And the Winner is…
I am constantly asked which famous person gave me my favorite interview, and I always say that if I answer that question, I’ll never get another interview. Still, there were a few standout experiences, and this is a great place to kiss and tell.
Most memorable moment: Having dinner with Helen Thomas, asking her what Eleanor Roosevelt was like, and getting an answer!
Most arrogant person: A Harvard professor. She asked who would be in the book with her and I mentioned Nobel Peace Prize winners, Olympic athletes, prime ministers, CEOs and Academy Award winners. She said, “Those are my peers. I thought you were going to include people like (the late prime minister of Israel) Golda Meir.” And I said, “I would love to include Golda Meir, but she’s dead.”
Most regular person: Academy Award winner Frances McDormand. Talking to her was like talking to one of my girlfriends. My favorite part of the interview came when she said, “This is just like therapy. Can I call you next Tuesday at three?”
Most strategic situation: Getting Hillary Clinton. She’d never have agreed to it if I’d gone the traditional route of requesting an hour. I pounced on her at an event and she couldn’t get away from me.
Most difficult interview to get: Susan Sarandon. It took multiple routes and numerous requests. Her brother even tried to help me. Finally, she called me. That was pretty cool, sitting in my living room and talking to Susan Sarandon on the phone.
Easiest to get: She’ll kill me for saying this, but the lovely Ellen Goodman, who actually answered her own phone and agreed to do it on the spot.
Interviews I wanted, but never got: 1: Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. 2: Meryl Streep, who I just felt like talking to. 3: Dolly Parton, because I think we would have gotten along great.
Nicest handlers: Wynonna’s people. I never did get the interview, but they sure were nice about saying no.
Worst handler: Olympic legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Her publicist literally had me calling two or three times a week for more than four months. Finally, it hit me that I wasn’t being persistent, trying so hard; I was being stupid.
Most profound: Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, who led the movement against land mines for showing anyone can achieve greatness if they believe they can, and that you just shut up and do the work.
Biggest life-changer: Oceanographer Sylvia Earle talking about risk taking and failure. She gave me the courage to leave my career as a journalist to be a full-time author. Later, those words gave me the courage to stay on an unpredictable, but ultimately joyous and lucrative, track.
Most natural mentor: Nobel Laureate Betty Williams (no relation to Jody Williams, the other Nobel Laureate I interviewed), who knew I needed support back when I was a being beat up by office politics as a reporter. She became a long-distance mentor.
Two who had my back: Sheila Coates and Aida Alvarez, who pushed Oprah’s people to get me an endorsement. I’d loaded Oprah’s producers down with press kits and books, and one of her producers was going to interview Sheila and Aida about their stories without crediting Hard Won Wisdom. They wouldn’t have it, and Oprah ultimately came through – big time.
Most missed: Susan Butcher, four-time Iditarod champion. Reading that she’d died of leukemia just blew me away. She was so real, so accessible—and so alive. It made me sad when she asked me to review her interview, explaining she was dyslexic and didn’t think she’d said everything the right way. And, she’d been perfect! She’d given me one of the best interviews in my career, yet worried so much that she’d screwed it up.
Rowdiest interview: Fawn Germer meets Brett Butler. You had to be there. I loved her. Second prize goes to Carnie Wilson, who is real and funny and real funny.
Surprisingly brilliant: Martina Navratilova. We talked politics for quite awhile and she was spot-on informed, voicing original ideas with great perspective. She’s not warm and fuzzy, but she is really intelligent.
Most awkward interview. Janet Reno. This happened two years after she left Washington. She was running for governor of Florida and I asked about Monica Lewinsky. She hadn’t had to address that before because, as attorney general, she could say she couldn’t comment on a pending investigation. My questions did not endear me to her.
Most exhausting: I tried to interview Japan’s most powerful businesswoman by telephone, and she could barely understand English. I was sitting in my office, gesticulating wildly—as if she could see me and that would help her to understand me. I ended up dumping the interview.
My biggest clerical error: I sent a really great letter to Meryl Streep outlining the reasons I wanted her in Hard Won Wisdom. Her publicist called and said, “Fawn, we usually don’t even respond to these, but I had to give you some grief. On page two of your letter, where you explain why you really want Ms. Sarandon in this book…” Groan. I’d sent Streep page one of her letter and page two of Sarandon’s letter, and Sarandon got page one of the right letter for her and page two of Streep’s. That time around, I didn’t get interviews with either one. Of course, Sarandon came through for Mustang Sallies, but I didn’t mention the earlier experience when I made the request.
Best friendship: Gen. Claudia Kennedy, who always gives a great interview. She helped me to get speaking events when I was just starting my business and proved she is a great mentor and friend. She even invited me to her wedding and, let me tell you, that was a wedding.
Biggest pain: Ellen DeGeneres, who agreed to be in the book, scheduled the interview, then cancelled the exact minute she was supposed to call me. Her publicist then made me go through two months of trying to reschedule before he finally told me, “Ellen has decided this won’t help her.” I actually wrote down what he said because I couldn’t believe he didn’t give me a better excuse than that.
Most committed to mentoring other women: Almost all of the women. They gave the interviews because they know their true legacy comes by passing on what they learned in order to make others stronger and more determined.