How the HFPA Scored Its Julian Assange Interview

Org's new leader worked for months to get Skype time with controversial Wikileaks founder

Julian Assange
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Following a surprise interview Saturday with controversial Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, top execs at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association were acknowledging just how improbable an org best known for hosting the Golden Globes was to score such a major “get.”

HFPA vice president Lorenzo Soria said the coup made good on renewed efforts to bring the org “back to journalism,” as it explained last month to Variety.

“We knew that getting a story with the importance of the Wikileaks controversy would be helpful in our efforts to broaden our reach beyond just interviewing the latest movie star,” he said. “We hope that interviewing Julian Assange opens the door to other major interviews.”

The HFPA convened approximately 50 of its members at its headquarters in West Hollywood for a talk via Skype with Assange from his protective residency at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

The HFPA has posted an account of the journalistic encounter on their website in which Assange blasts the upcoming movie about Wikileaks, “The Fifth Estate,” as “opportunistic and hostile.” The comments come on the heels of correspondence between Assange and the star who portrayed him, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Explaining the roots of the journalistic coup, Soria credited the org’s newly elected president Theo Kingma with “working on making this happen for months, along with member John Hiscock.”

But Soria declined to get into the specifics of how they landed Assange, citing the sensitivity of the Wikileaks founder’s predicament. Assange is currently facing a host of legal issues, including sex assault charges in Sweden as well as the threat of espionage charges from the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere.

Acknowledging that an org best known for a glitzy awards ceremony seemed like unlikely followers of the Wikileaks story, Soria said, “There’s a Hollywood aspect to the story, of course, because ‘The Fifth Estate’ is opening, but most of us work for outlets that don’t only cover entertainment news and reviews.”

According to Soria, the org’s members who participated are already getting their stories into print and online, including his own. “My story for (Italian daily) La Stampa runs tomorrow and I know they’re really excited. This is clearly not the kind of story you work on every day.”

Soria expects in the next few days that HFPA will be filing excerpts from the discussion on its site as well.

As for Soria’s takeaways from the time with Assange, he noted, “What struck me most was his single-minded devotion and total lack of self-doubt. He is focused on his crusade so completely that he doesn’t seem to see any of the possible drawbacks to what he’s done, none of the side-effects that a reasonable person from outside might see clearly.”

HFPA board member Vera Anderson, who writes for Mexico’s Cine Premiere magazine, was grateful for “the chance for us to expand our horizons beyond Studio-arranged interviews” and found Assange “articulate and not at all defensive or paranoid. He presented his side of the story in a way that I felt was factual and informed and I was incredibly impressed by him.”