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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
Terrifying wildfires, catastrophic flooding, polluted air, the science of climate change is beyond refute. But is fear now the only thing that can
save us? Journalist David Wallace-Wells on why it is time to panic.
Then, star of crime drama, “The Blacklist,” Hollywood actor, James Spader, talks to our Hari Sreenivasan.
And more than 500 days in one of the most notorious prisons in the world. Journalist Jason Rezaian on his brutal detention in Tehran.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
Most of the world has signed on to this fact, climate change is an existential threat to our civilization on Earth and human kind is
responsible for it, that science is irrefutable. The average temperature on Earth keeps on rising towards two degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial
levels. And that is what scientists and policymakers say is the upper limit of what livable.
But already, natural disasters are mounting and intensifying. In its first ever study of the plants, animals and microorganisms that sustain our food
supply, the United Nations is warning that this crucial biodiversity is declining due to our activity and our pollution.
Public awareness and acceptance of the science is shifting even in the United States. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s not
happening fast enough. Nations are not enacting their climate pledges rigorously enough and crucially, in this age of communication, the need to
make haste and change is not being heard loudly enough.
Young people though seem to get it. They are organizing school walkouts, parliamentary sit-ins and they’re making public demands to the powerful.
Their message, it is time now to panic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA THUNBERG, TEENAGE CLIMATE ACTIVIST: I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I
want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the was house on fire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, Greta Thunberg is the young Swedish activist who’s launch this Global Movement.
And my next guest agrees, we should behave as if the house is on fire. David Wallace-Wells is a journalist and the author of “The Uninhabitable
Earth.” He told me that as the planet gets warmer in catastrophic ways, harnessing fear maybe the only way now to save ourselves.
David Wallace-Wells, welcome to the program.
DAVID WALLACE-WELLS, AUTHOR, “THE UNINHABITABLE EARTH”: Thanks. It’s great to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, look, panic seems to be the operating motivational system of the day. We’ve just had Greta Thunberg, we’ve heard what she said. And
now, you are essentially saying the same thing in a much larger and bigger, more scientific way.
Is it time to be terrified? Is it time to embrace the nightmare and fix it?
WALLACE-WELLS: I think the science says that the future is going to be quite terrifying even if we move very aggressively on climate. And so, I
almost don’t think it’s a rhetorical question, it’s just a matter of responding to the science as it comes out.
We’re at one — about 1.1-degree of warming right now and it’s almost certain that we will be unable to avoid 2 degrees of warming. At that
point, many of the ice sheets of the world will begin an irreversible melt and we’ll see as many as 200 million climate refugees, that’s the U.N.
estimate not mine, 200 million.
We’re on track to hit 4 degrees of warming by the end of the century. And if we get there, we’re talking about $600 trillion dollars in global
climate damages, that’s double all the wealth that exists in the world today, twice as much war impacts on agriculture and the economy, which
could be 20 percent smaller than it would be without climate change or possibly even smaller than that.
So, we’re heading into some unprecedented climate — an unprecedented climate and we have not really begun to think about the way that that will
affect how we live on this planet.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, look, you’ve just given us these figures and for many people it’s quite sort of — they don’t understand what does 1.5 degrees
mean, what does 2 degrees mean and nobody quite understands the scope of that. So, currently, where are we, at 1.5?
WALLACE-WELLS: A little below that, 1.1 about. And it’s going to get considerably worse from here. If we end up at 4 degrees by the end of the
century, California wildfires will burn 64 times as much land as they did this past year, when they build more than — burned more than a million
acres. That’s just one figure.
AMANPOUR: So —
WALLACE-WELLS: But everywhere you look, every aspect of life will be touched by this force.
AMANPOUR: Well, David, in a way, it’s already happening. We’ve seen the 21st century be the century of these massive wildfires that you are talking
about, these massive and intensifying natural disasters, storms, flooding and the others, and we’re already seeing climate migration as well as other
conflicts and refugees, we’re already seeing politics changing.
What we’re not seeing is a tipping point of politics and the political will to deal with this issue. And I wonder whether we can talk about that. And
first, I’m going to play a little bit of a soundbite from an interview I did with the U.N. chief negotiator just after this great achievement that
they believe they had scored at the Paris Climate Conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIANA FIGUERES, THEN-U.N. CLIMATE CHIEF: The agreement is not perfect but what is in life. But what I think that what is really, really
important is that the direction has been set loud and clear, we’re not going just for 2 degrees, we’re actually moving in the direction of 1.5 and
that will take several decades to get us on to that path.
But along that time, we are going to be measuring ourselves and we are going to be having verification moments in time where we will be able to
transparently know for ourselves and for the world whether we’re actually moving in the right direction.
The very, very powerful signal, however, to capital markets and to research and technology, to all the technology company, the technology world, is
this is a new era of renewable energy and that is what is going to get us to the safer temperatures.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, what do you say that? First of all, that was in the height of the euphoric moment of all the countries of the world signing on to the
Climate Paris accords. In the interim, we understand that despite their pledges, they have not all, by any stretch of the imagination, implemented
their promises and their pledges.
So, is that optimism outdated or can we still achieve what she’s talking about?
