It took 14 months to lose the 25 or so pounds he gained by living “large” for his first-person documentary, “Super Size Me.” But for his latest movie trick, Morgan Spurlock tried something that could have killed him a lot faster than two all-beef patties.
“Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?” - the very title, the whole idea of it, is “ludicrous,” grumbles The Hollywood Reporter. But Spurlock, 37, wanted to take a shot at making a funny, frank and surprisingly even-handed look at “why they hate us,” they being Muslims in the Middle East.
With his soon-to-be-wife Alex pregnant in 2006, Spurlock set himself the task of making the world safer for their impending child by going out and finding al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden. In a manner of speaking.
We reached him in Manhattan, where the West Virginia native makes his home with his wife, Alexandra (“a saint, as you can tell from both movies”), and their son, Laken.
A lot of prospective fathers hunt for a way to get out of child-birth classes. You seem to have found the most ingenious escape clause ever.
Yeah, I was like “Lamaze classes? I think I’m gonna go find Bin Laden! It’ll be easier!”
Did you ever really expect to find Osama?
I thought that maybe we’d get close, or as close as anybody would care to get. Maybe we’d pick up some information that would put us in the same area. Maybe we’d get to meet one of his underlings. I thought we had as good a chance as anybody. Why not?
But as we traveled along and made the movie, we heard more and more, “Why does he matter? Why should you care? Finding him won’t change anything.” I started to realize the bigger picture had a lot more things in play, bigger root causes of terrorism. He really doesn’t matter.
But you had to worry he’d be caught before the film reached theaters.
Oh, we were sweating that the whole time we were filming. “Wouldn’t it be great if he was caught? I mean, it would ruin our movie, but ...”
The movie changes as you make it. The people you meet and interview create their own narrative. We had 900 hours of footage to whittle down. You can see me learning more about the Islamic world and its attitude toward Bin Laden, and maybe changing. I hope that happens with the audience, too.
I was really struck by how well you seem to fit in with most every group you meet with, from the military to the various people you meet in the Middle East along the way. Well, except for the Orthodox Jews in Israel.
It wasn’t me, I think. It was that big camera we had with us. If the camera hadn’t been there, maybe that Orthodox crowd wouldn’t have been so on edge.
But you’re at home target shooting with the soldiers, dining with Moroccans, having coffee on the West Bank. What keeps you so cool under in all these touchy situations?
My mom raised me to be nice to everybody. And “always listen to other people.” So I just tried to be respectful of everybody we met. I tried to fit in. I grew my beard out, dressed in local clothes, tried to speak just some basic phrases of the languages we encountered. Every little bit of effort shows. And it helps.
What people, places or opinions surprised you?
I was shocked at how open people were, how they wanted to connect with us and talk to us. I thought we’d have a lot harder time, dealing with a lot more hostility as they spoke their minds. Most of them weren’t crazy about Bin Laden, and a lot of them aren’t crazy about the U.S. But they wanted to connect.
In “Super Size Me,” we in the audience have moments when we begin to fear for your health. You have a few more moments in jeopardy in this film.
There were times in Afghanistan when we were embedded with the military that things got hairy. An ambush by the Taliban near our convoy, finding an IED, that puts your heart in your throat, you know?
Any moments when that self-defense course you took before setting off (comically depicted in the film) paid off?
Oh, there’s that moment in the film when they’re firing rockets from Gaza into Israel, you saw me hit the ground and crouch, right? That was the Jim Wagner (the trainer) reaction time kicking in, man!
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