Louis Theroux has never been afraid to put himself in dark, weird and dangerous situations to get to the root of the topic he’s investigating in his legendary documentaries.
He’s been up-close-and-personal with every sort of person you can imagine, despite - or perhaps because of - his slender frame and genial manner. It’s safe to say that if any of his subjects ever decided to get physical with him, there’d only be one winner.
But, in a recent interview with Vice, he revealed the moment when he was most frightened - and, given that he’s spent time with ‘murderers, rapists, paedophiles, Nazis and sex traffickers’, it’s probably not the situation that would immediately spring to mind.
Speaking ahead of the premiere of his new programme Dark States - Heroin Town, he said:
“Touch wood, I’ve largely been quite lucky. The situations that have been the most frightening tend to be off camera, because you haven’t reached that trust level where you feel comfortable starting to film, or the situation has broken down to the point where you no longer feel comfortable filming.
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“One of the most nerve-racking moments I had was doing the alcohol documentary, Drinking to Oblivion, and we were in a south London flat. There was a guy that was mentally ill and another guy that seemed emotionally unstable, and we were going to shoot a sequence, and it became clear that this is not going to go well, and the mentally ill guy was going, ‘I’m not having that fucking camera anywhere near me,’ so I said, ‘It’s fine, mate, we’ll just quietly go,’ then one of them put their arm around my neck as though to throttle me, and the other one said, ‘Oi, if anyone’s going to do him then it’s going to be me,’ and I remember just thinking, ‘Wow, he’s going to snap my neck.’
“He was ex-Army, too, which suggests that he might actually know how to do that. I don’t remember how we got out of there, and not a frame of film was shot. I got out and thought, ‘That was ridiculous’. It’s one thing to be on location in the West Bank or Lagos and to feel nervous, but the idea that I was going to meet my dreary demise in a social housing estate in south London, close to where I grew up, just felt all wrong.”
His latest documentary airs this Sunday (8 October) on BBC Two, and will look at “America’s love affair with prescription painkillers” that has “led to widespread dependency on opiates”.