WALLACE-WELLS: I don’t think that there’s any practical path to staying below 2 degrees Celsius through what’s called conventional decarbonization,
that means replacing dirty energy with clean energy. I think the U.N. IPCC would say, “To do that we need some significant use of what’s called
negative emissions technologies,” which are ways of sucking carbon out of the atmosphere rather than just reducing how much we’re putting into the
And there are promising — there has been promising progress on these technologies. But unfortunately, there — it’s been tested on the very
small scale in a kind of laboratory setting and we haven’t done any of the large-scale testing to know whether we could really deploy this technology
in a way that would allow us to get underneath 2 degrees.
Now, 2 degrees, keep in mind, is what most of the world’s climate scientists call the threshold of catastrophe, many of the world’s island
nations have described it as genocide and I think it’s almost certain that we get to there.
There is a paper that sticks in my mind very vividly from about a year and a half ago that suggested the impact on public health from air pollution
alone just between the 1.5-degree threshold and a 2-degree threshold would be a total of 153 million additional deaths, that’s the scale of suffering
of 25 holocausts and we are almost certain to get there.
When we talk about this coming century and the way the climate change will transform it, these are the scale of transformations that I’m talking
about, it’s completely catastrophic and I would say unprecedented in all of human history.
That said, I think we will figure out a way to live in this world and it’s important for everyone to keep in mind that —
AMANPOUR: Well, hang on a second. What does that mean, we will figure out a way to live in this world if it’s as catastrophic as we all believe the
science to tell us?
WALLACE-WELLS: We live in a world today that has an enormous amount of suffering, 9 million people die annually already from air pollution, and
that’s a horror, it’s a moral abomination. But you and I still live the way that we do with that knowledge. And I think there will be forms of
compartmentalization and denial that take hold down the road but I also think that more action and engagement on this issue will lead to policy
changes that can help us overt many of the worst-case scenarios that are possible.
And I do see encouraging movement on that front. I mean, there’s the movement in green energy and how much more affordable that’s become over
the last decade or so, happening much faster than even its advocates predicted.
But the movement in public opinion has been really dramatic too. In the U.S. now over 70 percent of Americans believe climate change is real and
happening, over 70 percent of us believe it’s concerning. Those numbers are up 15 percent since just 2015 and they’re up 8 percent since March.
And when you look at the Green New Deal, you see the impact that that’s having on our politics in the U.S. When you look at what’s happening in
Europe with Greta Thunberg and the climate strike, extinction rebellion in the U.K., I do think that our politics are beginning to move in this
direction. But I think the thing that will really accelerate that movement is a batch of new economic research just from the last few years.
It used to be the case that economic conventional wisdom held that action on climate was really expensive, it would mean foregoing some significant
amount of economic growth. But it turns out that that logic is actually reversed, that taking fast action on decarbonization will save us enormous
amounts of money, in fact, create a lot of wealth.
One major study from last year said that fast decarbonization could add $26 trillion to the economy, the global economy, by just 2030. Those payoffs
are very, very fast. And I think once that information sort of filters up into the worldview of our policymakers globally, I do think they’ll be a
significant reorientation in their perspective on this issue because I do think that the perceived cost of action on climate has been one reason why
the world has been —
WALLACE-WELLS: — so slow down.
WALLACE-WELLS: And as you say, we have really failed those Paris commitments. And I do think policy action will come, the question is just
how much and how fast.
AMANPOUR: I spoke to the American — well, she’s Canadian but she’s worked for the United States, the American climate scientist, Dr. Katharine
Hayhoe. She’s a committed Christian, she was part of drafting the recent US Climate Report, which was catastrophic actually, talking about the
economic impact and all the other impacts to the U.S. if we didn’t get to grips with this. And she was very interesting in how she views the subject
and how she thinks it should be communicated to people. Just take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHARINE HAYHOE, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: When we talk about climate action, we’re presented with two opposing apocalyptic visions. One where climate
change continues unchecked, which could mean the end of civilization as we know it. Not the end of the planet, the planet will be fine, but the end
of civilization because our civilization is built on the assumption of a stable climate.
And then on the other side, we have this apocalyptic vision of, well, we have to throw away everything that makes our current life so comfortable.
No electricity, no water, no cars, nothing. So, we’re faced with these two opposing visions of the future and no wonder people are more afraid of the
one where we throw away all our modern technology versus the one where climate impacts affect us.
But the reality is neither of those has to happen. We need a positive vision of the future where we do continue to have abundant energy for all,
not just us here in developed countries but people in every country around the world, but that energy comes from clean sources that don’t pollute our
air or our water and will never run out on us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, I mean, she really raises some interesting points. And I mean, just as an example, when we talk about poll numbers and public
opinion, I think it’s the State of Washington where they are convinced of human responsibility for this climate disaster that we’re living through,
but they did don’t vote for a carbon tax, they voted it down.
WALLACE-WELLS: Yes. Well, I think there are problems with the carbon tax approach in general. Most of the economists who study it now say that
those taxes would have to be so high that they approached an effective ban. The U.N. IPCC report from last October suggested that a functional carbon
tax would have to be as high as $5,500 a ton in order to really help us get below 2 degrees. I don’t think there’s an existing carbon tax in the world
that’s above $20 a ton. And all of the places where it’s in place, those countries have their emissions still growing.
