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From PDX to LA: The Hollywood Reporter’s Stacey Wilson-Hunt

Monday, October 06, 2014

 

Stacey Wilson-Hunt

Byron Beck interviews Stacey Wilson-Hunt

 Portland native Stacey Wilson-Hunt made the move from PDX to LA when she landed a senior gig at The Hollywood Reporter. She talks to GoLocalPDX about LA’s obsession with Portland, and interviewing Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston in bed. 

What did you do before The Hollywood Reporter?

SWH: Immediately before this job I’d been freelancing in Portland, where I was People magazine’s Northwest correspondent, an editor at Portland Monthly and a features writer for the latter for six years. Prior to that, I was living in New York, working at Details magazine, TV Guide and Us Weekly. Just before those jobs, I’d gotten my masters in journalism at  Columbia University.

And I started my career in Seattle working tech editorial jobs at Microsoft and various other companies, but always kind of knew journalism and the entertainment business was where my heart would eventually lead me.

How did you get the gig of Senior Editor at THR?

I’d been a freelance writer in Portland for a number of years following a four-year stint in New York. But by early 2010, it was becoming increasingly difficult to pay the bills and I started to accept the fact that if I wanted to stay in the business, I needed to move to L.A., or back to NYC.

On one afternoon in early February, I looked at the website Mediabistro.com, for which I’d also been a party hostess in Portland, and saw an ad that said: “Associate Features Editor” at The Hollywood Reporter in L.A. Turns out the 80-year-old daily trade paper was going to be transitioning to become a weekly magazine and they needed entertainment-savvy editors. Within five minutes, I found out through friends in New York who the hiring editor was, sent him a few of my best Portland Monthly news features and various entertainment clips.

By the following week, I had an interview scheduled and by late February, I’d been hired. It was crazy, and totally and utterly unexpected. I moved down in early April and by the following summer I’d been promoted to senior editor per my polite but firm urging that my title be changed to reflect what had become an enormous workload.

What is your beat? As in, what is the area that you are most likely to report on?

A loaded question! I’m actually a rare generalist in some senses. I was originally hired to manage special issues, which encompass our numerous power lists, themed service packages and awards issues for Oscars and Emmys. But I’ve ended doing those and much more, including various cover stories, booking and producing our video lounges at Sundance, Toronto and Comic-Con, booking and moderating our Emmy roundtable series, and pulling off large-scale photo events, like our Oscar producers portrait at Robert Evans house last spring and my recent reunions of Love Story actors Ali Macgraw and Ryan O’Neal, and Thelma and Louise stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, the latter of which completely blew up the Web when Susan tweeted a selfie of them from the shoot. That was cool.

Do you ever get intimidated by the people you interview? 

Creative people can be weird— let’s face it. I find film people to generally be less accessible at times than TV people, and often folks are evasive or just simply hate being interviewed. But I’ve never felt intimidated. If anything, I’ve found if you make a joke here and there, and really, really, really know your stuff, there isn’t anyone who can’t be charmed into talking.

Also, people love to be flattered, especially about their more obscure work that perhaps never made it into the mainstream, so if you mention certain credits, they’re often putty in your hands.

Who are the interviewees who have left you star-struck?

Certainly interviewing Oprah at her home in Montecito tops the list, as I’d never spoken to someone who I genuinely felt I’d grown up with. She was as wonderful and real as you might expect!

Second to her would be Brad Pitt, whom I met at the Indie Spirits awards following his win for "12 Years a Slave." He was utterly polite and warm, which was so refreshing, as A-list actors are rarely so lacking in obvious neuroses. And Lorne Michaels was another all-time favorite. Saturday Night Live had been such a staple in my life, it felt like being in the presence of true greatness when I spent a week at the show three years ago for a cover story on him.

Also, I was there the day he got his copy of [former SNL cast member] Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, and his obvious pride in her was pretty cute.

Since you work at one of the top outlets for entertainment news in the world, do you find that you have better access than other reporters? 

Hollywood is a fascinating machine. Publicists rely on different publications for different reasons. If you have an important personal story to tell, you go to People. If you have a summer blockbuster film to promote to young men, you go to Entertainment Weekly. If you want an amalgam of these types of magazines, THR is ideal. We have definitely created a new hybrid-like publication of trade and consumer content that is allowing us equal access to both top execs like CBS’s Les Moonves and A-listers like George Clooney.

Do you feel any pressure to break news?

