Archive for January, 2010

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Interviewing Ben Vereen

January 21, 2010

Last night I interviewed Ben Vereen for ON THE SCENE.  He’s starring in a new play, “Fetch Clay, Make Man”  debuting at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.

Extremes in someone’s life are interesting to talk about, I think, and Vereen has certainly had that. So many career highs on Broadway, (“Pippin”, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Wicked”) and horrendous personal lows. He’s had a stroke and was hit by a car and injured so badly that for a while it looked like he’d never perform again.

The thing that makes an interview great is a surprise. Getting an answer you did not expect will turn the conversation around and that’s what I love. And that happened with Vereen.

I asked him, “of all the people you’ve worked with who have you liked the most?”

“Everybody,” he said. Stars never want to answer that question because they think somebody will get offended.

“I know you don’t want to leave anybody out,” I said, ” but take a shot!”

He bowed his head in silence and then slowly raised his face to me, tears in his eyes. “I would say my friend Gregory Hines, I miss him so much.” He went on to leave me spellbound with a story of when he was recovering in a rehab center  and went to see Hines on Broadway in “Jelly’s Last Jam.” Vereen was on crutches when he came to see Hines in his dressing room after the show. “When can you be ready?” Vereen said Hines asked him. As if he didn’t see his injuries, Hines  wanted to know when Vereen would be in shape to take over one of the roles. “He believed in me.”  Vereen went on appear in the show and got his career back.

Of course,  the story is much more powerful hearing it from Vereen himself.  It was a memorable moment for me, and hopefully will bring some inspiration to people out there who need it when we bring this interview to television, soon.

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It’s A Total Passion

January 16, 2010

I think the most fascinating thing about a person is what drives them. What is their motivation? What gets them out of bed in the morning? Understand that  and you really know someone.

Often during interviews I ask artists about this. The answers spark  great conversations about their work, often their early life and what influenced them and who supported their goals, and why they keep doing what they do. I remember Tony Bennett describing to me how he’s contantly in a state of change and spontaneity. Lynn Redgrave and I once talked about how it’s the calibre of an acting  role and representing her family legacy that inspires her.

Lately, though, I’ve been turning the tables on myself…the interviewer thinking about how he’d answer his own questions.  (No, I don’t sit in front of the mirror doing Q&A all night till I discover my essence.) But I am thinking about what drives me to do the work that I do.

Since I’m not an overly contemplative type, the simple answer seems to be this: Passion. It’s a total passion for me.  To be able to ask someone questions about their life, and to know that people are watching on tv…interested and learning and maybe seeing their own experience reflected in what we’re talking about…is the most incredible thing.  Few of us on tv have the privilege to interview entertainers and artists at length and talk about these things.  And it’s what I absolutely love. Whatever the obstacles leading up to the interview…scheduling snafus, bad weather, time constraints, terrible traffic on the way there…it all vanishes for me once the camera rolls and the little world of this conversation starts to revolve.

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Goodbye Fear, Hello Opportunity

January 12, 2010

I interviewed Dave Koz, the saxophone artist, recently for ON THE SCENE.  It was a wide ranging conversation and he’s a particularly talented and enjoyable person to talk to. But I find myself coming back to one thing we spoke about: fear.

Fear is negative, it doesn’t do any good, and it holds us back. And yet, I have found myself in its grip at times in my life.  And I bet many of you have, too.

Last year was all about breaking through for me. Whenever I was asked to do something (a special appearance or a commitment outside the normal work of my career) I said “yes.”  I wanted to do everything and if I’d never done it before, all the better. But I was apprehensive about taking on some of those challenges: What if I made a mistake in front of a big audience? Would people be interested in what I have to say? (That alone is an irrational fear. Why would anyone ask me to be part of their project if they weren’t interested!)

But I jumped at every chance to make the contributions I feel I need to at this time in my career.  The beautiful thing is,  with each new experience, I discovered there was nothing to be worried about.  Audiences were more than appreciative, viewers wrote me noticing  my work is evolving and reaching new heights.

Getting out of one’s own way, tossing fear over your shoulder and succeeding, is the most gratifying thing in the world.

The fear thing came up because Dave is recording a new cd. He’s thinking of calling it “Hello, Tomorrow.”  The idea being…embrace what’s ahead and the change that will come with it without anxiety and doubt.  Seems like the perfect way to start a new year. And I’m going to keep saying “yes!” How about you?