LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - You can’t deny Bill O’Reilly’s success. On Tuesday, the fiery host of Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” will mark his 100th consecutive month as the No. 1-rated cable news show.
A former schoolteacher who first gained national prominence as the host of “Inside Edition,” O’Reilly boasts three Emmys and several best-selling books.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: WHAT’S THE MOST FUN YOU’VE HAD ON THE AIR?
Bill O’Reilly: That’s a tough one. I think it’s the three interviews I did with President Bush. That’s the hardest interview for any journalist, to interview a president, because you can’t cross a certain line, and presidents all come in with what they want to say. To get them out of that rehearsed deal is very hard. The three interviews I did with Bush were instructive because I went up to that line. And then my interviews with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the campaign were fun because it was a chess match.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: WHY DID CANDIDATE OBAMA TAKE SO LONG TO AGREE TO AN INTERVIEW WITH YOU?
O’Reilly: I could be wrong, but I think Obama is not a confrontational guy. So why would he get in a confrontational interview situation where he knows he’ll be challenged? Look at his interview history. Very rarely has he done that. He did it with me because he wanted to disrupt the Republican convention and get a lot of attention. He succeeded in doing the latter.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: WHAT’S THE ANGRIEST YOU’VE BEEN ON THE AIR?
O’Reilly: There was an attorney for people who oppose Jessica’s Law (to punish sex offenders) that really got me. If you can’t protect little kids, we should just pack it up as a country. And after 9/11, a kid in his 20s whose father was killed at the Twin Towers. I was all set to do a sympathetic interview, but the kid started saying the USA attacked the towers and killed his father. I just said, “Oh my God. Do you realize how many other people are suffering tonight in addition to you? How could you possibly say that?” I was very angry at that kid. And the Barney Frank thing (in which O’Reilly called Frank a “coward” during an October debate over Fannie May and Freddie Mac). But I really wasn’t angry; I just needed to scold him because he was blaming everyone else, even though some of this economic mess is his fault.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: WHY ARE ACTORS SUCH FREQUENT TARGETS OF “THE FACTOR”?
O’Reilly: My job is to watch the powerful. A performer has a forum that other people do not, and all we ask is that they be fair. If they believe something and use their TV show, movie or concert to spout off about it, that’s fine. But if we have some questions about their beliefs, I think they should answer them — and not be drive-by people.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: WHO ARE THESE DRIVE-BY PEOPLE YOUSPEAK OF?
O’Reilly: I take it case by case. We took on George Clooney over the 9/11 charities, and we were absolutely right, but Clooney does a good job with Darfur. We took on Bruce Springsteen for things he has done at concerts because we want to know what his frame of reference is. These are powerful people, and we’re not going to give them a free ride. If there was somebody screaming right-wing stuff, we’d do the same thing. But there is no one like that because if they do that in Hollywood, they’re not going to work, which is an interesting story in and of itself.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: ARE THERE ACTORS WHOSE POLITICAL OPINIONS DISTURB YOU SO MUCH YOU WON’T SEE THEIR MOVIES?
O’Reilly: Just Sean Penn.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: SOMEONE WILL READ THAT AND ACCUSE YOU OF ENCOURAGING A NEW BLACKLIST ERA.
O’Reilly: Not at all. He’s a great actor, and if you hire him, you’ll get a good performance. I’m just not going to give a guy who gives aid and comfort to people like (Iran president Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez and Saddam Hussein, when he was alive, my 10 bucks. That’s my right as an American.
O’Reilly: “Godfather” and “Godfather II”; M*A*S*H; the original “The Producers.” I’m a big movie guy.
O’Reilly: Clint Eastwood is No. 1. I admire him because he’s a self-made guy. Gene Hackman, because I’ve never seen him give a bad performance. Al Pacino, particularly the early stuff.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE EASTWOOD MOVIE?
O’Reilly: “Unforgiven.” That thing was layered 15 different ways. A great film. He deserved the Academy Award for that.
O’Reilly: I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’d say “60 Minutes” is the one I normally check in with.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: HOW ABOUT CNN, YOUR FAVORITE COMPETITOR?
O’Reilly: I think Wolf Blitzer does a nice job, and Anderson Cooper is an honest guy.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: WHAT’S THE REACTION YOU GET AT A RESTAURANT OR A STARBUCKS OR SOME OTHER PUBLIC PLACE?
O’Reilly: I get preferential treatment, although I don’t want that. I very rarely have problems. Look, I’m 6-foot-4, and I don’t look like I’ll be receptive to bad behavior.
O’Reilly: On occasion, if I have to go into a large crowd and be stationary.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: WHAT’S THE WORST REACTION YOU HAVE EVER HAD IN PUBLIC?
O’Reilly: Nothing. Never in 12-and-a-half years of doing this. We have had death threats here, and Fox security people are excellent. We know that the far-left loons bait on the Internet and the would do damage if they could.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: ANY OF THOSE DEATH THREATS RESULT IN ARRESTS?
O’Reilly: We’ve had a few people convicted of crimes. I’m not going to get into descriptions.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: HOW DOES ONE GO FROM HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER IN MIAMI TO NO. 1 CABLE NEWS STAR?
O’Reilly: I did it the hard way. I went back to school, got a master’s degree from Boston University in broadcast journalism. I took a job in Scranton, Pa., and I worked hard. I took chances and did what I had to do. It’s the great American story. That’s why “Bold Fresh” (his latest book) is so successful, because if I can do it with my personality, so can anybody.
Editing by Dean Goodman at Reuters