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The Most Awkward Interview Moments of 2008

So we’ve had the best and the worst of 2008. Now for the most awkward. And that will be the last list from 2008. From me, anyway.

Never the most comfortable person in a high profile social situation, I have had my share of gaffes when interviewing celebrities. Some of them in the past, such as with Billy Crystal, James Caan and Shirley MacLaine, have come close to ending in serious injury, if not death.

The awkward interviews this year, though, have been not been quite as excruciating, due no doubt to hard-learned lessons over the year. But memories of them still wake me up at night.

Here are the top five.

1. Ari Folman, director of “Waltz With Bashir”

If you’re going to talk with a prickly Israeli director tired of answering question as about his movie, it’s best not to ring him up at home after midnight. It wasn’t my fault that the publicists kept delaying the call and there is a six hour time difference in Tel Aviv, but our chat rarely recovered after this chilly opening:

PK: [jokingly] Well, they’ve got you working late tonight!

AF: [unamused] Yeah, but I hope it won’t take long. It’s quarter to one here.

Maybe I should have told him I put his film at the top of my ten best list at the beginning of the interview, and not at the end.

 

Charlie Kaufman, director of “Synecdoche, New York.”

And everthing had been going so well up to this point:

PK: Has anyone brought up the “M” word with regards to the women in the movie?

CK: The “M” word...?

PK: Misogyny.

CK: Oh. Um, god, I mean, you know, the one place I’ve heard that is this guy who interviewed me for “Vice Magazine” said that he saw it with a friend who felt that it was misogynistic and I responded to that, because I was really surprised, you know. I..,the response that I seem to get when people respond to the movie, is kind of the opposite of that, you know, people appreciate that I’ve written characters for women to play, as opposed to eye-candy, or...I mean that’s the only place I’ve heard it. I don’t know...is that something you think? It’s misogynistic?

PK: Some of the women are negative portraits in some ways.

CK: Well, first of all, I don’t agree with that, but second of all, I don’t think negative portrait, and I don’t know what that means so you’d have to clarify it, but I don’t think that portraying somebody with characteristics that aren’t necessarily ideal, is misogyny. I mean I do that with male characters, too. I mean, I’m trying to write human beings, so why is that misogynistic?

PK: Good point. 

[and not the last, as CK continues to defend his film against the charge of misogyny] 

PK: So, let’s move on. Do you record your dreams?

CK: No. I often think I should and often kind of get a book and never do it.  

PK: It would seem that a lot of your images and ideas come directly from...

CK: They don’t, but I was thinking about dreams when I tried to come up with these ideas. The idea of dreams was a basis for a lot of the imagery and the logic in the movie. But they didn’t come directly from dreams. So I don’t know....I’m still stuck on the misogyny. It’s just a weird thing, it’s like a weird thing. I think people maybe confuse misogyny with I don’t know what..

.

Jonathan Levine and Olivia Thirlby, director of and actress in “The Wackness” [The guy on the left is the actor, Josh Peck. He wasn't interviewed, but he probably would have been annoyed, too.]

Being a slow learner, I sabotage another interview that’s been going well with the same question:

PK: The film seemed to be a little misogynistic.

JL: Well.

OT: People keep saying that.

JL: Oh my god, really? I haven’t heard it. No one said it to me. Here’s the thing, I can neither confirm or deny that. There are parts of me that potentially have that and I would probably like to work on those parts. I don’t claim to be a perfect person, but I also don’t want to censor myself to the point where I’m, I think if you start censoring the bad traits of your personality, the character overall or the personality of the film overall is undermined. I certainly hope that’s not the case. I don’t think my girlfriend thinks that’s the case.

OT: I certainly don’t think it’s the case

JL: ... I don’t know. Now I feel like maybe I’m a dick.

OT: No. You’re not. You’re not a dick. If I may, I have a comment on this. I’m really sensitive to things that I think are misogynistic because I think that it comes out by accident a lot and I don’t think this film is whatsoever because even though the two main characters are male and thus given to discussing women and sex in a very frank and male way. I think that the females in the film, I don’t think that it’s misogynistic to depict a female who can use her feminine wiles and is confident and is sexual. I think the other way around.

Marisa Tomei, actress in “The Wrestler.”

Tomei’s interview alone could include the top five moments of the year. (Here’s the video). My only excuse is that I had already done two other interviews the same day. Plus I was wasted on cold medicine. And I’m a misogynist. This particular awkward moment might be most apt because Tomei just got nominated for Best Supporting actress again.

PK: [high as a kite and oblivious] Is there a curse with the Best Supporting actress Oscar? [Tomei won it in 1992 for “My Cousin Vinny”]

MT: [flustered] I don't know, I'm still in this business 20 years later. I feel pretty lucky.

PK: [Eyes rolling back into his head] It was a little rocky after you got it though, wasn't it?

MT: [incredulous] No, I just wanted to do a lot of theater. What was so rocky about it? I did like a huge movie, “Only You,” and then I did “The Perez Family.”

PK: [looking for a high ledge to jump off of] Well, those were a few years later, weren't they?

MT: [Dialing 911] No, they were right after.

PK: [lapsing into unconsciousness] Maybe I’m misinterpreting your career.

Darren Aronofsky, director of “The Wrestler” [Mickey Rourke, on the left, did not participate, If he did, odds are he would have killed me.]

Actually, the breakdown that was the Tomei interview might have started in the Aronofsky interview I conducted just before. I thought I would impress the guy, a Harvard grad after all, with my erudition by springing a copy of “The Barthes Reader” and discussing the essays on striptease and wrestling in it.

PK: [referring to wrestling and stripping] They’re both objectifications of the body for commerical, spectacle purposes. One's an objectification of suffering and the other one's of pleasure. There's two great essays in this about that [hands him the book]. I'm sure you’ve read them and that’s what inspired you.

DA: [hands back the book] No, I never read them.

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