THE interviewer becomes the interviewee as Close-up Culture chat to Entertainment Tonight’s Emmy Award-winning correspondent Carly Steel.
Q: You have a real talent for making big-name celebrities – like Tom Cruise, Mariah Carey, Vin Diesel, Celine Dion, George Clooney and many others – feel comfortable enough to bring out a fun side of themselves. What is your secret to building these rapports?
A: That’s very kind of you to say and that’s always my top priority in every interview. I always try to create a relaxed, natural vibe and bring out the most authentic part of the person’s character, and maybe even a side the audience hasn’t seen before! Despite the cameras and tons of people watching.
In terms of secrets, I would say it comes down to a couple of things – first the interview lives and dies before the cameras roll. You never know what you are walking into, what is going on in that person’s life, what they have been asked before, and how they are feeling, so you have 30 seconds to create a quick bond and put them at ease to try and make it feel more like a real life interaction and less like a formal interview.
The best way to do this is to have already found a common ground with them, something that makes them light up, and makes the chat feel like it would if you met at a party.
Which brings me onto the next secret, which pertains to creating affinity. Your energy is the unspoken element that people can sense without even realizing. That gives you those fun interview moments. People can feel at their core if you are an authentic person, who is there to support and be with them in the moment. Really listen to what they are saying, have fun with it and tune out everything else. A sense of humor also helps!
Q: It feels like a lot of modern media centers around sensationalisation – and trying to create friction and negativity for a clickable headline. Do you feel your focus on fun sets you apart from this trend?
A: Yes absolutely. My focus has never been to trick someone into giving me a soundbite or turning them into clickbait – it’s to work with them in doing so.
I’m not afraid to ask the hard questions, but what really seems to have captured audience attention, and what people mostly write to me about, are those funny moments.
If I’m required to ask something I’m not comfortable with, instead of not doing it and letting my outlet down, I strive to work with the talent to deliver something even better by creating a moment that will capture viewers’ attention and interest in a different way.
Or I’ll come up with a funny way to ask the tough question so it won’t feel so uncomfortable for the talent and they’ll still laugh. I always want them to find the interview experience relaxed and enjoyable.
Q: It has just passed a year since a photo of you at the Met Gala wearing a Christian Siriano crown went viral. How do you reflect on this meme’d moment?
A: The Met Gala is such a star studded event. With so many A-listers working very hard to create memorable moments on that carpet, I was definitely not expecting all that press.
The Christian Siriano dress and House of Halos crown were certainly bold, but at the Met everyone wears decadent ensembles, so to wake up with thousands of alerts on my phone and all these articles everywhere was insane. That and Celine Dion serenading while crowning me on the carpet, and bringing the Met to a standstill – it’s going to be tough to top that! Just one of those magical evenings.
This year everyone wore crowns and dresses in a similar style to my look last year so I’m not sure it would have happened had it been this year!
Q: I imagine your first-class degree in Law helps you research for interviews. Can you tell us about your research and preparation process?
A: I love research almost as much as I love interviewing! I’m such a nerd and have been academically trained to be very thorough in this department.
Aside from the obvious tools of googling the latest news and looking at social media, I like to watch the interviews that have come before mine at the start of the press tours and see what has been asked and what hasn’t, what the talent responds well to and what they don’t.
I also watch old interviews with the talent and comedians – Graham Norton, James Corden, Ellen, Fallon, Kimmel, etc. to see which makes them laugh and light up – I get a lot of inspiration from those shows.
Q: As well as research, how important for you is it to have a level of spontaneity to your work and to always be sharp to creating/going along with ‘a moment’?
A: I’m a perfectionist and like to be as prepared as possible going into a shoot – it’s a little counter intuitive – the more prepared I am – the more off the cuff I can be in the interview and just be with the talent in the moment.
Thanks to studying law, I have a photographic memory and try never to look at my cards during the interview, even during the lengthier ones, as it breaks the bond and connection. But at the end of the day there is an elements of just listening and responding to whatever the talent does on the spot and letting it play out, being with them moment to moment – that’s what creates those organic memorable moments – always look for those opportunities.
