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Interviewing the stars

A Q&A with Emmy-winning entertainment reporter and Laurier grad Chris Van Vliet (BA '05)

Laurier Communication Studies grad Chris Van Vliet's workday includes getting up close and personal with some of the world's biggest stars. As an Emmy Award-winning television host and entertainment reporter, Van Vliet has worked the Oscar red carpet and conducted one-on-one interviews with celebrities including Brad Pitt, Justin Bieber and Hugh Jackman, to name just a few. He currently works at WSVN, the FOX affiliate in Miami, Florida, where he contributes to the station's Deco Drive entertainment news program.

Going from Laurier to becoming an Emmy award-winning entertainment reporter in the U.S. must have been an interesting journey. How did you get there?

I have always been passionate about broadcasting and can remember pretending to be a radio host with my Fisher Price radio when I was four years old. In high school I loved communication studies classes so it seemed like a no-brainer to attend Laurier to study communications. My career actually got started while I was still at Laurier. In my fourth year I wrote for The Cord, volunteered at Rogers Cable and 91.5 The Beat and got a part-time job at 570 News. After I graduated, I landed an internship at CHEX-TV in Peterborough and drove a 200-kilometre round trip just to have the opportunity to learn.

How did your studies at Laurier prepare you for your current professional work?

A lot of what I learned at Laurier I still use every single day, dating back to what I learned in first year in classes like CS100 and CS101. In order to understand how things work in the present, it's important to know how they functioned in the past. Also, since the biggest part of journalism is telling a story, all of those 10 or 12-page term papers that seemed so tedious to write at the time really helped to hone my writing skills.

What is your average workday like?

No two workdays are the same, and that's why I love what I do. One day I could be interviewing Oprah, the next day I am learning how to play bagpipes and the day after that I may be on the red carpet at an awards show in Los Angeles. In my last few months at Laurier, it really hit me that when I graduated I was going to be facing the reality of working in the so-called "real world" for the next 40 or so years. I never wanted to be the person who hated waking up for work on a Monday, so I put all my effort into following what I was passionate about and trying to get a job that didn't feel like a job.

Chris shooting at a film festival in front of camera

What was your most memorable celebrity interview and why?

I am a lifelong professional wrestling fan, and even dressed up as The Rock and Hulk Hogan for Halloween while at Laurier. The Rock is not only one of the biggest stars in the world, he is also one of the nicest and most humble people you will ever meet. I have been fortunate to interview him several times and I still feel like a giddy kid when I talk with him.

Are most celebrities you interview the same people when the camera isn't rolling?

Without naming any names, there have been a few times where the person I am interviewing is not particularly nice or talkative until the camera gets turned on, and when it does they immediately perk up and turn on the charm almost like it's a performance. Then as soon as the camera gets turned off, they shut it right off. It was so surreal to witness the first time it happened.

Chris on the red carpet at the Oscars

Is there a celebrity you have yet to interview but would like to?

Tom Cruise is at the top of my bucket list interview list. There are a lot of actors, but there are very few legitimate movie stars left in the world and he is unquestionably one of them. I have my fingers crossed that it will happen soon!

You worked in Canadian television before moving to the U.S. Where did you work in Canada?

Right after graduating from Laurier, I got an internship at CHEX-TV in Peterborough. I was fortunate that after two months they hired me as a reporter and anchor. From there, I packed up my car and drove the 5,000-kilometre journey to Vancouver to host a show called "969" on CityTV and MuchMusic's sister station Razer. After a year in B.C., I moved back to Toronto and hosted "Inside Jam" on Sun TV before moving to Cleveland in 2010 to work as an entertainment reporter and anchor for the CBS affiliate there.

Cosmopolitan magazine named you its bachelor of the year in 2011. What was that experience like and how did it impact your career?

It was a complete surprise when Cosmopolitan magazine called me up and asked me to be part of it. Little did I know that one of my co-workers had nominated me. The next thing I know, I am doing a shirtless photo shoot on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland. The best part about it was that I won a $10,000 prize and donated it all to The Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland. The smiles on those kids faces is something I will remember forever.

As well as being an interviewer of the stars, you're also an accomplished competitive bass fisherman. Can you tell us a little about that?

I caught my first fish, a rock bass, when I was four years old and, pardon the pun, but I've been "hooked" ever since. I'm a competitive person by nature and I just love the rush of fishing in a bass tournament. We are so blessed in Ontario to have some of the best bass fishing lakes in the world with Lake Simcoe, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. I actually met my bass fishing tournament partner, Aaron Anders, while attending Laurier.

Chris Van Valet posing with Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio
Chris standing alongside actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.

What advice would you offer someone interested in pursuing a career as an entertainment news reporter?

Whatever you do in life and whatever career you choose to pursue, make sure you do it with passion. I believe that passion is the secret sauce of life and it separates those who are good at their job and those who are great. In terms of broadcasting specifically, just know that if you want to be on air, whether in radio or television, know that you will have to start from the bottom, likely in a small town, and work your way up from there. But take every opportunity that you are handed along the way to grow and get better.

Bringing it back to Laurier, what is your best memory from your time at university?

I just loved the sense of community at Laurier and how proud everyone was to say they went there. From the first day of Orientation Week, you feel the pride with every single student there. Some of my best friends even to this day are my floor-mates from Willison Hall or people I had classes with.

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