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Film

Rob Marshall on directing Nine

The Times December 19, 2009
– Ginny Dougary

From steel town to golden boy of musical glitz with Nine, Marshall is the director of the moment

It was a bit anxious-making when the director Rob Marshall introduced the London audience to the world premiere of his star-studded musical, Nine. He did look appealing enough, resembling a thicker-set Tom Cruise, and he spoke mellifluously (as befits a former actor). But there was way too much lurve flowing for comfort … from “my beautiful, beautiful dancers” to the absent Sophia Loren, “here in spirit — we love her so much”, and a good deal more in the same vein.

The following day, however, within a very short time of our meeting, I was feeling pretty lovey-dovey myself — almost fantasising about being an A-list actor just so that I could have the soothing pleasure of being directed by Marshall. This is something of a first, since most film directors, certainly in my experience (from Spike Lee to Mike Leigh), are tricky customers, highly resistant to being questioned or directed themselves in any way.

Marshall knows exactly what I’m talking about. “There are directors who like to have friction or angst in the working environment, but I can’t live like that,” he says. The school of Lars von Trier? He laughs but is too circumspect, or perhaps just too straightforwardly nice, to dish the dirt.

“There are a few out there and I appreciate they do beautiful work, so it’s more power to them. But for me, it’s very important to come from a place of joy. To have an atmosphere — maybe it’s from my upbringing — where there is a great deal of positive reinforcement.”

On his way up as an actor, singer, dancer, then choreographer, before his present role (the last film he directed was the nonmusical Memoirs of a Geisha and before that the hugely successful Chicago), “I was lucky enough to observe directors, the prickly ones and also the ones that weren’t. And I just found that the best work came from the directors who were there to serve the actors and not the other way round.

“And this is true especially in something like Nine, which was so difficult because these people are doing something for the first time [singing and dancing for Daniel Day-Lewis] and it’s important to create an atmosphere where you feel protected and not judged, in a place where you can really make big mistakes and make a fool of yourself.”

The film is an adaptation (although it was substantially rewritten by the late Anthony Minghella in his final script) of the 1982 Broadway musical — starring Raúl Julia in the role of Guido Contini, and later Antonio Banderas — which was, itself, a reworking of Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning 8½.

The central character is suffering from director’s block and has everything in place to make a new film, apart from inspiration. He is derailed by the growing realisation that his own selfish artistic needs are fuelled by feeding off the love of his women — his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penélope Cruz), his muse (Nicole Kidman) — who come close to being destroyed in the process. Like the original, the plot moves between reality, surreality and memory — shot in black and white juxtaposed with colour.

Marshall’s version is full of sensational set-pieces, all vim, quim and razzle-dazzle, created around each of the stars — Judi Dench, Guido’s wardrobe mistress, in basque and boa, stretched out on a grand piano, singing about her love of the Folies Bergères (in 1968 Dench was the original Sally Bowles in Cabaret in the West End); Cruz, sexier than she’s been seen before (yes, it is possible), spreading her legs and writhing around on a circular mirror; Fergie, the singer from the Black Eyed Peas, as a prostitute crawling on her hands and knees, cleavage forward, on a beach for the young Guido and his pals; an incredibly affecting song by Cotillard as the trampled wife, in her own voice (as opposed to her lip-synching in Piaf), and so on. In between, Day-Lewis as Guido smokes for Italy, zips around town in his jaunty little sports car or broods in the empty set, “as he tries to figure out what his movie will be”, Marshall says, “which represents the interior of his unfinished mind and the chaos of his life”.

The original choice for Guido was Javier Bardem, but after winning his Oscar (Best Supporting Actor) for No Country for Old Men, Bardem decided to take a year out. It was Day-Lewis who contacted Marshall to express interest after Dench’s agent had passed him the script: “When I got the call that Daniel was interested, well … I had never dared dream of Daniel Day-Lewis in this part because I consider him to be the greatest actor there is.”

Marshall recalls the first time that he heard the actor sing: “When he started it was like dipping a toe in the water. You know, singing quietly, but I could immediately hear that he had a musical sensibility and a lovely voice.”