Q: Fashion and beauty are also big parts of your profession. Who do you look up to and seek advice from when it comes to putting together your red carpet looks?
A: I worked at Vogue magazine in NYC which definitely had an influence, and also have a very stylish mother so I would say I’m very lucky in that sense to have that sounding board and she is brutally honest (like most Scottish mothers).
I’m also lucky to have amazing hair and makeup teams which is everything! Karen Knopp and Mathilde Campos in LA, Karmen Haik and Jamina Lawrence in NYC, and Margo Holder in the UK and for Cannes / Venice / European shoots – they help me elevate any ensemble with good beauty tricks!
Q: You have been Stateside for some time now. Do you still carry any of your Scottish roots with you?
A: I am Scottish born and raised, both my parents are Scottish, and I was born in the same town as William Wallace so that rebellious blood runs through my veins! So much of who I am as a person, especially in terms of work ethic, cheeky sense of humor, and not taking things too seriously, is thanks to that upbringing.
I’m proud to be Scottish – the British Isles may be small, but they are mighty!
While I have to host in an Americanized accent in the States (yes, they make me re-do anything in voiceover that doesn’t sound American and that goes for pronunciations as well as the accent which has been challenging!) and because of that aspect, I’m sure some people think I have in some way reneged on my Scottish heritage, but make no mistake I am Scottish through and through, and if they hung out with me they would see that!
Q: Your job comes with many glamorous perks, including traveling the world. What gives you the most satisfaction in your job?
A: I’ve always had a wanderlust and a sense of adventure. This job has definitely fulfilled all my wildest dreams in terms of constant travel to epic places with amazing people. I love having friends all over the world.
And I would say movie set visits are my favorite to do because I’m film obsessed and having the privilege of going on set and watching the top filmmakers and actors make movie magic, then getting to discuss it with them on the set – honestly is one of the coolest things ever and I’ve never lost a sense of excitement with that.
At this point I could take it or leave it with the red carpet – but unique opportunities like set visits are magical and I’m very grateful to have had those experiences.
Q: You are an actor as well as a reporter. Do you get a different thrill out of this?
A: I always wanted to go to Stage School and be an actress. Ever since I saw CATS as a young girl, I even named my first cat Mistofelees!
Acting and hosting are different skill sets in many ways, but you’d be surprised by how much hosting, good hosting, requires a performance element and so I trained at one of the top comedy acting schools in LA, Lesly Kahn, and in Improv at UCB, to help with this!
Q: What would your advice be to young entertainment correspondents trying find their start in the industry?
A: The entertainment news industry is changing and evolving at a rapid pace so the advice I would give right now, is different from the advice I would have given a year ago, and is probably different from the advice I would give in a year from now!
At the moment the focus is shifting away from television as a medium and onto to streaming and digital. Less and less people in target demos are watching TV anymore. So I would say the goal of working on one of the top 4 shows – ET, Access, Extra and E! should no longer be the endgame. I would advise working for one of these shows, even as an assistant, so you are around and trained as a broadcast quality host and producer, and make contacts and build relationships which will stand you in good stead for anything that comes your way.
But simultaneously focus on your personal brand – in social media, on YouTube as a vlogger, with a podcast etc., to try and built up your own audience and create your own content. That potent combination of having broadcast quality training and skills, with the ability to connect to a specific audience and build a following for your own brand and create your own content is what will be key.
You need all those elements to have longevity.
Q: What is next for you in the coming months and beyond?
A: At this point my focus is now shifting back to creating my own content and building my production company. This is been something I’ve been thinking about since last summer.
Before I started at ET, 3 years ago, I sold a travel show with Lionsgate to Pop network called ‘Jet to the Set,’ and really love being involved in the more of the ‘behind the scene’s aspects of the business – writing, editing producing etc. – that’s where I feel the most creatively satisfied.
So I would say creating and producing scripted and unscripted projects, and looking for a new challenge in the hosting arena – perhaps some form of my own show, or even a different kind of platform, would be the next phase of my career.
Title Image – Photographer: Diana Ragland
Makeup: Karen Knopp