People ask me this all the time: “Interview any cool celebrities lately?”
And I typically draw a blank, because I can barely remember who all I need to buy Christmas presents for, or when trash day is, or what happened at the end of the most recent episode of “The Walking Dead.”
But with the year drawing to a close – and with the last of my celebrity interviews for 2016 almost certainly in the books due to the holidays – I took a walk back through both the Observer archives and my notes to pick out a handful of the funniest, feistiest and most fascinating excerpts from my chats with famous folks.
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1. Carrie Underwood
The country-music superstar, speaking in advance of her October concert in Charlotte, about her 1-year-old son Isaiah Michael and their baby-proofed “Storyteller” tour bus:
“There is a crib in the back, about two feet from my bed. I won’t say he always manages to sleep there all night, but we’ve always (started) out there, at least. There’s a little baby bath in the shower in the back, so he takes his baths in a small tub every night. And we had to put locking mechanisms on all the doors – which sometimes is really annoying, because if you try to open a drawer, you’re like, ‘Ugh, it’s locked,’ and then you have to get up and walk to the other side of the bus and press a button. But I couldn’t have him falling down the trash chute!”
2. Bill Maher
The host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher, speaking in advance of his August stand-up show in Charlotte, about the prospect of Donald Trump being elected president:
“I mean, it’s a strange mixture of... of... (chuckles) can I just say it in one phrase? Nervous laughter. (Laughing.) Certainly laughter. I mean, this guy does make me LOL on a pretty much daily basis. He doesn’t mean to. He doesn’t know he’s doing it. But he is funny, in a horrifying way. If it was a sketch, it would be funny. The fact that he could become the president? That makes the laughter very nervous.
“People ask me constantly, all the time, everywhere I go: ‘Bill, can he win?’ And I always tell them, ‘Absolutely he can win. No doubt about it can he win. Of course!’ Why? Well, let me give you a few reasons. It’s a stupid country. He’s a stupid person. He says things like, ‘We should run the country like a business,’ and they think that’s brilliant. ‘He’s one of us.’ I hear that from a lot of Trump people. ‘He says what my brain is farting!’ Oh, great. He’s one of us. This is not a virtue or a recommendation to me. Uh, ‘he’s gonna shake things up.’ Like this is as much as they know about politics and national affairs that you just ‘shake things up.’ You know, just send somebody in to to bust s--- up.”
3. Nash Grier
The former Davidson Day student/social media star/aspiring actor, speaking in advance of his new streaming-video-app series “The Deleted,” about his passion for storytelling:
“My mindset is definitely away from the money at this point, just ’cause I’ve learned – if I’m trying to really persevere or become passionate or have any real success in my life – that that cannot be one of the first 10 things I think of when it comes to the project. And it’s crazy, ’cause most of the time you go and meet anyone out here (in L.A.), that’s the first thing that’s asked. It’s like, ‘Alright, what’s the budget?’ ...
“But what I want to do is tell stories. I want to bring stories to life. I started doing that naturally, without even knowing it, as a kid – on a phone, on a desktop computer... I started to tell stories, to record stories, and eventually kind of fell in love with the whole language of telling stories. I’ve spent hours and hours (teaching myself) the language of cinematography and film, and my favorite directors and writers, and the best ways to communicate with a lens, and what works best. ... If you think about it, what we’re doing right now is a story – even this interview. And everything is only as good as how it’s told.”
4. Zach Galifianakis
The actor and Wilkesboro native, speaking in advance of his based-on-a-true-story film comedy “Masterminds,” about playing the main character (David Ghantt, who helped steal $17 million from his employer, Loomis Fargo, in 1997 – and eventually got caught thanks to a long series of screw-ups by him and his co-conspirators):
“I kept having to tell David: ‘I’m not playing you verbatim. ... I’m borrowing a little bit from you here and there.’ I’m not a method actor, and I wasn’t interested in mimicking him. I just was his essence. And, to me, the most attractive thing was how nice of a guy he is. You know, here’s another human being, he did something kind of questionable, but you meet him years later and he’s just a nice man. So I had to remind him: ‘I’m playing a much dumber version of you.’ ”
5. Jason Aldean
The country-music superstar, speaking in advance of his September concert in Charlotte, about his fans’ attitudes toward his decision to withhold his latest CD from subscription-based streaming services:
“You have some people that get it, and some people that don’t. Some people (just want to) pay 10 bucks a month and have unlimited access to a bazillion songs. Well, in reality, that 10 dollars is not gonna go and pay a bazillion writers and producers and artists and whoever else is involved in it. I mean, it’s pieces of a penny at that point – it’s not what it should be – and meanwhile the streaming services are making a ton of money off the music and advertising and everything else. They’re sitting there racking it up. It’s a thing that I think a lot of people don’t understand, and part of it is people just don’t care. They want to get something for as little as they can. They don’t really care about the ins and outs. I understand that, as a fan; I get that 100 percent. But morally, it’s not right.”