Despite his initial enthusiasm, it seems that Day-Lewis inhabited his new role rather too well, finding it — like Guido — almost impossible to commit himself to the project. “If I hadn’t pushed him he would still be circling around just thinking about it,” Marshall says. “He said to me, ‘I’ll do this for ever, Rob, you’re going to have to tell me when you need to know’” So you gave him a deadline? “Yes, I called Daniel and said, ‘I need to know because we have to book the stages’, and he said, ‘When do you need to know?’ and I said, ‘Tomorrow morning’.”

It’s a measure of the director’s faith in his lead, as well as Day-Lewis’s pulling power, that the filming — which was originally going to be in Montreal — was moved to Shepperton Studios because the star said that he needed the film to be shot in England so that he could be close to his wife, the writer and director Rebecca Miller, and two young sons who live in Ireland.

Marshall is still pretty knocked out that so many stars wanted to take part: “I couldn’t believe the turnout of women, especially — every actress in Hollywood came. I mean, every single one.” Really? Scarlett Johansson would have made a perfect Anita Ekberg lookalike in that famous Trevi fountain scene (there is an homage to it in Nine) from Fellini’s other great film, La Dolce Vita. But Kidman needed a few more curves to carry it off, I say. “The truth is that was big for her,” Marshall says. “She had just had her child so those were the biggest boobs she’s had in a long time! She was thrilled.”

Why do gay men love musicals so much? “I know, it’s funny. It must have something to do with the expression and the joy of it, I think … It’s a fascinating question. Certainly for me, who loved dance, that was a big part of it.”

Marshall has been with his partner, John DeLuca, the choreographer on Nine, and one of its producers, for 27 years. When I ask the director if he found himself falling for Day-Lewis on set, Marshall says sweetly: “Oh no, there is only one man in my life and that’s John.” The first time the couple worked together was on Chicago: “I told him, ‘I need you on this movie because I’m so nervous’, and to have this wonderful partner right next to me is incredible. He’s got impeccable taste so I always love to hear his side of things. I come from a more narrative background and he is more edgy and helps me to think outside the box.”

The director was brought up in Pittsburgh, once famous for its steel industry but which suffered mass redundancies and closures in the 1970s and 1980s. It would be tempting, then, to see the young Marshall as a Billy Elliot type, battling to become a dancer against fierce opposition from a disappointed and embattled father. But his background couldn’t have been more different.

Marshall’s parents are academics; his father teaches medieval English literature, and his mother is also in education. In the early Seventies the family (Marshall’s younger sister, Kathleen, has won two Tonys directing plays and musicals; Maura, his twin, is a landscape and interior designer) lived for a while in Golders Green, North London. Marshall Sr travelled to the British Museum every day, doing research while on his sabbatical, and the children went to school on Hendon Way.

“They were very, very liberal and my father worked for George McGovern’s campaign when he was running for president [and suffered a landslide defeat to Richard Nixon in 1972]. My first memories were of marching for causes with them and singing ‘We shall overcome some day’,” Marshall recalls. “When Obama got in, I sent them flowers with a message ‘You created the seed for this to happen’, and it makes me so happy that they saw that happen in their lifetime.”

When the Marshall siblings were aged 9 or 10, they would put on shows for their parents at home: “There was always an opening number from Kiss Me Kate, and then we would each have a solo — I think mine was [as if he can’t remember!] All I Need is the Girl from Gypsy, and then we would do a big second-act opener,” he guffaws, “which was usually Hello, Dolly! and we’d end with There’s no Business like Showbusiness.”

Years later, when Marshall began choreographing on Broadway, Kathleen was his assistant: “So it was like an extension of what we had done in our living-room. There we were in a studio, but instead of teaching ourselves we were teaching Chita Rivera in Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

Then in 1998, when Sam Mendes took his Donmar Warehouse production of Cabaret to New York, he asked Marshall to codirect it: “Sam and I made it a darker ending where the MC reveals that [under his suit] he’s actually in a concentration camp uniform with the gold star and the pink star, and it was very, very moving, um . . .” he stops. “It is upsetting to me … but it was a beautiful production and I think it was Cabaret, honestly, that gave both Sam and myself our film careers because it was very cinematic.”

Our time is almost up and I think I have come to see why so many actors want to work with Marshall. Apart from his talent, he has an unusual quality of gentle modesty that must be rare in the ego- driven industry he works in.

This is a guy who devoted two years to developing John Waters’ Hairspray for the stage, making the difficult decision of withdrawing when he was offered the film of Chicago. But when I ask him whether his name is on the credits he says, without a trace of bitterness: “No. It’s fine. I understand.”

