Freelance Blog + Tips & Tricks

Guest Post: How to Interview Someone Famous

By Drew Tewksbury

So it happened. You have finally landed an interview with one of your favorite musicians/actors/directors/athletes and it’s the night before you go to meet them. Do you feel that? The nervous energy, the excitement, the trepidation? It happens to the best of us. Unfortunately, when you’re in an interview with someone famous, you can’t let your subject know how you really feel.

High profile people are professional interviewees, and they have spent a lot of time with journalists, so they can smell fear from a mile away. Trust me, I’ve been there. I've interviewed many high profile celebrities, politicians, musicians and actors, from Nicole Kidman to Zimbabwean political leader Morgan Tsvangirai to rapper 50 Cent.

Interviewing high profile is certainly a challenge. I’ve worked red carpet events in London and talked to Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake (right after they broke up!), went to the gym with Eric “McSteamy” Dane, and sat face to face with Jenna Jameson to discuss her terrible film, Zombie Strippers.

If you don’t want to have that deer-in-the-headlights look while interviewing a high profile person, here are five tips on how to conduct an interview with a high profile person without freaking out, and gaining new quotes and exclusive insights, not just regurgitated sound bites.

  1. Don’t. Freak. Out.
    Not freaking out when you’re interviewing someone famous is often easier said than done, but with a few techniques will help you get your interview done with as little hyperventilation as possible. Of course, that’s the first step. Breathe. Focus on your breathing and try to keep that heart rate down. You don’t want to have that wavery, nervous voice or break down in tears during your interview.
  2. Ask open-ended questions.
    There it is again, the oldest trick in the book. But if your nerves are getting the best of you, sometimes you can soothe your soul by letting your interview subject go on and on about something. If you ask just the right question, you can buy yourself some time to gain composure, and prepare for the next question that you are going to ask.
  3. Don’t obsess about the next question you are going to ask.
    This tip kind of goes against the previous piece, but obsessing about your questions will only hurt your interview. You need to listen, really, really listen to your subject, so that you can take the interview into territory that you never expected. If you stick to your questions, you can miss the best stories, and the exclusive stories. Let your subject talk about what they want to talk about, and steer the conversation with your questions, don’t drive it.
  4. Ask the same question twice.
    High profile people tend to have a small army of PR people and media coaches that have trained them to the fine art of creating sound bites. They will go back to the same old quote that you’ve read a million times from this particular person. If you feel like you’ve been given a stock answer, don’t be afraid to ask the question again. Try to word it a bit differently, and perhaps you will notice a change in the answer. When psychologists are trying to determine whether a person is being honest in a survey, they often include the same question multiple times to see how a person will react consistently. With high profile people, you can break them from their own routine by hitting them up more than once.
  5. Remember that they’re human.
    So often we are lead to believe that high profile aren’t actually people at all. We think that for some reason they exist on some other plane of existence that doesn’t intersect with our own. But the reality is: They’re human. On some level, high profile people experience the same emotions that we all do, only on a different scale. So to craft an interview that will resonate with a famous person, focus on the base emotions that all people feel. Famous people feel excitement and regret, or happiness and pain, just like the rest of us. If you tailor your interview to address real human emotions, rather regurgitating facts about their persona, you will connect with your subject on a deeper level and get those exclusive quotes.

Drew Tewksbury is a recovering entertainment writer and the editor of Ebyline’s Freelancing Blog.* Ebyline connects freelance writers with editors.

Interested in contributing a guest blog post of your own? Check out the guest blogger guidelines.
Flickr photo courtesy of Daehyun Park *Full disclosure: I write for Ebyline's Freelancing Blog. All the more reason to check it out!

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