How to Interview Celebrities

by | October 15, 2006

Interviewing is a skill every non-fiction writer should nurture. Although it can be difficult, there are effective ways to approach people who can help you with the information you need for an article or book. The number one obstacle to your getting an honest and interesting interview is the person’s nervousness about the unknown. You may ask questions they don’t want to answer, and worse yet, you may print the answers inaccurately.

You may think that when you’re dealing with a celebrity that wouldn’t be an issue, but it is. In fact, people in the public eye today are quite defensive, having often been the brunt of unsubstantiated innuendo, misquoted sensationalism, and unfortunately, downright lies. To avoid these problems and to start off a celebrity interview on a positive note, here are a few steps to take in preparation:

  • Approach the celebrity via proper business channels. Find out who his/her Business Manager or agent is, phone and explain your needs, then let that professional do the job of booking time for you.
  • Be honest about your needs. Don’t say, “Oh, this will just take 15 or 20 minutes” when in fact it usually takes over an hour.
  • Inform the proper people how many people will be arriving at the agreed interview location. I usually show up with a photographer, the creative director of the magazine, and on occasion a photographic assistant. This should not be a surprise.
  • RESEARCH! Get on the ‘net, go to the library, ask the agent for information, but by all means, find out as much as you can about the celebrity for two reasons: it will help you to pose intelligent questions, and it’s flattering.
  • Remember that the celebrity is doing you a favor – not vice versa (unless you’re Oprah or Babwa).
  • Be punctual. The celebrity can be late; you can’t.
  • Try to book a topnotch photographer. People in the public eye have little patience for amateurs.
  • IF POSSIBLE, offer the celebrity final edit privileges. You may be a fantastic note-taker and writer, but often a person will find minor factual mistakes that seem glaring when seen in print. Or – he or she may simply not like the phrasing of a quote used and want to change it a bit.
  • Be nice. And if you move any furniture for a photo, or if you’re offered coffee or a drink, always remember to leave the premises as neat and orderly as you found them.
  • Asking for an autograph or photo taken with the person is cool, but don’t ask for enough for the entire junior hockey team or all your cousins.
  • Be sure that the celebrity receives several final copies of the publication, and send some sort of thank-you.
  • Keep any personal information that is not offered for public domain in the strictest confidence. This is a professional ethic that will enhance your credibility for future interviews.