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TV Critics Share Their Best Interview Experiences — IndieWire Survey

While David Lynch and Guillermo del Toro are obvious favorites, lesser-known interviews can also make an impact.

Stone Cold Steve Austin, Tiffany Haddish, Damon Lindelof

Rex/Shutterstock

IWCriticsPick

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: Which is the interview you are proudest of? Not only who you got to speak to, but how the interaction and final product turned out.

Pilot Viruet (@pilotbacon), Freelance

My immediate thought was this interview with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who I was obsessed with as a child and who still remains in my top three wrestlers. He was kind and insightful, but most of my favorite excerpts are from after the official interview, when we just chatted about politics and writing styles — a lovely surprise from a guy who is perhaps best known for dumping beer on his own head! But I’m most proud of the way this “Dinosaurs” piece came out, especially because I’d been wanting to write it for years and it only recently came together. “A New Leaf” is one of my favorite sitcom episodes so it was such a wonderful experience to nerd out with some of the writers who, it seems, had been wanting to talk about it for decades, too.

"Dinosaurs"

Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire

I wasn’t the only one during the January 2017 TCA press tour to notice that Tiffany Haddish was popping up a lot of places, and over the subsequent months her legend only grew in intensity for me, until finally I decided that I needed to get some time on the phone with her. The resulting conversation was one of my absolute favorites, and I killed myself trying to translate her effervescent spirit into words for the resulting interview. Not only am I pretty happy with the end result, it contains some truly prophetic words from “Girls Trip” director Malcolm D. Lee: “What we set out to have with this kind of character — you’ve seen it over the years in movies like Zach Galifianakis in ‘The Hangover’ and Melissa McCarthy in ‘Bridesmaids,’” Lee added. “They were just made to do those roles and showcase their talents. I think Tiffany is in that same category.” Today, with Haddish on the verge of getting nominated for an Oscar for the role (much like McCarthy was for “Bridesmaids”), it’s exciting to look back and remember when she was just beginning to blossom.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Barry Wetcher/Hbo/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886200m)James GandolfiniThe Sopranos - 1999HboUSATelevisionOpera

Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx

I’ve been lucky enough to interview a lot of very talented and articulate people over the years who’ve opened up in extraordinary ways, like Damon Lindelof talking about how depressed he was while making “The Leftovers” Season 1. The interview I’m probably proudest of, though, is one where the subject told me upfront that he wasn’t going to reveal much, and stuck to his word: the conversation I had with David Chase the morning after “The Sopranos” series finale aired. That was much less about what was revealed — though a few of Chase’s comments, like, “It’s all there,” were pored over by “Sopranos” obsessives with Talmudic thoroughness — than about what it meant that we were talking at all. Chase had agreed to the interview more than a year before, during a casual conversation at the afterparty for the sixth season premiere, then decided much closer to the ending that he didn’t want to talk about it at all, with me or anyone else. But with cajoling by me and “Sopranos” producer Terence Winter, Chase reluctantly agreed to do it. Given his intense protectiveness of his creation, that he trusted me enough to talk despite his overwhelming desire to go radio silent meant an awful lot to me, even if the interview itself was trying to get blood from a stone. I’ve done other interviews where I’ve felt like floating out of the room because of how much the subject opened up to me; this was one where I had to struggle to stay attached to terra firma just at the realization that it was (still) going to happen.

Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine

Good lord, I have been doing this for 23 years, so there are a LOT I am proud of for so many reasons. I had one of the late Cory Monteith’s final interviews and he was so lovely, kind and thoughtful with his answers, it’s heartbreaking to think that he was in such a dark place as well. In it, he mentioned how much he was in awe of Lea Michele, his then-partner, which I was able to include in TV Guide Magazine’s tribute to him and it’s always been my hope that she saw it and took some comfort from his words. The one that will always make me smile is my second interview with Aaron Spelling during the “90210”-“Melrose” era. His shows when I was growing up were a massive part of why I loved TV so much that I sought out this career, so to actually talk to him on the phone for our first interview was mind-blowing enough, but the way our subsequent meeting and second talk went down was next level: I was attending my first-ever Television Critics Association press tour and Fox was having their party at the Supper Club in LA. The “90210” publicist grabbed me and said, “Aaron would like to meet you.” I died right there and have been dead ever since. I was taken over to an area near a curved table and up steps Aaron and Candy. He immediately grabbed for my hands and said, “Damian, my friend!” (remember, we’d only ever spoke on the phone before this, and just once). “You must join us,” he says and signals to the table behind us…where Heather Locklear, Jennie Garth, Jamie Luner, Brian Austin Green, Tori and several other “90210” and “Melrose” cast members were sitting. Of course, I did join them and got to talk to ALL of them about their shows and working with Aaron, who was an absolute delight. The memory of that night has never failed to remind me of how lucky I am to have this job and that some of the best interviews can happen when the talent knows or feels that I am actually a fan of their work.

Lea Michele and Cory Monteith

Lea Michele and Cory Monteith

Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Kaitlin Thomas (@thekaitling), TVGuide.com

Although the final product didn’t turn out the way I’d wanted it to (editors, am I right?), my interview with Ane Crabtree, who designs the amazing and detailed costumes for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” was easily one of my favorite interviews to date. We talk to a lot of producers, actors, and writers in this profession, but we don’t often get to speak with the creative people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring together the finished product we see on our screens. I spent about an hour on the phone with Ane in September right before the series went back into production on Season 2, and I could have easily talked for several more. We covered everything from her inspiration and design process and how she got into the business to how much her dog is obsessed with Elisabeth Moss. She was hard at work doing fittings for the show while also talking to me about color choices and her life growing up in Kentucky. At the end of the interview, I really just wanted to hang out with her outside of work. It’s rare to come away from an interview feeling like that. Maybe it’s because most of the time interviews feature time limits and strict structures that don’t resemble natural conversations. Maybe it’s because I haven’t spent nearly enough time talking to people in creative professions. Or maybe it’s just because Ane is delightful. Maybe it’s all three.

