One main problem with entertainment journalism that I’ve slowly realized: actors are the people we focus on the most, while other people in entertainment have more interesting things to say.
At a “Brothers & Sisters” panel last week, the moderator kept asking the actors questions like “does Tommy still love his wife,” to which Balthazar Getty, who plays Tommy, said, essentially, “Of course.” In many of the questions, she was asking for descriptions of the characters, which isn’t particularly interesting to me. It doesn’t feel like the response to such questions would be a response that only the actor could offer. A lay observer could have said that Tommy still loved his wife. An example of a perspective that only the actor can offer is when Rob Lowe said that people walk up to him and say “I wish we could field a candidate like McAllister,” his presidential candidate character (that, incidentally, was the only sentence Rob Lowe uttered the entire time, since there were about 17 people onstage). Generally, what the actors said paled in comparison to what the executive producer Greg Berlanti — who is involved in charting these characters’ lives — could tell us about how the people in the writers room shaped the show, and indeed, he had the most interesting things to say: for instance, talking about how they first set up that Uncle Sol had some sort of mystery to him but didn’t know what that was, and then were trying to figure out what that was, until one writer jokingly said “what if Sol is gay,” and that stuck, and then how they had to get approval for it from various people, including the actor and the network. Not the most fascinating story, but still probably more interesting than what Ron Rifkin, the actor who plays Sol, could offer (one interesting thing Rifkin did say was he’s almost 70, which was very surprising, since he looks ten years younger).
Similarly, at a “Friday Night Lights” panel at the Paley Festival, most of the questions were directed at executive producer Jason Katims — who was sitting next to the entire cast — because he had the most interesting things to say and he could answer the questions people were most curious to ask. The cast sort of sat there, not doing much. One of the more fascinating aspects was what the actors didn’t know — the actress who played Tyra, for instance, didn’t know what grade her character is in.
Granted, famous film celebrities are more interesting than less famous TV stars, but the attention they get is not commensurate with the perspective that they offer. We resort to talking about the same old topics: their choice of roles, their onscreen persona, their return to theater or TV or wherever they happen to be headed. But unless they have a juicy personal life (as explained in all these identical articles about Robert Downey, Jr.’s recovery and now starring role in “Iron Man,” for instance), it’s hard to make interview with an actor more interesting than an interview with the person who created the story the actor is telling.
Perhaps we need to figure out new questions to ask actors. For instance, I was talking to Angela Bassett for my article about Laurence Fishburne, and she mentioned that after playing Tina Turner, she brought part of that character into her real life, kind of like how after Fishburne played a flashy Othello with an earring, he brought some of that flash into his life. That’s the sort of under-explored angle that I’d be interesting in writing about and reading about.