Carly Steel has a life that many people would envy – interviewing celebrities on the Red Carpet, traveling around the world to cover huge film events and getting to wear gorgeous clothes while doing it. Not that it’s all easy – the British import is a one-lady dynamo that writes, produces and hosts her packages.
Steel gives us inside look on what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera, how to connect with someone in just a few minutes and how it felt to wear Whitney Houston’s dress at this year’s Grammy Awards.
You just covered The Hunger Games premiere — was that one of the craziest events that you’ve been to?
The Hunger Games was the biggest premiere I’ve covered, in terms of the size scope of fans. I covered all the Twilight premieres, and it eclipsed Twilight in terms of the amount of people who turned out, the passion they feel about these books, about this film.
For these huge premieres where you need a bigger cinema and you have a massive red carpet and your fans camping out, they needed to have somewhere to accommodate that. Fortunately now we have the Nokia Plaza downtown (Los Angeles) where they have The Staples Center, where The Grammys were. The last Twilight premiere was there, it was huge. [The crowd for] The Hunger Games was massive. The fans had been camping out from the day before when from the [movie] cast had come down to chat with them. It was amazing. I did some interviews with the fans, and they’re just so passionate, I think this is the most hyped-up film and franchise certainly of the year, but even eclipsing Twilight, I would say, in terms of sheer mania.
When Jennifer Lawrence stepped out of her car, there was pandemonium in the whole Nokia Plaza.
How did the cast seem to react to all of the response?
I interviewed the cast at a press date, and I did one-on-one sit-downs which we’re now broadcasting on Epix — I think they’re in shock [laughs]. They’re definitely all responding to it differently. I think because Twilight has gone before, I think the three leads, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson know what they’re in for.
Jennifer Lawrence is very laid-back – she is definitely about the work, she’s the kind of girl who would prefer to relaxing at home or working on a new script as opposed to getting dressed up and pushed out in front of all these people and being interviewed over and over again. When I sat down with her in the interview, I asked her about the experience, she said that she identified with Katniss — she had to go on this press tour and be put in all these dresses, made to answer questions and grilled by all the press [like Katniss did in the film]. I joked with her that I hope she didn’t feel like that right now [laughs].
Josh Hutcherson is clearly really enjoying all of it. He’s wonderful, he’s very well-spoken, he’s got great energy, he is so passionate about his character. He really identifies with [Peeta], he just loves everything about this journey. He’s been a child actor so he’s definitely been in the business a while and it just hasn’t really taken him by surprise.
With Liam, he takes everything in stride. He’s very laid-back, he’s Australian. I think because he has his brother, Chris Hemsworth, who’s enjoyed a great deal of success with Thor and Star Trek, [Liam’s] seen the process of being in one of these big blockbuster films. I don’t think he’s too fazed with how the whole thing has blown up.
For me, Elizabeth Banks is the scene-stealer in the film, she plays Effie Trinket. She’s just such a chameleon; I think that’s very rare. A lot of actors nowadays are more [of a brand] and you put them in a film and they are essentially themselves. Elizabeth Banks can play anything; she does comedy and drama equally well. She’s fantastic and hysterical as Effie Trinket — she gets the biggest laughs in the film.
Lenny Kravitz — he’s so cool. [laughs] He comes in the room, he’s got his diamonds on, his sunglasses on. He has kind of cool makeup and he said he liked wearing the gold eyeliner he got to wear in the film and he wants to wear it in real life. So that was funny.
I could totally see him rocking that.
He definitely could rock it, even though he wears sunglasses a lot, he definitely liked the gold eyeliner. And Donald Sutherland was hysterical, actually. He blew into the room, [with a] cup of PG Tips tea and an eye patch on. I immediately asked him “What happened?” He joked that he had suffered a hernia in his eye from extreme constipation [laughs].
I heard a gasp from his publicist in the back of the room, probably praying that that won’t be aired. But it’s hilarious. He has that sense of humor, he’s so funny. You can just ask him one question and he can suddenly launch into this huge existential answer — I don’t have to do as much work because I just sit back and enjoy what he says.
You meet so many people obviously for the first time and you kind of have to get into a fairly comfortable relationship with them really quickly. How do you set that up?
