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Putin challenger Ksenia Sobchak visits Washington; Jeremy Irons on his "wonderfully hard" new play

Aired February 8, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: From reality star to presidential contender, Ksenia Sobchak is taking on Russia's Vladimir Putin in next

month's election. Tonight, she joins me from Washington, as she brings her election campaign to the West.

Plus, Ocar-winning star Jeremy Irons on his toughest role yet. Eugene O'Neill's acclaimed drama "Long Day's Journey into Night" here in London's

West End.

Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

Imagine a Russian presidential candidate campaigning for warm relations with the United States and the West, for LGBT rights at home, an end to

corruption and bringing back stolen billions into the country.

No, it is not Vladimir Putin who is a shoe in to win a stacked reelection next month. It's not even Russia's main opposition leader Alexei Navalny

who has been banned from running on trumped up fraud charges.

It is my guest, Ksenia Sobchak, a former reality TV star with almost 5 million Instagram followers and nationwide fame. She knows she won't win

this time, but she says she wants to change the dialogue.

She's been derided by critics as a Kremlin stooge who will only divide and conquer the opposition, but there's something new and different about

Sobchak as I found out when she joined me today from Washington.

Ksenia Sobchak, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Ksenia, given this atmosphere, let's call it a heated atmosphere between Russia and the United States, it might seem strange for a Russian

presidential candidate to be campaigning in Washington DC. Why are you there?

SOBCHAK: Well, it's not strange at all. And I'm sorry to say that to your American audience, but that's true. I'm here for my audience. I'm here

for Russian people.

I want to show a new vector of policy that will be there when I will become a president. And my vector is friendship with America and friendship with

European Union.

So, this is kind of an act to show where my international policy will be. And I think that reset of our relations is the priority of the future

international policy of Russia.

AMANPOUR: Well, listen, that would, obviously, be music to a lot of people's ears in the United States as well. But, I guess, people want to

know, do you also believe that you actually have a chance of winning?

SOBCHAK: Well, I don't think I have any chances to win this time because, in a casino, it's always casino who wins. And on Russian elections, it's

always Putin who wins.

But this is a chance to speak to my auditory on the TV federal channels. By law, by Russian constitution, when you take part in a presidential

campaign, you have a right to be on all federal channels.

And that's the only chance to opposition to be heard and that millions of people can see and hear about liberal values they haven't heard for like

more than ten years already from TV.

AMANPOUR: Ksenia, that's really an important point because I was going to ask you President Putin, obviously, has a lock on the state media channels.

And he has a lock on all the state bureaucrats and people all over the country.

Not only do they work for him, but he's so well known. Do you feel that people know who you are?

SOBCHAK: Yes, of course. By all the polls in Russia, you can also check that up, I'm a very well-known person. All the people, more than 90percent

of Russians know who I am.

So, in this respect, my popularity as the same as Putin's, only little babies and very elderly people don't know me. So, this is where actually I

think my victory can lie about because this is how people will come to the vote and put a tick when they see my name.

The only thing which is important to do is to tell about the values I share. It's to say how important liberalization of Russia is.

[14:05:03] AMANPOUR: What are the policies - you call them liberal and progressive - that you would want to bring to Russia?

SOBCHAK: My goal is to bring the issues that were never brought up on federal TV, such as LGBT rights which are a shock for many people because

they really think that those people should go to prison, they shouldn't have any rights. And moreover, there is lots of people who share the idea

that they should be punished for being LGBT, just for the fact.

The same with Crimea. For them, it's a shock to see someone saying that we broke international treaties, which is actually true. I'm saying nothing

but the truth.

So, I'm not a populist. That's why I'm saying these things. I want people to see there is another position and another view on those objects that are

so important for Russian audience. And this is the only chance to speak them up because Putin cannot block TV anymore for me during the campaign.

I was pushed out of the TV for six years. I lost all my jobs when I went out on the protest in 2011. And now, it's the only chance to bring my

position back on TV because now he wants open elections, all the world is watching him, and he can't just keep one candidate away from TV.

AMANPOUR: You are in Washington DC. You're in the United States. so, I want to ask you, do you believe that Russia hacked into America's

democratic process, its election process in 2016?

SOBCHAK: To tell you the truth, I don't know. Well, it sounds we really had something to do with it. But if it's so, I want to say sorry and I

think it's unacceptable for any country to meddle into the affairs of another country, nor for Russia, nor for America.

So, if that took place, well, I only can say I'm sorry.

AMANPOUR: And then, let me ask you another thing because you are also running as a very well-known TV personality. You've just explained that

you are known all over Russia. And, of course, President Trump ran as a very well-known businessman and TV personality. Are you taking a leaf out

of his book? Are you hoping to cash in on the so-called Trump effect?

