PROFILE

Jason took the Express route to the top of his profession

BY SIMON YAFFE

THE Academy Awards take place in Los Angeles on Sunday night - and Jason Solomons will be in the thick of it.

The Oscars is just one of numerous events which the film critic, broadcaster and author covers throughout the year.

The 46-year-old will be reporting for the BBC on all the action at the film industry's biggest night.

"I go to the Venice and Cannes film festivals every year as I only pick the glamourous ones because they suit me well," he laughed.

"I knew pretty early on that I was good at mixing with celebrities. When you're interviewing them, you just have to make them sort of at ease."

But the glitz and glamour is a long way from Jason's early days as a journalist at the Daily Express.

The north Londoner read French and German at Trinity College, Oxford, and spent a year in Paris teaching English as part of his degree.

Jason then took a postgraduate course in journalism at City University, London, before arriving at the Daily Express as a graduate trainee.

"I trained on every department desk - from news, to showbiz, diary, sport and features," he recalled.

"I threw myself into all of it, but particularly enjoyed the sports desk."

However, he found he had a natural aptitude for the showbiz desk.

"I did a lot of acting at college and I had a lot of friends in the game, so I understood the way showbiz was reported," Jason explained.

"Initially, journalism did not appeal to me - I had considered going into acting.

"I thought journalism was all about sticking your foot in someone's front door and waiting outside in a car - I didn't realise there were other aspects to it. I was not a dyed-in-the-wool news hound."

Jason sufficiently impressed enough to be offered the role of showbiz editor at the Express - but lasted six months.

"I was a bit too young and it was daunting," he said. "I was rubbish at it, to be honest."

He also worked as a film critic and had his own music column at the paper.

But he moved on to cover football, which was a dream come true for the Arsenal fan.

"Doing it calmed me down as a fan, so I am more critical of Arsenal now," Jason explained.

"I loved the excitement of filing match reports on the final whistle. It was great to do press conferences at Arsenal, Chelsea and even Tottenham."

Because he is fluent in French, he was the first journalist to interview Patrick Vieira on his arrival at Arsenal in 1996.

The following year, Jason attended his first Cannes festival chasing after the Spice Girls, who were promoting their film Spiceworld.

He also camped outside the Carlton Hotel, trying to speak to Johnny Depp and returned home with an exclusive after bumping into Christian Bale on the beach.

Jason recalled: "Leonardo Di Caprio was the hottest star on the planet at the time because of Titanic.

"There was a rumour going round that the book American Psycho would be made into a film and Leo said he was going to take the role of its protagonist, Patrick Bateman - which was also coveted by Bale.

"I bumped into Bale on the beach and asked him what was going on and he launched into a tirade about how the part was for him and so on. My story ended up on page three of the Express.

"I still see Cannes as the best two weeks of my year."

Jason's career took an unexpected diversion when he was fired from the Express, as the newly-appointed editor wanted a new film critic.

He used his pay-off to go travelling. On his return to the UK, he received a job offer from a former Express editor, who was starting a new section at The Mail on Sunday.

Jason accepted the position and his showbiz column ran for 16 years.

During that time, Jason also developed and wrote the Trailer Trash film column for The Observer, presented the award-winning Film Weekly podcast and hosted the internet interview series In The Director's Chair, both of which were downloadable from The Guardian's website.

Every Thursday, he hosts a film show on BBC London with Robert Elms.

Jason has interviewed hundreds of stars and directors and found himself the most nervous before he was due to speak to Kill Bill star Uma Thurman.

"I did not think I would be able to speak in front of her because of her beauty," he said.

"She was as beautiful in real life, but really tall, so I thought she is never going to fancy me!

"I am not a particularly pugnacious interviewer - there is not much longevity in that.

"I don't think it is about catching them in a good mood or bad mood, but to put them at ease.

"I am not there to catch them out and I don't like reading interviews which indicate that the pompous celebrity has been caught out.

"The rudest interviewee was Richard Gere, he was just an idiot. He is one of those Buddhists who wears a Rolex.

"He preaches aestheticism and purity yet has not made any films which espouse his philosophy.

"Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) is one of the spikiest interviewees, but I think he is brilliant and I love the way he makes you think about your questions.

"The Coen Brothers can be difficult because they are monosyllabic and I do find some of their films a little arched.

"They are so evasive about their work, but, with a little gentle prodding, they will open up."

He describes the Coen Brothers' 2009 hit A Serious Man as a "brilliant Jewish film".

But Jason, who hosted The Guardian podcast Sounds Jewish for a number of years, is more critical of other Jewish films made in the Diaspora.

"Israeli films have enjoyed a huge rise over the last 10 years, the Jerusalem Film Festival is influential and they do not have to wear their Jewishness as heavily as is seen in Jewish films made in the Diaspora," he explained.

"I sit on the UK Jewish Film Festival's short film fund board and we receive around 60 scripts a year from Jewish filmmakers.

"It is difficult for them because they are trying to make a Jewish film without it being too Jewish.

"There have been British and American films about Orthodox Jews, but to me and to most of the people I know, they may as well live on the moon.

"The challenge is to get something Jewish in there without it being too Jewish - maybe an occasional shrug, or something!

"Jewish stories do not need to have big Jewish figures in them or klezmer music.

"They can have a warmth or an inclusiveness which makes it Jewish, although with the short films, it does help if it features a barmitzvah, wedding, seder or Shabbat dinner."

Jason, whose favourite film is the 1977 Woody Allen classic Annie Hall, fulfilled a lifelong dream by penning Woody Allen Film by Film (Carlton Books, 19.99) in September.

"It is a biography through film, which was just right for me," Jason said. "It was a delight to write.

"I was a little bit scared as I thought it was going to be a slog, but it was pleasure to spend all that time inside Allen's head and world."

Jason - who lists George Clooney and director Danny Boyle as the nicest interviewees - also hosted Sky Arts' In Conversation, where he chats with actors and directors.

He said: "These days, I do prefer broadcast journalism. I like going out and getting in there on the red carpet with a microphone - you can tell a lot from someone's voice.

"I think newspapers have become depressing places to work. Because of the lack of money, things are being cut, there are fewer pages and less money.

"The Observer, for example, put my Trailer Trash column online, but I just felt it didn't work.

"It makes me sad because I was completely in love with newspapers and I think that medium will find itself again."

Jason has been married to Tessa for nine years and they have two children - Cy (named after the painter Cy Twombly) and Seve, as Jason's hero as a child was Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros.

"Tessa is not Jewish, but she always says to me I should not think that I married out, but that she has married in," he said.

"I am proud of Judaism as a cultural identification marker and its sense of humour and the familiness of it all."

www.jasonsolomons.com

 
© 2016 Jewish Telegraph

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