BY MICHAEL MUSTO | I’ve interviewed a lot of celebrities in my time as an entertainment journalist, but there were some that kept their distance—either because they found me too risky or low-level, their publicists disapproved, they were busy, or all of the above. As time went on, I found it harder to nail interviews because the Internet had brought on so much more media, which made the publicists even more powerful and pickier about who got access.
I’ve usually avoided doing red carpet—it’s demeaning and boring—but I’m not above talking to stars at their various premiere parties, where you can get some zingy quotes. But many times, I’ve found that in order to get a word with someone even mid-level, I’ve had to first be approved by the publicist for the event, then by the publicist for the movie the celebrity’s in, and then by the celebrity’s personal flack, making for extra hoops it would take a circus acrobat to jump through. Worst are the times when I’m pitched a celebrity, only to accept, then have the publicist come back with a resounding “Sorry, not available.” Bait and switch!
Compounding matters is the fact that I don’t exactly write puffy articles of the type that publicists adore. I generally go after interview subjects that I am sympathetic to, but not all of my writings have been what you’d call “access journalism.” A glamorous business? Well, yes, but I’ve been horrified by the aspects of it that make it humiliating for anyone trying to just do their job.
Here are some of the celebs that got away. None of them owed me anything, it just felt frustrating as someone trying to perform my duties. But while they certainly survived not talking to me, I survived too.
Alexander Skarsgard | Publicists had no interest whatsoever in hooking me up with him, despite my request.
Adam Driver | I tried to get a quote from him through a social network, which I’ve learned is a bad way to go. Celebs rarely respond unless it comes through official pipelines.
Molly Shannon | I had interviewed her ages ago and then was pitched her again—about 100 times—for a minor film, and then they said “No!!!” I was dumbfounded.
Charlotte Gainsbourg | And this after I was pitched her! Again, I was flummoxed. I don’t even like her acting that much, but I was going to be polite. It serves me right for being phony.
LL Cool J | Radio silence.
Lizzo | I put in a request, explaining that I wanted to interview Lizzo about LGBTQ fans and issues, but the publicist didn’t respond at all. And Lizzo herself didn’t respond to my Twitter plea—no surprise.
Kristen Wiig | SNL was always shady to me, press-wise
Kristen Stewart | I got quotes from her at a reception, and later on, I was pitched her for a Village Voice cover story. I said, “Great.” They said it was definitely happening, and then it simply didn’t. It’s possible that some flack was reticent for her to go too lesbianic at that point, but I’ll never know, since an honest reason was never given.
The Duff sisters | I was pitched them at a party and wanly said “OK,” not really wanting them anyway. And then the publicist scurried back and said, “Not happening.” WTF!!!
Puffy | The publicist and her tardy star made me jump through so many hoops that my back was sore—and then the interview didn’t even come through. The flack was awful. She’d told me to feel free to call her at night because she’s in the office then, so I did so and she responded, “You’re calling me at night, hoping I’m not here?” Huh? Why would I do that? I was desperate to reach her—and besides, she’d said to call at night! The whole experience was mortifying, though I got a good column out of the attempt.
Drew Barrymore | She never called for a glossy national magazine cover story that had been agreed on, and I had to write it sans interview anyway. Character building!
Channing Tatum | Radio silence.
Adrienne Warren | The Tina star wasn’t doing promotional, awards-related interviews during lockdown. Admirable.
James Franco | The publicist didn’t even answer. At an event for The Disaster Artist, I didn’t try to approach him, thinking, “Maybe he hates me.”
Saoirse Ronan | I was pitched her at a premiere party and I said, “Sure,” but then I politely asked the publicist for the proper pronunciation of Saoirse’s name before I met her, so as not to embarrass her or myself. Was that so wrong? The publicist then looked nervous and said, “You know what? Never mind” about the interview! WHAT??? I’ve often wondered if maybe she just didn’t know the proper pronunciation.
Quentin Tarantino | I was pitched him at a party when he was up-and-coming and I said “OK,” but Tarantino then refused. Inglorious basterd.
Amy Madigan | I was pitched her by a publicist, then was asked to audition for the coveted opportunity by sending in clippings of my work. I broke my own rules and did so, even though my work was quite easy to find, and then I humiliatingly got a “No” anyway!!! This was one of the all-time low points in my dealings with p.r. and I never went along with such an audition process again.
Sean Hayes | I was pitched him and said sure, but then the interview didn’t happen. Perhaps Sean wasn’t thrilled that I had always urged him in print to really come out, which he eventually did.
Tom Cruise | I bravely went up to him at the Top Gun premiere. He asked who I wrote for and I said “Village Voice,” to which he replied, “No interview.” Fine, be that way.
Karen Olivo | A glossy magazine had me do columns involving Broadway stars like Christine Ebersole, Chita Rivera and Audra McDonald, but Olivo’s flack showed me the hand. Maybe she was busy rehearsing. But since a reason is never given, you’re left to stew in your dark thoughts.
Kathy Bates | Them: “Who do you want to talk to from the TV version of Annie?” Me: “Kathy Bates.” Them: “[Radio silence]”
Nate Berkus | The gay Martha Stewart wannabe said, “No way!”
Stephen Sondheim | But the legend personally responded to my email and was nice! He was busy working on a show.
Phylicia Rashad | I had made fun of a very grand Tony speech she gave, but I do love her acting.
Jennifer Love Hewitt | They were afraid I’d ask about her breasts. I am serious.
