The Weekend Australian - Review - - Viewpoints -

RE­PORTER: ‘‘ You live in Con­necti­cut?’’ Bren­dan Fraser: ‘‘ Off the record, yes.’’ Re­porter: ‘‘ It’s ac­tu­ally in your notes.’’ As a medium, print is woe­fully com­pro­mised in its abil­ity to con­vey the com­edy, folly and ul­ti­mately sheer pathos that is your typ­i­cal Hol­ly­wood celebrity in­ter­view.

It’s for this rea­son that when it comes to met­ing out celebrity ac­cess for the pro­mo­tion of their block­buster movies, Hol­ly­wood stu­dios favour news­pa­per and celebrity mag­a­zine cor­re­spon­dents over their tele­vi­sion, ra­dio and in­ter­net peers.

As an in­ter­view sub­ject, Hol­ly­wood ac­tor Fraser is an un­ut­ter­able bore. I know this not be­cause I’ve met him but be­cause I spent sev­eral hours re­cently tran­scrib­ing an in­ter­view he did with some­one else, one of the sev­eral LA- based cor­re­spon­dents who reg­u­larly email me au­dio files of their taped press jun­kets.

Worse than a bore, Fraser is a mum­bler, a tran­scriber’s worst night­mare. I re­play cer­tain phrases on the dig­i­tal au­dio file over and over, squint­ing into the mid­dle dis­tance with my ear pressed first to my lap­top, then to my stereo speaker, won­der­ing whether the star of Uni­ver­sal’s Mummy fran­chise could re­ally be say­ing that when he worked with Phillip Noyce in Viet­nam on The Quiet Amer­i­can , the Aus­tralian di­rec­tor wore a T- shirt that said ‘‘ Fear No Fart’’. The charge- up in au­dio equip­ment, from my lap­top to the stereo speak­ers, re­sults in a neg­li­gi­ble im­prove­ment in com­pre­hen­sion.

Af­ter a half- dozen rewinds and re­plays, I con­clude that Noyce’s shirt likely car­ried the slo­gan ‘‘ Fear No Art’’.

Not that it mat­ters. The anec­dote Fraser re­counts about Noyce and his shirt on set in Viet­nam al­most a decade ago is not just ram­bling and con­fused in the telling but a lit­tle too sub­tle in its themes to make it into the cob­bled to­gether copy of a har­ried jour­nal­ist on dead­line for their news­pa­per’s week­end arts sec­tion. Like the Noyce anec­dote, the above ex­change be­tween the re­porter and ac­tor has about as much chance of mak­ing it into the of­fi­cial news­pa­per piece on Fraser as this writer has of see­ing Tomb of the Dragon Em­pire .

Which is a shame be­cause it is th­ese ex­changes — the awk­ward, halt­ing mo­ments, the mo­ments of un­in­tended com­edy — that af­ford the purest in­sights into the hu­man be­ing at the other end of the mi­cro­phone. It’s why you will al­most never hear ac­tors of any bank­able box- of­fice sta­tus in­ter­viewed on ra­dio. For it is the pauses, the eva­sions, the changes of sub­ject mat­ter that are most re­veal­ing.

Con­versely, in your stan­dard celebrity puff piece mas­querad­ing as jour­nal­ism in mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, it is the per­fectly formed sen­tences that make it into a story as di­rect quotes be­cause th­ese are eas­i­est to cherry pick for a hastily put to­gether 1000- word fea­ture. I know this be­cause I’ve done it my­self so many times, push­ing against so many dead­lines.

The neat quotes are, of course, the ones that tell the best lies. Th­ese are the quotes like­li­est to have been care­fully re­hearsed and re­peated by the in­ter­view sub­ject.

