Howard Bragman: Interview

So, what's your role like. I mean, you're known as kind of the… when someone's in crisis they come to you. Some people might think, and I don't know you well enough to have an opinion, that you're like a lawyer. You'll just take any case as long as it's juicy. Do you turn down more work than you take?

I turn down a lot of work. I turn down a lot of work. One of the cases people use 'against me' is Isaiah Washington, and before I represent Isaiah Washington, I made sure of one thing. I thought Isaiah lost his temper. I thought Isaiah made a mistake. But what he is not, and nobody can tell me differently… he's not homophobic, OK? I know the man too well. And if he was homophobic, I wouldn't have been interested in representing him. I would have seen no reason.

It seems in the age we live in, with the Perez Hiltons and all, things happen so fast now…

I've been around long enough in this world that I'm pretty comfortable with who I am. People know me, and they know my record in this world, and I certainly took some heat from certain people, but you just do what I tell my clients to do, which is: get a thick skin about it. In your heart, the people that love you and support you know who you are, what you've done, and what you stand for.

And on the other side of this, you also worked with the actors in Brokeback Mountain. And I'm always curious about this issue, because most of the actors I just assume are cool with it, and you're just preparing them for people asking them repeatedly? Or do some actors really need that coaching?

I think most need some level of coaching. And it's not that they're not good, but it's how to direct it, how to steer it, and how to make it work in the context of what they're trying to achieve. I think far too many people out there, frankly, go and say 'Ok, youre in this movie, and you're doing this interview with People Magazine, and here you go…' and push you in the door.

I believe it's not fair to push people in the door and not tell them what to expect and here's the tough questions. And a lot of publicists say, and they probably say it to you as a journalist, 'Don't ask about this particular issue,' or 'Don't ask about that issue.' Well, I'd much rather have a client that's prepared to answer that issue, and say 'I've talked about that issue at length, and what I'm really here to talk about today is my movie.' And then you've gone through it, and what do you say at that point? If they say 'No, I don't wish to talk about it. Thank you.'

I went to the press conference they had in San Francisco for Milk and James Franco answered the question, but you got the sense that he was just like 'I'm an actor. I was playing a gay role. That's my boyfriend. And I kissed him. Why wouldn't that be part of this role?' And he just seemed to handle himself with a lot of grace, but I always wonder how much of that is his grace…

It is. When an actor plays a gay role, it doesn't mean they have to be something they’re not. It's called acting. (laughs) And if we want gay actors to play straight guys credibly, then we have to accept when straight actors play gay guys.

So what was your story? When did you come out?

I came out right after college, when I went to Chicago after studying at the University of Michigan, and I wanted to wait until I was living on my own and supporting myself. I had gone through therapy in college, and said I want to change, I'm not happy, and left therapy like most people, saying, OK that's what I am. I accept it and love myself. In fact, I was doing an interview with Larry King a month ago, and he said 'Boy, it must've been hardcoming out 30 years ago.' And I said, 'Yeah, the only thing harder I can imagine would be living a lie.'

Yeah, when I started this website in 1995, people would be 17 or 18, and as it's gone on… now people are 11, 12 13…

Oh, kids know at such an early age. The Internet has changed everything. Kids can aggregate, find people to talk to. When I grew up in Flint, Michigam, you felt pretty alone, and I don't think kids have that same sense of aloneness. I hope.

It's a little of both. It's sort of like Facebook, where you have 500 friends and no one to talk to. So you have a lot of virtual connections where you can be open, but no one in your actual life.

Well, the other part of that that I find is… I had a couple companies, and certain had gay people, and people have to come out on their timeframe, not your timeframe. And just because you think they should be out and be comfortable, that's fine, but that's not what the bottom line is. The bottom line is when they feel comfortable. You don't know how they were raised or what their grandmother thinks. So, we have to be sensitive and let people do it in their own time.

Since we have people on the site that want to be novelists, musicians, everything else… how can they get their mindset about building a career in a slow cooker?

I think my book is a pretty good roadmap for exactly how to do that.

And do most people naturally want to do that?

No! Most people want to be discovered overnight. But they have to fight that and get the discipline. Even in Hollywood, people that we think of as overnight discoveries are people who have worked a very long time who you may have become aware of overnight, but that doesn't make them an overnight discovery. George Clooney wasn't an overnight discovery when he got E.R. He had multiple pilots that didn't work, and false starts, and guest appearances, so it takes a while. And the best careers are made my a thousand steps in one direction. Not a leap in one direction.

Yeah, that reminds me, I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. And he points out that people who put 10,000 hours into one objective are the people we think of as the successes.

Exactly, it doesn't come overnight. When I was a young man in PR, I was aggressive, fearless, and creative… but I wouldn't want to start over again without having my knowledge base.

Do you have any advice for the gay youth who don't want to be famous?

Don't be naïve enough to think that you don't have some sort of public image. We all have a public image, be it Facebook or whatever, and you want to maximize that. Because there will be a time when you will be looking for a job, or a boyfriend, ot looking to get ahead, and it's going to serve you better by doing that. It's not going to serve you better by not doing that. We need intention, particularly in this world.

So, whether being famous is your objective, the steps are still the same.

That's one of the main premises of my book. You don't just have a public image when you're famous, it's everybody.

Yeah, I used to write in PR for Macromedia, so when I was reading your book, a lot of it was familiar from there. Those were multi-million dollar products, but the fundamentals were the same.

Did you learn anything?

I think I wasn't reframing all of those lessons from the software world into how to promote my novel when that's done, but I think there was a lot more 1 to 1 than I initially thought there would be. But yeah, I do tend to be cautious of what I post on my blog and on Facebook, thinking that someday, these will all be accessible to people who read my novel.

Exactly, you don't know how they're going to turn up. I had a young man who was 25, one of my students at USC, and I asked him 'What's your Facebook like?' and he said 'Oh, a bunch of drunken party pictures.' And I said, 'You really need to get beyond your drunken party pictures. You're trying to develop a career. You're 25 years old. This is not putting your best foot forward, dude.'

Yeah, over the years, a lot of people came out young and were into putting their full name on my website, and now I get these e-mails where it's like, 'Yeah, I'm 28 and applying for jobs now, and I don't really want employers to read my ramblings as a confused gay teen…'


So, I've done a lot of exorcising of last names over the years, when they realize the power of Google and that these things don't go away.

It's true. Information on the Internet is like herpes.


msquared's picture

Sounds like a good book for

Sounds like a good book for me to read this summer...if I ever get college figured out...

And good advice for keeping last names out of the site!

"But don't be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it."
-Stephen Colbert

jeff's picture


He teaches at USC, so you can just take his class, no? Actually, another friend of mine just got hired to teach play writing at USC, as part of their interdisciplinary writing program, so there's another one, too, heh. And he's good friends with Diablo Cody...

"People who are happy are slugs... They do not move the human race forward."
-- Camille Paglia, on Oasis

msquared's picture

Hey, maybe I can! I'll know

Hey, maybe I can! I'll know in 1-3 days if I definitely can or probably can...I've kind of decided that even if I don't win this ridiculous sum of money, I'm still planning on going, despite any loans it may incur. Just don't tell mom...!

Man, I just watched the new episode of United States of Tara, too. Genius.

"But don't be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it."
-Stephen Colbert