TH­ER­OUX

He’s been in­vited in to the homes (and cells) of cult lead­ers, ad­dicts neo-Nazis and gam­blers... and some have friends. even be­come But there’s his only TV one weird f haunts ilms sub­ject Th­er­oux.. and that wacky Louis of stil his

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT - By Caro­line Gra­ham

LOUIS TH­ER­OUX is incog­nito, sit­ting in a Hol­ly­wood cof­fee shop and tap­ping away on his lap­top. No one spares him a sec­ond glance, un­aware they’re seated next to one of Bri­tain’s most suc­cess­ful doc­u­men­tary film-mak­ers – the man who came close to, but didn’t, ex­pose pae­dophile Jimmy Sav­ile and who dug scar­ily deep into the murky world of Scien­tol­ogy.

And this is how Th­er­oux, 47, likes it. In a quar­ter of a cen­tury he’s made films for the BBC on sub­jects as di­verse as Neil and Chris­tine Hamil­ton, neo-Nazis, white su­prem­a­cists, plas­tic surgery junkies and Las Ve­gas high rollers.

Th­er­oux has found him­self in the fir­ing line more than once – both lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally. ‘I’m drawn to the dark side, the strange,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t scare me. I’m in­trigued by it.’

Th­er­oux has been at­tacked by hate mobs and un­wit­tingly found him­self the sub­ject of lurid tabloid head­lines when Tory MP Hamil­ton and his wife were ar­rested for al­leged sex­ual as­sault as he filmed them (they were later fully ex­on­er­ated).

‘I re­gret not be­ing the per­son to un­mask Jimmy Sav­ile while he was alive’

So it’s ironic that his scari­est mo­ment came off screen, in a le­gal threat from the Church of Scien­tol­ogy. ‘It was when David Mis­cav­ige, the head of the Church of Scien­tol­ogy, sent a le­gal let­ter threat­en­ing to sue me per­son­ally,’ he re­mem­bers.

‘The Scien­tol­o­gists have mil­lions and could have sued me for years. I don’t have the re­sources to fight that.’

His big­gest re­gret is not ex­pos­ing Jimmy Sav­ile as a preda­tory pae­dophile. It was, he says, ‘the great­est dis­ap­point­ment of my life’. The pair met in 2000 for the doc­u­men­tary When Louis met... Jimmy and be­came friends.

Sav­ile fa­mously in­vited Th­er­oux to stay at his home while an­swer­ing ques­tions about his sex­u­al­ity with sick­en­ing jokes: ‘I’m feared in ev­ery girls’ school in the land,’ he quipped in re­sponse to one of Th­er­oux’s ques­tions.

‘I re­gret not be­ing the per­son to un­mask him while he was alive,’ says Th­er­oux. ‘It would have been health­ier for so­ci­ety, cer­tainly for his vic­tims and also for his fam­ily and peo­ple who con­sid­ered him their friend. In the orig­i­nal film I asked him about the ru­mours he was a paedo-

phile. He had a level of com­fort talk­ing about the ru­mours that didn’t make me think he was a pae­dophile – or that he wasn’t. I just knew there was a grey area around his sex­u­al­ity I’d not got to grips with.’

Af­ter Sav­ile’s death, Th­er­oux made a fol­low-up doc­u­men­tary. ‘I wanted to learn why he got away with it and why he never got caught. I needed to put some demons to rest.’

Th­er­oux’s bash­ful, naive per­sona al­lows him to ask the most dif­fi­cult ques­tions of sub­jects – of­ten with a hefty dose of dark hu­mour thrown in – and some­how get away with it. ‘I’ve al­ways found hu­mour in the strangest places,’ he ad­mits.

He has be­friended some very un­likely sub­jects along the way, in­clud­ing a man who claimed to have killed 10 aliens, and to­day keeps in touch with Joe Walker, whose al­co­holic re­lapses were cap­tured in ag­o­nis­ing de­tail on screen in last year’s Drink­ing To Obliv­ion. ‘I had a cof­fee with Joe re­cently, he’s do­ing well – for now,’ Th­er­oux says softly be­fore say­ing he has re­cently tried to con­tact a fe­male heroin ad­dict from Dark States, his new three-part se­ries on Amer­ica, but that she has ‘gone quiet’, some­thing which clearly both­ers him.

He was drawn to her, he says, be­cause ‘she was full of po­ten­tial. I re­ally want to see her do well in life. I’d love to see her come out of this hole she’s been in for the ten years.

‘I do care about these peo­ple,’ he con­tin­ues. ‘I try not to be judg­men­tal. That’s part of the rea­son for my suc­cess. But at the same time I’m aware that I’m a guest in the world that I’m ex­plor­ing.’

Over the years he has faced a few sticky sit­u­a­tions. ‘I have been fright­ened,’ he ad­mits. ‘Some­times peo­ple snap. I did a story about neo-Nazis in Cal­i­for­nia and we went to a skin­head con­ven­tion… things can kick off.

‘But when things are get­ting very se­ri­ous I find it funny. To me, one of the fun­ni­est things is when every­one’s pan­ick­ing about some­thing. I very much be­lieve in gal­lows hu­mour.’

He was truly re­pulsed, though, by a suc­cess guru called Mar­shall Sylver who charged peo­ple thou­sands of dol­lars on the prom­ise of mak­ing them mil­lion­aires.

