Robert Downey Jr. needs interview training but not from his current team

In a media interview yesterday for Channel 4 News, the subject being the new Avengers movie, Robert Downey Jr. walked out. Here’s the clip, if you haven’t seen it (skip to about 5 mins 30 to watch it go really sour, he walks a minute later):

The reactions have been fairly polarised. Either Channel 4 is an independent production company according to some, so the questions are fair, or they were supposed to be talking about the movie and it got personal.

I’m on the side of the journalist to an extent. It’s a free country and he’s allowed to ask what he wants (and Downey has every right not to answer, stemming from the same freedoms),

The thing is, like Christopher Eccleston a few weeks ago (the link there is about Eccleston hanging up on a journalist who wanted to talk about Doctor Who rather than a current project – although Eccleston has happily covered his Doctor Who year with the BBC, Radio Times and others so there’s presumably more to that story), the star had his expectations mis-managed.

Publicists and expectations

Journalists are obliged to be independent. We’re not part of a film company’s marketing department and our editorial sections are not advertising spaces for a business. Marvel and its movie entourage will not have paid for a space on the Channel 4 News programme. If they’d offered to do so there would have been a firm “no thanks”.

So the idea that a journalist will stick to what the subject wants to talk about rather than anything else they he or she thinks may interest the readers is plain wrong. The question that remains is: who’s telling these spokespeople otherwise?

My guess is that their publicists are assuming the papers and broadcasters will co-operate and brief the performers accordingly. As the Eccleston and Downey examples illustrate, the media doesn’t always do so. There’s actually no reason it should. It doesn’t work for the movie companies and if those movie makers want to threaten to withdraw interviewees, they’ll find we can interview someone else and fill the pages.

Like any business conversation it’s about compromise and understanding where the other person is coming from. In my view the Downey interview should have taken another turn when it became apparent he was uncomfortable and not going to answer in some areas; you can always switch back to talking about the film. There’s every reason to hope, but no right to insist, that he would be willing to answer the more personal stuff. Equally, though, I wish some interviewees, in the business world as well as in entertainment, would grasp the simple truth that the press is an independent entity in its own right and not an extension of their marketing operation.

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Image: Flickr: JD Hancock

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