We end with the beginning of Nine, when Guido is at a press conference and, after many vexing questions about what the new movie is about, is asked to name his favourite pasta dish. “At last, a serious question!” he says with a grin so attractive that you can see why all the women love him.

On the night of the premiere, after bowing awkwardly to the audience, Day-Lewis left his 40-odd friends and relations, as soon as the lights went down, to escape. “I think it was too much for him to see it with his wife and sister for the first time. So I said, ‘Fine, happy to have dinner with you’,” Marshall recalls. Let me guess, the Ivy or Sheekey’s? “Cipriani, because it had to be an Italian dinner.” So, finally, maestro, what is your favourite pasta? And please don’t tell me you’re wheat intolerant. He’s not, of course. “Linguine vongole.”

* * *

Nine is released nationwide on Boxing Day

Film, Women

Sex, drugs and hockey sticks

The Times – December 13, 2007
– Ginny Dougary

As the new St Trinian’s film is to be released, our former Cheltenham Ladies’ College pupil recalls her days of extreme misbehaviour at the august institution

Cheltenham Ladies’ College 1974

Hurrah, yaroo, jolly hockey-sticks and all that . . . St Trinian’s is back, this Christmas’s anarchic antidote to Harry Potter, and one of the starlets, the fetchingly named Talulah Riley, warns us that she and her fellow celluloid schoolgirls will be doing “anything and everything — there’s drugs, there’s sex, there’s tattoos and piercings”, to which the director adds (perhaps redundantly): “It’s going to shock some people.”

The first rampaging schoolgirl film, The Belles of St Trinian’s, came out in 1954, a year after their creator, the cartoonist and writer Ronald Searle, thought he’d killed his delinquent gels off for ever in an atomic explosion. One of his early cartoons (the first appeared in 1941) showed a Victorian-looking schoolmistress confronting a line-up of pupils with the words: “Hands up the girl who burnt down the East Wing last night.”

Searle’s description of the quintessential St Trinian’s girl is that she should be: “sadistic, cunning, dissolute, crooked, sordid, lacking morals of any sort and capable of any excess. She would also be well-spoken, even well-mannered and polite. Sardonic, witty and very amusing. She would be very good company. In short: typically human and, despite everything, endearing.” This sounds like the perfect description of a journalist but it’s also not all that far removed from some other fraffly well-spoken (but also fraffly naughty) girls that I remember from the class of ’74 at Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

It all started innocently enough. A vast swarm of chattering girls at Paddington station in our greengage scratchy uniforms, satchels, tuckboxes, my mother in mink with a strained expression of jollity, doubtless concealing her mixed feelings about packing off her 13-year-old to boarding school.

I don’t remember that first train journey but the boarding house certainly came as a bit of a shock.

The dormitory with its basic cubicles — a dozen identical boxes painted magnolia, narrow beds with thin candlewick counterpanes in bleached colours, a flimsy strip of fabric at each doorway for privacy. Many years later, when I visited the inmates of Holloway prison for an article, I got a whiff of my old boarding school but the rooms of the female cons, fortunately, resembled undergraduates’ rooms rather than those we had to endure at the (huge) fee-paying CLC.

Like prisoners, we forged our alliances through what we had to offer — our currency was the ability to tell an entertaining story or share unusual but delicious things to eat. That evening I tasted Kendal’s Mint Cake for the first time with my friend from the North.

Downstairs in the communal living-room, the older girls flicked their hair and moaned on sofas about their summer love affairs to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s heavy-panting hit on the record-player — Je t’aime . . . moi non plus — while we read about the horrific butchery of Charles Manson and his followers — some of the girls had attended the American equivalents of our school — in the copies of Paris Match and Life magazine. While the spirit of the Sixties was raging all around us, we were still walking to Col in crocodiles and having institutionalised “pashes” — the female equivalent of fagging in boys’ schools — on older girls.

In the early years, our naughtiness was restricted to midnight feasts and breaking (sometimes unwittingly ) a myriad of tiny rules. Eating currant buns in a public place while in CLC uniform was a major transgression. Talking in the black and white tiled marble corridor on the way to morning assembly was a no-no. Pretty soon, I was part of a gang of four girls who were always in trouble for minor infringements and we were constantly hauled in front of the headmistress, Margaret Hampshire, known as Hammy.

