Oliver Stone’s press tour is not going well. On CBS This Morning, the controversial filmmaker, who has a rich history of cozying up to dictators like Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Vladimir Putin, said of the wily ex-KGB operative, “I’m interviewing him; why should he lie?” And in an interview with The Guardian, the Oscar winner compared himself to “a black man” because of the way his work is pre-judged. It doesn’t help that the work he’s promoting, the four-part Showtime documentary series The Putin Interviews, is a wildly irresponsible love letter to the Russian strongman that fails to interrogate an instigator who, by most accounts, wishes to make Russia great again by sowing discord in the West.
On Monday night, Stone stopped by The Late Show for a tête-à-tête with Stephen Colbert. And while the king of late night isn’t known for his hard-hitting interviews, he can occasionally bring the heat, e.g. his grilling of Susan Sarandon back in late March.
He didn’t disappoint with Stone.
“Let’s talk about Vladimir Putin. You spent 20 hours with this guy, and you’ve gotten a little heat. People have said you’re being too cozy with him, that you believe him too easily. What do you say to the people who will say this is a fawning interview of a brutal dictator?” asked Colbert.
Stone seemed caught off-guard, perhaps expecting a more innocent, Fallon-esque probing by the comedian. “You know, you have to be polite because this was a two-year deal, and it was four times,” said Stone, rather unconvincingly. “I think he respected me, and he respected my work, and he knew I would give him a fair hearing.”
Prior to Stone coming on, Colbert aired a clip from The Putin Interviews wherein Stone asks the Russian leader about potential interference in the U.S. presidential election. Putin denies any wrongdoing—albeit with a knowing smirk—and Stone grins, taking him at his word.
“No follow-up? No follow-up on that question where he says, ‘Oh, we didn’t do it,’ and you say, ‘Great, see ya tomorrow’?” pressed Colbert. “That doesn’t seem like an interview. That seems like an opportunity for him to merely propagandize.”
The filmmaker mounted a lame defense of himself, claiming that “in the fourth hour I pressed him on the election coming up for him in 2018, and I also pressed him on this issue of Mr. Trump, the whole hacking thing, and cyberwarfare.”
“Do you like Vladimir Putin? After spending 20 hours with the guy, do you trust him?” Colbert queried.
“I think you should see the film for yourself,” snapped back Stone, annoyed.
Colbert did not give in: “I’m just asking you a question. Do you trust him after spending 20 hours with him?”
With that, Stone began drooling all over Putin, saying he respects him for being a “strong nationalist” and standing up for Russia; he “never heard him bad-mouth the U.S.”; and claiming that Putin “really wants” a partnership with the U.S.
Responding to what would surprise viewers about the documentary, the JFK filmmaker added, “I think he’s devoted to his country, and I’m amazed at his calmness and, as I said, his courtesy. He never really said anything bad about anybody. I mean, he’s been through a lot. He’s been insulted and abused.”
The notion that Putin has been “abused” drew heavy boos from the audience at Manhattan’s Ed Sullivan Theater.
“Abused in the press and the media,” clarified Stone, sort of. “I didn’t sense any anger about that.”
The comedian was right there with his audience. “Anything about him… negative you found? Anything?” he asked, to cheers from the crowd. “Or does he have your dog in a cage someplace?”
“What is wrong with détente with Russia? Why would you be against it? I don’t understand this mentality. Maybe it’s because you hate Trump,” grumbled Stone.
“Hate is a strong word. I don’t trust him,” offered Colbert.
“You don’t trust him,” Stone replied. “So therefore Russia is convenient as an excuse for hacking the election.”
Then Colbert went in. “I don’t understand why our president will never say anything negative about Vladimir Putin given that Putin is an oppressive leader of his country who suppresses the free press, and arrests his enemies. That is not something that I, as an American and member of the press, can respect. And I’m surprised that you do respect that,” said Colbert, to more cheers.
Stone grinned. “Well, you know I’ve always been for free speech.”
“Yes, and it doesn’t seem like he would be a hero of that,” cracked Colbert.
And that, Oliver Stone, is how you conduct an interview.