Neil Strauss sur l'utilisation de techniques sur Madonna.
Neil Strauss on rock stars, Charlie Sheen and the art of a good interview
Neil Strauss on using pickup techniques on Madonna and why he no longer wants to ghost-write Charlie Sheen's memoir
By Drew Grant
Friday, Mar 18, 2011 14:19 ET
Neil Strauss, king of the interviews
I was nervous before going to meet Neil Strauss, whose new book, "Everyone Loves You When You're Dead," is an anthology of his two decades of celebrity interviews. Despite his numerous books and hundreds of articles for Rolling Stone and the New York Times, Strauss will be forever known to the general public as the guy who wrote "The Game," which documents his experience in the "seduction community" along with famous pickup artist Mystery. Neil and I were going to take a 50-minute car ride from his hotel in Manhattan to a bookstore in Brooklyn where Strauss would be speaking, and -- not that I was worried anything would happen -- I was essentially locking myself in for a long haul with someone who has become an expert at psychological examination and dissection.
I shouldn't have been worried. Neil Strauss was more wary of me than I was of him. "You scare me as an interviewer," he says after I express my own trepidation. "Because the kind of person that is bad socially -- and I'm not saying you are, but you did say you were awkward socially -- but really trusts their fingers, they are scary to talk to. You don't know what they're thinking, and you don't know what's going to happen after they go home and get in touch with how they really communicate."
So with it established that we both freaked the other one out a little bit, I attempted to interview one of the most established interviewers in the world.
- Long day?
Yes. It's not like it used to be. Before you just did some press and went home. Now you're making viral videos ... Twitter, Facebook, the mailing list. There's satellite radio, there's Internet radio ...
- So how do you think that changes the process of connecting with someone, both as an interviewer and as a subject?
It sucks as the interviewer. Most of the stuff in the book never would have happened nowadays because you don't get the same access. They [the celebrities] don't need the journalists as much. Now they can just tweet and Facebook to their fans as exactly the type of person they want people to think they are, versus what I try to do in my Rolling Stone profiles, which is to show who they really are.
- Over and over in this book, the stars you interview keep saying, "Oh, I never told anyone this," or "I can't believe I'm showing [a journalist] this side of me."
I do realize there is a mutual seduction process at work. They want me to like them, so who knows, maybe they say those types of things to make me feel like the interview is special. I'm always petrified before interviews, even now. They are really stressful, and take tons of prep work.
- I remember you telling Zac Efron that maybe he doesn't party as hard as co-stars because he comes from a nuclear family, and I was like, "Wow, this guy has really done his homework."
Yeah, well, Zac is easy, he's had a short career. There have been times when I've almost turned down the profile with huge, mainstream artists because I haven't wanted to go memorize and immerse myself in their entire recorded career.
- You have an interesting style of interviewing people, where it comes off less like you have a series of questions you want answers to, and more like you decide what direction to take things in after listening to them talk. A lot of times this ends up with the stars asking you for your opinion about them. Is there a secret to getting these heavily guarded people to confide in you?
The three successful keys to a good interviewer is being nonjudgmental, being naturally curious and deep listening. And that's not just hearing what people say, but feeling out the words, the pauses and those sorts of things as you decide where to dig in deeper, where people are being sincere and real.
- You have that infamous Britney Spears interview in your book, where you used some of the techniques you picked up in "The Game" on her. How often do you use the skills you learned from Mystery and the pickup artists when talking to famous people?
I use it all the time, but that just adds on to what I just said is fundamentally true about how to get a good interview. What "The Game" added was two things: one, in harder interviews how to get people to open up, and two, a way to understand and connect with someone. So I would run the routines I learned in order to get a stranger, someone you just met, to become someone you know and who knows you better. Male or female, doesn't matter.
- Guys and women?
Yeah, because it's not like you're trying to, uh ... have sex with them, or anything like that. It's more like, um ... Sorry. It's more like a phase of seduction.
- Can you give me some examples?
The White Stripes, when I interviewed them, were closed off, were really closed off. I did this thing called eliciting values. It's basically asking these three questions to find out what somebody's core motivating goals are. If you check out "Rules of the Game," it's in there, under "routines" section.
- What are the three questions?
I feel like if I explain them to you, it would be boring. Another example would be Madonna: I was just another guy who showed up to interview her, you know, and we're on her private plane. It's going OK, but then I thought, "What if I pull the lying game on her?"
- The lying game?
I think it was the lying game, yeah. It's where you can tell when someone is lying, they don't even need to speak, you can tell when people are just thinking lies. And Madonna got really into it, and it really bonded her stylist and her manager, and everyone just became more interested. They all just enjoyed the experience. They think, "Oh, a journalist is coming, it's going to suck," and they have to be on good behavior because they're going to be judged, they're going to be written about. And now they're just having fun, and they are learning about themselves and they're like, "This is awesome."
- Is there anyone who has been entirely nonreciprocal to this approach?
Not really. And one last thing about being a good interviewer: The biggest mistake I could make as a journalist would be trying to prove myself to them. To say, "This is why I'm special too." You want them to be focused on themselves, not you.
- So if you were me, and you were interviewing Neil Strauss, what techniques should I be using on you?
I don't know. I don't think you'd need to use any. I'm pretty talkative.
Everyone Loves You When You're Dead
by Neil Strauss
Photo: Bjorn Opsahl.