Miss Hampshire, unbeknownst to us then, was a bit of a rebel herself and certainly a modernist. A civil servant turned industrialist — from 1959 to 1964 she was head of the government relations department at Courtaulds — her appointment at CLC in 1964 was controversial (she remains the only head in the school’s 150-odd years history to come from industry) prompting one retired head to write to the education minister in protest.

During her tenure (1964-1979), which coincided with my years at Chelt, she built a new wing for the sixth-formers, started a school forum and introduced joint lessons in the sixth form with boys from Cheltenham College. (Old boy Lindsay Anderson made his version of St Trinian’s in his explosive film If.)

In those early St Trinian’s films, the schoolgirls were either lower-fourth hoodlums using their lacrosse and hockey sticks as lethal weapons and doing dreadful things to their teachers, or gin-swigging, cigar-puffing harlots, hitched-up skirts revealing black stocking tops, with unspeakable morals. Those of us who had good legs also went in for multiple waistband-rolling, cunningly letting the olive worsted down for episodic skirt inspections. Others of us customised our sweaters by scissoring the cuffs so they unravelled in boho dissaray.

Poor Hammy. She may have been a modernist thinker — as was CLC’s first head, the leading suffragette Dorothy Beale, who also founded Oxford University’s women’s college, St Hilda’s — but she was hopelessly out of date regarding the modern idiom. On one of the Terrible Four’s stern talking-to sessions, the theme she had picked was “Kicking against the pricks”. (A biblical reference to flouting authority.) Oh dear. “You may think pricks have been created expressly for your pleasure,” she commenced, “and, indeed, if you leave this room learning that pricks are something you should love rather than battle against, your education here will not have been in vain.” On and on she went — for what seemed like an eternity — and every sentence included the word “pricks”. I can still vividly recall the sensation of my fellow scallywags’ shoulders vibrating, the physical constriction of suppressed laughter, my anxiety about one friend’s tendency to wet herself in extreme paroxysms of giggling.

As the Sixties rolled on and we became fully-fledged teenagers, our naughtiness began to reflect the times. My sad little cubicle resembled a kiosk at Kensington Market — with posters of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the Biba girl (Ingrid Boulting), feather boas around my mirror, patchouli oil doused over the candlewick. If you send your children to boarding school, you are effectively handing over their pastoral care to someone else — and some pretty awful things happened during my time there. The prison analogy works in this context, too.

That environment, certainly during my years there, is about the survival of the fittest. Girls who didn’t fit in, for whatever reason, were bullied, and I was at both the giving and receiving end of this. It was here, for instance, that I learnt for the first time that my sister was actually my half-sister during a particularly vicious row with a girl whose sister had been my older sibling’s contemporary. When we weren’t gorging ourselves on “prick stew” (sausage casserole) and “Thames mud and beech leaves” (a pudding of chocolate blancmange with a topping of cornflakes bound by golden syrup), we were strarving ourselves.

We taught one another to smoke Woodbines behind the bike sheds or walking around the sports fields. One of my four best friends — who was around 13 at the time — ran away from school but was tracked down before she got into any real trouble. Alliances began to shift, as two of my gang became prefects and socialised in a separately assigned room from the non-prefects.

The bad girls were about to become badder. If pricks were there to be kicked against, envelopes were there to be pushed. On the weekends, we would buy bottles of cider and hitchhike out of Cheltenham to hang out on the Downs. Since this was around the same time that the Wests were picking up young girls, the imagination recoils at what might have happened. Still, we managed to make connections with various hippy types and visit their squats and — it should remind the doom-merchants that most human beings are decent — no harm ever came of it.

In the sixth form, I ended up going out with a Cheltenham Boy — my first big love — and having sex with him in his prefect’s room. We split up soon after which would have confirmed my mother’s view — one I considered hopelessly out of touch at the time — that “Boys, Ginny darling, need to put their girls on pedestals like goddesses.” He was in a band called Lay Off the Graves, which favoured necrophiliac anthems — I can still recall a winning couplet or two — “Meet me in the morning/At the break of day/ Mincing round the graveyards/looking for a lay”. Baudelaire meets Alice Cooper, we must have thought at the time.