Since most of my work is in features, I don’t have the same pressure as, say, the online team, which is charged with breaking news all day. That said, every interview I do, I approach as a news-breaking opportunity, even if it may not seem like one.

For example, when I interviewed Susan and Geena, Susan revealed that the original ending for Thelma and Louise had Louise pushing Thelma out of the car at the last minute. That was such a great tidbit I’d never heard before!

Also, in our recent Emmy drama actress roundtable, Julianna Margulies revealed that she only got the role on The Good Wife after Helen Hunt and Ashley Judd passed. That clip was the biggest traffic-getter for days. So even the seemingly fluffy interviews can generate really buzzy news items that get big views on our Web site.

Stacey Wilson-Hunt

Stacey Wilson-Hunt's gorgeous smile.

Do you have favorites you love interviewing?

The people I’ve enjoyed the most are generally the people with whom I’ve spent the most time. Getting to know Conan O’Brien was great during my reporting for a cover story in 2012. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the absolute best—truly, truly funny and a gorgeous human. I also became close with the creator and cast of Breaking Bad, and adore every single person on the show. More generally, I love funny people, especially writers. So if I can crack up someone whose work I’d admire, that makes all the other crap worthwhile. I consider making David Cross laugh at Sundance this year is one of my greatest achievements thus far as a journalist.

How difficult is it to have a conversation on a red carpet?

Oh, the dreaded carpet! What a wonderful nightmare it is.

Thankfully, I get to ask smart questions about people’s upcoming projects, the roles for which they are nominated, etc, so it’s relatively easy – until the publicist starts waving her index in a circle – the international symbol for “wrap it up.” Worse than that? Having a publicist ask, “Do you want to interview my C-list actor client no one has heard of?” Inevitably, I don’t have time for folks who aren’t on my roster, so I have to quickly decide how to gently decline.

I hate those moments.

When people find out you are from Oregon, do they ever ask what it’s like to live there?

People in L.A. are obsessed with Portland. Whether it’s actors, agents, writers or publicists, people’s first reaction is, “I love Portland!” The second is, “Do you watch Portlandia? Is it really like that?”

I always say “Yes, obviously, it’s exactly like that.” It’s been cool getting to know Fred and Carrie, too, along the way. If I feel homesick, I watch an episode of the show on Netflix and am immediately taken back to the clouds and relaxation energy of the town. 

You have a sister who works in television news in Portland. Has she given you any advice on how to interview people for TV?

Yes, my sister Jamie Wilson is an on-air reporter for KPTV 12, the local Fox affiliate. Oddly enough, we’ve never swapped advice about anything work-related. But we love sending each other texts when we’re on weird assignments. Hers usually say, “I’m at the courthouse covering an arraignment for that career sex offender” and my tend more toward, “Funny, I just interviewed Louis CK.”

What is the best part of your job?

Meeting life-long heroes and getting to talk to giants of the business in a smart, educated way about film and television, which I think are our nation’s most powerful cultural currency.

What is the worst part?

Working way too much and getting very little feedback. Hollywood isn’t a town where “Great job!” is often heard in the work place.

If you want to hear on a regular basis that you’re doing good work, you will be very disappointed. Oh, and not making millions of dollars like the people I interview do is always a little annoying. 

What does your family think of your gig?

They’ve always been so supportive and were very grateful when I secured a full-time job doing exactly what I’d always hoped to do. But more importantly, they’re very pleased at Christmas when I bring home to Portland all the award-season movies on DVD for us to marathon over the holidays.

What is the weirdest place or situation where you've done an interview?

Being at Carl Reiner’s house in Beverly Hills was surreal. We reunited him and Dick Van Dyke for an Emmy story a few years ago, and they were both lovely. Our Oscar producers shoot at Robert Evans’ house was also incredible.

But probably the strangest interview location was when I was reporting our Breaking Bad cover story in the summer 2012. I did interviews in-between scenes with all the actors on set in Albuquerque, but obviously needed the most time with Bryan Cranston. The only opportunity we had for a good chat was toward the end of my first day on set at a real house in the suburbs where the show filmed the interior of Hank and Marie’s house. The only room where we could talk that wouldn’t disrupt filming was inside the main bedroom. We both laid down  on the bed with our heads on the pillows, Bryan’s hands tucked behind his head like he was on a hammock. It was a bizarre and wonderful 30 minutes that I feel bonded us for life!

 

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