What Makes a Great Interview?

I’m reading through 554 pages of interview transcripts, looking for gems that need to be in the book and finding many beautiful moments along the way. Phyllis Haynes spoke eloquently about her favorite interviews:

Sophia Loren – beautiful. One of the things that you notice about technicians is when you’re on the air, they’re not usually paying attention to what you’re doing they’re kind of operating the gear. When Sophia Lauren came to the set, they all wanted to put her mic on, they all came out to dust off her chair – that kind of thing. That was exciting. The favorite interview I ever did was with Trevor Howard, who was sitting across from me with his legs crossed on another chair, kind of looking like he hated being on the set. I was known for asking the questions that nobody else would ask. I looked at him and said “I know you’re here to promote your movie. You look to me like you don’t want to be here” and he sat up and he looked at me with his bright crystal gray eyes and he said “You’re right. I have had enough of this. I really deserve the right not to have to do this.” And then from that point on I got a really great interview out of it.

When you really want to talk truth with people, there’s some people that – all you going to do is put your nickel and you get remarkable truth. Colleen Dewhurst was another one like that. Oh, it goes on. My life was so rich and so filled with thoughtful people that it drove me forward.

I have to say however that the most interesting person I ever, ever, ever interviewed was the widow of Woody Guthrie. Not a very well known women, who came on, and when she talked about the illness in her family and how their children had inherited this illness and what was like to be the wife of Woody Guthrie, I noticed that the same crew that normally didn’t listen and only listened to Sophie Lauren they were all – their ears were all perked up. They were all paying deep attention to her. She had such a sincere and loving way of teaching. And that also  was a moment that altered my life, because that said to me “Okay, all these other shows are pursuing the celebrities.” It’s the thoughtful person that I’m after. This set the tone for what I do now, this interview with Mrs. Woody Guthrie. That there were people who people don’t talk all the time that could change the world.

You know, I’m really glad that celebrities get involved with in charity work and that they bring attention to charities and all that. But there are always  people in the background that nobody knows that when you talk to them, their very presence causes a wave to happen and right now, I find those people. I’m maybe self-serving to tell you that you’re one of those people cause now you’re interviewing me. But when you hit certain points in our first interview, there’s a shift that I experienced. It’s a shift in consciousness and there are people who do that and it’s worth pursuing hundreds of interviews to get to the one that does that. And so it really altered my whole way of thinking about celebrity.

For me, some of the greatest moments in these interviews have been the unexpected ones – Sharon speaking about her late husband, Lynn’s love of life, the image of Trish’s friends and Lynda’s friends rallying around to get each of them through tough times, Phyllis C. refusing to leave the Grand Canyon, Charlotte at the alpaca conference are a few. There are moments – often when you least expect them – where people just open up and say the most amazing things. What fun!


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