Wednesday, August 02, 2006
First Person Flashback: Mike Leigh & Me
I had written my questions down in advance in order to be as thoughtful and informed as possible. But it wasn’t long into my interview with British filmmaker Mike Leigh that he stopped our conversation with a biting response.
“I don’t think you know what you’re talking about,” Leigh barked over the phone. He repeated himself for emphasis. “I know you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
My 1993 press interview on behalf of Leigh’s film “Naked” (pictured above) ended earlier than planned but I had already learned much that a beginning, twenty-something film journalist needs to know about his craft. The interviewer has to be confident of his skills and knowledge, that he’s worthy of sharing the table with filmmakers and artists and reviewing their work with authority.
Often, the interviewee's task is to knock the interviewer down to size. Here is journalism as a whirling dance of ego and humility, accomplishments and setbacks, pride and humiliation. It’s human life at its most dramatic, boosted by the art of film and the pizzazz of celebrity culture.
It’s worth noting that I met with Leigh three years later to interview him about his film “Secrets & Lies” and he was utterly charming (He apologized profusely for keeping me waiting).
I’ve enjoyed plenty of wonderful interviews since that early interview with Leigh, many of them moving beyond the realm of journalism and becoming something friendly. Of course, more blow-ups landed at my feet as I wrote profiles and covered film and culture for various newspapers. But I was never rattled, never unsure of my thoughts or words. I have Leigh to thank for my confidence. Long ago, he tested me with fire.