Aside from the heavily hyped TV specials when A-listers sit down with Oprah Winfrey for a particularly candid in-depth discussion, celebrity interviews are typically brief and heavily choreographed affairs. Interviewers are instructed to stick to the movie/book/TV series/album or whatever that celebrity happens to be promoting, while interviewees use every skill in their arsenal to sound fresh and engaged while answering the same question for the 427th time.
Every once in a while, though, the person asking the questions is overcome with the urge to get clever, and may attempt to inject a little levity into the proceeding with an out-of-left field inquiry meant to showcase a celeb’s lighter side or bring about an interesting anecdote. And while this is often exactly what happens, sometimes these attempts go painfully awry, resulting in interviews so awkward and cringe-inducing they go viral for all the wrong reasons.
From the famous comedian who balked at the suggestion his iconic sitcom had been cancelled to the pop superstar who smacked down the red-carpet implication she was tramp the A-list Marvel star left an interview when questions delved into his long-forgotten past, read on to discover the biggest gaffes ever made by celebrity interviewers.
Dakota Johnson froze up when a red-carpet reporter quizzed her about her steamy ‘Fifty Shades’ role — while her mom was right there!
Playing Anastasia Steele in the "Fifty Shades of Gray" movies, Dakota Johnson participated in some particularly steamy S&M-tinged sex scenes. Given the nature of the "Fifty Shades" saga, one could draw the assumption that Johnson’s mother, Melanie Griffith, might be reluctant to discuss the details of her daughter’s role.
Evidently, that thought did not cross the mind of ABC’s Lara Spencer when she corralled the two on the red carpet at the 2015 Academy Awards. Discussing how well the first film in the series had done at the box office, Spencer asks Griffith if she’s seen "Fifty Shades of Gray." She had not. "Maybe one day," Johnson chimes in, with a visibly uncomfortable Griffith adding, "Maybe one day. I think it would be strange."
The conversation turns increasingly awkward as Griffith tells Spencer she already knows her daughter is a talented actor, and "I don’t need to see that to know how good she is." Clearly irritated, Johnson blurts out, "Alright, you don’t have to see it!"
Joan Rivers didn’t like a CNN interviewer’s questions
Interviews don’t get more contentious than the 2014 back-and-forth between late comedy legend Joan Rivers and CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield. During the fiery exchange, Whitfield questions Rivers about being "mean" to celebrities on her series "Fashion Police," with Rivers countering that she and her co-hosts insult the clothing, not the people wearing them. Whitfield continues to hammer away, asking Rivers about "boundaries" in comedy and citing examples implying some of her jokes went too far, then accuses Rivers of wearing a fur coat in the photo for her book cover for "shock value."
Finally, Rivers has had enough. "I’m going," she says while pulling out her earpiece. "All you’ve done is negative… You are not the one to interview a person who does humor, sorry," she adds before storming off.
Rivers addressed the interview in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, explaining Whitfield approached the conversation as a hard news reporter, not an entertainment journalist. "She did not seem to understand we were talking about a comedy book and not the transcripts from the Nuremberg Trial," said Rivers. "Every question was an accusatory one designed to put me on the defensive."
Paris Hilton walked out of an interview
Smart celebrity interviewers know that when interviewing a star whose career has seen better days, said star might find it a teensy bit insulting when a line of questioning delves into how washed-up that person has become.
That was precisely what happened when Paris Hilton sat down for an interview with ABC News’ Dan Harris, which did not go down the way she thought it would. At one point, Harris asks whether she’s "worried" that Kim Kardashian and others who "followed in her footsteps" were now "overshadowing" her. He then brings up the ratings on her new reality show, "The World According to Paris," and asks, "Do you ever worry about your moment having passed?"
At that point, Hilton is shown looking off to the side and issuing a grim chuckle. Hilton’s publicist can then be heard off-camera just as she gets up and walks off. "What followed was a long, heated conversation with Hilton and her publicist," Harris informs via voiceover. Ultimately, Hilton resumed the interview, and declares, "I’ve been doing this for 15 years now… it’s always important to reinvent yourself and come up with new projects."
Robert Downey Jr. called an interview a ‘syphilitic parasite’
Yet despite the actor having nearly 20 years of sobriety under his belt, Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Britain’s Channel 4 News felt it necessary to exhume the subject while Downey promoted the new "Avengers" movie. After a few uncomfortable questions about Downey’s time in prison for drug-related charges, Guru-Murthy continued to hammer Downey about his "dark period" of "drugs and drinking." Downey cut him off. "I’m sorry, I don’t… what are we doing?" he said, before cheerfully waving goodbye and leaving.
In a subsequent interview with Howard Stern, reported HuffPost, Downey eviscerated Guru-Murthy as a "syphilitic parasite" and "bottom-feeding muckraker." As Downey pointed out, he was there to promote a superhero movie, not submit to Freudian analysis. "A lot of kids are going to see it," Downey told Stern of the interview, "and this has nothing to do with your creepy dark agenda that I’m feeling all of a sudden like, ashamed and obligated to accommodate your weirdo s**t."
