Drew Barrymore’s latest interview reveals the truth about the celebrity media circus
Honestly, I think everyone missed the real joke about Drew Barrymore and her EgyptAir i interview. This may sound odd, given how much hooting there has been ever since a passenger, Adam Baron, tweeted images of it from the airline’s inflight magazine, which included such gems, attributed to Barrymore, as, “I focus on nurturing [my children’s] minds as well as their small bodies”, and “I feel o overwhelmed when someone tells me that I have managed to lose that extra weight.” The latter was in response to an observation from the journalist about how Barrymore, post-birth, “gained several kilograms [so] that even your fans accused you of being overweight and neglecting your health. However, today I see you have returned to your previous graceful body; what is your secret?” No way could this be a real exchange, people said. But anyone who’s ever done a celebrity interview knew the punchline had yet to drop.
Barrymore’s representatives insisted the actor did not “technically sit down with EgyptAir for an interview”, but they had to admit the quotes came from a real press conference. Also known as “junkets” or “round tables”, these sessions typically involve an actor talking to multiple journalists at once; the writers, often from different countries, then translate the quotes and stitch them together into some kind of article. So the real joke is that the interview – albeit translated first into Arabic and then back, badly, into English – was completely real.
My own career as a celebrity interviewer began promisingly. Aged 18, and still at university, I spoke to a British actor who had recently quit a play early in its run.
“What would you say to people who say it’s your fault the play has now closed?” I asked, in all my wide-eyed starstruck innocence. “What would you say if I called you a bitch?” he snapped back. What I didn’t know then was that this was a rare – valuable, even – experience, in that I got a glimpse of the celebrity’s true self. When I tell people now that my job involves talking to famous people they tend to imagine I live the life of the kid in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, who goes on the road with a band in the 1970s. But that era of journalism vanished along with mullets, alas.
I am lucky to work at the Guardian, where editors insist that any interview must include at least an hour of one-on-one time: no stitched together random quotes here. But I have sat in on these round tables and the questions invariably swing between sycophancy and snark – partly because those are the approaches most likely to get some kind of reaction, and partly because the journalists are from different countries and some jokes get lost in translation.
“Ms Winslet, how do you feel about being such an icon of beauty?” Io I once heard a French fashion writer ask Kate Winslet backstage at the Ba Baftas, a question to which there is truly no good answer. At a press co conference with the notoriously temperamental and five-timesma married James Cameron, one German journalist decided to kick off pr proceedings with “So James, why do you keep dumping your wives?”
One-on-one interviews can be just as strange. At their worst, these are he held in a hotel, where journalists queue outside a room and are marched in, one at a time. There is something weirdly transactional about the wh whole thing: all those shifty hacks waiting to go into a hotel room wh where someone far more beautiful is primed to give them what they ne need. Similarly, the celebrity is expected to offer up the most intimate de details of their life to sell a movie and make money. The comparisons wi with sex work are obvious. Well, to me, anyway. “It’s a bit like being in a br brothel,” I once cheerfully said to a publicist, while waiting to interview Op Oprah Winfrey. Handy hint for aspiring journalists: don’t say this.
And then there are the celebrities themselves who, given half a ch chance, revert to bland celeb-speak, the verbal equivalent of muzak, be because they’re trying to avoid saying anything too personal or – God for forbid – controversial. I once interviewed Cameron Diaz and she used th the word “journey” a total of – I kid you not – 12 times.
And yet, the high points of my career have all involved talking to ce celebrities: spending a weekend with Judy Blume; meeting Michael JF J Fox in his office; acting out a scene from Moonstruck with Nicolas Ca Cage. And my favourite pieces of journalism are celebrity interviews, be because, when done well, they reveal something about the culture we live in, told through a very human story. But those are the organic ve versions; most interviews are now battery-farmed junkets which rev reveal nothing beyond a publication’s desperation for a famous face to slap on its cover.
The joke about EgyptAir’s interview is not that it was so bad, but th that it’s so typical of the genre; the airline’s only mistake was not ge getting a better translator. At least readers now know how deranged th these celebrity junkets are – and for that I thank EgyptAir for showing us the truth, and in this way nurturing our small bodies