It's going to take more than a little public mockery to get James Lipton to loosen up. The offbeat and seemingly uptight host of Bravo's signature series, Inside the Actors Studio — who has become one of comedian Will Ferrell's most popular parody subjects on Saturday Night Live — insists he couldn't change his interview style if his love of acting depended on it.
"I know I'm a bit solemn," admits the drama professor, whose college seminars began airing on Bravo in 1995. "My wife says to me, 'For Chrissake, smile!' But it's not the kind of person I am. The thing that the press has to realize is that I am not there as a journalist. There's no gossip... there's no ambush... there's no attempt to trick somebody into revealing themselves.
"I find that staying focused on the craft [of acting], we have literally blown the door off the hinges to the most intimate moments."
During the past seven seasons, Lipton has played host to some of the biggest names in the biz, including Harrison Ford, Holly Hunter, Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey. But box office clout does not play a role in determining who gets to join Lipton on stage.
"There are people who don't speak to me, who really dislike me because I haven't invited them to be on the show," reveals the scholar, who welcomes his 100th guest (TBD) in a special two-hour episode airing in Oct. 2001. "They have to [have] done something that these students need to know about."
And although actors are practically knocking down Lipton's door to appear inside his Studio, two Hollywood heavyweights continue to elude him: Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando. "Brando calls periodically and says, 'I'm not going to do the show,'" laughs Lipton. "We talk for 45 minutes while he tells me all the reasons why he doesn't want to do the show... I'll get him eventually."