Today marks the 27th anniversary of the release of Dirty Dancing. Two years ago marked the 25th anniversary of the release of Dirty Dancing (good math, huh?), but it also marked the day I pissed off Jennifer Grey.
By the time I interviewed Grey, I had several celebrity interviews under my belt. I mean, I wasn’t Barbara Walters — no one was tuning into Kat’s Most Fascinating People of 2012 or anything — but Grey was not the first celebrity I had interviewed. She would, however, be the first celebrity to let me know I had gone too far.
When I interview celebrities, I try to make them forget that they are being interviewed (and recorded). I do that by laughing a lot (too much, in fact, after listening to myself on my voice recorder), being cheerful to the point that I make Elmo from Sesame Street look like a manic depressive and by asking really ordinary questions that make the reader feel as if they are there with us. Gavin DeGraw and I talked about the annoying beeping of a reversing truck in the background for three minutes during my interview with him. That’s a long time when you consider his publicist would only let me talk to him for 10 minutes.
I also watch and read other interviews in a tireless effort to not ask celebrities questions they’ve been asked so many times that it makes them wish they were waiting tables in Santa Monica again.
When I researched “Baby,” I was shocked by how much people picked at her nose… job. Late-night hosts grilled her about how she was almost unrecognizable after surgery (right on the heels of skyrocketing to fame post-Dirty Dancing). Her now-famous quote about the procedure is, “I went into the operating room a celebrity and came out anonymous.” Jon Stewart compared her to a Labrador for heaven’s sake.
Did you catch that? She had an autobiographical show, titled It’s Like, You Know, where all the fuss about her nose was an ongoing gag. The point of all this is I started to feel bad for her. I wanted to give her an opportunity to say, once and for all, “Stop talking about my freaking nose.”
I was already a bit nervous about this interview because my managing editor at the time wanted me to ask Grey if there are scenes in Dirty Dancing that make her cringe when she watches it now. I wasn’t sure if I had the guts, but after I asked her a few polite questions about the anniversary DVD, I pushed the word-vomit button and launched. “I mean no offense with this question,” I began.
Grey interrupted me and reminded me that wasn’t a good way to start a question and if I thought it was going to be offensive, I probably shouldn’t ask. But I was on a humanitarian mission, or so I thought, to give her a platform to tell people to shut the hell up about her nose — in order to do that, I kind of had to ask her about her nose. So, ignoring all the sirens and red lights and the voice in my head that was screaming “abort, abort, abort,” I closed my eyes and went for it. “Is it enough already with people making such a big deal about your plastic surgery?”
The line went dead. Huh. I was conducting the interview by phone in a remote part of Montana and, while I had never been “disconnected” with a celebrity before, I thought maybe I just lost my cell signal. I tried right back. No answer. I frantically e-mailed Grey’s publicist, who eventually responded by telling me that Ms. Grey didn’t love the line of questioning and would not be finishing the interview.
Yay, me! Not only did I not ask the one question that my boss asked me to, I pissed Baby off in the process and was not-so-cordially invited to exit stage left. I learned two very important lessons that day. The first is I’m not Jon Stewart, so apparently, I can’t just hit the ground running with rhinoplasty questions. The second is, if a celebrity chastises you before you even ask the question, retreat. Fast. I ended up writing two articles about Dirty Dancing and Grey that day, motivated by guilt (and the desire to keep my job), never mentioning once that “nobody asks Baby about her nose.”