The essential lie of the interview situation

Fractious debate has broken out in the office in recent days. We can’t seem to agree about who was in the wrong in a particularly fraught Channel 4 News interview encounter between Krishnan Guru-Murthy (new scourge of the Hollywood star) and Robert Downey Jr.

On who does it reflect more badly? The over-sensitive, aloof movie star who won’t be drawn into any serious journalistic dialogue, or the provocative hack who is doing everything he can to get a rise out of his guest and make a name for himself?

Krishnan Guru-Murthy has made it something of a stock-in-trade to elicit unflattering meltdowns from his cinema star guests (see his recent interview with Tarantino) and by doing so has shined a light on the dynamics at play in the entertainment interview format. What Richard Ayoade called ‘the essential lie of the interview situation’ in a similar exchange with Krishnan, where two competing agendas clash but we proceed with the pretence that this is a transparent exchange of views.

The fact is, both were a bit too intransigent for their own good. You can understand why Krishnan might want to talk about broader, more ‘serious’ topics (something which, according to him, he okayed with Downey-Junior’s media team in advance) and you can understand Downey Jr’s reluctance to rake over sensitive detail from his past – he just wants to promote his movie.

What’s incomprehensible is Downey Jr’s petulant handling of it. As Guru-Murthy himself put it:

“I offered him two opportunities to say ‘I’d rather not talk about this stuff’. He could have engaged more with the earlier questions and I’d have never had time for the ones he didn’t like. He could have played a dead bat with the serious stuff and the whole thing might have been dropped from the running order as too dull. He could have said he didn’t want to talk about himself and I’d have tried another serious topic.”

The fact is, Downey Jr missed an opportunity to show a more rounded, humble side of himself. Instead, he came across as both touchy and untouchable. But, then, he’s a Hollywood star – so what does he care?