[When I host for the] TV Guide Network, their focus is more on the fun moments. [For Epix], the channel is for movie-lovers and people who are curious about film, so it’s more about really getting into the nitty-gritty of the film and getting information on the film rather than having moments.
I research every person I interview and I tend to warm them up the minute they step into the room, I break the ice before the cameras start rolling. We have to sit down, get mic’ed, which is only actually a couple of minutes, but those precious minutes when you are only doing a 4-8 minute interview are really important to make the person feel comfortable. If your energy is off, it will affect their energy. Usually, I try to find a mutual interest or a mutual friend [to discuss], and that tends to pull some people out.
Someone like Donald Sutherland, I think a lot of people find him intimidating. Wes Bentley, who has a lot of his scenes in the film with Donald, said he was extremely intimidated working with him and he didn’t have to act because he was so scared [laughs].
So when it comes to someone like that, if you show fear, you’re going to be walked all over. They command the room. [Donald’s] amazing, he’s a legend, so you have to come in with a cheeky joke and be very confident — steer the interview and handle it, otherwise you’ll be steered which is not ideal.
Has there been anybody that has made you nervous?
Hmm. I’m always excited to interview everyone I’ve spoken to. My first interview ever was with Richard Gere and I was so nervous because I was 20 years-old. I was in the bathroom right before, shaking [laughs]. My heart was pounding, I was really terrified.
Wow, Richard Gere at 20 though, that had to be kind of crazy.
Yeah, it is. He was so charming and nice — we ended up talking about tea.
I’m really old-fashioned and I feel like, you know, I’m really a granny [laughs]. So I get on better with like the Sir Ben Kingsleys and Richard Geres — I always get sent to interview the more serious people like Jodie Foster, but Jodie Foster said that she really liked the fact that [I showed her] sense of humor. She has a wonderful sense of humor. A lot of people assume that because she has a persona of being serious that she is serious and so they ask her serious questions to which she gives serious answers. She doesn’t get a chance to really showcase her personality, which is wonderful. So I always try to look at what you’re not seeing from the person and show the other side.
And the people who are quirky and tricky — I enjoy those interviews the most because they’re a little bit of a challenge, and if you get them to feel comfortable and open up, then you feel like you’ve won them over. I’ve recently been doing these called “Backseat Banter” segments sponsored by Audi – we pick up the actor en route to a premiere or a special event [and talk to them in the backseat of a car.] We did one with Jeremy Piven taking him to the premiere of I Melt With You, and one with Thomas Jane taking him to a Golden Globes party.
That sounds like fun.
They’re really fun interviews. That was a whole different experience because you have to go and pick them up at their house, entering into their territory. At first, I was a little nervous because the actor is doing you a favor by granting you this access and you have to respect that and create a fun environment for them.
Okay, onto the great outfits you get to wear on the red carpet — you wore a super-cute red dress to The Hunger Games premiere.
Thank you so much, I wish it was mine! It’s a ridiculously expensive Georges Chakra dress.
Do you ever try to keep anything?
For me, what’s really hard to send back is the jewelry. I love Alberto Parada — he makes beautiful jewelry that’s very wearable from day to evening, which is nice, because sometimes I shoot during the day and I have to go straight to a red carpet event at night. So I’ve been wearing his jewelry all throughout award season. For The Oscars, I borrowed this gorgeous, diamond, $100,000 dollar cuff from Avakian, which I really didn’t want to give back. [laughs] I was like going through scenarios in my mind about how someone could’ve absconded with it [laughs]
In the long run, it’s probably best just to send it back.
I don’t think absconding with things would go down too well [laughs]. At all. It’s so kind of these designers to lend you pieces to wear, I don’t know what you would do without that, it would be impossible to buy a new dress every single day. I mean, we’d have to go around in bin liners.
That’s something that we don’t often think about, how hosts have to look when you’re in the public eye and on television several times a week. To wear something different every time would make you go broke if you don’t get to rely on the kindness of designers.
Yes, and dressing for hosting is a little different from when I pull things to wear for attending red carpet events. For hosting, you have to be dressed appropriately — it can’t be too sexy, you can’t take away from the event or the person you’re interviewing.
