Tuesday, June 04, 2013

First rule of being interviewed: ignore the question

Rhys Ifans gives the interview from hell to Janice Turner in The Times in the same week the nation's football hacks form a guard of honour to welcome Jose Mourinho back to English football. Compare and contrast.

The former complains about the questions before tortuously trying to turn them to his advantage in a way that makes him look like a pillock. The latter cheerfully ignores the questions and just takes the opportunity to ventilate some riff that he's had in his head for a while.

Like him or not Mourinho understands the first rule of being interviewed. All the interviewer wants you to do is SAY SOMETHING NOTABLE.

Etiquette demands the interviewer starts with a question, as if this were about a job or a crime. It's not. It's a process which is supposed to result in quotes. If the "subject" doesn't volunteer anything then the writer has to write about how difficult they are.

And of course all the really agonising interviews happen because their subjects have paid PRs to arrange those interviews. It's not as if The Times are sitting there thinking "if only we could get Rhys Ifans".

One of these days an interviewer will have the nerve to turn up for one of these encounters, get out their recorder, say "now, how can I help you?" and then sit back.


  1. If an interviewee won't play ball, the answer is not for the journalist to "do a Lou" by making the interview itself the subject matter. Doing that achieves only one thing: to give the petulant interviewee - no matter whether it's the enigmatic driving force of Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang or someone about whom we actually give a fuck - the publicity that they (even more than their PRs) crave. No, the only way to end this whole tedious circus is for hacks who find themselves on the receiving end of such puerile nonsense to be the ones who get up and say "I'm bored", followed by a call to their editors: "False alarm. Nothing worth transcribing, much less worth filing here."

    The most underused piece of equipment in every newsroom and features desk these days - and not because it's been superseded by new technology - is the spike.

  2. Interestingly, my colleague was the interviewer before Janice Turner and found Ifans to be charm itself. It sounds rather like she did something to upset him.

    I know his reputation precedes him and he can be rather tricky, and yes a lot of celebs hate doing interviews but know their value, but it's always the assumption that when celebrity interviews go wrong it's the celebrity's fault or the PR's fault. Not always so.

    Some big name interviewers can be rather grand and if, as Turner says, she hates interviewing actors, she can't have been going into it in the right frame of mind.

    Some journalists imagine they're part of the story. If they could learn that they're not then interviews would be far less painful.

  3. I'm happy to name and shame. A few weeks backs I attempted to interview Peter Murphy (via Skype. His request) - who, five minutes in and before a single question had been asked, dropped the call simply because I'd mentioned two authors - one 'horror' and one'noir' would be contributing to the six page feature. 'I'm neither a horror nor a noir artist' he bristled - before ending with - 'I think we're done here' and flouncing off into cyberspace in a puff of sulphur smoke

    This is the self-same Peter Murphy who's debut single was Bela Lugosi's dead, a star of Twilight, and the Goth overlord currently touring 35 years of Bauhaus - this tour being the basis for our six page retrospective

    Two weeks of careful-stepping (during which time I copied up the transcript of our call - header:' The Skype's Gone Out') via his carer - sorry PA, became a steeplechase of cancelled appointments, faulty iPads (his), non-responses to my mailed questions and missed deadlines. After several short-notice requests 'can you call at…' - only for Pete to be absent (again), and a third party involved writing to the label boss complaining ' this is simply an unacceptable way for an artist to act. I've never worked with such a prima donna, and I used to be at Cherry Red......' I threw my notes in the air, turned the tables and gave him the bum's rush - when he was available - I wasn't!

    Eventually at the point of extended and final deadline - Pete's replies arrived, dictated to, and furiously transcribed by his long-suffering PA (apparently the recording rivals the Troggs Tapes). But all hoop-jumping has been with the worth wait. The self-aggrandising and high flying narcissism make for heavily entertaining reading.

    As one of the authors contributing to the Bauhaus article said 'it's always these mid-range has beens that kick off'.