There may be nobody more polite and friendly on television than Tim Gunn. As the mentor to the contestants on each season of Project Runway, Gunn is a paradigm of class, even when the designers aren't, so we were excited to get to talk to him in a conference call promoting this week's season premiere. And when he revealed that the new, 90-minute-long run time would feature more footage of his critiques, as well as one-on-one interviews with Mr. Gunn himself, we couldn't have been happier. Read on to find out which is his favorite season, what the new contestants are like, and why you may think some of them are too out-there to be real.
What can we expect to see more of in the new hour-and-a-half format?
Gunn: I haven't seen a cut of the show yet, so I honestly don't know how the additional time is being filled. I will say this, though: based on seven seasons of experience, we have so much content that never ever reaches the air that it should not be an issue for the editors and the producers in general to fill that time. When I reflect upon season seven, we barely see the Q&A between the judges and the designers. We barely hear anything out of the deliberation. You get a sound bite, when in fact the Q&A and the deliberation go on anywhere from four to six hours. I feel the same way about my critiques in the workroom. You would think that I check in with four designers, sometimes only three, when, in fact, I'm giving equal time to everybody. So there's a lot of material that never reaches the air that now our 90-minute format conceivably can. Also, there's an additional beat in the season, and that is a one-on-one camera interview with me about things that are happening and, frankly, about the outcomes. I'm my candid, honest, truth-telling self, and that means I don't know how much of that they're actually going to put in the show.
How do you feel this season's group compares to the previous ones?
Gunn: It's a very interesting group and, in terms of the chemistry among them, one that I've never really experienced in a prior season. They're very fragile. They're fragile in terms of their emotional well-being. They're fragile in terms of their ego. So I always felt as though I was tiptoeing around glass that I didn't want to break while still delivering what I'm responsible for delivering and what's good for them, a truth-telling session in the work room and an opportunity for them to look anew critically and analytically at their work. And I will also say I don't know of a prior season when I have felt such profound fondness for everyone, even one designer with whom I have a serious antipathy at the beginning of the season. It dissipates, and we become pals later. It was very hard. We just wrapped this week, and it was very hard to say goodbye to them.
How would you describe the season eight cast dynamic and how they relate to each other?
Gunn: They are very respectful of each other and disarmingly willing to help each other. We have a couple of speed demons who are sewing prodigies who offer up their services to other designers, and I kept thinking, "Well, this dynamic's going to change." I mean the fewer designers there are, the more competitive they're going to feel with each other, and in fact, if anything, they've become closer. From where I sit as the mentor, it's very sweet and touching. I hope our audience doesn't want a lot of blood spilled, because with a couple of exceptions, they're not going to see very much of that. Though there is a group, a team challenge, when we have more team members than we've ever had in the history of Project Runway, in terms of number of people on the teams.
There is someone who reveals him- or herself -- I don't want to give away gender -- as being this big bossy boots, and it will be interesting to see how people respond to that episode, because there was not to be a team leader among the team members. It was to be a collaborative democracy. In the case of one of the teams, it was not. So, that was an aspect of that individual's character that I can't say that I was totally surprised by, because I knew certain things about that individual that had been revealed earlier in the season, but I was floored that there wasn't a giant retaliation from the team. So later in the challenge, I retaliate. I couldn't stand it any longer.
I get frustrated when people don't take your advice or your suggestions, but you always seem to remain pretty cool. How do you do that?
Gunn: Well, it comes through 29 years of teaching and knowing that, with some degree of frequency, I'll leave the classroom just to give the students a little bit of breathing space and I figure that they're probably trash-talking about me. And I will tell you this, there is a designer this season -- and I haven't seen it, so I don't know how it's going to play out -- there's a designer this season who takes it upon him- or herself to walk around to the designers after I've done my critique to add comments about whether I gave each designer good advice or bad advice, and what this particular designer would advise them to do. And I reached a point where I became rather frustrated by it, because I thought, "I don't want this individual to be undermining what I say."
So at one point when I'm leaving the work room, I declare it to the entire room, "Listen to your own voice. You may have someone coming up to you suggesting that that individual knows better than you what you should be doing with your work, but that individual's not responsible for your presentation of your work on the runway. So, in fact, if you're recalibrating your thinking based on what this person's telling you, I would advise against it."
Which has been your favorite season of Project Runway so far?
Gunn: I loved Season 3 and the opportunity of going to Paris. I thought that was wonderful for everyone, though Vincent Libretti was driving everyone crazy in that season. It's interesting to have time to reflect upon the seasons and go back and look at them again, because I do have the DVDs. And I don't want you to think I'm totally obsessed and sitting in my apartment all day and all night watching reruns of Project Runway, but I do enjoy going back and reliving it. What constantly blows me away, though, is the level and quality of the work that they execute, especially after we are at Season 3 and move forward with our successive seasons. Seasons 1 and 2, there was a lot of dubious work and work that was simply poorly made, and that meant that the runway deliberation was in some ways rather easy. When the work is really all well-made, it gets much, much harder. It becomes much more a matter of taste, and in fact, you'll see that in Season 8.
Are you excited about Santino and Austin's new show On the Road? Will you be watching that?
Gunn: I am. I am excited about it. I have to tell you I thought it was one of the oddest pairings I could ever imagine. It's like Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar, which probably will make for great television. Santino and Austin are such different individuals with different work habits and different views of the world. It should be fascinating to see.
Are there any breakout personalities in the season? Any larger-than-life personalities like Austin and Santino?
Gunn: Oh, yes. Well, there's only one Santino, and I say the same about each individual designer. They have their own DNA. I will tell you this, there are some people about whom the audience will think, "Oh, they just put them on there for television." In fact, they really are who they are. That individual is that individual, and the work that they do is exceptional. So even I, at the very beginning, was a little jaded and a little cynical, like, "Oh come on." Though I saw everyone at the auditions, I don't know who will actually end up on the show, and I stand corrected. Their talent is unimpugnable.
Project Runway Season 8 premieres Thursday night at 9pm on Lifetime. Then fondly look back at Season 7's worst moments!
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