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Quentin Tarantino wouldn’t accept a reporter’s question
Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 movie "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood" was generally well received, and even won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for star Brad Pitt. However, the film was also widely criticized for Tarantino’s representation of Sharon Tate, the real-life actor who was murdered by the followers of Charles Manson. As played by Margot Robbie, Esquire wrote that the slain actor was depicted as "nothing more than a sexualized cipher" as opposed to a three-dimensional human being.
During a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, a female journalist addressed that criticism when she asked Tarantino whether it was "a deliberate choice" to give Robbie significantly fewer lines of dialogue than her male co-stars Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Tarantino, however, was not having it. "Well, I just reject your hypothesis," Tarantino responded curtly. Robbie, sitting next to him, jumped in. "I, I think the moments that I got onscreen gave an opportunity to honor Sharon, and the lightness," she said diplomatically. "The tragedy ultimately was the loss of innocence, and to really show those wonderful sides of her I think could be adequately done without speaking."
An anchor told Cara Delevingne to ‘take a little nap’
When Cara Delevingne appeared via satellite on "Good Morning Sacramento" to promote her film "Paper Towns," the segment wasn’t exactly thoughtful or provocative.
In the excruciatingly cringeworthy interview, an anchor asks Delevingne if she’d had the chance to read the book upon which the film was based, "or do you even have time to sit and read these days, you’re so busy." Delevingne responds sarcastically. "No, I never read the book — or the script, actually," she says. "I kind of winged it."
Later in the conversation, a different anchor tells Delevingne that in a previous interview she’d seemed "a lot more excited about it than you do now. Are you just exhausted?" Delevingne appears taken aback by the question, and insists that she’s "still excited." The first anchor then tells Delevingne she "seems a bit irritated. Perhaps it’s just us." Replies Delevingne, "Yeah, I think it’s just you." The anchor curtly signs off by advising the actor to "take a little nap, maybe get a little Red Bull, how ’bout that?"
An anchor mistook Samuel L. Jackson for Laurence Fishburne
Another low moment in local news coverage came about thanks to KTLA’s satellite interview with Samuel L. Jackson. Right off the bat, the interviewer asks the "Avengers" star what kind of reaction he’d received for "the Super Bowl commercial." Jackson’s face contorts as he replies, "What Super Bowl commercial?"
The anchor’s joviality suddenly shifts to confused panic as he looks off camera for help, his mouth agape with the sudden realization he’s made a horrible mistake. Jackson immediately figures out what happened: the interviewer confused him for fellow Black actor Laurence Fishburne, who’d recently reprised his role in "The Matrix" for a high-profile Super Bowl spot. "See, you’re as crazy as the people on Twitter," Jackson declares, wagging his finger. "I’m not Laurence Fishburne."
As the embarrassed interviewer offers mea culpas, Jackson says, "We don’t all look alike! We may all be Black and famous, but we don’t all look alike." Jackson continues by tearing a strip off his interviewer. "You’re the entertainment reporter for this station? And you don’t know the difference between me and Laurence Fishburne?" he asks with joking disdain. "That must be a very short line for your job outside there."
An interviewer questioned Christoph Waltz’s decision to play a Bond villain
Christopher Waltz was promoting his turn as the villain in the 2015 James Bond film "Spectre" when he was interviewed by "Good Morning Britain." Just seconds into the conversation, interviewer Charlotte Hawkins asks Waltz if, as a two-time Oscar winner, he felt any reservations about doing a Bond movie. Waltz apparently seems to feel a tad offended by her line of questioning, which seemingly implies that he sold out his artistic integrity for a 007-sized paycheck.
"Yeah, I always do that, I always apply that precious measure, I’m a double Oscar-winner," Waltz retorts, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He continues by telling Hawkins that he also applies that discretion when determining which TV morning shows he deigns worthy of an appearance. "And, you know, before I went in here I said, ‘Hang on, do I need to do that? I’m a double Oscar winner," Waltz quips.
He then set Hawkins straight. "It’s a part, and the way they welcome you as a family member, that more or less defines everything that happens," Waltz tells her.
An interviewer called Jesse Eisenberg ‘such a jerk’
In the annals of celebrity interviews that went horribly off the rails, Jesse Eisenberg’s awkward sitdown with journalist Romina Puga reigns supreme. Eisenberg, who was promoting "Now You See Me" at the time, would later tell NME that he thought the back-and-forth was all in good fun and said it "was the most funny, interesting interview" from the junket; Puga called it a "self-esteem butchering" interview in a Tumblr post.
The chaos begins when Puga refers to Morgan Freeman as simply "Freeman" in one of her questions. "Freeman? What are you, on a baseball team with him?" asks Eisenberg. She then drives the interview off the proverbial cliff by getting cute, asking Eisenberg to "debunk" magic tricks and then demonstrating the classic "thumb swapped from one hand to the other" gag that is known to delight anyone under the age of nine months.
