Monday, July 07, 2008

The art of the interview: 'Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence'

I subscribe to the podcast version of "The Treatment," Elvis Mitchell's weekly movie-themed interview show on KRCRW. At the end of every episode, Mitchell will thank the guest for being there, and the guest will inevitably thank him for the experience. I've done enough interviews over the years to know that this kind of flattery is hard-wired into the DNA of any celebrity with even an iota of PR training, and to be able to spot a sincere version of it.

Those exchanges at the end of "The Treatment" almost always sound sincere, because Mitchell is not only a great interviewer, but the type who likes to ask questions his subjects likely haven't heard before. (He once spent a half-hour talking to Walton Goggins from "The Shield" about lighting, and it was really interesting.) When being interviewed is a regular part of your career, you tend to glaze over at hearing the same types of questions over and over, and you also tend to perk up and become more enthusiastic when the conversation travels down a path you're passionate about but that hasn't come up before. When Jon Favreau did the show earlier this summer to talk about "Iron Man," you could tell he was genuinely excited to start talking about Joseph Campbell, because it's the sort of thing that doesn't usually come up at the junkets.

The reason I bring this up is that Mitchell is taking his act to television, with the debut of "Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence" tonight at 8 on Turner Classic Movies. The idea is that Mitchell asks his guests -- starting with one of the final interviews Sydney Pollack did, then following up with people like Bill Murray and Laurence Fishburne -- to talk about artists and movies that influenced them. This works well with people like Murray, who usually seems pained when giving interviews and tries to avoid it whenever possible; since Mitchell is primarily asking about other actors he admires, it relaxes Murray enough that he's willing to open up whenever the subject turns back to himself.

If you enjoy showbiz interviews with more than a little substance (and, yes, there is such a thing), it's worth checking out.

8 comments:

Adam said...

Love The Treatment, and that Favreau interview is a gem. His Mark Harris interview sold me a copy of that book on 1967 films. I'd also strongly recommend the Mamet.

Icey said...

Thanks for the heads up!

Tony Dayoub said...

Mitchell is always interesting. Thanks for the recommendation, Alan. Hope you talk about it after it airs, also.

Bob said...

I only wish there were a podcast of "Under the Influence", since my cable company took TCM away from me about a year ago and moved it to the digital tier. I agree, "The Treatment" is one of the classiest and most interesting podcasts out there.

Nancy said...

Thanks for the heads up - I love interviews like that. Inside the Actors' Studio is one of my favorite shows.

mjryan said...

Bob: You might be able to go to TCM's media room after the interview airs and watch the episode there. Here's the link:

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/index/

They have clips and promos for the Elvis Mitchell interviews right now. Since it's a TCM original production, the chances are pretty good it'll be available there in it's complete form. You could also try You Tube after it airs.

TCM has been my channel of choice for the past couple of years. While I enjoy watching interview shows, I have to admit that none of these interviewees do anything for me. I might watch Sydney Pollack but that's only because he recently passed. Alan, do you know if this will be an ongoing feature or will four episodes be the limit? Also, it would have been nice for a woman to be interviewed.

Anonymous said...

Alan, thanks for posting on this. I wouldn't have been aware of it otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the interview of Sydney Pollack, and liked the way that they wove in clips from the movies that he referenced. I look forward to the other episodes this month, and hope that there are more than just these four on TCM.

Elvis Mitchell has a fabulous head of hair.