I challenged Putin the best I could, says director

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and director Oliver Stone in The Putin Interviews.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and director Oliver Stone in The Putin Interviews. PHOTO: KOMANDIR/SHOWTIME

NEW YORK • Did Russia help make Mr Donald Trump President of the United States? Oliver Stone - perhaps unsurprisingly, given his wellestablished revisionist views on US history and institutions - is not buying it.

"If we look around with a little broader perspective, doesn't (casino mogul) Sheldon Adelson have a lot more influence?" the director asks. "Don't the (billionaire-industrialist) Koch brothers? Doesn't Israel have a lot more influence?"

What is indisputable is that The Putin Interviews, Stone's series of filmed conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is benefiting from the question.

The furious debate over Russian meddling in last year's US presidential election is bringing the series more attention than four hours of interviews with a foreign political leader would normally receive.

Showtime, which is presenting The Putin Interviews on four consecutive nights beginning today, made only the first two of the four instalments available to reporters.

Stone, who conducted the first interview with Mr Putin while in Russia during the filming of Snowden (2016), is respectful, even friendly.

He lets Mr Putin speak, occasionally chiming in to buttress points about US provocations or Russian suffering. Reviewers and political commentators are very likely to have much to say about assertions by Mr Putin that go unchallenged.

Stone spoke to The New York Times last Thursday as former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey was testifying before a Senate committee about whether Mr Trump had tried to stop the FBI's Russia investigation.

Have you been paying attention to the Comey testimony?

A lot of smoke. I don't see much fire.

People are going to see the series in a context that didn't exist during most of the time you were working on it.

As Mr Putin himself says in Chapter 4, this is an internal political matter in America. Because he has nothing to do with - this is from the horse's mouth - he has nothing to do with influencing the American election, which he doesn't think is possible.

I'm here to get Mr Putin to talk. Let him talk. If I can encourage him to talk by having an empathetic ear, that is the reporter's way. I'm also a dramatist. I'm encouraging my actors to be better. To say more. To give me a performance.

You're going to benefit from the publicity surrounding this.

I can't gauge for you the mindset of an American who really believes that Russia influenced this election. If a person thinks that way, fine. If the way they see this series is that Mr Putin is a bad guy, fine. You can blame everything on Russia, and this is what we've been doing pretty much since 1917.

I would say if you're really concentrating on the election, although that's part of Chapter 4, it's not the whole story. The whole story is the Russian story and Mr Putin's experiences as president. It's a bigger picture than just now.

So there won't be any gotcha moments.

You mean like the trial scene in JFK (1991)? I can't construct a movie like that. It is suspenseful to me because each hour you see more of him, you get under his skin, I think you feel him better.

At the end of this, how did you feel about him?

As a leader, very impressed. Representing Russian interests, very impressed. A son of Russia.

Personal feelings? I admire his discipline. His ability to do this off and on for 16 years. His stamina, the way he works. No American president works these hours as far as I know. He reminds me of (former US president) Jimmy Carter in that sense - dedication to work.

What about the person who, according to his detractors, is willing to have political opponents and journalists killed and to profit from his position?

Well, I think in Chapters 3 and 4, I hit that harder, when we get to know each other better.

I think his body language by that time is pretty clear. He's not telling me everything; he may be omitting the truth. Is he rich? Not on the level at all of what they say, I don't believe that. Because of his manner, the way he talks about money.

You may think I was a pussycat, but no, I think I challenged him.

And the challenges get bigger (in the later episodes), when you talk about the man's future and his election plans, if any. Money, corruption. That's very personal, but I challenged him the best I could. I felt like, if it goes any further, he could have ended any one of those meetings - he could have said no after the first visit, no reason given.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2017, with the headline 'I challenged Putin the best I could, says director'. Print Edition | Subscribe