interview | mickey rapkin

Travel writers are a strange breed. I mean, really, who gets excited about getting on a plane and going somewhere they’ve never been? With complete strangers. Sometimes for an entire week. It’s a study in human relationships, for sure. Although I’ve not been on a ton of press trips, I do consider myself lucky to have always been a part of a group that gets along well. Case in point, Israel. There were five of us – four super savvy New Yorkers and myself and, among the former was Mickey Rapkin – a senior editor at GQ and contrib at Bon Appetit, Details, Playboy and ELLE (to name a few). He also wrote the book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory – on which the movie, starring Anna Kendrick and Elizabeth Banks, was based. Pitch Perfect 2 is due in North American theatres this week.

Ok, so I did not realize until very recently that you were actually in an a cappella group during your Cornell years. W hich makes sense to me now – you knew the words to every top 40 jam that played at the Israeli clubs! Please tell readers the name of your college ensemble, and what kind of a cappella glory you all experienced.
Mickey Rapkin: I was a member of Cayuga’s Waiters—Cornell’s oldest a cappella group. (There are at least 20 groups there now.) It was a wild time. I’m not kidding. Every spring, we sold out Bailey Hall—a 2,000-person arena on campus. For winter break one year we were hired to entertain guests at an absurdly nice hotel in Telluride, Colorado. The hotel generously put us up for the week. The resort was ski-in, ski-out and I still remember walking around the hotel in terrycloth robes. We were college kids, but we felt like rock stars.

Absolute favourite a cappella song to sing?
MR: Love the One You’re With... I have no idea why. We sang this one often, and it always made me very happy. When it comes on the radio, I sing along with the baritone part while I’m driving and I’m sure this makes me wildly uncool, but I don’t care.

The song you’re dying to hear harmonized?
MR: Anything you can get drunk and sing to works well. Someone sent me a link to an a cappella cover of the theme song to “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” That really made me smile.

I’m sorry to say I’ve not read the book, but the review mentions run-ins with various boldface names. Really want to know about Jessica Biel!
MR: As an undergraduate, Jessica Biel auditioned for an a cappella group at Tufts University—and was rejected. I mention this in the book because it’s so shocking to me. There are clips of her singing on YouTube and she is clearly very talented. She was particularly good in a production of  Guys & Dolls at the Hollywood Bowl. Also, she’s Jessica Biel…one of the most beautiful women alive! It’s wild to me that a group wouldn’t let her in.

I read your interview with Elizabeth Banks (for Inside Movies) and she seems super fun and down-to-earth. Did you have a lot of interaction with her, and her co-producing husband, during the film production? How did they get a hold of your book proposal in the first place?
MR: This will sound self-serving, but I can’t say enough good things about them. They were very inclusive in the process—when they didn’t need to be. And they handled a cappella (a genre dear to my heart) with the perfect mix of humour and heart. I sold the proposal for Pitch Perfect back in 2006 to Gotham Books, and Banks and Max Handelman got ahold of it pretty quickly through someone in my agent’s office. We had lunch and I assumed I’d never hear from them again. But they stuck with it, and when the book was published in 2008, Universal optioned it on their behalf. It’s been an incredibly wild and thrilling ride.

You have interviewed loads of celebs (Seth Meyers, Tom Hardy and Katy Perry for ELLE)… Who was the most memorable? Why?
They’re all memorable for different reasons. One of the best was an early interview I did about 10 years ago with Dustin Hoffman for Details magazine. We spoke for over an hour and I felt like every word was quotable. It felt like a master class in how to live a happy and successful life.

Now for the travel stuff. How long have you been writing about destinations?
MR: Travel writing is fairly new to me. I did a piece on shopping in Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood for Details magazine two years ago. I wrote a Tel Aviv story for Du Jour (a new luxury magazine) recently, and also have done some travel writing for Playboy. It’s a nice way to see the world, I have to say. I feel very lucky.

As far as your recent travels go, what is the one destination that really blew all of your expectations out of the water?
MR: I was in Belize a while back, and can honestly say I still think about the beach in Placencia. I’m an uptight, Type A personality, but I’ve never felt so relaxed as I did eating a grilled lobster on that beach at Turtle Inn.

Best meal ever?
MR: I’ve had some pretty unforgettable meals. But the best, honestly, are ones with friends in the summer. Sitting outside with an endless parade of red wine and whatever food someone’s just put together from whatever ingredients happened to be in the refrigerator.

As a born and bred New Yorker, what are your favourite haunts in the city?
MR: Joseph Leonard for brunch. Red Farm for Chinese. Frankies Spuntino for Italian.

Best LA eats?
MR: Pine & Crane for Dan Dan Noodles. Ailmento for rustic Italian. The Grand Central Market downtown for fresh everything. Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts at the Farmers Market for donuts.

These last few questions are Proust-inspired…
If you could travel with any historic or contemporary icon, who would it be and where would you go?
MR: Is it weird to say Hillary Clinton? Anywhere she wants to go!

Where would you like to live?
MR: I spent 18 months living in Madrid, Spain after college, and sometimes daydream about going back.

Who are your favourite writers?
MR: The usual suspects: Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Lethem. I loved “All The Light We Cannot See.” “The Goldfinch.” “The Girl On The Train.” Michael Paterniti’s non-fiction collection “Love And Other Ways of Dying” was incredible.

What is your motto?
MR: Never say never.