ColumnsApril 30, 2015

Stevie TV: Steve Braunias on the Week’s Most Profound Television Interview


What to do with Krishnan Guru-Murthy and his TV interview with Robert Downey Jnr? What to think, what to learn? What, above all, to make of that lamp?

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It’s more than a lamp. It’s like the corner of Ponsonby Rd and Jervois Rd: it’s three lamps. A lot of sand died for those lamps, whole families of sand ripped from a beach and taken away to a place where it was turned into glass and then fashioned into a lamp of supreme and ingenious ugliness.

The lamp travelled. It was the Chosen Lamp; it was put in a room where Robert Downey Jnr arrived to set about the onerous task of talking to one hack after another, 10 minutes at a time, about his new movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Downey looked at the lamp. Its three glassy bubbles seemed to float in the air. There was such a weightlessness in the room – any second now, Downey thought, he might just rise from his seat and float away into some deep space, like George Clooney in Gravity.

He thought back to Clooney’s last scene in the movie, his dying scene. Clooney played Matt the astronaut, Sandra Bullock played Ryan the chick astronaut. Downey closed his eyes and saw the script.

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Downey wondered what the sun on the Ganges would look like. Would it be a bright light? A light brighter than the lights trapped in the three glassy bubbles of the wretched lamp in the wretched room with the wretched Krishnan Guru-Murthy?

Guru-Murthy ignored the lamp. He refused to believe he was in the room. He was on a white steed, galloping across a green and pleasant field of current affairs. Guru-Murthy was a newsman. A damned good one. He had read philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford, and joined Channel 4 news in 1998, aged 28.

He reported on the Arab Spring, filmed in South Africa, Yemen, Iraq. Serious work, worthwhile, intelligent. It didn’t seem possible he would end up talking to some fatuous Hollywood bore wanting to bang on about playing a superhero.

There were hacks from around the world waiting their turn in the next room. They would ask Downey the same questions, stick a drill in his head and press down on it, hard; he would counter the white noise by giving the same answers, flashing his beautiful smile. A whole day would pass in this manner. You had to play the game. But Guru-Murthy wasn’t playing.

He had form. He had interviewed Quentin Tarantino to promote Django Unchained, and put up with him saying bullshit like, “I am responsible for people talking about slavery in America in a way they haven’t done in 30 years.”

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But then the interview turned into an interview, with questions and that, and Tarantino had to remind him they were in fact making “a commercial for the movie”.

It inspired a thoughtful exchange on YouTube:

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Downey, too, had to remind Guru-Murthy they were engaged in a mindless exercise: “We’re here to promote the movie”. But his interlocutor insisted on asking Downey about other things, personal things, and he was severely reprimanded. Guru-Murthy, unnerved; Guru-Murthy, kind of freaking out, swinging his foot, as a bad genie escaped from the lamp and fucked with him – “Your foot’s starting to jump a little bit,” Downey said, with real menace.

The lights in the lamp were extinguished. The room was in darkness. Guru-Murthy felt afraid; and then Downey had his Gravity moment. The newspapers said he “stormed out of the interview”. But he didn’t. He rose from his seat and floated into deep space. Hank Williams was playing. The lamp turned back to sand.

Keep going!