Louis Theroux, broadcaster

Have you ever vomited while talking to somebody for a film? (asked by elalpineclub)

Yes. I vomited while interviewing some wrestlers at the WCW Power Plant training academy. They had pressured me into a workout that I was patently unequipped to handle. I had had a greasy breakfast and pushed myself to the point of “blowing chunks” – that’s the term they used. And what was funny was Sarge, the head wrestler who was shouting at me, and who had been totally unimpressed by my physical efforts, was equally disappointed in my puking. He seemed to think it was too watery. He kept saying: “That ain’t nothing, blow chunks!”

Gemma Arterton, actor

Do you consider emotional labour an occupational hazard? (Maori2step)

It’s a weird job requirement. When I was at drama school, I didn’t think I could act because I could never make myself cry. Now, I recently had a competition with Glenn Close to see who could cry fastest! It’s not really an impressive thing for me. But to access real emotion – whether that be despair, joy, nervousness – does take its toll on you as a human being.

Dominic West, actor

Do you and Ruth Wilson ever burst out laughing while filming the sex scenes in The Affair? (Martini_shaken)

Yes, all the time. We do so many, we’ve taken to asking the crew what position we should try next. The latest suggestion was reverse cowgirl, which I still haven’t quite mastered. The editors manage brilliantly to cut around our laughter and make us look intense.

Toby Jones, actor

How you relate yourself to Captain Mainwaring? (MuhammadFahmi)

I found his pomposity, self-involvement, pretension, and idiotic incompetence worryingly easy to relate to.

Marianne Faithfull, musician

Was it hard being a woman in this industry and being taken seriously as an artist? (ohohcheri)

Being taken seriously was absolutely impossible. I wasn’t even a woman in those days. I was a “chick”.

Jon Bon Jovi, musician

If you could travel back to the past, would you change anything? (TiyanaPuric)

If I could meet the 18 year old me today, the only advice I would give him would be: don’t do the key change on Livin’ on a Prayer. Stop! It makes this 54-year-old go “fuck!” every night.

Joan Bakewell.
Labelled … Joan Bakewell. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

Joan Bakewell, broadcaster

How annoyed were you by the phrase “Thinking man’s crumpet”? (biglampbitter2)

At the time, the mid-60s, I thought it was a casual piece of gallantry. I hadn’t realised how it would linger on to haunt me and indeed hamper my chances to be a heavyweight journalist. It labelled me as a featherbrain. Nowadays, no one would dream of using such a phrase without being savaged on Twitter.

Uzo Aduba, actor

Is your play The Maids gonna make me jump or scare me? (JaneCollier)

I think most of the jobs I do I wound up taking because I’m afraid of them – wickedly terrified, and wildly uncertain. I thought I was going to be fired on my first day of Orange is the New Black. Because it was my first TV show, I just thought: no, I could have done that stronger, could have done this line this way... they’re going to hate it and figure out a way to get me out of there. I almost didn’t get out of bed for the second day.

Harry Shearer, actor

Who has been the most fun guest star to work with on The Simpsons? (JozefBrodala)

Michael Jackson. Just kinda weird. He read all his spoken lines, then when it came to Ben, which his character was supposed to sing, he sat silently and nodded across the table. Suddenly a white guy started singing, in an MJ-like voice. I whispered: “I guess we paid enough for the talking Michael Jackson, not for the singing Michael Jackson.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
‘Watch real people’ … Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Photograph: Dominique Charriau/WireImage

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, writer

What tips do you have for writing female characters? (EkariTheWriter)

Don’t think of the character as “female” because you might find yourself being limited by what a “female” should and should not be. Watch real people. People are different more than men and women are different.

Alexei Sayle, comedian

Do you feel that you were misunderstood in your early days as a comedian around the time of The Young Ones and were you ever mistaken as a skinhead? (hvadaltsaa)

On an early standup tour, I was in Southend, and the front row was all Nazi skinheads. I said to them from the stage: I think you’ve got the wrong gig - I’m a communist Jew. And they said: we don’t care. After the show they came backstage and they seemed charming. It was a determinedly working class look, so some people just chose it for that.

Mogwai, musicians

What’s the best song or album title you’ve ever come up with? (DonVanVliet)

Central Belters’ working title was The Shiteist Pish. Hunted By a Freak was originally called Moomin Cum. My cat was sitting in the lounge giving me a nasty look, and I remembered we had a song called The Glower of a Cat, which we thought was hilarious for about two months.

