Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Oprah and James Frey

***update James Frey will be on Oprah's Oct. 26 show
Read my review of A Million Little Pieces here or at blogcritics
Fans of either or, this is your post!

Thanks to Ruthie of Chicago, who allowed me to live vicariously through her.

I found her blog about "A Million Little Pieces," one of my favorite books. She wrote that she was in the Oprah show audience when Oprah announced the return of her book club. She was invited back yesterday for the taping of the show that featured James, the author of the book.

So I asked her a few questions and she kindly responded. So if you ever wanted to know how to get an Oprah ticket or what she's like or what the show is like, read on.
First, Ruthie's observations of James:

The whole show was devoted to James Frey and A Million Little Pieces. His mom and dad and brother were in the audience. Oprah showed several video clips. In the first one, and Oprah camera crew took James back to the small town in Michigan where his trouble with drinking and drugs really began. It was the first time he'd been back since they lived there, and just being there brought back a lot of bad memories and feelings. He pointed out the street where he would buy drugs to sell to other kids. The next clip showed a woman who credits James and A Million Little Pieces for saving her life and getting her into rehab for her addictions. The entire Oprah studio audience was made up of people who had written in to Oprah about the book, so there were a lot of people there who had been through similar experiences themselves, or had a family member struggling with addiction. James in person is a lot like I imagined he would be from reading his writing: frank, honest, and incredibly tough. When Oprah called on the audience to ask questions, several people asked very probing personal questions about material in the book, such as "Did you ever speak to your college girlfriend again?" and "Where would you be now if Lily hadn't died?" and James admitted that talking about painful events like those is still very difficult for him.

One of my favorite moments of the show was when Oprah brought up the agonizing scene in the book when James gets two root canals without any pain medication or anesthesia. James' response was something like, "Physical pain is just physical pain. I can deal with that. Emotional pain is so much worse. I would much rather get my teeth fixed again than get my heart broken again."

Another great moment came when Oprah asked about the non-standard punctuation and style of the book. James responded that when he decided to be a writer he wanted to be a really great writer, so he went and looked at Morrison and Faulkner and people who had written truly great books, and the one thing they had in common was that when their books came out nobody had seen anything like it before. So he decided to strive to do something really new and different that hadn't been done before, which was to tell a true story about addiction and rehab and do it in a completely honest way, and in a conversational style. He also mentioned that A Million Little Pieces was a nightmare for proofreaders because of the non-standard punctuation, line-breaks, and capitalization.

There was lots more, but I don't want to give everything away! I was actually in the Oprah show audience the day she announced the book club selection as well. James' mom had been planted in the audience as a surprise, and her reaction when she heard Oprah say the name of her son' book was priceless. It was neat to see her again, this time all made-over with a great new haircut and stylish outfit. Someone in the audience even asked to give her a hug before the show started, and both parents got a standing ovation.

James Frey is married and he has a baby girl. The video clip of James and his wife playing with their baby at the park was very touching. The whole show was very touching, really. Oprah always makes me cry, but if you've read A Million Little Pieces or have been personally affected by alcoholism or drug addiction, definitely plan to have some tissues ready when this show airs.

Next up, a Q&A:

What was Oprah like in person?
Oprah is poised, beautiful and funny, just like on TV. She doesn't interact much
with the audience at all, and we were told ahead of time not to ask for a hug or
a picture. There is very tight security coming in, and the security guards
confiscate and hold any paper they find in your purse, even receipts, so that
nobody will be tempted to ask Oprah for an autograph. One thing that she
talked about the first time I went was that she has a big scar on her shin from
wearing too-tight boots when she was visiting hurricane victims in New Orleans.
She said she didn't say anything about it at the time because it would have been
silly to complain about her boot when everyone around her was in such terrible
condition. She mentioned the scar again this time, too, because she had to wait
to start the show until her make-up artist had come out and dabbed some
concealer and powder onto her leg.

What happens during the commercials?
Because the show is not live, the commercial breaks are really only a few
seconds long. Oprah says "We'll be right back." Then one of her staff runs up on
stage and dabs some powder on Oprah's face and runs a lint-roller over her
outfit, then the producer counts down and Oprah leads right back into the
discussion. She reads her lines off of a prompter which is right above each main

When will it air?
They don't have an air date yet, check for this week's listings. It's not
on this week, so hopefully it will air next week.

How did you get tickets to the first show?
I got tickets by emailing Oprah about my interest in the topic. Someone from
her audience department called me on the phone that same day to arrange

How is the audience treated? it seems like she'd do something special.
The audience is treated well, but the whole process takes up a lot of time. You
have to get there early and wait in line. Then everyone checks their coats and
goes through security and a metal detector. Everyone waits in a nice waiting
room with pictures of Oprah with various celebrities on the walls. As you come
in you get a consent form to sign and a survey to fill out with questions for the
guest. The consent forms are numbered, so after the VIPs names are called out
and they get seated, people get seated in batches according to the number on
their form. Certain seats in the studio are reserved, and the Harpo staff who
usher everyone in sometimes pull aside people who are particularly attractive
and well-dressed to be seated in those special seats. After the show everyone
files back out, collects their coats, and there is a Harpo staff member standing
right by the exit of the building handing out any give-aways from the show.
James Frey gave everyone in the audience a copy of A Million Little Pieces,
autographed and inscribed "I [heart] Oprah!"

Is James working on another book?
He didn't say, I don't think. He did speculate on who was going to play him in
the movie version of the book, though! He used to work as a screenwriter in
Hollywood, so he has a lot of friends in the movie business. From the way he
was talking about it, it sounds like a movie is already in the works!

How did his wife handle the Lilly questions? that must be tough on her.
His wife wasn't there, we only saw her on a video clip. He did mention that he
met her when they were neighbors in LA. One day he called her up and said "I
think I love you and I think you love me. I think you should leave your boyfriend
and marry me," and she did.

Is he funny? I imagine him as funny.
He was funny in a very dry, serious way.

Does he speak like he writes?
Kind of. He's very straightforward, honest, real, and tough.

I've been to his blog. Does he do his own blogging? i don't know if they talked
about that :-)
They didn't talk about the blog, but one of the video clips showed him sitting at
home on his couch typing on an iBook. He also talked about going to the message boards and interacting with the people who were posting
there, so he probably does write his own blog.

What is the new studio like?
The new studio is just like how it looks on TV: Like a big shiny spaceship. The
audience seating is broken into smaller sections that nearly surround the main
stage where Oprah sits. The background is made up of big, tall screens which
sometimes blend in with the decor and sometimes have images specific to the
show projected on them.

Thank you Ruthie!

visit Ruthie here
James here
Oprah here