By Frankie O
One constant when I travel is my inability to get a good nights sleep. As much fun as it is to go somewhere new, nighttime is the only drawback. Add this to the anxiety of having to do something that every person I know is going to watch and my morning caffeine is needed more than usual, if thats possible. People always ask if doing a junket is fun and my response is, of course, but my fun starts as soon as the review airs. Its like preparing for a major exam, taking it and waiting for grade. Ill never forget the first one and the mood in the room as it changed before everyone got their chance to interview Will Ferrell. The money shot. The reason for being there. If trained professionals are feeling the pressure I guess I should, too.
It was at this time that I wanted to vomit as I felt the enormity of the situation I was about to encounter. I felt like I was being taken to the chair as I was led to the room where he, Im sure, anxiously awaited my grand entrance. The room, and my head, was spinning as I was introduced and led to my seat across from the big fella.
My first reaction as he was sizing me up was, Holy Mackerel! Thats Wilf! (well it least it was something similar to that! But I couldnt help but give a gratuitous shout-out to my favorite seafood restaurant). As we waited to start, still quizzically looking at me, he asked, What are you doing here?
My response was that times were tough and I needed a second job and someone told me by doing this I would sometimes get to meet interesting people and enjoy an unlimited buffet in the green room. His laughter in response was all I needed to forget about everything going on around me and hopefully not embarrass myself (to judge, go to Harrycarays.com and click on to my Talladega Nights review). He helped me realize that all we were doing was having a conversation. That this conversation was with someone I have never met shouldnt matter, since its something I do every day, repeatedly at my other job. That thought process is the important part of slowing things down. In any job, thats always the key to doing it well. Admittedly, its still moving pretty fast, but Im almost to the point where I can think about breakfast, almost.
Riding to the stadium was like going to play a game. It was a little less boisterous than the rides to and from the movie as folks were getting their thoughts together, asking each other questions to make sure they had their facts straight. Of course that didnt stop a few of the guys from chiding me about the Eagles gag job the night before (who knew that would be a recurring theme? Ha-ha).
Once at the stadium, it was hurry up and wait, and wait and wait. This was no way to enjoy a Diet Dew high. Some of it was my own fault since I took an earlier shuttle than I needed to since there was no way I was going to be late and I figured at least the scenery would be better than inside my room. Theres something about a ballpark. Any ballpark. Im sure its seen better days, but you could have fooled me. Under a clear blue sky, while lacking the charisma of Wrigley, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum looked as inviting as any park Ive ever been in. I know its 8:30 a.m., but I wouldnt have objected to a beer and a dog if a game had started.
Anyway, I was hoping to find out what order we were going to do our interviews. While I was guessing I would get the big boys last -- little did I know how true that would be -- you never know. In a way, you just want to get it done, but there is something to doing a couple and getting adjusted before you do the one that really counts. Not that I have ever discounted any that I have ever done, but I know the realities of a two-and-a-half minute piece are that some of these will never see the light of day. Although this time with a companion piece on the effects of Moneyball in Chicago, if I could get more good sound, it could find its way on air.
Sure enough a little after 10 a.m., I got the call to get in line for Michael Lewis. It was time to meet my late-night travel companion! While I didnt ask how much time I had, I figured I would have more than enough (a long time ago, my TV sensei had given me the timeless advice -- get it? -- of asking questions until they told me to stop. That was when they had limited-size tapes, so I often heard, The tapes done," as I was still having a conversation. Oh well, I just keep throwing them against the wall until I get TV gold!
Now, with the new discs they use, my feeling is that I can squeeze in a little extra (or at least I try). The big stars are on a strictly measured time count, usually three minutes, while with, no offense, the others, it is usually between four and five. This can seem painfully long or very short.
With Lewis it flew by. I could have talked to him all day. With his eye for detail and the amount of research he did, Im sure he could have told me stories easily for that long. I thought it went great, although there was one curious note: When I explained to him that he was riding home with me from work every night while I listened to the audio version of the book, he asked, Did I read it, or was it an actor? Um, pretty sure it was you dude, it said read by author on the cover, and I can recognize your voice anywhere by now. Really, he replied. That was strange but I had no time to dwell.
