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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Interview: Toby Young

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Six years ago, I got into memoirs, first reading Jonathan Ames, then David Sedaris, then Toby Young, after my good friend Erin turned me on to "How To Lose Friends and Alienate People," the movie for which makes its U.S. premiere in October.

If I was ever good at golf, and was asked to pick my perfect foursome, it would be those three dudes and me.

Until then, though, I'll just have to settle for an e-mail interview with Young, whose wife just delivered him their third baby in London a few days ago. Here's the Q&A:

+ I read "How To Lose Friends..." in 03 or 04, and although there were numerous missteps, being at Vanity Fair as long as you were doesn't necessarily qualify as a failure, does it?

Well, it depends on your expectations. I was expecting to (be) made the editor of one of the Conde Nast titles so, from my point of view, being fired after two-and-a-half years was definitely a disappointment.

+ Do you remember exactly when/where/why you developed your strong desire for celebrity?

I don't hold with the idea that the need for fame is a symptom of a personality disorder. I think the desire for recognition -- to be remembered -- is part of human nature.

+ When it looks like someone is ready to piss away a journalism career, maybe the best way to revive it is to write a top-selling memoir about how you nearly pissed it away. Would you say you got the last laugh then? Were the words of your critics at all a driving force behind you writing the book?

Graydon Carter told me that the reason he'd never commissioned me to write a proper piece for the magazine is because British journalists make lousy reporters. One of the reasons for writing the book was to prove him wrong, but that wasn't my only motivation. I think the biggest thing was wanting to extract something of value from the five years I'd spent trying -- and failing -- to take Manhattan. I couldn't bear the thought that I'd just pissed away five years of my life. I needed to get something out of it, transform that base metal into gold.

+ When you first considered writing "How To Lose Friends ..," I imagine you sought some advice from friends and colleagues. Did they recommend against your first book being a memoir? Surely your fan base had to have been somewhat limited, so were you at all surprised by the book's success?

Yes, most people did counsel against writing a memoir. I remember discussing the idea of a book about Conde Nast with Morgan Entreken on a long plane journey and he told me to do it as a business book. I tried to write it that way, but it just felt too unnatural to exclude myself from the story. Was I surprised by its success? Not as surprised, I think, as a veteran author who's already written several books would have been. Being a complete debutante, I wasn't aware of how unusual it is for a book to do that well.

+ Simon Pegg certainly is a qualified actor, but why not play the lead character in the upcoming biopic yourself? Did you have much input into the selection of Pegg? What is the level of creative input for the production/direction of the film overall?

I would have liked to have written, directed and starred in the film, but I don't think it would have attracted a budget of $28 million if I had. My title in the credits is co-producer and I think that accurately describes my level of involvement. I was consulted on all the big creative decisions, read each draft of the script as it was written, suggested where I thought the finished film should be cut, and so forth. Given that all I did was write the book the film is based on, that's about the most I could have hoped for.

+ After the movie's October release, what is next for you? And when is your next U.S. visit/for what purpose?

I'm currently trying to mount a production of the one-man-show based on the book off-Broadway. The idea is that I'd play myself, so it may be difficult to attract the financing. If that comes off, I'll be spending a couple of months in New York at the beginning of next year. Apart from that, I'll be over for the premier in late September.

+ What is your take on this year's U.S. presidential election? Do you have your eye on it? What about it interests you and do you prefer Obama or McCain?

As someone who values the Atlantic alliance, I hope Obama wins. I think he'll do more to restore America's reputation in Europe than McCain. Over here, brand America is sorely in need of some decontamination. I think Obama's the man to do it.



At 2:51 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Write more stuff so when I scroll down I don't have to run into the backpenis and gnarled teeth pics so quickly.

At 1:37 PM EDT, Anonymous Wall said...

glad the ed. added the " was ever good at golf, and " to the second paragraph.

At 9:36 AM EDT, Blogger Big Primpin' said...

Thanks to both for your very insightful commentary.


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