Celebrities are used to being asked all sorts of embarrassing and intrusive questions. It basically comes with the territory. But while some celebs are all-stars at peacefully warding off unwanted inquiries, others fall short in that department. And one of the more popular "I don't want to answer this question" maneuvers that we've seen lately has been the get up and leave mid-interview shuffle.
Case in point: Robert Downey Jr., who walked out of an interview during the press tour for Avengers: Age of Ultron after British TV anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy asked the actor about his "dark past" and drug use. After looking off camera for help, Downey Jr. playfully tried to dodge the topic by asking, "Are we promoting a movie?" When Guru-Murthy continued to pry, an off-camera voice was heard saying “OK” and the Avengers actor received the green light to walk out of the interview. He left the reporter flabbergasted as he abruptly said "Bye," removed his mic, and stated, "You seem OK. It's just getting a little Diane Sawyer in here."
But Downey Jr. is hardly the first celebrity to pull this move. In 2011, Paris Hilton walked out on ABC's Dan Harris after he asked her, "Do you ever worry about your moment having passed?"
Supermodel Naomi Campbell left an interview and knocked a camera to the floor after being questioned about an alleged blood diamond that she had been given by Charles Taylor.
Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson gave Ryan Seacrest the slip when his publicist pulled him away from the mic after the radio host asked about his love life on air.
Former NFL quarterback Jim Everett took cutting an interview short to a whole new level when he flipped over a table and took a swing at Jim Rome who repeatedly referred to him as female tennis player Chris Evert while on the air.
And just last week, Kim Richards sped off the set on Dr. Phil after the psychologist insulted her parenting skills.
But were these celebrities justified in walking out of their interviews? According to Melissa Keklak, founder of MMKpr, neither Richards or Downey Jr. should have pulled such a stunt. "I don't think it was justified for either of them to walk out," she tells Yahoo. "Celebrities are well aware by now that if they are carrying any issues that intrigue the media interest, whether or not the interview is on that subject, be prepared to know it will be brought up." Keklak adds that leaving an interview over professionally dodging an uncomfortable question comes with a whole other realm of consequences, such as media backlash and the sensationalization of a once trivial issue.
But while some say that celebs like Downey Jr. made the wrong move in leaving their interviews, other public relations professionals stand up for the way that the Avengers actor took control of his sticky situation. Senior Director of Publicity at ADA/Warner Music Group, Corey Brewer, says Downey Jr.'s walk out is the fault of the interviewer for going so far off topic. "Typically actors are contractually obligated by film studios to do press and promotion surrounding new releases. RDJ was at the press junket to fulfill that obligation, not to dish about things he's worked to bury from his past." Melinda Jackson with JAG Entertainment also applauds Downey Jr.'s latest antics. "Yes, he has a past, but he has done an amazing job at changing that narrative. The journalist was out of line when he wasn't satisfied with the answers that RDJ gave and kept pushing him anyway. Downey tried to give the journalist a straight answer but when it got to be too much, he needed to step out."
And in the case of Richards, Annemarie Davin with Fame Hampton Media says that though the reality star should have known what she was getting into when signing on to talk to Dr. Phil, she was still justified in prematurely leaving the set. "Kim was there to talk about problems she has been facing so although she should expect Dr. Phil to ask questions such as he did, I think her walking out was perhaps more to gain her composure," she explains. Davin also added that Dr. Phil could have chose different wording so as not to come across as so confrontational.
But whether or or not publicists agree with Downey Jr. and Richards's latest stunts, most reps will say that walking out of an interview should be an absolute last resort. We tapped the brains of several media professionals to get their tips on how celebrities should handle awkward interview situations:
Keep bringing the conversation back to the prearranged topic: "A tip for anyone being interviewed who does not want to answer a certain question like Robert's interview is that they should point blank say something like he started to say, 'I appreciate your question...' but follow it up with '..but I would like to stay on the topic of the movie/my project and let's shelf the personal questions for another time," explains Davin.
Make sure your team has done the proper recon prior to sending you into an interview: "As a publicist, you have to do your research and understand who you're putting your client in front of and what they may subject your client to," says Brewer. "For someone like Kim Richards, who's clearly in a fragile state in her sobriety, I'm not sure the timing was quite right to sit her down with a ball-buster like Dr. Phil on national TV. You have to over-prepare, and even in some instances conduct a mock interviews, to help arm your clients with the best tools to navigate those tough questions. Or, come to the conclusion that the interview shouldn’t happen at all."
Take some time before answering the question: "Some celebrities get so caught up in responding right away when, in fact, they are allowed to take time to give thought to how they want to answer the question,” says Keklak. “If you feel pressured to answer quickly, ask them to come back to you on it. For example, ‘You know what, I would like to think about that question so can you come back to me in a bit on that?"
Simply refrain from answering a specific question: “If there is a question you don’t feel comfortable answering, you don’t have to. It is perfectly okay to say that you would rather not answer that and try to steer the conversation back to what you are promoting. Usually publicists are on hand for most interviews so they can help with the questions that go too far,” says Jackson.
So under what circumstances should a celebrity walk out of an interview? According to Brewer, only when it’s a last resort. "If a client is blindsided by topics they haven't been prepared for, have exhausted all of our tactics to steer the conversation back on topic, and the journalist persists, they should remove themselves before doing further damage,” he explains. And Jackson notes that in the case of Downey Jr.'s recent pushy interviewer, it's fine to walk away. "If you feel that a journalist is being wildly inappropriate, unprofessional, and combative, it's OK to politely step out."
Well done, RDJ.