Doing press junkets can be very tricky for reporters. On one hand, you’ve got a celebrity who has been answering the same questions, over and over again, for every local TV station from Los Angeles to Schenectady. (S)he’s bored and (s)he’s cranky and (s)he’s often judgmental in his/her crankiness. Next there’s the overprotective publicists. They want to ensure you ask questions only about the movie and not about the star’s personal life. They hover right over you, just off camera, during your carefully timed five-minute-and-not-one-second-longer interview. Any deviation from the plan and the publicist shuts down the shoot. And finally, there’s you… waiting your turn for over an hour, jet lagged from the red eye arrival and the early morning screening of the film. You’re just hoping you look decent for your cutaways, praying you ask questions that make some semblance of sense, and hoping they’re fresh and different from all the bigger-name TV news royalty waiting ahead of you in the green room. Thus are the trappings of a blockbuster hundred-million dollar movie studio junket.
Among my junket jaunts was Universal‘s Waterworld press event with Kevin Costner at a swanky Hawaiian resort back in 1994. The seal movie Andre was also attached to the agenda so I had to double dip in discerning dialogue with adults, a kid and a marine mammal. The big no-no the entire weekend was “absolutely no photos with Costner” as one journalist had already been expelled from the island just for asking. So, of course, when I’m told I can’t so something, I find a way around it. If you look over my right shoulder, that’s Costner sitting on the patio of his private bungalow. Sorry, didn’t bring a zoom lens, but mission accomplished. Sort of.
Which brings me to my point. You, as an interviewer, have to be expertly prepared for big-name celebrity junkets to get anything usable and unique from the star. You have to be flexible and go whichever way the interview is going without alarming the publicists. Case in point. Stephanie Schuler. One of my favorite people in the world, the eternally happy and giggling Stephanie worked with Sam Rubin in the entertainment unit at KTLA. She was sent to do an interview with Dustin Hoffman for 1998’s Sphere. Stephanie’s interview, without a doubt, is the greatest press junket interview ever done – for two reason – because she was brilliant at “triggering” him with complimentary questions about his “cut” physique and his “pipe” (which Dustin misinterprets as “pike”) – and because Dustin was brilliant at playing with those words to take the interview to a whole new level. From the beginning, Stephanie impressed Dustin by asking a question he compliment her on – one that clearly showed she had done her homework in processing the film in her mind. Watch and then we’ll discuss.
When Dustin took “cut” into circumcision territory, Stephanie could have shut down where Dustin was going – but she didn’t. She played along by continuing to laugh. Stephanie then asks if she should continue when she points to the publicist who is trying to wrap her, the publicist clearly not happy with where Dustin was going. Dustin said, “Go ahead” which essentially means you can ignore the publicist – which is always a good thing. Once Dustin gets to his “pike being cut”, all bets were off and the interview just spiraled into unimaginable heights of hilarity.
Now, do all of Stephanie’s junket interviews end up like this? Obviously not. All the stars (pun intended) were aligned for this to happen. But I recommend you rewatch the clip, and note how Stephanie cleverly led this interview to its ultimate conclusion with her questions, her choice of words, her gestures and her overall body language. Whether she shrewdly planned this outcome or astutely just fanned the flames, she and Dustin played off of each other as if they were comedy co-stars.
I’m truly surprise the publicists released the tape to Stephanie. While this interview was fabulous PR for Dustin, it’s not the sort of stuff you generally take away from a junket. So kudos to all involved!