Celebrities shouldn’t need to apologize for having opinions

03.26.10 8 years ago 9 Comments


On Wednesday, The Onion’s A.V. Club posted an interview with Chloe Sevigny. 
Conducted by Sean O’Neal, I think the interview was meant to promote “Barry Munday,” but the conversation soon went off in a different direction.
As per O’Neal’s Q&A format, the interviewer noted “This past season of Big Love has taken a lot of flak for being so over-the-top.” A true statement. It’s not the universally held position, but it’s certainly reflective of the opinion of some percentage of the show’s fan base.
“It was awful this season, as far as I”m concerned,” Sevigny responded.
What followed was a lengthy conversation going through the flaws and gaps in logic in the fourth season of “Big Love.”
Now I’ve never had much of an opinion on Chloe Sevigny — I often like her as an actress, never had any problems with her as a TCA panelist or at junkets — but after reading the interview, I came away with a whole new respect for her. Over many hundreds of spoken words, she noted myriad flaws with the season, some I agreed with completely and some I thought were a little off-base. Regardless of my agreement, I loved both that she was willing and able to analyze a maelstrom that she’s very much in the midst of.
I also admired how she laid out her complaints. Unlike a Katherine Heigl withdrawing her name from Emmy consideration because the writers didn’t give her anything to work work, Sevigny analyzed different plotpoints and said why she didn’t think they worked. She didn’t single out the writers or her co-stars, though she probably blamed HBO a little bit for the truncated season.
Yes, I read the interview and knew immediately that she was going to be in trouble, but I also read the interview and realized that it was just a conversation with somebody who was trying to be open and honest with a reporter. And how often do you see that? Much of my job is conducting interviews and I know the tremendous rush that comes from a subject going off-message. Sometimes you sense they’re saying things that might blow up in their faces, but that doesn’t really give me an Interviewer’s High. What gives me that high is when I can hear that they’re thinking about answers, rather than just regurgitating the same old bullet points. I assume O’Neal knew he was conducting an interview that might cause a little flack, but I also assume that he was giddy at having a subject just sharing and being open.
Naturally, it took only two days for Sevigny to issue a public apology.
Speaking to Michael Ausiello, Sevigny mea culpaed, “I feel like what I said was taken out of context, and the [reporter] I was speaking to was provoking me. I was in Austin [at the SXSW festival] and really exhausted and doing a press junket and I think I just… I wasn”t thinking about what I was saying. You know, after a day of junkets sometimes things slip out that you don”t mean, and I obviously didn”t mean what I said in any way, shape, or form. I love being on the show.”
If you go and read O’Neal’s story, it’s in a Q&A format. Even if you accept minor Q&A clean-up, there’s almost no way that what Sevigny said possibly could have been “out of context.” The context is all there. And when she says that the reporter was “provoking her,” she appears to mean “was asking me questions and was trying to have a conversation regarding things that happened on the show.” She didn’t claim that she was misquoted, so go look at O’Neal’s interview and tell me if you can see any way that those quotes can be manipulated so that they mean anything other than exactly what they say. 
[Note: In the time it took me to write this post, The A.V. Club posted the audio from the interview. Unless O’Neal took the time to doctor the tape from the interview, Sevigny wasn’t even *slightly* taken out of context.]
As I’ve already wondered on Twitter, why is it acceptable for an actress to throw a professional journalist under the bus (pretty clearly without cause), but it’s unacceptable for an actress to have a clearly articulated and intelligent point of view? Why can’t Sevigny just be proud to be smart and opinionated?
Or if she was truly embarrassed by what she said, why can’t the apology be something like, “Look, I was tired and I just started going and probably I went a little bit further than I should have. I’ve spoken with the creators and with my ‘Big Love’ co-stars and made sure to tell them how much I love this job and how much it has meant to me to be working with them the past four years. Did I have problems with last season? Perhaps, but I’m still proud of what we accomplished under the circumstances. Like everybody on ‘Big Love,’ I’m committed to making the fifth season the best season ever.”
Full stop.
Why blame the journalist?
Why blame ANYBODY?
Nothing Sevigny said in the first interview was in any way factually inaccurate. It was all subjective and all couched in her own opinion. And it was funny and clever. It was a great read.
If she wanted to apologize to Will Scheffer and Mark V. Olsen? That’s her choice as well, but it’s not an apology that needed to be public. If everything is aces between them, Nikki will have a rich story arc next season. If there are bitter feelings? Maybe Nikki falls down a well. 
I also don’t quite get why Ausiello felt that he wanted to provide a forum for Sevigny to call out a fellow journalist. Certainly Ausiello has been accused of taking quotes out of context before. I’m suspecting he wasn’t pleased when that happened. But when Sevigny blamed his colleague-in-arms for forcing her to say what she said, Ausiello didn’t challenge the claim or ask for clarification.
So in exchange for page views, all Ausiello did was give an actress another outlet to to step away from being candid and from having an opinion, another place to back down, another place to transition from off-the-cuff and human to on-message and robotic.
Journalists like getting candid interviews. Readers like reading candid interviews. Celebrities don’t like giving candid interviews, because they then have to apologize, which they do in boring, canned interviews, like Sevigny gave Ausiello.
Of course, celebrities aren’t just apologizing for smart honesty. They’re apologizing for stupid honesty as well. John Mayer gave a long interview to Rolling Stone [Amended: Playboy, actually] and he said some STUPID s***. He mixed it up with some ignorant s*** and some kinda inappropriate s*** about some other celebrities Mayer has known and loved. Everything in the interview was noxious and it made me think less of John Mayer as a person, but I wasn’t offended and it didn’t change the way I thought of him as a musician. He may have needed to send flowers to Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Simpson, but he didn’t need to apologize to me as a reader.
He did anyway. 
And you can bet he won’t give another interview like that any time soon.
And getting Chloe Sevigny to share her humble opinion on “Big Love” will now also be an impossibility. 
The lesson Sevigny and Mayer are going to take away from this experience is: Don’t Be Honest.
The lesson Sevigny and Mayer should be taking is: Consider your words, but say what you feel.
The contract between a reporter and a interview subject works like this: You make sure that you say what you actually think and we make sure that we write what you actually say. 
When Mayer issued his apologize for being a moron, Sepinwall expressed concern to me that other celebrities will see this as a reason to muzzle themselves. My response was that there were so few celebrities who work beyond soundbytes that this won’t change anything anyway. If you want good quotes, you talk to the writers and directors and producers and showrunners, the people with the power to say what they want to say without blowback, or at least with reduced blowback. 
Sevigny apparently just forgot where she fits into that power structure and what she’s allowed to be honest about. I doubt she’ll make that mistake again.

Around The Web