TVNZ's Sunday turns 20: Reliving its best celebrity interviews

Source: 1News

There are a couple of names for them - including "junket" or "fluff" - but celebrity interviews can have a life of their own.

Can you believe we interviewed Beyoncé? Sunday with Destiny's Child - Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams - in 2002.

Often it's stars flogging their latest album, movie or book, but it's access to some of the most famous people in the world and if we're lucky we get 15 minutes with them to ask whatever we want.

So when they're presented in front of you by a gaggle of minders, you need to have a plan and be ready to go.

The most memorable are when reporters spend time getting to know these luminaries of the stage and screen - the ones where access is open and so is the star.

There's a certain allure in interviewing an A-lister, and over two decades of Sunday there's been a host of them - such as Beyoncé, Bob Geldof and Anthony Bourdain, Sir Michael Caine, Mick Fleetwood and Celine Dion.

Closer-to-home stars too, like Stan Walker, Israel Adeysana and Taika Waititi.

Former Sunday reporters retell in their own words five of the show's favourite and most memorable celebrity interview moments.

Mike Hosking - Charlie's Angels (and others), 2003

The trouble with going back 20 years is you run the very serious danger of getting the facts wrong.

Sunday, in those days was live. It gave us the option - especially around major events and things like elections - to pick up on news of the weekend and do interviews in the studio.

Probably the part I enjoyed and remember best are the Charlie's Angels type interviews. I strongly suspect I got most of them based on the fact the other reporters on the show didn't fancy dealing with "fluff".

Charlie's Angel's stars Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz gush over their friendship during a Sunday interview in 2003.

Cameron Diaz was wonderful, Drew Barrymore a little more reserved and, as for Lucy Liu, I barely remember her; but what you have to understand about these sort of interviews is they are a circus. Two hotel rooms are booked out and the stars shuffle between them with hangers-on guarding their "these questions are off the record" requests and reminding you, you have only 15 minutes.

To be honest, the other major attraction is the travel. Sunday took me to Australia several times and America a couple of times. I met Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Vinnie Jones and got to spend time with one of Hollywood's new discoveries Kiwi Andrew Adamson who, at the time, was working on a thing called Shrek.

The other thrill of the show for me personally was Dylan Taite. He was the instigator of most of these trips and interviews. Dylan was there to drum up the entertainment part of the show. He and I got on like a house on fire, despite the fact you could not meet two more different people.

He had the story we were doing lined up in his head before we even started. He was an artist who had a wonderful way with words in a script. The biggest hurdle I faced was when I read any of his writing I started sounding like him. He died, sadly, a number of years back, but the memory, talent and contribution is not forgotten.

In a fast-changing world where attention spans are shrinking, a decent story of a decent length allows nuance. Detail is still a critical contribution to life's understanding of our world and its various battles, frailties and debates.

It was a ball to be a part of the Sunday story for at least a short time.

Cameron Bennett - Hugh Hefner, Still Swinging (2003)

Where to start with Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy Magazine and embodiment of the sexual revolution of the '60's and '70s?

The pipe-smoking, silk-dressing-gown-wearing, affable, self-proclaimed lover of women prided himself on almost single-handedly liberating the Western world from its buttoned-down attitudes to sex; he was all of those things when we met him at the Playboy Mansion, Beverly Hills (minus the pipe). The darker side, the grotesque and carefully hidden stories of sexual exploitation and manipulation of young women would emerge after his death in 2017.

Hefner was soon to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of Playboy Magazine and everything about this assignment seemed hilariously preposterous at the time: from the moment we introduced ourselves via a plastic rock intercom at the front gates, to pulling up outside the cream-coloured stone mansion, to being escorted in by his bunny 'wife' du jour Holly Madison - through darkened, reproduction baronial English corridors and rooms to meeting the man himself ("call me Hef", he told us) resplendent in pyjamas and signature silk dressing gown.

There were few if any cracks in the public façade: Hef delivered his well-travelled lines with aplomb during a sit-down interview, and there was Holly in her scanty bunny suit and heavy make-up, giving us a guided tour of the famous rooms where celebrities had attended countless lavish and louche parties over the decades; the grotto, the gardens... Not once did Holly give away hints of the real story of her life there (that would come later).

Then it was over in what seemed an unreal flash - we were heading out into the blazing California sun, leaving behind the tawdry gloom of a world yet to be fully exposed to the light.

Sir Anthony Hopkins wasn't as expected during an interview by Sunday's Mark Crysell in 2004.

Mark Crysell - Sir Anthony Hopkins, The Cowboy and the Indian (2004)

Sir Anthony Hopkins doesn't do too many one-on-one interviews, so when Sunday producer Briar McCormack and I got the chance, we jumped at it - even if it meant travelling to Salt Lake City in Utah where he was playing Burt Munro in The World's Fastest Indian.

It was 2004. We arrived in Salt Lake City early in the morning, and along with cameraman Phil Melville went straight to the movie set - a seedy motel on the wrong side of Salt Lake City’s tracks.

"Mr Hopkins will be with you presently," his assistant told us. The sun was rising, we were into it. Phil began setting up and finely tuning his lights and camera for the interview.