It’s all about what works at the top because the top is the part you see on television. I’ve actually bought a lot of dresses that in real life looked so beautiful and flattering, but you have to camera-test it to see how it looks up close, it has to be quite fitted at the top because it can look unflattering.
I wouldn’t have even thought about that.
Basically you have to photograph it and camera-test it with a flip-cam to see how it’ll work. It’s a whole different situation, and you also have to worry about the background. Like, I have this gorgeous dress I wanted to wear for the Golden Globes last year and it was gold and I just learned the day before that our backdrop for the one-on-one room, where I was interviewing winners for the TV Guide Network, was gold. So, of course then you have to not wear gold, and then you have to be aware of what your co-host is wearing. I wanted to wear red, but my other co-host was wearing red so… it’s a whole, you know, mine field of trying out the right dress, that looks good on you, that’s flattering, that doesn’t clash with the backdrop or any of your other team and is appropriate [laughs].
There is so much to it to balance!
It’s crazy! Like half of your job is finding things to wear. People get really stressed about it. Especially for The Oscars, there’s always a frenzy around the dress and people get emotional [laughs].
And it’s all so much drama for something kind of fleeting! Because your outfit lasts for as long as the show and then maybe for a week after when stills pop up online — and then people forget. But it’s like any event, it’s like a wedding.
I know, you focus so much on it in the lead-up and it’s like the most important thing! And then it’s over and you’re like, “I can’t believe I stressed so much.” Although, if you wear something you don’t like, it’s the opposite, it haunts you forever because of the internet. You get people making comments about it, and it’s awful. There’s a lot of pressure definitely to pick the right thing.
What’s been the most fantastic item that you’ve been able to borrow?
The most special dress I wore was also kind of bittersweet. It was this beautiful silver Pamella Roland dress I wore to the Grammys, but it was also the actual dress that Whitney Houston had worn a year before to the Clive Davis party for her last kind of official performance, her real last ever appearance at that party.
When I pulled the dress a week before the Grammys, Film Fashion had said “Someone’s already worn it, do you mind?” I said no, because it was the one I just really fell in love with. It’s very hard to find good dresses during award season because it’s really competitive and all the dresses fly out of the showroom, and the stylists hog them and you can’t get them back [laughs].
I just loved this dress. And then halfway through our rehearsal on Saturday, the news broke about Whitney Houston passing away, and suddenly I saw her in the dress on all the news outlets.
It was really a weird thing. I didn’t really know what to do, but I thought it would be nice to wear it as a tribute to her. And a lot of people actually did that when Michael Jackson passed away, they wore gloves in honor [of him]. I wanted to wear it in tribute to her since Whitney wasn’t at The Grammys and should’ve been.
It sounds like it’d be an incredibly surreal moment.
It definitely was.
What do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to?
We’re now coming out of award show season and entering into summer blockbuster season. There are a lot of huge movie premieres coming up, and I’ve also started hosting with EPIX and we do these official live streams from the movie premieres. They’re very fun because it’s an hour and a half live show — it doesn’t get condensed into one two-minute segment, so you get to really experience the whole premiere.
There’s [San Diego] Comic-Con coming up too, which I really enjoy covering. The Cannes Film Festival, which will be my third year covering it. All the big films like The Avengers always have really big, exciting premieres for them. There’s Battleship and that premiere is in Hawaii — I love the ones where you get to travel.
The best was the junket for Couples Retreat, which was at the Saint Regis in Bora Bora, which is the most beautiful [place]. I’ve just fallen in love with that place – I’m going on holiday there in April.
That sounds exciting. Oh my gosh, I’m so jealous!
It sounds a lot more glamorous than it is. Travelling with work is really tough. It’s really stressful, you have to self-produce when you’re away because the budgets are tight. It’s you and your camera crew; you have to book everything, organize it and produce it yourself. It just gets crazy. You don’t get to gallivant around and have fun [laughs].
Like at Cannes, you’re surviving on four hours of sleep. Same with the Royal Wedding — I never actually got to leave my hotel apart from when I was shooting. It’s far more glamorous to be the actor and attend than it is to be the TV host and cover it, trust me [laughs].