Have you ever watched celebrities being interviewed and thought ‘I could do that, and I wouldn’t be as rude as Joan Rivers?’ Well, I put my interviewing skills, experience, research and natural curiosity to the test on Sunday at the prestigious Grosvenor House hotel in London’s Park Lane for the Jameson Empire Awards 2013. In a nice frock (black of course; it is media, can’t go wrong), thermal socks and several layers, I scurried along Park Avenue to locate the illustrious venue. It’s as you’d imagine it, like the lobby in PRETTY WOMAN, except without a Richard Gere – but there was a pianist playing a bit of Bach, and lots of high tea going on.
Right, refocus I thought, no time to waste as the arrivals were going to start turning up from 4pm. No one seemed overly clear on what was going on, and they had run out of ‘cheat sheets’ – the sheets of paper with photos of the nominees for easy reference if you had no clue as to who the person was. I learned quickly that as much as everyone wants their own story, the other press were the guys to stick with as they were in the know; they knew the PRs, and had also interviewed many of these nominees and celebrities before.
I’d done lots of research on all the nominees, only to find many of those actually coming weren’t among them. Time for some nifty up-my-sleeve questions, I realised. It really wasn’t hard, as much as it’s tempting to get star struck, they really are ‘normal people’ and I used my knowledge of acting to have a few good interviews with some of the nominees. How it all works is that as the person arrives, (you know this from the shouting photographers further along the line who sounded a bit like they’d be more at home on a market stall). ‘Must you? ,’ I thought, rolling my eyes, then realising that they too were just doing their job. And these guys will be used to it, and most of them knew how to work it and had dressed for the occasion too.
So, the stars arrived, then their PR person came up and asked if I’d like to interview each of them. This was how I got to speak to Tom Holland of THE IMPOSSIBLE fame, and I quickly refreshed my memory on my prepared interview questions. As a previous secondary school teacher I do love young people (younger people than me, I’m not that old), and did feel quite protective of him in this industry. But the striking thing about Tom was his maturity and professionalism, on the red carpet, and even at the after party. My opener was asking him how his life had changed from being in Kingston (where I used to live), to his new star status, and he commented on how his life in Kingston couldn’t be more normal, whereas in America it’s a totally different life. He didn’t know what career he’d go into if it wasn’t for acting, which was nice to hear, and will save him some hit-and-miss school careers guidance. He also credited Naomi Watts for his emotionally truthful acting performance, saying if it were not for her, he didn’t think he would have done so well in the film. And I can partly believe that, they do say you’re only as good as you’re acting partner – and indeed, what a partner!
Truth seemed to be a common theme in a lot of what the actors said. I spoke to Johnny Vegas, asking him the secret to good comedy. He said to ‘keep your friends distant, and your enemies even more distant, and be as honest as you can about what you’re saying and what you imagine everybody’s thinking, without worrying about offending.’ How true, and how liberating – but I’m not sure I’d have the same nerve! Interesting bit of trivia, he apparently can’t do any accents other than northern - ‘I’m from the Sean Connery school of acting. If you book me that’s what you’ll get.’ That said, we segued into methodology speak about ‘the craft,’ which for a moment he couldn’t believe he was saying ‘hark at me now’ – he explained how he marvels at how actors he works with can take a script and do what he’d love to be able to do, exactly how he and the writer had imagined it. ‘It’s great seeing someone with that gift bring it to life.’ He seems to be focusing on directing for now, and has put stand up on the back burner.
I managed to chat to Alice Lowe from SIGHTSEERS later that night, whose response to my question about the key to good acting was ‘it’s all about truth.’ She hasn’t been to drama school, but just believes in keeping it as real as possible. She looked great, and seemed unaffected by the industry.
Approaching the end of the red carpet interviews, temperatures began to plummet but, undeterred and fuelled by adrenaline, I had a very inspiring interview with Kevin Guthrie. His new film SUNSHINE ON LEITH is coming out later this year, and he’s currently working with his hero James McAvoy in MACBETH. I asked him how someone so happy-go-lucky, a ‘bubble of energy’ as he calls himself, can access those dark places . He says it’s all in the words of the text, and about living it from moment to moment, beat to beat, using different breathing to channel different energies in his work. This guy knows his stuff, I thought. Kevin credits his success to hard work, dedication, a level of honesty and truth about his work, being as genuine as possible (seeing a theme here?), a dogged determination, self belief, which is often lacking – ‘people have a determination to express them self but not the confidence to back that up – their opinions are wanted and should be heard’. ‘ You have to have the talent, but you can always be learning and perfecting your craft, like a tradesman, and you learn off of better people’. Through all the glitz and glamour, it was so lovely to speak to stars that were the real deal, and to see that their celeb status hasn’t gone to their heads.
Kevin spoke very highly of his director on SUNSHINE ON LEITH, Dexter Fletcher, saying; ‘He’s such a giver. What he does is install confidence. You can’t act if you don’t have confidence.’ Perhaps that’s because not only is Dexter passionate about directing, but he loves actors, and the craft of acting: ‘Any time we get to spend on set developing that, making that more interesting… you need to go – I want a story about that, now interpret my story – which is what an actor is doing for you.’
Despite being an experienced actor himself Fletcher doesn’t guide their hand, but rather lets the actor find their own interpretation both from instinct and intellectually. He explained: ‘As well as an instinctive, guttural thing, it’s also an intellectual process. You have all the building blocks to construct something, then you make it live. Every actor gets the words on the page, and they make it live. The actor has to make us believe it’. His infectious enthusiasm about acting and directing has come out of a relentless determination, which he says is the key to his longevity in the industry: ‘Not giving up, relentless, dogged determination. The thing about a career in the arts is you have to weather storms as well as the highs and lows.’ He added, ‘If you’re determined about anything you have to set your sights and do it, you have to be driven, and there’s nothing wrong with that.’ What an honest, humble guy who really knows what he’s talking about.
This outlook seemed similar to Olympian Beth Tweddle’s tips for success when I interviewed her, and managed to slip in the Joan Rivers question; ‘who are you wearing tonight?. Her advice on success was: ‘You have to be very determined, stubborn, if you want to achieve something you’ll give it your all to get it. Keep going, if it doesn’t work the first time, get up and try again.’ All I had to brave was a bit of cold and a fair bit of waiting next to the red carpet, but as Helen Mirren said in her acceptance speech, no one sees what actors have to go through in their work, which we all know can be gruelling and by no means comfortable. Dexter Fletcher described the business as a two-edged sword. On one hand there are the awards ceremonies where actors are rewarded, but then there’s the reality: ‘You don’t see the other stuff like standing around at midnight on a bridge, trying to make something work. People rarely see the other side of it’. So I think putting on a nice dress or suit and having a posh dinner with a few cocktails is a nice pat on the back for that, at least. On that note I did want to ask Samantha Barks about her experience in LES MISERABLES, the corset, quite literally singing in the rain, and, gasp, no makeup, and apart from a brief brush with her next to the buffet cart where I gave my congratulations, I didn’t manage that interview. Maybe next time.
Overall it was a thoroughly fabulous evening, with a lot of lovely people; even the PR girls in the loo who lent me some perfume after I’d started to get sweaty after the interviews. Too much excitement! I thought it wrapped things up nicely to bump into Ed Byrne on the balcony who would be hosting the evening, who I’d actually chatted to on the tube once, and reminded him of this. He didn’t remember (thank goodness, I looked a sight), but did ask me to laugh at his jokes .
I was too distracted by the free drinks to be able to be much help there.
Check out a sizzle reel from the Empire Movie Awards red carpet below, and check out the full results over here.
Thanks to Jameson and Empire magazine.