‘There are peo­ple with be­liefs that are deeply of­fen­sive who are nonethe­less act­ing out of a kind of mis­guided sense of mis­sion­ary zeal,’ he says. ‘Whereas some like Sylver had a cyn­i­cal and rather preda­tory out­look.’

Th­er­oux re­cently moved to Los An­ge­les with his wife Nancy and three sons, aged 11, nine, and two, to spend a year ‘hav­ing fun’, and be­cause, he says, the UK has be­come ‘too small’ for his brand of film-mak­ing.

‘Every­one is do­ing what I’m do­ing now,’ he says, ‘I tried to do a film on Isis and you’d turn up to meet­ings and there would be three or four other film crews there, each with a host who looked wor­ry­ingly like me, right down to the glasses.

‘It’s eas­ier to find sub­ject mat­ter in Amer­ica, par­tic­u­larly now that Trump’s in charge and it’s weirder than ever. Bri­tish peo­ple tend not to stick their neck out too much, there’s a sense of re­serve. Here in the US, peo­ple tend to be more open. It makes my job eas­ier.

‘Plus I’ve been the ben­e­fi­ciary of be­nign cul­tural as­sump­tions, that be­cause of the way I speak I’m some­how in­tel­li­gent and classy.

‘Peo­ple over here love the idea of speak­ing to the BBC. When I’ve done sto­ries in the UK there’s a feel­ing of the BBC be­ing a bit bor­ing.’

His lanky 6ft 2in frame is trim, thanks in part to a dab of li­po­suc­tion he had years ago when mak­ing a film about Bev­erly Hills plas­tic sur­geons (‘I had 500cc of fat sucked out’).

He has cy­cled to the cof­fee shop from his Colo­nial-style home in nearby Los Feliz, a trendy area of LA where neigh­bours in­clude Leonardo DiCaprio and Mad Men ac­tor Jon Hamm: ‘I pre­fer to stay healthy walk­ing, bik­ing, do­ing nor­mal stuff. In LA every­one drives every­where. I don’t want to live in a metal bub­ble.’ He has vowed not to ‘go Hol­ly­wood’: ‘One of the great things about be­ing in LA is that I have anonymity.’ His up­bring­ing wasn’t ex­actly or­di­nary. He was born to Amer­i­can travel writer Paul Th­er­oux and his Bri­tish wife Anne Cas­tle, and ed­u­cated at West­min­ster School be­fore go­ing to Ox­ford. In 1989 his fa­ther pub­lished a fic­tional ac­count of a writer who trav­els the world look­ing for erotic ad­ven­tures, a book that led to his par­ents’ di­vorce. ‘I had a good child­hood, we’re all close,’ is all he will say on the sub­ject to­day. Th­er­oux, who holds dual cit­i­zen­ship, fell into doc­u­men­tary-mak­ing purely by chance. ‘I was al­ways drawn to Amer­ica. I iden­tify more as Bri­tish be­cause I was raised in the UK but as soon as I left univer­sity I came here.’ He landed his first job do­ing work ex­pe­ri­ence on a news­pa­per in San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia: ‘It was life-chang­ing,’ he says. ‘All the things about Amer­ica that peo­ple some­times think of as soul­less, the mega­malls, the end­less free­ways, I found oddly ap­peal­ing.’ He says his dream in­ter­vie­wee is Lisa Marie Pres­ley: ‘She is at the cen­tre of the three sub­jects I find most fas­ci­nat­ing:

‘Amer­i­cans as­sume that be­cause of the way I speak, I’m in­tel­li­gent’ ‘I had 500cc of fat sucked out by a Bev­erly Hills plas­tic sur­geon’

Elvis, Michael Jack­son and Scien­tol­ogy. What must it be like hav­ing Elvis as a fa­ther? What was that mar­riage to Michael Jack­son all about?’ His favourite ever sub­ject? Un­ex­pect­edly, he names boxer Chris Eubank: ‘He came from the streets, is in­tel­li­gent and self-ed­u­cated. He made it to the top as a boxer and I love the the­atrics of his life, how he rein­vented him­self.’ Be­ing a fa­ther has drawn him to more se­ri­ous sub­jects.

For Dark States, he fo­cuses on Mil­wau­kee, a city once fa­mous for its cheese which is now a gun death cap­i­tal of Amer­ica. Then there is the heroin epi­demic show and another on pros­ti­tutes and pimps.

While he’s made sev­eral films about ad­dic­tion he is ‘too bor­ing’ to suf­fer any prob­lems like that him­self: ‘I en­joy a drink. I used to smoke at par­ties, I’ve had a spliff.

‘I’m in favour of le­gal­is­ing mar­i­juana. In gen­eral, it’s a more be­nign drug than al­co­hol. They say it’s a gate­way drug but maybe if it was le­gal it would mark the bound­ary more clearly about where ex­per­i­men­ta­tion should stop.’

He says he plans to re­main in LA for a year, but did he come to Amer­ica to es­cape Brexit? He lets out a roar of laugh­ter. ‘Right, I’ve come to the Land of Trump to es­cape!’

He is con­stantly on the hunt for new sub­ject mat­ter. His next film will be about anorexia. And af­ter that? ‘Who knows? One thing’s for sure, out here there’s no short­age of sub­ject mat­ter.’

dark side: Louis Th­er­oux with heroin user Nate Walsh in his new se­ries, Dark States

Above: Louis Th­er­oux film­ing with a heroin ad­dict for his new tele­vi­sion se­ries, Dark States. Above: with Jimmy Sav­ile in his 2000 doc­u­men­tary

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