Diane Russell: A Mainer on the move

Posted on March 07, 2005 in News
By Don Perkins Don Perkins Don Perkins

Diane Russell, media studies major and a staff writer for The Free Press, recently started an internship at Portland Magazine and interviewed Hollywood star Alan Alda.

Q: I understand you’re doing an internship with Portland Magazine. Tell me about your debut article.

A: “I interviewed Oscar nominee Alan Alda. It was not easy to pin down Mr. Alda-his career has come out of the trenches and is on fire. In addition to doing the film “The Aviator,” he is also playing on “The West Wing,” and has a Broadway show coming up in New York, so trying to get in touch with him was challenging.

Three days prior to my deadline his people consented to an interview. They kept saying ‘No, Mr. Alda’s too busy. Sorry, sorry.’ Finally, I got through to the publicist asking me if I’d mind doing an email interview. (Alda was in California) So, I fired off several questions. Specifically, his affinity for playing Maine roles: Hawkeye Pierce in “M.A.S.H.” was from Maine, and he played Ralf Brewster in “The Aviator,” who was a non-fictional Senator from Maine.

This was the premise for the article; of course, Portland Magazine focuses on Maine. We found out just as the article had gone to press that he’d received the Oscar nomination for “The Aviator.” [Which was lucky for us.] We realized after that there was no way we were going to get to speak to him afterwards.”

Q: When did the article come out?

A: “It’s on the stands now. It’s the latest issue.”

Q: Is Alan Alda as funny as he appears? What did you find out that surprised you?

A: “He’s funnier, actually; very pointed with his humor. What really surprised me was the time he took and how thoughtful his responses were. The first response was really dreamy and I thought, oh great-this is going to be tough. I hate not getting real answers from people-it just drives me nuts! [But] the rest of his interview was really insightful and humorous. He’s just funny as hell! It wasn’t bland Chris Rock slam everybody humor. It was really pointed, intellectual humor.”

Q: What are some other pieces you’ve been covering for Portland Magazine?

A: “I test drove a 2005 Mustang, talking about the new design. I also looked at some of the lowest priced ocean view properties in the state. I get assigned a variety of articles-travel pieces.”

Q: What are your motivations?

A: “I don’t want to work for a living. I say that in the philosophical sense. I want to have a life. I mean, I did the career thing-I busted my ass-and got my heart broken over it. I don’t want to do that again. I

want to love what I do.”

Q: How has being a Free Press writer prepared you for your career?

A: A couple of ways: One, you’re so pigeonholed in what you have to write that you have to be focused; it forces your creativity. Also, deadlines are intense: school work, real work, and then The Free Press…so trying to balance it is…ugh! It teaches you some serious discipline. I’ve learned a lot from working there.”

Q: Where do you want to be in five years?

A: “I want to be happy. I used to have all these five-year plans, three-year plans about what I wanted to do…I want to do what I love and the money, the fame, if any, will follow. As long as I’m happy, that’s the fundamental piece.”

Q: Do you have a particular influence? Does any person especially inspire you?

A: “I have many people that inspire me…If I had to pick someone famous it would be Margaret Chase Smith, she stood on her own. Also, Samantha Smith…she would be my key idol. Samantha Smith was a twelve-year-old girl from Maine who wrote a very small letter to Mikhail Gorbachev and said ‘Why do you hate us?’

She fostered talks between Gorbachev and wrote Reagan and brought down the Cold War. She died two years later in a tragic accident-plane crash. She was 12-years-old, as a girl that no one takes seriously; she just followed her heart and her dreams and thought this was wrong…She asked just a simple question: ‘Why do you hate us?’ So much positive change came from that one little girl…She was perhaps the most inspiring person to me.

Q: What is your least favorite magazine/paper and why?

A: “The [Portland] Press Herald. I was shocked as to their version about what happened over the [University of Maine System] Board of Trustees meeting. It was sugar coated so there was very little controversy, and the fact of the matter was that there was a lot of controversy…I feel strongly about representing both sides…You need to be conscious about providing as many facts and make it as balanced as possible so that other people can make there own judgments.”