John Pilger, journalist

Which British foreign policy venture in the last half century has been the most unjustified and the most damaging? (ScuzzyKeirHardie)

Alas, there’s intense competition for that accolade. That said, Blair’s invasion of Iraq takes some beating: a society destroyed, as many dead as the Rwanda massacre, millions dispossessed, a jihadist menace. And the perpetrator at large and enriched.

Pillow talk … Tamzin Outhwaite
Pillow talk … Tamzin Outhwaite Photograph: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

Tamzin Outhwaite, actor

I loved Hotel Babylon. Has finding out all the secrets about hotels changed the way you feel about them? (MortonsFork)

I learned little things, like asking for an extra pillow means asking for a prostitute. So I made sure never to ask for one.

Beverley Knight, singer

At what age did you first realise most folk can’t sing? (hokeycokeyfreedom33)

I can’t understand when people would literally only sing one note no matter where the melody went - my brain can’t deal with it. I still can’t. And as long as there is a shower, and a hairbrush to sing into, people will believe that they are the greatest singer on earth.

Alain De Botton, philosopher

Do you think it’s possible, as a male millennial, to truly love someone whom one is not absolutely physically attracted to? (sinamon)

Romanticism suggests that love and sex belong tightly together. In fact, I think they often can exist at one remove, allowing for the ugly – I know whereof I speak – to be tolerated.

Billie Piper, actor

Any tips for actors/actresses who are still learning? (SilkePlovier)

Do dance classes – I know that sounds stupid, but one of the most important things is to be aware of your body. In a great way, not an “I hate my body” way. Feeling the floor beneath you, dance helps with that. And it stops you being physically awkward, and helps you to take the piss out of yourself. Clowning is really important. And don’t make acting a bloodsport because it will destroy you – find stories you feel affected by and don’t make it remotely competitive.

Karl Hyde and Rick Smith of Underworld.
Creativity … Karl Hyde and Rick Smith of Underworld. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

Underworld, musicians

I love your Pearl’s Girl EP – what was behind it? (cortazar)

In the 90s we were at the epicentre of an explosion of creativity – in dance clubs, the art scene, the crossovers that were going in between literature, poetry, club music, guitar bands, and in the commercial art world. I remember standing on D’Arblay Street in Soho with Goldie and his dog, thinking, this is where it’s at right now. It was special. I remember Graham from our company Tomato in a little chiffon nightie, this huge fella, banging a drum with his little Swedish wife in a teddy outfit behind him, dancing away. That was normal.

Kevin Rowland, musician

I once read that you sneaked in to see the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley. Is that true? (MrStan)

It certainly is. I’d gone to the first game, England v Uruguay. A policeman asked me: did I have a ticket? I had an attack of honesty and I said no. And he gave me one! Then we went on holiday down the south coast for a couple of weeks. The day we were returning was the final, and I had a feeling I could get in. My dad dropped me at the bottom of Wembley Way and the game had already started. I ran up but I couldn’t get in. Muhammad Ali showed up, got out, and went up to the stairs – he couldn’t get in either, so he went back in his limo. There were five or six other kids around and one of them said: I know a way. If we pull the gate aside, we can squeeze in one at a time. We started to do it but we couldn’t pull hard enough. Then a grown man appeared. This guy went OK son, let’s grab it, let’s pull it. If you can get your head in, you’re in. So we got through one at a time. And that was it. We watched the rest of the game.

Wilko Johnson, musician

What song or songs were your driving force through your cancer? (25aubrey)

There’s a song, Bob Dylan’s If Not For You, which put me in mind of my wife Irene. If I ever heard that song it would bring a tear to my eye. After she died, the song was that much more intense. It came on, and I burst into tears, and then another one came on that was really poignant... record after record came on like that. I was just crying, sobbing my heart out, and it felt bloody great.

Matt Smith, actor

If you had a real Tardis and you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self? (Rory00)

I’d take the Tardis back to watch Blackburn win the league. I’d go and see Oasis play in Chicago in 1994. I’d go and pick up Frank Sinatra. And Marilyn Monroe. Take em to see some dinosaurs. Hire a boat in the 30s, get Frank to sing. Drop him back off in the 50s. And take Marilyn to a nice hotel! With the dinosaurs outside.

Fatboy Slim, musician

Did you really honk gak off a train line? (ninefootsix)

Yes. The London to Brighton train line, the end of my garden, Preston Park. A long long time ago when I was young and foolish.

Eimear McBride
Sex is a standard activity … Eimear McBride Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

Eimear McBride, writer

Sex is famously hard to get right on the page – what’s it like as a fiction writer tackling it? (siancain)

Getting over your own self-consciousness is important. Getting it wrong would be humiliating, but happily, given my publishing history, I have a high tolerance of humiliation and so just got on with it. For me specificity is the most important thing to cling to when writing about sex. Sex itself is, with a few variations, a pretty standard activity: something goes in somewhere until at least one person is happy, so what can be understood from any description of the physical is pretty limited. Where it gets interesting is exploring the who and why of what’s going on. Then you’re back into the realm of character and that’s everything for me.