In an au­dio post that popped up in the bl­o­go­sphere ear­lier this month, a ra­dio DJ at­tained his own few mo­ments of celebrity dur­ing a me­dia gath­er­ing at the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel in Bev­erly Hills. Quickly es­chew­ing press jun­ket eti­quette, the self- con­fessed ex- con asked ac­tor Robert Downey Jr a se­ries of rapid- fire ques­tions, beginning with ‘‘ Who would you rather have a brew with and smoke a blunt with: Ben Stiller or Jack Black?’’

Downey: ‘‘ I think it would be re­gret­table if I were to drink or smoke weed with ei­ther of them.’’ Noth­ing too far off the stu­dio PR menu there. But the ac­tor then takes things fur­ther, ad­mit­ting frankly that he would be un­wise to go down this road be­cause ‘‘ I would be off to the races and in jail within three days.’’

And he’s just get­ting warmed up. Ra­dio DJ: ‘‘ If you had to do a love scene in your next movie . . .’’

Downey: ‘‘ Which I do.’’

Ra­dio DJ: ‘‘. . . with Brit­ney Spears, Hil­ton or Lind­say Lo­han?’’

Downey: ‘‘ Brit­ney Spears. easy ques­tion.’’

It’s not just what Downey says, it’s how he says it. Read­ing his an­swers brings a smile, but lis­ten­ing to what he said gives you an in­sight into the real fear­less­ness of this ac­tor.

In­stead of be­ing thrown off bal­ance by the off­beat line of ques­tion­ing, Downey picks up what for most ac­tors would have been a huge curve ball and runs with it, glee­fully.

Far from em­bar­rass­ing him­self, the ac­tor’s lack of hes­i­ta­tion makes him pow­er­ful. Without any vis­ual cues, you can hear just how con­vinc­ingly Downey com­mands the room.

An­other de­light is lis­ten­ing to the re­ac­tion of the ra­dio DJ, who ex­pected to catch the ac­tor off guard but in­stead is left stam­mer­ing like a stumped game- show con­tes­tant.

Ac­tors far less tal­ented than Downey change the en­ergy of a room just by walk­ing in, some­thing you wit­ness in Hol­ly­wood reg­u­larly, whether it’s on the red car­pet or an aisle in your lo­cal su­per­mar­ket. Ac­tors not only have beauty on their side, for the most part; they are also trained charm ma­chines.

As an in­ter­viewer, you can eas­ily pre­pare for all of this. What is harder to pre­pare for is the ut­ter ba­nal­ity that is your av­er­age press jun­ket.

Hol­ly­wood celebrity in­ter­views are a dreary cat­tle call of uni­ver­sally re­sent­ful and poorly paid cor­re­spon­dents who, note­books and dig­i­tal recorders in hand, take a lift up to the sev­enth or eighth floor of jun­ket cen­tral, oth­er­wise known as the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel in Bev­erly Hills, a sub­urb of Los An­ge­les so uni­formly dull it makes Syd­ney’s Dou­ble Bay feel edgy.

When the po­lite ‘‘ ping’’ of the el­e­va­tor door an­nounces your ar­rival, the cor­re­spon­dent is handed a plas­tic bot­tle of wa­ter by a blue- toothed as­sis­tant’s as­sis­tant and herded into a ster­ile, air­less con­fer­ence room to take a seat around a ta­ble with a half dozen or more other celebrity cor­re­spon­dents. The celeb en­ters. If she’s a she, she will first be asked what she is wear­ing. She’ll say ‘‘ Chloe’’ prob­a­bly, then look at her feet, not even hav­ing to wait for the ques­tion: ‘‘ Prada.’’

If the movie in ques­tion is an action film, the ac­tor will then be asked about the train­ing sched­ule. They will du­ti­fully an­swer ques­tions about how much weight they gained or lost for the role, whether they did their own stunts and whether they in­jured them­selves.

There’s no es­cape for Fraser, who in the clos­ing mo­ments of our in­ter­view is asked about his fight scenes with Jet Li: Re­porter: ‘‘ Any in­juries?’’ Fraser: ‘‘ Just my feel­ings.’’





Il­lus­tra­tion: Tom Jel­lett

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