In over ten years since he has been interviewing people, PAUL LESLIE has talked to hundreds of artists. Painters, writers, actors, other interviewers and especially musicians have had the chance to speak about their work while being presented to the public in a different light, at “The Paul Leslie Hour” radio show. This time, the talented interviewer sat in the other chair and talked to us about his passion, which he hopes he can follow, like Larry King, for the rest of his life.
Why do you interview people?
I interview people because there’s something about them that I love and I want other people to love it as much as I do. That’s one of the reasons. I think the other reason is because I sometimes think there are certain people that don’t get the appreciation they deserve. And I think the third reason is I want to save something of them. I look at it like it’s a moment in time that you’re preserving indefinitely. You have the opportunity to share something that they’ve said and it can be listened to over and over and over again. But, in the end, I think it’s just a matter of me enjoying it so much. It’s a pleasure for me to do it.
Why is it such a pleasure for you to ask questions and listen to their answers?
I believe there is so much to learn. I guess that is the obvious answer. I think a part of it also comes with being fascinated with what people’s experiences have been. It’s also very interesting to me the way that people speak. I remember reading something that the great poet Robert Frost said: I am almost more interested in the way people say something, in the sound of their voice, than in the persons themselves. I think that’s true for me, too: I’m very aware of different people’s speaking habits. I pick up very quickly on different mannerisms that people have. I’ve always been a mimic. I’ve always done imitations of people that I know and I think that it’s just very interesting the way people express themselves. I like to observe people. I’m more of a listener. I’m more interested in what people have to say than in talking myself.
But I hope you enjoy giving interviews!
Well, I have to tell you I am more comfortable doing an interview, but I’ve been getting asked a lot lately to be the interview subject and I enjoy it. It’s interesting to feel what it’s like in the other chair, I guess. And I think, with all humbleness, that I started to have enough experiences, so I can give something back. I do have some observations of my own. Maybe that’s why I keep getting asked lately.
Can you imagine yourself doing something different from interviewing people?
I can see myself doing other things, but not if it didn’t involve doing interviews as well. Lately I felt a lot of inspiration to do different things. I’ve been inspired to write. I’ve been writing scripts and I’ve been making short films. Maybe we will share them at some point. I’ve had a lot of funny things that have happened to me and a lot of things that I’ve observed. Most of my friends are very unusual people and they have provided me with a lot of stories. There are other things I want to pursue, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop interviewing people, I really don’t. Larry King turned 80 recently and he continues to follow his passion, and I think that if I’m fortunate enough to live that long, I’ll be probably be doing it as well.
What do you expect from a good interview? When you turn on your recorder and start asking questions, and people start talking, what do you expect from them?
I would expect passion. Passionate people are the best people to talk to. I think Marty Panzer was such a good interviewee because he was passionate. You can’t be too humble. People that are too humble don’t necessarily make the best interviewees, because they don’t think of themselves as important enough to talk about.
Willie Nelson struck me as a very, very humble man. He is one of the most famous singers of all time, it was such a huge honor to talk to him. But he seemed so humble, that when I was asking him questions, it was like he said: Why are you asking me, I’m just a singer. So you have to have a little bit of an ego to be a good interviewee. Some of the people that I’ve interviewed have big egos. They were very interesting because they thought of themselves as being important. And a lot of them had very important contributions to the arts and society.
Also, humor is important. So, I think passion, humor and an ability to express what it is that you do in very specific language. Enjoying the interview also helps. There’ve been certain people that I‘ve interviewed that have expressed they have enjoyed it, and when the person enjoys it, it always makes it go so much better. There’ve been some people who didn’t want to stop when I was ready to stop. (smiles)
What do you think about honesty in an interview?
I think honesty is important only if we find out they’re lying, because if we never know, than it’s true to us! (laughs) I don’t ask questions about people’s personal lives. I’ve never been of the type to do that. I remember listening to a radio interview that Ryan Seacrest was doing. The first question he asked Rihanna was if she had sex with this other person. That’s not a question that I would ever ask, because I am more of the type that asks about people’s creative world. I view their personal life like a door that I only go into if they open it first. I have to be invited. So my interviews are more about the creative process and the history of that person.
But I guess honesty is important. I remember reading Larry King say that his first time going on the air he was so nervous he couldn’t speak. All these people were listening to the radio and there was nothing. He was just a young man who was very afraid. And then finally, he said: I just told the truth. I said ‘My name is Larry King, my real name is Larry Zeigler, this is my first day on the job, I don’t make that much money and I’m very nervous.’ Once he admitted he was nervous, he could talk. I tried that a few times: when there was something I wasn’t sure about, I was just honest. I guess your question was more about should the interviewee be honest and I turned it around and made it about the interviewer, but it’s a lot of value in just saying the truth.
People are afraid sometimes to admit when they’re attracted to someone, and what can happen if they just admit it? If you just say it, chances are that person has felt the same thing. I guess you bring up one good point. There’s a bass player that I interviewed. He said: A lot of times people have this idea when they’re going through something, when they have turmoil, they have this feeling they are the only ones that experience that. And then they admit whatever they’re feeling, even if it’s something they would be embarrassed to say, and once they admit that, they find there are people around them who feel the exact same way. A really good example of that would be the Barry Manilow song “One Voice”. I think that song, if everyone would listen to it, they would have an appreciation and a love for their fellow man a little more. It basically says that once one voice starts talking, then we realize there are other people that are saying the same thing.
Semnat de Corina Stoica