The Hot Seat: Morgan Spurlock
The daredevil documentarian talks Big Macs and baby names.
Mon Sep 27 2010
Illustration: Dan Park
Eating McDonald's until you puke is not usually considered a praiseworthy act. Unless, of course, you're Morgan Spurlock, and you're exposing fast-food-industry corruption through a 28-day McDonald's-only binge that results in dramatic weight gain and a damaged liver. Yet the prospect of death by Big Mac didn't abate the Super Size Me director's plucky masochism. He's since tromped off to Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden and spent a month in prison as part of his television show 30 Days. That's why I was surprised by his tame contribution to Freakonomics, a series of short films by different directors that are based on Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's myth-busting book of the same name. Spurlock's segment, "A Roshanda by Any Other Name," analyzes the popular belief that your moniker shapes your destiny—but it does so without putting him in harm's way. Has Spurlock lost his spunk? To find out, I visited him in his Soho office.
RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews
Let's be honest: Freakonomics is pretty tame for you.
[Laughs] Yeah, being able to focus on telling a good story and not be anywhere dangerous was pretty spectacular.
Did you choose to do the segment on baby names?
At that point, my son, Laken, was about two years old. His name was actually my great-great-uncle's name, but people were like [In a disapproving voice], "What is that?" Based on all of the responses I got, I thought it'd be a chapter that I could do.
Do you think your name, Morgan Valentine Spurlock, shaped you in any way?
Well, I was made fun of my whole childhood. Not only was I called "Morgasm," but then I was "Morgasm Spermcock."
How'd your middle name go over?
Literally all the way through being a [high school] senior—that's like 12 years—I was abused. They'd never read middle names, except on the first day of school. Every year, just sitting in homeroom, they'd go through the entire list: John Michael Bailey, Emily Jane Watson, Morgan Valentine Spurlock. [Imitating his classmates in a high-pitched, mocking voice] "Vaallleentiiiiine! Oooooh!"
I've always been superstitious about names. For instance, I've always liked Cassandra—
Cassandra's a good name.
But it has all sorts of creepy mythological connotations. You know, the whole prophet-who-gets-stabbed-to-death thing.
But nobody knows that! Luckily, we live in a culture where people don't read. So you don't have to worry.
I heard a rumor that you're making a movie about San Diego Comic-Con now. How'd that come about?
I met Stan Lee at Comic-Con last year, which was fantastic. I was at a party and I was like, "Mr. Lee, I'm a huge fan." And he's like [In a gruff Stan Lee voice], "Oh my God, Morgan, thanks. I love what you do. You know what? We should make a movie together. We should make a documentary about Comic-Con!" And I said, "Stan, that's a great idea." Then I walked ten feet away to my agent—ugh, this is such a Hollywood story—and said, "Stan and I want to make a documentary about Comic-Con." And he goes, "That's a great idea. You should meet my other client; he's coming into town tomorrow." Next morning, I'm having breakfast with Joss Whedon.
Ever wonder what terrible fate awaits you if Comic-Con diehards hate the film?
I know. They're like, "You're going to do a good job, right? You're not going to demonize the culture?" But it's like, how could I? Then I'd be demonizing myself. I'm such a geek, and this is—it's everything that I love.
So I have to ask: Do you ever stop by McDonald's for old times' sake?
You'll never find me sneaking a Big Mac. I have not set foot in nor eaten in a McDonald's since March 2nd of 2003, which was the party scene at the end of Super Size Me. But I love a great burger. And there are so many better places to get a great burger in and around the entire planet. Like in New York, I love the Corner Bistro and Blue 9 Burger in the East Village.
You don't think Laken has fast food in his future?
Laken's a vegan superbaby, although every once in a while he does eat eggs.
Hmm, for a moment I thought you said X.
[Laughs] Yep, every once in a while he does X and hits the clubs. That kid goes all night.
Freakonomics opens Fri 1.