SOBCHAK: Well, Trump is certainly not my hero. I'm sorry to say that, but that's true. But the most frustrating thing is those radical things Trump

used to say here in US, like nasty women and all those kind of things, for Russians, the saying that Crimea is not part of Russia or that LGBT should

have the right to marry and things like this, this is as radical for Russian people. It's the same kind of shock.

And unfortunately for us, liberal values are a shocking kind of thing. So, this, I want to break. And in this respect, unfortunately, we have

something in common.

But I really think that Trump effect can work because my popularity in Russia is huge. I really did a lot in show business ten years ago. Since

then, for 10 years, I'm doing political journalism.

But I want to show that your past is not a life sentence. It's a lesson you learn and I really changed a lot for those past 10 years. And, yes, I

had some funny entertainment program, but that was long ago.

And since then, I showed and proved to many of my citizens that I have changed a lot. And I really stand for the most important values in my


AMANPOUR: So, now, let's get to the obvious skepticism about your candidacy. Because it's Russia, most people are saying two things. One,

you would never be allowed to run. You would never be approved to get all those signatures, which you have got, more than 100,000. Without the

approval of the Kremlin, without President Putin's approval.

And the other thing they say is the fact that you're running actually splits the opposition because the main opposition candidate, Alexei Navalny

is not allowed to run on a trumped-up fraud charge.

SOBCHAK: First of all, I want to divide. Gathering those 100,000 citizens was all clear and we made it maximally transparent with all the

international organizations such as GOALS (ph) for example. So, we showed how transparent we were and it was not a problem for me.

What you're right about, those signatures could just not be accepted if Putin would call and say no, I don't want her to go. So, my point was to

be underestimated, which actually happened. Yes, they are afraid of Alexei Navalny and they're not that much afraid of a blonde girl from TV shows.

And in totalitarian regimes, this is the only kind of thing you can do. You can make someone feel they can underestimate you and then you do your

job because if we stand for values and not for leadership, it doesn't matter who says those important things on TV, Alexei or me. This was my


[14:10:13] But, unfortunately, Alexei has another point of view. He thinks that those voices cannot be transferred. Nor me, nor Alexei Navalny could

win on those elections. That's sure. And he also accepts this point of view.

That's why I go there and I don't know why he chose another way because I think we could unite and show that we're together on these grounds. We're

sharing the same values and it doesn't matter none of us could win this time, but we will still be there showing our firm position.

AMANPOUR: So, what you're talking about, the other way of Alexei Navalny and those who support him is a boycott. They have said do not legitimize

these elections. They are not democratic and real democrats, real liberals, people who want to change should just boycott the election.

So, I'd like to play you a little bit of an interview I did with the author, journalist and social commentator Masha Gessen about this issue and

about your candidacy.


MASHA GESSEN, AMERICAN-RUSSIAN JOURNALIST: I'm a Russian citizen. I wouldn't vote in Russian elections because I think that, no matter how you

cut it, you legitimate a farce by voting.

At the same time, I think that what Ksenia is doing is breaking sort of the monotony of the public space. It is an affront to the monopoly that the

Kremlin has on any kind of conversation.

I think she is trying to push it as far as she can. The fact that it's been done by an arrangement with the Kremlin, the fact that she is

succeeding in siphoning some of the support from Alexei Navalny makes it highly problematic.


AMANPOUR: On the one hand, she's praising what you're doing. On the other hand, she's concerned that you will play into the Kremlin's hands.

SOBCHAK: Look, let's be logical about this. Alexei Navalny wanted to take part in those elections. He was not let to do that, but he wanted.

So, if he would be accepted as a candidate by Kremlin, wouldn't it legitimate Putin as well. And then, would he call people to boycott. Of

course, no. He would tell go and vote for me. Let's show that - OK, we cannot win, but millions of us are against Putin.

But then, he was not let to the elections. What happened next? He says no, if I'm not there, then it's a fake election and let's boycott that.

But that's strange. That's double standards.

So, here, I see some kind of wrong mathematics. You can be against Putin, but you cannot be against mathematics. We don't have a minimum turnout in

Russia. So even if ten people come, then Putin will still be a president.

But if all those ten people will be for Putin, it will be 100% for Putin. If three people out of those ten will be against Putin, for Ksenia Sobchak,

we will another percentage which will change the atmosphere in Russia.

So, mathematically, boycott is a bad idea. And Navalny knows that. He only does that because he is not there.

AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you because it has been written that Putin is not necessarily, as you've admitted, running against you or Navalny. He's

running against apathy that he is very, very worried and the Kremlin is very, very worried about a low turnout. Do you think there will be a low

turnout in this election?

SOBCHAK: Look, I don't agree with that at all. They fake the elections and they fake the turnout. So, when everything is done like that, you

cannot say if they're interested or not. They will do be bigger turnout if we don't come. It's much more easier to fake turnout if people are not

coming. They just tickle those names and that's it.