Sex, rock’n’roll and — oh yes — drugs. Just as I was introduced to smoking at boarding school, my first experience of dope was at Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

I suppose we must have had the odd toke on a joint during band rehearsals but I bought my first and only stash of hash from a beacon of virtue — a top prefect, no less — who had smuggled the stuff in from her home in somewhere exotic. Being largely ignorant about quantities and their effects, I made the mistake of smoking more or less the whole amount (a quarter of an ounce) in one go at my home in London and was quite unwell.

During my time at Cheltenham there was a far more serious drug-related (or so it was assumed) incident that involved the police. In one of the boarding houses, there had been some violent activity — the huge red velvet curtains in the living-room had been slashed to pieces overnight, and piano strings in the prac rooms downstairs severed. Every single girl in the school was interviewed by the police, as I recall, and two pupils were expelled on the basis that they were known to have experimented with LSD. The following year, however, there was more of the same, with curtains in the staff room ripped and the carpet met a similar fate. The word, according to one of my friends who was there at the time, was that it was the actions of a “psycho” member of staff.

Academically, I didn’t do too brilliantly, and was obliged to redo an A level at a London crammer run by an ex-Etonian housemaster (our mothers found him swooningly handsome) whose idea of staff-pupil bonding was to throw toga parties.

Back in Cheltenham, I had been too busy meeting the boys in the band stand in front of Queen’s Hotel to swot as hard as I should have. This was made easy by dint of the ingenuity of my best friend, now a respectable shipping lawyer, who had managed to copy a key so we could escape from our sixth-form building at night.

When I think of the roll-call of old Cheltenham girls that immediately come to mind — the artist Bridget Riley; the fashion designer Katharine Hamnett; Mary Archer; Rosie Boycott, who founded Spare Rib and edited various national newspapers; the actress Kristen Scott-Thomas — I think they all share a certain bullish independence of spirit and I wonder if this may not have been encouraged in some way by the ethos of the school.

I’m proud of the fact that I’m still in touch with my old friends from Col and we still meet up for long dinners two or three times a year, as our children grow older and our parents die off. I’m against boarding, partly because I know from experience — however updated modern establishments are (including, no doubt, CLC) — what nonsense you can get up to, particularly if you’re bright, imaginative and bored, away from the watchful responsibility of your parents.

But I would say when I look around the table at the new version of the Terrible Four — one of the original members has died, another has gone a different route — and observe the sheer energy, volume of discourse and collective brio that I think St Trinian’s headmistress’s words hold true for us Cheltenham Ladies: “In other schools girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world, but when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world which has to be prepared.”

Margaret Hampshire: 1918-2004, coelesti luce crescat

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St Trinian’s is released at cinemas nationwide on December 21

Film, General

Let battle commence

The Times – October 25, 2007
– Ginny Dougary

How should you interview a celebrity? Our correspondent has some advice for Steve Buscemi

Interview, the movie, boldly goes where no actual celebrity interview is likely to go or have gone before. It’s an intense two-hander starring Steve Buscemi (who also directed) as the duplicitious, alcoholic, pill-popping, manipulative, self-destructive, arrogant, lazy hack and Sienna Miller as the duplicitious, alcoholic, coke-snorting, etc, soap star.

During their extended encounter, bottles are drained, souls bared, dancing, flirting and kissing skills explored, there’s a physical fight and a great deal of psychological warfare. As Buscemi said after The Times BFI London Film Festival screening, Interview is more about the dynamic between two troubled individuals grappling with their personal demons than an excoriating examination of the role of the media in our celebrity-driven culture. The film, however, does offer some instructive lessons in how not to conduct an interview. It should be required viewing for all media students.

Drinking on the job

Most celebrities these days are too fearful of letting their guard down to have a drink with their interviewer. If you are lucky enough to get a good story or scoop out of an encounter, unsympathetic commentators may assume that the interviewer has plied his or her subject with alcohol to exploit the poor vulnerable creature into revealing all. This is irritating, but also nonsense.

Most revealing interviews, in my experience, come about because the interviewees find it a relief to unburden themselves. My advice would be to get the bulk of the interview over with before clinking glasses but, unless you can’t hold your drink, it’s a bit uptight to make alcohol-avoid-ance a hard and fast rule.

There are only three of my interviews that stand out as being conducted under the influence: Christopher Hitchens, who popped open a bottle of champagne, one of a case presented to him for appearing at the Hay Festival; Pete Townshend, who was generous to a fault with his expense account; and Marianne Faithfull, who insisted on getting the first of several rounds in.

