Wednesday 21 September 2011

An Exclusive Interview With Empire Magazine News Editor Chris Hewitt!

Mr Hewitt hard at work.
Those pens won't suck themselves.
If you're reading this blog, you're probably vaguely interested in films. If you're vaguely interested in films, you've probably read Empire magazine. And if you've read Empire magazine, you'll probably have had your eyeballs gently fingered by the words of Chris Hewitt, the magazine's News Editor.

You may also know him as Videblogisode Man from the Empire website, and also as the host of The Event Formerly Known As Movie-Con, now known as Big Screen. What's more, he's one of those guys who popped up on Film 2010 every few weeks with a list of tenuously linked films that got everybody cross on Twitter. His talents are literally endless, and on top of all that he's a very nice man.

I met Chris last week at the Empire office where we sat by the kitchen with a nice glass of water and talked rubbish for nearly an hour, thereby delaying next month's issue, for which I apologise. To make up for it, here are the least rubbishy bits of rubbish we said:

What does the Empire magazine News Editor do?
I'm responsible for the news section, so I choose the films and people we cover each month. I set up interviews and conduct a lot of them myself, and I commission news stories, sidebars, photoshoots and whatnot. My job involves a bit of online work as well - I'm meant to bestride both worlds like a Colossus but there's too much to do on the magazine - although I do a lot of video work for the site.
Mr Hewitt researches ideas for the next issue

You've interviewed loads of people. I'm a complete novice. Can you give me any tips?
Relax, do your research, know your subject as well as you possibly can.

Oh dear.
The biggest thing to do in an interview is listen. It seems obvious, but you do get nervous and you won't listen to what someone's saying because you're too busy thinking about your next question. Just have a conversation.

Righto. I wasn't actually listening to any of that because I was too busy thinking about my next question, which is this: What's the worst interview you've ever done? Don't say this one.
My worst interview was, and always will be, Woody Harrelson. It was a Public Access interview, which is a feature we used to do where readers sent in questions. I went to this hotel, it was pissing down with rain and he was late. When he walked in he had a face like thunder, and I thought, I'm in trouble here. I got the stuff about his new film - a dreadful heist comedy called Scorched - out of the way and said, "Right, so this is the Public Access part of the interview, have you been briefed about this?" "No." "OK, well, er, this is the 'quirky questions from our readers' bit, haha". He just treated every question with disdain, giving increasingly terse answers and calling the questions "kinda dumb."
After a few more he went, "Man, if these questions don't get any better I'm gonna have to -" and he pointed at the door, and I'm like, shit. So I looked down at the page in utter panic and I alighted on two questions. One was about his dad being involved in the JFK assassination, and I thought, I am not gonna ask that. I'll ask this one: "So, was Oliver Stone on cocaine when he made Natural Born Killers?" He just stood up, shook my hand and walked off. The publicist came running over saying, "What did you say to him? What did you do?" and they wanted to hear my tape in case I'd just told him to fuck off. I was expecting to be fired, but when I got back to the office they just said well, shit happens, he was in a bad mood, and we never actually ran the interview. I've had bad interviews since but I've never had anything to rival that.

Well, don't worry, there's still today. Let's talk about Big Screen. How was it for you?
I really enjoyed it. Numbers-wise, it was a big success and we're definitely going to look at doing it again next year. Certainly we made mistakes, and we'll learn from those mistakes. Ticketing mistakes were a big thing, scheduling errors too, but we'll look at that, because ultimately we want to give people an experience they can't get anywhere else in this country. From my point of view there were teething problems, but I thought it went really well, and we had a very broad scope of films. Empire's a broad church, and although we get accused of being blockbuster orientated we do try to reflect all sides of cinema. That's what I think Big Screen has over anything else, that scope.

What were your personal highlights?
Interviewing the Muppets wasn't a career highlight, that was a life highlight. The wave of love that greeted Kermit when he appeared on screen was phenomenal, and to have a back and forth with Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy saying dialogue that I had written was just amazing. It doesn't matter how first base the dialogue might have been; I put words into Miss Piggy's mouth and I was fairly happy about that. And the ramshackle things-going-wrong-and-falling-apart element of Big Screen - it's stuff we want to get right next year, but it also makes it funnier.

