Halfway through his interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone, whose latest project is a new Showtime documentary series in which he interviews Vladimir Putin, Stephen Colbert blinked in surprise behind his glasses.
“Anything negative you found?” the Late Show host asked. “Anything? Or does he have your dog in a cage someplace?”
The audience laughed, but Stone decidedly did not. “Maybe it’s because you hate Trump,” he replied, “... or don’t trust him ... Russia is convenient as an excuse for hacking the election.”
Neither the studio audience nor Colbert himself seemed to know quite what to make of this comment from a man who spent two years corresponding with the Russian president — which is emblematic of just how bizarre the entire interview was.
Colbert had started the segment seriously, insisting that when he has “an Oliver Stone” type on the show, “I want to talk about philosophy, I want to talk about politics, I want to talk about what is truth, what is not truth, what we can understand, so: let’s talk about Vladimir Putin.” He then kicked off the interview by bringing up the fact that early reviews of the documentary, titled The Putin Interviews, are saying that Stone is “too cozy” with his subject, that he “believe[s] him too easily.”
Colbert, who has not yet seen the documentary, pointed to the clip The Late Show had played before Stone walked onstage, in which Stone pressed Putin on reports that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Putin rejected the charge, at which point Stone promptly ended the interview for the day.
“I took that at face value,” Stone said. “This is an important point that he keeps insisting on.”
Colbert then asked Stone, point blank, if Stone likes or trusts Putin. Though Stone tried to deflect by saying Colbert should just watch his film, he conceded a couple of points that made Colbert raise his famously agile eyebrow so high it almost disappeared into his hairline.
“[Putin is] the head of state; he has his own interest of Russia in mind. I respect him for that,” Stone said. “I know why he’s doing it — he’s a strong nationalist. ... I never heard him badmouth the US. ... He still wants a partnership. That I can tell you.”
Stone even said that he’s “amazed” by Putin’s “calmness, his courtesy,” especially because “he’s been through a lot; he’s been insulted and abused.” In response, the audience — which had been eerily quiet to this point — started to laugh. Stone tried to clarify that he meant Putin had been abused “in the press and the media,” but the damage was done.
“Putin is an oppressive leader of his country who suppresses the free press and arrests his enemies,” Colbert said. “That is not something that I as an American or a member of the press can respect. And I am surprised that you respect that.”
Stone’s reaction? “No question, he’s a social conservative in that way.”
At this point, the audience fully burst into laughter, a fact that confused Stone enough that he said he didn’t understand why that was so funny. And to be fair, even as Colbert cracked that it was “a mild description” of Putin’s policies, he didn’t seem to think it was all that funny either.
You can watch the entire very strange interview in full in the clip above.