Sebastian Faulks, writer

Do you think it is tougher today for writers to earn a crust than years ago? (AdaJarndyce)

It has always been next to impossible for serious writers to earn a living by their books. But that need not be a problem. Most of them have always had other jobs, or are married to, or live with, people who make a living. Perhaps only twice in the last years of the 19th century, with the boom in universal literacy, and in the last years of the 20th century with the revolution in bookselling, has it been possible. But that boom is well and truly over.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, writer

How do you measure your first two novels, which are more conventional, against My Struggle? (TjAjRjBackslashinfourth)

I’m currently writing a film manuscript of my first novel. I never reread them, but I had to read this one. The first 190 pages are excellent, and the last 510 pages are written by a writer in love with himself and his own writing. When it was published in English, I could have taken out the bad parts, but I like the fact that it is what it is, and it reflects something. The second novel I’ve never reread, I don’t have the courage to do that.

Phil Collins, musician

Where do you think your need to be liked comes from? (StewGregg)

There’s something perverse isn’t there, if you’re playing in front of 100,000 people and there’s 2000 people down the front who don’t like it, and you think: what is it that they don’t like? Of course you can’t please everyone all the time. It’s just something that I’ve got to get over, and I’m better at it now. This stupid sensitivity! But then women like sensitivity.

Benedict Cumberbatch, actor

Do you build a role up with backstories etc? (Simother)

Often – and this really ain’t no humblebrag – I’m chasing the tailcoats of my character’s abilities, whether it’s their intelligence or professional excellence, or their ability to sing, play piano, ride a horse, or paint some of the great works of modern art. All these things require a heavy tutoring in new skill sets, and one of the many privileges of our job is getting to learn new stuff, I suppose. And the results, while varied, sometimes work, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. I often feel like a horrible fraudster.

Meat Loaf, musician

When acting, how do you help character development? (OllieTipler)

I don’t do method acting – you wind up half the time playing yourself. If you hear actors say “I can’t watch myself” that’s a dead giveaway that they’re playing themselves. I’ve had people call me 20 minutes into a series, and say “It’s you on TV! I’ve just realised it was you!” That was my best friend. That’s how well I hide.

Peaches, musician

Is there a hidden meaning to Dick in the Air? (wutheringshiite)

I wrote that song as a response to “put your booty in the air” – dicks go up, they’re very animated, so I’d like to see them shaking in the club. For this song in my live shows, I have a 11 metre-long inflatable dick-like condom that I walk through over the audience. I hope you can picture that. There is an Italian artist who calls himself Plastic Fantastic, who approached me one day in a bar and told me that: “I av a beeg dick for you.” And before I could slap him, he explained to me about his inflatable, and we’ve been friends ever since.

Professor Green
Stay positive … Professor Green Photograph: PR

Professor Green, musician

What words of reassurance would you give to others who lost their fathers young? (Dolphinboy1984)

I’d love to say in time it gets easier, but it doesn’t. There’s always that inner child that misses the father they should have had, and all that should come with having a father. My only advice would be to fill that void with positive things instead of negative.

Susan Calman, comedian

Do you have any plans for the zombie apocalypse? (JamesMcGeorge)

I would try and find Clare Balding. She seems to me to be cheerful during adversity, but also a very sensible woman who I could rely upon during stressful times. She can also, as I understand, ride a horse. And that will probably become the main mode of transport in the future.

Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes), musician

Is there any truth when people say that some decades were better for music than others? (AmyBeth23)

Each decade has something fruitful to offer - plenty of things! But there is a heyday for music: when rock’n’roll and blues came in and challenged the establishment. My feeling is that we always want music because it’s a very natural human way to express and connect to one another - but perhaps the new rock’n’roll is going to be ecological breakthroughs, or kids coming up with amazing ways to connect us, and continue living on this planet. David Attenborough is way more rock’n’roll than Coldplay!

Mark Rylance, actor

How do you look back on the movie Intimacy? (Simother)

Intimacy was the most difficult job I’ve ever had. Hanif Kureishi’s work and Patrice Chereau’s words convinced me it was a very true and vital story about the difficulties people face finding intimacy in a big city like London. I know Hanif Kureishi’s writing couldn’t have been more intimate and revealing, but I found the making of the film and the subsequent publicity and personal attacks very, very painful. And I wish I hadn’t made it.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

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