What I learned from interviewing a celebrity

Read time: 3 min.

Advice for journalists and writers I learned from interviewing actor Rudy Pankow.

This summer, I had the opportunity to work at a magazine called Local Life on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (if you’re reading this, I miss you all).

Outer Banks, the Netflix hit show (click here for some background info if you have no idea what I’m talking about), came out a couple months before my internship. It was filmed in South Carolina, so I received an assignment to write a story about the tie between the show and where our magazine was located.

The editor said I could take it any direction I wanted, including interviewing an actor. As big as the show is, it seemed impossible to land an interview with one of them. Still, I decided to go on a quest to track them down.

Against all odds, Rudy Pankow (aka JJ) said yes. Needless to say, I learned a lot from the experience.

Here are 3 essentials for any interview:

© Provided by Netflix

1. Persistence

Getting the interview was a long shot. A very long shot. I felt like a crazy woman, sending an email to ask someone with over 3 million Instagram followers if they would take the time to talk to an intern at a magazine that goes to about 30,000 people.

Rudy’s publicist asked if he would be on the cover, and the answer was no. She asked if he was the first actor we reached out to. Again, no. Then, I accidentally advertised the fact that an intern was going to be doing the writing and interviewing. Three strikes, right?

But then, he said yes.

Never be afraid to ask. You might not get the answer you’re looking for. Then again, you just might get it. If you don’t ask, it’s guaranteed you won’t get a yes. I received a no from the publicists of several other actors, but that didn’t stop me from asking again. All it took was one yes.

Ask. Ask twice. Ask three times.

I’m pretty sure being annoying when it comes to getting interviews is part of the job description for journalists. You can be a little annoying, but be respectful. You’re not entitled to an interview with anyone, but you are always allowed to ask.

2. Preparation

When writing questions for interviews, don’t be skimpy. Write down every question you can think of. I don’t care if “What’s your favorite vegetable?” is the question that comes to mind — write it down. After you finish your master list of questions, refine it to 10 or 15 of the best ones.

List them in order of the most important ones to cover. I’ll explain how to figure out which questions those are in a bit.

Bring the master list with every dumb question you could think of into the interview, too.

My fellow intern (shoutout to Megan who was my copilot in the interview and also did an amazing job illustrating and designing the article) and I ended up getting more time in the interview than we planned for, so we almost ran out of questions. If you ever get extra interview time with a celebrity and run out of questions, grab onto every last second and just ask something. However, coming prepared with plenty of extra questions is always helpful.

On top of that, don’t make assumptions. Be very clear about the time and location of your interview.

In this case, I knew Rudy would be in a different time zone than us, so I asked about his time zone. As it turned out, when Rudy’s publicist told me the time of the interview, she told me the time in my time zone. I assumed she would realize that’s why I asked about the time zone and clarify, but I was wrong. We got on the phone a little later than planned due to this mix up. Thankfully, he was understanding and it turned out okay.

© Provided by Netflix

3. The golden question

The golden question is the question that unlocks the person you’re interviewing. Let me explain.

In the interview, my thinking was that we would take care of business first. So, first on my list were questions about the location where they filmed. This part of the interview felt a little stiff and didn’t flow.

Near the end, I got curious about what an actor must do to prepare for an audition after Rudy said something about auditioning. I went off the question list and asked him about it. He lit up and started explaining the ins and outs of acting — stuff I wouldn’t have even known to ask about. Acting is his expertise. He loved talking about it.

The questions following this one flowed naturally. I realized I should have started with this question, because it put him at ease. Rudy was comfortable and confident talking about acting.

Find whatever it is the person you’re interviewing loves to talk about, and ask them that first.

If they feel confident answering the first question, they’re going to feel more confident talking about things they don’t know as much about later on and the whole interview will run much more smoothly.

Try to figure out what the golden question might be beforehand. If you’re not sure, start the interview with some easier questions and look for rabbit trails. The rabbit trails will usually lead you to the golden question. After that, it’s all about asking follow up questions.

Illustration by Megan Goheen

To read the full Rudy Pankow article, click here.

Know any journalists or writers who need interview advice? Share these!

Life on Island Time: Learning How to Rest in a Busy World

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Wearing my favorite red rain coat and taking in the scenery you would definitely see in a Nicholas Sparks movie.

“You slept in ’til two,” he said, “and you’re at the BEACH?”

This was the reprimand I received from my friend when I finally arose from my slumber and made my way to the shore. He had a point, but I was not about to spend my trip totally wiped out after the long drive there.

About 100 of us from a college ministry I was involved in had loaded up on charter buses, pulling all-nighters in our seats which grew more uncomfortable by the hour. We didn’t care. We were on our way to a carefree week of equal parts sleeping and shenanigans. A 14 hour drive was worth every agonizing minute for that first view of the ocean, wild and free.

