The Lilac Pilgrim – Yet Another Blog

Interviewers: Interviewing The Character

Posted on: April 16, 2011

For this post, I would love to be able to interview Pee-wee Herman. I’d love to interview Paul Reubens, too, but I don’t think their agents would let me, a casual blogger, so much as look at them sideways, never mind talk to them. Not sure how well Pee-wee/Paul would do with an internet chat, either. So guesswork will have to do here.

I’ve noticed something about interviews. I think I understand why some interviewers get different responses from the same interviewees. This is something I’m noticing a lot with those who interview characters as opposed to their actors. Pee-wee Herman is an excellent example of this.

Let’s call the interviewers Interviewer A and Interviewer B. Age isn’t important, other than that each interviewer is definitely an adult. It doesn’t even matter what gender they are or how they identify.

Interviewer A welcomes Pee-wee Herman to their show. A asks how he’s doing and explains why he’s on the show, they discuss Pee-wee’s latest project and what plans he may have for the future. In general, the interview is entertaining, the pair seem to play off each other well, and we may have learned something about the character.

Interviewer B welcomes Pee-wee to their show. B congratulates him on his latest project and starts asking about Paul Reubens. Pee-wee may not know how to answer. The interview lulls and might come out awkward and boring.

I think it’s very obvious where B went wrong. B asked the character, Pee-wee, about the man currently playing him. This might be all well and good if, say, the interviewer asked questions in the vein of “How is Reubens? Do you keep in touch? What’s happening with him? How does he feel about your success?” They never do.

Instead, it’s often more along the lines of “Can I talk to Paul for a second?” That’s a very awkward question to ask someone who is sitting right in front of you, to speak to their alter ego. Especially when, in his Pee-wee suit, Paul Reubens is Pee-wee. He is no longer Paul Reubens at that point. Asking for Paul to randomly awaken during the interview in some sort of bizarre dissociative identity disorder moment is literally asking for awkwardness. So either way, that’s what you’ll get.

Furthermore, that has to be massively frustrating for Reubens. He spent a long time trying to make Pee-wee distant from himself, so much so that people would believe – and did believe, so great is the power of suggestion – that Pee-wee was a completely different and real person. Their personalities are so different that for Reubens to switch back and forth between himself and Pee-wee during an interview (while he has proved that he can do it brilliantly well) would be exceptionally jarring.

Now, the problem with Interviewer B. Interviewer B is one of those who cannot separate the actor from the character, and therefore thinks that an interview with Pee-wee should be immediately interchangeable with an interview with Paul. They shouldn’t. Interviewer B not only makes this fault, but goes on to make the terrible mistake of not being able to play along. Interviewer B knows that Reubens is acting. Interviewer A knows that Reubens is acting. The difference between the two is that A will play along and react to the character as though they are a real person. This is how B should react.

But B is a grown-up. Grown-ups don’t play pretend any more. It’s this kind of interviewer, the serious type who wants to interview the actor and learn about everything behind the character, who gets a very bad interview when they are faced with the task of dealing directly with the stage persona. They forget that the character can still be treated like a person. They will still get a response – and often a very positive one – from that character if they ask the right questions. So why is this so hard for some interviewers to do?

I recall some time ago, when Avenue Q had just arrived in London. The cast appeared on television with their puppets, and therefore remained in character for the interviews. A reporter started asking the actress of Kate Monster a question, prompting the actress as Kate to point to her Muppet face and insist “Excuse me, I’m up here.” The audience laughed, but it set the tone for the rest of the interview – it was awkward and painful to watch and despite the actress’s best efforts to keep the interview comical and light, the ultimate sheepishness of the oh-so-serious reporter made it very hard to enjoy.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… lighten up. People are not going to look down on you for playing along and having some fun. You even get to be a bit creative with your questions. Since many reporters (I’m looking at you, Daily Mail) like to be creative with the end result anyway, I can only see this as being a plus.

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  • HoistTheColours: Dear author, I full-heartedly and absolutely agree with your above statements. I just thought I would let you know, since I don't quite understand w
  • richclark: I covered this in my blog too. Found your post on one of Wordpress' random (associated posts). Has Ask really made the impact it needed to from
  • The Lilac Pilgrim: I couldn't go anywhere without someone mentioning it. It was incredibly obvious and yet people were still arguing about it. Absolutely ridiculous.
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