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    Great Interviews, Movies, and Stars

    By Jan Wahl–

    It’s been a fabulous career of not only movies, but also interviewing stars from Cary Grant to Johnny Depp (Grant was dry and funny, Depp deep and poetic). I like to pair these interviews with my favorites of their films: Depp was beyond wonderful in Don Juan DeMarco, and Grant lit up in Holiday

    One all-time favorite interview was with the articulate, underrated Ben Affleck. Sitting on an aircraft carrier during the Pearl Harbor junket, he was the most outspoken star I have spent time with. Instead of just sticking with the movie promotion, he went off about the entire Hollywood system of giving leading men too much power: “They can never be wrong, have the power to control casting and the director himself.”

    Fortunately, Affleck went on to make and star in my favorite of his films: Argo. His Good Will Hunting cowriter Matt Damon was a satisfying interview also, asking me to write down a few classic movies to round out his own cinematic education. The Talented Mr. Ripley is arguably Damon’s best. 

    To tear up during an interview is completely unusual, but it happened to both of us when I was with the inspired Jodie Foster.  She had made the film Contact, and there is a theme about fathers and daughters. I lost my own father and the idea of putting my life on the line to see him again touched my heart. I was honest with her and she responded with emotions of her own. Foster is also so smart. My thought as I left was, “She should be teaching at Harvard.”

    Sometimes the image and the reality match. Kim Novak was in town to promote a reissue of Vertigo. She was soft spoken, but I could sense the steel will underneath the cool exterior. After all, she survived the shark-infested waters of Hollywood. She indulged me to ask about Picnic and Bell, Book and Candle

    Novak left me with the impression that she had an affair with William Holden (you go, girl!) and truly loved her dual role in Vertigo. But I was most interested to know how she survived the world of Harry Cohn and pressures of objectification. She replied that it was animals and art that always save her, reminding her of a bigger life. I have met up with her since at two art shows and she is calm, patient, and as magical as she was in Bell, Book and Candle.

    Remember columnist Herb Caen? He was kind enough to write up my interview with Paul Newman. I was impressed that Newman was far more interested in current politics than his film, Nobody’s Fool. He wanted to know the current political players around the Bay Area and a bit about my own background. This never happens. Also, I somehow had the courage to ask him to remove his sunglasses. It was worth it.

    When a star has had a big life outside of show business, it is exciting. Joan Fontaine was an aviatrix, cordon bleu chef, fashionista, and conservationist. She dated fascinating men, including cartoonist Charles Addams and Adlai Stevenson, and was open to talking about each of them. Kitty Kelly’s book on Nancy Reagan had just come out and Fontaine was willing to give an opinion, since they were both at the studio at the same time. I wish I could share her off color response here! Thankfully, it was said to me in the limo and not on live television. My own favorites of Fontaine films are Jane Eyre and Rebecca; her own is The Constant Nymph.

    Ian McKellen gave me an unforgettable experience.  Live on the six o’clock news, his handlers had told me not to mention he was gay. McKellen had just been given the title “Sir,” so, of course, I asked what that honor was like. He answered, “Well, an old queen knighted an old queen.” 

    From the bright Natalie Portman to the rude Matt LeBlanc, from Lassie’s warm and wonderful Jon Provost to Atticus Finch himself Gregory Peck, stars can shine as brightly as their films … when I’m lucky!            

    Emmy Award-winner Jan Wahl is a renowned entertainment reporter, producer, and teacher. A member of the prestigious Directors Guild of America, she is regularly featured on KPIX television (every Monday morning starting at 6:15 am) and on KGO Radio 810 and other media outlets. For more info about her remarkable life and career: Check out her new podcast “Jan Wahl Showbiz” at

    Published on December 3, 2020