Do your homework

This is essential from every point of view. It’s good manners, it’s clever and it’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter whether or not you admire your interviewee – it’s important to be prepared.

Buscemi’s character, Pierre Peders, starts his interview by telling Katya, his interviewee, that he hasn’t seen any of her films. He goes on to explain that “I don’t usually do this”. “Interview people?” she says, and follows up with “Do you know anything about me at all?” Peders’s ignorance is his downfall.

Top tip: if for some inexplicable reason you have not been able to read a single book, see a film or read any cuttings before showing up for an interview, do not think it is charming to draw attention to your shortcomings. Miller’s character is implausibly indulgent of her interviewer’s sloppiness.

Equally, however much work you put in, be prepared for the caustic or batty put-down. A very elderly Anthony Powell berated me for not having read the whole of A Dance to the Music of Time (12 volumes) – and indeed every book he had written. He then complained about my “quite horrible, horrible voice” and the interview was brought to a close. Bob Geldof expects his interviewers to be fully nuanced in the intricacies of governmental and nongovernmental aid. Gore Vidal took one arch look at my research notes and accused me of having Alzheimer’s. Swot up on the Kabba-lah before meeting Madonna or risk being lectured on the subject, as I was for a good 20 minutes.

Insulting the interviewee

This approach is popular with some interviewers and may, on occasion, result in a fiery exchange that can be fun to read or watch. You do run the risk, however, of being left without an interview when your subject walks out. Peders cuts a risible figure when he says that he’s used to interviewing important politicians, not two-bit actresses. Charm is usually a more effective weapon. The aim of the interview is, after all, to get some insight into the subject – however unworthy the interviewer may consider the interviewee to be.

Top tip: remember that however badly your subject behaves, the interviewer always has the last word. My trickiest interviewees have tended to be film directors who are clearly uncomfortable with the idea of being directed themselves – Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Peter Greenaway and Spike Lee were all prickly and defensive. (Greenaway almost came to blows with the photographer, Nigel Parry.)

Top bully was, not surprisingly, Bob Geldof, with Alan Clark (by turns creepily predatory – there was a worrying moment in his wine cellar – and snappy) and Jeffrey Archer coming in a close second.

Being insulted by your interviewee

I am thinking of compiling a small book of insults from my years of interviewing the famous. For some reason, they feel free to make the most astonishing comments about my weight – which I duly feel free to write about. Benazir Bhutto: “I admire you for letting yourself go.” Martina Navratilova: “You may be happy with the way you look but plenty of people wouldn’t.” Jeffrey Archer: “You should go on a diet.”

How to deal with a pass

This is rather more delicate. A certain amount of “chemistry” does go on in an interview, which is why editors send women to interrogate men and vice versa. But how much you use is a matter of judgment.

Readers tend to find insults more entertaining to read about than overblown compliments. It can also feel a bit mean or irrelevant to expose a subject’s clumsy attempts at seduction. For this reason, I did not include Pete Townshend’s rather slurred confession that he, er, thought, um, that he fancied me. Clive James’, on the other hand, was so preposterous (“I’m falling in love with your right now”) that I did.

The all-singing, all-dancing interview

Katya and Pierre take a spin around her ballroom-sized loft. Clive James chose to tango on his own. But singing is another matter. Some of my more memorable duets have included My Way with Imelda Marcos in Manila and Somethin’ Stupid with Nancy Sinatra in Bel Air (I was singing her dad’s part).

Other dramatic highlights include snorkelling with Kelsey Grammer in Maui in Hawaii and rehearsing an episode of Frasier on the beach (I was Daphne). Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor, reciting a poem in a wild Scottish dialect down the phone was a good moment.

The killer question

It is useful to have one or two of these – but don’t start with them or you might find that your interview is swiftly terminated. My favourite was asking, with some trepidation, Jeanette Winterson about her years when she sold her body to ladies from the Home Counties who paid her with Le Creuset saucepans – of which she had a large collection.

Peders’s killer questions are pathetic: “What makes a man attractive?” and “Are you good at seducing men?” Puh-lease.

Snogging the interviewee

Not generally advisable, particularly prepublication. You never know, he or she may be the one to kiss and tell.

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Interview is released on Nov 2