Because of Morgan Spurlock’s film “Super Size Me” (and my wife), I’m off fast food almost entirely. Now comes his new film “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?” It’s the story of a documentarian attempting to find the most notorious terrorist in the eyes of the U.S. government. Considering you haven’t read any headlines about bin Laden being interviewed, or Spurlock collecting the $25 million reward, you can guess what happened. But Spurlock does give insight into how people from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Eygpt and Israel view Americans and what binds us all together.
I sat down with Spurlock and asked him if he was the skinny Michael Moore and what his biggest surprises were in the foreign countries, but first we talked about his first film that took away McDonald’s fries from my diet.
When was the last time you had fast food was? March 2, 2003 at the party scene in the film “Super Size Me.” Of big chain fast food, that’s it. A couple months ago, I was at the original Tommy Burgers, in East L.A. That place is special. And I love an In & Out Burger too, those are the two places I’ll go in terms of chain places.
I assume I’m one of many who have said you’ve influenced my diet. Anything negative come from that film? Not really. I talk to teachers who use it in there classroom, parents who show it to their kids… there was the one guy who jokingly said thanks a lot for taking away super size, now I have to order two drinks.
With your new film “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden,” with your wife pregnant, did you ever think to yourself… Why am I doing this for an educational comedy? When I’m doing a film, I try not to think what the end outcome is going to be, but I knew I wanted the film to be humorous because you can touch a lot more people with comedy than you can being really serious. When we first found out Alex was pregnant, we were in preproduction for a couple of months, but it did take a big shift for me. The more she and I talked about it, the more I thought, what kind of world am I bringing a kid into? It really became one of the big themes of the movie.
Was there anything you didn’t follow through with because of the pregnancy? I had promised Alex that I wouldn’t go to Iraq. And for me, that wasn’t really on our short list on where we wanted to go. There was a lot of people, when we did man on the street interviews, who said I should go there, because he’s there and that’s why we’re there. Americans said this. During the opening credits, there is a mock video game that puts Spurlock against bin Laden, so I had to ask… Is that a playable game? Not yet. There have been people who have seen tests of it, that want to make the game. The Weinstein Company even said that. But then again, what would it be? Documentarians facing off against the world’s biggest super villains?
Are you now the skinny Michael Moore? I think Michael and I make different kinds of movies. I hope with this film, and “30 Days” people are seeing my style and what I like to do. I think the one thing Michael does really well, is every time he makes a movie it becomes a topic of conversation. Suddenly “Sicko” came out and it was on every news channel and front page of every newspaper. People can say what they want about him, but to have someone do that is pretty incredible.
What was your biggest preconceived notion that proved untrue with this film? Like most Americans, I thought that I would be met with more hostility. I thought they would have a negative reaction to me to begin with. But that was completely not the case, the majority of people wanted to sit and talk with us. I was really surprised how open people were throughout all of those Muslim countries.
I was really shocked with the mob formed in Israel with people wanting you out of there. That was surprising to us as well. Especially our Israel producer who was there. He was completely taken aback. As soon as the crowd started to form, he said he was calling the police to get us out of there. He said we should keep trying to talk to people and things kept escalating.
I was surprised to see Starbucks there. Not only that, the Stars and Bucks (another coffee house), I love that. How westernized Saudi Arabia is to begin with is just crazy. There is a strip that kids cruise back and forth on and it’s bookended by a Chili’s and a McDonald’s. And that’s what they drive down on a Friday night. Starbucks, Dominio’s Pizza and Subway’s, it’s weird.
Throughout the film we hear people say they dislike the American government, but like American people. Do you think “American people” for them is just what they see on TV? Most people who said that have come into contact with Americans somewhere along the way. The people in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who had never met Americans in their life, they didn’t come from them. As they talked to me, they would say, we like you, but what your government does is awful.
At the end of the film, we meet Morgan’s new son, Laken… Where did the name Laken come from? It was my great, great uncle’s name. we went through our family genealogy to see what kind of names there were. It means “of the lake” which is perfect because he was born in a birthing tub.
I just interviewed Doug Benson, who did the film “Super High Me” (smoking pot for 30 straight days). Do you have any thoughts on the film? I haven’t seen it. But I met Doug when he was on Jimmy Kimmel. And he told me the idea. I met him at the green room there, which is like a bar. And everyone is hanging out. And he asked me what I thought, and I said I think it sounds pretty funny. The whole fact that a stoner came up with an idea, and actually finished it, and got the movie done, is awesome.
His question for you is, “How stoked would you have been, if you would have caught him?” Completely stoked. I’d have $25 million.
Now wait, would it have been an interview with bin Laden or would you have tried to drag him out of there? To actually have gotten to him, there probably would have been multiple layers. My imagined version of getting to him would have been days of being searched, flushing your system, putting you on the verge of death and then see him. And at that point there is no way to find out where you are because you’ve been blindfolded. For me it would have been more of an interview.
At the absolute peak, what percentage of chance did you think you had of finding bin Laden? Eleven percent (laughs). No, I thought we had a fifty/fifty chance. You either do or you don’t.
Has anyone called the bin Laden hotline you run at the very end of the film? You know what, I haven’t even checked.