During The Avengers press junket recently, the stars of the film made the rounds on British TV. By now, you’ve seen Robert Downey Jr.’s walk-out on an interview with BBC Channel 4 anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy. Watching the interview, it’s easy to see that Guru-Murthy seems bored with the typical “movie” questions, and RDJ is running through the paces of well-rehearsed soundbites that can be played for any audience at any time – “There’s more camaraderie (…) and I genuinely like all the other folks, so that helps.”
Then, things change. Guru-Murthy asks about RDJ’s political stance. Guru-Murthy wants RDJ to comment on a quote to the New York Times where he stated: “You can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal.” While there’s not a lot of expansion on that comment, the Times adds in an aside, “Suffice it to say he is not one of the Hollywood types who weeps over innocents trapped behind bars.”
However, it’s an honest question to ask, and one I’d like to know the answer to as well: Serving time in one of the most overcrowded state prison systems in the United States, how can you come out of jail not saying, “Jesus, this is fucked up. There’s not enough beds, food, clothes, or resources for these prisoners. This can’t be right.” Even at the root of personal responsibility (and I am a huge advocate for that — do the crime, do the time), there’s still a rule about “cruel and unusual punishment.” And I think not having a bed, or a mat at least, to sleep on is damn close to crossing that line. The answer we got?
Guru-Murthy explains that they (Channel 4 News) like “substance” to the interviews, or “something personal,” and asks if RDJ is comfortable continuing down that path –offering RDJ the chance to bow out. RDJ, instead, shoots back, “You’ve got just as much time as everyone else.” However, his face indicates that for him, the interview is over. Guru-Murthy tries to press on, and RDJ walks out.
Awkward? Yeah, but it’s not the fault of Guru-Murthy. It’s not RDJ’s fault, either — so before you decide to string me up for talking shit, make sure you get to the end of the article.
This isn’t the first time that Guru-Murthy has had an “awkward” interview. Americans would be most familiar with the tirade by Quentin Tarantino two years ago while he was in the UK promoting Django Unchained. The interview was conducted 32 days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and in previous days politicians in both the US and the UK had discussed gun violence, at length.
The UK views gun laws and culture very differently than we do. When a school shooting occurred in 1996 in Dunblane, Scotland, the UK took action. Instead of pandering to voters while assuring pro-gun lobbies that they wouldn’t interfere with the right of local residents to have guns, they amended gun laws that were enacted after another mass shooting in 1987 that banned semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. With the support of the majority of the British public, they banned all handguns as well.
Regardless of the country, Tarantino films are associated with violence — graphic, unrelenting, profane violence. Wonderful storytelling (and as a Jew, I appreciate Inglourious Basterds and its revisionist history), but blood-soaked. The reason why I lay this out is because the majority of our readers are American, and it’s important to highlight the cultural differences we have in regards to guns, violence and news.
The UK’s Office of Communications has very strict rules about what counts as “news” and what counts as an advertisement. Because of this, Channel 4 doesn’t do strictly promotional interviews. They view that as an advertisement, and they work with PR people who want the publicity for whatever project they are promoting. Celebrities come on the show to promote whatever their project is and understand that at some point, there will be something more serious discussed.
When these movie stars go on Conan or Kelly & Michael, it’s not just to say “Hi,” talk about a masturbating bear, or perform a lip sync to make them relatable — they are performing in a commercial. Guru-Murthy and Channel 4 try to push past this. And frankly, I admire that stance.I would have jumped at the chance to ask Tarantino how he feels the violence in his films is still relevant and needed to shock audiences in the wake of tragedies such as the Sandy Hook massacre — because I think it’s valid. And Guru-Murthy thought so as well.
He answers in the most pretentious manner imaginable: “(…) ‘Cause I’m here to sell my movie. This is a commercial for the movie — make no mistake.”
