If Ashley Graham has learned anything this week, it’s that interviewing celebrities is not for the faint-hearted.
It might look fun and glamorous, but it can also make you feel like a twitching mole rat with no escape tunnel. The model’s exchange with Hugh Grant on the Oscars red carpet has been dubbed “worst interview ever”, with every question she asked eliciting an eye roll or an awkward, bare-minimum response.
Frothing with LA-style enthusiasm, Graham asked; “What was it like to be in Glass Onion? How fun is it to shoot something like that?”. Grant replied, drier than cracked plaster: “Well I’m barely in it, I was in it for about three seconds.”
She pushed on, beaming: “It still must have been fun though, you had fun right?” Grant, looking away, responded: “Erm… almost”. She gamely ploughed on, while viewers chewed their knuckles from the awkwardness: “What are you wearing?” Grant replied: “My suit.”
I can sympathise with Graham because my first celebrity interview was also Hugh Grant. An adolescence spent watching Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, had, I imagined, prepared me perfectly for my encounter with lovely, mop-haired Hugh, all shy and British and bashful.
So there I was, in my first journalism job in my mid-twenties, sitting in a luxury hotel suite waiting for him to discuss his new rom-com The Rewrite (awful, by the way). I was living the dream: my notepad of insightful questions, my Dictaphone loaded with fresh batteries. This video interview would be a triumph!
Just then, the very experienced national newspaper journalist who had been with Grant before me stumbled out of the interview room looking pale. He said he’d been chucked out of the chat because he’d asked the actor about his personal life.
When I got into Grant’s hotel room, the actor looked world-weary, so I told him this was my first ever interview, in the hope of softening him up. To which he replied: “Well, I’ll be extra awful to you then, Kasia.” A good sign! A joke!
But it quickly took a turn for the awkward: we got through 15 of my questions within four minutes, because his responses were so monosyllabic. The cameras kept rolling as I floundered.
When Graham was asked if she felt aggrieved by Grant’s response to her on the res carpet, she said to TMZ; “You know what, my mama told me to kill people with kindness, so there you go.”.
Yet, in the decade since I felt incredibly stupid in his company, I’ve realised that it wasn’t all Grant’s fault. My questions were bad and predictable – as were Graham’s, in truth, whether this was her first celebrity interview or not. She might have had questions fed into her earpiece, but she asked exactly the sort of anodyne queries that would rile the famously grumpy star.
Looking back, I underestimated how hard interviewing famous people can be, how complex their relationship with the media can be, how much they want their lunch by the time you arrive, how they’re secretly going through a divorce, how much they might hate the film they’re contracted to promote, how badly they slept last night, and how plagued by insecurity and neuroses they might be beneath their starry persona. I knew nothing.
I spent five more years interviewing celebrities several times a week, and while I got much better at it, it was no easy ride. At a Bafta red carpet, a PR hurled a celebrity my way who I had never seen in my life, so I spent 10 minutes saying things like: “Are you enjoying your evening? How is… life? Are you glad to have played the role you played?”
I once got told off for looking directly at Bill Nighy while on a film set, and to wait until we were in interview mode to make any eye contact. He was lovely, though, in the end. Alan Sugar was deeply annoyed by everything I asked him, including anything about The Apprentice, the new series of which I was there to interview him about.
Sir David Attenborough was very kind, but I’d been told that if he lost interest he might just announce he’d like to go home, and so I had to keep him focused all day on the photo shoot and then during my interview with him. I produced more sweat that day than I ever have in any exercise class.
Then there was desperately trying to get Idris Elba to talk about his TV show Luther when all he wanted to discuss was his DJ sets in Ibiza. Cara Delevingne looked away from me, playing with a bouncy ball, the whole time I was talking to her. Or the horror of asking an agent for an interview with their client, who it turned out had died five years before. Or my developing flu on the way to Richard Curtis’s house.
Some of this is the celebrities’ fault, some of this is mine, but one thing I know is that interviewing A-listers is not a gig for amateurs. It might not be brain surgery, but it can be a bloodbath.
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