Watching Andrew Denton interview Michael Parkinson on More Than Enough Rope on ABC television recently was a lesson in good interviewing techniques. Denton even admitted he only needed to turn up, say something to get started and then sit back and let Michael just tell his stories.
Parkinson was relating how difficult it was way back when he was trying get his interview show up and running and he credited the late Orson Welles with its successful beginning. Because Parkinson was not as yet an established name it was difficult to get people to come on the show. The producer went all out to get a big name, one that would smooth the way for others and flew to Spain where Welles was making the eventually uncompleted Don Quixote. The successful deal negotiated meant persuading British Airways to knock out the front two rows of seats on the aircraft out so that Welles could sleep on a mattress on the floor.
“And he walked on the aeroplane and he looked at the mattress on the floor and smiled and went and sat in the seat. It jumped the hurdle. And then he came to my room and I’d been working on this interview for, like, all my life, and I opened the door and he was dressed entirely in black, black sombrero, black tie, black shirt, black cloak and he swept into the room. Incredibly dramatic.
“My name’s Orson Welles”, he said “And you would be?”
And I said, “Er Parkinson.”
“Yes”, he said.
And he looked around and he saw this scrap of paper on my desk and he said, “That?”
I said, “My questions.”
“Do you mind if I look?”
I said, “No.”
And he picked them up and he turned to me and he said, “How many of these shows have you done?”
I said, “Two.”
“I’ve done many more”, he said. “Will you take my advice?”
I said, “Certainly”.
And he ripped up the questions and he said, “Let’s talk”. And walked away.
And he sat down and he did two one hours that night, that were majestic.”
Tearing up the questions might run counter to our instincts of wanting to be well prepared for what comes next. Sometimes the best stories arise from our letting go of the process and just having a conversation.