Richard Gere called me “honey” in the most patronizing manner and told me to get my priorities straight. I peed next to Dianne Lane, who was the loveliest of bathroom companions. Beyonce’s bodyguard shoved me into a wall. All in a day’s work for a celebrity reporter. (And don’t you dare call me a paparazzo! I’m classier than that.)
Many of you know that I’m a travel writer for many a magazine, as well as a guidebook author by profession, but if you’ve read my bio page (or simply been around these parts long enough), you’ll know I also dabble in entertainment reporting. This was never my intention, you see, but when I first moved up to New York in 2005, I had a job at Newsweek International on Fridays and Saturdays, but nothing to do the rest of the week. So I got a four-day-a-week gig at—don’t judge me—In Touch Weekly.
For as little as I’d ever read the magazine (which was never) and as infrequently as I logged onto sites like Gawker and Jezebel, it’s funny that someone like me would end up in such a position. On the third day of the job in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, my boss sent me to Chelsea to my first red carpet event to interview the likes of Kanye West, Hilary Duff and Carson Daly (who was not pleased when I was made to ask about his eating disorder, let me tell you). Working for In Touch turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it helped my reporting, celebrity or otherwise, in so many ways: It’s admittedly one of the trashier of the weeklies—no one will deny that fact—and pretty much every question I had to ask celebs was of an extremely personal nature, but it gave me thicker skin and quicker wits as a reporter. I learned to think on my feet, to shove aside my Southern shyness (at least temporarily) and that actors, comedians, models and the like were real people, not idols to place on a pedestal and be intimidated by. (Yeah, remind me of that the day I finally get to meet George Clooney.)
Six years later and I’ve interviewed thousands of celebrities and covered hundreds of red carpet events, movie premieres, award shows, concerts—you name it. If you’re doing it nightly, as I was in New York (after working a 9am to 6pm job at a fashion magazine, mind you), it can get exhausting and you quickly burn out. In New York, you see the same old guys at every event, it seems—Paul Rudd and Christopher Meloni, for example, were always party staples—as well as a smattering of reality TV “stars” you feel like you should know but the faces and names get muddled along with every other cast member of America’s Next Top Model, The Apprentice and Big Brother hoping for their mention the following day in Page Six, Gatecrasher or Rush & Molloy.
Luckily, since my In Touch days, I’ve worked my way up the entertainment reporting chain—to Us Weekly, then Entertainment Weekly (which is pretty much THE pop culture Bible and still my favorite read), InStyle and Glamour, and now for PEOPLE magazine. Each one is a different experience—you are definitely treated better the more credible the publication for whom you work—and I’ve loved reporting for PEOPLE these past four years, as it’s a magazine everybody knows but it doesn’t carry a bad reputation and I get to ask about the films but also carry the conversation into a personal realm if the situation calls for such. (Case in point: I totally asked Lily Collins about dating Taylor Lautner while chatting this weekend about Snow White and Priest. She was a sweetheart and didn’t get mad, though she preferred “to keep my personal life private” and rightfully so.)
And now that celebrity events are a rare occurrence—they happen in San Francisco, sure, but often times the press aren’t even invited as no one seems to give much thought to the media–I’ve grown to enjoy them again, to regain that excitement I’d get while prepping for interviews in my early reporting days before heading out to meet my newest subject.
So how does one interview a celebrity, you ask? Well, there are a few different ways this can go.
Round table. At big conferences like this past weekend’s WonderCon (little sister to the more famous Comic-Con), this is usually how things work. Before or after a celebrity panel or appearance, the talent will arrive in the press room, where dozens of reporters are seated around a series of round tables. One celebrity takes each table for an allotted amount of time (15 minutes in this case) and chats with the reporters before time is called and he/she moves onto the next table, another actor taking his/her place. This is how I “met” both Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds on Friday, both of whom were lovely and eloquent and funny to boot.
