Q: Why do interviewers always claim that the celebrity they interviewed was so down-to-earth? They always report that the megastar was casual and kind, presumably unlike most celebrities. But they're all described that way. You rarely hear an interviewer claim that the celebrity was snotty.

Lindy Duvall, Hyattsville

A: Of all the surreal moments you could experience as a journalist, few come close to the parajournalistic abstraction that is the celebrity interview. There was a brief time in the 1970s and '80s when gonzo journalism and cokey celebrityhood collided in recklessly revealing 5,000-word magazine stories, a la "Almost Famous." Then came the iron fist of powerhouse PR.

Now we live in the post-Baba Wawa era of mushy, prearranged celeb interviews. A typical magazine or newspaper profile of an actor occurs under the careful orchestration and watchful eyes of publicists. The "casual" conversation with a movie star is frequently conducted in a well-appointed hotel suite. Sometimes, intense negotiations occur between layers of publicists and layers of editors: which reporter will write the story, which photographer will shoot the pictures (and what will be worn, and how), whether the star will be on the cover, and what sort of "spontaneous" activities the writer and celebrity will do (with a tag-along publicist) -- driving around L.A.; shopping; tea at the Chateau Marmont; shooting hoops.

Worse still is the ban on discussing a variety of personal topics. By the time the subject arrives, you're relieved to just see him or her in human-being form -- shy, self-effacing, polite. Compared with everything you've been through to get to this fabricated moment, your weakened powers of journalistic observation can only conclude: Gosh, she seems so down-to-earth.

But Earth no longer has anything to do with it.

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