Interview: Billy Bush's keys to a successful celebrity interview

Billy Bush

Billy Bush hosts the CinemaCon awards ceremony at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace during CinemaCon April 26, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images / May 9, 2012)

Before he was hosting “Access Hollywood” and the nationally syndicated radio program, “The Billy Bush Show” and interviewing A-listers such as Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt and George Clooney, Billy Bush was a green correspondent for “Access” just trying to learn the ropes of celebrity interviews. His interviews weren’t always pretty in those days, but he’s learned from them (even the uncomfortable sit-down with Tommy Lee Jones).

Here, Bush — who will appear with “Saturday Night Live” alum David Spade Saturday at Make-A-Wish Illinois’ Wish Ball 2012 at the UIC Forum — lists those lessons, along with some of the others he’s learned during his 15-year career in radio and TV.

Dig for memorable moments: “I’m a moment hunter. I’m all about creating a moment that’s either funny or memorable in some way. We tape interviews and cut out the fat and get right to that stuff. You have to know when to get off topic and try to land something sticky.”

Bad interviews can be saved: “Never admit to the awkwardness of the moment. It’s awkward for everybody if you can see both people are awkward. Hang in there and don’t budge. You can turn those moments very easily if you are confident. … This took me at least five or six years (to master). Tommy Lee Jones has a built-in disdain for the media and was giving me one-word answers when he was promoting (1997’s ‘Men In Black’). It was painful. This was only my second year on the job. I allowed it to happen. Now, I would ask, ‘Why are we doing this? Why are you giving one-word answers? Why are you here? Let’s talk about the fact that you hate me for some reason. What is that?’ Then it would be a different case. Then it could be fascinating. It took getting my teeth kicked in a few times to get to this point. You get better all the time.”

Honesty is not always the best policy: “If the movie really sucks, I try not to talk about it. And if they ask, I’ll say ‘It was original …’ I’ve had it happen a couple times. I had a difficult moment recently with a particular wonderful A-list starlet (Julia Roberts) who I love. I told her I thought her character (in ‘Mirror, Mirror’) was a bitch. She didn’t want to hear it. It certainly could have been (awkward), but I hung in there and made it fun.”

Prepare to wait around: “Ever since I started doing ‘Access Hollywood Live’ (in 2010), celebs come to us. They do the waiting. I don’t do junkets anymore now that I anchor the show alone. It took 11 years to get there, but I’m really happy. I waited for Lindsay Lohan for 21/2 hours when she was filming (2006’s ‘Just My Luck’) in New York. I finally I called my boss and said: “Hey, I’m starving and I ain’t doing this anymore. I’m out of here.” And I left. Two minutes later, I’m sitting in a sushi restaurant and I get a call that she’s ready to go. I said ‘No way’ and hung up.”

Don’t be afraid to get personal early in the interview: “A great adage I learned from a great man one time was, ‘There is a way to ask every question. You just have to figure out the way.’ I think that’s good advice. I don’t back-door it. A lot of the times I lead with it: ‘Let’s get the elephant out of the room.’ I ask it off the top so that we can get into the fun stuff. Why let it weigh on your mind? You don’t want them to sit there thinking ‘When are you going to ask the big question, big boy?’”

Get celebs to discuss off-limit topics without asking off-limit questions: “I leave the door open for that celeb to talk about it. There are ways of doing it without asking the question. Then you come to find out they want to talk about it and it was their PR person who didn’t want it. If they say under no circumstance can we ask the question, then we decide if it’s worth sitting down with (the celeb) in the first place. There are plenty of interviews where you look like a fool if you don’t ask anything about a topic, so you’re better off not doing the interview. With (rapper) T.I., I wanted to ask about his time in jail, so I said ‘It looks like you’ve been eating well.’ He said the food in prison is incredible, and we found out he had a chef in jail.”

It’s only entertainment: “The bone I’ve always picked with other entertainment shows is, frankly, they come at it like it’s the most serious news in the world. We make sure to wink at the audience. It’s not rocket science.”

Twitter @aboutluisgomez

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