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Interview with Sara Voorhees, Author of The Lumiere Affair: A Novel of Cannes

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This is the first part of a two part interview

Sara Voorhees is a syndicated film critic with vast experience and knowledge about movies. So it's probably no surprise that The Lumiere Affair: A Novel of Cannes, her first novel, has a character who is a movie critic.

The protagonist, Natalia Conway, has quit her job as a film critic to try to write more meaningful stories. But money gets too tight to mention and her old boss is begging her to come back to cover the Cannes Film Festival.

The book is engaging and engrossing and I'll say more about the book in the second part of the interview, which will be published about one week from today. The book comes out May 8th.

Scott Butki: How did you come to write this book?

Sara Voorhees: A few years ago, after an interview with Tom Hanks, when the cameras were off, he told me what he’d learned over the years about the interview process. He said that my job was to get him to tell me things he’d never told anyone before; his job was to make me feel like I’d done it. He was dead right.

That was when I decided to write about the relationship between the press and celebrities. It’s an uneasy symbiosis – there’s an artifice to all celebrity interviews that is awkward, and both the press and the celebrities feel it, but it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved, so it’s here to stay. And we’re living in the most celebrity-saturated culture in history – who doesn’t want to hear Halle Berry talk about how giraffes sweat at the end of their noses? I’m a big supporter of Media Literacy. I believe the more we know about what’s happening behind the curtains in the media, the better off we are.

Do you plan to write other novels? 

Absolutely. I’m working on a new one that has nothing to do with movies. But I don’t think Nattie’s story is finished.  I’d like to tell that one.

How are you different from the protagonist?    

I did not grow up motherless, as Nattie did. I was raised by a wonderful, loving mother, and that relationship has given me a degree of confidence and courage that Nattie doesn’t have.  She is so afraid of people, she’s spent her whole life hiding from relationships with them. I’m crazy about people.  

How are you similar?  

I’m a journalist, and I’m part of the publicity machine that Nattie is drawn to and yet confounded by. I find comfort and meaning in movies, as she does.  We’re both pretty thin-skinned, but I bounce right back. She doesn’t.

Your bio says you interviewed "every major Hollywood celebrity."

That sounds pretty grandiose, doesn’t it?  I never talked to Jack Nicholson.

What was the worst celebrity interview you ever did?   

It’s possible to have bad interviews with your favorite actors, but that doesn’t necessarily make them terrible interviews, if you follow my logic. For example, Robert de Niro is one of the most brilliant actors in the business, but he’s also one of the shyest, and he doesn’t subscribe to Tom Hanks’ interview mission statement.  So you’re never going to get a chatty little conversation with him, but it doesn’t diminish the value of the interview.  In the book, Nattie mentions that Tommy Lee Jones is the meanest interview there is, and she’s right. It’s comforting to know that almost everyone agrees on that.  The only actor who ever made me cry was Alexander Gudonov. 

What did Alexander say that made you cry?

Alexander Godunov (may he rest in peace) was doing his first movie junket, for Die Hard, when I interviewed him in 1988. He was one of those people (I suspect) whose level of discomfort was directly proportional to his Grouchiness Quotient, and everything I asked made him grouchier still – I asked if he missed dancing ("if I missed dancing, I would be dancing"). And how he celebrated when he became a U.S. citizen ("Private"), even though I knew he'd had a hamburger stuffed with caviar. I should have had the good sense to thank him and get out while I was still in one piece, but I hammered on with a question about positive memories of the Soviet Union. "I don' understan." I repeated the question, more slowly. "I don' understan." And then… because I had apparently lost my mind, I leaned in to him as if he were deaf and asked him the same stupid question a third time. He leaned into me with his nose an inch from mine and said, "I DON' UNDERSTAN." I waited until I was alone in the hall before I started to cry.   What is it about Tommy Lee Jones that makes him unpopular among the press? 

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • Gordon L Hauptfleisch

    Highly entertaining and enjoyable interview, Scott. Looking forward to Part Two.

  • Scott Butki

    Thanks, Gordon

  • Scott Butki

    And we STILL need to get the answer to the giraffe question.

  • Lizbeth Hanson

    What a great interview! She is really interesting and fun… you ask great questions (and you two seem to have a good repartee)… you should have her as a regular guest or something! (Just discovered your column because this was posted on Digg and have an idea for you: It might be cool to have a picture of the people you interview, in addition to their book cover, if that’s possible.) I’m looking forward to reading the second part next week!

  • Scott Butki

    Thanks for the compliment.

    I figure we get the book cover via the Amazon ad.

    I’d be up for adding a photo of the person interviewed, especially if the editors agree that is a good idea.

    Meanwhile we have an update on the giraffe issue, namely this article.

    I’m going to email the person quoted and ask him to come quick.

  • Scott Butki

    I may have just proven Halle Berry wrong.
    According to The Living Desert Web site,

    “Giraffes are water efficient because they do not sweat or pant.”

  • Ally from Orlando

    When is the next part of this interview being posted? It is very interesting.

  • Scott Butki

    Within the next week.

    I am glad you liked it.

  • Scott Butki

    I’m writing about part 2 tonite. It should be published within the next 24 hours if all goes right.

  • Scott Butki

    The first part has been published here.

  • Wes

    Cool insider’s view on celebrities and the interview process. Quick correction: In your last posting, I think you meant the second part (not first part). I only point that out because I was looking for the second part and couldn’t find where it was posted… others may have a similar difficulty. Thanks for the interesting interviews.

  • Scott Butki

    You’re welcome. Thanks for the correction.