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  • Writer's pictureHarvey Brownstone

An intensely emotional interview

When I was doing my research for my interview with internationally renowned dog expert Martin McKenna, I was somewhat intimidated to find that he'd already done literally thousands of interviews. Since the release of his remarkable book "The Boy Who Talked to Dogs: A Memoir" in 2014, Martin had become a media darling not only in Australia (where he has lived for many years), but all over the world. His story of running away from home at the age of 13 and living in the streets of Ireland for 3 years with a pack of stray dogs, was extremely well-known.

And so, as I scoured the hundreds of internet articles and media interviews about Martin, I kept asking myself, "How can I make our interview special? What questions can I possibly ask him that haven't been asked before?" Well, it turns out I needn't have worried. It seems that all of Martin's previous interviews focused on his relationship with the dogs, and what he learned about dog behaviour, rather than on the incredibly tragic circumstances that led him to run away from home in the first place.

Early on in our interview, when I began to ask Martin about his childhood - the physical, verbal and emotional abuse that he endured at the hands of his father, siblings, school teachers and the neighbourhood bullies - I was totally unprepared for the deluge of emotions that were about to pour out of him. I wrongly assumed that because these events happened over 50 years ago, and because he must have already been asked about these things many times before, he would in all likelihood respond to my questions with prefabricated, well rehearsed and rote answers. After all, isn't that what most celebrities do when answering personal questions? Don't they have a well-polished script that they rigorously adhere to?

Apparently not, at least not in Martin's case. In recounting the horrors he endured during his childhood, Martin opened up his heart fully and without reservation. His tears began flowing almost immediately. And when he began sobbing, so did I. I was wondering, "How must I look with tears running down my cheeks?", and "Isn't it unprofessional for me to be crying like a baby on camera?" I confess that I was taken aback by my own reaction to Martin's emoting, and I was embarrassed.

There have been brief moments during a few of my interviews when I became teary-eyed. But never have I openly cried to the extent that I did during Martin McKenna's interview. On more than one occasion I seriously contemplated turning off the camera and taking a break, because I felt close to losing my composure. But I resisted the temptation to halt the interview, because I knew that something special and unique was happening, and I felt I owed it to our audience to see and feel the raw emotion pouring out of both of us. In the end, I'm glad I kept the camera rolling.

Near the end of the interview, Martin commented on his impression of the interview. Clearly he was happy that I'd asked the questions I chose to ask. Who knows how long he'd been waiting to pour his heart out in such a heart-wrenching way? I got the sense that the interview had been a cathartic and redemptive experience for him. And based on the feedback I've received from viewers so far, I feel certain that the interview touched many people's hearts profoundly. This was, by all accounts, an unusually memorable interview.

I learned a few important lessons during this intensely emotional interview. First, I should never assume that just because a celebrity has been interviewed thousands of times, he/she is blasé about his/her own life and has been asked everything there is to ask. Sometimes the most obvious questions about a person's life have never been asked, because no interviewer ever bothered to do the appropriate research, or dared to delve deeply into the details of the guest's life.

Secondly, I learned that there is no shame or embarrassment in shedding tears when someone is sharing their emotionally painful and traumatic experiences. It shows that we are all human, and that we have the capacity to empathize with another person's suffering. This is true whether or not one is "on camera".

Thirdly, I learned that my audience appreciates authenticity and sincerity. So many interviews on TV today are superficial and perfunctory, and totally devoid of any glimpse of who the interviewee really is. When I started my show I vowed that I would deliver something profoundly different: in-depth, insightful interviews that probe deeply into the life experiences of my guests. That is what my viewers have come to expect from a "Harvey Brownstone Interview", and that is what I aim to give them, every time. If that means that, on occasion, tears flow from yours truly, well, so be it. At least you know those tears are genuinely reflective of an authentically shared human experience.

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