PARK CITY, Utah — Morgan Spurlock’s left hand is bandaged up, the result of a snowboarding accident on his first day at the snow-covered Sundance Film Festival. Suffice it to say, that’s the only thing that’s gone wrong for him lately.
The charismatic “Super Size Me” star/ director/ guinea pig touched down in Park City knowing that his April film, “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?,” was already sold and that thousands of hard-core filmgoers would line up around the block to get an early peek. Early at the fest, the buzz centered on whether he had actually tracked down the man responsible for 9/11. Now the word is out that, although his mission proved impossible, people are finding the film to be an enlightening, hilarious international trip worth taking.
We caught up with Spurlock at Sundance on Wednesday (January 23) to discuss his beard, his baby and bin Laden.
MTV: You have possibly the most talked-about film at Sundance ’08. Give us the basic plot in your own words.
Morgan Spurlock: I travel all over the Middle East looking for the most wanted man on the planet.
MTV: You’re a brave man.
Spurlock: [He laughs.] Or, as my mother constantly reminds me, there’s a fine line between braveness and stupidity.
MTV: We remember your saint of a girlfriend from “Super Size Me,” and she’s now your spouse. What does she say when you come up with these life-threatening concepts?
Spurlock: She was really unhappy about this movie. Especially because, right before I left, she told me she was pregnant. So about two months into preproduction for this movie, she said, “I’m going to have a baby,” and that changes your whole outlook on making a film like this. We talked about it … for me, what the movie became wasn’t why [we haven't] found Osama bin Laden but what creates an Osama to begin with. What kind of world am I about to bring a kid into?
MTV: A lot of the fun in this movie comes with the graphics you use to make it look like a video game.
Spurlock: Yeah, I love documentaries, but so many of them go down like medicine. So this … is something you can watch and have fun [with] and eat popcorn during. … I’m a product of the ’80s video game generation, where we went through the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, into Nintendo, all the way up to the Xbox 360, [which] we have in our house here in Park City. I thought that would be a great thing to incorporate to help tell a story.
MTV: And in the movie you reach different “levels.”
Spurlock: Each country is its own level. We start out at level one in the United States, where the game begins. Level two is Egypt and Morocco, level three takes us to Israel and the West Bank, level four is Saudi Arabia, and level five is Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MTV: So is Osama the giant fire-breathing dragon you’d fight at the end of “Super Mario Bros.”?
Spurlock: [He laughs.] Actually, Osama is a 9-foot-tall bionic ninja, with X-ray vision and the power of flight.
MTV: There are several times in the movie where we see you in serious danger. How many times did you nearly die?
Spurlock: A few times. A couple times when we were in Afghanistan, we felt that things could get hairy. We were embedded with the military for a while, and those guys are targets. … There’s suicide bombings in Pakistan — people will walk right into hotels and blow themselves up, or in crowds of people where there are Westerners.
MTV: As such, in the film you go undercover by growing a beard and putting on the local garb. But still, you tend to stick out.
Spurlock: [He laughs.] Yeah, it’s hard for a 6-foot-2 pale white guy to disappear completely. I don’t have a lot of pigment, I don’t speak the language … but the thing about the beard is that somebody said you need to do whatever you can to feel comfortable. And since everybody there has beards, you get the sense that maybe you’re hidden on some level. Or maybe I’m just crazy.
MTV: We remember your struggles against the fast-food giants in the “Super Size Me” days. Now you’re pointing out the president’s shortcomings. Does the government ever give you a hard time?
Spurlock: No. … It’s really easy to get on the [Bush-bashing] bandwagon, but we don’t. It talks about some of the things that have happened during this administration over the last seven years but also things that happened decades before Bush ever came to office.
MTV: The cat is out of the bag at this point: Osama doesn’t even appear in the film. But now that you’ve tried to track him down, can you appreciate why our government hasn’t successfully done so after seven years?
Spurlock: As a filmmaker, I was able to get up to the border area where he [allegedly] is, and I don’t have Special Ops training, and I’m not some super-secret spook CIA guy, right? You’d think somebody could go in there, somebody who speaks the language, and could immerse themselves much better than the 6-foot-2 white guy that I am. I still have questions, but let’s say by the end of the movie I have more answers than questions.
MTV: Imagine that you round a corner this afternoon in Park City, and Osama’s standing there. What do you want to ask him?
Spurlock: [He laughs.] I would really want to know: How does it end? How can this all stop? Al Qaeda is still out there saying, “Get those Westerners!” When Bush was just in the Middle East, they were saying, “Go out there and attack him!” These are really vicious words … there’s got to be a way for this to come to a conclusion, without thousands of people dying.
MTV: When you were filming, did you have the CIA on speed dial, just in case you did spot Osama hanging out at a Starbucks?
Spurlock: [He laughs.] Yeah, “He’s at a Starbucks, and he’s having a falafel! Quick!” We spoke to a lot of people. We spoke to the former head of the bin Laden unit at the CIA, and his whole thing was that there’s no effort to find Osama bin Laden. There’s a lot of talk that it’s just that: all talk.
MTV: What God-awful thing do you plan to do to yourself next?
Spurlock: [He laughs.] Right now, the most death-defying thing I want to do is spend time with my son.
Wait, the credits haven’t rolled yet! See our complete coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival — including breaking news, celebrity interviews, red carpet photos, movie clips and tons more.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?”