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Louis Theroux: Celebrity interviews are more stressful than gritty documentaries

Louis Theroux (David Vintiner/Spotify/PA)
Louis Theroux (David Vintiner/Spotify/PA)

Louis Theroux said interviewing celebrities involves “a sort of performance” which he finds more stressful than working on a documentary of a gritty nature, which he describes as “oddly relaxing”.

The documentary-maker, 53, has recently delved into the world of showbiz – interviewing celebrities for his Grounded podcast series recorded during lockdown and for his six-part Louis Theroux Interviews BBC Two broadcast.

His latest project, titled The Louis Theroux Podcast on Spotify, will see him interview nine celebrities in a “free-wheeling chat”, including Bad Seeds singer Nick Cave and US TV star Jennette McCurdy.

The new Louis Theroux Podcast is available to stream on Spotify, with new episodes landing every Tuesday (Spotify/PA)

Theroux, who has had a 25-year career exploring topics from the world of neo-Nazi cults to the Church of Scientology, told the PA news agency: “For me, it is a chance to do something that uses different muscles. I came off making documentaries of a relatively gritty nature.”

He continued: “I will say it still feels more stressful and I would say probably harder work for me doing these (celebrity) interviews than it does going out to some weird religious group or a mental hospital or even some area of life that feels perhaps dangerous or deprived because that’s an immersive experience.

“Often times it can be oddly relaxed because you’re just swept up in the actuality of what happens.

“When you’re interviewing a celebrity, there’s a sort of performance that it requires from me, where I have got to be the maitre d’ for the encounter and keep things on track.

“I have to do a lot of research to make sure that I get the most value out of my time with whoever it is, that means I have to be fully prepared and focused and on point.”

He also said the celebrity-focused material meant he did not have to travel as much so he can spend time with his three children, who are growing up, and his wife – TV producer Nancy Strang.

The new podcast, which launched on Tuesday, will see Theroux interview stars from the world of entertainment including Shania Twain, Amelia Dimoldenberg, Craig David, Tan France, as well as Nile Rodgers, Samantha Morton and Ben Elton.

He said: “The first one that will go out is Shania Twain and that was obviously a thrill, I’m old enough to remember the 90s and early 2000s when she was just the biggest thing in pop music.

“She both looked incredible, her videos were amazing, her songs were absolutely ubiquitous, incredible voice and alongside that is an extraordinary story of growing up very impoverished, being abused by her father and just her whole positivity that she’s kept every step of the way.”

Theroux also spoke about his interview with Chicken Shop Date creator Dimoldenberg, following his viral appearance on her channel last year where he recalled a rap he learned while filming an episode of Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends in 2000 which became a popular dance trend on TikTok.

The song Jiggle Jiggle amassed more than 70 million global streams from its appearance on TikTok after DJ and producing duo Duke & Jokes set Theroux’s rap to a backing track.

He said: “We didn’t record any new rap content but we did basically talk a lot about the weirdness of Jiggle Jiggle. Amelia is extraordinary and she’s had an incredible couple of years.

“She just goes from strength to strength with her Chicken Shop Date content and her red carpet interviews.

“But nevertheless, even though I’d met her a couple of times, on and off camera in the last year, I had never sat down with her for a really long in-depth chat and to find out who she is away from the chicken shop was a thrill and hear where she’d come from, what (are) her dreams her insecurities.

“That’s sort of the heart of the whole project is finding out that amazing talented people like Nile Rodgers or Ben Elton grapple with many of the same anxieties and insecurities that we all do.”

Theroux said he does a lot of research on each celebrity, reading and watching all the relevant material but also covering the “offbeat stuff” so the interview “doesn’t feel too predictable”.

He used Morton as an example, who had starred in films by “famous legendary directors” including Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Lynne Ramsay and Neil Jordan.

“But I also wanted to make sure I watched (the film) John Carter, which was one of the biggest box office flops of all time, and just gave me a chance to talk about something she hadn’t been asked about before.

“Sometimes it’s finding that little moment of the unexpected,” he said.

Theroux described his chat with Queer Eye star France as a “special pleasure” having not seen the show before his interview research.

The 92nd Academy Awards – Elton John AIDS Foundation Viewing Party – Los Angeles
Tan France (PA)

He said: “It’s those times in the course of doing your job, you are brought into a person’s life and work, who you wouldn’t have been thinking about otherwise, or might not have known about and so it’s a huge spur to my journey of discovery of things that are out there that I might have overlooked for whatever reason.

“Tan France used to work as a flight attendant, which I’d never seen him interviewed about, so I managed to talk to him about that and I think he ended up quitting because he had a bad experience with one of his passengers.

“Craig David lived for two years at Terminal five Heathrow at the hotel there.. you’re an internationally famous DJ, pop star, songwriter, why were you living at Heathrow Airport at Terminal five.

“He said he just liked it, found it relaxing, but that’s extraordinary.”

Theroux said his “wish list” of podcast interviewees included Sir Elton John, Beyonce and Tom Cruise.

“I’d want a couple of hours with Tom Cruise and I’d want to get into Scientology and his relationship with the head of Scientology. The film stuff is interesting but there’s also a lot of vulnerability there that I think he hasn’t ever really spoken about,” he said.

The Louis Theroux Podcast is available to stream now on Spotify, with new episodes landing every Tuesday, with a second series confirmed to follow.