Krishnan Guru-Murthy: The Poisonous Troll Of British Film Journalism?

Footage of Robert Downey Jr.'s interview with Channel 4 newsreader Krishnan Guru-Murthy went beyond its intended UK audience last week, gaining attention across the globe and racking up over eight million views on YouTube at the time of writing. If you're not one of those eight million, it's an awkward watch: the actor chooses to walk out of the interview around six minutes into a ten minute slot after becoming unhappy with the journalist's line and manner of questioning.

Both interviewer and interviewee have in the past week aired their respective opinions about the altercation, providing further insight into the matter from each side. Speaking to US radio host Howard Stern, Downey Jr. made his feelings about Guru-Murthy and his approach pretty clear:

Phrases such as "bottom-feeding muckraker" and "syphilitic parasite" are fairly unequivocal in showing the actor's opinion of Guru-Murthy (although perhaps most cutting of all is when Downey Jr. states "I don't even know that guy's name"). Whilst his choice to resort to name-calling is unfortunate (as well as something he perhaps wouldn't have done so readily in a different forum to Stern's show), I can't help but sympathise with Downey Jr.'s sentiments. His desire to "distance himself" from Guru-Murthy before becoming sucked into the journalist's sly agenda feels particularly rational; by terminating the interview, he effectively achieves this in the simplest and most effective way.

Guru-Murthy, meanwhile, wrote about the interview in his Guardian column last Sunday and makes some interesting observations of his own. The newscaster states that Downey Jr.'s "PR man" was told that the interview would focus on "the new Avengers superhero movie and his recovery from jail and drug abuse to Hollywood stardom". It's clear from the actor's reaction to the second of these topics that one of two things is true here: a) the PR man did not pass on this information to Downey Jr. for some reason; or b) Guru-Murthy is lying. I can't know for certain which is the case, but having watched the interview and read the interviewer's response in the Guardian, I'm opting for the latter.

Guru-Murthy reflects on other interviews from his career, seemingly to paint Downey Jr. as irrational:

"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".

In saying this, he is in fact being considerably manipulative with the truth. Mulligan spoke to the journalist about Alzheimer's simply because that's what the entire interview was about. Pfeiffer was asked one question that Guru-Murthy introduces as being about women in Hollywood, but is actually more about her personal career choices. Redford and Jackson are admittedly more open to Guru-Murthy's lines of questioning, both coming across as intelligent men, with Jackson in particular clearly outsmarting Guru-Murthy with the answers he gives. More noteworthy when considering the journalist's current interview blunder is that he extends to Redford in particular something Downey Jr. was not given by him: a reasonable amount of respect. Guru-Murthy's catty comments about the actor's alleged requirement of "fridge-temperature air" in the interview room show that his level of respect for Downey Jr. has changed little since he terminated their interview.

Guru-Murthy also seems to be under the delusion that it was in fact Downey Jr. who was to blame for the interview turning sour:

"None of it should have come as a surprise, but I nonetheless 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 journalist here is no better than a stubborn child refusing to accept responsibility for his actions after being sent to bed early with a smacked bottom. Watching the interview, the facts are plain for anyone to see: the earlier questions come across as if Guru-Murthy has little clue and even less interest in what Avengers: Age Of Ultron is actually about (the part where he asks about Tony Stark "unleashing a monster" in creating Ultron says it all, as does Downey Jr.'s response), and yet the actor fields them in a professional manner as best he can. But, perhaps more importantly, Downey Jr. at first undeniably engages with the more contentious topics Guru-Murthy introduces.

It's when the journalist ignores the answers he's been given to press his own point further, in a manner more befitting an internet troll leaving a YouTube comment than a television news reporter interviewing a Hollywood star, that his subject begins to get a bit irritated. "I couldn't even really tell you what a 'Liberal' is", says Downey Jr. when presented with a quote he gave in an interview in 2008 (that's seven years ago - way to keep your finger on the pulse, Krishnan), only for Guru-Murthy to immediately follow up with the entirely useless question: "Does that mean you're not a Liberal?" And as the inept interviewer either fails to take the hint or simply doesn't care that he's pissed Downey Jr. off, arrogantly pushing further into personal territory, the actor makes the sensible choice to walk away.

Guru-Murthy riled Quentin Tarantino in a similar manner in 2013, which I also wrote about at the time. In some ways, his interview with Downey Jr. simply shows him making the exact same mistakes two years on. Tarantino refused to talk about violence in cinema being linked to real life violence because he's said all he has to say on the matter; Downey Jr. meanwhile has talked openly about his troubled past in Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone to name just two publications, and this time simply exercised his right to choose when and to whom he speaks about what is clearly likely to be a sensitive subject. On both occasions it's clear that Guru-Murthy is gunning for an overblown reaction, something which he was undoubtedly going to get in one way or another and succeeds in doing. It's seedy tabloid journalism, something Channel 4 News should certainly be rising above.

The Downey Jr. interview may in fact be Guru-Murthy's greatest gaffe yet, eclipsing even Tarantino "shutting his butt down". With Tarantino, the topic of violence in films may have been broached underhandedly, but it was at least relevant to the film being promoted, Django Unchained. But to pull a bait-and-switch over drug addiction, prison time and political remarks the actor made seven years ago in an interview based around a 12A-rated blockbuster superhero film demonstrates a new level of impropriety and troll-like behaviour from Guru-Murthy that somewhat boggles the mind.

If there's any justice, hopefully this will be the end of Guru-Murthy's tactless tenure as Channel 4 News movie correspondent. "Maybe we [news reporters] and the movie stars should just go our separate ways", ponders Guru-Murthy in his article. No, Krishnan, it's just you who needs to steer well clear of an industry you clearly neither care about nor understand.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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