Did Russia help make Donald J. Trump president of the United States? Oliver Stone — perhaps unsurprisingly, given his well-established revisionist views on American history and institutions — isn't buying it. "If we look around with a little broader perspective, doesn't Sheldon Adelson have a lot more influence?" he asks. "Don't the Koch brothers? Doesn't Israel have a lot more influence?"
What's indisputable is that "The Putin Interviews," Mr. Stone's series of filmed conversations with Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia, is benefiting from the question. The furious debate over Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and possible ties between Russia and the Trump administration, are bringing the series more attention than four hours of interviews with a foreign political leader would normally receive.
Whether the attention will be favorable is another story. Showtime, which is presenting "The Putin Interviews" on four consecutive nights beginning Monday, made only the first two of the four installments available to reporters. So material from Mr. Stone's one postelection visit with Mr. Putin, in February, remains to be seen.
But judging from these first two episodes, it's apparent that these are not confrontational interviews. Mr. Stone, who conducted the first interview with Mr. Putin while in Russia during the filming of "Snowden" (one of his producers made the connection), is respectful, even friendly. He lets Mr. Putin speak, occasionally chiming in to buttress points about American provocations or Russian suffering. Reviewers and political commentators are very likely to have much to say about Mr. Stone's sympathies and about assertions by Mr. Putin that go unchallenged
I spoke with Mr. Stone on Thursday as the former F.B.I. Director James B. Comey was testifying before a Senate committee about whether President Trump had tried to stop the bureau's Russia investigation. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Have you been paying attention to the Comey testimony?
A lot of smoke. I don't see much fire.
People are going to see the series in a context that didn't exist during most of the time you were working on it.
As Mr. Putin himself says in Chapter 4, this is an internal political matter in America. Because he has nothing to do with — this is from the horse's mouth — he has nothing to do with influencing the American election, which he doesn't think is possible.
I'm here to get Putin to talk. Let him talk. If I can encourage him to talk by having an empathetic ear, that is the reporter's way. I'm also a dramatist. I'm encouraging my actors to be better. To say more. To give me a performance.
You're going to benefit from the publicity surrounding this.
I can't gauge for you the mind-set of an American person who really believes that Russia influenced this election. If a person thinks that way, fine. If the way they see this series is Mr. Putin is a bad guy, fine. You can blame everything on Russia, and this is what we've been doing pretty much since 1917.
I would say if you're really concentrating on the election, although that's part of Chapter 4, it's not the whole story. The whole story is the Russian story and Mr. Putin's experiences as president. It's a bigger picture than just now.
So we shouldn't expect any gotcha moments.
You mean like the trial scene in "JFK"? I can't construct a movie like that. It is suspenseful to me because each hour you see more of him, you get under his skin, I think you feel him better.
At the end of this, how did you feel about him?
As a leader, very impressed. Representing Russian interests, very impressed. A son of Russia. Personal feelings? I admire his discipline. His ability to do this off and on for 16 years. His stamina, the way he works. No American president works these hours as far as I know. He reminds me of Jimmy Carter in that sense — dedication to work.
Well, I think in Chapters 3 and 4, I hit that harder, when we get to know each other better. I think his body language by that time is pretty clear. He's not telling me everything; he may be omitting the truth. Is he rich? Not on the level at all of what they say, I don't believe that. Because of his manner, the way he talks about money.
I think I challenged him. You may think I was a pussycat, but no, I think I challenged him. And the challenges get bigger [in the later episodes], when you talk about the man's future, and his election plans, if any. Money, corruption. That's very personal, but I challenged him the best I could. I felt like, if it goes any further, he could have ended any one of those meetings — he could have said no after the first visit, no reason given.
The second episode ends with him saying, with the Cheshire-cat grin that's often on his face, that we in Russia don't interfere in the affairs of other countries.
You have to be the judge on that. Remember when I talk about Trump, I say to him, "If you said you hated Trump, he'd win." I think he was equally surprised. He also said, in every election campaign in the United States, bashing Russia is part of the art. And it's true.