Feature: Top 25 Interviews of 2014, By Patrick McDonald

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StarDick Cavett, Talk Show Icon 

Dick Cavett
Dick Cavett at the Chicago Museum of Broadcast Communications, June 21st, 2014
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: The genial and essential talk show host Dick Cavett reigned supreme during the latter 1960s, providing a hipper anecdote to his rival Johnny Carson. The two began as colleagues, as Cavett began his career as part of the transition staff for Carson’s takeover of “The Tonight Show” in 1962. Getting mere minutes with the show business icon at a dinner honoring his legacy, he went into schtick mode, but managed to provide some insight to a few of his contemporaries, including Carson and Groucho Marx.

Memorable Quote:Interestingly enough, it was about the playwright George S. Kaufman. It was through Kaufman’s funeral that I first met Groucho. Later he told me that when he was working with Kaufman in the 1920s on the stage plays ‘Cocoanuts’ and ‘Animal Crackers’ – and the playwright was famously particular about doing his written dialogue precisely – that it was he, Groucho, who was the only actor Kaufman ever allowed to ad-lib. Of all of his accomplishments, I think Groucho was very proud of that honor.” 

Click here for the full interview of Dick Cavett.

StarMackenzie Phillips, Actress, “One Day at a Time”

Mackenzie Phillips
Mackenzie Phillips at the “Hollywood Show Chicago”
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: I had laryngitis, and met teen-queen-of-the-1970s Mackenzie Phillips as she smoked outside of an autograph show. She was amazingly candid and reliable in interview, taking on some of the tougher questions regarding her years of addiction recovery. She is the daughter of John Phillips of “The Mamas and the Papas,” and was discovered by director George Lucas for “American Graffiti.” She rose to stardom on the TV sitcom “One Day at a Time” (ironic title), and battled substance addiction through the entire run. Clean and sober now, Mackenzie Phillips faces life…well, you know.

Memorable Quote: I think people thought, ‘Why does this girl keep crashing and burning Why can’t she stay sober, or keep it together?’ But there was no real through line to my life. I think I had been haunted for many years by secrets I’d been forced to keep via convention. I made an informed decision to be honest [about her relationship wit her father] for the first time ever. People would say to me, ‘Well, you should have told these truths while he was still alive.’ Well, if I had done it while he was alive, they would have said why didn’t you wait until he was dead. You cannot win for trying.” 

Click here for the full interview of Mackenzie Phillips.

StarTheo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations, Chicago Cubs & Sportswriter Peter Gammons

Theo Epstein
Theo Epstein at the ‘Hot Stove Cool Music’ Event in Chicago, June 20th, 2014
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: Sometimes the days bring interesting opportunities, and these interviews were a perfect example. President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, a contradiction in terms if there ever was one, is occupied by wunderkind Theo Epstein, the architect of the Boston Red Sox’s first World Championship since 1917. Hired three years ago by the Chicago Cubs, Epstein brought his “Hot Stove, Cool Music” charity to Chicago from Boston, which includes baseball scribe Peter Gammons, who plays guitar in the band at the event. Would I interview them? Hells to the yes.

Memorable Quotes:[Peter Gammons on the Steroid Era in Baseball in the 1990s] We are all to blame. But also the media really didn’t understand it, nor did Major League Baseball. The popularity of the game skyrocketed, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were selling tickets everywhere and people in baseball weren’t asking too many questions – because balls flying out of the ballpark is what people wanted to see.

[Theo Epstein] We don’t really talk about the curses, that probably would be a waste of our time. We focus on getting players that are self motivated, who rely on each other, and help to create a buffer zone to the outside world. I worked in Boston, so I know all about curses. [laughs]” 

Click here for the full interview of Theo Epstein and Peter Gammons.

StarDamien Chazelle, Director of “Whiplash”

Damien Chazelle, J.K. Simmons
Director Damien Chazelle (center) On Set with J.K. Simmons for ‘Whiplash’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: The first highlight of three hot director interviews in 2014, rookie Damien Chazelle stepped to the plate with “Whiplash,” the best movie of the year (on my list). This passion project, shot in less than three weeks, has a style, rhythm and sensation all its own, plus could propel featured players Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons (as a sadistic music teacher) into new realms of stardom. Unassuming and very introspective about his achievement, Chazelle could get a Best Director nod at the upcoming Oscars, making him one of the youngest nominees (at 29) in history. Basically it all comes down to his excellent and memorable film, with a backbeat you can use.

Memorable Quote:It’s a film about the quintessential American art form, jazz, but it’s also about the idea – that is very American – which is excellence at all costs. If you have to reduce America to a nutshell, it is that idea, both in the sense of what is good about it and what’s wrong with it. It’s a country that you can pull yourself up, go rags-to-riches, and make it if you just work hard enough. That’s so motivational and has become a big part why this country has produced so much in a relatively short time.” 

Click here for the full interview of director Damien Chazelle.

StarJonathan Glazer, Director of “Under the Skin”

Jonathan Glazer
Jonathan Glazer in Chicago, March 29, 2014
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: “Under the Skin” is a great movie, a metaphor for man-and-woman relationships that nails the impermanence of it all. Have a nice day. Glazer uses actress Scarlett Johanssen in a very unusual way, and she turns in her best performance to date, with virtually no dialogue. With comparisons to the films of Stanley Kubrick, “Under the Skin” launches a new, higher level for director Glazer, and more brilliance is sure to come.

Memorable Quote:Yes, the actors do wonder what is going on sometimes. [laughs] My relationship with actors is about trust. If they think you are there for right reasons, then they are there for the right reasons – it’s very easy then, we just look for the story together. Scarlett is a perfect definition of it in ‘Under the Skin,’ because she hadn’t done anything like this before. It’s incredible to find someone like her who has the confidence – since she is so much in the public eye – to just risk everything for it. To try and do something interesting, you have to risk everything for it.” 

Click here for the full interview of Jonathan Glazer.

StarActor Dan Stevens, Director Adam Wingard & Writer Simon Barrett of “The Guest”

The Guest
Terrific Trio: Dan Stevens, Simon Barrett & Adam Wingard of “The Guest”
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: The scene, the new Soho House Hotel, Greektown Chicago. The men, the lead actor and the filmmaker team of the seriously underrated film, “The Guest.” The story, a metaphor for the American military complex, which was also a sly tribute to “The Terminator.” Writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard are horror film partners who are mining new territory with this highly symbolic thriller. Lead Actor Dan Stevens, by the way, is known for his previous work on “Downton Abbey.”

Memorable Quote:[Dan Stevens] As fantastical as this film is, we at least wanted to root it in at least one reality, in order to further explore the fantastical. One of the forms that has interested me – and this goes back to ancient texts like ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ – was the very deep love that soldiers have for each other. If we are to believe David and the bond he has with Caleb, and since he goes to visit Caleb’s family because of this conditioning, he then can produce ways to assist them that are unorthodox. One of the themes that excited me when I read the script – and what Simon and Adam were keen to explore – was in David going somewhere to help, but actually wreaking utter devastation. That can be applied to some global and political situations, and while we’re not making a direct comment on that, it certainly was a backdrop.” 

Click here for the full interview with Dan Stevens, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett.

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