I don't want to waste your time, but there's a whole program how they do it. And I was also investigating those kind of things the last elections.

So, it's our goal to vigilate those elections and to come and vote against Putin, and that was actually the position of Alexei Navalny also for many

years. Come and vote for anyone, but not Putin. That's the most effective way not to grow the percentage of people for Putin.

AMANPOUR: How do you see a post-Putin era? One day he's going to stand down, what's happens next?

SOBCHAK: Post-Putin era will begin, first of all, with letting out of the prisons all the political prisoners, which now exists in Russia. We have a

huge problem that people can be put to prison only for sharing alternative kind of views on Russia.

Secondly, the change of the court system. We don't have a rule of law now. We don't have any independent courts in Russia. All courts do their job by

the call from Kremlin. So, this is second.

[14:15:11] And third thing is free competitive economy that is vital for our country. Now, more than 70 percent of all the economy belongs to the

state. And that's why it's not competitive where - this is where corruption comes from.

I want to break the system. I want free competition on the market. I want investment from Western countries come back to my country and build new

road, build new industries and things like this. So, this is my three primary goals.

And I also have a message for America I want to share now. My message is that the position that Russia should be kept out is a bad message because

when you try to destabilize situation in such a big country with nuclear weapon, it won't do any good for anyone, nor for Russians, nor for


The good way, and my new policy will be about this, my international policy, is to keep the Russian in, is do so that Russia will become, in all

the institutions, a big part and play a major role.

In European Union, in NATO maybe, let's embrace Russia with all the democratization processes that go in the world. As soon as you keep Russia

at distance, people in Russia feel offended. They feel they're not part of Western world, but we are. Let's be together in embracing those values and

that's the best way to control the situation that totalitarianism will never happen again in Russia or in any other country.

AMANPOUR: Ksenia Sobchak, we will be watching the March 18 elections and the run up to them. Thanks for joining us from Washington tonight.

SOBCHAK: Thank you.

Outspoken and passionate, the Russian presidential candidate giving Putin, she hopes, a run for his money.

Now, Russia has also given the world some of the best poets and playwrights. So has America. And my next guest, the Oscar-winning actor

Jeremy Irons is winning rave reviews for his portrayal of an actor in Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece, "Long Day's Journey into Night".

Irons has been wowing audiences since 1981 with his breakthrough role in TV's "Brideshead Revisited" and on the big screen with Meryl Streep in the

"French Lieutenant's Woman".

More than 35 years later, Irons joined me here today to talk about what could be his last look at the footlights.

Jeremy Irons, welcome to the program. So, here you are playing James Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night". It is an

amazing play. How have you taken to it? Is it hard? How does it compare to some of your movies?

JEREMY IRONS, ACTOR, "LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT": Oh, it's wonderfully hard compared to movies. Pretty wonderfully hard compared with most plays.

I think it's the hardest part I've played and I've got colleagues who say the same thing, a few who've played James Tyrone.

It's O'Neill. It's deeply emotional. It's quite long. Very complicated characters. When Richard Eyre asked me to do it with Leslie Manville, who

I admire hugely - I've just seen her do ghosts at the Trafalgar - and I thought, well, maybe I've got one more mountain in me. And I don't know

whether I'll do any other biggies after this, but it's great to just get match-fit again.

AMANPOUR: One more mountain. It's that grueling, is it?

IRONS: Oh, yes.

AMANPOUR: What is it like? How many performances per day - per week, rather?

IRONS: They say that these great roles, you produce the amount of adrenaline in you that you would if you were in a car driving at 30 miles

an hour into a brick wall. What that does to you, that's what happens every night.

When you get to my age, I know I'm longer - I know I look it, but I'm no longer in my 20s.

AMANPOUR: You do look it. Near enough.

IRONS: And it doesn't get easier.

AMANPOUR: Does learning the lines get more difficult?

IRONS: It does.

AMANPOUR: You don't have one of those eardrums in?


AMANPOUR: It is one of the - if not the masterpiece by Eugene O'Neill, one of the greatest American playwrights ever, Pulitzer Prize winning. The

relationship between James Tyrone and his wife Mary is extremely complex.

I mean, they're both incredible flawed characters. What is the heart of the play?

IRONS: Well, I think the heart - in fact, the greatness of the play derives from the fact that he didn't write it to make money. He wrote it

as a sort of cathartic two-year odyssey into trying to make sense of what he was, how he'd become what he was through the past, through his parents,

through his family.

[14:20:12] And he never wanted it published until 25 years after this death and he never wanted it performed.

AMANPOUR: Why not?

IRONS: I think it was too personal to him. He put his washing out and didn't want people to see it.

AMANPOUR: The dirty laundry was a lot out there.

