- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NEW YORK — In entertainment journalism, the purpose of the lunch interview is twofold: to help the reporter feel like a normal, social being and to have an excuse to talk with food in one’s mouth.

Interviews are done in any number of ways: over the phone, at a press junket, at the subject’s home. Chatting over a meal, though, can be oddly revealing.

This is, after all, where much of the entertainment industry does business. Deals are hatched, movies are greenlighted, and fates are decided while breaking bread.

The stakes are significantly lower when an entertainer sits down with a reporter. Because the whole point of the meeting is to talk, stuffing one’s face can work at cross-purposes.

When it comes time to write the story, any mention of the meal usually is set aside like a stale breadstick, forgotten in place of a loftier discussion about film, music and careers.

Yet sometimes what someone eats and drinks says a lot about a person.

For example, while discussing last year’s “Bee Movie,” Jerry Seinfeld acknowledges he hardly ever eats cereal anymore. The responsibilities of being a health-conscious father and husband have eliminated one of his most endearing and childlike habits - not to mention a prominent prop on “Seinfeld.”

“I don’t really drink - I’ll have a glass of wine once in a while,” Mr. Seinfeld says. “But if I’m really bumming about something and want to just go to hell: 1 a.m., a bowl of cereal, milk - just go crazy, eat as much as you can. That feels great.”

In one episode of “Seinfeld,” the character based on co-creator Larry David - George Costanza - associates the freedom of single life with the pleasures of sitting alone and chomping on a block of cheese. It’s the opposite for Jeff Garlin, Mr. David’s co-star in HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

In his directorial debut, “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With,” Mr. Garlin looks for love through the holes of a hunk of Swiss. In an interview over breakfast when he is releasing the film, he chooses not to eat cheese but has a bowl of oatmeal (“plain, nothing on top of it”) a bowl of blueberries and a glass of grapefruit juice.

The grapefruit juice, he says, was a tip from a friend - Marissa Jaret Winokur, star of the stage version of “Hairspray”- to help his voice when it was strained. At the time, Mr. Garlin was doing voice-over work for the Pixar film “WallcE.”

The actor and comedian credits his healthy meal to the Pritikin Longevity Center in Florida, which, he says, “rescued me.”

“You give me a can - I’m not making this up, I’m very proud of this - and I can tell you everything about it by a few different things whether you should eat it or not,” Mr. Garlin says.

Greg Kinnear, while discussing last year’s “Feast of Love,” is similarly healthy, but for different reasons.

His spinach omelet with whole-wheat toast is a welcome reprieve for the actor after he gained weight for the role of Bob Kearns in “Flash of Genius,” which arrives in theaters on Friday.

“I’m coming off of gaining, like, 20 pounds for a movie,” Mr. Kinnear says. “It didn’t go into my face at all; it just went into all the wrong places. For the last few months, I’ve been eating anything that has a good, doughy, rich sound to it.”

The allure of unhealthy food is stronger for Judd Apatow, the director of “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” At lunch while promoting “Knocked Up,” he orders the penne and asked the waitress, “Can you put chicken in there? Is that possible?”

This, though, was resisting temptation.

“My wife is trying to get me to eat better,” says Mr. Apatow, who is married to actress Leslie Mann. “So it’s very hard when I’m alone in New York City not to have a cheeseburger and an ice cream sundae. What you just saw was a deep inner struggle not to have the burger.”

If Mr. Apatow finds symbolism of his devotion to his wife in his meal, the German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck sees good fortune in his.

The director of 2006’s “The Lives of Others” is a 6-foot-6 giant who wolfs down a chicken breast while cheerfully discussing the unlikely international success and acclaim of his very first feature film. After he has carefully buttered a Melba toast, it slips from his hand, falling on the floor.

“Here, look,” Mr. von Donnersmarck marvels, chuckling. “My things do not fall on the butter side.” He dusts the backside of the toast and eats.

True to form, a few months later, he wins the Academy Award for best foreign film.

Chan Marshall, the singer-songwriter known as Cat Power, is less inclined to look for metaphorical meaning. In a meandering interview, Miss Marshall at one point gives a detailed, 10-minute-long description of how to make the perfect cup of tea.

“Stir it,” she advises. “Try to get like a tornado going in it.”

Her culinary lesson, though, has as much to do with creating a feeling - much like her music does. While the tea brews, Miss Marshall suggests passing the time listening not just to music, but specifically to either Roberta Flack’s “First Take,” Mary J. Blige’s “The Breakthrough” or James Brown’s 50th-anniversary collection “CD one, song number one until song number seven.”

While talking about his fourth directorial effort, actor Steve Buscemi quietly dispatches a mushroom omelet. This reporter, unable to finish his chicken sandwich, geekily notes how emasculating his doggie bag is.

Mr. Buscemi nods.

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