You ask the questions: Louis Theroux

(Such as: how has having a famous father influenced your life? And just how strong was the sexual chemistry between you and Debbie McGee?)
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The Independent Online

Louis Theroux, 31 is the son of the American travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux. He grew up in London and attended Westminster School and then Oxford University, where he got a first-class degree in history. After graduating, he moved to the US and worked as a journalist on a local paper, the San Jose Times, and the New York-based satirical magazine Spy. Then followed a stint as a correspondent for Michael Moore's TV Nation series, for which Louis' assignments included reports on the Ku Klux Klan and Avon Ladies in the Amazon. In 1995 Louis developed his own series, the acclaimed Weird Weekends, which he says "set out to discover the genuinely odd in the most ordinary setting". Louis' encounters included a group of professional wrestlers in South Carolina, the Boers of South Africa, and UFO hunters in Colorado. This was followed by When Louis Met..., a series of celebrity documentaries that has so far featured Jimmy Savile, and Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee among its subjects. Forthcoming subjects include Ann Widdecombe, Chris Eubank, and Neil and Christine Hamilton, who were involved in a sex scandal while the programme was being made earlier this year.

Louis has one older brother, the novelist Marcel Theroux, and currently divides his time between homes in Brooklyn and West London.

What has been the worst moment during your documentaries? You looked pretty green when you came out of a group-sex room during a film on swinging. What did you see?

Pete Manyata, Norwich

I saw five or six people having group sex. The only times I'd seen a sex act was on porn shoots and usually the people involved with those are quite attractive. But it was a shock to see these not terribly attractive middle-aged swingers all in a heap together. There's a kind of smell that comes off them as well. You feel a bit odd being there, and the camera makes it more awkward.

But me in discomfort often makes for good TV. I worked out with the wrestlers in the wrestling school and couldn't handle the pace at all. I ended up vomiting, which was pretty horrendous. They cut around the actual vomit but that made good viewing. Often, in this context, worst can mean best.

What are the benefits of a Westminster School education?

Kyle Robinson, Hereford

Good grounding in Latin, thorough knowledge of medieval history and being close to the video arcades on Charing Cross Road and Leicester Square.

Did Jim fix it for you?

Fiona Wilson, Brighton

He fixed it for me to sleep in the bed that belonged to his late mother (whom he called the Duchess), which meant a lot to me. But he never fixed it for me as a child. I wrote to him asking if I could attack my teachers with a splurge gun, in the style of the film Bugsy Malone, but he never replied. He wasn't big on attacking figures of authority; I think it went against the grain of the programme.

What was it like to be filming the Hamiltons when the sex scandal blew up? Can you describe the experience?

C W McAndrew, Cardiff

All I can say is that it was very odd. It was hard to figure out what my role was, whether I should even have been there or not. They wanted me there, but, as long as it seemed like there was even a scintilla of truth in the allegations, it felt odd. But pretty quickly it became clear there was no substance to the allegations. I was staying at the Hamiltons house in Cheshire while the media circus was going on and the paparazzi were camped outside all night. It was like being in the eye of the storm. We just shut the door and tried to forget they were there. It was like being in a bunker: we had dinner, ate jellied bloody Marys and drank too much. We're editing it at the moment. It's a bit of a challenge cutting out all the bits where I look too drunk.

How has having a famous father influenced your life?

Nicholas E Gough, Swindon

It's a very certain kind of fame my father has. It's literary fame, so he doesn't get recognised in the street and at school friends hadn't heard of him, so in those terms the influence isn't that great. But when you're growing up you see all those books on the shelves with his name on them and magazine articles about him and you're aware that he has some special status in the world's eye. It makes you feel, quite unreasonably, that you are entitled to the same status and maybe there's pressure on you to kind of measure up.

What's the secret of your interviewing technique?

Kate Caine, Norwich

I suppose, in a sense, it's incompetence. Sometimes, by asking the wrong question or being a little bit awkward, people feel more at ease and they open up to you. I do sometimes worry that I might get good at my job and have to give it up.

Just how strong was that obvious sexual chemistry between you and Debbie McGee?

Howard Bentley, Preston, Lancs

I think she was more interested in the director, Will, though he won't thank me for saying so. I'm no expert, but isn't that just the way some women relate to some people, by being flirty? I don't think it means very much; it's almost her way of being polite. People say it must have been a bit awkward with Paul, but I think he's used to it. I think I had more chemistry with Jimmy Savile to be honest.

Who was more scary to interview, Eugene Terreblanche (of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement) or Paul Daniels?

Chris Orso, Esher, Surrey

The company of Terreblanche is the scariest. He smelt of booze and he did seem a bit volatile, switching between being overly friendly to angry and crazed from moment to moment. With Paul the terror is that he's going to tell you another endless Frank Sinatra anecdote.

 

How are you coping with your new-found status as a sex symbol?

M Jennings, by e-mail

The only time the sex symbol thing comes up is in interviews; to be honest, I don't really believe it. I've read too many jokes about the size of my nose, the size of my ears and the shape of my head for that to make any sense. Maybe if people keep saying it for another 10 years then I'll start giving it some thought.

What is your abiding memory of growing up with Marcel? Were you competitive as children and are you a fan of his work?

L Singh, Derby

I'm a huge fan of Marcel's work. While I was with the Hamiltons, he was promoting a documentary he had made for Channel 4 about the Russian human-rights abuses in Chechnya, and there he was going round trying to talk to journalists about the situation in Grozny and all these people desperate to let the world know about their plight, and they're just asking him, "What can you tell us about Louis' time with the Hamiltons?" He concluded that maybe he could have aroused more interest if he'd have got Neil and Christine out to Russia, or if it could be proved that Vladimir Putin was the other masturbating man at that party in Ilford.

If you were stranded on a desert island, who out of the people you have interviewed would you least and most like to accompany you?

Karen Davis, London

I would not like to be there with Chris Eubank and I can really see why he was thrown out of the Big Brother house. That's not because I don't think he's a nice guy; it's just that he's exhausting company. If you ask him what time it is, he'll start talking about the history of watchmaking and the benefits of wearing a watch on your left wrist as opposed to your right. It would be too much; you'd be ready to swim for it on day two.

I think one of the people from the survivalist show would be good company: they'd know how to build a shelter, get pure water from the sea, build a solar-powered shower, and maybe even signal for help.

Do you ever feel a little guilty about any of your shows? Do you fear a revenge attack?

Ollie Done, London

No, I don't feel guilty about any of the shows. We always show the programmes to the people who are in them. And so far they've all liked them, though the day will probably come when someone doesn't like a show. I suppose that as long as I feel we've handled them fairly then I wouldn't lose too much sleep over it. When we sat down with Paul and Debbie and showed them their show, there were a couple of moments when I cringed. There was a bit when I ask Paul what his involvement in the ballet is, and he says he does a bit of everything and he's got a good eye for details, and then we cut to a shot of him asleep on the stage. Debbie laughed, and he didn't, although I think he understood it was just a joke and all part of the tone.

'The Best of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends' is out now on DVD, £24.99 and VHS, £19.99

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