Maya Angelou | She had been pitched to me and I said yes, but somehow she thought it was going to be a Vanity Fair spread, not a Voice interview. And her people had even called in advance to insist that I call her “Dr. Angelou” during the interview! Well, the Doctor didn’t call.
Tony Goldwyn | I’ve done him before, but the most recent time, the publicist didn’t come through.
Wanda Sykes | I don’t think she loves doing press.
Scarlett Johansson | Her people refused my offer of a Voice cover, though I did get to interview her on TV when she was younger.
Natasha Lyonne | I had spoken to her, but later attempts to nab a formal interview fell on deaf ears, even though she was apparently obsessed with me and had a dream about me, blah blah.
Michael C. Hall | The publicist said, “You can just get a quick chat at the party.” I didn’t go.
Carey Mulligan | “You can just get a quick bite on the red carpe.t” I didn’t go.
MTV host Kennedy (though in front of a room of press people, she said she loved me).
Martin Scorsese | At a premiere party, he acknowledged me, but kept running away.
Julian Schnabel (though I had chatted with him at events).
Courtney Love | She always runs up to me and talks a blue streak, but her nervous publicists try to keep her under wraps, I guess.
Jesse Eisenberg | Similarly, he always approaches and chats, but flacks blocked an actual sitdown interview.
Charlton Heston (thank god).
Lady Gaga | I did a phoner with her when she was breaking, but when she hit the top, her people didn’t deem a Village Voice cover story big enough.
Idina Menzel (though years later, she said “Hi” at a premiere and was fun).
Ricky Martin | The publicist was kissing my ass, but then drew the line at an interview.
Lars Ulrich | I thought the culture clash aspect of it all would be hilarious, but his people obviously didn’t think so.
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Macklemore (complete crickets from the label).
Catherine Keener (though some time later, they were begging me to do her).
David O. Russell | I had to send the questions in advance and pathetically did so, and I still got shafted. And he always comes up to me and chats me up.
Helen Mirren (though I had once talked to her at an event and wrote appreciative things).
Prunella Scales | The publicist didn’t think Details magazine was big enough. Prunella Scales?
Harry Belafonte | Similarly, the publicist said Details wasn’t ready for a star of that caliber. But he was not exactly getting lots of magazine covers at this point.)
Barbara Feldon | The ‘60s sitcom costar was forlornly sitting alone with her handler at a New Jersey autograph show, but the handler decided I wasn’t legit press enough and shooed me away! And I had covered that event for the New York Times! Repeat: Feldon was alone.
Lita Ford | At the same autograph show, the rocker didn’t trust that I was press. I didn’t trust that she was Lita Ford.
Patrick Duffy | He had gushed over me, but then wouldn’t do an interview.
David Sedaris | He was on tour. It happens.
Sean Connery | At a sparsely attended party for a film of his, held during a crippling blizzard, I was told I couldn’t talk to him. And I hadn’t even asked to. The publicist, Nancy Seltzer, was one of the most disliked people in the biz.)
Hugh Jackman | He was talking to me at a party and was delightful, until he was rudely pulled away, mid-sentence. These people get paid to do anti-p.r.
Burt Bacharach | My favorite pop composer simply wasn’t giving interviews to promote the Atlantic City concert of his that I was going to cover. I worship him nonetheless.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman | I had interviewed and loved them both, but at a press party for The Savages, I was told they were off limits. Sometimes celebrities do arrivals interviews and don’t want to do any more press after that.
Flo from Progressive | They were all interested, then no answer. Not very progressive.
Stephen Spinella | I wanted to chat with him about the Angels in America revival since he was so stellar in the original. The publicist said they’d set it up, then I never heard back. Perhaps not unrelatedly, a major daily then did a similar piece.
Mia Farrow | A publicist begged me to come to an opening night party for a play starring Mia Farrow, implying I’d get access. I was thrilled. But when I got there, the flack kept refusing to meet my gaze, and it was easy to figure out: Obviously, Mia wasn’t going to talk to me for whatever reason and he didn’t have the spine to tell me he’d wasted my time. Interestingly, when I was laid off from the Voice in 2013, Mia tweeted in my defense and praised me to the skies! No, I can never figure this stuff out (though she probably just wanted to avoid the gossip press, not realizing I wasn’t going to go there.
Penny Marshall | Penny didn’t have time for me. She was selling books to her fans at the moment and very cranky.
Nick Jonas | He was being attacked for speaking at gay rallies—some gays were complaining that only LGBTQs should speak, not allies—so I wanted to give him a chance to, you know, speak. But the publicist for an event he was going to be at did not respond to my request.
Steve Coogan | He talked to me at an event and was fine, but some time later, when I asked for an interview, they said no. And then the tables turned. When Coogan had a flop movie coming out, they begged me to do him and said he would definitely do it. I had moved on.
Wendy Carlos | The Switched-On Bach musician had transitioned and I wanted the story, but she wasn’t ready to talk yet.
Sister Wendy | I thought the wonderful religious sister slash art historian who appeared on TV would be perfect to quote in a story I was doing, but I was told she didn’t give interviews.
Fortune Feimster | Who? I have no idea, but she was pitched to me and I relented, and then nada.
Everyone else…thank you!!!
Michael Musto is a columnist, pop cultural and political pundit, NYC nightlife chronicler, author, and the go-to gossip responsible for the long-running (1984-2013) Village Voice column, “La Dolce Musto.” His work regularly appears on this website as well as Queerty.com and thedailybeast.com, and he will be writing for the new Village Voice, a quarterly making its debut later this month. Follow Musto on Twitter, via @mikeymusto.
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