Robert Downey Jr has spoken out for the first time about his controversial interview with Channel 4 News journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who he has suggested is a “bottom-feeding muckraker” after he probed the actor’s past during a discussion about his new movie.
Taking place last week, the one-to-one was going well as the pair chatted about Downey Jr’s Iron Man character, Tony Stark, and the actor’s love of superheroes. But the atmosphere changed dramatically when Guru-Murthy asked the 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.
Speaking to US radio host Howard Stern, Downey Jr said, “I wish I left sooner… I don’t even know the guy’s name, but I know that he pulled the same garbage on Tarantino, and Tarantino stayed in his chair and lit him up for five minutes”.
The incident Downey Jr refers to happened in 2013. Guru-Murthy infuriated director Quentin Tarantino by asking him questions about about violence in cinema, pegged on the fact that 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.”
Downey Jr goes on to say that he does not believe promoting a film means that he is obligated to answer personal questions.
“There’s an assumption that… because you’ve sat down there [in the interviewee’s chair], you’re going to be scrutinised like a kiddie fiddler who’s running for mayor. What I have to do in the future is… give myself permission to say, ‘That is more than likely a syphilitic parasite, and I need to distance myself from this clown.’ Otherwise, I’m probably going to put hands on somebody, and then there’s a real story.”
Writing in the Guardian earlier this week, Guru-Murthy argued that, “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.”
However, Downey Jr feels that Avengers Age of Ultron’s family-friendly nature made Guru-Murthy’s questions inappropriate.
“I’m one of those guys who is assuming the social decorum is in play and that we’re promoting a superhero movie, a lot of kids are going to see it. This has nothing to do with your creepy, dark agenda that I’m feeling, like, all of a sudden ashamed and obligated to accomodate your weirdo shit. I’m a 50-year-old guy, I use fancy words and yet I’m completely unevolved when it comes to simple boundaries – like, you know what, you’re weirding me out. You are a bottom-feeding muckraker.”
Recalling the encounter, he said that the interview was a stressful experience: “My heart’s beating in my chest, this is the first interview of the day: what do you think – are you in Kumbaya land?”
Following the walk-out, Guru-Murthy wondered in his Guardian column whether mixing news with celebrities is such a good idea after all.
“I do have sympathy for the actors,” he wrote. “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.”
Avengers Age of Ultron is out now