So, I see much more reason for hope in the kind of investments that are detailed — questions they detailed that are proposed in, say, the Green
New Deal and we’ve seen those kinds of investments pay off very quickly. Green energy is now much, much cheaper, as I mentioned earlier, than even
its proponents would have predicted 10 years ago. And in many parts of the world cheaper, it’s cheaper than any dirty energy sources, which gets to a
point the Dr. Hayhoe just made.
We can now hope that as China continues to develop, as India develops, as Sub-Saharan Africa develops, that those paths of development will be much,
much greener than it has that were taken in previous decades and previous centuries by nations and their economic position.
And that’s really, really key. I think as Americans, even as, you know, British citizens, members of the E.U., people sort of expect that this
story is really, really driven by the lifestyle and behavior of, you know, the modern West. And while countries like the U.S. and the U.K. are
responsible for the lion’s share of historical emissions, going forward, the story will be written almost entirely by China, to a lesser extent
India and to a third degree how Sub-Saharan Africa develops.
And how those countries developed, whether their diets add more meat, whether they continue to burn more coal, whether they invest more
aggressively in green energy, these are the major questions of the next few decades.
American emissions are already falling, they’re up last year, but generally speaking, they’re heading down. Same with the countries of the E.U. And
while those countries have a kind of moral obligation to be climate leaders going forward from a practical perspective, the fate of the planet will be
written by the energy trajectories of the developing world.
AMANPOUR: What does the current administration’s lack of awareness of humankind’s polluting activities mean?
WALLACE-WELLS: Well, I think it’s a horrible stumble, it’s an embarrassment and it’s abhorrent from a position of, you know, moral
leadership on this issue, and I wish that we had an administration that was pushing things more strongly and I hope that shortly we will.
I think that, in the big picture the role, the America and the rest of Europe can play is by signaling that prosperity is possible while still
being green, that we don’t need to sacrifice the comforts of modern affluent life in order to have a more responsible relationship to the
And I think, actually, in much of the E.U. this is already the case. If the average American was confined to just the carbon footprint of the
average European, American emissions would fall by something like a third. And I don’t think we think of, say, the average citizen of Spain or Italy
as being crippled by, you know, economic limitations that are put in place by carbon restrictions.
I do think, you know, China’s already at about 29 percent of global emissions and that doesn’t account for all of the infrastructure they’re
building across Africa and Asia, which is, you know, quite possibly add up to even more than what they’re doing in China itself. And I think going
forward, that share is only going to grow.
And so, I think, Donald Trump is a much less important figure than Xi Jinping. The U.S. is about 15 percent of global emissions and that is
likely to fall going forward.
So, when we’re thinking about the future of the planet, in a weird way, a lot of it hangs on this one man, the leader of China. His authoritarian
opportunity is to take action on this. And we’ll see how that shakes out. Again, it’s certainly not a perfect record, there are many reasons to be
skeptical of that rhetoric.
But China is certainly positioned itself over the last few years much more aggressively than they had been in the years prior, made much bigger green
investments and actually taking a real focus on air pollution, which was killing in 2013 as many as a million Chinese died from air pollution alone.
WALLACE-WELLS: And they have — they focused on that very clearly.
AMANPOUR: One of the interesting, and I think frustrating perhaps to the scientific community and all of us factors, is how over the decades there
has been this small band of deniers that it seemed to have dominated the sphere. To the extent that the scientists, James Hansen, who was one of
the first to raise the alarm has written himself about scientific reticence, and you write about that a lot in the book.
Tell me how you discovered that scientists themselves, climate scientists, even sort of censored themselves.
WALLACE-WELLS: Yes. For a long time, they believed that the public would respond to more measured cautious rhetoric. And so, they were reluctant to
share their more — the scarier side of their research with the public. That’s been revised a bit in the past few years. And I think a major
change in the approach of scientists to this issue came last October with that IPCC report which really signaled, this is the time to act urgently.
If we don’t take action aggressively, the world will be utterly transformed.
And what I try to write about in my book is exactly what that will mean for the way that you and I go about our lives going forward. I do think that
there has been a kind of a sea change in the perspective on this issue, not just among scientists but among the public. And I’m somebody who thinks
AMANPOUR: Well, I like that you’ve ended on that optimistic note. And I’m not being scientifically reticent here. You’ve been raising the alarm,
we’re all raising the alarm.
David Wallace-Wells, author of “The Uninhabitable Earth.” Thank you very much indeed.
WALLACE-WELLS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And now, we’re going to turn to an actor who’s played some eccentric characters in his time. James Spader revels in offbeat like the
award-winning cult hit of its time, “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” And also, mainstream blockbusters like “The Avengers.”
He currently stars in a political thriller called “The Blacklist.” As one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives turned informant. This series has
bagged him two Golden Globe nominations and the show has gathered a huge global following.
Our Hari Sreenivasan spoke to the Hollywood star just recently.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CONTRIBUTOR: So, for our viewers who have not watched the show, what’s “The Blacklist” about?
