Too Close

August 15, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Every once in a while, I am asked why I don't conduct interviews. This has not always been my policy - it has developed over the course of my 14 years as a film reviewer/critic. There was a time when I participated in interviews - those who browse through my Commentary section can find a few of those that I wrote up. (My "high point" was sitting down for 20 minutes with Kenneth Branagh.) There have been others that I have used as background material for reviews. But after numerous contacts with celebrities and others involved in the film industry, I have come to several realizations.

(1) Actors rarely have anything useful to say about a film. Unless they are directly involved in some production aspect, they're on board as hired talent. They can talk a little about preparation or what drew them to the script. For the most part, however, it's standard boiler plate stuff - like when an athelete talks about "giving 110%" and how it's "all about the team." I suppose the lure of interviewing actors has something to do with spending some one-on-one time with a celebrity, but that doesn't do it for me. (Although I admit that if I had an opportunity to interview John Cleese, I would jump at it. And maybe Scarlett Johansson, who seems uninhibited enough to offer more than the usual cliché quotes.)

(2) The potential exists for one's impression of a filmmaker/actor/etc. to impinge upon the opinion of a film. Let's say, for example, that I see and dislike a movie. I then interview the director. He's a likeable, engaging person who's genuinely enthused about his film. Then it's time to write the review. The temptation would exist, perhaps subconsciously, to soften my opinion. That's human nature. So the review would not be an accuate representation of what I thought of the film. I can name instances when friends of mine have offered one view after seeing a film but have modified their opinion after talking with a director or star. The opposite can also happen. An interview with a self-centered jerk of an actor or director can negatively impact one's positive opinion of a film.

(3) Publicists can be too controlling. As everyone reading ReelThoughts knows, I'm not a big fan of publicists. Not all publicists are bad people... plenty are affable and helpful, but then there are those few... Occasionally, publicists will attempt to direct an interview, in some cases going as far as to limit what questions can be asked. This kind of censorship does not sit well with me. I'm not going to ask an actor about his or her love life, but a journalist should not be threatened with termination of the interview if he/she poses the question. (The actor can always say, "No comment.")

In this celebrity-obsessed society, it is necessary for many paid critics to conduct interviews in order to retain their jobs. I sympathize with them. There's nothing more annoying that having to sit across a table from an actor and ask him the same dozen questions he has responded to from tens of other critics and entertainment reporters. Thankfully, I'm not in a position where I have to do that. My job is to write about movies, not ask Tom Cruise whether he considers his latest role to be worthy opportunity to expand his talents as a thespian.