UPDATED with video: “You’ve gotten a little heat; people have said you’re being too cozy, you believe him too easily,” Stephen Colbert asked Oliver Stone about his four-part documentary, The Vladimir Putin Interviews.
“What do you say to people who say this is a fawning interview with a brutal dictator?”
Stone, who spent 20 hours with Putin for the project, that’s debuting on Showtime, insisted, “You have to be polite, because this was a two-year deal” and Putin is a very busy man, working 12 hour days “for almost 16 years now.”
“It’s politeness, and it’s curiosity, and it’s the way you ask the questions. I think he respected me and respected my work, and he knew I would give him a fair hearing. And it wouldn’t be chopped up to pieces,” he added.
In a clip shown to viewers, Stone explains to Putin his potential sway over the presidential election in the United States and Putin responds, “Unlike many partners of ours, we never interfere within the domestic affairs of other countries,” adding, “That is one of the principles we stick to in our work.”
Stone responds: “Thank you sir, we will see you tomorrow. Talk about some heavier stuff.”
Explaining his response, Stone said he took Putin’s remark “at face value because I’m not – this is an important point for him that he keeps insisting on it.”
“No followup on that question?” Colbert wondered. “That doesn’t seem like an interview. That seems like an opportunity for him to merely propagandize,” Colbert suggested.
Stone promised he presses Putin in the fourth hour of the docu, about his own election coming up in 2018, and on now-POTUS Trump, “the whole hacking thing, and cyber warfare” which the director said is “very complex” and not to be taken lightly.
Colbert wondered if Stone likes Putin or trusts him, after spending so much time with him.
“He is a head of state. He has his own interests of Russia. I respect him for that, and I understand why he’s doing that,” Stone answered. Calling Putin “a strong nationalist,” Stone began.
“I never heard him badmouth the U.S. I heard him try to reach out and have a relationship with them. He called them ‘our partners’ repeatedly…And that was made fun of at one point, because it didn’t feel like the partnership was working both way. He really wants a partnership. There is a strong feeling he can still have a relationship with the US. That I felt very genuine about that.”
Later, Stone said of Putin, “I think he’s devoted to his country, and I’m amazed at his calmness, as I said, his courtesy. He never really said anything bad about anybody. And he’s really been through a lot and he’s been insulted and abused –“
That’s where Stone began to lose Colbert’s studio audience, who had been effusive in applause when he’d takenthe stage.
“Abused in the press; in the media,” Stone clarified, appearing to think that would win them over.
It did not.
“I didn’t sense any kind of anger about that,” Stone said of Putin’s “abuse” in the press.
“Any thing about him negative you found? Or, does he have your dog in a cage someplace?” Colbert joked, the studio audience erupted in approval.
“What is wrong with détente with Russia?” Stone asked. “Why would you be against it? I don’t understand this mentality of — may be it’s because you hate Trump.”
“Hate is a strong word,” Colbert interrupted. “I don’t trust him.”
“You don’t trust him, therefore Russia is convenient as an excuse –” Stone plowed ahead.
“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 suppressed the free press and arrests his enemies,” Colbert interrupted again. “And that is not something that I, as an American, or a member of the press, can respect. And I’m surprised that you do respect that.”
Replied Stone: “You know I’ve always been for free speech.”
Colbert let that go, instead pointing out, “He doesn’t seem like he would be a hero of that.”
“No question he’s a social conservative,” Stone conceded. “I don’t know why you’re laughing,” he added, addressing the studio audience.
Because, of course, they were laughing at his remark.
“That seems like a mild description” of Putin, Colbert laughter-translated.
“I think if you watch patiently, you’ll see that it’s developed, it is a film that has a flow, from 2000 all the way up to 2016,” Stone said of the docu, debuting on Showtime. “We went back… to talk to him seriously about the election. It’s all done in that vein, and everything is above board.”
“Has he murdered a man? I wouldn’t know how to ask him that question,” Stone said, in maybe the most revealing moment of his sit-down with Colbert. “I’ve looked at the evidence too. If I believed it I’d go after it.”
For a second time, Colbert let it go, thanking Stone for being his guest.