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What Louis did next: Theroux explores how the internet and social media changed America in 10 years

LOUIS Theroux ponders his list of interviewees.

The documentarian, who has spent the better part of 25 years stepping into the shoes of many famous subjects (as well as studying taboo subcultures), offered his top three.

“Tom Cruise. Only because of my past with Scientology…” he begins thoughtfully. “People are either afraid to ask him about it or they feel like it will create an awkward mood. While I just think someone who talks to Tom Cruise about what’s really going on at the Inside Scientology would be really valuable.

“Then I feel like the story I missed was Isis when it was happening,” he lists as the second choice. “Very well who I would have interviewed… Anyone in a position of authority there. Or even now, (someone) still signed to Isis or a regrettable radical Islamist or jihadist, like Shamima Begum .

“And my third will be, perhaps, Lisa Marie Presley”, he concludes, without further details.

And with a slate like Theroux’s — an evolution that ranges from meeting Jimmy Savile to accosting cult members to making movies about eating disorders and dementia — there’s little things the seasoned interviewer can’t handle.

He will next be seen on BBC Two with a new Sunday night series, Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America.

The three-parter, which sees Theroux travel the length and breadth of the United States, explores the impact of the internet and social media on some of the most controversial corners of American entertainment.

“The world has been going through massive changes in recent years, particularly due to the effects of social media,” he explains, having originally scheduled filming for early 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

“Far-right groups who have found new influence through gaming and streaming services. Porn artists who have seen the power shift to them as they embrace creator-controlled apps and call out alleged predators of And in the world of rap, young men with big dreams caught up in feuds and high-risk behavior in the click-driven world of social media.

“These documentaries were difficult to make,” he admits. “They required delicate access conversations. They present shocking and heartbreaking scenes and confrontations. But they are also powerful depictions of a world that has grown strange in ways we never could have imagined a while ago. 10 years.”

In the first film, Theroux encounters young and very incendiary figures from the far right (what he calls “the hipster far right”), including those who came to mainstream attention through the notorious riots. of Capitol Hill.

One such name is Nicholas J Fuentes, a 23-year-old far-right white nationalist political commentator who calls Theroux “conceited.”

Another is Kentucky-based streamer Beardson Beardly, who throws the filmmaker out of his house after questioning him about an alleged Nazi salute.

“For me, as a sensitive person, it never feels good. I don’t like people who are visibly upset. And at the same time, you know, that’s what it is, and you recognize that it’s going to make explosive and probably entertaining images.”

Another chapter in the series explores the porn industry as it grapples with its own Me Too movement, the rise of platforms like OnlyFans, and how social media has become a space to post accusations of abuse. sexual misconduct.

And Theroux’s most personal film (“although I don’t play favorites”), centers on the world of rap and hip-hop in America’s southern states, and Florida in particular.

Rappers, like many artists, have long plagued their lives to find inspiration to create and promote their music. But raising the stakes is the round-the-clock connectivity of social media.

“I’m a rap fan; I see the rap world as something I admire, and I try to maintain that respect for the artistry of those involved and the humanity of those involved,” says the Londoner. .

“And, actually, I guess that’s the biggest part of the job in a way, building relationships. It doesn’t always go the way you want it to, but what you find is that if you come in as a sort of sympathetic presence, or at least in a mode of listening and caring, that people, for the most part, are happy to open up to and feel grateful that you’re there,” he confides. -he.

“There’s no recipe, there’s no formula for ensuring that films have a degree of compassion and warmth in them, other than really spending the time just being attentive and just curious. “

Reflecting on how his interview style has changed over the years, the father-of-three says he’s “a little more confrontational now”.

“I’m 51, a bit more serious, and I try to tackle topics that interest me,” he says.

“I’m an older man; I’m more comfortable leading the fight…being a more robust questioner.”

:: Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America begins on BBC Two on Sunday February 13.