Overtly or covertly, interview programs all have traditions. James Lipton, host of Inside the Actors Studio for the past eighteen years, has championed perhaps the most overt interview-program tradition of all: the Pivot Questionnaire. Originally wielded by another host, Bernard Pivot of the French literary talk show Apostrophes, the renowned Questionnaire demands of the interviewee ten simple pieces of information: their favorite word, their turn-on, their turn-off, the sound they love, the sound they hate, their favorite curse word, the profession other than their own they would like to attempt, the profession they wouldn’t like to attempt, and what they’d like to hear God say when they arrive at the pearly gates. You can watch compilations of Lipton’s Pivot Questionnaire segments on YouTube, including the one above with Hugh Laurie, Ralph Feinnes, and Russell Crowe. Their turn-ons, respectively: eye contact, Shakespeare, a well-constructed sentence. Their turn-offs: financial advice, environmental desecration, false accusation.
Or have a look at this one, which bears similarly pithy insights into the inner lives of Daniel Radcliffe, Angelina Jolie, and Will Smith. Radcliffe would like to try his hand at journalism; Jolie, exploration; Smith, science. Though Lipton credits the Pivot Questionnaire to Pivot on air every time, its origins lay further back in time. Pivot developed his questionnaire in response to Marcel Proust’s, a list of prompts meant to reveal the recipient’s personality, including “Your favorite qualities in a woman,” “Your favorite qualities in a man,” “Your idea of happiness,” and “Your idea of misery” — personality-revealing questionnaires being very much the rage in fin de siècle Europe. While the tradition thrives to this day in Lipton’s formally strict practice, part of me would enjoy the reactions to see him re-introduce a Proustian prompt like “The military event I admire the most.”
Four Inside the Actors Studio Pivot Questionnaire compilations on YouTube: Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Depp; Robin Williams and Anthony Hopkins; Hugh Laurie, Ralph Feinnes, Russell Crowe; Daniel Radcliffe, Angeline Jolie, Will Smith