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 November 17

by Carolina

During my career, I’ve interviewed well-known people from Margaret Trudeau to Robert Munsch to John Fogerty, and I have a few stories to tell 

One of the interesting parts of doing the job that we do as journalists is interviewing celebrities — people I probably would never have spoken to had I chosen to do something else for a living.

Most of these well-known people have been just lovely (or at least they know how to effectively deal with reporters), while a small minority have been grumpy or even rude. 

Something I’ve come to learn is that you need to do your research and be prepared (and this is true even if you’re speaking to someone who is not a celebrity) — people do not appreciate it if you haven’t done your job.

I don’t really count politicians in the category of celebrities, although I’ve met plenty in my time. Journalists are expected to help hold those in power to account.

I’ve scrummed with two different sitting premiers on multiple occasions and attended Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent election stop in Sudbury with my colleague Jenny Lamothe (that probably could be a column in itself).

In talking to politicians and celebrities alike, there’s always something I keep in mind.

When I was a Laurentian University student, I once attended a talk by a Sudbury Star reporter at the English Arts Club. 

He said something I’ve always remembered: don’t let it go to your head that you’re on a first-name basis with the mayor, for example. It’s only because of your job; you, yourself, are an ordinary person.

On the topic of the Trudeaus, this ordinary gal has interviewed both the current PM’s mother and brother over the years. 

In 2014, I asked Margaret Trudeau, who has spoken out about her mental health struggles, to comment on Greater Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (the now late brother of current Ontario Premier Doug Ford), who was struggling with addiction.

Her comments in my article went on to be picked up by national media outlets, including the Huffington Post.

After interviewing Margaret Trudeau, I asked her to sign my mom’s copy of her biography, which I had read in preparation for covering her talk. She obliged, writing “you have a lovely daughter.”

My former professors at Laurentian University used to hold events in honour of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s birthday. 

I once had a sit-down interview with Atwood. Speaking to an intellectual like Atwood, I really made sure I did my research that time, and we had an interesting chat. I’m not really a fan of her books, but she does have an interesting take on the events of the day.

I still have the reporter’s notebook that Atwood signed for me.

There are a couple people I’ve interviewed that fall into the category of “childhood heroes.” 

I could hardly stop myself from fan-girling when I dialled my phone and heard the answer on the other end of the line: “Bob Munsch.”

Sadly, Canadian children’s author Robert Munsch recently revealed he has dementia, and is living in a care home. Thank you for the stories, sir.

Two years ago, I interviewed Sharon Hampson of the children’s musical act Sharon, Lois and Bram. A breast cancer survivor, Hampson was in Sudbury as the guest speaker at the Luncheon of Hope. 

She finished out her talk with a round of the group’s signature tune, “Skinnamarink.” There was hardly a dry eye in the audience. You can see the photo I had taken with Hampson that day above. 

Early in my career, I interviewed Canadian actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley about her film “Away from Her,” which was screening at Cinéfest.

We are close in age, still both in our twenties at the time. Being a big fan of all things LM Montgomery, I couldn’t help but ask her about her time as a child actress on the 1990s television show “Road to Avonlea.”

I can’t remember her exact words, but she asked me, pointedly, something like “How would you have liked to spend your childhood working?” Polley has since been critical of some aspects of “Avonlea” and her experiences on set.

In 2011, I did a phone interview with Stuart McLean, host of CBC Radio’s The Vinyl Cafe. In preparing to write my story, I joined the Vinyl Cafe Facebook group. 

McLean had posted on the page, saying he wanted to write a story about Halloween, and asking for people’s stories. I wrote about a childhood Halloween experience, and to my astonishment, McLean used my anecdote as the basis for his story. 

I wrote a separate column about this when McLean died in 2017.

Speaking of CBC personalities, I also interviewed Peter Mansbridge, host of CBC’s The National, early in my career. There’s something a bit weird about journalists interviewing other journalists. 

Anyway, I was dispatched to find Mansbridge, who was hosting The National from Sudbury that evening, and found him in the cavern at Science North. 

He graciously answered my questions, and also chatted with me informally. At the time, a journalism school friend was working for The National, and I asked Mansbridge if he knew her. He said he didn’t, but my friend later told me Mansbridge went and found her after our interview.

Sometimes an interview goes a bit off the rails when you ask about something your interview subject doesn’t appreciate. 

An example: I asked Canadian musician John McDermott about newspaper tycoon Conrad Black financing his first album, and I guess I stayed on the subject too long. He asked me pointedly, “Who is this interview about, me or Conrad Black?”

(Other than that slight bump, I have to say McDermott is actually lovely to interview).

I’d say probably among the most famous people I’ve ever interviewed are well-known musicians Buffy Sainte-Marie and John Fogerty

Both are absolute pros when it comes to answering questions from journalists. I was able to forget that I was talking to someone incredibly famous over the phone, and just do my interview as if I were speaking to a local musician.

With the global pandemic cancelling so many events and putting our focus on covering the impact of COVID-19, I haven’t spoken to many celebrities over the past 18 months. 

I’ll probably get that chance again when things get back to something resembling normal, and, of course, I’ll bring all of you along for the ride.

Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also writes about education and the arts for Sudbury.com.

Original posted at www.sudbury.com

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