Controversial interviews that nearly killed careers

Sam Ashurst
Contributor
Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, and Sean Connery have all given interviews they probably regret

Liam Neeson’s disturbing revelation that he once stalked the streets of Northern Ireland looking for a black person to kill in revenge for his friend’s rape has led to much conversation on social media this week.

Most agree that the admission was – at best – bizarre, with some calling for the confession to be the end of Neeson’s career.

Neeson has since addressed the remarks, saying on Good Morning America: “I’m not racist.”

“I never felt this before, which was a primal urge to lash out,” he explained to host Robin Roberts. “I asked her, ‘Did you know the person? It was a man? His race?’ She said he was a black man. I thought, ‘Ok.’ After that, there were some nights I went out deliberately into black areas in this city, looking to be set upon so that I could unleash physical violence.”

“I did it for maybe four or five times. It really shocked me, this primal urge I had. It shocked me and it hurt me. I did seek help. I went to a priest. I had two very good friends I talked to, and believe it or not – power walking – to get rid of this.”

But Liam Neeson isn’t the first celebrity to say something in an interview that would cause controversy – with several iconic stars making statements they should almost certainly regret.

Sean Connery on slapping women

Claudine Auger and Sean Connery in 1965’s ‘Thunderball’ (credit: MGM)

In 1965, Sean Connery conducted an interview with Playboy magazine, and was asked the following question: ‘How do you feel about roughing up a woman, as Bond sometimes has to do?’

“I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman – although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man. An open-handed slap is justified–if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it. I think a man has to be slightly advanced, ahead of the woman. I really do–by virtue of the way a man is built, if nothing else.”

“But I wouldn’t call myself sadistic. I think one of the appeals that Bond has for women, however, is that he is decisive, cruel even. By their nature women aren’t decisive–“Shall I wear this? Shall I wear that?”– and along comes a man who is absolutely sure of everything and he’s a godsend. And, of course, Bond is never in love with a girl and that helps. He always does what he wants, and women like that. It explains why so many women are crazy about men who don’t give a crap for them.”

Wow. Clearly, 1965 was a different time – Connery’s career barely experienced a bump, and he went on to make several more Bond movies.

Now, imagine if Daniel Craig said the same thing in 2019, we’re pretty sure that would be the last interview he did as 007. Or as a working actor.

Luckily, Craig is actually a better advocate for women than he is for Bond, saying in 2015 that: “Let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist,” Craig said. “A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long.”

Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans’ on Black Widow

Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron poster (credit: Marvel Studios)

Woah boy. During the press tour for Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner decided to spice up their day of interviews with a couple of edgy jokes. Big mistake.

Asked about the fact that fans want Black Widow to have a romantic subplot with their characters, as she seems to have chemistry with both Captain America and Hawkeye, Renner replied, “She’s a slut.”

Evans laughed and agreed, saying, “I was going to say something along that line … a complete whore.” Renner then joked that “she has a prosthetic leg anyway,” implying that was a reason she should be rejected.

The fan backlash was overwhelming, with Renner and Evans apologising in statements, with Renner going on to apologise again on Conan. Renner’s initial apology ran as follows:

“I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone. It was not meant to be serious in any way. Just poking fun during an exhausting and tedious press tour.”

So you can maybe see why he had to have another go at it?

Tom Cruise on Oprah’s sofa

Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning in Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds

Believe it or not, ‘coolness’ used to be a major part of Tom Cruise’s brand. Now he’s a bit goofier, with the Cruise brand mostly revolving around his apparent death-wish in the Mission Impossible movies. Now, he jumps out of planes without a parachute, and you can trace that journey back to the time he jumped onto a sofa.

On 23 May, 2005, hyped up by Oprah’s audience, Cruise jumped on to Oprah’s couch to celebrate his relationship with Katie Holmes. He was supposed to be promoting Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds, but it felt like the only alien in the room was Tom.

The Internet had a field day, with several cultural commentators considering the event the birth of the celebrity meme. It happened during the early days of YouTube, which allowed the clip to be shared and remixed, with the general reaction being that the actor had lost his mind.

