It can be one of the most enjoyable assignments in journalism — interview movie stars! Or music artists, politicians, magicians, authors, dancers, mega-church pastors. Pick your favorite celebrity flavor.
But it’s often difficult to get famous people to grant you an interview. I spent 12 years pursuing CEOs of major corporations for interviews as a staff reporter, and I was a movie-industry secretary for several years, so I speak from experience on both sides of the fence here.
Here’s what I learned: To get household names to slot you an interview time, you have to be wily, creative, and unstoppable.
Here are my tips for landing celebrity interviews:
1. Start small
Major celebrities want to be interviewed by people with a track record of interviewing public figures. So if you’re interested in this niche, look for ways to get started.
If you’d like to interview Lady Gaga, start interviewing local singers in your town for the local daily or alternative paper. Into politics? Talk to your small-town mayor, or cover your city council for a local rag. If you swoon over actors, interview the star of your local theater production for a start.
Every town has local celebrities — the former Olympian or TV star from the ’60s who retired there. Find them.
It’s common these days for big celebrities to do group phone interviews, where hundreds of reporters might be on the line, taking turns asking questions. Don’t turn these offers down — go, listen, learn what the big outlets ask, and see if you can get in a question. Sure, it’s not an exclusive, but it’s a start at interacting with celebs.
Build up your celebrity-interview track record, so you can show clips that confirm you’re accurate and know how to get lively quotes from busy people.
2. Work your connections
Never assume you know no one who could give you an introduction to a celebrity. The way we’re all connected online these days, it’s six degrees of Kevin Bacon out there.
Remember, you may not need a connection directly to the celeb. An introduction to one of their handlers — manager, agent, publicist — might work just as well. Start by asking if anyone knows who manages your dreamboat (or Google it and see if you can find out). Getting a warm intro to one of the team could be all you need to get your interview idea a fair hearing.
3. Appeal to their interests
Do some research and learn about your celebrity. Do they have a pet charity they love to support? Did they found a charity of their own? Are they a born-again Christian? A Scientologist? A vegan? A motorcycle nut?
Think about publications that might want an interview with your target about that aspect of their life. Celebrities give many interviews, and they like variety. They get tired of being asked the same six questions about their upcoming film, and might love to talk about their new boyfriend, their customized Harley, their backyard organic garden…anything else.
Develop a focused angle for your interview that’s off the beaten trail and interest a magazine in it, and you might get a yes. A pitch like “I want to interview Joe Famous for X magazine” leaves the celebrity nervous about what you might ask.
4. Be where they are
One thing is as certain as the rising of the sun: Celebrities make personal appearances. They turn up at movie premieres and charity events and industry conclaves on a fairly regular basis.
Greta Garbo and J.D. Salinger are dead, and so is the concept of the reclusive celebrity. They all appear sooner or later, and they all want press.
Your job is to learn where they’ll be, and show up there. Yes, you might need to wangle a ticket to an event, or even buy one. But usually, there’ll be a media question time at these celebrity sightings, and you could get a chance to pop out a question or two.
Top celebrities often have multiple layers of protection around them, and it’s all designed to get rid of you. A hot actor may have both a manager and an agent, as well as a publicist and a personal assistant. You watched Entourage, right?
All of these people may need to confer and concur that your interview proposal is a good idea. That can take weeks.
Allow plenty of time. Often, you’ll have to gently follow up, over and over. Never, ever be angry with the team. That will kill your chances dead.
If you aren’t hearing a yes, don’t just sit on your hands waiting. Keep developing thoughts and ideas and questions…and send them over. Try a junior member of the PR staff and see if you can pick their brain for tips. Propose different angles. See what might make the penny drop.
With some celebs, this may be a dance that takes years to complete. Just keep working at it and developing relationships with celebrity PR people.
6. Use social media
Social media has become the great workaround for reaching celebrities with an impenetrable PR wall. Many celebrities are tweeting their little hearts out. You can stalk venture capitalists on LinkedIn — I did that more than once for one of my print business books. I also got one of the biggest interviews in that book by leaving a comment on one very famous company founder’s blog.
If you think a prominent figure won’t return your tweet, I’ll just say that I got every investor on the ABC series Shark Tank to talk to me for one feature article — and I connected with most of them on Twitter.
One thing I’ll note about that tweet on the right: My pitch there also uses tip #3.
What investor doesn’t want to brag about how smart they are, and how their picks did great? So I didn’t just tweet them — I had a question I knew they’d love to answer.
7. Dig dirt
There is one foolproof way to get a celebrity to talk — find out something scandalous about them that nobody else knows yet.
Comb court records for lawsuits. Interview their former housekeeper. Verify nasty rumors you hear.
This approach won’t be for everybody, but it’s the tabloids’ bread-and-butter. Everybody loves an exposé. Even better, if you find your own facts, then you’ve got a story about a celebrity you can do, even if they refuse to talk. But most often, they’ll jump at the chance to spin the negative news their way.
While it’s less common, you can also break stories and get celebs on the line by finding out something good that’s not common knowledge yet, too. That baby on the way, the hot new role they’ve landed — that works, too.
Which comes first
One of the big questions I get asked about celebrity interviews is who to ask first — the publication or the celebrity. The answer is the celebrity.
You don’t ever want to tell a magazine you can deliver a celebrity interview, only to have to come back later and say really, you had no contact with that person and they’re not returning your calls. That can really blow your credibility with that editor.
What you can do is explore with a magazine editor whether they’d be interested in an interview with Jill Rockstar about X topic. You’ll almost always get a ‘yes’ — and then you can take that to the celebrity’s people to show them their star won’t be wasting their time talking to you.
I once cold-called a celebrity magazine to ask if they were interested in a chat with a film star I knew I would be on-set with soon…and they about fell over themselves with excitement. They didn’t even ask to see my clips (which were nonexistent at that point).
If you’ve got access to a celebrity, it can open a lot of doors. It’s worth starting small and building up some celeb Q&A clips to show around.
Ever interviewed a celebrity? Leave a comment and tell us how you pulled it off.