In all honesty, we don’t watch celebrity interviews to merely gain insight into the world of stars and icons. It’s like spying on your best friend nervously meeting a blind date: you want it to go smoothly but if it’s a disaster, it’s far better.
The most memorable interviews with celebs aren’t the ones that elicit sappy tears and childhood memories. What we remember are the most volatile interchanges, the swapping of clever barbs and, if we’re lucky, the loss of control by one or both parties.
Mel Gibson – July 2010
Mel might fare better if he just stuck to speaking only when he’s reading a script. At the peak of his career, he went on an anti-Semitic rant that had fans livid, vowing to never see another movie he was associated with. To make matters worse, he called a reporter a synonym for sphincter when questioned about the incident and then went off on another reporter a few days later for asking if his DUI arrest had anything to do with the lag in his film career.
Lately Mel made a new best friend who’s leading a “Forgive Mel” movement. No worries: there’s plenty of room left on that bandwagon if you want to hop on.
Jesse Eisenberg – June 2013
Before playing Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, actor Jesse Eisenberg was not a household name; in fact, he wasn’t even an actor many people in the industry recognized. But as he gained fame, Eisenberg was increasingly charming with every interview he gave, excluding genuine humility and professionalism sprinkled with just the right amount of “Aw, shucks.” Based on those perceptions, many admirers were surprised – albeit most pleasantly so – when he got a little rowdy with Romina Puga of Univision News during an interview. Eisenberg chided the interviewer for writing questions on her hand and took offense to her casual familiarity in calling Morgan Freeman just “Freeman.” He noted her perceived lack of respect for the superstar by remarking, “What are you, on a baseball team with him?”
Chelsea Handler – March 2014
While comedian Chelsea Handler and commentator Piers Morgan are known for their witty repartee, Handler was in particularly good form when she guested on his show last month on one of his final shows before cancellation. After grumbling about Morgan’s lack of attention to her, Handler added that he was a terrible host and interviewer. Morgan countered that she was a boring guest, to which Handler retorted it was his job to keep the dialogue flowing. When he disagreed, she slammed back with, “Well, maybe that’s why your job is coming to an end,” which it did, as scheduled, just 18 days later.
Samuel L. Jackson – February 2014
There’s no better way to screw up an interview than to mix up the subject with someone else. KTLA reporter Sam Rubin opened his interview with Samuel L. Jackson via satellite from Atlanta by asking about his Super Bowl commercial. Problem was Jackson didn’t do the commercial, Laurence Fishburn did.
In his inimitable style, Jackson rattled off a lengthy correction to the mortified Rubin as he repeatedly apologized for his gaff. Jackson pointed out which black guys were stars of which commercials, noting, “We may all be black and famous but we don’t all look alike.” Rubin tried in vain to get the interview back on track but Jackson was relentless, without ever losing his cool.
Rubin later wrote a formal apology on his affiliate’s website. Jackson was spotted a week or so later wearing an “I’m Not Laurence Fishburn” t-shirt.
Lou Reed – May 2003
Known more for his angst-ridden lyrics and music rather than his social skills, the recently passed Lou Reed was openly adverse to interviews, although many people kept trying. Simon Hattlestone of The Guardian was sure his awe of Reed would get him a good interview and result in some good shots from his friend and photographer Eamonn McCabe. But when Reed was “fantastically hostile and contemptuous” toward him and McCabe, Hattlestone asked, “Are you this horrible in real life or are you putting it on?” Reed responded by walking out. Hattlestone was so distraught he skipped Reed’s concert that night and wept in his hotel room. What a “Walk on the Sad Side.”
Gene Roddenberry – February 1989
A simple misunderstanding sometimes topples a great interview from prize-winning to trash status in less than 90 seconds. Jay Allen Sanford of The San Diego Reader, met with Star Trek writer/producer Gene Roddenberry and his wife, actress Majel Barrett, who at the time of the Beverly Hilton Hotel poolside brunch meeting played Lwaxana Troi on the TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. While Roddenberry visited the restroom, Sanford and Barrett discussed the many facets of her TNG character. Just as Sanford remarked, “Yours is one of the most sexual characters on the show,” Roddenberry returned to the table. Apparently mishearing the comment, her roared, “For Christ sakes, I walk away for five minutes and come back to find you hitting on my wife and telling her she’s the sexiest thing on Star Trek!” and rushed out the door with his wife muttering, “This is why I never bring my wife out in public anymore.” Sanford, who was being considered for a biographical project on Roddenberry, was left with nothing more than the tab for brunch.
Jerry Seinfeld – November 2007
Larry King’s off-hand approach to his interview subjects didn’t charm Jerry Seinfeld. Almost a decade after Seinfeld’s amazingly successful sitcom of the same name ended after running ahead of the pack for almost 10 years, King puzzlingly asked Seinfeld if the show had been cancelled. Seinfeld was flabbergasted, pointing out to a flummoxed King, “Is this still CNN? I was the No. 1 show on television, Larry. Do you know who I am?! Can we get a resume in here that Larry can go over?” King squirmed his way through the rest of the interview and Jerry left smiling and shaking his head.
Melissa Fumero – February 2014
There’s nothing wrong with baiting a star to make an interview more interesting; even a little white lie is okay if the interviewer gets the desired results. J. Claude Deering, host of the Funny or Die series Things Are Going Great For Me with J. Claude Deering, incorporates a small fib about his relationship with his real-life wife into all his interviews and it worked great with Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Melissa Fumero.
Fumero had just won a Golden Globe and agreed to dinner and an interview with Deering, whom she’d known in college. Deering lies that he and his wife are taking a break from their relationship and then coyly asks if Fumero remembers them sharing a kiss during their college days. She puts him down firmly, saying it was “stupid” because she was only 18, adding, “And I thought you were gay in college.”
Without missing a beat, Deering says he thought the same thing about himself. Then his wife comes into the room in a silent huff, stomping and slamming things around. Fumero quickly refills her wine glass and asks Deering what’s wrong. He confesses he told his wife Fumero was in love with him. Match point.
Mila Kunis – March 2013
Not all stars are jerks and some even have empathy for the interviewers. Mila Kunis was interviewed ad nauseum when Oz the Great and Powerful opened and was feeling a bit talked out when British reporter Chris Stark snagged a last-minute meeting with her. Kunis immediately sensed Stark’s unease and started asking him questions, taking the spotlight off her. They had a warm exchange about partying, pouring beer and hanging out, giving fans a nice glimpse of two young people just talking like normal people. Kunis was noticeably perturbed when her handlers forced her to utter a few canned promotional remarks about the movie and then slipped back into comfortable conversation with Stark. Refreshing and memorable.
Reza Aslan – August 2013
Sometimes an interviewer asks an opening question that literally makes your jaw drop as you sink into a chair anxiously awaiting the guest’s reaction. When renowned author and religious scholar Reza Aslan guested on Lauren Green’s Spirited Debate on Fox News Web to discuss his recently published book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus Christ, Green asked right off the bat, “You’re a Muslim, so why would you write a book about Jesus?” Oh no.
The interchange never recovered, and the ensuing train wreck unfolded so severely you could almost hear the steel twisting as the cars derailed one-by-one. On the upside, the book quickly climbed best seller lists, proving the adage that a terrible situation often spawns great results.