Known for her roles in ‘Orange Is the New Black’ and ‘Inventing Anna’, actress Laverne Cox has become a familiar face on the Hollywood red carpets. But this season, she found herself on the other side of the mic, leading television audiences to the red carpet as host of preshow specials for the Oscars and Grammys on E! Her presence on the carpet and interaction with guests, mixing her natural charisma with a personal warmth, have made her stand out despite her limited experience as an interviewer and not as an interviewee.
Ms. Cox, 49, got her start hosting on E! during the preshow special of the 2020 Emmy Awards, and the following spring, the network named its host for its coverage of the 2022 red carpet award show.
To prepare for these roles, Ms. Cox, with the help of her producers, does a deep dive to get to know the celebrities for those big nights.
“I’ll try to look for other interviews they’ve done, if any, so I can maybe ask them something they weren’t asked,” Ms. Cox said. “And you have to be in the moment, because so much is happening.”
Ms. Cox, who is also an Emmy Award-winning producer, said one of her favorite moments was her interview with rapper Saweetie at the Grammys, which got emotional after Ms. Cox summed up her performance in detail. “She realized it wasn’t her first time at the Grammys, but the first time as a nominee and how much that meant to her.”
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“Moments like these are special to me because I’m nominated,” said Ms. Cox. “I remember my first time as a nominee at an award show and how beautiful and special it was and that I could slow it down and let it sink in. That’s what I would like to offer them as a colleague.”
Indeed, the stars who approach her on the red carpet are often just as excited to meet her as they are to meet them, and many express their fandom before she’s had a chance to ask them what they’re wearing.
In a phone interview, she discussed the unpredictability of live TV, high profile interviews and her plans for the future. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
What was the experience like doing red carpets two Sundays in a row?
Tiresome (laughs). It’s just a lot of preparation.
Why did you want to do red carpet interviews? And what do you enjoy most?
I have to say, I never really wanted it. I think the most important thing for me is that I’m an actor first and foremost, and although I’ve always done a lot of stuff, I always prioritize acting. So we just wanted to make sure I’m still seen as an actor and not a red carpet, right? And I enjoy it a lot more than I thought.
What were some of your favorite interactions on the carpet?
Denzel Washington was a standout, and Andrew Garfield is just incredible. We’ve hung out socially before, so that helps. There are times, like with Lady Gaga, where I’m just a total fan. There’s this one moment with Jared Leto, he yelled at my brother at the Grammys on Sunday and then he was able to talk a little bit about his process and what he was learning.
I like that stuff. For example, I was not familiar with Jon Batiste’s work at all. I was preparing and saw that he was the most nominated person for a Grammy [this year]† And so I really listened to his music and I thought, Oh my God, this man is a genius. So that’s exciting too, getting to know new artists and getting to know new styles of music or movies.
You’ve been on the other side of red carpet interviews many times. How does that affect the way you approach these interviews?
I try to have a meaningful connection and, whatever they want to say about their work or about the world, give them that space and the platform to do it while connecting as authentically as possible. When I’ve been on the other side, when I feel a chemistry and connection with the person interviewing me, I feel like the interview is going so much better.
Are there any awkward moments on the carpet that you can share or things you didn’t expect and learned along the way?
At one point I thought the prompter was wrong and it wasn’t. And this is literally live TV on Sunday with Finneas and the prompter just threw me off.
I may not understand every fact correctly, so that’s unfortunate and inconvenient. That’s why I try to prepare too well so that that doesn’t happen. But there has been a lot of love. Things won’t be perfect and my prayer, especially for these events, is, “God give me permission to do this imperfectly and allow me to be of service.” I still struggle with perfectionism, but it’s really impossible, you’re not going to be perfect on live TV. You have to get on with it and you have to keep going. And being able to laugh at yourself.
Think you’ll be doing more this next season?
I think we still have one, one or two carpets in my contract. I think E! going to review at the end of the year, and I’m going to review and look at my calendar for next year. Much will be about what I’m dealing with. The most important thing in my life is planning. But I’m having more fun than I thought.