Press line. This is the most common way for interviews to go. You’re given a placard behind the rope on the red carpet and meant to fend for yourself as dozens of other journalists (usually photographers) elbow you in the head and try to nudge their way in on your time. Often, the celebrity’s manager or publicist will escort them over to specific outlets they’d like to talk to, or sometimes the celeb will run right through the carpet without speaking to anyone (hello, Sean Penn at the world premiere of Milk…jerk). San Francisco is much more laid back than New York or LA, though, for which I am thankful. For instance, a few years back, I covered a Paul Newman tribute—where Julia Roberts, Joaquin Phoenix, Danny Glover, Danny DeVito, Jack Nicholson and Casey Affleck were just a few among the talent present—and all of four print journalists showed up. I wasn’t complaining—this meant more face time for me and a solid 10 minutes to talk to Tom Hanks about his nappy ‘do! If that was a New York event, no doubt hundreds of reporters and bloggers would have been swarming the premises.
1:1. Obviously, this one is the most ideal as you get private time with your subject, usually for five or 10 minutes, sometimes more if you’re doing a long-form feature. But this is a rarity if it’s a big event (though I did get to snag Henry Cavill—the new Superman!—Luke Evans and Tarsem Singh alone this past weekend).
Broadcast. If you have a TV crew or camera in tow, you often get special broadcast privileges, which simply means you get an allotted amount of time with the interviewee in front of the camera. I’ve had a bit of fun doing TV in the past, though I find it so stressful and feel I’m stumbling over my words as if English were my third language. Also, my videographer would always tell me to wear makeup, and I’m lazy and usually go without. I did not appreciate that!
The after party. If you’re lucky enough to get in (the times I’m not invited, I often “find” my way inside anyway), then you can approach the actors if you see them milling about. This is how I got great quotes from Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Jon Stewart at a Comedy Central event a few years ago and also how I snagged an interview with Keri Russell at the premiere of The Waitress. Particularly during night events when the booze flows freely (and the majority of paparazzi have been sent home), that’s when celebrities truly loosen up and get candid.
The stalking—or more nicely put, stake outs or “street reporting.” Yes, I’ve done some of this, too (hangs head in shame). Hands down, this is my least favorite part of the gig, mainly because it’s a whole lot of sitting around and waiting—and truth be told, I feel terrible about invading someone’s privacy, public figure or not. When Sean Penn and Robin were still Bay Area residents, I’d often have to head out in pursuit of them—or at least hunt down their hairdressers, architects, bartenders, you name it, to try and snag an interview. (Friends of celebs are very often tight-lipped, so your attempts are usually in vain.) I remember once when I was still in NYC that my fellow reporter friend had to go down to SoHo in the aftermath of Heath Ledger’s death and look for the Olsen twins in hopes of a chat. I would never be able to do something like this, so I’m grateful my street reporting has been very limited and that most of my entertainment experience stems from events.
So what would you be surprised to know? Celebrity reporting not glamorous. No, really. OK, sometimes—as in once in a blue moon, you’ll attend a dinner party at Cipriani surrounding by the likes of Woody Allen, Kim Catrall, Rihanna, Eve and more and be the envy of everybody on your block—but for the most part it’s just work or exhaustingly boring, like waiting for Samantha Ronson to finish spinning while sipping a Sprite at a club in the Tenderloin at 3am on a Saturday night while flying solo. Definitely not glamorous. In fact, most veteran celeb reporters will often show up to a fancy affair in jeans and sneakers, knowing they could very well be standing outside in the street for three hours on a 15 degree Manhattan February night. (I’m a rare case because I almost always wear a dress anywhere, no matter the venue or occasion. I often suffer hypothermia as a result.)
There’s a lot of waiting. A LOT. We always joke that entertainment reporting is a case of “hurry up and wait” because you’re told to be someplace BY THIS TIME, come Hell or high water, and inevitably it doesn’t start for at least an hour later than planned and, even then, the talent comes moseying in whenever they please, oftentimes just moments before they are going on stage and conveniently (for them) with not enough time to stop and answer a few questions.
Soooo…are you ready to try your hand at celebrity reporting? I guarantee you, it’s far more tiring (and boring) than you’d ever think.
Also, if you have any burning celebrity reporting questions you’re dying to know, ask below and I’ll be happy to answer in a follow-up post.