Eisenberg asks if she’s familiar with Carrot Top, to which she replies, "Yes, horrible." And then, he says she is "like the Carrot Top of interviewers." After a few stilted attempts to entice Eisenberg to say her name (a recurring bit in her celebrity interviews), Puga sums up her feelings for Eisenberg when she laughs, "Such a jerk."
Taylor Swift shook off this red carpet question
Taylor Swift was working the red carpet at the 2015 Grammy Awards when she made her way to "Entertainment Tonight" co-anchor Nancy O’Dell. After asking Swift to model the dress she was wearing, O’Dell tells Swift, "I just wanted to show the legs, because as I was telling you ahead of time you’re going to walk home with more than just a trophy tonight, I think lots of men."
Pausing for a beat, Swift responds with deadly seriousness, "I’m not gonna walk home with any men tonight." O’Dell then breaks out laughing, as Swift continues, "I’m gonna go hang out with my friends, and then I go home to the cats."
Flanking O’Dell on the red carpet was radio deejay Elvis Duran. On his radio show the next morning, Duran described the incident as "one of the most embarrassing moments of my career." He also tried to put some distance between himself and O’Dell. "It was like a stupid thing that Nancy O’Dell said… And so I’m standing next to her like, ‘Uh, I had nothing to do with that question. Wasn’t me.’"
Tony Danza did not realize he was on the air
Sometimes a celebrity interviewer’s gaffes are of a technical nature. This was the case with Tony Danza, awaiting a live-via-satellite interview with a local news broadcast while unable to hear the anchor who’d be conducting the interview attempting to speak with him. "Those news shows are terrible," Danza complains, while the anchor repeatedly calls his name. "I don’t wanna do this," Danza says of the interview. "Ooh, part of the local news, how exciting!"
"You never know when people are listenin’ to what you’re sayin’, Tony," the anchor says breezily, while Danza — still not hearing her — continues ranting. "Right after murder and mayhem, and the rescue in California, Tony Danza! I’m so excited," he continues. Finally, the technical problems are fixed and Danza can hear her — and realizes she’s been hearing him. Rather than apologize, he instead doubles down. "Although don’t you feel a little bit like that’s what you do, not for nothing, it’s not just me who thinks that, by the way," Danza tells the anchor, who cooly responds, "You know, it’s how I make my living, so…"
Mila Kunis shut down a reporter’s rude question in Russian
Mila Kunis co-starred in the 2011 rom-com "Friends with Benefits" with Justin Timberlake, who had branched out from music into acting. By that point, in fact, he’d amassed a pretty impressive roster of screen credits, including the crime drama "Edison," providing the voice of sidekick Boo Boo in the "Yogi Bear" animated feature, and even a well-received role in Oscar-winner "The Social Network."
However, when Timberlake and Kunis were promoting their movie in Russia, a reporter at a press conference asked Timberlake "about the movies and the sex," which she followed up by asking, "Why are you in movies?" Kunis, who was born in Ukraine and spent the first seven years of her life there, responded "What?" in fluent Russian.
"Wait, you’re asking why he wants to be in movies? What would you rather have him do?" Kunis says in Russian, adding, "If he wants to make movies, and he can, then why shouldn’t he? What kind of question is that?" She then asks the reporter, "Why are you here?"
An interviewer asked Anne Hathaway how much weight she lost
Among Anne Hathaway’s many roles has been Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, in the 2012 Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises." While promoting an entirely different movie, however, Hathaway’s Catwoman costume comes up. "How do you fit into that suit?" asks interviewer Chris Van Vliet, causing Hathaway to double over in laughter before admitting, "It takes three of us."
After Van Vliet tells Hathaway that she’s "in phenomenal shape right now," he asks, "How much weight have you lost to get into this shape right now?" Hathaway is taken aback. "You did not just ask me that question!" she replies with a gasp. "What a forward young man you are! My goodness. How much weight…"
Flustered, Van Vliet attempts to backtrack and clarify, before she says, "I worked very hard to become Selina Kyle." With that, the interview ends and the two shake hands. "I’m sorry if I offended you," offers Van Vliet. "You didn’t," replies Hathaway.
Larry King wasn’t sure if Seinfeld was cancelled or not
Before his 2021 death at the age of 87, Larry King was famous for his refusal to prep for his celebrity interviews, claiming that the less he knew about the person he was speaking with, the more curious he’d be about them on the air. That philosophy, however, also came to result in an infamous 2007 interview with Jerry Seinfeld.
As the two discussed his nine seasons of "Seinfeld," King says, "You gave it up right, they didn’t cancel you, you cancelled them?" Seinfeld stares dumbfounded at King, astounded he would have somehow missed the mountains of media hype that took place when he decided to end "Seinfeld."
"You’re not aware of this?" Seinfeld asks. "You think I got cancelled? Are you under the impression I got cancelled? I thought that was pretty well documented. Is this still CNN?" Seinfeld continues, gently chiding King. "I went off the air, I was the No. 1 show on television, Larry. Do you know who I am?" Seinfeld says. "Seventy-five million viewers, last episode… it’s a big difference, being cancelled and being No. 1."