As I sat in the Royal Purple office waiting for world-renowned portrait artist Ben McCready to meet me for an interview, I began flipping the pages of my reporter’s notebook, trying to gather my tangle of thoughts.
As Ben walked in, he introduced himself and shook my clammy hand, as I tried not to let nervousness get the best of me.
A week prior, I had received an email from Royal Purple adviser Kyle Geissler, who offered me a story idea for an upcoming issue. Ben, a 20-year Whitewater resident, had recently done portrait work for George Clooney, making for a great feature article opportunity.
The only thing was, I had never heard of him. So as I do with every topic or name I want more information on, I immediately “googled” him.
As I looked through Ben’s home page, I started to realize just how famous this man was. I pulled up portraits of U.S. Presidents, Academy Award winning actors, as well as feature articles of Ben from the New York Times and the Associated Press.
I doubted he would agree to an interview for a student-run college newspaper, or even have the time for one, but I decided to try anyway. To my surprise, after one email and one voicemail on a Saturday afternoon, he called me back that very same day saying he would love to meet up with me for an exclusive interview.
Ben, Andrew and I began our interview by walking around campus trying to find an open building housing one of Ben’s portraits. Along the way, Ben began telling Andrew and I about his experiences with the rich and famous, even showing us his cell phone contact list, chock-full with A-list celebrity names.
He then proceeded to tell us about his experiences playing tennis with Andy Roddick, having lunch with George Clooney, and playing hockey with Wayne Gretszky.
Just as Andrew and I were about to puddle to the floor from excitement, Ben offered to buy us both dinner at Uno’s and continue with the rest of the interview. In our attempts to be polite, both Andrew and myself respectfully declined, but Ben wouldn’t take no for an answer saying he was “no longer a starving artist,” and insisted we order a la carte meals.
The three of us sat and continued a conversation that was as non-scripted as they come. Ben asked Andrew and I about our goals and where we hoped to be in 10 years, listening intently and offering both of us useful advice.
He explained to us more about his work as an artist and how he came to be, acknowledging the fact that his wife is and always has been the main ingredient to his success. At the end of the interview, I had almost forgotten that my voice recorder was still sitting in the middle of the table. It had felt much more like a friendly conversation than an interview.
Although hearing about Ben’s work with the rich and famous was mind-boggling, it was the love and compassion he showed for his family and his community that I admired him for the most. For someone like Ben, it could have been easy to spend a two-hour interview telling me about his accomplishments and the countless number of people he has met.
Yet Ben went on and on about his wife Anne and son Bo, and how great the town of Whitewater has been for them to live in for the past 20 years. He spent a good half of the interview telling us about aspects of his life that didn’t have anything to do with painting portraits, and his genuine personality was apparent with every word he spoke.
I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to meet a man like Ben who, while having such a successful career, seems to know what the important things are in life. Interviewing Ben and writing his feature article was by far the most exciting experience I have ever had and one I will never forget.