For The Daily Beast’s membership drive, we’re asking our reporters and editors to tell the stories behind some of their biggest stories.
Sitting on a shelf in my apartment is a 3-year-old bottle of Fiji water that Meryl Streep handed me when I interviewed her for her Oscar-nominated role in Florence Foster Jenkins, a film that required perhaps her greatest stretch yet: playing a woman with no talent. I would have that water bottle bronzed if I could afford it, but as it stands it is a memento of the most rewarding part of this beat, which is forging a human connection with people we had previously put on pedestals and bringing them back down to earth for our readers to get to know.
People often want to know what certain celebrities are like to meet in person. The answer is, almost uniformly, they are very nice. It is their job to be. They are also often very shocked, by virtue of that job and the generally crass tenor of people’s interest in them, to be treated by like humans.
You can see the visible shift in an actor’s demeanor—the relief, the surprise—when they are finally asked questions on a human level. When they are challenged on their beliefs, forced to consider the impact of their creative decisions, encouraged to share seismic life experiences that shaped them, and made comfortable to speak about issues they feel strongly about. It’s not easy to reach this place and earn that trust, but it’s almost always mutually rewarding—especially when we can in turn relay these new insights into these larger-than-life people and how they shape our daily lives with our readers.
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Like when Renée Zellweger spoke about how she needed to flee the spotlight and heal from the wounds of its scrutiny before starring in Judy, or when Chelsea Handler tearfully discussed how a shocking death in her family changed her life, or when Julia Stiles talked about the ways in which Hollywood and the world sees women and the effect it has on an actress, or when Amy Schumer candidly addressed criticism of her work, or when Mena Massoud illustrated the reality of being a brown actor in Hollywood, explaining that after Aladdin made $1 billion he couldn’t get an audition.
There are countless examples of this, from actresses talking about the fight for equal pay to actors putting into context the fight against Trump, and it’s a challenge every time. Sometimes these stories are just plain fun, and thank God for that. But the hard work is to make them impactful, too.
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