“Ready to face the enemy?” asks the cheerful rector at the beginning of the final, catastrophic nuptial scene of Mike Newell’s 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral.
This chirpy man of the cloth never knew how true a word he spoke to the wretched Hugh Grant, and his guileless invitation always rings in my ears as the banks of lights are switched on, the two cameras whir into action and the sound man gives me the cue that it’s fine to start.
Sitting opposite me is someone such as Bryan Ferry, or Cate Blanchett, or Guy Pearce, or Marianne Faithfull. We are stiffly, falsely, anxiously smiling at each other.
“Ready to face the enemy?” All right, go!
I’ve just returned from a lovely chat with master hat designer Philip Treacey (he of the Gaga lace masks and the 36 hats of the last royal wedding), and just the week before it was an hysterical audience with cult filmmaker John Waters – now there’s a man who knows how to give good quote.
And after all this time, I’m still struck by the strangeness of the convention: this form of seemingly relaxed conversation, recorded into a box, full of false intimacy and apparently easy charm. The interview subjects don’t know me, and for all the painstaking research done, I don’t really know them – yet here we are being terribly polite and sometimes even intimate and confiding, all the while entirely on our guard and aware that this is a performance within the appearance of a relaxed, spontaneous chat. I sometimes wonder if anybody is fooled.
But, no. “Fooled” is not the right word. When a conversation such as this really works well – when there is a genuine exchange of ideas and thought between interviewer and subject, when I “get” the person, and they realise that I do, there can be such a delight, such a great sense of relief and release that something very special happens. It’s not that the cameras quite disappear, but the constructed nature of this discussion falls away and one person talks while another genuinely listens. I know exactly when these moments happen, and – despairingly – I know when they don’t, and they are the moments that keep me going.