IRONS: The dirty laundry was there. But as a result, it has a truth and an honesty in it and a strength in it, which I think had he written it to

be seen by the public, or indeed, had it been played in his lifetime, so he was able to all cut down or change that or whatever, but he knew it was, in

a way, a private odyssey for him.

And so, that makes it - it's a really emotional journey for both those characters. Myself, who plays his father, Eugene's father, who was an

actor, Irish emigre, but not an American accent and became a great young actor and could have gone on about the early 20s, late 20s in his life to

become a great Shakespearean actor.

Worked with Edwin Booth, one of the finest American actors. But then, got a huge smash hit, "The Count of Monte Cristo" and continued to play that

his whole life and earned a fortune - yes, a fortune.

So, it's like, today, me getting a job in, whatever, an ever-running "Game of Thrones". Makes your names, earns your money, doesn't do a lot of good

as an actor in the way that theater with Shakespeare does.

And so, this man looks back, at one point in the play, on his life and really regrets the root it's taken. And also, the root it's taken has made

his wife a morphine addict.

AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to get to that because Mary is a morphine addict. And it just so happens that, right now, America is literally awash

in opioids and there is this terrible crisis. This is actually very contemporary in that way.

IRONS: It is indeed. It does speak about today. It does speak about dysfunctional families, which so many of us know about. It was about

suffering and the pain of all our lives. We pretend we all have a gale time, but actually life is suffering with good moments in between.

AMANPOUR: You have said in the past that beneath men's shells, they are all little boys who think they are worthless. Where did that come from?

IRONS: Well, I think it's the truth.

AMANPOUR: Did you feel that?

IRONS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I mean, you see, I think the one great disadvantage we have over your sex is we don't have a womb. So, we don't

really have a purpose. You can breed, you can create children. Men can't. And they're always trying to fill that void and they do it by chasing

money, by chasing status, by chasing power, by chasing warfare or whatever. Or fame.

But it's very rare to find a man who is completely comfortable in himself, who was aware of his feminine side, aware of where he sits in life and who

doesn't have that urge to go out and -

AMANPOUR: Pillage and plunder?

IRONS: Pillage and plunder.

AMANPOUR: Which, obviously, leads me to the #MeToo movement because we've seen so many women who have come out and told their historic stories of

abuse and harassment. Where do men fit into this? Obviously, the abusers. But can men, like yourself and others, who clearly feel for them, be part

of the solution?

IRONS: Well, I think it's very important for people like me - white male, successful - to listen. To listen to what people who've been abused, women

have to say and to learn.

But at base, I think we have to love each other, respect each other, tolerate each other and wonder in the difference in each other, whatever

our sex, whatever our age, whatever our sexual proclivities. So, that's sort of where I stand.

AMANPOUR: You've played a lot of heroic roles and a lot of baddies as well. I mean, you were the baddy in "Lion King." You were Scar. And you

were the baddy in Claus von Bulow film, "Reversal of Fortune." And you've played quite a lot of baddies.

IRONS: "Die Hard".

AMANPOUR: "Die Hard". And you're about to come out with a new film with Jennifer Lawrence, right, "Red Sparrow".

IRONS: Wonderful film.

AMANPOUR: What's the attraction of the baddies?

IRONS: Well, you see, I don't see it as goodies and baddies. I think we all have grayness and we all make choices in life and those choices are

judged by other people who say, well, that is good or that is bad. I mean, there is evil, but that's not really what I play. I play people who have

been judged as bad.

[14:25:11] AMANPOUR: Well, you were the goodie hero in the "French Lieutenant's Woman" and then, as I said, "Reversal of Fortune" won you an

Oscar. You're now playing in "Long Day's Journey" with, as you said, Lesley Manville who is also up for an Oscar for "Phantom Thread".

IRONS: Quite rightly too.

AMANPOUR: Do you have any advice, anything to tell her about this awards season, the highs, the lows, how to keep a straight purple face (ph)?

IRONS: She is very lucky because now the poor guys who are nominated, they have to go around in these great publicity trails and sort of drum up

support and all of this and get people voting for them.

And Lesley is playing with me every night. So, she can't. She's going to jump on a plane after our Saturday night show and fly over for the Oscars

and then come back and be back for the Tuesday night show. So, she won't have to go through that whole farrago.

I hope she'll enjoy. I did. It's like having a birthday. I mean, I went mad. I remember I kissed everybody in sight. I kissed Madonna who was

sitting in front of me. I don't know. And sitting next to Madonna is Michael Jackson. I very nearly kissed Michael, but I pulled back at the

last minute. I don't know why. Just because he was one seat too far. You don't remember anything really.

AMANPOUR: Jeremy Irons, thank you very much indeed.

IRONS: With pleasure.

AMANPOUR: A masterclass from Jeremy Irons. And that's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.