How excited are you to return to The Graham Norton Show?
This is our 20th year. We started back in the summer of 1998 and if someone had told me 20 years ago that I’d still be genuinely excited about doing it, I would have said they were nuts. But the show is always different no matter how many times you do it, and you can’t prepare for everything that will happen. There is alchemy on the night that keeps you interested.
You’ve had all of Hollywood’s biggest stars on your sofa, and a galaxy of British celebrities. Is there anyone left on your wish list?
There are always new people, or veterans who come out of retirement to do a big film. I’d like to have some of the young royals on, like William, Kate and Harry, because I think it would be interesting to see them interact with other people. They’re doing a brilliant job at picking their causes and following them through – it’s the legacy of Diana. I don’t know them, although I bumped into Harry once in a bar – he was coming out of the toilet, I was going in!
Last series saw quite a few new faces on your sofa. Who were the most interesting or challenging to you?
The standout ones are usually people I haven’t had before. For example, Warren Beatty came with a health warning. Everyone said, “He hates talk shows.” He asked to meet me the day before, so I went along and he told me all these incredibly delicious, scurrilous Hollywood stories, although every story began or ended with: “Of course, I won’t tell this story on the show.” I don’t know what people thought of his appearance, but he fed back to me that he was very happy with that show, which I was pleased with.
It’s always fun to see big stars doing funny party pieces on your show. Are they pre-planned?
Sometimes. But, for example, Michael Fassbender breakdancing, that wasn’t organised. Jessica Chastain totally made that happen by saying, “What’s break-dancing?” and off he went. He hadn’t warmed up and hadn’t done it in years, but it says a lot about his success that he’s so confident he’d just do it.
We’ve had younger actors, who shall remain nameless, that we’ve asked to do tricks that they’ve said they can do, and at the 11th hour they’ve said, “Actually, I don’t think I’m going to do that.”
Give us some behind the scenes gossip. Have any of your big-name guests been ridiculous with riders or demands?
People have calmed down on that front. That tends to be music guests, mostly; their people forget that the artist is only going to be in our studio for a couple of hours, but they still send through riders like they’re in an arena doing a concert, and we’re going, “Really? You want different colour towels?”
Which guests have been sweetness and light on the sofa, but unpleasant behind the scenes?
There have been a few people who’ve been a bit snippy. Mostly, though, famous people employ snippy people to save them having to be like that. Sometimes I’ll meet the star and they’ll even apologise for their people’s behaviour, and I’m thinking, “Yeah, but you chose to surround yourself with these people and that says a lot about you.”
Which guests are memorable for the way they behave behind the scenes?
Someone like Tom Cruise is incredible. He comes in and gets introduced to everyone, as happens with every guest, and he remembers everyone’s name. And on the way out he remembers everyone’s name and what they do. Clearly, that is some sort of mental trick, but it’s a very impressive one, and clearly the rest of us aren’t bothered learning it, so that means people backstage love him.
Have you ever had a panicky moment when you feel the guests on your sofa are not getting along? How do you rescue that situation?
It happens occasionally. When Alan Sugar and Pamela Stephenson (the psychotherapist and wife of Billy Connolly) were on, Alan didn’t have much time for Pamela’s therapy – I think he called her a ‘quack.’ How do you rescue that? I don’t think Rob Lowe and Alex Kingston loved each other very much either. He was talking about ringing up MTV back in the 1980s and asking for the phone numbers of the models in the videos so he could date them, and Alex said, “The ego of the man!” Funnily enough, in those instances no one needed rescuing – they’re all as tough as old boots and it happened because they quite like sparring.
Do you ever feel the audience going against you, and how do you save that situation?
Sometimes they don’t find a joke in the monologue funny or they don’t laugh when I’m doing items from the Internet, and that is the clue. I don’t try to turn it around because that generally doesn’t work, so I just get through it as quickly as possible and cut to the next thing.
What do you do when the audience doesn’t like a guest?
On the night, once you realise “You’re awful!” about a guest, you just try to shut them up and focus on the other guests. The audience hated one guest last season. The person was difficult and kept dropping weird words into the conversation as if they had a bet with someone. I just talked to the other guests, and their bit got edited right down in the end.
Who’s been the most difficult to handle of all your guests?
Someone like Mickey Rourke – he was just exhausting because he wanted to smoke all the time. I’d turn away for a second turn back and he’d have lit another cigarette. It was so boring – you feel like a teacher taking children on a school trip, not a chat show host.
Who are your favourite guests?
The best guests are those who bring that star voltage with them – the excitement of a Tom Hanks, a Tom Cruise or a Will Smith. The audience and I don’t get over the fact that that person is now flesh and blood and in the same room as us. It sounds ridiculous, because it’s such an ephemeral, unspecifiable thing, and yet it’s true. And someone like Tom Hanks can really tell a story and will talk about all of his career – even Turner & Hooch.
What has been funniest Red Chair moment ever?
There was a Red Chair story about a person who went back to somebody’s hotel room in Spain, accidentally fell out of a window onto an awning over a shop and then the awning ripped, and I think they were naked. Whoever told the story told it really, really well. Also, any stories by New Zealanders – they’re very good at telling them, with the advantage that they have those clipped vowels that a British audience finds funny.
The Graham Norton Show is on all over the world. Do you get recognised in faraway places?
No, because I travel very little. That’s because of my dogs, (Labradoodle) Bailey, who’s 12, and (‘some sort of Terrier’) Madge, who’s probably a year younger. People say, ‘dogs are such a tie,’ but I actually like being with them, so I prefer to be with them than go away for ages. I think when the dogs do go, heaven forbid, I might have a break a couple of years off before there are new dogs and then I’ll see the world.
The Graham Norton Show (Series 22) premieres in Asia on Wednesday, 4 October 2017, 9.15pm, exclusively on BBC Lifestyle (StarHub ch 432). It is available on BBC Player as catch-up.