Five minutes with George Stroumboulopoulos during TIFF 2013

George Stroumboulopoulos and Taylor Schilling; Photo Courtesy of CBC

I was taking a guided tour of the TIFF ‘Made In Canada’ Lounge at the CBC Broadcasting Centre when George Stroumboulopoulos came whirring into the room. He was abuzz with ideas: hands flapping, throwing instructions left and right. Though he was being tugged in all directions because of TIFF – taping celebrity interviews with stars in town for the festival, hosting panel discussions for TIFF Industry’s Mogul series, co-hosting the Artists for Peace and Justice Party and amfAR inspiration gala, plus viewing at least 20 TIFF films – he popped by the lounge to perch on a sofa and chat with me:

Andrea Karr: What has your experience been with TIFF?

George Stroumboulopoulos: I have an uniquely Toronto experience with TIFF in that when I was a teenager, which was a long time ago, I was an usher for the theatres – back when it was called the Festival of Festivals, even before it was called TIFF. Then I’ve been in movies screened at TIFF, and have friends that have made films that have been at TIFF. It’s a very strong part of my existence as a kid from Toronto. Now, I see all the movies of the people I have to interview, but I still try to sneak into other screenings of movies I want to see.

AK: Is there a film from this year that you really loved?

GS: The Grand Seduction, The F Word, The Fifth Estate. Loved those films. Really liked Felony, with Tom Wilkinson. And Keanu’s movie, [Man of Tai Chi], was really cool as well.

AK: Has anyone at this TIFF surprised you, in a good or bad way?

GS: You come across so many people! You know, this is going to sound like I’m BS-ing you, but I’m not. My favorite part of meeting people during TIFF is – you know all the orange shirts? All the volunteers? They come from all over the country! In the crowd, you meet all these wonderful people from all over Canada who just want to come and be a part of this event. This is the most exciting time of the year in this country, for me in Toronto… with the exception of just when spring has sprung and summer is around the corner and it’s patio season.

AK: Any other moments that pop into your head?

GS: I hosted the Q&A with Russell Peters at the Lightbox, and Russell and I have known each other since when we were teenagers, long before either of us were in this business. So it was this moment where his movie had screened, we were sitting at the Lightbox, we were talking to each other, and then his little 3-year-old daughter strolled up and jumped on his lap. It’s just really nice to see a guy like Russell win, you know? A good guy, a generous guy, a guy from here, have a movie at TIFF, be on the Forbes list, but still being the same guy that he was when we was a teenager.

AK: You’re interviewing Taylor Schilling, star of Orange Is the New Black, today. How do you prep for that?

GS: The basic research is the basic research. Everyone knows the same thing, and maybe 50 per cent of the questions I ask, everybody asks the same questions. But it’s that other half. What do you do with the other half? With Taylor, you look at who she is, what she’s doing, why she’s doing it. Then I like to theme. Like,  the idea of Orange Is The New Black – this idea of: This is your new life [in prison], but this new life forces you to see people from a different perspective. It’s an empathy builder, right? I have this general idea, but when we start, I just roll with it.

AK: So you kind of fly by the seat of your pants?

GS: Life’s so short… I don’t want to be the guy that just serves celebrity. I interviewed a guy this week that was the highlight of TIFF for me this year: Wes Bentley talking openly about his addiction. I asked him why he wanted to be so open about it, and he said he remembers when he was battling hard, when he was addicted, watching Robert Downey Jr. on TV at two in the morning talking about his addiction. He was watching it thinking, “Okay, maybe there is a way out of this. Maybe that light I see at the end of the tunnel is actually the way out.” And that’s the stuff that matters! At least to me, and I know it matters to a lot of people. So I look at these interviews and these people and I think, if we are fearless about this, then there will be value. If we are fearful about this, or boring about this, then there will be no value.

AK: Is there anyone that you haven’t had a chance to interview that you really want to get on the show?

GS: Neil Young.

AK: Have you ever talked with him?

GS: No. I once saw him at a party when I worked at MuchMusic, and my friend said, “Hey, let me introduce you to my buddy, Neil.” I looked up and saw Neil, and said, “Nope!” I turned around and walked away. It was like, what am I going to say to Neil Young in thirty seconds at a MuchMusic Video Awards party? I’m so impressed by Neil Young. He’s Neil Young!

A couple more pleasantries, then he shook my hand, rushed off, and 20 minutes later he was in top form on set with Taylor Schilling. Catch the interview and many others during the 10th-anniversary season of George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, which premieres Monday, September 16 at 7 p.m.