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Last Updated: Friday, 4 April, 2003, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
What really goes on in star interviews

By Robert Nisbet
BBC News entertainment and leisure correspondent

Celebrities often comment on the difficulties they face handling the press, but what is it like for the journalists having to interview the stars?

Emma Thompson bounded down the stairs her arms flung open in greeting. I docked in her embrace and the Oscar-winning actress kissed me enthusiastically on both reddening cheeks.

Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson's friendliness was disarming
"I haven't seen you for weeks, how the devil are you? I didn't realise you'd be doing the interview; I'm so delighted," she exclaimed.

I had never met the woman before in my life.

Blushing furiously in the face of such an effusive (and misplaced) welcome, I had been well and truly disarmed.

So much so, I almost forgot to press record when starting my radio interview.

Flustered, I forgot to ask about the implosion of her marriage to Kenneth Branagh which was on the front page of nearly every British newspaper that morning.

It was the worst interview of my professional career (to date).

Celebrity: 1. Naive reporter: 0.

In the daily wrestling bout between the media and celebrity, Emma Thompson is Stone Cold Steve Austin.

There are others adept at manipulating reporters, most notably Tom Hanks, Will Smith and Ewan McGregor.

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks has successful interview technique
They manage to convey the general impression that they're not only talented, they're also the most down-to-earth world famous multimillionaires you are ever likely to meet.

This is partly down to successful interview technique.

Will Smith, for instance, peppers his responses to journalists' questions with "nobody's ever asked me that before", "that's such a good question" and the guaranteed junket-pleaser: "I'm going to tell you something I've never told anyone."

You leave the hotel room feeling you have managed to secure a soundbite that evaded the other 20 or so broadcast interviewers (that's how many TV and radio reporters an A-List actor promoting a big budget film will meet on a promotional trip to the UK).

It's only when you watch your interview back in the office, you realise you've been artfully deceived. They are actors, after all.

There are other ways to keep the media on your side in interviews.

Brenda Blethyn
Brenda Blethyn: Flirtatious, moi?
Some try flirting, whatever the gender or sexuality of the reporter sitting opposite.

Those include Vin Diesel, Helena Bonham Carter, John Travolta and, most successfully, Brenda Blethyn (I'm blushing again).

Others distinguish themselves by being polite and friendly.

Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are among those who create such a genial air in the interrogation room, they intoxicate the reporter.

But while undoubtedly some of these stars are pleasant (and flirty), no journalist should expect these junket interviews (as demonstrated in Notting Hill) to elicit genuine responses.

The celebrities are contractually obliged to promote their films, or albums, and will be well coached in dealing with the media.

Ulrika Jonsson
Ulrika Jonsson sold her life story in a biography
They will give a tantalising Polaroid of life in the family home, but won't drag out the family album.

Getting the balance right is tricky but can reap considerable dividends.

These stars are working to promote two multinational corporations: the company for which they make music or films and the brand bearing their own name.

With so much resting on these interviews little is left to chance and most moments of spontaneity have been carefully planned, most ad libs have been scripted in advance.

There is of course the occasional misstep.

Invasive paparazzi

The boyband Blue turned red when one of the group Lee Ryan made a poorly judged remark after the terror attacks in America.

The group disappeared from view for several days, only to return well versed in non-controversial PR speak.

They "wanted to thank their fans," really appreciated everybody's support" and signed autographs on every proffered scrap of paper.

But in the absence of any real revelations, the more enthusiastic media organs have turned to long lens cameras for their exclusives.

The increasingly invasive nature of paparazzi photography is just one example of the way the relationship between reporters and reported is changing: over the past two years the wrestling bout has turned into a bloody round of bare knuckle fighting.

Private lives

The Daily Mirror has led the charge of scythe-wielding journalists ready to hack down celebrity poppies.

Others have followed. Celebrities who refuse to divulge details about their private lives are lambasted for being evasive, while those who divulge too much (like the glamour model Jordan or Ulrika Jonsson) are characterised as desperate.

There is also pressure on celebrities from another front.

Increasingly broadcast news organisations, including the BBC, are including reports on popular culture in their bulletins.

They don't want to delve into the private lives of the famous - but they do want coherent and intelligent comment about topics ranging from 11 September to the perceived decline in the quality of American cinema.

Hungry internet sites

Now, not only are they expected to look nice, they have to be bright as well.

So celebrities in 2003 are expected to dish more without telling us too much, make an effort whenever there's a photographer around or face ridicule, be ready to comment eloquently on world affairs, while attempting to satisfy the rapacious appetite of 24 hour news channels, hungry internet sites and the daily newspapers, many of which now choose to revel in their failure.

If you disregard the money they earn, the tables they can secure in the most exclusive restaurants, the free clothes and jewellery and the slavish devotion of millions, you could almost feel sorry for them.


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