Louis Theroux has swiftly become Britain’s most popular and most incisive documentarian, managing to disarm his subjects with his dry with and gawky British charm. Theroux’s new movie sees him venture into the dark heart of Scientology, but he’s trodden on dangerous ground before. These are the maddest moments from his craziest interviews to date…
Louis’ Wrestle mania (as seen in: Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends)
Skinny, bespectacled and polite to the end, Theroux looks like he wouldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight – so the decision to get up close and personal on the amateur US wrestling scene was a brilliant one. Theroux trained with a group of burly wrestlers under the name ‘Waldo’ – named after the similarly lanky ‘Where’s Wally?’ character – and found himself subjected to a brutal training regime in which he was pushed to the ground and yanked through a series of gruelling push-ups and squat-thrusts. Worse, ‘Waldo’ was fed lines to say during his training/torture, like “Sir, I’m a dying cockroach, sir!”, every utterance of which had the group of around 8-9 wrestlers in the vicinity hooting and hollering.
Taking on the Scientologists at their own game (as seen in ‘My Scientology Movie’)
Upon announcing he was making a documentary about Scientology, Theroux’s fans urged him not to turn over that particular rock: “Prepare for the loonies to target you,” one warned. He was not wrong: if there’s one thing the Church of Scientology don’t like, it’s being filmed. Theroux and his cameraman set up camp on the outskirts of Scientology’s Gold Base in California – with a permit – but still find themselves being hounded by security officers and aggressive Church members. Theroux, as is his wont, defuses the aggression by turning the disagreement into a playground-esque confrontation; responding to the request of “Tell [your cameraman] to stop”, Louis remarks: “You’re filming us! You tell him to stop, then I’ll tell him to stop!” The farce is strong with this one.
Savile uncut (as seen in: ‘Louis Theroux: Savile’)
Theroux’s remit used to be getting under the skin of Britain’s eccentrics, and before his death – and the subsequent discovery of his grotesque history of sexual abuse – Jimmy Savile was right in Louis’ wheelhouse. This follow-up documentary, 16 years on, sees Louis asking himself how he allowed himself to be hoodwinked by Savile’s entertainer persona. Tellingly, the only piece of unseen footage where Savile didn’t appear to know he was being filmed was the most revealing. Sat on his sofa late at night talking to Theroux’s producer, Savile revealed that as a nightclub owner in his youth, he used to lock misbehaving boys in the basement and “beat them up”, then later reasoned with the police that in doing so he was protecting their daughters from “these slags”.
Picketing with the Westboro Baptist Church (as seen in: ‘The Most Hated Family In America’)
Theroux excels when he gives a voice to those whom others deny – even if, by all reasonable accounts, they don’t deserve it. And so it was that Louis went behind the scenes of the Phelps family, founders of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, picketers of anyone they deem to be party to homosexual behaviour. The mundanity of their actions is truly chilling – we see signs being made en masse, reading ‘No Tears For Queers’ and ‘Thank God for 9/11’ – but as usual Theroux is able to cut to the heart of the matter i.e. the Church’s thudding stupidity. Church member Steve Drain gets started on a rant on how “the Jews killed Christ” before Louis stops him in his tracks: “Newsflash, braniac: Christ was Jewish!”
Flirting with the Hamiltons (as seen in: ‘When Louis Met… The Hamiltons’)
“Of course I like to flirt, what’s wrong with that?” purred Christine Hamilton, Merlot on her breath, arm draped round Theroux’s shoulder as he’s slumped on the gaudy pink sofa in the Hamilton’s Cheshire home. “In retrospect, I may have over-relaxed,” admits Theroux’s voiceover. Neil and Christine Hamilton were possibly the most disliked couple in politics at the turn of the century, but Theroux was determined to get to know the real couple – even in the midst of alleged sex scandal. What he found was that Christine Hamilton is a real close-talker. “I get the sense that you and Neil are getting on,” she tells her interviewer. “Why do you say that?” answers Louis. “Because he tells me things,” replies Christine, whispering “It’s called pillowtalk.” Despite spending his career interviewing murderers, racists and bigots, Theroux never looked more scared.
Out-manoeuvring the PR guru (as seen in: ‘When Louis Met… Max Clifford’)
Louis must have known that interviewing famous PR pitbull Max Clifford would have been like playing a game of chess – what he couldn’t have guessed was just how bad a loser Clifford was when he was facing checkmate. Clifford deemed Louis’ methods to be not to his liking, so decided to set-up a ‘sting’ with a Guardian journalist – from whom Theroux had previously turned down an interview – at his local Sainsbury’s, under the pretence of a weekly shop. Thing is, Clifford left his radio mic on, so Theroux heard him and the journo discussing the whole set-up. When confronted on the gotcha gone wrong, Clifford exploded: “If you’re going to be silly buggers about it, you can just f*** off!” he yelled, ripping off his radio mic and vanishing down the toiletries aisle forever more.
Learning about prison etiquette (as seen in: ‘Louis Theroux: Behind Bars’)
Theroux’s documentary in San Quentin prison is among his finest work, allowing him to get close to the most hardened criminals in the country. One shocking exchange saw Louis eating breakfast with two members of the ‘Barbarian Brotherhood’ gang, who admitted that black and white prisoners were self-segregated in the lunch hall, and if a white man accepted food from a black man, his own friends would beat him up and pummel him “until the cops stopped him”. Chillingly, the inmates gave up this information casually over chomping on potatoes and gravy, admitting: “That’s just how it is in here.”
Jimmy Savile and ‘The Duchess’ (as seen in: ‘When Louis Met… Jimmy’)
Back in 2000, Jimmy Savile was still a household name: a friend of royalty, a beloved entertainer and a patron saint of charity, with £40 million raised in his name. Savile’s reputation would eventually change in due course, but Theroux’s weird weekend with Jimmy showcased the oddball’s stranger quirks – even if it didn’t set any of the right alarm bells ringing. Most curious was Savile’s relationship with his mother, whom he nicknamed ‘The Duchess’. She had died some years previously, but Jimmy kept her house exactly like it was the day she passed. Savile admitted that he would frequently wash and iron his mother’s clothes anew, vacuum packing them to keep them pristine, as it was “better than a photo”. Louis, unusually, was lost for words.
White nationalist barbeque (as seen in: ‘Louis And The Nazis’)
Good documentary makers are always willing to go out of their own comfort zone, but Theroux ventured further than most when he ingratiated himself with a group of white power skinheads in California. Theroux’s arch manner and ribald wit served him well, until he was questioned at a barbeque by a drunken skinhead named Skip, who was convinced that Louis was Jewish. Surrounded by increasingly angry skinheads, Theroux did not deny being Jewish (he’s not) but held his own and defused the tension, even when the thugs asked for the camera to be turned off, presumably because they didn’t want what they were about to do to him to be captured on film.