6. Gwen Stefani
The pop-music queen, speaking in advance of her July concert in Charlotte, about taking a two-week vacation between rehearsals for her new tour and the start of it:
“It was just the way that it worked out, with schedules. It was a little stressful at the end, when I was like, ‘Should I really be eating this cheese dip right now?’ (Laughing.) ... Honestly, in the past, before tours, they’re so physical that I would bring a trainer out and get myself ready, and run, and sing – and I had none of that this time. I literally plopped myself on stage and was like, ‘Here we go!’ But it doesn’t seem to matter. That’s what’s cool about living a long time: Anything can change, anything can evolve, and I feel like that’s where I’m at. This is supposed to be happening in this way, and even though I feel like I was run over by a truck this morning because my body’s so sore, it feels awesome, you know what I mean?”
7. William Shatner
The man famous for TV roles from Capt. James T. Kirk to T.J. Hooker to Denny Crain – on the phone to promote the “Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage” concert tour in January – about whether the fervor of Trekkies is frightening:
“You know, that’s the conventional attitude, but I’ve never found it to be true. There’ll come a day when somebody’ll hit me on the head; but up until now, nobody has.”
8. Jeremy Lin
While still with the Charlotte Hornets (he’s now with the Brooklyn Nets), the point guard spoke about his attitudes toward the media:
“I don’t read anything anymore. Like, you’ll write the story and – no offense, but – I’m not gonna read it. During the season, I don’t read any articles. I don’t read any Twitter comments, Instagram, Facebook, anything related to me. I don’t want to be influenced by what everybody else says or thinks. Do I think every media member has been fair to me? No. I feel like in the past there’ve been a lot of people who’ve been quick to try to... I just feel like I’ve been... like, the best way I can say it is I’ve been an extremely controversial subject. ...
“But I’m not controversial for anything I’ve done. If you look at a lot of the polarizing athletes in today’s day and age, a lot of them are are polarizing because of things they did. If you look at Michael Vick with the dogs, or Tom Brady with the cheating scandals, or other NBA players with criminal records, that’s what makes them polarizing. I haven’t done anything to be a polarizing figure. ...
“But it doesn’t bother me now. It’s fine. It is what it is, and I’m thankful for all the experiences because I think through it all, I’ve been able to really just tune everybody out, the good and the bad, and I think the one thing that I can hold onto is I feel like I did things the way God would want me to do things. ... I try to hold myself and live with high character in a way that God would be proud. I’m not perfect. I’ve made many mistakes. But that’s what I try to put my effort towards: playing and living in a way where if God like looked at me, he’d be like, ‘Wow, I’m proud of you.’ So that’s the ultimate approval I could get is God’s, versus a reporter’s or a coach’s or whoever else’s.”
9. Jimmie Johnson
The NASCAR superstar (who last month won his record-tying seventh Sprint Cup championship), speaking in advance of July’s Jimmie Johnson Foundation Cane Creek Sprint Triathlon in Waxhaw, about the dangers involved with his cycling hobby:
“Yeah, I’m definitely concerned. I know there’s risks in anything and everything I do. And I know a lot of people that cycle and you hear about a car pulling out in front of people. Some people go down on the mountain bike and have injuries. It definitely weighs on me. And I try to be as smart as I can. But I think I might be just used to the concern of injury; it’s just something that I’m comfortable with, in a way.
“I certainly would be heartbroken if I got injured and wasn’t able to do my job and let my team down, so there definitely is a balancing act that’s there. But at the same time, you gotta live, and racers, we develop our skills and ability to live on the ragged edge through our experiences in life –you just don’t get those from the racetrack. Drivers that have been injured outside of their Cup job have taken a lot of criticism, but we aren’t people that sit around and play chess and then all of a sudden hop in a race car.”
10. Charli XCX
The British pop star, speaking in advance of her December appearance in Charlotte (as part of Kiss 95.1’s Kissmas Concert), about spending a month eating clean, working out and avoiding alcohol while preparing to shoot the music video for new single “After the Afterparty”:
“What’s funny is that (cleanse) ended the first night I was shooting the video. My call time wasn’t until like 3 a.m., so I just sat in my trailer and there was a full rider of all of my favorite booze, so I just got really, really wasted. Then I had to go on the set at 3 a.m., and luckily it was the zombie scene, so I could be kind of f----- up. But it was funny that I’d basically done this whole thing for the video, and then was really drunk at the video shoot. What did I learn (from living clean)? I mean, just kind of the boring health stuff, really.”