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On celebrity interviews

October 28, 2008
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Peter Bart, one of the smarter guys in Hollywood, has an interesting blog over at Variety. His topic: Celebrity interviews. (Find it here.)

In the piece, Bart elequently points out something I've felt for a long time now: That most celebrity profiles in magazines and newspapers are total nonsense. And that goes for both regional and national publications.

Most of them are built out of the briefest of time the writers spends with their subjects. And editors tend to push for the most concrete conclusions from the writer based on this scant, controlled information.

Way back when, I dabbled in this area for a few regional magazines. Nothing major, mind you, but there were lengthy stories on such folks as Morton Downey Jr. and Bob Saget (both at the height of their TV popularity), George Carlin, Penn and Teller, and Joan Collins. I conversed with Chrisopher Plummer and Dudley Moore, Kim Hunter and the great Karl Malden. And had a fantastic time talking with the notoriously difficult Jerry Lewis. (Lest you think I'm name-dropping, keep it in perspective. The average third-tier newspaper TV critic does more celeb interviewing in a month than I've done in a career.)

Despite the time constraints, I liked the challenge of talking to people who have been talked to--and talked about--at length. But when writing the stories, there was always a part of me that knew that I didn't really know my subject. And, further, that my subjects knew that I was going to be writing about them and so adjusted their personalities to suit what they wanted to see in print.

The longer I spent with someone, the more I felt I was getting some germ of true character. But even then, I knew it was only a hint. And to draw big conclusions from that would be silly. Given a choice, I prefered just presenting them in Q&A format. It felt more honest that way.

But it seems any time I pick up a magazine, there's a writer pretending to know what an actor, a director, or a whatever is all about. Which is why I no longer read--or, at least, take any stock in--such stories. If the subject is talking about his or her process, that's different.

So are we deluding ourselves when we think we know what stars are really like?

What magazines or newspapers do you trust when reading about actors, musicians, and other celebs?

Your thoughts?
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