That was mid-morning. Sir Anthony hadn't presented by lunchtime when the sun was at its height. Phil readjusted the lights. As he did again at three o'clock and again at six when it was almost gone.

Still no sign of Sir Anthony . Darkness came. Poor Phil begged for extra lights from the movie crew and then at around eight o'clock out of the gloom, there he was.

Now you'd think that with all the Oscars, box office hits and acting acclaim that Sir Anthony would be an engaging and entertaining interview subject. Sadly, he wasn't.

His answers were short, concise, and not particularly illuminating. I tried repeating some of my questions to see if I'd get more but he just told me he'd already answered the question. We got eight minutes, a good hour shorter than an average Sunday interview, and I can assure you we used every second in our Sunday story.

Sir Anthony wasn't rude or arrogant with us, but I guess one of the world's great movie actors wasn't a great talker or was he just shy in front of the camera?

Mark Crysell sitting down for an interview with Sir Anthony Hopkins in 2004.

Later we travelled to Invercargill to film a bit more around the making of The World's Fastest Indian and there he was, watching Burt Munro's famous shed being reconstructed.

I wandered over, said "gidday". We chatted and chuckled like a couple of old mates - honestly, I couldn't shut the guy up. A Welshman, he was fascinated by the myths and origins of the All Blacks.

The next day I went out and bought a copy of Lloyd Jones' brilliant The Book of Fame about the 1905 All Blacks and gave it to a delighted and grateful Sir Anthony.

I guess you should never judge a book by its cover.

Sunday's Janet McIntyre tries a different approach when interviewing Jerry Seinfeld in 2017.

Janet McIntyre - Jerry Seinfeld (2017)

It was a rare opportunity to interview Jerry Seinfeld, one of the world's most celebrated comedians. The star of the iconic long-running Seinfeld show was heading to Aotearoa for a show. He had never before spoken to New Zealand media. Was I up for it?

I arrived in New York and into a chic Manhattan boutique hotel, not far from Seinfeld's own home, lining up with international TV crews, all booked for an interview. 60 Minutes had flown in from Australia with a team of eight and a lighting rig to rival Hollywood. We turned up with a lone freelance cameraman and an Auckland-based producer on the phone.

Celebrity interviews have their own precarious vibe and this one was no different. Jerry was late. Jerry had been out late the night before. Jerry was grumpy, according to his handlers - it was no secret he loathed these media "junkets".

I was worried. A story about a funny man who couldn't raise a laugh was going to be a problem. We heard that he was meditating in between each interview, pushing the schedule out. Sunday kept getting bumped down the list and I feared he would pull the pin.

Jerry finally showed at the end of a very long day. It was his last interview. To my huge relief he was relaxed, charming and funny. The day before, the cameraman and I had scouted the staff at my hotel for opinions about their famous neighbour. A true professional, he took these comments and turned them into gags. He seemed to appreciate this different angle. Graciously he thanked us at the end of the interview, adding that he'd enjoyed it.

I'd feared the story about a funny man would end in tears, but I count it as one of my most memorable.

Cher poses with Sunday's Joy Reid in what was a career highlight for the journalist.

Joy Reid - Cher (2018)

Interviewing Cher was a career highlight - an equal measure of exhilarating and terrifying.

When the story was pitched to me by the Sunday team, I was in disbelief! How did a Kiwi girl like me get to sit down with one of the world's biggest artists? And how was I going to do her, and her career, justice? The pressure was on.

After six decades of being in the spotlight and thousands (if not tens of thousands of interviews) I was told she doesn't suffer fools, so my challenge was to develop a rapport and hopefully get her to chat warmly and openly on camera.

A woman of her calibre deserves the respect of a very well-researched and prepared interviewer so I did my homework (and more). There was a lot of ground to cover (60-plus years). Working with producer Joanne Mitchell - researching Cher's career, her highs and lows, political activism, personal life, music, watching YouTube clips and working on my questions to be ready.

Cher's team organised London's Corinthia hotel suite for the interview. It was exquisite - a chandelier stood overhead, a beautiful piano in the background. It took over an hour to get the camera and lighting perfect. It had to be perfect.

When she walked in, you'd never have known she was 72. She looked incredible. After she sat down, her beauty team arranged her hair before the camera was allowed to start rolling.

She was relaxed but more reserved than I had expected and certainly not a gushing self-obsessed extrovert.

I'm sure she could tell I was nervous - maybe that endeared me to her, or maybe it was the Kiwi accent as we made small-talk. Whatever it was, she was warm and instead of a structured interview, it became more of a two-way conversation. We laughed, interrupted each other mid-sentence, and at one point as I listed off all the awards she'd won, she reminded me of the one I'd forgotten.

She was poised, distinguished, frank, honest, kind, confident and no-nonsense.

The nerves faded and it became just the two of us chatting away. It felt like the cameras were just eavesdropping on our conversation. The 30 minutes flew by. I loved her energy and her outlook on life. I loved how she spoke of ageing, motherhood, gender equality and how she still loves her job.

In my initial draft script, I wanted to include so much. But I was told when I started in journalism that the art of a good storyteller was knowing what to leave out, not what to put in.

I was so proud of the finished piece. My Sunday debut (which in itself was a huge honour) could not have been more special, memorable or a once-in-a-lifetime experience.