Meet a Critic: Richard Roeper

An RT Q&A with Ebert's co-host!

by | December 5, 2007 | Comments

Richard Roeper

For the past eight years, Richard Roeper occupied the chair formerly warmed by the late Gene Siskel, going head to head with legendary scribe Roger Ebert and a slew of guest critics on the syndicated review show At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper. But how did the Chicago native end up as one of the most recognizable faces of film reviewing today?

A columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times since 1987, Roeper has mused on subjects spanning all things media and entertainment for years in television (Fox, CBS) and radio (WLS-AM in Chicago and NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me!). He’s written books (including the baseball missive Sox and the City, two tomes on urban legends, and Ten Sure Signs a Movie Character is Doomed, and Other Surprising Movie Lists) and film reviews. But when Roeper got the gig as Roger Ebert’s on-screen tête-à-tête partner in the year 2000, the ebullient co-host streamed into television sets across the country and brought new charisma to the face of celebrity criticism.

Read on to get up close and personal with Richard Roeper. Answering our
questions, he reveals the classics among his favorites (Alfred Hitchcock, The Godfather, Martin Scorsese) but has a pretty good guilty pleasure up his sleeve.

For your own chance to chat up Roeper, log onto tomorrow Thursday, December 6th at 7pm ET/6pm CT/4pm PT where he’ll answer all of your questions!

Where did you grow up?

Richard Roeper: I grew up in Dolton, just south of Chicago, about a 20-minute drive from old Comiskey Park.

Did you have one particularly formative film-going experience in your early days?

RR: I loved watching classics such as Casablanca and goofball comedies such as How To Murder Your Wife on WGN-TV. I also loved the old Creature Features on TV–all those great horror films in black and white. I became addicted to the movie-going experience in the 1970s, when I attended multiple screenings of films such as Chinatown, Jaws, Star Wars and the original Rocky.

Which filmmaker or actor (living or not) who you’d most like to meet, and why?

RR: Dead: Hitchcock, because his films just get richer and more amazing with repeated viewings. I’d also love to have a time machine so I could talk to Lauren Bacall in 1944, as To Have and Have Not was hitting theaters. And then I could come back to 2007 and talk to her now.

What is your favorite film?

RR: The Godfather, Parts I and II.

Who is your favorite director?

RR: Scorsese.

Name one guilty pleasure film of yours.

RR: Embrace of the Vampire, with the immortal Alyssa Milano. [Editor’s note: An eleven percent Tomatometer rating — nice one!]

What are the best and worst movies of the year so far?

RR: I’ll be revealing my absolute Best and Worst movies of the year on future editions of the show, but I can tell you that The Lookout and Once are among my favorites, while The Reaping and Perfect Stranger were two of the lousiest.

How would you characterize your relationship with your readers/viewers?

RR: I try to match their passion every day. Whether it’s viewers of the show or readers of my columns and books, I’m consistently impressed with their wit, humor and insight. That goes for about 95 percent of the audience. The other five percent are why the “Delete” option and restraining orders were invented.

What are your feelings on the state of contemporary film criticism?

RR: It’s alive and thriving and louder than ever before, thanks in large part to that great equalizer, the Internet. Of course there’s a lot of vitriolic ranting out there, but there are literally hundreds of critics on the web who care deeply about film and having something to say about it.

What has been your most bizarre movie-going experience?

RR: There have been many, but I’ll pick two. When I was a teenager, I was at a midnight showing of Apocalypse Now where empty beer bottles were rolling down the aisle, and someone threw a knife through the screen. Kinda added to the experience. A few years ago, I was seated next to an actress and her parents at a screening of a major film. Little did I know she had an extended nude sequence in the movie. It was pretty bizarre watching the movie and trying not to watch the reactions of the actress and her mother and father…

How’s Roger Ebert doing?

RR: Great! Roger’s back in the screening room on a daily basis and is writing more reviews than most critics half his age and twice his height. He’s not yet ready to come back on the show, but we look forward to that happening. I miss him in the balcony every week.

Favorite debate or agreement between the two of you?

RR: Some of my favorite agreements were about films we were bursting to share with the filmgoing world. Everything from My Big Fat Greek Wedding to Monster to Million Dollar Baby to Monster’s Ball. As for disagreements, there were many. I remember Roger recommending a disposable piece of crapola called Uptown Girls [13 percent] and comparing Brittany Murphy to Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball. I thought I was being Punk’d.

When you first started on the show, was there any trepidation taking over for Gene Siskel?

RR: There was no way to replace Gene. He and Roger created TV history. After Gene passed away, Roger had dozens of co-hosts. It was more than year before I signed on, so there was quite an extended grace period there. I knew the worst thing I could do would be to try to duplicate the natural friction between Roger and Gene.
I just tried to bring my honest reactions to the table, and here I am in my eighth year on the show.

How do you maintain consistency on the show with a rotating cast of critics?

RR: The show remains the same: Two people that care a lot about movies talking about mainstream releases, documentaries and smaller films. A video segment. Clips from the films, and time for spontaneous crosstalk. THAT’S the consistency of the show. Some of the guest critics have fallen right into that rhythm. Some brought a more “unusual” spin, shall we say. I give them all major props for having the spirit and the guts to sit in Roger’s chair.

Favorite urban legend?

The classic story of the hitchhiker that turns out to be…a ghost.

Remember to check in with Richard Roeper’s online chat here tomorrow, December 6th at 7pm ET/6pm CT/4pm PT to grill him yourself!