INTERVIEW

Q&A: Brian Grazer, author of A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 May, 2015, 10:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 May, 2015, 10:51pm
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Brian Grazer is best known for having produced dozens of films, including Apollo 13 (1995) and A Beautiful Mind (2001), as well as television series such as Arrested Development , 24 and this year's Empire. Since the beginning of his career, Grazer has let his inquisitiveness run wild by pursuing what he refers to as a "curiosity conversation" with hundreds of movers and shakers. The secret to Grazer's chats? He says it's in letting the subjects know he has no agenda, allowing the conversation to flow freely. In his new book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life , Grazer chronicles a lifetime of talking to strangers in an attempt to expand his own capabilities. 

Is there an art to listening?

The methodology is really to create trust immediately. That's usually at the first point of contact with who you're talking to, you want to say something that is either arresting or curious or interesting or usually make a statement that is of value to the person you are talking to. You bring something to the table immediately that creates value and the beginning of the conversation. And then you just try to shut up and listen … And then, what happens is, it becomes kind of molecular - combustible thoughts transpire. That's how breakthroughs with human beings actually happen.

I read that you don't like to do the conversations over food. Why?

Your blood sugar changes when you have food. You can be really up, and then you have peaks and valleys. I mean, I know I can do two really intense, good, concentrated, focused hours without food.

Is there a specific field you find yourself most fascinated by?

I spent years talking to many Nobel laureates in science and medicine. I also liked folks in the economy field. Now, it's technology and other art forms, obscurer art forms. But, you know, it can be anything. A month ago I talked to Floyd Mayweather. I also recently met with this young kid who was head of policy for the Middle East at the White House.

Is there a courage aspect to all this?

I guess I've always felt that disrupting my comfort zone is a state I wanted to live my life. There're a lot of things I am afraid of, but you realise that it's an anxiety that is self-created, like a pre-anticipatory anxiety. I mean, I took up surfing, and that anxiety is like a real thing because you're in a life or death situation. The physics of a wave could just kill you. So the idea of talking to people, I mean, it does take some courage, but it's also preparation. You can't go in blind because then you're an annoying dilettante. The genius of the person is always going to take some courage because they are always going to be superior to you, and you have to be comfortable with that. I didn't use my expertise in the movie business or television as a weapon because I felt like that would be weird and unfair given that I'm asking them to be my guest. I just try to learn enough where I can adapt to the way they communicate within their language, and that takes some effort when you're talking to someone like Jonas Salk or Carlos Castaneda.

Have these conversations led you to consider a switch in jobs or made you wonder, hmm, could I have done that?

Every once in a while I've thought about switching careers. I do enjoy interviewing people. I like trying to locate someone's truth. Maybe being a teacher or mentor or talk show host. Being a teacher or mentor inside of a tech company would be interesting because I like creating narratives.

I know some of the conversations you've had with rappers and music moguls helped with . Have you referred back to those for ?

I talked to so many people before I met Eminem through Jimmy Iovine. I met Chuck D. I started with Ol' Dirty Bastard. I was first fascinated by who could name themselves Ol' Dirty Bastard and feel cool about that. I couldn't fully comprehend it. And then we met, and he was everything you would guess. He was gigantically entertaining. He also turned me on to RZA, who I feel like I have a great relationship with. I put him in American Gangster, I put him in a TV series. You never know when the dots will connect, or if they'll connect. All those early rappers led to 8 Mile. I also produced Boomerang … so when Empire came around, all the rappers that I met and having done Boomerang, all of that stuff kind of coalesced and helped fertilise the possibility of believing this could really work.

These conversations started out when you were a nobody, but you still had the Warner Bros name to get the foot in the door. Do you think the average person can wrangle these types of meetings?

I think they can do it. I have some very exciting stories of having met Princess Diana or Michael Jackson or Barack Obama when he was a senator, hundreds of Nobel laureates. I met Jonas Salk when I had no power … You don't have to target Barack Obama or Condoleezza Rice - you can just engage in a process that reaches into someone else's psyche. You never know when these dots get created or get connected in life. You have to be open-minded and enjoy this superpower of curiosity.

Los Angeles Times