JAMES SPADER, ACTOR, “THE BLACKLIST”: In the first episode, a man who was on the FBI’s most. wanted list gives himself up to an assistant director of
the FBI. They take him into custody. He’s been wanted in many different countries and so on so forth and considered armed and dangerous. And he
said that he wants to make a deal with the FBI.
SREENIVASAN: He was an informant now?
SPADER: Of sorts. He is steering them towards people that they’ve never heard of and that they aren’t even aware are out there.
SREENIVASAN: In this season, there’s a pretty significant plot twist and that his kind of immunity is compromised. He is now —
SREENIVASAN: — brought to justice or in the process of being brought to justice. We have a clip. Let’s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPADER: Officer Baldwin asked for some identification and I gave him a false ID so magnificent even I started to believe my name is George Murphy.
He said I looked around nervously. But the truth is, I made fun of the man. I refused to give him the respect he somehow believed he deserved.
It happens. I get impatient, I make a comment I might regret. It’s one of my biggest issues in therapy along with some residual anxiety from
childhood and a sexual fascination I’d prefer to discuss in chambers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: That sort of quintessentially him. I mean, there’s a certain irreverence to everything he does, it doesn’t matter that his sort of life
is on the line. In this case, he still jokes.
SPADER: He’s very confident.
SREENIVASAN: Is that easier to play over five season, six seasons that you get to know a character a little bit better?
SPADER: I was looking for something that was very fluid in terms of tone. So, I was successful, I think, in finding that in that this is a show that
has at — in a different — by turns, very, very emotional, very funny, very intense, sometimes disturbing or startling. And sometimes a lot of
those things all at the same time. And I wanted a character who I would still, after a period of time, if the show continued to run, a character
that was enigmatic enough to me that I would still be surprised by him over time.
SPADER: And I’d still be curious about him over time. I remember when I first read the very first episode, pilots, you know, by the end of the
story, you knew less about him than you knew at the beginning really. Anything you learn about him just poses more questions. And so, I knew
that this was a character that would have a certain amount of staying power for me, at least —
SPADER: — in terms of curiosity.
SREENIVASAN: Are you surprised that it’s doing so well? I mean, everybody hopes that the project that they’re working on succeeds. Here you are
average of 7 million plus people watching, six seasons into it.
SPADER: I responded to the material and responded to this character and that’s all I have as a gay really is what my opinion of it is and I was
intrigued by the sort of marriage between a sort of method — sort of serialized sort of mythology to the show, married with the procedural.
But I have no idea. I mean, I really have never been very good at that part of this business. I’m pretty selfish in terms of my reasons for
taking things and they really — it rarely has anything to do with what a response by it may be from — for others or from others. But I —
SREENIVASAN: What does it have to do with?
SPADER: It really has to do with my interest in the material in the world that the story lives in. If it’s something that I’m interested in
exploring, then I’ll do it.
SREENIVASAN: You know, this year, you’ve also, in the episodes, had story lines that have talked about and what is the meaning of truth, the internet
is influencing so many things, conspiracy theories, and these are topics that America is challenged with right now. I’m assuming this is an
intentional act from the writers, yourself.
SPADER: I mean, listen, there’s no question that, you know, one’s life seeps in and the world around you is — a show is a sponge to a certain
degree, in terms of that. But it’s interesting that there’s a big storyline that’s going on right now and — on the show that the writers
were working on long before it became a news item.
And the same thing would happen on another show that I worked with for a long time, “Boston Legal,” where we really weren’t ripping from the
SPADER: And yet, again and again, I get a script and we’d be working on something and it became — by the time it aired, it was timely.
SREENIVASAN: You know, given that you’ve worked at “The Practice,” “Boston Legal,” do shows with multiple hit seasons, do they get better over time?
Because I’ve heard from some people that the first couple of seasons are really where everybody just got their nose to the grindstone, third season,
fourth season, now the money is starting to roll in, changes the dynamic a little bit?
SPADER: There are a lot of things that can be deciding factors in terms of how something changes and develops over time. Now, for instance, “The
practice,” I came in on the last season. I think was the eighth season of that show. And I was brought in because six cast members had been let go.
And what had happened was, the show had been on, it was in its eighth season. The ratings — I don’t think the ratings were as strong as they
might have been in the past. And the show got picked up by the network for another season and they had had their licensing fee cut in half.
So, David Kelly felt he couldn’t make the show, the quality. So, he had a choice, he could either continue with the show at a much-reduced licensing
fee, in which case he’d have to fire people or he could end the show and, by that time, by an eighth season, the amount of people who are making
their living on a television show is enormous.
SPADER: And he decided to keep those people employed for another year. And so, he fired six actors. And I met with him and he said, “I’d like to
have you come in and be on the show.” And he basically was burning this house down that he built. And that’s what that character was doing.
But then, halfway through the season, the network came and said, “Well, how about another series with this same character, you know.”
SREENIVASAN: And you get a spin off?
