But Did You Read the Book?
Cara Delevingne, Press Junketry, and Me
Earlier this week, an interview with the actor Cara Delevingne made the rounds online. In it, the anchors of “Good Day Sacramento” refer to her as “Carla” and then ask her whether she read the novel Paper Towns. (She stars in the film adaptation.)
The interview goes downhill from there, with the interviewers suggesting that she is tired, and that she is not adequately excited about the opportunity to be on Good Day Sacramento, which is the #1 morning show in literally all of Sacramento, and then they tell her to take a nap and cut the interview short.
I am friends with Cara, and the author of the book in question. I spent more than a month with her on tour in Europe and the U.S., and I watched as again and again, she was asked this question. Cara has read the book (multiple times), but the question is annoying — not least because her male costar, Nat Wolff, was almost always asked when he’d read the book, while Cara was almost always asked if she’d read it.
In the past two months, I’ve done something like 300 on-camera interviews. As you get asked the same questions again and again, you develop rote responses as a way of protecting yourself. The rote responses are true — the cast really was like a family; we really are all still friends — but in the repetition, the answers start to feel less and less honest.
For example, I was asked in most interviews how involved I was in the film, and I told the truth, which is that I did basically nothing and sat around all day eating Cheetos and telling everyone they were doing a good job. And then Nat would jump in and say, “John’s being modest. His understanding of the story and characters were vital to us.” But because we were reciting lines more than answering questions, the answer started to feel dishonest to me. At one point between interviews, I said to Nat, “I can’t remember if I even like Cheetos.” And he said, “That’s okay, man. I can’t remember if your understanding of the story was vital to us.”
Look, these are obviously the first worldiest of first world problems, but the whole process of commodifying personhood to sell movie tickets is inherently dehumanizing. The TV people want some part of you, and in exchange for it, they will put the name of your movie on TV. But in that process, you do lose something of your self. (For the record, I don’t get the feeling that the journalists asking the same questions over and over particularly savor the experience, either. But they need their sit-down interview, and we need our publicity, and so the wheel spins on.)
There are bigger problems in the world — in fact, almost every problem in the world is bigger — but if people are going to pay attention to these junket interviews and criticize Cara for responding flippantly to a stupid question, I think context might be helpful.
I was lucky to share most of my interviews with Nat, one of my closest and most trusted friends, and to learn from him how to deal with uncomfortable questions. (For instance, when asked is X a good kisser, or is X is a better kisser than Y, Nat gently explains that he doesn’t answer questions about kissing, because the women he works with should be talked about for their performances in the film not for their kissing.) But I never really got good at junketry. I just sort of gave up.
Like, there’s a line in the beginning of the novel: “Everyone gets a miracle.” The male narrator of the story believes his miracle is Margo Roth Spiegelman, the character Cara plays in the movie. Later in the book, the boy realizes that Margo is not a miracle, that she is just a person, and that his imagining her as a miracle has been terribly hurtful to them both. But still, I was asked over a hundred times, “Who’s your miracle?” At first, I tried to fight it, tried to argue that we must see people as people, that we must learn to imagine them complexly instead of idealizing them, that the romantic male gaze is limiting and destructive to women. That’s the whole point of the story to me.
But eventually, I just started to say, “My miracle is my wife.” (And then Nat would deadpan, “My miracle is also John’s wife. She’s great.”) In the end, rather than fight, I stuck to the script.
Cara, however, refuses to stick to the script. She refuses to indulge lazy questions and refuses to turn herself into an automaton to get through long days of junketry. I don’t find that behavior entitled or haughty. I find it admirable. Cara Delevingne doesn’t exist to feed your narrative or your news feed — and that’s precisely why she’s so fucking interesting.