Charlet Duboc is an award-winning correspondent and seasoned producer at VICE, where she has fronted a variety of factual content across many of VICE's digital and television platforms. Most recently she was awarded the Frontpage Newswomen's award for special reporting as creator of the VICELAND documentary series States of Undress. Charlet's work spans a diverse remit of international human interest and cultural exposé stories, and even satire, which has taken her from North Korea to the Gaza strip and everywhere in between. She is currently based in New York as a reporter on VICE's news show for the HBO network.
Back in the halcyon days of 2014, a time before Brexit and President Trump when all we had to hold us down were the ongoing ramifications of a global banking crisis, VICE host Charlet Duboc sat on a sofa with Russell Brand to talk about his new book, Revolution. At that point the English actor and media presence was at his most present, riding the crest of a populist wave built by his Twitter activity, podcast, The Trews news commentary show, a lively tete-a-tete with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight and general pop-humanitarian proselytising. We asked Charlet for handy pointers on how to handle interviewees who steal your earrings, accuse you of habitual cocaine abuse, repeatedly invade your personal space and pretend to wank off imaginary elephants.
VICE: How did you prepare for the interview?
Charlet Duboc: I knew friends of mine who’d had run-ins with him over the years – the warning I got was that, to put it mildly, he could be a bit flirty. The interview was part of a junket promoting his new book. He’d just done Paxman and I was like, ‘Why do you want me to do this, I’m nothing like Paxman?!’ Then I realised that his book was probably meant for people like me and thought maybe I could represent the VICE audience, who are the people I’m sure he’d like to read it.
It came together in quite a rush as I remember?
At first I was like, ‘God, I haven’t read the book’ – his publicist gave it to me the night before the interview and I crammed as much as I could but I really had no time to read more than a quarter of it, which I was honest about with him. I decided to go in and see if he could explain it to me as someone who hasn’t really read it, assuming the people watching wouldn’t have either. I think I was a bit nervous but the more I sat there waiting for him, with a crew I had worked with loads, the more hysterical I got as we read through the start of his book – there’s a piece-to-camera I did beforehand that’s tacked on the end of the film.
Was the book that funny? I never got round to reading it.
It was just completely daft. It was very obvious from reading it that he had a messiah complex and by the time he actually got there, I was just slightly irritated that we wouldn’t have as much time with him as we’d been promised.
Do you think he made you wait to gain some kind of upper hand?
I don’t know, he’s like a Hollywood celebrity, isn’t he? I wanna say he’s just a busy guy. Look at how the interview unfolds, though – or devolves, depending on how you look at it – he clearly felt like he needed to take some kind of control over the situation. Hence the whole earring-gate…
Yeah, it felt very much like he was trying with his body language and the speed of his speech – with the earring thing – to seize control of the interview.
It was so bizarre – when you watch it back, it’s like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ He’d never get away with that now, he’d be absolutely lynched on Twitter. You know what I mean? The mob would come for him, with the way that he treated me.
I think he just wanted to control the interview
I’m not a small girl, I’m six-feet tall and he’s probably 6’ 5”, so I’m not a complete mismatch with him physically, but by the end he had me totally squashed into the corner of the sofa. That technique, I found out later, is something that’s written about in that book The Game, the pick-up artist bible… basically I think he wasn’t ready for a normal chat and so when I turned up trying to do that he just went into attack mode. Not that I’m saying he had any designs on me sexually, I think he just wanted to control the interview.
I got the impression as well that maybe he’d riled himself up knowing VICE’s reputation for being cynical and irreverent. That maybe he was wary of that, or felt that he had to really come in strong because of it…
I think you’re absolutely right. I think he thought, ‘VICE is coming, they’re gonna try to take the piss out of me, they’re gonna send some snotty-nosed little hipster.’ And then I show up and I’m probably not what he expected but he tries very quickly to make a judgement of me. VICE is a place for misfits; I talk the way I talk, I look the way I look, but anyone who knows anything about me knows I’m not your typical totty from Fulham. So I think he didn’t know what to make of it.
VICE is a place for misfits
Did you have any tactics in mind when you went in? Any techniques or methods that you thought might help you conduct the interview?
I don’t rate myself very hard but I knew that my one skill in my job, what I’m best at, is disarming people – by being nice, because I think I am quite nice. So I thought I’d capitalise on that and I think he thought, ‘Why is she being nice? She must be manipulating me…’ And I suppose I was but I didn’t feel in control of the situation either, to be honest. I just didn’t wanna take any shit from him.
Was there any part of it that you enjoyed? I can’t watch it back, it makes me feel how I felt at the time. It’s so awkward. I mean I was happy for him to bring in the weird stand-up bit he started doing about the elephant masturbation or whatever…
Yeah… At that stage it just became this magical meeting of two weirdos who both maybe felt like they were out of their depth. But two very different types of weirdo.
I can’t watch it back, it’s so awkward
How do other interviews you’ve done compare?
I love interviewing people but I don’t really do celebrities, I talk to people to find out their stories and try to let people who don’t usually have a platform have a voice. For me, and for all my bosses at VICE, this Russell Brand thing was like, ‘Wow, Charlet has this weird skill, we didn’t know she could talk to people like this.’ So in that way it really opened things up for me and since then I’ve gone on to do a lot more – for instance, I spoke to Dov Charney, the shamed American Apparel boss. It definitely increased my confidence when it came to going into combative situations.
How did you deal with him accusing you of taking drugs?
It just upset me a bit, to be honest – this is a man who’s got a massive platform and he claims to be a man of the people, yet he stereotyped me straight away – he was like, this girl is just some bimbo who works at VICE, who doesn’t read because she’s lazy and takes coke all weekend because she lives in Hackney. I was like, ‘Really, dude?’ I wasn’t attacking him. I was asking him about his book and he decided he was under attack, so went into defence mode. I think he shot himself in the foot by attacking me in that way for no reason.
Were your eyes drawn at all to the swastika on his necklace?
He’s just a contrarian, isn’t he? Or he just wants people to talk about him. So I didn’t say anything because he would’ve gone, “Well, actually it’s an ancient buddhist peace symbol and it was appropriated by the Nazis,” or whatever.
Was there any feedback from him once it’d come out?
No, absolutely nothing. It was funny because we looked at his Twitter and he’d been tweeting all the other interviews he’d done apart from ours, it was like he just wanted it to go away, to bury it.
What do you think you’d say to each other if you met now?
I’d wanna know if he ever saw it. I’d wanna ask him what he thought and then I’d ask him how his revolution is going.