With director Oliver Stone on hand for last night’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert to publicize his upcoming four-part Showtime documentary series The Putin Interviews, one might have expected fireworks. After all, Colbert has made a recent career (and ratings gold) out of nightly mocking the increasingly obvious Russian interference in the presidential election. And Stone has made an Oscar-winning film career of his own by applying his often bombastic, sledgehammer social lens to real-life events and figures. As last night’s interview played out, however, things were both subdued and uncomfortable, as the host worked his polite damnedest to get Stone to say one thing that would suggest The Putin Interviews represents anything more than a two year exercise in Putin-approved propaganda. (Something Stone’s been accused of falling for before.)
Starting out by noting the heat Stone’s been getting on that score, Colbert kept gently but firmly pressing his guest to talk about Putin’s record, not only regarding the purported and increasingly incontrovertible attempt by Russia to ensure a Russia-friendly president, but also his authoritarian stances on internal matters such as civil and free speech rights, violent suppression of opposition and protest, and, well, the fact that there’s evidence that Putin’s ordered a whole lot of critics, journalists, and opponents murdered. Stone played coy about urging people to watch the entire documentary before making up their minds on Putin, but his statements to Colbert and elsewhere hint pretty strongly that the noted muckraker was content to let his subject dictate the tone. (The clip Stone brought shows him not challenging Putin’s assertion that Russia in no way interfered with the election of his American “partners,” with Stone accepting Putin’s answer with a chipper “We’ll see you tomorrow, and talk about some heavier stuff.”)
For his part, Colbert did his level best to get the notoriously prickly Stone to answer his repeated questions about Putin’s record and character, only to be met with Stone’s repeated compliments of Putin’s work ethic and courtesy, and offering only the familiar sounding complaint that that darned media has been awfully mean to Putin over the years. Colbert tried to lighten things up while pressing forward (“Does he have your dog in a cage someplace?” got only a stony stare), but Stone’s noncommittal answers eventually saw the crowd turning on him with a smattering of boos, and some derisive laughter. (For one thing, he admits that he never asked Putin about all the alleged murders because he doesn’t believe his new pal is capable of such a thing.) “Watch it and see,” seemed to be Stone’s overriding purpose in being on the show, but, from his non-answers, the appearance made it look like there won’t be much information in The Putin Interviews that Vladimir Putin doesn’t want to share.
The Putin Interviews premieres June 12 on Showtime.