This interview with Australian presenter Renee Bargh was set to publish three weeks ago. But as America hit a boil and erupted in protest, it just didn’t feel right for it to go live at the time.
As black squares were filling our Instagram feeds, Bargh and I did still go ahead with our scheduled Zoom call that Tuesday afternoon – but it was impossible to begin any sort of chat without addressing what was happening in real time in her adopted home of Los Angeles in the United States.
“It’s definitely a heavy time and its really strange watching it all unravel from afar,” says Bargh. “I couldn’t feel further away from it all right now. A lot of my friends and people I really love and respect are directly impacted by what’s going on so I’ve honestly been spending my days speaking with them and trying to figure out how I can do better. I’ve been reading and researching as much as I can.”
For the uninitiated, Bargh is the co-host of American television show Extra and the Attico-clad new co-host of season nine of The Voice Australia. When we talk about women who have done really well in the entertainment space overseas, we often reference the 33-year-old – and the fact she grew up in Byron Bay makes the tale that little bit sweeter. After all, Australia loves to brag about the successes of a homegrown.
A trusted and reliable communicator of all things celebrity, Bargh is often in prime position at every award season red carpet or film junket. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez are just two of the slew of elites who will be ushered to Bargh at any event on any given day for a chat; her beautiful, spritely energy tip-toeing to the line but never over it.
But the way we report on celebrity has drastically pivoted as Hollywood’s film industry has been doing some serious housecleaning while it reckons with its past and its future. In the last couple of years alone, Bargh has hosted Extra in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the subsequent #MeToo movement. She’s spoken to black actors amid fierce uproar of their non-representation on Oscar nomination lists. Coronavirus hit – and if the rise of streaming and the decline in box office tickets meant the future of cinema was already blurred, then the pandemic amplified those anxieties ten-fold as cinemas across North America, and indeed the world, turned dark. Film premieres have gone. Broadway is shuttered. Red carpets are non-existent. Celebrities are still indoors with bad WiFi connections.
And so we get to today and the #BlackLivesMatter movement is underway.
Quarantining from a hotel in Sydney, Bargh discusses how she prepares to talk to the biggest names in Hollywood, the challenges of reporting celebrity culture in these sensitive times and what the entertainment world may look like post COVID-19.
GRAZIA: I don’t think we can chat today without acknowledging what is going on in America at the moment. How have you gone about absorbing what is happening where you live?
RENEE BARGH: “What I’ve learned since being in America is there’s such a long history of racial injustice in that country – and not only in America, but here in Australia too – and I think the first step is recognising that and acknowledging that and then asking ourselves what can we do. How can we ensure we’re not part of the problem? I understand why people are fed up. They’ve been having this conversation for way too long so I really hope that this incites change. I’ve been glued to the news and I’m trying to do as much work as I can in terms of listening to the right people. I think that’s all we can really do; listen and take action where we can.”
In the past couple of years – and particularly now – so much of the media spotlight has focused in on social and political unrest and injustices. You have hosted red carpets in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, you’ve interviewed female actors during the #MeToo movement, you’ve spoken to black actors who should have made the Oscars nomination lists – and didn’t – and you’ve had to host Extra via a video link during a pandemic. The entertainment industry has had to be so careful that the reporting of celebrity is sensitive to the social climate. How has your role as an entertainment reporter evolved/changed over the past couple of years?
“Wow, that’s a really good question. What I think is really important about being in this field at this time is having a platform. I feel really privileged to have this platform and have the ability to have those conversations and use this opportunity to have the right people take the stage to speak. What I’ve learned as an Australian in America is just to listen. Let their stories be the stories that need to be told. It’s a privilege to be able to do that kind of work. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all here for.”
“We want to be part of the change, we want to make an impact and you don’t get to do that if you’re just interviewing actors about their movies. There’s bigger and more important things at play.”
I think as well, it’s not enough in this day and age to just be a smiley girl on the carpet: You have to be smart, your questions have be of substance, you have to be researched and you have to be able to hold that banter to camera if your subject pulls you up on something – or alternatively gives you nothing!
“I think people think that it’s a job that’s way easier than it looks. And it’s not. I’m a huge advocate of studying and doing the research and I’m never somebody who just wings it. I just think there’s no amount of research that is enough – even if you’re just going to a junket for an animated movie, I make sure I see the movie, I read through everything I can and Google every actor that is involved. We’re so lucky to be in that position, you’ve got to do the work.”
How do you prepare for an interview?
“It differs depending on who I’m interviewing. At this point, I’ve been in LA for ten years so most of these people I have interviewed several times. I have a rapport or I know them pretty well so sometimes, in that case, the preparation isn’t as great because I know their life story and their biography and everything about them. In most cases, if it’s for a premiere or junket, I always see the movie and if I can, I’ll see any other movies the actors are in. Instagram has been a great source for us. If I look at Instagram right before someone comes in, that can give you an advantage. If someone else has written the questions a couple of hours before, they don’t know. Thanks to social media, it’s pretty easy to be up on what people are doing”
What would you say are your biggest challenges in your role, things people may not know?
