Not Just Kanye: Seven More Extreme Celebrity Profiles

The rapper isn't the first star to catalyze some memorable journalism

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Kanye West in Miami, on Dec. 6, 2012.
Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images for Dom Perignon

Kanye West in Miami, on Dec. 6, 2012.

As far as celebrity interviews go, few can compare to Kanye West. The rapper, whose album Yeezus is one of the summer’s most anticipated, is featured in a lengthy New York Times profile in which he lets loose in a Q&A with Jon Caramanica. It would be difficult to select the best quotes from the piece—though we gave it a shot at narrowing it down (sample selection: “The longer your ‘gevity is, the more confidence you build. The idea of Kanye and vanity are like, synonymous.”).

It all adds up to a picture of a man who is, as many of his fans and detractors suspect, ridiculously braggadocious, ridiculously thoughtful (as an artist), and ridiculously ridiculous.

(MORESummer Music Preview 2013)

But this week’s West piece is not alone in the hall of fame of great/awesome/ridiculous celebrity profiles. If he’s put you in the mood for more, check out these seven great examples:

“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese (Esquire, April 1966)

One of the greatest celebrity profiles ever, destined to be taught in journalism classes for all eternity: Talese was all set to profile Sinatra, but Sinatra exactly didn’t play along. It’s hard to cull a great quote from the piece…but that’s sort of the point.

“Woody Allen: Rabbit Running” (TIME, July 3, 1972)

It’s no surprise that a profile of Allen, written just when his career was officially a major success, brims with one-liners from the comedian. (“When we played softball, I’d steal second, then feel guilty and go back.”) It’s also an insightful look at how someone doing so well can do so with a persona of who’s not doing well at all.

“Creative Differences” by Tad Friend (The New Yorker, September 1999)

Friend catches up with David Lynch as the director is shooting a pilot for a TV version of Mulholland Drive—an idea that, even (especially?) with Lynch at the helm, wasn’t exactly primetime-friendly. One of the best tidbits in the story is that Lynch speaks like a 1940s cartoon: “Now fifty-three, he peppers his speech with slang out of the Saturday Evening Post: “Holy jumping George!” and “Wow-wee, Bob!” and “I’ll be ding-danged!” writes Friend.

“The Unbearable Bradness of Being” by Chris Heath (Rolling Stone, October 1999)

This look at Brad Pitt—written back when Jennifer Aniston was just his girlfriend—starts off in the normal celebrity-profile mode: the star is on vacation, he takes the journalist to a café, they talk about life under the paparazzi spotlight. Then it gets weird. When Pitt and Heath meet for a later interview, the star starts to get upset about the way he acted during their earlier discussions, and Heath presents the back-and-forth in Q&A form. (For another great example of Chris Heath at work, check out his 2007 take on Robert De Niro for GQ.)

“Crazy Things Seem Normal…Normal Things Seem Crazy” by Chuck Klosterman (Esquire, July 2005)

Klosterman profiles Val Kilmer at the actor’s buffalo ranch. Kilmer thinks Klosterman is a huge fan of his, but Klosterman is mainly confused. Kilmer then goes on to claim that, as an actor, he understands what it was like to be a soldier in Vietnam more than someone who actually was.

“American Marvel” by Edith Zimmerman (GQ, July 2011)

Zimmerman’s look at Chris Evans, who was then starring as Captain America, deviates immediately from the norms of the medium: though they start with a normal interview, they end up on what seems like a date. At one point there’s a gap in the story because Zimmerman drinks too much and doesn’t quite remember what happened. “Edith was hammered!” Evans tells his mother (yes, his mother is in the story too) at one point. Sure, that’s not exactly what a reporter is supposed to do—but the result is amazing.

“Mr. and Mr. Smith” by Claire Hoffman (New York, May 26, 2013)

Here’s another recent example: Will and Jaden Smith promoting After Earth and talking about…patterns. ” I think that there is that special equation for everything, but I don’t think our mathematics have evolved enough for us to even—I think there’s, like, a whole new mathematics that we’d have to learn to get that equation,” says Jaden. “I agree with that,” says Will.

(MORE: Kanye, Marc Jacobs and Ted Turner: A Brief, Visual History of Men in Skirts)