Image courtesy of www.interaksyon.com
Why are we frothing over Ricky Lo's interview with Anne Hathaway? When I watched the video my first reaction was embarrassment. But who exactly was I embarrassed for: Lo, Hathaway, or myself?
As celebrity interviews go, this is not the most dumbass we've ever seen. On the scale of inanity, it's average. Granted, we are connoisseurs at the cringe-making interview. (We remember the one where a local TV host talks to a Brazilian model and discovers that she is of German descent. "Heil Hitler!" he exclaims. And he does the Nazi salute. On television. I’m not sure, but there may have been a laugh track to go with it. Note: Never do that in Germany.)
What went wrong with the Hathaway interview? It doesn't sound that different from the veteran entertainment editor's other interviews, and they did not elicit this level of Internet execration. There was the one where he was talking to a British musician who was a former soldier and his question was: "You're a licensed pilot. Have you ever flown a plane?" That incident flew - haha - under the radar; the musician is not as popular as Anne Hathaway and Les Miserables. (Of course Pinoys love Les Miserables, it’s got singing and crying.)
Lo's first question to Hathaway is a doozy - if it makes it onto a T-shirt, I'm buying one. Recite it with me: "You lost 25 pounds for the role of Fantine. How did you do it and how did you gain it back?" I'm sure Lo meant the question to be an expression of his admiration.
Weight is always a highly charged issue in show business: actors are slammed mercilessly when they put it on, and suspected of anorexia when they lose it. Movie stars win Oscars by gaining/losing a lot of it (Charlize Theron in Monster, Christian Bale in The Fighter. Fine, they were brilliant, but the weight got them noticed). At this point Hathaway is a lock for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and her weight has something to do with it.
Unfortunately when Lo poses the question to Hathaway, cultural differences come into play and it sounds like he's calling her fat. That's not going to put her in the mood. Bad enough that she probably had to do 50 of those interviews in a row. (It's like the "Horse and Hound" scene from Notting Hill.) Not being Pinoy, Hathaway is not used to strangers greeting her with, "Uy, ang taba mo ngayon, ah!" (Hey, you're fat now!)
Then they discuss how she prepared for her role, and she mentions researching the "emotional toll…of being a sex slave." He does not inquire if she has ever been a sex slave. However, later on he asks how someone like her who is perceived as privileged could identify with her character (i.e. wretched and oppressed). "Have you ever experienced to be hungry? To be poor, and you know, just like the character?"
In the Philippines this is an acceptable question to ask an actress. Entertainers are expected to divulge their deepest, darkest secrets. We’re an inquisitive people. Ask for directions on the road, and you will be asked why you’re going there, who you’re meeting, and whether you’re married.
In places where acting is regarded as a serious profession, it can get you slugged. Actors are a very sensitive lot; it comes with the territory. You do not need to be attacked by acid-spewing monsters on a spaceship to play Ripley in Alien (although Method actors would find some equivalent). It would seem that Lo is challenging Hathaway's credibility at playing a miserable waif who is dying of consumption.
"That's a very personal question," Hathaway replies rather testily. Lo laughs, probably from embarrassment. I’m only watching a computer screen, but I want to run away and hide behind the sofa.
Then he mentions his "friend from the Philippines", Lea Salonga, who has played Fantine onstage to great acclaim. This is very Pinoy, name-dropping the famous, although we can't claim it only happens here. In the presence of foreigners we’re eager to mention internationally recognized Filipinos, American reality show contestants of Filipino descent, anyone we can claim as our own. This is a potentially embarrassing situation: if they don’t know who we're talking about, it may feel like our entire nation has been snubbed. I suspect we do this because we get very little attention in the global media, although that seems to be changing.
At least Lo didn't show Hathaway his photos with Lea and other celebrities or make her promise to accept his friend request on Facebook. He does show her a message from Lea on his phone. Hathaway is profuse in her praise of Salonga, and basically says she can’t compare with the Filipino singer. She is self-deprecating: "If you think of me as an actor who sings, rather than a singer, I would probably be more impressive." Well played. They talk about Hathaway's mother, who had also played Fantine onstage, favorite scenes in the movie, Oscar chances, etc. (Anne Hathaway definitely deserves that Oscar for The Dark Knight Rises, where she was the only one who seemed to be having fun.) Give Lo some credit for not asking her to sing a line or two from "I Dreamed A Dream".
But as the four-minute interview draws to a close, Lo brings up Lea Salonga again. "Would you like to say any message for Lea, who's looking forward to watching the movie and meeting you in person?" Perhaps he has run out of things to ask Hathaway. Perhaps he thinks that she has been answering the same questions all day, and talking about Lea is the only thing that differentiates him from the other reporters.
"Well, we've already talked about Lea," is Hathaway's reply, and I scurry under the sofa and cover my eyes. At which point Lo says, "What about inviting fans from the Philippines to watch the movie, showing January?"
You have to understand that this is how every celebrity interview on Philippine television ends. The host asks the celebrity to issue a personal invitation to the viewers to watch her movie or buy her album or watch her concert. (Pinoys like the personal approach, we have to feel that we have been acknowledged. Consider how listeners call radio stations to ask the DJs to greet them on-air.) And then the host gives the celebrity a big can of Birch Tree powdered milk and a pack of YC Bikini Briefs (For the man who packs a wallop. Kuya Germs interviewing Hugh Jackman: I'd pay to see that).
"Why don't you invite them?" Hathaway says. "I think they'd much rather hear it from you." Aray. Fortunately the video ends before I have dug a hole in the floor to vanish into.
In sum, the Lo-Hathaway interview is littered with cultural landmines, all of which Lo stepped on. If it were a Filipino interviewing another Filipino, we would not be foaming at the mouth. But he's talking to a foreigner, a world-famous actress whom we admire. And every time a Filipino speaks to a foreigner in an international setting, he automatically becomes the representative of the Filipino nation (He makes us look inarticulate and inane!). We think the whole world is looking on and judging us. That's why we're embarrassed.
Why do we get so worked up over stuff like this? That's another column.