In a wide-ranging conversation Assange slammed the movie about him, The Fifth Estate, as “opportunistic and hostile,” talked of his work, warned of the dangers posed by the American security complex and revealed that his family had received death threats.
The Skype call —- part of the HFPA’s rapidly expanding Round Table series of interviews—-was arranged between the association’s offices in West Hollywood and the Ecuadorian embassy in London where the 42-year-old Assange has been living since June 2012 when he was granted diplomatic asylum. The British government wants to extradite him to Sweden under a European Arrest Warrant for questioning in relation to a sexual assault investigation. Metropolitan police officers have been stationed outside the embassy since Assange entered the building and have been ordered to arrest him if he attempts to leave.
During the 90-minute Skype call he talked for the first time of his daily life in the Ecuadorian Embassy with the staff he says are “like family.”
“We’ve gone through a lot together and we understand we are all in this together,” he said. “Some staff have been here nearly 20 years. We have lunch together, celebrate people’s birthdays and other details I don’t want to go into because of the security situation.
“Of course the working environment has changed a lot because there are still police surrounding the embassy and it’s a difficult situation for the staff.”
He declined to say whether he had learned to speak Spanish during his stay: “I found in investigative journalism it is always best, if you have any language skills, not to admit them.”
He lives in a small office room converted into living quarters equipped with a bed, telephone, sun lamp, computer with internet connections, shower, treadmill and a small kitchenette.
He receives frequent visits from celebrity supporters including musician Graham Nash —“an unexpected supporter but a good one” —who, he said, stopped by on Friday and who wrote a song about Bradley Manning; Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, actors Peters Sarsgaard, Maggie Gyllenhaal and John Cusack and the rapper MIA. “There’s been a wide range,” he said. “It’s interesting to go through this experience and see who walks the walk and who just talks the talk.”
For relaxation he watches the Australian television series Rake about a brilliant but self-destructive Sydney barrister and, he said, he also enjoyed the movie There Will Be Blood. He watches U.S movies such as Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, he said, mainly to see how they affect WikiLeaks.
Looking thin and pale and wearing a blue tracksuit with a Wikileaks logo, he talked in a wide-ranging 90 minute interview of his daily life, his family and his work.
“Of course it’s difficult to wake up for 500 days and see the same walls but on the other hand I am doing good work and I have no time for anything else so it’s a bit counter-productive to trap me here, because what else can I do but work?” he asked.
“I have my heart and soul in this work. I have a very capable and loyal staff and we have a lot of supporters around the world and people who believe in what we do and want to see if it continues. So although I am trapped in these walls, intellectually I am outside with our people today and that to me is important.
“While I am imprisoned here there is a developing prison where you are living as well. It would be pretty bad if when I finally get out of here I find it’s actually better here than outside. At least in here there are no sudden raids by police, there is a rule of law and not an arbitrary breakdown as there is in many countries now.”
The Australian-born Assange burst into public consciousness in 2010 with WikiLeaks release of the Apache helicopter video attack and the subsequent release of U.S. military and diplomatic documents.
WikiLeaks has been involved in the publication of material documenting extra-judicial killings in Kenya, a report on toxic waste dumping on the Ivory Coast, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay detention camp procedures, the July 12 2007 Baghdad air strike video and other documents.