Great Conversations: Introduction
In the almost forty years that I’ve been conducting interviews, mostly for radio, I never thought of it as just a job, but rather, an opportunity to have a real connection, often with someone I greatly admired—because, I’m not just an interviewer; I’m also a fan.
I’ve been lucky enough to have job opportunities that allowed me to pursue celebrities without having the spectre of deadlines or “must-gets” hanging over my head. I went after people who wanted to talk, and the ones who didn’t weren’t a big deal. I wasn’t concerned with stalking or being paparazzi-like. I welcomed the conversations because people were welcoming. Plus, early in my career I learned, what was for me, a very valuable lesson.
In August 1987, Christopher Reeve was in Montreal to attend the Montreal World Film Festival. (Earlier that year, he and Morgan Freeman appeared in Street Smart (1987) that was filmed there.) As a young entertainment reporter for a local radio station, I thought it would be a good idea to get in contact with the big screen’s “Man of Steel,” so I searched out the hotel he was at, found his room number, and knocked on his door.
When I told him who I was and why I was there, Reeve’s temperament was that of almost every role we had come to know him in. He was courteous, polite, and warm, but he was also not happy. I had broken the sanctity of his space, had not gone through more appropriate channels, and came to his hotel room unannounced.
Reeve politely told me my actions were unacceptable. If I had gone through proper channels, he would have the option of saying “yes” or “no.”
Even if I had asked him on the street or in the lobby (where I had spotted him earlier), he could have accepted to make arrangements at a suitable time or declined.
The reason why this encounter was such a valuable lesson to me was because, even though I had managed to anger someone who was considered to be one of Hollywood’s “nice guys,” his demeanour in rebuffing me was forceful yet extremely kind. It captured the humanity of the man. His actions have played back in my head for years to follow, guiding me in my interactions with others. I have had conversations with people who agreed to be interviewed, who were far less warm and friendly than a seemingly angry Christopher Reeve. While he may not have been officially recorded and part of my great conversations, it was still a memorable chat indeed; one that I won’t forget.
One of my other long-standing working relationships was with another festival of world renown in Montreal, Just for Laughs. I have worked with the festival in several capacities for the better part of twenty-five years, which gave me the opportunity of working, partying, and chatting with some of the biggest names in comedy that came through town. I actually used to take my vacation from my regular radio gig to work at the festival, and I did double duty, recording interviews for later use when I got back on the air.
On different occasions, I asked two of NBC’s biggest comedy stars for interviews. One was David Schwimmer from Friends; the other, Jason Alexander from Seinfeld. In both cases, the response was a polite “no.” In the latter case, I was with another journalist when I made the query. As we walked away, my colleague turned to me and said, “Boy, what an ass!”
That was a response that I’ve never understood. Jason Alexander was in Montreal to work, and while he was there, like so many others who come to town for the festival, he was hounded by the big guns at Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, and Extra, plus all the print and radio journalists who flocked to the city for the festival each year. Saying “no” to me was not a big deal. I asked politely, he declined politely, and we went our separate ways. We spoke later in a casual setting without microphones, just sharing generalities, but an interview was not in the offing, and that was fine by me. Unlike some others in my business, I don’t believe a famous face or voice owes me an interview. What they owe me as a fan is a good performance.
What they owe me as a broadcaster is absolutely nothing. What I want to share in this book is the humanity of the folks that I did get interviews with, because communication was a two way street. Striking up a civil conversation usually brought the best out of people in return. I’ve always treated interview guests as if they were dinner guests in my home. My job was to make them feel comfortable enough to talk openly, without asking pointed “gotcha” questions. In the end, that’s what led to hundreds of great conversations.