by Rachel Smith
22 September 2017
When I was starting out, I hated doing interviews.
I was young and kind of anxious, which didn’t help, and I always worried about writing the right questions in order to get the desired responses. Then there was the ability to actually steer a conversation in such a way that I could get what I needed. I was never so happy as when I could put the phone down and breathe a sigh of relief.
But as you become deeper in your job, anxiety and interviews don’t go hand in hand – and becoming adept at this important skill was my priority, especially as my first few years as a freelancer involved me interviewing a heap of jaded movie stars, singers and other celebs who rocked into town to promote their latest movie / TV show / album / charity campaign etc etc. Getting a story no one else had? Big thrill.
Working solely in entertainment was both fun and hellish. I once sat on stage with Michael Richards interviewing him for my magazine, while he filmed us for his TV show (and bullied me mercilessly). I sat in a room drinking tea and chatting for an hour with Mandy Moore at the Park Hyatt – in the days before publicists demanded to be privy to every question. My shortest interview to date was with Alicia Keys while she packed her bag to go to the airport. I chased her around her suite at the Shangri-La, trying to get some gold in the three minutes I had before her limo arrived!
I’ve gone seeking good quotes in a huge variety of settings. Roundable interviews. I’ve interviewed people in person, on the phone, via Messenger, on email or Skype. I’ve conducted interviews in the laundry or in my car while trying to escape the toddler. I’ve even interviewed a dentist recently on Facetime – while he was in Jordan on holiday and answering my questions from his Bedouin tent!
And when it comes to the stuff journos break out into a cold sweat about, I’ve been there: including digital dictaphone fail, abuse from questions that interviewees felt crossed a line and of course having to go back and re-interview people when the tape in my old-school dictaphone ended up corrupted. I’ve been yelled at by an editor for not getting a specific quote. I’ve been shouted down, micromanaged and forced to conduct an interview with two TV comedy stars in under 5 minutes – no mean feat.
But after twenty years of interviewing a whole range of people on a regular basis, from CEOs to experts, nervous case studies to celebrities, I’ve gone from loathing it to really quite loving it. I’d go so far as to say a good interview is actually one of my favourite parts of the job. I always learn something, I meet amazing people, and I love the challenge that comes with having a brief, asking the right questions and teasing out the answers that make a good story great.
Do you love or hate interviewing? What are some of your most memorable interviews?
Photo by Nik Macmillan, Unsplash
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