James Lipton can ask questions like nobody’s business, but the host of Inside the Actors Studio has quite a lot to say for himself as well. With his new memoir, Inside Inside, he reveals that in addition to schooling and interviewing talent, he can pirouette, fly airplanes, compose Broadway musicals, star in Guiding Light, and produce Bob Hope TV specials. Plus he’s run away with gypsies in Greece and been a pimp in Paris. William Georgiades spoke with him on the deck of Lipton’s Bridgehampton home, where he also sang in Latin.
Why is there no index in your book?
Because I do not want people to browse this book. Only one person has said there ought to be an index, and I said I don’t want you for a reader. I worked so hard to give the book a shape, and as freewheeling as it seems, there is structurally nothing that’s random. I wrote the book in concentric circles.
Will Ferrell does that rather good impersonation of you. Will he ever be a real guest?
He says he hasn’t earned that yet.
Who else has said no?
Nobody has said no. Some have said not yet. The only person who ever said no was Brando. And Nicholson has given strict instructions that he never wants to see his face on television except on the Oscars. He and Marlon are the two greatest actors I ever saw. And De Niro and Pacino are right behind them. It’s no coincidence that all of them are products of the Stanislavski system.
The oddest part of the book is perhaps your time in Paris and Greece. Were you really a pimp in Paris?
I was. It came up once when I interviewed Julia Roberts, so I had to set the record straight. Even better was learning about Agamemnon from those shepherds in Mycenae. I still have that shepherd’s crook. Sometimes I pick it up and twirl it like a baton. Wood lasts. [A follow-up with Lipton’s assistant clarified his role in the world of French prostitution: He was a “mec”—a guy who works for the prostitutes—not a pimp.]
Critics have harped on some of your choices as guests. Might they have a point?
Oh, my God! Poor Jennifer Lopez, they went nuts. They say how dare Lipton sully the studio’s reputation! I have never regretted a single guest. I remember Teri Hatcher telling me there was a review that said, “How dare Lipton have such a nonentity on the show,” and she said she cried so hard that night. They’re the purity police, like the Taliban.
The name of the show might have something to do with it.
I was confronted by Bravo, who said the show wouldn’t be in TV Guide if I didn’t come up with a name, and I came up with Inside, meaning I was going to invite you and you and you and you to come inside the Actors Studio and teach our students. But I still get letters from people asking what is Julia Roberts doing on the show, she’s not a member of the studio. I am hoisted by my own petard!