The fact that Will Harris can make a living interviewing pop culture stars like Morgan Freeman, Lily Tomlin, Bryan Cranston and Alanna Ubach is cool; the fact that he does it from the comfort of his home—in Chesapeake—is even cooler.
Although he freelances for a number of publications, Harris’ bread-and-butter gig since 2011 has been writing for The A.V. Club, which he describes as “the non-parody sister site to The Onion.” He’s developed a loyal following there, thanks in large part to his prolific, career-spanning “Random Roles” interviews. In fact, Harris recently logged his 150th “Random Roles” credit—an interview with actor John Kapelos, best known as Carl (the janitor) in “The Breakfast Club.”
“It’s always weird,” Harris said during a recent interview. “To realize that of all the people who are reading my stuff online, almost nobody locally—except my friends—have any idea that there’s an A.V. Club writer in Hampton Roads.”
Will Harris on the set of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” during a Television Critics Association tour
Harris will share some of his experiences—“the good, bad and excruciating”—when he teaches an interviewing seminar on Saturday at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk. “Hopefully it will feel like a friendly chat,” he said when we turned the table and interviewed him—an experience he admitted was “only mildly off-putting.”
One of the interviews he said he’s most proud of is Timothy Dalton. “Not only did I end up fleshing out his career for people who may have had no idea that his career stretches back to the ’60s,” Harris said. “But also by the end of the interview, I discovered that he never does interviews for longer than 20 minutes. When he asked me how long we’d been talking, I said, ‘It’s been an hour.’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s crazy. But we can probably still do one more [role].’”
One interview that didn’t go so well—though not for “Random Roles”—was with a stand-up comedian and actor (who needn’t be identified for this piece).
“It wasn’t like he was maliciously bad,” Harris explained. “He was just incredibly tired when he got on the phone. The interview is basically just a steady stream of responses that were either ‘yes,’ ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know.’ I blew through 20 minutes of questions in five minutes. … It was absolutely excruciating.”
Michael Khandelwal, The Muse’s executive director, said he’s looking forward to hosting Harris’ seminar. “He’s a very respected writer for tons of different publications,” he said. “I’ve read a lot of his work, and it’s pretty cool having someone like that within Hampton Roads.”
Will Harris with “Breaking Bad” stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul
Indeed, Harris’ career has been on an upswing this year. In addition to his usual writing credits for The A.V. Club, Rhino Records and The Virginian-Pilot, he recently wrote an oral history of “The Facts Of Life” TV show for Entertainment Weekly, interviewed Jon Cryer for Playboy’s “Lucky 7” feature and landed an interview with Don Rickles that will soon appear on Vanity Fair’s website.
“That was one that had me very antsy,” he said of the Rickles interview. “My wife said she’s not seen me that nervous since I interviewed Jello Biafra [of the Dead Kennedys].”
If you can’t attend the seminar, but you’re interested in some advice on working as a freelancer, Harris offers this: “First of all: Don’t be afraid to start writing at no pay if you don’t have a back catalog … just enough to build a couple of credits and then start going after paying work. People deserve to be paid for their writing. … Beyond that: Don’t be scared to reach out to editors, publicists, anyone. The worst they can say is no, which has got to be the most cliché saying ever, but it’s not inaccurate.”
Ironically, Harris is now at the point where he’s looking for less work—not more.“Right now, I’m writing off and on for nine different publications,” he explained. “They’re all very nice credits to have, but at the same time I could deal with only having to write for like three and still pay my mortgage.”
Will Harris will teach “The Art of the Interview” from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Muse Writers Center in Norfolk. The cost is $45 for new students and $40 for returning students. For more information and to sign up, visit their site.
Photos courtesy of Will Harris.