The biggest red carpet event of the year is almost upon us, which means Ben Mulroney is prepping his questions, pressing his signature pocket squares and praying that the Brangelina gods will smile upon him. Here, the anchor of CTV's eTalk shares some of his secrets to success – including how to get onside with Gaga.
Throw away your notes
The first and probably most vital lesson of interviewing is to actually listen. When you are first doing it, your instinct is to stick to your notes, which can be like a security blanket. You go from one question to the next and the problem can be that if you’re not listening, the person on the other end of the microphone might answer your second or your third question and you won’t know it. They’re going to realize that you aren’t even listening and whatever rapport you have built up is going to die instantly. One of the things I do occasionally if the conversation is going really well is I’ll stop and throw away my notes. It’s sort of a cue to the celebrity that I’m disarming myself and it would be great if they’d do the same. I did that with Lady Gaga. Everyone else wanted to ask her about her meat dress and her relationships. Instead we got into this really great conversation about how she makes music.
You’ve seen one late-night, celeb-filled booze fest, you’ve seen ’em all
I’ve been covering this beat for well over a decade now. In the early years it’s very exciting. You’re at TIFF and then all of a sudden you’re in L.A. and you’re invited to parties and, oh my God, the stars. It’s easy to get sucked up. But after a few years you realize that a) it doesn’t change much from year to year and b) you’ve been to one party, you’ve been to ’em all. You realize that you have a job to do and that it helps to get a good night’s sleep, go to the gym, drink lots of water, avoid alcohol as much as you can. It sounds trite, it’s not fun, but this is our job. You wouldn’t suggest that a banker go to work hung over and I don’t suggest that you show up to do your job on the red carpet hung over. I can be on carpets much longer at 37 than I could at 25 back when I would stay up a little bit past my bedtime.
The Boy Scouts know best
In broadcasting, or at least the kind of broadcasting I do, there is a sweet spot between the fun and spontaneity that comes from winging it and the security that comes with being very prepared. I remember when we [CTV] were first merging with CITY-TV here and we were doing a live event with some of the CHUM staff. I asked them when we were going to rehearse and they informed me that they didn’t rehearse because they liked to keep things loose. Of course everyone has their own methods, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. I have always believed that it is best to be super-prepared and then you can have fun around the edges. Loose is great, but loose can get messy if things go wrong. Being prepared is what allows you to roll with the punches. What if a certain celebrity doesn’t show up and you don’t have a backup plan? On the other hand, at this time of year I try to remind myself that I have been prepping for the Oscars all year round, so I don’t have to go insane cramming. I know a little about a lot of things, which is generally enough to get me through.
You take the good with the Lohan
There is this inclination to act as if celebrity journalism is just the worst, must vapid thing, but TMZ didn’t invent the expression “if it bleeds, it leads.” That was a traditional journalist who came up with that. People are going to look at my job and think whatever they’re going to think, but I’m really proud of the work we have done on eTalk. The show has done so much to build Canadian culture and support Canadian talent. We handle a lot of things that are serious. Something like the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. And then there is Lindsay Lohan, who is the gift that keeps on giving. I’m kidding, it’s just that I’m aware that some of the things we cover are foolish, maybe even too foolish for me, but no one loves every last thing about their job. I take the good with the bad, which isn’t even bad, but just the slightly less good. If you can say that about your job, you’ve got a pretty great gig.
The sandwich boy may be the smartest person in the room
My dad [former prime minister Brian Mulroney] is the person who told me that there is always going to be someone you’re working with who knows more about your job than you do and that you should always be trying to learn from that person, whether it’s your boss or an intern. The guy who used to get me sandwiches on Canadian Idol is now a major producer at eTalk. That’s someone who I have learned so much from. When I first started working in this business I had basically no experience. By all logical reasoning, I shouldn’t have been given a job on television. Typically people go to school for years for this sort of opportunity. I was lucky because of timing and because I had a name that allowed for it to happen. My dad reminded me that I was basically being paid to get a PhD in television and I really try to remember that every day.
This interview has been condensed and edited.