Later in the year, Guru-Murthy had Richard Ayoade on the show, during Ayoade’s tour to promote his book, “Ayoade on Ayoade” (which is a hilarious book, by the way). Ayoade is a difficult interview and rarely, if ever, talks about himself in a serious manner. Knowing that Ayoade had requested to be interviewed by Guru-Murthy and surmising that he’d like to discuss the Tarantino interview, he decided to take advantage of Ayoade’s deadpan and intelligent comedy for a farcical interview:
“It wasn’t ever going to be an interview about Richard. Richard’s book is a joke, not an autobiography … I knew Richard wouldn’t answer real questions about himself so I decided to make the interview about the promotional interview. That’s why I said ‘what I would normally do in an interview like this’.”
What results is one of the more hilarious interviews that I’ve ever seen. I hope you take a look at it and think the same thing, but if you don’t have time, there’s two really important lines that I’m going to highlight here so I can tie this all together:
Ayoade: You see what was interesting, I thought, about with your interview with Tarantino, apart from the notorious nature of “I’m shutting you down” was the bit when he said, “This is an advert for my movie.” That was the interesting bit. That to me was the elephant in the room. You gainfully tried to push through and get him to try and talk about violence, which he wasn’t going to do, but he was outraged that he could not advertise his film. And that, I thought, was very interesting. And is interesting about the essential lie or the interview situation.
Guru-Murthy: You know what happens now. Normally in an interview like this, I ask you a few questions about your book because that’s what you’re trying to sell. I’m not allowed to promote your book because of broadcasting rules. So I then ask you something serious.
These two statements summarize the difference between the US press junket and the British press junket. Remember how I said earlier that the blame isn’t with the interviewees or with Guru-Murthy? I stand by that. My question is, why didn’t the publicist responsible for booking explain this very important difference to the stars before they went on these shows? Guru-Murthy states, “Robert Redford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Samuel L Jackson and Carey Mulligan have all happily taken the chance to talk to me about things ranging from politics to sexism, from violence to Alzheimer’s disease.”
So why was it such an issue for RDJ and their publicity team? Well, probably for the same reason that Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans didn’t think twice when they committed their faux pas on the tour, and allowed Renner to release the most assholish apology in the history of the world: “I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone.” It’s the same reason that the press team for the Avengers had to lower the temperature in the interview room prior to RDJ’s arrival because if it was too hot, he’d “just walk out.”
Hollywood actors are just out-of-touch with what us normies want to know about and what environment they are speaking to. The reason why Renner’s apology is a slap in the face? The reason why RDJ’s rock-bottom and subsequent rise to the top should be discussed? Guru-Murthy said it best: “I’ve got a seven-year-old at home who loves Iron Man.”
These guys are playing superheroes.
And at their core, superheroes are the most effective when they are seen as human and able to overcome the difficulties in their own lives. False platitudes and non-apologies don’t do it anymore. And in this age of information where we demand to know everything, and nothing ever goes away, stars who are unable to engage in a two question “serious issue” segment shouldn’t be doing publicity anymore. Yes, stars sell movies, but stars are also assholes. If the star wants to be on the tour, then by all means, send them out there. If not, I’d much rather listen to the gaffer or grip promote the movie if it means they will be honest and excited about the movie, instead of just fulfilling a contract – and the publicist is the one responsible for knowing this.
For all of the outcry of Guru-Murthy’s treatment of RDJ, the prevailing comment from Americans is that RDJ’s past is his past, and no one has a right to talk about that. Other comments talk about how his privacy should be respected, and I think those are good viewpoints. But I think that Guru-Murthy has the right idea — the news isn’t the place for commercials, even dressed up under the guise of a celebrity exclusive.
From Guru-Murthy’s recent Reddit AMA – usernames published with permission.
I’m at the point where if I want to watch a commercial, I’ll look up the trailer on Youtube. When I watch the news, I’m looking for reporting or commentary on current events. When I want to watch an interview from a celebrity, it’s because I want to know more about them as a person, and not that they got along great with everyone in the cast and had so much fun filming their latest project.
And I really want to know what RDJ meant when he said that he couldn’t come out of prison as a liberal.