up to the interviewee if they are being a bit on the truculent side.

To launch his production company, Natural Nylon, Ewan McGregor held a media event at a cinema in Hampstead. When approached for comment about the enterprise, McGregor, who evidently had just had a bit of a row with his wife, told the reporter to "fuck off" and duly called him a "cunt". Instead of slinking off, the reporter agreed to fuck off but pointed out that, in fact, McGregor was the cunt, because there was no point in organising a press occasion if he wasn't then going to speak to anyone. After hurling insults for a couple of minutes, McGregor was eventually won over, apologised, and gave an interview.

Make sure you have enough questions

You'll probably be warned "two more minutes" before you've been able to ask your subject everything you want – but the haunting silence on a Dictaphone as you frantically try, and fail, to think up further questions on the spot is not something that you ever want to hear.

Having been given a whole hour to interview pop star Bruno Mars, one journalist had asked all her questions within 40 minutes, riffed for a few more, then admitted defeat 10 minutes shy of the allotted time. Both Mars and the PR seemed less than impressed that the reporter couldn't muster up a couple more questions for one of the world's most popular entertainers.

Go easy on the booze

Most people have interviewed someone who's had a few too many, but for God's sake don't try to keep up with them. You won't ask any of the questions you meant to, your notes will be illegible, and you'll want to stick screwdrivers in your ears when it comes to transcribing your drunken ramblings. At a celeb-filled party, one reporter was enjoying a pleasant chat with former Blue Peter presenter Tim Vincent about his recent time spent filming in Africa. Later on she bumped into him again and enthusiastically continued their chat about working there, only to be asked, "Do you think I'm Tim Vincent?" Evidently she'd had a few drinks in the interim and was now talking to Richard Bacon.

Be on time

The subject can be late (and frequently will be) but you, you don't get to be late. One interviewer was asked to be at the house of Joanne Harris at "around 2pm". Having taken four hours to travel there, she was rather pleased that she had arrived just before 2.15. Harris, however, was not. Checking her Twitter feed on the way up to the house, the interviewer realised the author has tweeted about her: "Today's perfectly timed sequence of interviews, phone calls and photo sessions goes down the pan as the first one fails to turn up on time…" It made for a most awkward interview.

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