Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What is the strangest (most unusual, most unexpected, etc.) response you’ve had in an interview?
Eric Deggans (@deggans), NPR
I’m sure I’ve probably blacked out the craziest stuff from my memory, like Lou Dobbs insulting me so badly during an interview that the publicist who set it up called to apologize afterwards. Or Tommy Lee Jones insisting on only answering in detail incredibly esoteric questions about lighting and scheduling lunch when talking about directing a version of the two-man play “The Sunset Limited” for HBO. But one of the weirdest experience I ever had was when Tim Allen said the word “nigger” to me during a telephone interview. Several times. He was talking about how Paula Deen was getting pilloried for using the word, yet when he did a movie with Martin Lawrence, the African American comic was slinging the word at him all the time. “I do a movie with Martin Lawrence and pretty soon they’re referring to me, ‘Hey, my n—–’s up.’” Allen said. “So I’m the n—– if I’m around you guys but 7 feet away, if I said n—–, it’s not right. It’s very confusing to the European mind how that works.” It was a surreal experience having one of the biggest TV stars in the world using the word nigger in front of me, a proud black man. I wasn’t offended, but I was first amused and ultimately disappointed that he couldn’t see how entitled he was, or imagine that I might be uncomfortable with what he was doing. I don’t believe his thesis – that white people saying the word over and over in public settings demystifies it. If that were the case, we would have stopped having this conversation about the word hundreds of years ago. Instead, I think it makes life easier for wealthy white guys like him who don’t want to limit their expression – even in consideration for the feelings of a black journalist just trying to crank out a standup concert preview.
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
I’ve only spoken to Chris Carter a couple of times, but the first time technically had nothing to do with “The X-Files” — it was specifically geared towards his eventually aborted Amazon series “The After,” which was a very strange post-apocalyptic lark I didn’t really like. But I was fascinated by the fact that he blew up at least two helicopters in the pilot, which made me realize how many helicopters in general he likes to use in his series (nothing more iconic than Mulder and Scully being chased through a cornfield by helicopters!), and I also had the goal for myself of asking him a question he’d never been asked before.
So when I sat down with him, I made that my opening question: “What’s up with helicopters?” And his answer was surprisingly thoughtful, and grounded in his early years as a journalism student, and it made me appreciate him as a creator whose inspirations could come from anywhere: “I’ll have to say that helicopters have figured into my life — hopefully not crashing helicopters anymore — but yes, they’ve been a factor of my existence.” The interview in general, after I edited out all the stuff about “The After” (since that show never ended up going forward) ended up being pretty fun. Chris Carter is forever a treat.
Pilot Viruet (@pilotbacon), Vice
During what was maybe only my second interview, I spoke with author Mathew Klickstein about ’90s Nickelodeon programs and his oral history of the network. I was excited to chat about my favorite shows, and especially “Clarissa Explains It All,” until he immediately dismissed it as being unpopular. That was a warning sign, but when I asked about the lack of diversity in those shows, things really went off the rails. Klickstein started in on how “Sanjay and Craig” “is awkward because there’s actually no reason for that character to be Indian” except because “the women who run Nickelodeon now are very obsessed with diversity,” and even dismissed adding in diverse characters as “silly and a little disgusting.” Then, out of nowhere, he started ranting about how it’s “very hard to be a man in the publishing world.” I (a person of color!) spent most of the phone interview aghast in a corner of my office, screaming silently into a pillow while he brought up blackface and used words like “pickaninny.” It almost stopped me from doing interviews altogether!
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
Knowing Wallace Shawn’s intellect, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise when a silly little 10-minute chat about a straight-to-ABC “Toy Story” special became an extended discussion of whether or not the “Toy Story” franchise glorifies commodification culture and how that ties in with his own personal craving for a bourgeois lifestyle, no matter how hard he tries to wean himself away from it.
Hanh Nguyen (@Hanhonymous), IndieWire
I don’t usually participate in my own critics survey since Liz and Ben represent for IndieWire quite well without my input, but since this deals with David Lynch responding to my cat during an interview on speakerphone, this will forever be my go-to quote to exhume as long as the stars turn and time presents itself.
“I like deer. I like pigs. I like little pigs, and I like some dogs,” he said just before my cat meowed loudly. “You have a cat there? Okay, you know I’m sure your cat’s real great, too.”
Rob Owen (@RobOwenTV), Pittsbugh Post-Gazette/ McClatchy Tribune
The weirdest one ever has to be from a roundtable interview at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January 1999 when actress Kate Mulgrew announced her desire to leave “Star Trek: Voyager.” This was midway through the show’s fifth season when she still had a year left on her contract and two seasons before the show would ultimately end.
“I wish I could do this to absolute completion, with great grace, because I know that [‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ star] Patrick Stewart did that. But he’s a man; he wasn’t raising kids,” Mulgrew said, before noting she wanted to see her character go out in a casket at the end of this season.
“If I were them, I’d do a cliff-hanger with a dying Janeway this year, and then I’d come back and I’d let her go after three episodes,” Mulgrew said, adding she wouldn’t want openings for her occasional return as a guest star.
