IT SHOULDN’T HAPPEN TO A FILM JOURNALIST
editor-at-Large Jamie graham lifts the lid on film journalism.
When interviews go a little bit weird…
I’m in a grump,” growls Stephen Frears as I put the receiver to my ear. “I hate phone interviews. I sound foolish. If you could see me, you’d see how clever I am. Where are you?”
“Just outside London.
The end of the Met line.”
“Well you don’t get points for that. Come and meet me on Wednesday. I’m doing the sound mix at Twickenham Studios.” Wednesday…
“Hi Stephen, nice to meet–” “Why have you come all the way out here? We could have done this on the phone.”
A change of heart? A short memory? An act of mischievous provocation delivered deadpan? I’ll never know, but I do know that interviews occasionally throw up such curveballs.
I don’t mean the times they go flat-out wrong; every journalist has a nightmare tale or two, and I’ve written previously about the time Joel Schumacher shouted at me for five minutes straight and the time Samuel L. Jackson walked out when I asked him who would win in a fight between a lion and a crocodile (long story). No, I mean the times that things get a little weird. Or surreal. Or hard to manage within the strictly allotted time window.
For starters, there were the interviews with Danny Dyer and Shia LaBeouf, neither of whom made eye contact – the former failed to look up from playing FIFA and the latter refused to look down from the featureless blue sky above the Hotel du Cap in southern France. Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet both burst into tears during our chats; my concern was genuine but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of the clock ticking down. Robert De Niro popped to the loo and flushed away 10 of our 25 designated minutes. Nicolas Roeg had zero interest in talking about Don’t Look Now and instead insisted on giving me lengthy relationship advice centred upon the importance of having children. And Michael Caine peered out the window at a cat on the roof opposite, expressing concern as to how it would ever get back down from such a height. I pointed out that it was, in fact, an owl – and a weather vane.
Things got especially weird when I interviewed Meg Ryan the day after her infamous blow-up on Parkinson in 2007. Disinterested and disdainful, she sneered out a succession of monosyllabic replies until we got on to Top Gun and I told her it was a film I watched on spin-cycle in my teens. “HIIIIIGHWAY TO THE... DANGER ZONE... DANGER ZONE!” she bellowed, and then reprised her character partying with Goose by playing air piano and belting out the whole of Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls Of Fire’. For my part, I was just delighted she was stringing words together.
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Any rogue behaviour during interviews seems especially odd because they’re always air-packed into such a tried-and-tested, regulated format, with journalists taking turns to enter a hotel suite, shake hands, ask much the same questions, get much the same answers, shake hands, leave.
If the zip bursts open to allow anything to spring loose, it feels seismic. This week, however, I faced perhaps my most dangerous curveball yet, when a director exited our phone chat by wishing me “lots of love”. She was new to the game, warm and unaffected, and her lovely, unthinking sign-off made me freeze. Seconds crawled by, and finally I felt I had to say something, and that something could only be what I can’t even say to my mum when she phones on Sundays. “Lots of love,” I parroted, and quickly hung up.
Now that was weird.
Jamie will return next issue… For more misadventures, follow: @jamie_graham9 on Twitter.
‘Danny Dyer faileD To look up from playing fifa ThroughouT The inTerview’
Dyer contemplates acknowledging Jamie’s presence…