Now then. The Jack Reacher novels...

You're a huge fan.
I've got the new book. I'm on page 67. He hasn't punched anyone yet.

So as a Jack Reacher fan and as a film fan, how do you feel about the casting of five-foot-seven Tom Cruise as the six-foot-five Reacher for the forthcoming One Shot?
I've just written a piece for ShortList advocating Tom Cruise as Reacher, which is in no way related to any desire I have to get onto the set of that movie. I know he isn't perhaps quite the physical fit for Reacher that we want, but I can't think of an actor who is. Neeson, maybe twenty years ago. Liev Schreiber, maybe a bit too weasley, Aaron Eckhart if he grew five inches. The Rock, possibly, although he always has a layer of irony going on and Reacher doesn't do irony.

You might as well get someone who can bring star power and will bring an indomitability to the role. I reread One Shot to see how much the action is predicated on Reacher's size, and it's not a lot to be honest, so they might get away with it for this one. [One Shot director] Chris McQuarrie's worked with Cruise before, he knows what he's about and they'll probably go for a more realistic, dialled-down action hero than this man-mountain that [Reacher author] Lee Child has written. The thing with a Reacher movie is that the "right" situation is pretty much screwed up, as in lots of different producers at lots of different studios have a piece of the Reacher pie. There may be nothing to stop another studio launching a rival Reacher film.

Have you written any reviews you'd rather erase from existence?
[Sheepish] You know what I'm gonna say here.

Attack Of The Clones?
Attack Of The Clones. Five stars. Yeah. In fact it has been erased from existence: if you go on the Empire website you will not find a five star review of Attack Of The Clones.

Are you allowed to rewrite history like that? Isn't it a bit 1984?
Of course we're allowed to do it, it's our website! You know, we get things wrong all the time but that one definitely stands out. It was on the verge of getting four stars and I lost my nerve at the last minute. It's not even a very well written review, it's dreadful. It's gonna haunt me to my dying day.
What would you give it now then?
Being generous, three stars. When I watch it now it's with a magnifying glass, trying to see the things I found five-star-worthy, and I don't see anything. I think the Yoda lightsabre fight was the main cause of the five stars. I'm a bit of a prequel apologist and I will happily defend The Phantom Menace, but Attack Of The Clones is so bland and processed. The green screen work is possibly the worst in the prequel trilogy. It doesn't hold up and I'm embarrassed about that review.

Could you rustle up a Top 5 films of all time?
I could rustle up a Top 1 of all time - Evil Dead II. It's astonishing. Someone once described Dennis Bergkamp as being able to put a football on a postage stamp from forty yards, and I think Sam Raimi is like that with cameras. That's a bit tortuous but it's phenomenal, I love it to pieces. It's funny, it's scary, he does things with the camera that no director should even attempt, but he pulls it off amazingly, and Bruce Campbell is just brilliant. What else? Erm... John Carpenter's The Thing, Die Hard, The Empire Strikes Back, Jaws... all that stuff.

What are your picks for the London Film Festival?
The Artist. I've seen it already but I want other people to see it. Film of the year so far. Also The Descendants, Coriolanus, A Dangerous Method... I'm hearing great things about Shame. It looks like a good, solid year. The only criticism I'd have would be that a lot of films have already premiered at other film festivals, which is a bit of a shame. The LFF has the potential to be one of the world's premier festivals and I don't know whether it's quite there. They do well in terms of getting big names there, though - I'm sure Clooney will be there again.

I'm hoping Ryan Gosling will be.
Yes. He is good. Maybe he could play Reacher? No, he's too small. They'd never cast somebody smaller than Reacher to play Reacher, that would be stupid.

Will you be back for Film 2011?
Yep, I got the call. It's back in October. I can't be any more precise than that. I'm delighted to be a part of it, I grew up watching that show. I was at a BBC Films party in Cannes this year and I was three feet away from [former Film Programme reporter] Tom Brook, and I had a massive spazz-out because I couldn't believe I was standing near Tom Brook. He's a legend.
Tom Brook, legend.

I'm not sure I'd recognise him unless he was standing in the middle of Times Square.
I think he lived on that traffic island. He was just some hobo they woke up every week and he looked around at all the cinemas then talked about whatever was on. Did you know Tom Brook was the BBC reporter on the scene after John Lennon's murder? He must have some way better stories than mine. I wasn't at the murder of John Lennon. For the record. Or was I?