At one point she mentioned how she guest-starred four times on “Murder, She Wrote” and saw the lead of that show, Angela Lansbury, work only three days a week. Maybe Mulgrew just wanted a less demanding schedule.
Mulgrew attributed her restlessness to lost time with her children and plans to marry. Mulgrew said she had not talked to her employer about her plans before talking to reporters at TCA, which would ultimately get her in trouble. UPN executives were caught off guard by Mulgrew’s comments, and in a classic Hollywood shuffle, they made sure the actress called several reporters in their hotel rooms that same night to clarify her comments.
“This is a combination of fatigue and lack of wits in the moment,” Mulgrew said. “I’m under contract through the sixth season, which I will honor. I love my kids so much and this man in my life. I need more time, that’s definite. I will do that well within the confines of a contract I’ve honored, I hope, with great dignity.”
Don’t believe me? I wasn’t the only reporter at that gonzo round table.
Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine
Oh god. So I was moderating “Archer’s” panel at San Diego Comic-Con in 2012 and I had asked the cast how they prepared their voices for long hours inside the recording studio. H. Jon Benjamin gave an answer that I will just allow you to watch in this video clip. Because….well, yeah.
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
Of late, Brian Regan told me he thought he was being summoned to be fired by Audience Network’s “Loudermilk” showrunner Peter Farrelly after his day of shooting his first scenes. Luckily, he wasn’t!
The surprise, of course, was in the interview we learned that Regan was a total acting novice and then he turned around and in my opinion stole the damned show in every frame he was in. Hopefully his character Mugsy will be around for season 2.
Also of note was Josh Gates’ admission he nearly died in Myanmar. That river he was in you couldn’t pay me to go anywhere near!
And when the Weinstein story broke, I talked to “The Volunteers” exec producer Ricky Schroder who told me he would likely commit grievous bodily harm to anyone who messed with his two stunning daughters in Hollywood who are just starting out in the business.
But the most prescient interview I had was with “Deadliest Catch’s” Sig Hansen years ago. Previously at Catch-Con I had toured his boat the Northwestern, and I was sitting with him in the posh ground-level dining room at the Beverly Wilshire for a two-hour lunch with him and his network publicist at the time, Josh Weinberg, where he was eating sliders and fries. Everyone was going mental trying to talk to him or get his attention…powerbrokers, lawyers, busboys! He was a total draw. I asked him why he still smoked Winstons, bought chocolate by the case from Costco and wasn’t he worried he would have heart issues?… Years later the lifestyle caught up, but luckily he is with us still!
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx
There are certain questions you learn to ask in interviews just as due diligence, assuming the answer will be the innocuous one. So when I got on the phone with “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” star Glenn Howerton last year to talk about Dennis’ departure from Philly in the season finale, I opened by asking if he was leaving the show, even as I figured he would either play coy to protect a planned story arc, or say flat-out that he wasn’t going anywhere, this was just a cliffhanger, blah blah blah. And from there, I would ask a bunch of questions about the show’s creative vitality at an advanced age, Mac coming out of the closet, and all the usual post-mortem stuff.
Instead, he sent the interview spinning in a different direction by answering that obligatory question with, ”So… it’s a little complicated.” We’ll see if he gets to return whenever “Sunny” does, but that answer was a good reminder of why you always ask important questions even when you’re 99 percent sure the answer will be “No.”
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
I host an interview podcast, and my guests there are constantly surprising me with their answers to what I might think are mundane or even boring questions. My favorite episode in that regard might be my show with Kellie Martin, famed for her work on “ER” and “Life Goes On,” which featured her telling me all about her life in television, but especially the close bonds she’s formed with other actors who came up as children and the way that Patti LuPone became almost a surrogate mom to her. As for an answer I almost wasn’t expecting, I think, often, of the time that Danny Pudi, then fresh in the throes of “Community” fame, told me all about how he had a rich training in Polish dance and had come to acting via dance. It’s not that unusual for actors to be former dancers, but for some reason, the thought that Pudi knew so much about Polish dance forms tickled me, if only because I didn’t know there was anyone who still knew a lot about Polish dancing.
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
There are stranger things that have been said to me both on and off the record, but I’ll never get over one thing Tom Perrotta said and one other thing that I was told about Tom Perrotta: The latter is how the landmark karaoke scene came about in “The Leftovers” Season 2 finale, as explained by co-creator Damon Lindelof:
We really only had room for like seven pages in the afterlife — or in the hotel, as we referred to it in the room — so what is it that Kevin has to overcome to get out of the hotel this time?
And then Perrotta just said, “He should have to sing karaoke.”
So I said, “Explain your logic.”
“For someone who doesn’t want to sing, that would be terrifying,” he said.
I’d argue that reads better in context, but the second thing — what Perrotta said at the very end of this important journalistic expose — can absolutely only be appreciated when reading in full. For a guy known for penning dark family dramas like “The Leftovers” and “Little Children,” Tom Perrotta is a funny, funny man.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “The Good Place” (three votes)
Other contenders: “Black Mirror,” and “The End of the F***ing World” (two votes each), “The Chi,” “Marvel’s Runaways,” and “Vikings” (one vote each)
*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.