Stephen Arnell

The interview on screen: from Frost/Nixon to Basic Instinct

The interview on screen: from Frost/Nixon to Basic Instinct
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Whilst not exactly (to paraphrase Richard Burton as Marc Anthony in Cleopatra) the 'biggest thing to hit Rome since Romulus & Remus', Oprah Winfrey's recent interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex was certainly A Big Deal.

With over 17 million viewers watching in the States and 11.3m here, the renegade former royals cannot be ignored. 

High-stakes interviews have long been a favourite subject of movies. The onscreen celebrity interview is obviously not a recent creation, with the phenomenon depicted in films as far back as Sunset Boulevard, Champagne for Caesar (both 1950), A Face in the Crowd (1957) and of course Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960).

But as these films show, few encounters go the way that the interviewers or interviewees expect or intend:

The Interview (2014) – Amazon Prime, Amazon Rent/Buy

Famously yanked off cinema screens due to the offence caused to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North), The Interview is a hoot – and a prescient one at that.

James Franco plays vacuous talk show host Dave Skylark, who, with flustered producer Aaron Rapaport (co-writer/director Seth Rogen) nails a worldwide TV exclusive interview with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, played with gusto by Randall Park (Wandavision).

The US secret service inveigles the pair into agreeing to assassinate Kim, but the manipulative ruler is successful in initially convincing the gormless Skylark that he’s misunderstood, a practice known in the picture as ‘honeyd*cking’.

Flashforward a few years and Trump is offering KJU a lift back to Pyongyang in Air Force One.  You couldn’t make it up, as the saying goes.  But I guess Rogen and co-director/writer Evan Goldberg did.

Morning Glory (2010) – Netflix, Amazon Rent/Buy

No, not an Oasis biopic, but a portrait of a thin-skinned know-it-all journalist who becomes the reluctant co-host of Daybreak, a fading US morning show, then wilfully denigrates the work of his female fellow anchor and belittles both on and off-screen staff.

Remind you of anyone - excluding the reluctant part?

There are some pleasantly acidic touches in Roger Michell’s (Notting Hill) film, which benefits from the presence of Harrison Ford as the (eventually) loveable curmudgeon Mike Pomeroy, Diane Keaton as long-suffering co-anchor Colleen Peck and Rachel McAdams as equally put-upon producer Becky Fuller.

Apple TV+’s The Morning Show revisits the same basic scenario, with an added spritz of #MeToo in the storyline.

Frost/Nixon (2009) – Amazon Rent/Buy

The TV interview as gladiatorial combat? Perhaps not, but that appears to be one of the angles director Ron Howard is looking to pursue in his adaptation of Peter Morgan’s hit play.

Frank Langella and Michael Sheen reprise their stage roles as the TV interviewer and the former President.

Tricky Dicky thinks he has the better of Frost until the final interview when his inquisitor finally manoeuvres the disgraced POTUS into admitting that he 'let the American people down'.

The two thespians famously clashed in when they were in the play; Langella supposedly wanted it to be called Nixon/Frost.

Interview (2007)

Steve Buscemi remade Theo van Gogh’s 2003 Interview, casting himself as political journalist on the skids Pierre Peders, ‘reduced’ to interviewing soap opera star, Katya (Sienna Miller).

This chamber piece picture follows the couple over the course of a boozy, coke-fuelled evening, where Peders is led to believe that he has a genuine scoop about the actress.

Katya is not a person to cross lightly though…

Good Night & Good Luck (2005) – Amazon Prime, Rent/Buy

George Clooney directed this worthy, but fitfully moving black & white picture about how broadcast news journalists were forced to meet the threat of McCarthyism in the 1950s.

A great cast, headed by David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow, the iconic CBS journalist who fought back against the spittle-flecked Republican U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy.

At one point in the movie, Murrow’s less than easy turn as a celebrity interviewer is revealed in a Zoom style chat with the flamboyant pianist Liberace.

Other players include George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr, Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella (again), Jeff Daniels, Tate Donovan, and Ray Wise. The picture made $54.6m on a $7m budget.

Stardust Memories, Woody Allen (1980) – Amazon

With his gradual slide into disgrace, it is increasingly difficult for some to divorce Woody Allen the man from his movies.

That being said, Stardust Memories is one of my favourite Allen pictures.

A conscious homage to Fellini’s surrealist classic 8 ½, with its luminous black and white photography (courtesy of Gordon Willis) and gallery of grotesques, Stardust still manages to score quite a few gags in the tale of whiny moviemaker Sandy Bates.

The Insider (1999) – Full movie to watch free on YouTube

Michael Mann’s ‘ripped from the headlines’ expose of Big Tobacco begins with an interview between news legend Mike Wallace (the late Christopher Plummer) and Hezbollah founder Sheikh Fadlallah, establishing the journalist’s credentials as guy who will not be faced down.

But when Jeffrey Wigand, a former executive at the Brown & Williamson tobacco company comes forward with allegations of cigarettes being deliberately designed as chemically enhanced ‘nicotine delivery’ products, the newsman and his producer Lowell Bergmann (Al Pacino) have to confront some unpleasant facts about the TV business itself.

The Insider is a long movie, but one that has to be to get under the skin of its subject, with Russell Crowe excellent as Wigand, whose confrontational manner and refusal to suffer fools gladly make him a difficult chap to warm to. At first.

Basic Instinct (1992) – Amazon Rent/Buy

Paul Verhoeven’s black comedy come (sic) erotic thriller still stands up today, aided by a knowing sense of how daft the plot is and a career best performance from Sharon Stone (who had her blink and you’ll miss it debut role in Stardust Memories twelve years earlier).

Michael Douglas is also good value and is obviously in on the joke, although his M&S V-neck sweater-clad dad dancing in a techno nightclub was ill-advised.

Notable to many for the recorded interrogation scene where the investigating cops are thrown a curve ball by homicidal novelist Catherine Trammell’s flagrant disregard for the No Smoking policy of the building. And (of course) something else.

Douglas’ detective Nick Curran gets to repeat the scene later in the movie as a suspect himself; well, the cigarette part at least. For which we are all (most of us, anyway) profoundly grateful.

Wayne’s World (1992) – Amazon Rent/Buy

Mike Myers (Wayne) and co-star Dana Carvey (Garth) spoofed the world of public-access television with their hit movie Wayne’s World.

When the pair begin to attract attention, Rob Lowe’s oily TV producer moves in, organising an interview on the show with primary sponsor Noah Vanderhoff (Bill’s older brother Brian Doyle-Murray), a video arcade magnate.