After another half-hour, it was time for Chris Pratt and Scott Hatteberg. Again, for me, doubles are sometimes awkward, especially when you really want to talk to one more than another. Then there is the dreaded run-on, if they start a conversation between themselves in response to a question. Or say, youre being nice and the wrong guy takes all of your time!
For the movie INVICTUS, there was only one interview for us sports types, but it included Matt Damon. Depending on your point of view, the goodbad part was that it was a double with the man he portrayed in the movie, Francios Pienaar. Now Pienaar is interesting in his own right, but he was sitting next to MATT DAMON and I only have three minutes! Before I went in, I was warned, repeatedly, not to ask Pienaar a question or he would take up all of my time. Honestly? With him sitting this close, dont ask one? That felt rude.
My plan was open with a movie question to Damon, then time permitting, follow Damon with a funny baseball observation, then give Francios the leftovers. Well, when Damon gave a good, but quick answer and kind of looked over at Pienaar, I took the bait and asked him a question that would give me just enough time to sneak in my funny at the end. Everybodys happy, right?
Hes probably still talking, that tape-eater! It was no consolation that when I did ask Damon my question on the way out, that he laughed and broke out into that world-famous smile, in fact, it only made it worse. No such problems this time, as I had what felt like 10 minutes and was able to go back and forth, between them, and still had time for my funny at the end. Too bad its on the cutting room floor! Thats showbiz! Whatever! It was still fun to talk to them and at least Hatteberg made the second piece, which Im sure, if he knew, would be a big thrill!
The good part, for me, was that as soon as I was done with the guys, I was told to get in line for Jonah Hill. Cool. With just the big guns after that, I could be done by lunch, which looked outstanding by the way. The BeanePitt combo had been running a little behind, but, again, that was to be expected, and again, who cares as long as I get to talk to them? My time is their time, as long as I make my flight! And since I had moved that flight to a later time, that, hopefully, shouldnt be an issue.
Interestingly, in my preparation, I always seemed to have writers block for my approach with Jonah. Hes a funny guy, but hes a subtle funny. I wanted him to be funny. I needed him to be funny. Then I saw a clip of him on the internet where he talked about the pranks that Pitt had played on him on the set. One in particular was hilarious and I was telling people at the bar about it and it got a laugh every time. If I could get him to tell that story to me.
Sometimes in life, its probably better if you dont overthink stuff, or have a preconceived notion. As I was waiting after the Lewis interview in the lounge that they had created for us, I overheard several people talking about their Hill experience and lets just say it wasnt what they had hoped. No problem, Ive got a solid approach, he should work for me.
When it was my turn and I sat next to him it was startling to see how much weight he had lost. Wow. He didnt even look like the person who was in the movie. In fact, he lost half a person! I thought he looked like a slightly larger version of Toby McGuire. Thats a compliment. The production crew was having a slight problem with the audio, so we had a few minutes. This could be good, I thought. But with every one-word answer to my small-talk questions, I started to feel very awkward. So anything that did not happen, Ill take the blame.
Overweight, red-bow-tie wearing bartenders are an acquired taste. Actually as I looked back over the transcripts of what we said to each other, it didnt seem as bad as I had felt it was. In fact his description of the story of the movie was very eloquent and was used in the review.
Still, for me, I wanted some funny and just could not get any. Im reminded of the many stories over the years that folks have shared with me at the bar about random encounters that they have had with funny stars and to their dismay, they didnt find that person to be very funny. My response has always been that maybe the star wasnt having a very good day or maybe they should ratchet-down the expectations. No one is funny all of the time. Trust me, I know. So as I tried to get the story out of Jonah, and failed miserably, I just had to laugh. Not the good type of laugh mind you, but at least I got one from him and Ill always have that.
Besides, it was time to move on to my reason for being here, the person that everyone has asked me about before and since. No pressure right? For some reason I had a good feeling about this one. I had caught a couple of glimpses of Mr. Pitt as he made the rounds and he seemed very natural and at ease (why shouldnt he?).
Tune in next week to find out how that went. For now, Ill leave you with this: The next day, as I was sorting everything out and telling folks at the bar about my experiences, Jonah Hill was on Letterman and from all accounts, he absolutely killed. Especially with the story of a particular prank that Pitt had played on him while they were filming Moneyball.
Like I said, you have to laugh.