A couple weeks ago I was driving in my car and listening to NPR. I tend to listen to it a lot in the car, which probably means I should up my donation. Then again, I don’t drive too much.
Terry Gross was on Fresh Air, a program I often catch and usually enjoy. But this time was different. She was interviewing Jon Hamm, star of Mad Men.
First of all she could barely contain her excitement over him, as clearly the close quarters of the radio studio meant they were practically touching. There was a junior high quality to the lilt in her voice. I wondered how much he noticed it. I wanted him to have a personal assistant or manager close by to intervene if she suddenly chose to reach out and kiss him or stroke his dark locks or something. And what all made it worse were two things about the actual interview.
First of all, she wouldn’t shut up. She’d ask a question or bring up a topic and then expound on what she thought the answer was or what something meant. For a while it seemed like she didn’t want to hear what he had to say at all, and in fact she could’ve simply written an opinion piece. Early on she did about 90% of the talking. He’d finally throw in his answer, and I seem to recall that at least once he answered very differently than she had (for him.)
At this point I was wondering who this interviewer was, as she seemed so unprofessional, so unpolished and a bit amateurish. It was only at the end of the interview that it was announced that it was Ms. Gross.
But before learning that there were the inane questions we had to endure, which was the second thing about the interview that struck me. At one point they’re talking about Don Draper reaching a low, perhaps the lowest point of his ability to handle the partying. And she’s talking about it like it was shocking and difficult to witness.
“…everybody who has thought of Don Draper as this, you know…um, handsome guy and everything, we’re seeing the consequences of all of Don Draper’s actions play out, and I just wonder what it was like for you to shoot that scene?”
I’m sorry, what? That sounds like “But he’s so pretty, how can he throw up or be all dirty or down and out.” And really, what was it like? As if the actor would be emotionally overwrought at seeing the downfall of his character, or something? I didn’t get this question. I mean, the character’s on a journey and being challenged by all sorts of things. I would think it would be exciting to play such a part, and she sounded as if this downfall were such a burden. The real question was “Ms. Gross, what was it like to watch your hero become a puking drunk?”
For God’s sake, it’s called acting.
I digress. Being the pro he is, Hamm replied with something along the lines of it being an “exciting and cathartic and sad and wonderful scene to film.” I bet it was.
And then there was the exchange about his auditioning for the part.
Gross: “When you were doing the audition you had to portray a Don Draper confidence but because you hadn’t landed a really big role before, you were probably, as many actors are, insecure at the time of the audition. You were still a waiter weren’t you?”
Hamm: “oh yeah”
Gross: “Yeah, so, um, you probably didn’t have quite the confidence that you had to convey. Or, or, maybe you did, but I’m wondering how confidence came in to play during the audition.”
Hamm: “Well, you have to…um…as any actor you have to, and this is successful, unsuccessful, working, non-working…you have to portray a sense of confidence, and if you have to manufacture it, if you have to fake it, if you have to drum it up from somewhere in your subconscious…You have to do it. Uh, so, I was…and I had worked as an actor, and was on a television show and had a lot of experience, so I wasn’t coming in fresh off the turnip truck, so to speak. But auditioning is a terrifying process. And it’s a really, uh…uh, soul-crushing process sometimes….”
And again, it’s called “acting.”
I wonder how insecure and unconfident Terry Gross was before she ever was heard on a national radio show. I bet she was a down right wall-flower. And now she’s a confident radio professional with all the answers, and all the opinions to make her sound….conceited.
If she had moved on to questions about “How do you learn all those lines?” or “How do you keep from remaining in character at the end of a day?” I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised. Thankfully she didn’t. Nonetheless, I was more than surprised at the quality of the questions, and put off by both her star struck ga-ga and her enjoyment of hearing herself talk.
That’s probably a bit harsh and overly critical. I guess I just expect a level of quality from NPR higher than something like Access Hollywood or ET.
Don’t even get me started on the parasitic, ambulance-chancing, high drama of Entertainment Tonight? Did you see how their cameras chased down Catherine Zeta-Jones while the voice over talked about how distraught she was and how she wanted to be alone?