Posts tagged Reba Merrill

Jennifer Aniston’s Gift

Jennifer Aniston

How many times have you received a beautifully wrapped gift only to be disappointed by it’s contents? In Hollywood most of the stars I interview are always perfectly wrapped with their hair, makeup and outfits, but what was underneath did not always match the surface. The first time I interviewed Jennifer Aniston I expected little more than a beautiful woman with flat answers, that’s what I thought I would get. I was on a press junket,  55 journalists asking questions about the same movie.  I met Jennifer Aniston in 1997 for the film Picture Perfect. I had been doing press junket interviews for 5 years and usually I got interesting answers but with little warmth behind them as most of the stars only wanted to “get it over with.” Along came Jennifer…she was breathtaking, a  beautiful woman who made me feel welcome when she said, “how nice to meet you,” (I usually got hello or nothing at all). I did not expect her to be so nice to me off camera. Her lack of pretension made me aware that I could ask her anything, even about her private life, which is a no-no on junket interviews as it could have been the end of my career if a star had complained to the studio. Her willingness to be an open book to me made me look good as an interviewer. She did that for me not only once, but every time we worked together. She was willing to talk about how she dealt with the tabloids and how she would not let the negative comments get her down, which did hurt her. She also told me that there seems to be a lot of people with free time and nothing to do but spread rumors because she was a great target. Her way to stay grounded was by staying close with her amazing friends. When it came to her career she was offered lots of romantic comedies, after all, she was Rachel Greene from Friends. But what she wanted was to play out of her comfort zone which she finally did in the film The Good Girl. Now she knew she could deliver even when she was scared.

The last time I interviewed her was for the film Derailed, 2005, where infidelity was the running theme in the movie and after the nicest welcome ever I waited till near the end of my timeslot to ask her about it. Her private life was all over the tabloids and the studio was afraid I would upset her. I asked her if this film could do a lot to make people aware of the dangers of infidelity. Watch the interview to see her brilliant and open response.

Jennifer Aniston and Reba Merrill

Last week I went to a party and screening for her latest film Cake, this role might give her an Oscar nomination so the mood was very upbeat, though her character is addicted to prescription medications. Surrounded by well-wishers I managed to get a chance to talk to her so I could thank her for making me look good in all the interviews we did together and let her know that her answer to infidelity was heard around the world. She asked if she could see the interview and of course I said yes and I asked for a picture and she said if she did one for me then everyone who had asked would be unhappy and, of course, I understood. At the end of the party she came up to me and said “let’s take a picture,” and we did.

Jennifer is having a truly amazing life and career. She has two films out this season, the wildly funny Horrible Bosses 2 (Now Playing) and the oscar-buzz drama Cake (January). Sometimes life gives you gifts. In my case, every time I got to sit down with Jennifer Aniston, she was a gift. I look forward to Oscar Nominations January 15th, and I hope to see Jennifer’s name as she is a supremely talented actress, a wonderful human being and…a GIFT!

Waiting for Whitney

Whitney pic

It seems to me I had been waiting for Whitney Houston for quite a while. I was to interview her for the film Waiting to Exhale and she did not show up, not only for me, but for any of the international interviews.

I had seen her interview with Diane Sawyer where Whitney made it clear that she was not on crack. I had watched, sadly, as she shrunk right before our eyes during TV appearances so when I did the interview I did not know what to expect and possibly, I knew, she might even lie to me.

I did get to sit down with Whitney for the film The Preacher’s Wife, co-starring Denzel Washington. I was not surprised when I got a call in my New York hotel room that my interview time had been changed from tomorrow to “can you get here fast?”. My interviews played in over 60 countries and it seemed like the studio felt that she was going to bail and unfortunately, she did. In fact, my interview was the only one done for the international marketplace as she was a no show the next day for international press.

My first question was “How has success changed you?” She told me “Success doesn’t change you- fame does. You’ve got a whole world of people calling your name and you really don’t know them.” This really gave me some insight and compassion into the woman, who in my mind, just kept standing me up. Whitney was looking very beautifully put together and composed when we sat down together, which was four years after she made The Bodyguard co-starring Kevin Costner. I said to her “I think you live a life that is a fairytale, but I bet you have down days just like everybody. How do you deal with them?” She answered, “There is a misconception that when we become famous, we live these beautiful, perfect lives and that nothing is on a low. It is a bad conception, because then people think you have to be this grand old person who is just happy about life and everything because we have money. Money doesn’t make you happy. It never did. History will tell you that. And fame certainly doesn’t make you happy. People will tell you that who are famous.”