SPADER: Yes. So, all of a sudden, I did “Boston Legal.” But here you have — I was brought in as a destructive force on “The Practice.” Now,
how do you construct a series around, you know, a — you know, just to — around the cat and a hat —
SPADER: — which is what David conceived of when he thought of that character.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPADER: And you don’t even know who I am. You do have the slightest idea who I am. Am I — should I — am I supposed to recount all the points of
my life leading up to this moment and then — and just hope that it’s coherent, that it makes some sort of sense to you? It doesn’t make any
sense to me. You know, I was there. You know, I don’t have the slightest idea who I am and I — I’m supposed to be able to explain it to you. And
why? Tell — no. You tell — tell me why? Why do I have to explain myself to you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because maybe I can help you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: When I look back at these characters, clearly, it’s someone who doesn’t like himself in some ways, at least, according to some of the
other characters. In this show, “Blacklist,” recently, there has been a shrink that kind of looks at your deepest darkest corners and says, you
know, your fear is that you’re an impostor.
You go all the way back to Steff, a horrible character back in “Pretty in Pink” and the other characters are telling you that it’s really — that
your floating is some of the stuff that’s driving you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPADER: Listen, I’m getting really bored with this conversation, all right. You know, if she wants your little piece low-grade — take it, you
know. But if you do, you’re not going to have a friend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that’s right?
SPADER: Yes, that’s right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SREENIVASAN: Are you drawn to this sort of thing?
SPADER: I don’t believe that to be the case.
SREENIVASAN: You’re good at it.
SPADER: I just don’t know if that’s really what it is that’s driving. I don’t know whether that really what was driving Alan Shore and I’m not
convinced that’s what is driving Reddington. I don’t know how much merit I give to that.
SREENIVASAN: OK. You look for conflict in characters, because they’re —
SPADER: I do.
SPADER: I do.
SREENIVASAN: Is it — are they more fun to play?
SPADER: Yes. It is that that is still the most compelling aspect of the character in “Blacklist” is that is the dichotomy that I find and the
conflict that I find in him all the time.
And by the way, I was very spoiled and that — you know, it’s — listen, it’s — to a certain degree, it’s my design. I mean, that’s also what I
found most compelling about that kind — other character that we’re talking about, you know, Alan Shore, is the dichotomy in him.
And this man, Raymond Reddington, who is so ruthless and brutal at times, who is incredibly vulnerable and thoughtful and has such an understanding
for the quality of life and the beauty of life and the value of life and what would be the thing that would teach him that and give him such an
incredible appreciation for life is that he’s so familiar with the loss of life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPADER: All those years I spent worrying about you, fancying myself your guardian angel, I should have taken one look at you and known
you’d be fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SPADER: And he’s so familiar with the taking of life. And I think that has given him a — a very keen sensibility for the cost of loss of life.
SPADER: You know, it’s a strange thing to play, but somebody who has completely come to terms with the end of his life at some point. And yet –
SREENIVASAN: Fully present —
SPADER: Fully present and fearless, in a way. I think his comfort with his own mortality probably gives him great confidence, no matter what the
hell’s on the other side of a door that he might be walking through.
SREENIVASAN: So I’ve read that you’re detail-oriented to a point of obsessive-compulsive. Is that accurate?
SPADER: I — I think I’m in a job that is — that’s conducive to that disorder, if you want, for lack of a better term. I’ve only had it been
helpful for me as an actor, having a compulsion toward attention to detail or a compulsive attention to detail.
SREENIVASAN: Are you still learning as an actor?
SREENIVASAN: What are you learning now that you maybe didn’t figure out in the last 20 years —
SPADER: The same crap I was learning at the very beginning. Sometimes it’s as simple as to slow down a little bit, and sometimes it’s as simple
as speeding up a little bit. Sometimes the best direction in the world is do it quicker or do it slower. You know what I mean? It’s —
SREENIVASAN: Yes. This is where you came to find your future in acting. What, did you drop out of high school?
SPADER: I did. Not a future in acting. I really —
SREENIVASAN: Just to find your future?
SPADER: New York has always represented a very — very, very important part of my life. It was the place that I left home to move to.
SREENIVASAN: You opted into this.
SPADER: This is what I wanted. I — I loved this city, and I still do. I still — I’m really one of those people who — I don’t really need to leave
New York very much. Like I love to travel. I do love to travel, and I know there are people that, oh, well, you know, the city’s only bearable if
you can get the hell out of it. I don’t agree with that. I love the city to live in.
I’m one of — I really truly believe that New York is the most wonderful place on earth to live and a terrible place to visit. It’s actually much
better for living.
You can actually live a very calm and relaxed life here, because you don’t feel like you have to fit everything in. You come here and visit, and it’s
like you’re exhausted by it. And therefore, people perceive the city as an exhausting place to be. And I don’t find it that way. I find a calm in
the center of this chaos.
SREENIVASAN: James Spader, thanks so much.
SPADER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: From that Hollywood fiction to a real-life story of prison, psychological torture, life and death. That all began one summer morning
in 2014 for an American journalist in Tehran.
Jason Rezaian and his wife were swept up in a police raid. They had no idea why. Rezaian had been working as the city bureau chief for “The
Washington Post” when suddenly, he found himself hauled from his home and jailed on Trumped-up charges of espionage. And he was locked away for 544
days, 1.5 years, in the country’s infamous Evin Prison.
But perhaps he was lucky, as his freedom was due in part to the extraordinary diplomatic efforts around the Iran nuclear deal. And he was
released in 2016.
