There are only four times in my life when I’ve been truly nervous to interview someone “famous.” One of those moments actually happened last week.
As a journalist, it’s your job not to be intimidated or starstruck by talent. Give the subject a hint that you don’t have your wits about you and chances are you’ll likely end up with a very crappy story. Thankfully, video interviews can be edited around fumbling questions and awkward moments. Even if they are all really all in your head.
The first time I was reduced to the emotional state of a nervous little school girl was when I spoke to Madonna back in the day for “The Next Best Thing.” The interview isn’t online anymore (I think), but I distinctly remember we spoke about whether her yoga workout at the time was good for basketball and the movie’s underrated soundtrack. What stand out most, bizarrely, was how amazing the texture of her hair was compared to the roughness of her skin (this was pre-microdermabrasion I assume). Moreover, like any devoted Madonna fan I didn’t wash my hand that she shook for days.
The second interview I remember being incredibly nervous for was with Angelina Jolie. My reaction beforehand was odd since a year earlier I’d spent three days on the set of “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” managing a behind-the-scenes crew for Paramount. I’d spoke to her briefly every day and it was no big deal at the time. In the year since something changed and I barely remember making it through our interview about the very forgettable “Beyond Borders” (maybe that’s why I was so nervous? nothing nice to say?).
The third instance was a few years ago when Betty White did a press day for “The Proposal.” It was the beginning of what will be known as the “Great Betty White Comeback,” but that didn’t matter to me. I was starstruck, mesmerized and freaked out all at once because this was the living legend from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Golden Girls.” And, shocker, the latter had a big influence on me as a kid. Luckily, White put me so much at ease that our conversation has become one of my all-time favorite interviews.
If you hadn’t figured it out already, the common thread between all these ladies is that they are all huge gay icons. Maybe Jolie, a bit less than the others, but she’s in the mix for those of a certain age. Everyone has their favorites of course, but while some HitFix staff would be shell shocked at speaking to Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Harrison Ford or Tom Hanks those stars wouldn’t rock my boat. Tom Cruise? Will Smith? Clint Eastwood? Steven Spielberg? Martin Scorsese? Happy to have met them, but I wasn’t anywhere close to being nervous about it. Now, Barbra Streisand? That’s something else entirely.
For the record, I come from a generation of gay men that didn’t worship at the altar at what many of us saw as the gay cliche icons of Streisand, Minnelli or Garland. Our heroes were Madonna, Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston. But, thankfully, Streisand’s music fills the memories of my childhood thanks to my mother. I remember my mom would play the “Guilty” album while cleaning the house (it’s genius if you’ve never heard it) and “The Broadway Album” cassette was in her car tape deck for a good year or so. On the movie side I never really got “Yentl,” but I was a big fan of Steisand’s second directorial effort “The Prince of Tides.” As any Oscar aficionado knows, “Tides” was famously nominated for best picture, but Streisand was snubbed for best director even after landing a DGA nod in the equivalent category. John Singleton was nominated for “Boyz in the Hood” instead. It was one of the Academy’s best and worst moments in regards to diversity. But, I digress…
Fast forward to 2012 and Barbra Streisand, an idol to pretty much everyone in my family, is sitting there right in front of me. Oh, and so is Seth Rogen (nothing against Seth, but that’s freakin’ Barbra Streisand! Right there!). I want to ask her about what she thinks about Kathryn Bigelow possibly winning a second directing Oscar. I want to ask her about going back on the road after years of battling stage fright. I want to ask her if she thinks Hillary is really going to run in 2016 and if she can win. I want to ask her if artists like Adele give her hope that the classic ballad road she diverted from now and then has a future. I want to ask her about her longtime and rarely reported friendship with Donna Summer. I want to ask her why she never did more disco. I want to ask her why she hasn’t directed another movie since 1996.
But, I have just four minutes. How do you broach those subjects with just four minutes?
So, I stick to “The Guilt Trip,” the movie she’s there promoting with Rogen. We make each other laugh. We talk about improv, what people thought the movie would be (not the sweet dramedy it turned out to be) and how long it took both of them to commit to the project. And then, it was over.
Perhaps we’ll have a longer conversation if she really gets “Skinny and Cat” to the big screen. Dare to dream. In the meantime, Babs? Check. Madonna? Check. Britney? Check. Beyonce? Check. J-hud? Check. J-Lo? Check.
O.K. Aretha. Name the time and the place. I’m more than happy to take four minutes with you too.
“The Guilt Trip” opens nationwide on Wednesday.