After her 1992 marriage to Bobby Brown, Whitney descended into a very public battle with substance abuse, which could have led to her untimely death. I was half a world away in Hong Kong when I heard about her death and it brought about memories of my own addiction and how careful I have to be before I could get pulled back in, because once an addict always an addict. At the end of Whitney’s funeral, when her casket was being carried out of the church, her voice could be heard singing “I Will Always Love You” the best-selling single by a female artist in music history.

Hollywood is filled with stories where beauty and talent don’t always lead to a happy ending. Whitney Houston “had it all” and she was the only one who didn’t know it. I guess she also was waiting to find that out that she did have it all: adoring fans, a loving family and a voice that belonged to an angel. Whitney Houston was a gift to this world. She is and, I feel, will always be loved and missed.

Who is Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix has been in and out of my life for many years.The first time I sat down with him, Phoenix was an unknown actor and it was for the film Inventing the Abbots. I found him pleasant, cordial and handsome. I figured that would be the case in the future, but I was so wrong. He is very comfortable playing conflicted, insecure characters with a dark side and I wonder if some of his characters took over moments in his life when he wasn’t looking. I never knew when I would be given an interviewing assignment so every time I sat down with him it was like starting over again, as these jobs were on press junkets, I was one of fifty journalists who was there to ask questions and I didn’t expect him to know who I was and even care. I expected him to act. Let’s face it, he is an actor, glad to be there promoting his latest film. Each interview got harder and harder and I really tried to make him feel comfortable so we could have a conversation which was my style of interviewing. Things happen when you least expect it so I was really unprepared to run into him at the Cannes Film Festival when I went to interview James Grey, the director of the film The Yards, in which Joaquin was the star. Here he was hanging out at the interview site even tho he did not have do any interviews. While my TV crew was setting up for Grey’s interview I said to Joaquin how much I enjoyed his performance and the film. He said to me “would you tell my mother over there that”, and I said “ok”, which I did. So when I was given the film Ladder 49, little did I know that my brief meeting in Cannes would come in handy. I arrived at the press junket to be told by the studio executive that I could fail, as no one was getting an interview with Joaquin longer than 2 minutes and all he would say was yes and no because one of the stupid journalists who went before me asked him about his brother dying on Sunset Blvd. The journalist asked whether he called 911 like the characters in this film did and he went ballistic, which I didn’t blame him for, as that was an inappropriate question to ask. By the way if I did not get a usable interview I would not get payed. So I entered the interview suite knowing what to expect, failure. I walked in threw my arms in the air and said in movie star affected voice “Hello, you don’t remember me, I saw you at Cannes and told your mother how great you were in The Yards”, and then…silence. I started the interview and he talked in fact he talked for 16 minutes and when it was over he turned to the camera man behind him and said, ”Did I just do that”. He did and I never told the studio how I got him to talk… just a little mother love. That was the last time I interviewed him and to tell the truth I miss his off centered approach to promoting his films as he made me work hard to get an interview worth listening too. But he was always worth the effort!

Gone Ben Gone

The first time I interviewed Ben Affleck was for his first blockbuster film Armageddon in 1998. A film that received mixed critical reviews, but became a box office success anyway. I looked at him and saw a young and sexy Paul Newman. He had charm and charisma , and Ben was clearly bound for stardom. Before I got to meet him, he wanted to leave the press junket, as the star of the film, Bruce Willis, had already left and he felt he could do the same. My interview, which was scheduled for the end of the day, had not taken place and it was important to the studio as it would play in over 60 countries. By now every studio knew that most of the money was coming from the international marketplace. I watched as the studio executive that was responsible for me and the interview begged on her hands and knees for Ben to give me five minutes and he did. In fact, when I entered his interview suite I was hyperventilating thinking that I was going to fail, but he turned on the charm and said: “Take a deep breath and stay as long a you like.” This was the beginning of my admiration and respect for this young actor, and I have since been happy to watch his career soar. Even with the ups and downs of his private life, I knew that nothing was going to stop him from major stardom.

The next time we met was on the set of another big action film, when he was doing pick up shots … no dialogue, just close ups for the big action scenes, before the film wrapped. By now, he was a big player in the film industry. I could feel the change in him. He called the shots, deciding when he would do the interview. As the second, and last day of shooting came to a close, I had done nothing but my needlepoint, while I got paid for sitting. With the request from the president of production, he agreed to do the interview. He was great and made me feel that I was the most important person he wanted to talk to. We talked for more than half an hour. He told me what being an actor had done for him, not only traveling the world and meeting people whom otherwise he would never have had a chance to meet but also a chance to give back.

Success in Hollywood brings financial rewards. With Ben’s career on the fast track, it gave him a chance to give back by co-founding the Eastern Congo Initiative, which supports a community-based approach to creating a successful society in eastern Congo. He is also involved with two charities, one which supports paralyzed veterans of America and the second, Operation Gratitude, which puts together care packages for overseas troops.

