Nancy Giles, known for her heartfelt commentaries and one-on-one interviews on “CBS Sunday Morning,” will speak at the Westminster Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis on November 9.
Giles, a New York City native and Oberlin College graduate, recently talked to the MSR fresh off a splendid on-screen interview with BET co-founder Sheila Johnson, a successful Black businesswoman, co-owner of several major league pro teams, and America’s first Black female billionaire.
Giles avoids doing gotcha questions and produces instead easy, conversational pieces. She briefly explained her interviewing style: “I am not a journalist. I’ve been able to do funny commentaries and serious commentaries. The interviews that I do, I like to think of in a way of commentaries. I really don’t do interviews with people that are not that interesting.”
Giles’ interview with Johnson in September is a recent example. She called it “one of the high points of working on ‘Sunday Morning.’”
Giles, who also worked as the announcer and co-host of “Fox After Breakfast,” has done tons of interviews and commentaries since joining CBS: “I didn’t start out on this show doing interviews because I’m more of an actor and a writer and kind of storyteller-comedian,” she pointed out. Her subjects range from legendary actors and actresses to elected officials, and regular folks, but when asked, Giles refused to rate or rank them.
Recalled Giles, “The very first pieces that I did on ‘Sunday Morning’ were commentaries, opinion pieces that I had on different things. They liked it and they asked me to come back, and I’ve been there now 20 years.”
Giles’ acting stints include starring in two ABC-TV series: “China Beach” (1988-91) and “Delta” (1992-93). She has also done guest spots on such shows as “L.A. Law,” “Law & Order” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” among others.
She cited “The Carol Burnett Show” as a huge influence growing up. “She was amazing,” said Giles of the legendary comedienne’s weekly variety show. “Although I loved all the sketches and all that stuff, I think my favorite part of the show was when she would say, ‘Can we turn up the lights?’ I loved the interaction.”
“I didn’t realize when I was watching Carol Burnett during her Q&A stuff, it was kind of improvisation, and years later I wanted to start it up performing.”
Giles in 1984 joined the Second City improv group soon after graduating from college. “My senior year, the Second City Touring Company came to Oberlin and performed. I thought that maybe I wanted to act. I was always making people laugh. I felt kind of confident with telling stories.
“I saw this group and there were four guys and two girls, and I didn’t think the girls were that funny. I wrote them a letter pretending that I was this high-powered agent,” admitted Giles.
A woman in the office kept her letter and eventually passed it on: “I got this form letter in the mail… I flew myself out there [to Chicago] and I did these improv auditions and then three months later, they called me… and it was all because this girl saved my letter. And I moved to Chicago” where Second City is based.
However, after she joined the group, she grew frustrated at Second City. “I think there have been maybe two people of color in the Second City companies,” noted Giles. “I hung in there as long as I could and learned a lot about improv and stuff, and then I sort of hit the ceiling there. They wouldn’t put me in the main stage company.”
She continued, “I went as far as I could with the touring company, and then I moved [back] to New York and started doing stuff and ended up getting cast [in television shows], and moved out to L.A. But I’m not an L.A. person and I moved back to New York, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Giles also is an accomplished voiceover and radio artist and a podcaster: “When you have a platform like that, you have to be responsible about the stuff that you’re saying,” said Giles of “The Giles Files” that she and CBS News’ Nancy Wyatt launched in 2017. She and Erin Moriarty, also of CBS, have collaborated on two public affairs radio series as well.
“Honestly, there isn’t an [interview] that I’ve done that I haven’t gotten something out of it,” reflected Giles. “I enjoyed them so much. I work with brilliant producers and editors who know how to craft the story out of all the stuff that we get.”
Finally, Giles is looking forward to her scheduled appearance at Westminster on November 9. She will speak at the forum about how storytelling and a background in improv comedy have helped her share different and sometimes difficult stories.
“I like doing the speeches. I love talking to the audience afterward. Almost all of the time when I do a speech, I make sure there’s a chunk of time before it’s over where I can open it up and ask for questions, and just talk to people,” she concluded.
Westminster Town Hall Forums are free and open to all. No ticket or registration is required. More information about each speaker is at www.westminsterforum.org.