“The waiting around. The thing is, people think it’s super glamourous. Usually, and you would know this, crew get there a couple of hours before a red carpet starts and they do a lockdown type of thing – and you have to be there before that starts. Actors can come for two or three hours sometimes, and you’re just standing there in your heels waiting patiently. Sometimes it’s really cold, sometimes it’s late at night. When you go and do set visits, you’re at the actors mercy, they don’t care if you need to get in and out. I’ve been on set visits for 11 hours to do one interview.
I’ll tell you what’s long? Sitting through the blind auditions of The Voice…
“The blind auctions are super long! Those audience members are dedicated. I didn’t find them to be long because I was running on adrenaline and so excited and so happy to be there. It was funny, it would get to 11pm at night and I’d been there since 7am and they’d be like, ‘You’ve got to go home, we can’t keep you here,’ and I’d be like, ‘No, I don’t want the day to end!’ I just loved it so much.”
“People really do think we live this glamorous life like the actors do. And no. They live the glamorous lives, we’re the ones behind-the-scenes.”
“I’ve posted photos of me with my shoes off, because I’ve got blisters all over my feet and I’m sitting there on a milk crate behind my camera crew trying to shovel some food down my throat. It’s not glamourous.”
I think people don’t realise that yes, you can sit in hair and makeup and get loaned a beautiful gown but after the premiere is done, you have to actually go and do a job and file the story. People don’t see the research or the editing process. What do you think Awards Season might look like in America in 2021? Will we have big premieres and events?
“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like. I saw some images released a couple of weeks ago which is what they were planning to do [on red carpet premieres]. They are thinking of having big plexiglass dividers between each entertainment outlet, far fewer publications which is really sad because there will be less coverage and reporters being six-feet away from the subject. But I’m really hopeful by 2021 that things are far better and maybe at that point, we just keep distance and we don’t shake hands or hug.
“[In the post-COVID world] I would be thankful not to be crammed into those press areas [on red carpets]. That scrum is very close quarters. I don’t think that can be the case anymore.”
“But what we’ve discovered is we’ve been filming our entire show over Zoom. What we’ve seen is that works and people are happy to do interviews from the comfort of their own home. So that’s a positive but I’m really interested to see what a red carpet is going to look like. It’s hard to imagine right now.”
What other ways did the pandemic change your line of work?
“Proximity to your co-hosts. We never get close anymore. I’ve been doing my own hair and makeup for the past three months, I haven’t had anyone touch my face. I’ve been doing my own microphoning just because we couldn’t have any contact. That was all really different. I’ve been doing a lot from home by myself. I’m used to mingling and sitting and eating with the crew from the office and we all just kind of separated. With Zoom, I’d do interviews from night at home, in the morning from home. In sweat pants. It’s weird [laughs].
Who is one of your favourites to interview? Who is the person who when you see them coming, you just know it’s going to be good time?
“George Clooney. I always say he is the epitome of a movie star. He knows exactly what you’re going to use. He gives you those fun moments, he’s charismatic, he’s charming, he’s engaged, he’s present, he’s funny, he’s intelligent. I think he’s the perfect interview. I love him.”
Now, when you do go to a film junket, you usually don’t have a lot of time with the actors. It could be ten minutes so there’s not a lot of room for banter. Do you have any secret tips for earning brownie points with celebrities before or after your interviews?
“Oooh. That’s a good one. I mean I’m big on respecting the work. So for instance, when journalists go to a junket, especially for a TV show, they might watch one episode and that will be it. I am somebody who will watch the entire season even if they’re like, ‘You don’t need to’. If there’s a book, I’ll also read the book. I did that recently with Reese [Witherspoon] and Kerry [Washington, for their show Little Fires Everywhere]. I watched the entire season. I remember telling them before we began rolling ‘Oh my god, the way it ended, I read the book and I thought this was going to happen…’ and they were both like, ‘What? You watched the whole thing? That’s so cool!’ You could tell that they were genuinely thankful. I’m not into sucking up to people. I think it’s just a genuine level of respect – and you’re always going to be respected if you do your homework. That’s what I would want. And look, you can’t always do it. There are so many shows and movies, it’s impossible to be up on all of them but if you’ve got an allotted ten minutes with someone, you can do the right thing and see as much as you can.”
What’s been a nice and unexpected silver lining that you’ve found during the pandemic?
“For me, honestly, it’s been able to come home to Australia. I was really worried for a minute that I wouldn’t be able to come back. I feel really grateful and thankful to be an Australian citizen. This country is incredible and beautiful. The other silver lining is that even though I live on the other side of the world, I feel far more connected to my friends and family than I have. I’m communicating so much better, so much more. I think with everything that’s happening, we’re having difficult conversations. I feel like my friends and family are all diving deeper into our own consciousness and the work we can do on ourselves as humans and for humanity. I think that’s been a really beautiful silver lining.”
