A Word About Interviewing Famous People: Gerard Schwarz and Art Wolfe

December 3, 2023 at 4:53 p.m.
Art Wolfe is an internationally acclaimed photographer who travels the world to capture nature and vanishing cultures. This photo by Jay Goodrich was Northwest Prime Time's cover image in December 2011.
Art Wolfe is an internationally acclaimed photographer who travels the world to capture nature and vanishing cultures. This photo by Jay Goodrich was Northwest Prime Time's cover image in December 2011.

...by Michelle Roedell, Editor, Northwest Prime Time

This blog started with the origination story of Northwest Prime Time and has been reporting a loose chronology of the senior publication ever since, peppered with side stories and heartfelt thank-you’ s to people who have helped us out along the way.

Now I’d like to offer a few words about the sometimes nerve-wracking and always fascinating role of interviewing well-known people – or even out-and-out famous folks. (By the way, for me interviewing everyday people is just as fascinating as interviewing the rich and famous but is much less nerve-wracking.)

Right from the beginning, I had the opportunity to feature local luminaries on our cover.

The first one that comes to mind, which happened within the first year or so of publishing Northwest Prime Time, is of then-conductor of the Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz.

Portrait painting of Gerard Schwarz by Northwest article Michele Rushworth, oil on canvas, 80” x 50”, Benaroya Hall, Seattle


Gerard Schwarz, or Jerry to his friends, invited us into his grand Seattle home on Queen Anne’s Highland Drive. We were greeted by Contessa, the friendly family dog (standard poodle as I recall). Gerard Schwarz was open and charming, and generous with his time. The interview took place well over 20 years ago, so details are fuzzy. But the main things I remember about the experience, beyond his graciousness and the opulent surroundings, was his wanting to make sure that the piece included a description of his parents. His gratitude and deep love for them shined through. 

As my first interview of this type, I had to keep pinching myself – not only that the situation was real but trying not to focus on the sincere hope that my inexperience in general and my ignorance about symphonic music was not evident to the Maestro.

But there I was, sitting in his home, asking questions, and listening to the personal details of his life. I’d like to read that article again (or maybe I’d cringe if I read it), but it was published back in the days before we had a website and it does not exist online.

Despite that early piece on Gerard Schwarz, the first 11 years of publishing Northwest Prime Time did not typically feature well-known individuals on the cover. I had so many submissions every single month that when it came time to lay out the paper, I’d simply look through what was on hand and select the most interesting or timely stories, or those that happened to fit our theme of the month.

This method worked well for me because it was so easy and didn’t take much time or effort, plus we received a lot of great submissions. But, at a certain point, I realized that I needed to step up our cover story plan.  

That plan involved featuring “Notable Northwesterners” – people over age 50 who had a strong connection to the Northwest. In addition to the typical biographical overview, I wanted to explore the subject’s northwest connections, learn about their childhoods, and include their thoughts about growing older.

Whenever possible, I looked for other people to write these cover features because, fascinating as interviewing and writing is, creating these articles is so darn time-consuming. Since we couldn’t afford the fee that most writers charge for the long form articles that I find so interesting, I usually wrote them. 

Here are my thoughts about these pieces: Hopefully the final product of these interviews feels easy, natural and belies the time, sweat and tears that went into it. Profiles of this nature can be extremely time-consuming. First there is the research, which includes reading as much as possible about the individual and listening to recorded interviews. It often involves reading biographies, sometimes more than one. By the time I conduct the actual interview, I feel as if I already know their life story, and even that I know them in a way that feels personal. Only after all that research comes the In-depth interviews – the more time the person gives you, the more interesting the article can be.

(Sidenote: more than once, when someone couldn't quite recall a detail from their life, I was able to prompt them as a result of all that homework.)

After that is the all-consuming part of putting together the article. A final product of 1000, 2000 or more words starts with a much longer draft that includes way too much information. Then you have to whittle it down, refining it over several drafts, massaging the story so that the narrative weaves, flows, engages.  Lastly comes the final polish so that every word feels like it works. It can be exhausting!

The very first “Notable Northwesterner” with our new cover article plan was Art Wolfe, the internationally acclaimed 
photographer who calls Seattle home. He was our cover boy on the December 2011 edition.

I selected Art Wolfe because I had been a long-time fan of his incredible photographs (which I came to know by visiting REI’s original rickety building on Seattle’s Capitol Hill – I loved that building), but I had also become a big fan of his PBS television series, Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge. The show follows Art and his crew photographing the awe-inspiring animals and landscapes in earth’s far-flung, wild places. Later programs also featured the people and cultures of the places that he visited.

If you're interested, at the very end of this article is a link for you to read that Art Wolfe story. Note: while article was written 12 years ago and has not been updated, after reading the “About” section on his website (www.artwolfe.com), I conclude that his life seems much the same – but even more so. Thank you, Art, for agreeing to be our first “Notable Northwesterner Cover Boy.”

Future blog posts will include other notable people I’ve interviewed or met along the way. I could tease you with some very famous names, but you’ll have to check out the future posts to learn more!

Read the Art Wolfe article here: Call of the Wild:The Passionate, Artistic Vision of Art Wolfe

In case you missed them, you can catch up on past blog posts with the links below:

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