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

I’ve been lucky enough to interview some of the great talkers in all of TV and movies, including Guillermo del Toro and Steven Soderbergh and Vince Gilligan, as well as more wily and evasive geniuses like David Lynch. Honestly, most of my favorite interviews have been people who maybe aren’t as frequently interviewed, somebody Keith Gordon talking about finding his niche as a director of prestige TV or cinematographer Jim Hawkinson discussing the unique look of “Hannibal.” I’ll always cherish how mistaken I was when I talked to Andrew Jarecki about “The Jinx” and led with my certainty that if they’d actually “caught” Robert Durst, surely we’d already know about it, comparing it to “Finding Bigfoot.” I’ve also interviewed well over 100 “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” contestants. But if I’m going to give just one answer, I’ll say that the pleasure of sitting down with Carol Burnett for a career-spanning 45-minute chat is tough to top in terms of just feeling lucky to be in the room.

Carol Burnett'The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special', Los Angeles, USA - 04 Oct 2017

Carol Burnett
‘The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special’, Los Angeles, USA – 04 Oct 2017

Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock

April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics

Of late, I enjoyed talking to Leland Orser (“Berlin Station”) who’s a really smart actor and who lights up the entire Epix series with his energy and sharp wit. His interview revealed a lot of interesting twists for the new season.

Also, Rebecca Metz of FX’s “Better Things” was my favorite female interview of 2017. Rebecca really knocked it out of the park in her interview as she gave us brilliant insight on her character Tressa, Sam’s (Pamela Adlon) manager who is being worked more and more into the series.

Hats off to James Purefoy revealing his disgust and solidarity with women long before #metoo movement and all the Weinstein news broke. He spoke at length about his respect for the actresses he has worked with and specifically his cast on Sundance’s “Hap and Leonard.”

For emotion and poignancy, I would have to say my talks with Louie Anderson for FX’s “Baskets” and Kenny Leu’s turn as Sgt. Eddie Chen for Nat Geo and Martha Raddatz’s “The Long Road Home” were gutting and these two men teared up during their respective interviews from personal anecdotes they shared.

Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox

I have had so many interviews where I’ve felt like I navigated a particularly tricky situation to come out the other side relatively unscathed. But one that sticks in my memory happened just a few months ago. For an Thanksgiving-themed episode of my podcast, I got in touch with Samin Nosrat, a terrific chef and author of the book “Salt Fat Acid Heat” (a must-read for all who aspire to cook). I was thrilled when she agreed to do the show, but we had to find a studio closer to her San Francisco-area home, rather than my typical recording studio in Los Angeles. No problem. We found one in Oakland. But the day before recording, the studio fell through, and we had to scramble to get space for her to record in San Francisco itself. We managed the feat. Phew.

But the escalation of calamities wasn’t done yet. When I got to the LA studio the next morning (where I would be recording my end of the conversation), I was the only person there. And that was when I realized: We forgot to book someone to record my end of the conversation, and I didn’t know how to use any of the equipment. And I had about 30 minutes to try to figure out how.

I’ve been interviewing people for long enough that I rarely get thrown by hostile receptions to questions or anything like that. But technical snafus? Those get in my head like nothing else and throw me off my game. (It’s why, whenever possible, I double-record interviews.) And this wasn’t just a temporary background noise or a recorder that was a little glitchy. This was a full podcast studio I didn’t know how to operate. As the clock ticked down to the moments when Ms. Nosrat would be in studio, we frantically came up with a solution that essentially involved me calling her on my phone, recording her end into a microphone in the San Francisco studio, then recording my end of the phone conversation on my phone itself, via a process we had to route through Washington, D.C. (don’t ask), and redubbing all of my “lines” later when we could get someone in the podcast studio, even though it would mean much more work for everybody. The first few moments of the call were tense, because the fact that we were recording everything in three cities simultaneously meant that a lot of information was floating around out there. The connection dropped a couple of times. But, sooner or later, everything balanced out, Ms. Nosrat rode out our technical hiccups, and it made for a terrific episode of the show, one that multiple people have told me is their favorite.

And guess what: I didn’t have to re-record any of my questions, because my phone was apparently just that good. Who needs microphones! (This is a joke. I need microphones. Many of them.)

Ann Dowd accepts the award for outstanding supporting actress in a drama series for "The Handmaid's Tale" on the red carpet stage at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles69th Primetime Emmy Awards - Red Carpet Stage, Los Angeles, USA - 17 Sep 2017

Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire

Ann Dowd is the greatest. Not only is she — as Justin Theroux put perfectly — a towering talent, but the Emmy-winning actress connects characters and people in such a powerful way. It’s certainly what makes her work so meaningful, but it goes beyond the profession, as well. When I spoke to her recently about “The Leftovers,” her role in it, and its legacy, her story on how to best appreciate the complex and challenging HBO drama knocked me over. It’s my go-to explanation for anyone who asks about the series, and I’m so very touched every time I think back to Ms. Dowd and her story.

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: “The Good Place” (five votes)

Other contenders: “Black Mirror,” “The End of the F***ing World,” “The Magicians,” “Vikings”

*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.

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