Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2012

Photo by Mathieu Buglet and Yuji Amano

Let’s face it: interviews with international stars on Japanese television can be painful to watch. Editing out the ever-present interpreter gives the strange impression that Julia Roberts understands Japanese perfectly, but prefers to answer in English. And the questions range from simply silly to shockingly condescending. The entertainment news program FOX Backstage Pass tackles these problems head on by employing a team of fully bilingual reporters who use an approach celebrities are familiar with.

“Our show has a completely different kind of texture,” says executive producer Dan Smith. “It’s designed more like a US show.” Co-host Gow (the staff go by single names) agrees that the formula helps celebrities feel at home. “When Ako goes to film premieres as a reporter, Will Smith will say ‘Hey FOX! Hey Ako!’” Gow explains. “He remembers them.” Brand recognition of the FOX name and the fact that the reporters can work without going through a translator has helped the show snag impromptu interviews with the likes of Johnny Depp and Rihanna in recent months.

But the unplanned nature of the red carpet interview means anything can happen. Reporter Aya Yasuda recalls one close call. “Suddenly, Brad Pitt was standing in front of me,” she says, describing what she calls both her best and worst assignment. “I went blank. I couldn’t say anything because he took my breath away. Luckily, Ako was there and stepped in to help with the interview.”

The show takes steps to make sure sit-down interviews match the vibe of the celebrity, rather than forcing them into an awkward experience. “My best moment on the show so far was my interview with Lenny Kravitz,” recalls reporter Nadia. “He was a really chill guy, so we brought in a lot of fans just to hang out with him. And they had a great time chatting with him.” Reggae star Sean Paul offered to teach Aya how to make jerk chicken and other Jamaican dishes. “There are not many chances to cook with a celebrity,” says the reporter, who was suddenly put in front of the cameras when she went to watch the Tokyo music video shoot for Paul’s “Dream Girl.”

But not all segments are that laid back. Mathew interviewed Battleship star Brooklyn Decker aboard the enormous USS George Washington at Yokosuka Naval Base. Other recent assignments have sent reporters scuba diving in Okinawa and to the beach in Phuket. “We want to take the show out on the road more,” say Smith. “We plan to go to Hong Kong and Singapore and film episodes of the show there.”

“This is my dream job, and I’m doing it,” says Ako, summing up the thoughts of the entire cast.

The reporters and hosts have come to the show through various avenues. Gow, Nadia and Mathew have backgrounds as singers, and Ryohei Susuki is an in-demand actor in Japanese TV dramas. “I call them the ‘Magnificient Seven,’” Smith proudly says of his staff. “They all do other things, but we’re fortunate they all come to FOX to work. It is like an all-star team.” Smith explains that there is rising demand for Asian stars around the world. “American shows will contact us and say they want a Japanese singer or an artist for a show in the US,” he says. “They are trying break some stars out of Asia for the global market.”

Is the show looking for new reporters to stand by the red carpet? “I’m not really good at giving auditions. I usually meet people I like and say ‘come work in television,’” Smith says. “But FOX is developing a lot of original shows, so we’ll be looking for more people.”

FOX Backstage Pass airs every Sat at 7pm on Fox BS238 and every Sat at 1:30am on FOX. www.facebook.com/FoxBackstagePass