Dec 23, 2010
THE YEAR IN INTERVIEWS
My best 'get' was Philip Roth, my interview with whom was suitably terrifying. Surprises included his voice, which turned out to be unexpectedly beautiful — rich, low and sandy, his career as a seducer of women instantly explicable. I was also struck by the speed with which the charm could vanish from his eyes: one minute twinkly and avuncular, the next beady and blackly unimpressed, behind them that brain ticking over, taking you in, taking notes. I was all too aware that he could write me better than I could write him. Even in conversation, I felt like I was in his medium. The one who sang loudest for his supper was Jeff Bridges, whom I caught during the tail end of last year's Oscar campaign and turned out to be one of the most physically affectionate men I've ever met: leaning in, sharing a joke, touching my knee, then my elbow, acting out his stories with gusto. That's my overriding impression: a sand-washed version of a movie star and a big, warm bear-hug of a man. Ben Stiller radiated the matte blandness of many off-duty comedians, the wildness of his act having bled him of lesser extremities, his conversation leached of all judgment, positive, negative, or otherwise. Finding himself in a sentence that would require him to pass judgment on someone or thing, he would stop, back up and start again. I liked him, though, or maybe I just felt his pain: a sensitive, intelligent, talented person negotiating the honeytrap of fame. My least favorite interviewee was probably Bret Easton Ellis who managed to be both dizzyingly defensive and heartbreakingly lost in space. Nothing came out of his mouth that wasn't an outright lie, or something said just to fuck with my head, or contradict something I'd said for the sheer hell of it. He spends so much time doubling back on what he thinks your impression of him is, he almost ends up agreeing with himself. I've never met anyone with less sense of who they are — he's completely lost in there. Isabella Rossellini was graciousness personified, happy to talk about just about anything — Scorsese's near overdose, her mother's naivety, Lynch's inner contentedness — in that blithe, leathery way of survivors that renders them a little opaque, even to themselves. I sensed naivety and sharp elbows. Someone who knows exactly who she is, almost to a fault, was Emily Blunt, a foghorn blast of unpretentious gaity of the kind John Betjeman used to fall in love with — all those doctor's daughters from Aldershot, sun-kissed in tennis whites, swiping at the rhodendruns with their rackets (“lucky rhododedruns"). So English I got homesick. I was also very taken with Kirsten Dunst, a thrift-store sphinx and white-liar extraordinaire, not letting on about a hundred and one things, but very charming about it. Rachel Weisz razzed me pretty good with some x-rated conversation about mathematicians and masturbation — very Weisz — but her Cambridge undergrad, Jolly-Hockeysticks persona still shines through loud and clear, enough to make me wonder anew about Black Swan. Sam Rockwell seemed a little befuddled that I wanted to interview him — a sweet, sweet man, with a surfer's courtesy and a rich internal landscape, with a raised-by-wolves quality that may have been amped up a little for my benefit: he drank his soup direct from the bowl. He had a little-brotherish devotion to his friend Jeremy Renner whom I met later in the year and understood instantly what Rockwell meant: a true alpha dog, Renner is the kind of man who, if he were English, would be streaking up a soccer pitch having just buried a cheeky goal in the back of the net — but so devoid of interest in the process of being interviewed as to be a little heartbreaking. You want to catch him off-duty, I think — I sensed riots, just tucked out of sight. The Coens were much more approachable than billed: Ethan the more combative, emotional one of the two, Joel the cooler, more laconic one who looks like he should be playing bass for Patti Smith. They speak in half-sentences even when the other one isn't finishing up. I couldn't get a handle on Jake Gyllenhaal at all: so smooth he seemed to slide right by. The same applied for for James Franco, although for different reasons. He had all the hallmarks of an egomaniac except the need to be flattered; I sensed a refreshingly untortured capacity to be happy. A cat in sunlight. My favorite interviewee of the year, though, has to be Mark Ruffalo, for all the reasons that are hardest to convey on the page — humility, honesty, sense of humor, all round good eggishness — but which make the life so much more endurable the further into it one pushes.