Taking place last week, all was going well as the pair chatted about Downey Jr’s character, Tony Stark, and the actor’s love of superheroes. But the atmosphere changed dramatically when Guru-Murthy asked the Avengers: Age of Ultron star about his “dark periods” of drug and alcohol addiction.
“Are we promoting a movie?” Downey Jr asked, clearly irritated, before handing back his microphone and walking out of the interview. As he left, he added, “It’s getting a little Diane Sawyer in here,” in reference to a US television journalist known for her probing interview technique.
Writing in the Guardian, Guru-Murthy said that his reply to Downey Jr’s question should have been, “You are [promoting a movie], but I’m not”. In the column he goes on to state “we don’t do promotional interviews on Channel 4 News”, and that Downey Jr’s team was briefed on the controversial questions beforehand.
“We agree with PR people that as well as talking about a new movie for a while we want to ask wider ranging questions on relatively serious topics, and we don’t guarantee to run any answers in particular. When Robert Downey Jr’s PR man rang up asking what we wanted to talk about, we said we had no particular agenda but would ask about the new Avengers superhero movie and his recovery from jail and drug abuse to Hollywood stardom.”
“An interview with a movie star isn’t intended to be ‘news’,” he says. “We do it to add texture to the normal diet of politics, foreign affairs and investigations in a Channel 4 News running order…. 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. That’s what makes a movie star interview worth running on the news. We love to have talented people saying surprising and intelligent things about serious topics. Superheroes alone, no matter how Marvel-ous, don’t quite cut it.”
This is not the first time Guru-Murthy has angered a Hollywood star, of course. In 2013, he infuriated director Quentin Tarantino by asking him questions about about violence in cinema because US politicians were debating it that day following the Sandy Hook massacre. Tarantino angrily insisted on the interview being a, “commercial for my movie,” before ending it with, “I’m not your slave and you’re not my master. You can’t make me dance to your tune. I’m not your monkey.”
Following his latest walk-out, however, Guru-Murthy is now wondering whether mixing news with celebrities is a such a good idea after all.
“I do have sympathy for the actors. These interviews are the contractual obligation of being a movie star, and it must be awful to be unable to escape the past. But my sympathy runs only up to a point… Maybe, like a bad relationship, this just isn’t working. We want different things out of it. I want something serious and illuminating, they just want publicity.
“Maybe we and the movie stars should just go our separate ways, and find people more suited to our needs. But I think that would be a shame. There’s an easy marriage to be worked out here with a bit of give and take. And some intelligent casting by the PR companies. If a movie star has no interest in engaging, maybe don’t offer them up to the news. Find one of the cast who does.”
Downey Jr is yet to speak publicly about the interview but did take a dig at Guru-Murthy recently by posting the below Instagram picture of himself with American TV host Sawyer, the one referenced as he walked out, with the caption: ‘A corrective experience with legitimate journalism.’