Ben shared his goals with me, both personal and professional. He is comfortable with his career, winning his second Oscar for the film Argo. Better than the Oscar, is his private life, with the successful marriage to Jennifer Garner and three children.

A lot of time has passed since that first interview and Ben, like a fine wine, has gotten better with age. Not only his looks, but his creative drive to write, direct and act. Ben Affleck has charisma and top-notch talent- I am glad I met him early in his career, as I was able to sense who he was and what he was to become.

A Taste of Lemmon

My first job for my new company was given to me by Michelle Reese, V.P. Universal Pictures in 1984. Before landing the job I had spent nearly two years knocking on doors trying to prove that my movie star interviews would play on a lot of stations as it had not been done before.

I was so lucky that she gave me Jack Lemmon to interview for the film Mass Appeal. I could not believe that he would share so many personal stories with me. Not only did he let me photograph his baby book, he also revealed to me that he knew that he wanted to be an actor from 9 years old, After he graduated from Harvard he went to New York and started getting very small parts doing live TV. After doing over 100 television shows he went to Hollywood and, as they say, the rest is history. He was nominated for an Oscar for The Days of Wine and Roses and for Save the Tiger, with the latter winning him an Academy Award. He reminisced about his role in Save The Tiger which touched him deeply and made him aware of his own behavior at home. His character had a drinking problem, which was how he dealt with unhappiness. Jack realized that the character was very close to himself, in fact there were moments when he felt that the character had taken over his life. Jack said: “I still like to drink and when I have too much I take it out on the walls and doors of my house.” He went on to say: “I never hit anybody.” Although Jack Lemmon went public with his drinking in the 1960’s, it wasn’t until three decades later that he revealed that he was a recovering alcoholic. I never showed that video with his personal stories to anyone. It’s interesting that his best Oscar nominated performances were for playing characters that were alcoholics.

At the conclusion of the interview he said some wonderful things to me and I said to Jack: “Do you really mean what you are saying?” He replied: “Yes.” I asked if he would put it in writing and he did. After his note arrived, I called his office and asked if I could show it to the studios, the answer was “Yes.”

jack lemon letter-page-001

I saw Jack one more time in 1996. when I was doing publicity for the film Getting Away With Murder. I told him that his letter changed my life as it put my career on the fast track. Jack Lemmon was a most charming man who gave so much of himself to others, like me who was just an unknown interviewer. Thank you Jack Lemmon! I am so glad you came into my life, even though it was only for that one day at the very beginning of my Hollywood career…you are a true Hollywood Gem!

Diane Keaton: Ageless

What I remember most about my first interview with Diane Keaton is that the executive that hired me was smiling as she got what she was looking for after two other interviewers had failed. I am grateful for not being told it might be tough, because it wasn’t- she was a joy!

I started the interview about her childhood, as it was one of my favorite ice breaking questions. Diane told me that she knew she wanted to perform at about the age of five and both of her parents “were very encouraging to me, always….My father in particular was really thrilled when I would be on stage.That was very rewarding when Daddy likes you,” she said as she laughed. Diane began her career on stage in the original Broadway production Hair. She gained some notoriety for her refusal to disrobe at the end of act one even if it meant not receiving the $50 bonus for appearing nude. I really don’t know how she kept her career going when she admitted that she got very nervous trying out for a role. “I was not very good at auditioning…I think you have elements of all the people you play somewhere in you, they are always lurking about,” which is what she used in the early days. Thanks to lover at the time, Woody Allen, who wrote and directed Annie Hall she never had to audition again. The Oscar she won for the role cemented her career. A little trivia, Hall is her last name and Annie her nickname. She changed her last name to her mother’s maiden name as there was already Diane Hall in the actors union. I never asked her about her famous lovers,Warren Beatty and Al Pacino, all of which are still her friends today, but they were really good to her by getting her roles in some really great films. However, she did say that if she hadn’t had a successful career, “I don’t know what my life would have been like. I can only imagine that I would have been a miserable, unhappy person, an undeveloped, ignorant woman who was driving some guy nuts because I was so emotional.” What I always asked near the end of an interview is the question “Is fame every thing you thought it would be ?” and she replied “NO, no, no. It couldn’t be what you think it is. It is ridiculous. Fame is much more interesting and complicated…but ultimately I really feel if you can survive fame and kind of have your feet on the ground, still, then you’ve done something pretty good. Because I don’t think it’s easy.” I went on to interview her a few more times and she never seem to age as her mind was quick her body oh so slender and her spirit filled with love even for the journalists like me who always wanted more.This wonderful, ageless woman will be acting forever and aren’t we lucky?!

Nearly Famous: Secrets, Lies & Addiction

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