Ruby Wax: ‘Interviewing Donald Trump was a car crash - he threw me off his plane’
Ruby Wax became known for the 90s series Ruby Wax Meets, in which she travelled across the globe to film off-the-wall segments with various public figures, such as Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and former sports star OJ Simpson.
There was also her late-night talk show Ruby, which aired from 1997 to 2000, and she worked as a script editor for the sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.
Now, Illinois-born Wax is returning to our screens in the new BBC Two show, When Ruby Wax Met…
Across three episodes, we see the comedian reflect on her TV career, her refreshing interviewing style, and the most memorable encounters including interviews with former American president Donald Trump, Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher and Hollywood star Tom Hanks.
Here, the 68-year-old – who has been married to producer and director Ed Bye since 1988 – tells us more.
So, what was it like for Wax to watch these iconic interviews back for the first time?
“You get my reactions while I’m watching it; I’m startled,” she explains.
“It looked like I was having a great time. If it wasn’t me, I’d be so jealous because, clearly, that was so much fun to hang out with people, and a few of them I became friends with. It was like the unpopular girl suddenly got access to all these really great, popular girls.
“Carrie Fisher and I became best friends. Staying overnight at her house, and her making me laugh and reading me bits of her book... what a joy.”
Across the three episodes, Wax will reflect not only on who she interviewed, but also her unique and refreshing interviewing style and reveal how she obtained such extraordinary access to such world-famous stars.
Before social media and reality television and with the cameras always turned on, she interviewed some of the most famous – and infamous – people in the world, including Grace Jones, Roseanne Barr, Evander Holyfield, Imelda Marcos, Sharon Stone, Madonna, the Spice Girls and one particularly memorable encounter with a future US President and his new girlfriend – Donald Trump and Melania.
The programmes see Wax reflect on both herself and her subjects and what it meant to be a global superstar in an age before 24/7 online access and a world of controlling media and image consultants.
She says Trump was undoubtedly her most difficult interviewee after a frosty atmosphere developed when she quizzed him about his presidential ambitions and questioned whether he would speak to her if the cameras weren’t rolling.
“That was a car crash,” she reflects.
“Bad interviews still make good TV, but I just think it’s appalling, and it’s what not to do. He threw me off his plane.
“I thought he was joking when he said he wanted to be the president. I thought he was being funny – and he wasn’t.”
Wax was born in the United States and moved to the UK in 1977 with a desire to be an actress.
She joined the RSC and one of her first performances was alongside a young Alan Rickman in a production of As You Like It at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, and the late (and much missed) Rickman played a pivotal role in her career.
Wax told The Yorkshire Post in 2018: “I was always funny but I wasn’t a good actress and it was Alan who said ‘why don’t you write the way you speak?’ and then he directed all my shows.”
Her big break came in the mid-1980s when she teamed up with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders on the sitcom Girls On Top.
Over 25 years have since passed since the original 1990s BBC interviews originally aired, and not only have the shows never been repeated but Ruby has never watched herself back. After leaving her television career behind Ruby went on to attain a degree from Oxford.
She says one of the biggest lessons she has learnt from her varied career is the importance of reinvention.
“I didn’t know it would be OK when you lose one job. I luckily reinvented, but it could be a tragedy if you hold on to something and they take it away from you, and you just keep telling people, ‘Oh, do you remember who I was?’ and that’s your highlight. If you have one career, and it’s taken, find another one.”
In addition to preparing for her latest BBC show looking past on her past interviews, Wax has also recently published her fifth book, which is called A Mindfulness Guide for Survival.
“I wrote it during the pandemic,” Wax explains.
“It’s a workbook, so there are questionnaires, you can draw in it, you can write in it. It’s like a journal on how to survive a world that’s pretty rocky and be happy.
“I do mindfulness, but the book isn’t all about mindfulness.
“It’s a little bit about self-reflection because people were getting sick thinking about ‘What if?’ during Covid-19 and it was making them more ill than if they actually got ill, and I thought that was interesting.”
She says she is worried about the ongoing mental health impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns associated with it.
“I wanted the book out by August because I thought by December, people would be so traumatised, or they’d try to pretend nothing ever happened.
“We’re not even acknowledging the fallout of this (Covid-19). But then, it just happened, and we don’t even know if it’s over.
“I ran these online nightly meetings called Frazzled Cafe (where people can speak openly about the stresses of modern life) every night during lockdown; that’s how I got the idea for the book.
“I still do it once a week and, believe me, people are still pretty panicked.”
Wax says she had challenging times with her own mental health at the height of her TV career.
“I had depression, but I didn’t have it all the time. It was every three to five years.
“So, I’m lucky that I didn’t have a nine-to-five job because then you’d be fired. But I, luckily, wasn’t working when I was ill.”
Wax says one positive change since the 1990s is how it is more common for women to be centre stage than it was at the time she was making her name.
“My daughters (Marina and Madeleine Bye) are a comedy act and they’re out doing live shows all the time. They’re called Siblings, and my daughter (Madeleine) produces shows, and it’s a lot of women who are coming up. So, they’re having their shot now.
“Siblings is very French and Saunders; it’s not what I do. But good luck – who knows who makes it?
“They’re in the last show of When Ruby Wax Met… watching me. It was Clive’s idea, the producer. He said, ‘Put your daughters in it, let’s see what they think’. They’re really funny.”
Praise for Wax's interviewing skills
Ruby Wax’s interviewing talents and ability to secure star guests were unique, says Clive Tulloh, the executive producer of the new series.
“We are thrilled to be looking back at Ruby’s interviews with her for BBC Two and BBC iPlayer, the guest list is extraordinary and they are even more
revealing 25 years later,” he says. “There has been no interviewer like Ruby Wax before or since.”
Catherine Catton, Head of Commissioning, Popular Factual and Factual Entertainment, adds: “It is an incredible privilege to be able to revisit these extraordinary interviews with Ruby. Both Ruby’s analysis and the passage of time provide new insight and revelation to allow us to get under the skin of some of the biggest names of the 1990s.”
When Ruby Wax Met… starts on BBC Two on Sunday, August 22.
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