But first, I had to get some rest.

In our go-go-go lifestyles, slowing down seems counterproductive. Sleeping in way too late while at the beach? Sounds ridiculous.

This is the attitude that carries from spring break into our everyday lives. We want to accomplish so much with our lives that we fill our Google calendars with endless tasks to accomplish each day. We keep going and going until we burn out. We have good intentions, but we miss out on the strength a simple day of rest here and there can bring to all our pursuits.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, was one place I learned to rest.

img_3703Days pass by more slowly on the island. Softened sunlight on the white sand shores melts into a sunset each evening. Mild air whips around you as you race to your next destination on the bike paths that run all over the island. There are no calendars or alarms to govern the days which pass by at a rate even the gators lazing by the pond could keep up with, and everyone likes it like that.

Little shops and restaurants around the island have a tropical Southern charm. My favorite restaurant was Giuseppi’s, a local pizza place with lots of soup and salad options, too. For nights out, Poseidon is a great restaurant. There’s even a rooftop bar with live music. Kilwin’s is a chain, but it’s one of the best chocolate stores around and a great place to get your ice cream fix.

img_4495Visiting the beach is the main attraction on the island, of course. The water is a deep blue. The shore is perfect for building sandcastles and playing catch. The sand closest to the water is packed down enough to ride your bike across the shore.

img_4536It only takes a few steps away from the beach to immerse yourself in the flora and fauna similar to a tropical forest. Am I in South Carolina or somewhere near the Amazon River? Tough to say. The greenery makes a great backdrop for photos.

For the full experience of a local, renting a beach house is ideal. The quaint beach house neighborhood we stayed in probably wasn’t too thrilled to see buses full of college students in every shade of Comfort Colors shirts roll up. Hopefully, we restored their hope in the upcoming generation (other than a few pranks we pulled on each other that may or may not have happened, but you didn’t hear it from me).

I got to stay in one of the fanciest houses and I couldn’t complain. All the houses were nice, but this one was a cut above.

img_3730I spotted this house on a bike ride and fell in love with the charming shaker shingles and teal accents. It was my favorite one in the whole neighborhood. I had to take some pictures in front of it.

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Here I am, trying to be trendy in my overalls and Chacos.

Biking is the preferred method of transportation on the island. Whatever you do, do not rent a car.

A bike is cheaper and way more fun, whether gliding through the neighborhood streets or trekking into town. Bonus points if you put a speaker in the basket to play The Beach Boys. We rented our bikes from Hilton Head Bicycle Co.

Traveling by bike sets a slow pace. This is just what you want for a week of rest.

Whenever our whole group gathered at one house for a game night or worship night, the driveway would overflow with around 100 bikes. I loved the feeling of community this brought. 100 different people with 100 different backgrounds and perspectives, but some bikes and a beach house were all it took to unite us.

We’d get competitive together over card games, sing together to worship, and laugh together over a houseful of chatter. The nights when we filled every last space in one glowing house were my favorites.

img_4384Community is something that helps me find rest. Knowing I have a home team to go to when everything is falling apart or when everything is coming together sets me at ease. God calls us to live in community and it’s so easy to see why.

I’ve gone through long stretches without a tangible community. Getting involved in one can sometimes take a lot of work and even feel impossible.

When you’re crammed in a house with 100 bikes outside and dying laughing with your best friends, you know the work is worth it.

img_4410The whole trip may sound a little boring to the more adventurous of us, but boring is something I can’t get enough of.

Boring days can be the best days. Boring days allow me to move at my own pace. There is time to think and dream, time to really sit down and listen to family and friends, and time to talk to God.

We often trade these things for fast-paced activities that don’t require patience. Patience is something there doesn’t seem to be a lot of in our society. We want to communicate with two sentence text messages and get our news in 30 second video clips. We like our food fast. We want what we want and we want it now.

We also want constant stimulation. If there should, heaven forbid, ever be an unscheduled moment to sit and wait, we pull out our phones for instant entertainment. We fill our schedules from morning to night. We rush from one activity to the next.

It’s no wonder we put rest on the back-burner.

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Looking back, this pose was a little much.

Sarah Young said, “Hurry keeps the heart earthbound.”

It’s only when we slow down and breathe that we have a chance to lift our eyes to God and think about how He sees it all. He is outside of time, in control of it. Time is not a worry for Him. He knows the perfect time for everything and He is not in a hurry.

Staying focused on eternity with Him helps us stop worrying about the time and, as a result, we are able to make the time we do have count. It keeps us thinking about the big picture and all the things that truly matter at the end of the day.

So, go ahead and let yourself slow down on your days off. Try to experience the world by bike. Schedule some time to do nothing.

Visit an island like Hilton Head if you need to, and don’t be afraid to sleep until two.