There are still Americans and other duel nationals held hostage in Iran, but relations between the United States and Iran are much worse now. And
Jason is recounting his grim experience in his book, “Prisoner.”
He told me some of the chilling details of life as a captive in Tehran.
AMANPOUR: Jason Rezaian, welcome to the program.
JASON REZAIAN, AUTHOR, “PRISONER”: Christiane, thanks so much for having me on.
AMANPOUR: So your book has a dramatic title, “Prisoner.” How difficult was it to write?
REZAIAN: Well, it went in spurts. I wrote the — the outcome of what happened to us and the first months of freedom, which is at the end of the
book, first, because it was so hard for me to kind of get myself back into that mindset of being in prison. Not that it wasn’t accessible for me, but
that it was pretty painful and triggering and, you know, set off all sorts of nightmares.
So it was a hard process. It took me a while to do. But I would get myself into — into a frame of mind where I’d dip myself back
into those experiences for several weeks at a time and then I’d need a break. And that’s how I did it.
AMANPOUR: So let us sort of take your — take our cue from you then and start a little bit at the beginning.
AMANPOUR: The poignancy of this, there are many, many levels of poignancy, but one that this book is an Anthony Bourdain imprint, our late friend,
late colleague, and the person who you sort of guided around Iran when he came to do a program, “PARTS UNKNOWN.”
And he interviewed you and Yeganeh, your wife, in that program. And at the time, you sort of only just recently been there, and you were quite
optimistic. And it was just before your arrest. I believe it was some six weeks before you were arrested. Here’s a little clip from that
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REZAIAN: I love it, and I hate it. You know, but it’s home. It’s become home.
ANTHONY BOURDAIN, HOST, “PARTS UNKNOWN”: Are you optimistic about the future?
YEGANEH REZAIAN, JASON’S WIFE: Yes. Especially if there’s no clear deal finally happens. Yes. Very much actually.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, I wonder how you feel seeing that. That’s so long ago now, and so much water has gone under the bridge, including 544 days of
yourself being in prison. Can you remember that moment when you were optimistic about a future living in Iran?
REZAIAN: I can. And sadly, it was violently stripped from Yegi and I very quickly, several weeks after we taped that.
But I had been living there in Iran and working for several years, and I had seen the lows of 2009, 2010, the — the effects of sanctions on the
people of that country.
And also that spring of hope that happened in 2013 and the feeling that — that a nuclear deal with the rest of the world and a lifting of American
and international sanctions would lead to a better day for Iranians. It’s something that was ingrained in my mind and in my heart at the time. I
could — I could feel it was palpable. But it’s, as you say, very much in the past now.
AMANPOUR: And actually, you know, you do describe yourself a little bit, and we’ll get into it later, as a little bit of a pawn in the political
game around the Iran nuclear deal. But we’ll get to that in a second.
You described the traumas of what you went through as a prisoner. And you also say that you tried to hide that from your family. Tell me how — what
were you going through that you didn’t want them to know about?
REZAIAN: Look, when you are thrust into such an isolated situation, your mind goes to very dark places. I was scared. I was depressed. I was very
But when my — my mother and my wife were given intermittent access to visits with me, I could not, in good conscience, make them feel any worse
than they already did.
While I did push them to do whatever they could to raise the awareness around my plight, raise the awareness around my case, at the same time, I
tried to infuse a little bit of laughter and a gentle sensitivity into each one of those meetings because, you know, I was doing everything I could to
hold onto my dignity and to my humanity and not bring me family any further down than everybody already was.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask what kind of humor you were able to bring to this process even on visiting hours?
REZAIAN: Look, you’ve spent a lot of time in Iran over the years, and you’ve done with Iranian authorities. And you know that they don’t have
the most developed sense of how the rest of the world works. So there was a lot of absurdity in the questions that they asked me and the accusations
that they were making against me.
It was deadly serious in the sense that they controlled my destiny, but there were funny moments. And you know, I latched onto those with as much
kind of grip as I could because, you know, laughing through a situation is sometimes the only way to survive it. And I — and I don’t think it’s
weird. It’s just how I’ve always operated.
AMANPOUR: Well, I’m going to get to some of those details in a moment.
But first, you know, you talked about your mom and your wife coming to visit you. Your mother, Mary, an American. Your father is Iranian. You
are Iranian-American, and you’re an American citizen living in the United States.
Now, your mom came on this show, and she pleaded for your release. She looked directly into the camera and spoke to the authorities in Tehran
about you. There is what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY REZAIAN, JASON’S MOTHER: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
GRAPHIC: Jason is not just my beloved son, but he is the son of Iran, too. What mother can accept her son being in jail? Release our son.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, it’s actually quite emotional watching it back.
REZAIAN: It’s — it’s making me emotional right now. I mean, I’m so proud of how my mom handled that situation; my big brother, obviously; and my
wife, as well. Each one went through so many struggles around trying to — to free me.
And my mom, only did she, you know, come on your show and many others to express those concerns and demand my release, she came to Tehran. You
know, she’s married into an Iranian family. She’d spent a lot of time in Iran over the years. But in this very tumultuous and scary situation, she
came and stuck her foot down and said, “I’m not leaving until my boy comes out.” And I’ll be forever grateful for that.
