Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

The Unreachable Star

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Interviewing is a balance between getting to the truth and glossing over it. And the goal of an interviewer is to ask the question the audience wants to ask and get an answer the audience never expected to hear. Different interviewers have different levels of guile, meaning, some interviewers are more fearless or naive or innocent to ask questions that others may consider off limits. Still, when we hear such a question, we immediately recognize it as sincere to the point of ballsy, because it’s a question we all want to ask sometimes. Sometimes, the surprise is in the question.

Such a question was asked by Gayle King of Harrison Ford at the end of the interview Mr. Ford did with CBS This Morning. Mr. Ford was promoting his movie “Enders Game”, and at the end of the conversation he said that he was “delighted” to have been there with them. Gayle asked him, “Are you really delighted?” I gasped.

We all encounter situations where we question the sincerity of the social conventions we’re all expected to abide by. We smile at things that aren’t funny. We hold our tongue at things ridiculously said. We turn our eyes from things it would be impolite for us to directly see. The simplest example is when someone asks, “How are you?” What you are going through and what you are expected to say are two completely different things. But our language lies to us. The words say, tell me the truth, while the truth is, people ask because they are being polite because politeness is what greases the billions of split second interactions between us each day. Nobody really wants to hear what’s really going on with you in any detail because they’ve got their own stuff.

The thing is, when Gayle asked that question, it was a very rare attempt to pull back that veil and to fillet something that is usually sacrosanct, i.e., “Is this real sharing or is this just part of the promotional tour?” For me, it was a “wow” moment. I’m just sad she didn’t ask it earlier because there was no time, either by the studio clock or in the guest’s mind to create the kind of personal response I think she was shooting for. I’m sure if she had asked it earlier, the result would have been a lot more interesting.

But I bet that for Mr. Ford’s people, that was long enough. His agents, attorneys, publicists … I can imagine they could have imagined a lot of questions that she could have asked him with that certainly not being one of them. But again, kudos to Ms. King. It is such an outrageously simple question and at the same time, so impeccably honest, it’s one no interviewer can ever really expect will be answered, even if there is enough time.

Terry Gross and Stephen King talked a little about the sincerity of the famous and interview. I talk about it here –

Written by Interviewer

October 31, 2013 at 23:18

Posted in Scratchpad

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