The latest series of Louis Theroux Interviews began on UK television on November 7, 2023. Normally this fact wouldn’t concern the boxing community, but for the launch episode of the second season of the BBC show, Theroux’s subject was former unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.
The interview took place inside Finchley Boxing Club – the small gym where Anthony Joshua had his first taste of the sport – in North London.
In the spartan surroundings, the interviewer and the subject sat on basic chairs on the wooden floor having a frank, face-to-face conversation.
During the introduction to the 47-minute broadcast, the audience is informed that the interview took place in April 2023 – one week after Joshua had defeated Jermaine Franklin on points at London’s O2 Arena. NYF covered that bout.
The film contains footage from the Franklin fight and the back stage access Theroux and his camera crew had. Viewers are also given a quick bio blast of Joshua’s rise and subsequent struggles in boxing so as to provide context for the interview that follows.
Who Is Louis Theroux?
Louis Theroux is a 53-year-old journalist who is known for his television documentaries which usually feature him interviewing a well known person, or investigating odd subjects and subcultures – see his 1998-2000 work, Weird Weekends – to provide better understanding for a wider audience.
Holding UK and US citizenship, Theroux is known on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of his previous television specials include features on criminal gangs in Nigeria, ultra-Zionists in Israel and the American prison system.
Interviewees who featured on Theroux’s first series of Louis Theroux Interviews included rapper Stormzy, comedian Katherine Ryan and actress Dame Judi Dench. He seems comfortable interviewing subjects from all walks of public life.
Mixing a relaxed interview technique with moments of combative interrogation, Theroux’s style seems to work in getting his subjects to open up and give more than just convenient sound-bytes as answers.
His stare and concentrated frown as he contemplates what to ask next provide some short moments of comfortable silence between interviewer and subject.
It’s an unorthodox approach, but it works for Theroux. I was interested to see if a different side of Anthony Joshua would be revealed by talking to a journalist/broadcaster from outside the boxing sphere.
Beginning With Some Early Life Troubles For Anthony Joshua
Along with Theroux’s combined friendly/confrontational interviewing style, he doesn’t back away from discussing issues which may be uncomfortable for the person being interviewed.
In Anthony Joshua’s case it was his arrest as a youngster in 2009 for drug possession.
“It wasn’t meant for me to be a champion,” the boxer said when recalling how he had to turn his back on that phase of his life if he wanted to seriously dedicate himself to boxing.
Joshua’s weed smoking habit was also mentioned with the fighter admitting he regularly skipped school to pursue puffing on herbal spliffs in his early teenage years.
The heavyweight seemed at ease. Perhaps Theroux having no connection to boxing or any form of sports journalism played a part in this. Theroux being outside the boxing realm also makes the broadcast accessible to non-boxing followers.
Everything Framed Against Joshua vs. Franklin
It isn’t stated how long Louis Theroux and his crew spent with Joshua but it is clear to viewers that the pair were familiar with one another before the interview was conducted.
Theroux attended the fight week press conference, admitting it was the first time he had been around a boxing event.
Theroux observed Joshua doing numerous one-on-one interviews with all the sports media before telling the fighter that the repetitive nature of that part of fight week would lead to him becoming frustrated with the process. It was a revealing moment as Joshua admitted he considers what he says as it can be easy to get “lost in the words.”
We also see the interviewer around Anthony Joshua on fight night. While he wasn’t granted access pre-fight, after the bout had concluded Theroux was invited into Joshua’s dressing room to hear the fighter’s immediate assessment of his performance.
AJ Tells Us How He Really Feels About Boxing
While Anthony Joshua wasn’t satisfied with his showing against Franklin, he did convey to Theroux his frustration with the constant chatter and narrative creation which surrounds his career.
The boxer clearly dislikes the dissection of his every word and action. He claims he would much rather sit and do a one-on-one interview with any media member rather than have the column writing hordes opine on him with their drama filled prose.
When asked simply by Theroux if he enjoys boxing, Joshua answers: “I really do but all the bullshit that comes with it really turns me off.”
It is a theme throughout the piece – the positive and the negative effect boxing has had on Joshua’s life. Financially he has nothing to worry about. He discusses doing his best to help others with his wealth, but at the same time there seems to be a sad tone to the boxer’s voice as he discusses the sport.
Related to the never-ending noise around him from his critics, Joshua admits that while he may enjoy the act of boxing he fully understands that the sport doesn’t love him back. It was the type of remark one feels that he would have kept to himself had he not felt comfortable with the person asking the questions.
Money, Family and Theroux’s Observation on Boxing
Towards the end of the film Joshua takes Theroux to the area he grew up in. As they walk around the boxer poses for pictures with local kids who instantly recognise him.
Anthony Joshua pays a visit to his Aunt and Theroux gets to ask her some questions in his relaxed style while Joshua looks back at childhood photographs.
Joshua’s comments about only being in boxing now for the money and the businessman aspect of his persona are brought up as the Finchley Boxing Club interview is concluding.
This is perhaps the only time during the interview where Joshua’s response is a jumble of words rather than a well structured answer.
The film editors nicely juxtaposed this with Theroux’s thoughts on the sport of boxing as he narrated over footage from Joshua’s contest against Franklin.
“With all its hype and myth-making, it’s easy to forget that for the fighters, boxing is, mainly, just a way to earn a living. One with the ever present possibility of serious physical harm.”
It is a simple, but fair observation from a documentarian briefly visiting boxing for a work assignment.
As their interview concluded with a simple handshake and a few laughs about the fun they had during their time together – some of which is shown in the film – it is clear that both men have a healthy respect for one another.
Louis Theroux Interviews Anthony Joshua may not be ground-breaking viewing for hardcore boxing fans, but it is worth watching if only to consider how a boxing outsider is able to coax interesting reflective answers out of one of the sport’s principal characters of the past decade.
For non-boxing fans it is an opportunity to learn more about what someone at the top of the sport goes through in and out of the ring.
It is concise, but, set against the backdrop of a comeback fight, Louis Theroux’s interview with Anthony Joshua is worth a watch.
Louis Theroux Interviews Anthony Joshua is available to watch on BBC iplayer until November 21.