With depth and candor, podcasts bring out the best in TV stars – The Boston


Every so often, I tune into one of the late-night talk shows and watch an interview with a star. It doesn’t much matter if the host is Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, or the Jimmys Fallon and Kimmel: I am usually left cold. The actor plugs a movie or TV show, with the host prompting the promo so the actor won’t look pushy, and it’s all sweetened with a spoonful of joshing to help the marketing go down.

This shallowness is nothing new, of course, and in a way it perfectly fits the TV talk-show aesthetic, which is more about ushering viewers into an easy sleep than it is about true talk. The late-night format is the product of an era when actors almost never shared anything real about themselves, when they stuck to talking points predetermined by their publicists and dodged controversy and confession at all costs. There was a clear boundary between stars and ordinary people as the world of entertainment was growing up, and it was rarely crossed. Everyone in the biz stayed on book, in service of the product.

But social media has broken down that barrier. We get a lot of glimpses into famous lives and minds through Twitter and Instagram these days, an openness that has trickled down to the world of chatter — not on TV, though. Interviews with stars have come of age on long-form podcasts. I’m still surprised by the amounts of themselves actors are willing to share when they sit for an hour or more with a podcast host. With no cameras on them, without a live audience to pander to, the old rules fall away to some extent and the interviews turn into conversations.

And I admit it, I love listening to TV stars who I admire talk about their youth, their feelings about their work, the way their projects developed, and the evolution of their careers. I like hearing them goof around with the host at length, being themselves instead of being cautious and anxious. It’s not super intellectual of me, but there it is. I listen only when the talk seems unscripted, without predetermined and forbidden subjects. Some of my favorite interview podcasts don’t generally deliver big ideas — but on occasion, often on “WTF With Marc Maron” or “Armchair Expert” with Dax Shepard, they do. At times, “Armchair Expert” is like overhearing a therapy session.

Marc Maron, host of the long-running “WTF” podcast.
Marc Maron, host of the long-running “WTF” podcast.ERIK CARTER/New York Times

The goofiest conversational podcast is “Smartless,” which is hosted by three actors whose TV work includes some memorable series. It’s my comfort podcast. Will Arnett (“Arrested Development,” “BoJack Horseman”), Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”), and Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development,” “Ozark”) have been friends for years, and their playful chemistry is pleasing, even when it obscures the guest, who understands that the point is to clown around. Often, little revelations — about how, say, Ricky Gervais does care what people think, contrary to his image — emerge amid the humor. We get a sense of how Hollywood friendships work, how the three hosts cope with bad reviews and various types of fans, and their insecurities. Those on the docket range from Jake Tapper and David Remnick to Sarah Silverman and Bryan Cranston.

Another favorite uses talk about movies as a gateway to talk about life and death. Called “Films to Be Buried With,” it’s hosted by Brett Goldstein, the guy who plays the gruff Roy Kent on “Ted Lasso.” On the podcast, Goldstein is gentle and even teary on occasion, as he asks famous people about their taste in movies, their first-ever movie experience, which movies turn them on, etc. The answers trigger all kinds of philosophical notions, not least of all when Goldstein asks them to describe how they will die and which movie they will bring to heaven to share with other souls. Guests have included Sharon Stone, Maisie Williams, Moon Zappa, Rob Delaney, Chris Martin, Dominic Monaghan, Gervais, and Goldstein’s “Ted Lasso” costar Hannah Waddingham.

“The Moment With Brian Koppelman,” “ID10T With Chris Hardwick,” there are more than a hundred of them, as podcasts have found such large audiences over the past 10 or 15 years. Listening to the hosts and guests talk at length in your ear creates an intimacy that I find refreshing and, on occasion, illuminating. The best podcast interviews have none of the preciousness of those late-night chats, and none of the language restrictions that can create a self-censoring atmosphere. Turns out that some things in entertainment have improved.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.


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