How do you break the ice during a phone interview with the one-time leader of the free world? That was the question I chewed on as I prepared for my interview with former President Bill Clinton, who is featured this month in Sky’s “Ambassadors of Good” article. When you have only 15 minutes by phone, as I did, you need to establish an immediate rapport with your interview subject. I’m used to doing this with actors and actresses, but figured I might need a different approach than “I loved your latest film/television project.” As it turned out, I only needed to tweak that premise a bit.
As I surfed the Internet for information about the Clinton Foundation and its many bold initiatives, I came across a hysterical video on the Funny or Die website. In it, a high wattage assemblage of talent—Sean Penn, Kristen Wiig, Matt Damon, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen—throw out some really stinky ideas as they brainstorm some new initiatives for the Clinton Foundation. For example, Wiig proposes that, in order to help stop global warming, everyone holds their breath for a minute. The video has a great payoff, which involves—in part—Kevin Spacey doing a spot-on Clinton impression.
I watched it a couple more times (hey … it was research!!!) when I got an idea for an opening gambit with the former president.
The appointed day arrived and the familiar Clinton twang filled my telephone headset. “Deborah?” he asked.
“Mr. President?” I responded. Then I paused for a beat, adding “This is you and not Kevin Spacey, correct?
He started laughing. “That was funny, wasn't it?”
I assured him that it was and that I had already sent it to all my friends.
“Well, there's a germ of factual root to that,” he explained. “Several years ago, Kevin and Chris Tucker went to Africa with me, and Tucker is almost a good a mimic as Spacey is. So we were at a friend of mine's house in Johannesburg, and I was a little hoarse, but they wanted me to say something.
“I said, ‘Guys, I'm hoarse, so here's what we're going to do. Spacey and Tucker are going to stand here with me, and we're going to give this speech, so I want you all to turn around for the first two or three minutes.’ And I said the first sentence, Spacey said the second, Tucker said the third. We made the speech up as we went along. And you couldn't tell to save your life who was talking.”
It was a great story and as we moved on to the more serious topic of his global work with the Clinton Foundation, I knew it would never make it into the feature—there wouldn’t be enough space.
So I’m happy to have a chance to tell you here, because it gives an extra dimension—that of an excellent sense of humor—to a world leader already known for his smarts and his compassion.
Ambassador of Good: Bill Clinton
Ambassador of Good: George W. Bush