In her years since graduating from North Farmington High School, then college, Mara Reinstein has made her home in New York City. There, she launched a highly successful career chasing celebrity scoops and watching millions of movies to let her readers know whether they should invest their dollars at the local cineplex.
And she does so in a voice brimming with wit, fun and a love for her work that makes readers wish we could join her on her escapades (and not just so we can meet George Clooney!). So, when it came time to catch up with this hometown girl, who better to interview Reinstein — than Reinstein?
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
A: Definitely. I knew it from the moment I won a writing contest in second grade at Hillel Day School. My reward was a king-sized Hershey bar. I equated quality writing with chocolate. This was good enough of an incentive for me to keep going. Also, I’m terrible at math.
Q: How’d you get your professional start?
A: The Detroit News used to have a section called WPG — Without Parental Guidance. I read it all the time in high school. In 1991, there was a contest to be a teen movie critic. Getting paid to watch movies?! Yes, please. I submitted a review of a lame Danny DeVito comedy and got the gig. After school, I did my French homework and wrote important, topical essays about teen culture, such as why the third season of Beverly Hills, 90210 was not up to snuff. The summer before my senior year of high school, I was supposed to be a counselor at the JCC. But the managing editor of the Detroit News called me at home and asked if I wanted to work downtown in the features department of the paper instead. I accepted and never bothered to tell the JCC. On my very first day, I called up celebrities such as Steve Martin and Teri Garr and asked if they had any well wishes for David Letterman before he started his new late-night show on CBS. I always joke that my professional career peaked when I was 17.
Q: Did you do your parents a favor and go to college in Michigan?
A: Nope! I went to the University of Missouri, which has a top-notch journalism school. Mind you, its most famous J-school alum is Brad Pitt. But I spent my summers in Detroit doing incredible internships — including one at the Jewish News in 1996. Writer Jennifer Finer [Lovy] let me tag along on a super-plum assignment: An interview with then-Detroit Tigers-catcher Brad Ausmus at the old Tiger Stadium. He gave us a private tour of the locker room (low ceilings!) and the offices. We did the interview in the dugout, where he broke it to us gently that he was a Jew in name only.
Q: How did you get involved with celebrity journalism?
A: When I worked at the city newspaper in college, I cowered in the bathroom whenever an editor wanted to assign a breaking-news story. I was not cut out to sit in courtrooms or report from the scene of an accident. I’m the girl who subscribed to 18 different teen magazines and hung up posters of cute idols on my purple walls. That’s how I wanted to make a living. Two years after I graduated Mizzou, I got my dream job at Teen People magazine. I interviewed everyone from Beyonce to Anne Hathaway before they got super-famous. In 2002, I was recruited to work at Us Weekly. I stayed at Us full time for 15 years. I basically grew barnacles.
Q: Your biggest scoop at Us Weekly. Go.
A: Personally? At the height of Friends fame, Anna Faris slipped to me in an interview that star Courtney Cox was pregnant. We made it the cover. We broke a dozen cheating scandals. Celebrities are more careless than you’d think. I pulled a true all-nighter for Britney Spears’ wedding to Kevin Federline in 2004. We had somehow obtained their pre-nuptial agreement, which alleged that the wedding was not legally binding. We ran the story to mess with our competitors at People magazine. They paid through the nose for the exclusive. I had the pre-nup in my desk drawer for 13 years. I was terrified to throw it away.
Q: And now you’re a movie critic? Tough life!
A: I started early. Really early. My dad [Alan and mom Natie still live in Farmington Hills] used take me and my twin brother [Frank; she also has a sister, Shelley] to rated R movies at the Telex theater in Southfield as a form of babysitting. MTV was a hard no, but he happily escorted small children to see Saturn 3, Brainstorm, The Right Stuff, Chariots of Fire and really raunchy comedies. It’s a thrill to be able to do this full time now as the longtime film critic for Us Weekly. I also have my own site, MaraMovies.com. And I’m a contributing entertainment editor for Parade. It keeps me out of trouble.
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: I’ve seen Back to the Future and Dirty Dancing a combined 1,357 times. The greatest movies are the ones you loved in your formative years. But don’t get me started on their sequels.