50 Interviews – Billy Bob turns on radio host

21 September 2011

Written by: Erdem Koc

It’s hard to imagine an interview that better demonstrates what to do when the going gets tough. Really tough. It all began to fall apart on air when radio host Jian Ghomeshi suggested that many people might know Billy Bob Thornton for his acting work. Thornton, who was doing a breakfast show appearance on Canadian radio in April 2009 with his band The Boxmasters, turned on his host, and in a series of (non) responses in the minutes that followed, took the interview well and truly off the rails.

But Ghomeshi turned out to be unflappable. Not only did he refuse to be intimidated, he defended his interview technique, providing Thornton – and us – with a persuasive explanation of why audiences need context, and why it makes no sense to suggest that referring to Thornton’s acting career could be seen as an insult. Their exchanges also reveal much about the ways that interviews are organised, especially when the talent is keen to avoid discussing certain topics.

It’s painful and funny to watch at the same time, with Thorton’s squirming bandmates adding to the awkwardness as they sit uncomfortably on the sidelines. But Ghomeshi’s intelligence and professionalism are an inspiration. And it’s not surprising that in the wake of the massive media coverage this exchange attracted that Thornton and his Boxmasters ended up cutting their Canadian tour short, or that more than the interview has been downloaded more than two million times.

Lawrie Zion is an Associate Professor of Journalism at La Trobe University.  You can follow him on Twitter: @lzion.