My first interview on the celebrity beat, in 2009, should have been a total disaster. I’d never spent an entire afternoon with an actor before and stupidly listened to another journalist who told me I shouldn’t write down notes or tape-record as the subject is speaking because it could hurt the flow and intimacy of the conversation. As a result, I had barely any quotes and details to work with and it showed in my poorly written article.
The whole experience could have been traumatizing, if not for the fact that I was interviewing the incredibly friendly Michael Clarke Duncan.
For a guy who stood 6-foot-5, weighed 300 pounds and was a former bodyguard for Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, Duncan wasn’t intimidating in the least. The Chicago native smiled a whole lot more than his characters did on the big screen, and he had one of those laughs you could hear from the next room. Best of all, he sounded more like a fanboy than an Oscar-nominated actor when we discussed our mutual love for professional wrestling in the lobby of the Westin Michigan Avenue Hotel.
I shadowed Duncan that afternoon while he did the media rounds to promote his upcoming celebrity basketball game at the UIC Pavilion and joined him afterward when he picked up Harold’s Chicken to go (in a limo, no less). “When I get back to the hotel, I'm going to make love to this chicken,” Duncan said.
He willingly took pictures with people who approached him and did not seem to mind that most of the photo-seekers didn’t know his actual name. According to Duncan, if you don’t take those photos, you could lose a fan for life.
“Whenever I'm having a bad day and have an attitude, I stay home,” Duncan added. “I keep it at home.”
That was one of the few quotes I included in my story. I don’t remember most of the things Duncan said word-for-word, unfortunately. I do, however, remember exactly what I was thinking as I walked home from the hotel afterward: “I hope every celebrity I interview is as nice as he is.”
R.I.P. Michael Clarke Duncan.
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