We unveiled a fresh new look and feel for our inflight magazine Vera last year, which is produced on our behalf by award-winning travel media publisher Ink Global. Featuring entertainment stories and film star interviews specially commissioned for Virgin Atlantic, the re-launch was designed to bring our onboard movie, TV and music programming to life editorially, as well as showcase our people and highlight our inspiring destinations through travel features, destination reviews and insightful tips.
Alongside inflight entertainment listings, the January 2018 issue includes an interview with cover star Jamie Bell, currently appearing onboard in the romantic drama Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. The movie traces the uplifting but ultimately tragic love affair between young actor Peter Turner (Bell) and older screen siren Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening). Our interview sheds light on Bell’s preparations for the role, as well as reflections on moving to LA at 17, watching his own films and his upcoming role as a bare-knuckle fist-fighter in gritty thriller Donnybrook. But what’s it really like to interview an A-list star? For a behind-the-scenes peek, we caught up with writer and Vera editor Claire Bennie to find out how it all comes together.
Claire, can you talk us through what goes into setting up an interview like this?
It takes a lot of time and preparation. For the Vera cover interviews we need to have a star who is in a movie, TV show or album playing onboard a Virgin Atlantic flight that month. We’ll look at all the content that’ll be onboard and then brainstorm actors or musicians that could work. Lots of things come into play at this point. How realistic is it that we’re going to get that celebrity? Are they too busy shooting, promoting or touring at the moment? Do they fit with the Virgin Atlantic brand (obviously someone cool, but maybe somebody that’s still on their way up rather than a megastar)? We don’t always get a yes, so we tend to have a couple of back-ups in case our first choice doesn’t come off!
After we’ve reached out to the celebrity’s publicist and got the go-ahead, the real work starts. We wrangle over a date (which can take a while, and sometimes change when we’re well into the planning process) and then put together a moodboard of ideas and styles – clothing, poses, make-up, type of location – of things we think work well for the shoot. The shoots need to have an interesting narrative, as well as look eye-catching and beautiful. We’ll run through which photographers we’d like to use – we have a fab list that we work with, though celebrities often have their preferred photographer. Then we’ll work out which stylist, hair stylist, make-up artist and/or groomer are right for this celebrity.
Next up: location. A lot of our shoots happen in LA, and luckily we have a great remote PR guy who helps us put everything together. He’ll do a recce and check that the locations are right for the story, have ample parking, are easy to get to, and can be effectively sealed off for the period of time we’re shooting, if necessary. We’ll organise cars to get the celebrity to the location, sort out catering (and check beforehand what kind of food they want). On the day, the on-the-ground team arrive early to set up so everything is ready to go as soon as the celebrity arrives.
As the interviewer, how do you prepare for a chat with an A-list movie star?
Research! Although I have interviewed people without watching their movie before, the first thing to do is watch whatever they’re starring in. So I watched Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool about a week before I interviewed Jamie Bell. (If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it! A truly touching and beautiful movie). I read a lot of other interviews he’d had before and watched a lot of TV interviews to see what kind of questions he’d been asked previously – to work out what he’d be receptive to, and also what he’s probably asked about a hundred times (and therefore worth ignoring).
I’ll write down a lot of questions/notes, and then try to edit down to the main points I’d like to talk about. I’ll try and keep everything in an order, but naturally conversation flows, so try to work out links between different questions so there are minimal awkward silences. And then just before I speak to the celebrity, I’ll give myself a pep talk. It’s always daunting interviewing someone well-known, even if you’ve done it lots of time before. I’ll try to crack a joke early on to make things feel a little more familiar – for both of us.
What do you feel is most important to capture in the time you have available?
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool really struck a chord with me, so I asked a lot of questions about the film – how Jamie felt about the unconventional love story between Gloria Grahame and Peter Turner, the pressure he felt about reproducing the story on screen, and the pressure of playing a real-life person. Everyone knows Jamie Bell as Billy Elliot, but he grew up into a movie star many years ago, so I didn’t want to focus much on that, or how he grew up in the spotlight. It’s always interesting to talk a little bit about the celeb’s private life, if they’re open to it. Jamie just got married (to Kate Mara, who you’ll probably know best from House of Cards), and was relaxed and happy to talk about her.
What was it like shooting Jamie at a studio in LA – as glamorous as it sounds?
Yes and no! The great thing about this shoot is that we planned a really sharp golden-age Hollywood style set of images taken inside the studio, but Jamie was really relaxed and happy to freestyle on the day. This meant we got some pretty cool shots of him strolling through the streets (in a slightly gritty area of LA). When we walked past a barbershop we said it could be cool to get some shots in there. Jamie was up for it – and we got some fun shots of him posing in the barber’s chair.
And the question everyone wants to know – what was he really like?
Super professional (he had a terrible cold on the day, but just cracked on with it), really friendly and down to earth. He’s been in LA for 18 odd years now, but it seems you can take the boy out of Billingham but you can’t take Billingham out of the boy.
Travelling with us soon? Find the latest copy of Vera onboard, or check out what’s playing before you leave home.