How to talk to a celebrity

Globe and Mail arts reporter R. M. Vaughan talked candidly with students about the ins and outs of interviewing the stars

By Stephanie vanKampen

Richard M. Vaughan isn’t used to being on the other side of an interview.

He’s usually the one firing the questions.

He’s the guy who sits across from Michael Douglas and asks him how he feels about his latest film. That’s his gig.

But last week the national arts writer sat down with students at St. Thomas and took their questions.

Vaughan was in Fredericton to give the annual Christina Sabat lecture at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery last week.

But he took time out earlier in the day to meet with students and tell them about his life as an arts writer turned movie star liason.

“What I do, specifically, I consider primarily entertainment. I’m not writing about the constitution, I’m not writing about the financial crisis,” he said.

“No one’s going to me for life-saving information when I’m interviewing some third-rate TV star. So, I think my primary job is to entertain the reader.”

Vaughan looked comfortable standing in front of a handful of would-be journalists in the Kinsella auditorium.

His navy t-shirt and jeans carried none of the swagger that might be expected from a heavyweight in the Toronto arts scene.

But the New Brunswick native isn’t just into movie stars, he’s an accomplished playwright, author of several books, and a well-known art critic.

He said the world of celebrity is a new frontier for him, and it’s quite different from his literary and theatre roots.

“My practise has been more of an extension of my interests as an artist, and subsequently because of that, I’ve ended up writing primarily about art, and now, this very strange gig I have where I interview movie stars,” Vaughan said.

“That is a completely different world than any other world I’ve ever been in.”

Vaughan writes a weekly column for the Globe and Mail. He interviews a celebrity and writes about it. He said interviewing movie stars is a unique experience.

“So, it’s all about, you have seven minutes with this superstar because they have done the math on exactly how much box office they are going to get out of that seven minutes with you,” he said.

“They know precisely what you, as a journalist, are worth to them. It’s an exchange. You get a story, you get paid for your story, they get a certain amount of PR [public relations] that equals a certain amount of box office. It’s all formulized.”

For Vaughan, this transition into the world of Hollywood was a step into the unknown.

“It’s been really weird for me, it’s been a big learning curve, dealing with PR people I’ve never dealt with before. If you are interested in journalism you will inevitably going to contact PR people who are this weird hybrid of journalist and butler to celebrities.”

Vaughan said his interviews are usually very controlled. Film stars and their public relations employees want to manipulate the coverage in the media, so they come prepared.

There’s almost an art to interviewing Hollywood’s darlings.

“All these people come prepared with scripts. They’ve been given a mountain of rehearsed responses by their PR or by the studios. So, I’ve found that my job is to somehow unnerve them with some inappropriate question, and then get them off the script. And then once you get them off the script, even a little bit derailed, and then go, just go.”

Vaughan said he’s never been kicked out of an interview, but he’s come close. He said he’s still adjusting to the drastic move from the art world to the movie world of glitz and glamour.

“The art world is all about money and everyone pretends it isn’t. The movie world is all about money and everyone is quite upfront about it.


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