No, you weren't. But you are a film star.
Am I?

According to the Internet Movie Database, you played 'Drunken British Slob' in Hostel Part II.
I fucking did, yes!

Now, you're a teetotaller, so, either you're a great actor or you just got really shitfaced.
No, the camera just started rolling, and Chris Hewitt disappeared and 'Drunken British Slob' appeared. Actually 'Man In Bar' would be more accurate, because I don't actually speak. I don't have anything to do except the worst double take in cinematic history. It's extraordinarily bad. It's worse than the pigeon in Moonraker. God bless Eli Roth for a) putting me in and giving me a credit, and b) putting me on the blooper reel. At the end of the day he said, "All right Hewitt, you can talk to the girl now", so we did a scene of "hilarious" improvisation that ended with me cracking up several times at my own jokes. That must baffle people when they watch the blooper reel. Who the fuck is this guy? Why has he got dialogue? Is this a character that was cut from the film? There was a point where I was going to appear again as the corpse of the Drunken British Slob, but sadly I wasn't good enough to play a dead body. I did a magnificent Fagin at a school production of Oliver! though, so if Eli ever needs me for Hostel! The Musical, then I'm available.
Mr Hewitt is on the left

Who's the most famous person you've stood next to at a urinal?
Simon Pegg.

Were you doing a wee at the time, or were you just watching?
[Uncomfortably long pause] Can I take the fifth? Actually I was waiting. There was a big queue. And I wasn't stood next to him, I was stood behind him. I know that sounds worse. And then he shook my hand and I don't think he'd washed. Maybe it was a comment on something I'd written, who knows? I don't actually think I could stand at a urinal next to a famous person. I don't think I'd be able to go. I'd freeze up. And you wouldn't be able to resist a cheeky glance, let's be honest. What if it was Liam Neeson? Technically speaking, if what you've heard about Liam Neeson is true, you wouldn't actually be beside him, he'd be three feet behind. Unfurling.

How much is a pint of milk?
49 to 55 pence depending on your establishment of choice.

You sound very authoritative.
I don't actually know. I'm bluffing my way through this. Some people actually look that up before we interview them. Ricky Gervais is in the next issue, and he said, "Just to show you I'm not out of touch: a thousand pounds".

Is it true that you're Jennifer Love Hewitt's dad?
No, I'm her third cousin. Leyton Hewitt is her dad. Do you think he's the most famous Hewitt?

Probably, present company excepted. What's your favourite colour?

That's not very interesting. Nick Frost said "shit".
Shit's not a colour. It's a mood. [Long pause] Red.

Finally, here's a quick fire round.
Ooh, I love these! Red!

I haven't started yet.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Next to the kitchen.

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?

What About Bob?
Also syphillis, he gave it to Baby Jane.

What’s Up Doc?
Whatever he wants.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
Can I say syphillis again? No, haemorrhoids.

Dude, Where’s My Car?
In the multi-storey car park near Tottenham Court Road. I advise you move it very quickly because the charges are very high.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Nothing. It's all about the Benjamins.

Shall We Dance?
I've got two left feet, but if you want to, let's go for it.

Quo Vadis?
Uh... Everton nil? I don't even know what that means.

It means "where are you going?"
Really? I might just sit here for a while and reflect.

Fine. Thank you very much!
You're welcome.
Mr Hewitt enjoys a post-interview "reflect" with this month's FHM

Thanks to Chris Hewitt for his time, the staff at Empire for letting me borrow him for bit, and Ali Plumb for the delicious glass of water.


  1. I can't believe you got an interview for your birthday Chris. People are far too good to you.

  2. I'm literally off to buy Hostel Part II right now.

  3. Film stars doing publicity interviews giving the same answers over and over again must see the critics as an attack of the clones; Empire Hewitt Knewitt having perhaps a bit of extra clout. As for being impressed by former critics like Tom Brook being at hospitality partes remember this, they are just freeloaders now.

    Celebrities are not gods, so it is hardly a surprise to spot one pointing percy at the porcelain. Many are also to be found standing in the pouring rain at the perimeter of buildings smoking a fag.