Charlie Rose has been practicing the art of the interview for decades on the stark black set of his popular self-titled PBS show—but on Monday night, his routine got a little shake-up. TIME’s Editor Nancy Gibbs helped Rose flip the script at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, where the two took the stage for Gibbs to ask Rose a few questions. Here’s what we learned about the interviewer extraordinaire:
He bought the round oak table on his set himself.
When Gibbs asked Rose about the set of his TV show—”What’s the deal with the table—and the black?”—Rose’s response was a straightforward one. “The deal was poverty,” Rose said. “I bought that table myself. I knew that if I could put a table in a room with not much light and a couple of chairs, I could have a real conversation. And I know that people…like to eavesdrop on a conversation. All of that came to me because I had no money.”
He always has backup questions.
Rose is no stranger to the “tough nut to crack”—he’s interviewed everyone from Bashar Al Assad to Charles Manson. But he told Gibbs he always has a whole list of “megaquestions” in the back of his head “if all else fails”—”questions I know will elicit something,” Rose said. Questions like: “Tell me about your obsessions.”
He has his Big Three all picked out.
“If you look at sheer fame and impact, the three big interviews today are the Pope, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin…and…[Chinese President] Xi Jinping,” Rose told Gibbs. “I’ve gotten one now [Putin] and I’m on the prowl.”
He takes two or three naps a day.
Rose starts his day at 4 a.m. with a cup of coffee and “about seven newspapers” spread across his table—so naturally, he takes a couple of naps before his 10:30 p.m. bedtime. The first one is usually just after his morning stint at CBS This Morning and his work on 60 Minutes, and by the end of the day, he’s up to “at least two naps, and maybe three,” he said. “Keeps you young, that’s right!”
He doesn’t like to air his politics.
“I’m flattered by the fact that most people tell me they don’t know what my politics are,” Rose told Gibbs. “I’m not an advocacy journalist—that’s not what I do. My role in journalism is to be able to engage the most interesting people with the best ideas.”
When asked which presidential candidate he thought would be able to engage with what he identified as the “best debate question”—Who are we at this place and where do we want to be?—Rose pointed to candidates on both sides of the aisle, including Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.
He thinks Twitter is “essential.”
That’s what he said in a lightning round with Gibbs. Rose also pointed to just how important social media has been for ISIS. “The threat of ISIS now,” Rose told Gibbs, “is that people…are being so moved by what they read and see online that they go out and commit acts of terrorism without ever having gone to a training camp, or even having had any sort of instruction in some mosque somewhere.”
And he’s never been afraid of an interview…
“Fear is something I would feel if I did what so many heroic journalists do who are going to risk their lives in Syria and Iraq…and places around the world where you never know what’s around the next bend,” Rose told Gibbs. “The highest admiration I have for my colleagues is not for someone in a studio in New York but for somebody on the ground in places that they’ve gone to fight to tell the story.”
…not even with Charles Manson.
Back in 1986 when he was with CBS News, Rose traveled to San Quentin Prison near San Francisco to interview Charles Manson, the notorious cult leader sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in a murder conspiracy. For many, Manson is the stuff of nightmares. But Rose said the experience was “exhilarating.”
“[Manson] walked in and said, ‘Rose, I’ve been watching you,'” Rose recalled to Gibbs. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘On television!'”
“[But] we had this conversation that was really inside his mind—which was really: how are you who you are?”