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?