The encounter started a spiral of controversial interviews, as Cruise went on Access Hollywood to criticise Brooke Shields for using antidepressants during her postpartum depression. Next, he went on the Today Show to state that psychiatry and psychiatric medicine were dangerous.

The interviews came before one of the trickiest periods in Cruise’s career, with movies such as Lions for Lambs, Valkyrie and Knight & Day all underperforming.

He’s learned his lesson since then, with his interviews being much more controlled – you don’t see Tom pop up on junket rotations for any of his movies.

John Lennon on Jesus

The Beatles attend a press conference in New York (AP photo, Archive)

In 1965, John Lennon – known for his slightly surreal sense of humour – made the claim that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. “Christianity will go,” he said to the Evening Standard. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

The interview came and went without much comment in the UK, until it was re-published in the States, in teen magazine ‘Datebook,’ and all hell broke loose.

A ‘Ban The Beatles’ campaign was started by local radio station ‘WAQY,’ the story was picked up by the press, and the story escalated in a major way. Record-burnings took place, with the Ku Klux Klan attaching Beatles records to a giant cross, and setting it on fire. The controversy made it all the way to the Pope, who said: “Some subjects must not be dealt with profanely, even in the world of Beatniks.”

A religious boycott was put in place, and The Beatles faced protestors and every stage of their pre-booked US tour. They even faced death threats as a result of the offhand comment, threats which eventually led to the end of the bands touring life. The band completed their contracted appearances with a show in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, and didn’t perform again for a paying crowd.

Kanye West on slavery

‘He is not a free thinker. He is a free moron who doesn’t read’ … Kanye West, according to Roxane Gay.

Kanye West is known for taking controversial stances on a wide range of topics, but fans felt he crossed a line last year when he crashed the TMZ newsroom before a scheduled interview to make several contestable statements, including the infamous ‘Slavery was a choice’ tirade.

Here it is, in full.

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! That sounds like a choice. You was there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally in prison. I like the word ‘prison’ because ‘slavery’ goes too direct to the idea of blacks. Slavery is to blacks as the Holocaust is to Jews. Prison is something that unites as one race, blacks and whites, that we’re the human race.”

The comments led to a major social media backlash, with many of West’s fanbase abandoning the star, promising to stop buying the rapper’s records.

West later called up a Chicago radio station to apologise for the statement.

“I don’t know if I properly apologised for how that slave comment made people feel, so I want to take this moment right now to say that I’m sorry for hurting, I’m sorry for the one-two effect of the MAGA hat into the slave comment,” West told 107.5 WGCI radio in his hometown.

“And I’m sorry for people who felt let down by that moment, and also I appreciate you guys giving me the opportunity to talk to you about the way I was thinking and what I was going through and what led me to that.”

Steven J. Rickman and Jason Bailey on Fantastic Four’s race dynamics

And, to prove that controversial interviews aren’t always the fault of the people being asked the questions, here’s a controversial interview where the actors actually handle themselves very well.

Meanwhile, Atlanta Rock 100.5’s Steven J. Rickman and Jason Bailey are lucky to be given any junket access after their bizarre line of questioning to Fantastic Four cast-members Michael B Jordan, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell.

Whether they’re questioning the logic being Michael B Jordan’s casting as Johnny Storm, or being awkwardly flirtatious with Kate Mara, there’s a whole host of reasons to be offended by this strange exchange.

The hosts are known for their confrontational style, but the online backlash was so extreme, they did have to explain themselves  – sort of.

“You have a white sister and black brother wouldn’t you want to know how that happened? I did. The other Fantastic Four franchises explain the relationship so I figured with this new hipster version they’d have some different backstory.”

“My partner’s (Southside Steve) [Rickman] conversation about Kate’s hair is something that came up while Michael B Jordan took a phone call so I think they were kind of just going back forth in a playful way. As for him complimenting her toes and why people are upset about that…sorry…no idea. Steve likes girl’s toes. People should be appreciative when they get complimented. Those that are upset on Twitter I guess don’t get enough of them. Who knows?”


Read more
Liam Neeson attends premiere amid racism controversy
Michael B. Jordan needed therapy after playing Killmonger 
Liam Neeson red carpet axed after racism row