AMANPOUR: Yes. And there was no messing with your mom. No messing with Mary.
And she tried to get into the court. And I mean, it was really painful for her, because she was kept in the dark for a long, long time.
And of course, they charged you with espionage, but we all know that those are Trumped-up charges. What was it like — describe, you know, you having
to defend yourself under hours and hours of interrogation, in your prison cell, in these endless, you know, trips to the kangaroo court, if I could
say that, that you were subjected to — you know, your interrogators threatened to dismember you. They were really very violent in their words.
REZAIAN: In the initial days and weeks, they succeed in breaking you down in a way that you feel nothing more than as if you’re a scared animal
awaiting another beating. It’s — it’s dehumanizing in every way.
But as time dragged on and the case and the awareness around my case kind of picked up momentum, I begin to feel a bit of strength and confidence,
not only in the fact that I knew that I was innocent, but also that — that the assertions that they were making about me were not ones that the rest
of the world was going to really buy into.
So it made it very much easier for me to stand up for myself, especially when I was outside of the prison walls. I mean, you talk about that
kangaroo court. It’s the revolutionary court of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s got a very serious name, and the consequences are often very
But the process that takes place in there can’t be taken seriously. It’s so farcical and ridiculous. There’s no evidence. You’re not able to
defend yourself. You know, you’re being taped for the purpose, probably, of — of propaganda, state media propaganda purposes. That you know, I
thought to myself, here I am, I’ve been — I’ve been going through this for so long. The wind, in some ways, although there are, you know, four big
very towering walls around me, the wind is at my back, because the world is with me.
AMANPOUR: How did you know that, because they kept telling you that the world had forgotten about you, didn’t care about you? And you talk about
the absurdity of the charges. There’s — I want you to tell me the so- called avocado story.
REZAIAN: So in the opening weeks and months, they were very adamant about the fact that nobody cared and that nobody was lifting a finger; nobody was
making any noise about me. And in the confines of solitary confinement, you have no way of knowing whether or not that’s true. It obviously was
One of the first accusations they made against me was that a failed Kickstarter project, you know, the crowdfunding website that I had put up
in 2010 with the aspiration of bringing the avocado plant to Iran, a country where you can grow almost anything but, oddly enough, didn’t have,
you know, the avocados, give the people the right to their guacamole. This became the biggest charge against me. This was definitive proof that I had
a secret spy mission. They weren’t sure what it was, but it was code for something, and it was nefarious. It was one of the many things that they
accused me of that, obviously, didn’t hold any water.
But as time dragged on and — and I was taken out of solitary, I had access to Iranian state television for a large part of the final months of my —
my detention, I could see the case that they were trying to make me — against me in the Iranian public’s eye, and I understood that that was just
a response to all of the support that I was getting outside in the rest of the world.
So we talked about Anthony Bourdain. We talked about my family. But there were other people, too. I mean, Muhammad Ali, one of the last
things that he did in life was — was put out a statement calling for my release.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me read it. Let me read it, Jason.
REZAIAN: Please do. Please do.
AMANPOUR: I was just amazed to see this. In 2015 he said, “I’m sorry that I cannot be physically present to lend my support in person, but I pray
that my words will provide relief to the efforts to secure the release of Jason Rezaian. Insha’Allah. It is my great hope that the government and
judiciary of Iran will end the prolonged detention of journalist Jason Rezaian.”
I mean, it is extraordinary. And that must have carried some weight. He is a famous Muslim.
REZAIAN: Exactly. I mean, in America we think of him as an American hero. In Iran and other Muslim countries, he’s a Muslim hero. And you know, he
matters, and his words matter.
I was treated differently, I was looked at differently by my guards, and the authorities in Iran were very angry about that. They wrote articles in
some of the, you know, the most hardline newspapers that, you know, this great hero had been duped into supporting this spy.
And you know, they were losing a battle of public opinion at every turn. And how could I, with the little knowledge about what was going on, not
have my — my shoulders lifted just a little bit higher, knowing that — that Muhammad Ali and many other prominent people were publicly demanding
that I be set free?
AMANPOUR: Yes. I mean, I think that is an amazing moment. But how did your relationship with your interrogators change? First of all, did they
physically abuse you?
REZAIAN: Fortunately, Christiane, I was — I was able to avoid being physically harmed. I think that, you know, I talk about torture, and
psychological torture is a very real thing that I experienced and that my wife experienced. And it’s a — a legacy that will live with us forever.
But we were spared from being physically attacked.
Over time, I took that to mean that I had some value, is and that they knew that they would let me go someday. But I didn’t know that early on. I
didn’t — I couldn’t wrap my head around that.
Five hundred and forty-four days is a long time, and when you are in such isolation with so few characters around you. I had one cellmate for a time
and then another. And there was a revolving cast of guards who are, you know, there basically to make sure that — that you’re in your cell and
that, you know, we are — you’re fed when you’re supposed to be fed, and taken to interrogation when you’re supposed to be taken.
And then you have the interrogators. It’s a very few number of people that I came in contact with for a year and a half. So you know, obviously,
you’re going to build some relationships.
