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BEING THERE : Mea Goofa

October 30, 1994

Dear Keanu,

When I saw you promoting "Speed" on Letterman, bouncing in and out of your chair, hands drawing abstract figures in the air, I wondered if you had taken the title of your film a mite too literally.

I now know better. A TV interview turned me, too, into a squirming, babbling goof--and I wasn't even on a network show.

Truth is, I'd always thought I would be able to handle an interview with aplomb. After all, I've done hundreds of interviews--all, however, from the safe side of the reporter's note pad.

Then, the producer of "Movie Madness," a weekly talk show on public access TV, saw me moderating a Learning Annex symposium on how movies get made and asked me to be a guest. (Screenwriting's my day job between journalism gigs. My projects include "Hobo Jungle" on HBO and "But Not A Drop to Drink" on CBS. I also pen a screenwriting column for the Writer's Journal.)

As the interview date neared, I found myself worrying about inane things--like what color shirt to wear. I also prayed that my major assets (my knowledge of screenwriting) would shine through and that my liabilities (my lack of knowledge of screenwriting) would be finessed by my host, Don Abernathy.

Most of all, frankly, I prayed that I would not squirm like you did.

My prayers were in vain.

Since Abernathy wanted to take the show on location, I invited him to my sunny, un-air conditioned study. Big mistake. It was a hot afternoon, but we had to shut the windows to eliminate street noise while the TV lights made the study even hotter, brighter and more airless. I was quickly drowning in sweat. The director stockpiled an entire shelf with towels, ready to hand them to me between takes.

Once the camera rolled, Abernathy revealed hitherto unsuspected Mike Wallace-like characteristics, asking hardball questions, grilling me about contradictory opinions by screenwriting experts and tossing in an occasional goofy curveball to keep it all exciting.

It's the kind of interview I'd have love to have conducted--but this time, I was at the receiving end. As I tried to answer questions in the complete sentences least likely to get mangled during the edits, my hands crashed into the mike, knocking it out. I bounced in and out of my chair. I tried to follow the director's instructions to look "sincerely" at the camera. When I saw the tape later, I looked like a speed freak trying desperately to come back to reality.

After the show, I thought about getting some professional coaching, even though producers aren't exactly knocking down my door to get me on TV. You might think about it, though. After all, you're a star. You need to look cool on TV. I'm a writer. I don't.

Sincerely, Joseph Hanania

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