texasmonthly.com: Did you personally know Lance Armstrong before you did this interview?
Evan Smith: I’d met him a few times and liked him as far as it went, but I didn’t know him well. After our story in July 2001, which he most definitely did not like, we didn’t have much occasion to talk.
texasmonthly.com: How do you go about lining up an interview with Armstrong? Since he’s so well known, were you able to contact him directly or are there many layers to the process?
ES: He has a really good agent, Bill Stapleton, who I know professionally as well as personally—he’s a friend. He and I had talked on and off for the past three years about getting our relationship with Lance back on track. Eventually we were able to do it, but it wasn’t easy. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to get the story without Bill’s assistance.
texasmonthly.com: Where did the interview take place? What was the environment like?
ES: With not a whole lot of notice, I was instructed to fly to Los Angeles and meet Lance at Sheryl Crow’s house. Let’s just say that, judging by her eleven-acre spread, all she wants to do is have some fun.
texasmonthly.com: How did you prepare the questions? Do you write them out beforehand or just wing it?
ES: I never write out questions. I read a lot, think about the topics I want to touch on, rough out in my mind the first and last questions I’m going to ask, and ad-lib the rest. It makes for a more spontaneous read because it is spontaneous.
texasmonthly.com: What’s the secret to a great interview? How do you get people to open up to you when you’ve (presumably) just met them?
ES: Listen instead of waiting to talk: That’s the advice I give journalism students who come into an interview with a list of questions and ask them in succession without hearing the answers. Any good interview is more a conversation than an interrogation. Your subject should be engaged, not quizzed.
texasmonthly.com: Was Armstrong what you were expecting him to be? Why or why not?
ES: I was expecting him to be a bit reserved in view of how he felt about the last story. He wasn’t, so in that sense he was different than I thought he’d be. On the other hand, he was focused and feisty, which squares with everything I’ve heard.
texasmonthly.com: Do you feel like Armstrong was open about the questions you asked him? Why do you think he was or wasn’t?
ES: To his credit, he didn’t flinch. Not once did he say, “I don’t want to answer that.” And his answers were quite a bit more candid than I had the right to expect. In both those respects, he’s a great interview.
texasmonthly.com: Since we weren’t physically present at your interview, what’s one thing about Armstrong that we might have missed on the print interview?
ES: His stubble—Lance is the kind of guy you always imagine clean-shaven (or I do, anyway). And the fact that for the last 45 minutes of the interview, he was bottomless on a massage table. Under a towel, of course.
texasmonthly.com: What was the best moment of the interview? Why?
ES: There was no one best moment. It was all fun, and it was all interesting. You like to think you know everything about the person you’re talking to before you walk in the room, and sometimes you do. But sometimes you don’t. I learned a lot about Lance I didn’t know.
texasmonthly.com: Armstrong said he’s been doing some hard training for the Tour. Did he look ready to take on his competitors?
ES: Yep. I wouldn’t want to race him to the refrigerator.
texasmonthly.com: During the interview, Armstrong talked about how the media has changed. He talked about the National Enquirer switching from “three-headed aliens to Brad and Jen” because “[t]hat’s what people want to see.” We apparently want all the juicy gossip on celebrity romances—so how are Lance and Sheryl doing? No plans on getting engaged in the future?
ES: None that he let on. On the other hand, he didn’t sound like a guy with the car running, romantically speaking.
texasmonthly.com: At the end of the interview, there was some mention of Armstrong running for office and him not wanting to state his political affiliation. Why did he not want to state what party he belonged to? And were you able to get it off the record?
ES: Sorry, off the record means off the record. I’ll say this, though: The guy’s a natural-born leader—and a competitor. If he does decide to run, watch out.
texasmonthly.com: Did you get to ask all the questions you were curious about in the interview?
ES: Every one. I got all the time I needed.