And I think, if you’ve not been in that sort of situation, it would be hard to grasp the notion that — that you’re getting to know somebody. These
are not people that I would actively choose to get to know. But I was forced to. And in that process, I could find out some of their weaknesses,
some of their likes, ways that I could try and ingratiate myself to them.
And I hope when people read the book they understand that I was in a — in a weird situation, that no one hopes to find themselves, and I did my best
to cope with it and use the people skills that I’ve been able to develop over a lifetime to my advantage.
AMANPOUR: To the extent that you developed such a rapport with some of them that you ended up hugging them when you left.
REZAIAN: I hugged one of them, because he was my main adversary. He was the guy that was, you know, breaking me down from day one, and it’s a —
it’s a tormented relationship.
But at the end of the day, my feeling was, you know, we’ve gone through this incredible ordeal that, in some ways, is a very public occurrence.
You know, it’s a historical moment. There was a year and a half that was talked about in the world press, and we’re the two people that were on the
front lines behind these closed doors. Not that I feel any sort of loss or missing of him, but it was the end of a — of a very intense chapter in my
AMANPOUR: It’s really interesting to hear what you say in this case, because one always wonders how one would behave if one was in the same
situation. But I want to ask you because, you know, you talk about the avocado tree. Now as crazy as it sounds, you know that they have people in
prison in Iran right now —
REZAIAN: For less.
AMANPOUR: No — and for climate — environmental work.
AMANPOUR: And they accuse them of being spies. And there are a number of Iranian-Americans in prison in Iran right now.
You know, you happened to hit the sweet spot, if I might say that, that there were real negotiations going on with Iran and the United
States, and you were able to be released at the end of that negotiation.
What are you — your feelings for those Iranian-Americans who are in jail right now at a time when President Trump’s administration is very hostile
toward Iran to say the least?
REZAIAN: My heart breaks for them and their families on a daily basis. You know, you’re right. I am the happy ending. And it took 544 days for
me to be sprung from that situation.
At this moment, we don’t see anything happening between the U.S. and Iran that would indicate that there are negotiations going on for the people
that are currently being held. Americans and also British and — and Canadian nationals, as well.
And I think that — that, you know, whatever you think about engaging with Iran and, you know, what the Obama administration did in terms of
negotiating with Iran, without an open channel to discuss these cases — and I would call them all hostage cases — some people would say to me that
you don’t know if these people are — that are being held in Iranian prisons are innocent or not.
Well, based on anecdotal evidence that I experienced myself, I’m going to say that these people are innocent until they’re proven guilty. And not
one of them has been proven guilty of any crime.
So until there is a process of negotiation set up to bring these people home, I don’t see any way that they’re going to come home. And I believe
that they’re all being held as leverage for some future concession.
AMANPOUR: Let me just play —
REZAIAN: Because I was.
AMANPOUR: Indeed. Let me go just back to when you were released, you came back to “The Washington Post” in Washington.
AMANPOUR: And you know, you were welcomed by members of your — your colleagues there. Here’s a little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably a week or so after Jason got back, he came to the “Post.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He walked in the building, and it was a hero’s welcome.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think everyone was just on the verge of tears the whole time, and Jason stood up —
REZAIAN: My Iranian interrogators told me that “The Washington Post” did not exist, that no one knew of my plight, and that the United States
government would not lift a finger for my release. Today I’m here in this room with the very people who helped prove the Iranians wrong.
(END VIDEO CIP)
AMANPOUR: Well, it is, again, very emotional and very relevant to what we were talking about. You saw Secretary of State Kerry prominent in that
clip. And of course, he spent as much time as he could with his counterpart, Javad Zarif, trying to negotiate your release, which did
happen in conjunction with the end of the — the conclusion of this Iran nuclear deal.
So let me ask you how you feel now. You see that you’ve been changed, that, you know, you indicated at the beginning that you still, you know,
have nightmares. How have you changed?
REZAIAN: I think the — physically I’m different. The shape of my body is not exactly what it was when I went in. I went through a rapid weight loss
in a very harsh set of circumstances. I’ve got aches and pains that — that probably won’t go away. Respiratory issues that have persisted in the
three years since I’ve been out.
But more than that, it’s a difference in my — my brain functions, my sensitivity to light and sound. You know, my — my anxiety in confined
spaces, my confusion in crowds.
These are all things that are very normal for somebody who has experienced a long, sustained period of trauma, but not normal for me and the inner
workings of my own brain that existed before all of this.
So you know, it’s — it’s a constant process of re-getting to know myself. But I think I’m doing pretty good at it, at this point.
AMANPOUR: Well, and by the looks of your book, you are doing pretty good. Well, we send you all our support and thanks. You’re a colleague, and we
are very, very pleased to see that you are free, and you are writing, and you’re telling the world your story.
Jason Rezaian, thank you.
REZAIAN: Thank you, Christiane. Thank you for your support of press freedom and me.
AMANPOUR: A remarkable story of triumph over adversity from Jason Rezaian who, by the way, is suing the Iranian government in U.S. courts.
That’s it for our program tonight.
Thanks for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS and join us again tomorrow.