That’s a very good answer. When we talk about entertainment reporters in Australia, you are it Renee. You have done so well and you should be really proud of yourself. Were there moments of self-doubt, where maybe you thought, ‘My contract won’t be renewed’ or ‘I mucked up in that interview’ – and how did you get through them?
“Yes! Multiple times. I think like a lot of people, I suffer from imposter syndrome. When I started out, I really had no credentials, I really had no right to be on the Oscars red carpet two months into landing in LA. I’d worked on Channel V [in Australia] but I’d never interviewed A-list stars and there I was on the Oscars red carpet.
“I honestly had a moment walking down the [Oscars] carpet where I was like, ‘The security guards are going to grab me and pull me off and tell me to go home, I should not be here’.”
“I’ve had so many interviews where I’ve screwed up because I’m human. As much as you do the research and you do everything you can – I’ve been on red carpets, you’ve been on red carpets, when you’re at the Emmys, the Globes, the SAGS, the Oscars – people are coming at you so fast and furiously, one person after the other, you’re bound to make a mistake. I’ve definitely asked the wrong actress about a movie that they weren’t in. I’ve asked somebody about dating somebody and they been like, ‘What are you talking about?’. I’ve had those moments. You cringe and you want to fall into the Earth. It’s like, ‘Please just swallow me up, I want to disappear and go away.’ But at the end of the day, I always remind myself that I’m human and these experiences are really humbling and I can’t be perfect, I’m so far from it. Watching your interviews back is really important. Wherever you made a mistake, that is an opportunity for growth. I’ll beat up on myself for a few minutes and then that’s enough, no more.”
What drives you to do this job every day?
“People. I love people. I have such a curiosity for humans and why they do the things they do. And human connection. Ever since I was little, my mum said I would be the kid who would climb up onto a strangers table at a restaurant and start chatting away because I’ve always been curious. I want to know what makes people tick and I want people to feel more connected. I think that’s part of our role in entertainment reporting. These people have a huge fan base and all the fans want to know is more about them. They want to get to the heart and soul of this person and I want to be the middle woman who connects them to that.”
Let’s talk about The Voice. How on earth did you do that deal with Extra to let you also host another show on the other side of the world?
“Let me just say my boss Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey is an angel. She became my fairy godmother in this situation because she knew for the last ten years that I have been incredibly homesick. It’s something that I’ve been saying year-after-year, “I love LA and I want to be in LA but I love my family and my home.” Every Christmas I would go home and I’d come back and they’d say, ‘You want to move back, don’t you.’ And I was like, ‘Mmm, kind of. But I’m just waiting for the right job’. So the job came up and I literally called my boss and I said, ‘You’re not going to like this but I’ve been offered to host The Voice’ and I was so nervous to tell her. I wasn’t prepared for her to say no. I just couldn’t let that be an answer. And she straight away said, ‘Well you’ve got to do it. This is such an incredible opportunity.’ And I was like, ‘Does that mean I have to leave?’ And she said, ‘No, we’ll figure it out.’ So they did. They’ve had another co-host come in and fill in for me and have been checking in on me every day and have been incredibly supportive. I feel really lucky.”
What is it like to finally getting to work with your friends Delta and Kelly?
“It’s kind of surreal. It’s weird when it’s something you’ve talked about for so long and you’ve dreamed about. The weirdest part about stepping onto that set the first day was that it felt like coming home. It felt so comfortable. Delta [Goodrem] is the most supportive friend and when I was standing up there doing what I needed to do, she’d be clapping and smiling. Kelly [Rowland] has become a friend and is so lovely and Guy [Sebastian] and I go really far back. He was so happy that I was there. Darren [McMullen] and I have also known each other for about 12 or 13 years so it all just felt like a family experience. Even when I would get my makeup done, I’d text Delta and ask if she was free and I’d go and hang out in her trailer. It was so nice.”
How does Australian television productions differ to American sets?
“The Voice Australia is honestly one of the biggest and most impressive sets I’ve ever been on. I was blown away. I think you come home and expect everything to be smaller, because Australia is smaller. I honestly was like, ‘What is happening?’. It’s on such a global level in terms of how professional and how shiny it is. The producers that are involved have been doing this for nine seasons now so it’s a well-oiled machine. It’s amazing.”
I read you’re a certified health coach. How do you start your days?
“When I open my eyes, I mediate. That has become part of my daily practise. I do 20 minutes – ideally before I check my phone because that can just send me into a whole other spiral or place. I then go through emails and drink hot water with lemon or some sort of warm tonic with lots of crazy things like ashwagandha and cacao. And then I’ll shower, get changed, get out the door and get to work. I have girlfriends who will wake up two hours before they have to leave the house. I’m like a 20-40 minutes girl. I make my tonic to go in the car because I want to sleep.”
The Voice continues every Sunday at 7pm and Mondays at 7.30pm on Nine and 9Now