Not everyone can say that Harrison Ford stole their mobile phone. That Jean-Claude van Damme’s dog died while they were interviewing him on the phone. Or that Scarlett Johansson asked them if they preferred her backside or the socks she was wearing. Toni Garcia Ramon (Mataró, 1971) can, and he reveals all of this and more in his page-turning book, Mata a tus ídolos (Catedral Books), a chronicle of the behind-the-scenes goings-on that emerged from interviews with Hollywood actors and filmmakers from over 20 years in this delirious game of egos and eccentricities. A voracious film buff, Garcia begins by confessing that his first memory of the cinema dates back to when his grandmother took him to see The Flute of the Six Smurfs (1976).
I thought that someone from our generation would say Star Wars.
Well that’s an obvious one, but before that it was this one. I don’t remember much about the film, but I do remember the sound of the projector, being in the dark looking at a screen. That’s a magic that no longer exists. It was a time when we had a black and white TV at home and going to the cinema was a huge change. For kids in today’s hyperstimulating world, I understand that it isn’t the same experience as it was for me.
You belong to the video club generation and define your first visit to one of them as like “your first kiss”. That’s a love of cinema!
For a film buff who could only watch what was on TV, to suddenly become the owner of a black box and be able to go to a place where you could rent thousands of these things was like a crazy dream. And the video club in Mataró was one of the best in Spain. Seeing that endless landscape in the video store was amazing. When I first went in, I thought: “This is where I want to live!”
You’ve done three thousand interviews since 1996; about a thousand with actors.
When I first started in this job, it didn’t take me long to stop feeling starstruck. What I did keep was my awe of cinema. I’m not very interested in individuals, I’m much more interested in the format. When I found out that John Carpenter isn’t a nice guy, it didn’t bother me: I still watch his films and I still think he’s a genius. What has changed is that I don’t idolise the author. I don’t care what he does in his personal life, what I like is what he does when he gets behind the camera. You have to know how to differentiate between creator and work in a radical way.
You describe doing interviews as a circus.
The very hierarchy of getting interviews, who gets them, the format, the way you come into contact with the stars, the publicists..., it’s a whole circus: a man in London approves it and another from the producer’s team in Los Angeles checks that you’re not on a list of undesirables, and so on until you pass a series of filters. I thought it would be interesting to write a book to pull back the curtain on this whole web, which lies somewhere between toxic and funny.
Has this world changed much since you first went in there with your cassette recorder?
No, it’s stayed the same. The problem is that the circus is now much bigger and there’s this complete dependence on the obsession this country has with Hollywood. When I started, Spain was a key market, with one of the largest box offices in Europe. A lot of people went to the cinema... a lot! With piracy that really changed. That’s why when they programme which stars go to which countries, they bring in fewer people and, at festivals, they give us less time. It’s more difficult to get a particular interview now. That and technology: I just interviewed Mark Ruffalo, Ralph Fiennes and Kenneth Branagh on Zoom.
Why do you start the book with María Belón, who’s not an actor?
She doesn’t belong to the world of Hollywood. She’s a great friend of mine, with a haunting story that 99% of actors don’t have. Like a lot of people, such as Michael Caine, who fought in the Korean War and saw his friends die... Writing about her gave me a clue as to the book I didn’t want to write and the one I ended up writing: a compendium of the surrealism that can exist in my job, a tribute to my mother and the great people I have met, such as María Belón. This is one of the pleasures of my job, being able to meet exceptional people like her. I wanted to start with a chapter that was far removed from the frivolity of what came next. To start with a little more substance.
And you link it by talking about the first actress in the book, Naomi Watts. I love it. Speaking of your mother, she thought you were making up the stories. Harrison Ford stealing your mobile is pretty amazing!
The other day I contacted Harrison Ford’s publicist, who appears in that anecdote, and she literally said, “You’re a son of a... for mentioning me!” All the stories are real, no matter how hard they are to believe. My mum really only cared that I was eating well. In fact, even though she never told me, I think she thought: “Well, you’re my son, I’ll love you just the same, but stop making up stuff.” Somehow I wanted to reflect that spirit in the book, but the truth is, I didn’t tell some of the worst stories. In fact, I had to tone down some of them. If I’d told the entire truth, no one would have believed me!
Like the John Cusack story, which is scary; or Donald Sutherland’s farts, Larry David’s Nazi obsession... but there’s also empathy with characters like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who you admire.
When you see that they’re organic, normal people, that reconciles you with the character. Even when they’re eccentric, like Bill Murray, a man who walks into a bar, grabs chips from your plate and says with his mouth full: “No one will ever believe you!” These are gifts from a mythical character. All these people I like, I would like in any context. Because they’re beautiful people, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who was also an exceptional actor of his generation. And I’m really sorry about how he left us. I’m not a fortune teller, but it looked like it was coming. He wasn’t okay in himself, he didn’t like being in front of the camera. When he felt comfortable with a journalist, it was great, and when he was in a bad mood it was impossible. It all depended on whether he was working on something he liked.
You’re tired of going to film festivals. How would you describe the experience at each as a headline?
Venice: the best festival in the world, because when you come out you’re in Venice! Berlin: very cold, in every way. San Sebastián: pure enjoyment, in a magnificent city, but for work, terrible. Sitges: my home, the place I trust. Toronto: a monster, so huge it eats you alive. Cannes: the festival of festivals, but I’m very bored of it: it’s very hierarchical and it’s all queues and it’s impossible to do anything... to get a sandwich you have to have a passport and pass a DNA test.