James Lipton is legendary for the in-depth research he puts into every interview on Inside The Actors Studio.
But to hear him tell it, the secret to the TV show’s success is the stuff he can’t prepare for.
“We don’t do pre-interviews with our guests. So when we meet on stage, it’s for the first time. It’s like a high wire act without a net,” says Lipton, who begins his 16th season of hosting the Bravo series Sunday.
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“The interviews are like self-portraits. The questions are meant to provoke an honest response. So I decided early on there would be no pre-interview. It forces us into a conversation.”
Still, as conversations go, Inside The Actors Studio can be pretty intense. Lipton claims he works two weeks of 14 hour days, in compiling that notorious stack of 400 question cards he uses during each and every interview.
“I sleep only a few hours a night, so that helps,” says Lipton, who conducts the interviews in front of students from the Actors Studio Drama School in New York.
“But I edit the show as well. You only see a portion of the interview. Sometimes they go four hours and I have to personally shut it down. Otherwise, they’d go all night.
“The record was Barbra Streisand. She went to two-thirty in the morning.”
This season’s interviews are an eclectic mix that kicks off with director James Cameron (Avatar). After that, those subjecting themselves to Lipton’s scrutiny include everyone from the band Bon Jovi, writer/director Judd Apatow (Superbad), to the voice cast of TV’s Family Guy.
Lipton — whose age is listed in various sources as a surprising 83 — prefers to keep his birthday a mystery.
“This business is very ageist,” says Lipton, whose six-plus decade resume includes stints as a poet, novelist, Broadway lyricist, soap opera writer, and actor.
“In my early acting days, I used to add years to my age so I’d be considered for leading man parts. Perhaps it’s coming back to haunt me.”