The celebrity interview: what it's REALLY like.

Guy Pearce and Kate Winslet at the 2011 Emmy Awards

“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.

Virginia Trioli with Bryan Ferry

There are the stars who are horrible to all the technical staff but utterly charming to the host, to me. There are ones who remember all the names of the camera and sound operators, ask them specific questions about their craft and then thank them by name when they leave. There are people such as the wonderful Fred Schepisi, who waves away the make-up artist and then firmly tells me that “you TV people” need to learn that with modern lighting and digital film none of that painstakingly, often thickly applied make-up is needed any more. “You’d all look much better without it,” he snorts. “And none of the actresses listen to me …”

Guy Pearce kicked off his shoes and sat cross-legged on the chair in front of me, utterly unguarded and completely beguiling. I fell in love with kd lang in an instant and wanted her to become my best friend, as did all my friends just so they could hang out with her too.

But they are not my friends, and nor should they be.

I often wonder what the artist, the performer, the “star” is thinking as they make their way down in the lift of their hotel towards the room where we await them, heart sinking at the prospect of yet another go-around with the same old anecdotes, the same old controversies.

As writer Jeanette Winterson ruefully remarked, “The clippings file! It can go yellow and dog-eared, but there it is again, opened up and flung over you all over again.”

It is perhaps a hope as false as the bonhomie we all pretend to in those tense little hotel rooms, but each time I do this, I wish for something a little more true, a little more profound than that which we find on those yellowing clippings, and I wish for time to treat these encounters just a little more kindly.

Perhaps the most I can hope for is that we become the best of enemies.

This piece was originally published here and has been republished here with full permission.

Virginia Trioli has an established reputation as a radio host, television presenter, news reporter, features writer and columnist. You can and should visit her blog here .

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