When a clip of Eminem discussing his addiction to prescription meds — and just how close that addiction came to killing him — began making the round earlier this week, it certainly helped elevate the profile of Matthew Cooke’s “How To Make Money Selling Drugs,” the documentary from which it came.
That was both good and bad, mind you … after all, any publicity for a film is good, particularly one that tackles an issue as complex and controversial as the United States’ seemingly endless War On Drugs. On the other hand, Em’s interview, while eye-opening, represents just one small part of Cooke’s sprawling film. Through interviews with drug dealers, DEA agents, legal experts, addicts and activist celebs (Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon and 50 Cent all appear in the film), he not only explains just how one can go about making substantial sums of cash in “the underground economy,” but examines the far-reaching effects of U.S. drug policies, and wonders, rather matter-of-factly, if this is a war worth fighting any longer.
“In college, I studied the economic effects of the War on Drugs, and it hit me ‘Wow, we’re going about this in the wrong way.’ So, about 15 years ago, I first had the idea to make this film,” Cooke told MTV News. “But, at the same time, I knew it would be a challenge. Myself and [the film's co-producer, actor] Adrian [Grenier] had this running joke, where we didn’t want to make a spanking documentary; we didn’t want to make a 90-minute film that just spanks the audience and makes them feel bad and hide in the back of their room and cry because they feel they have no power.”
So, through interviews with those who profited from, and fought in, the War on Drugs — not to mention cold, hard facts — Cooke is out to inform and, hopefully, empower viewers to demand change. Or, at the very least, make them aware of the ongoing (and increasingly ineffective) policies that have done more harm than good.
“I think most people don’t understand the scope of the damage that the War on Drugs causes. I don’t think most people realize that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, as a result,” he said. “My goal was to reflect what the War on Drugs is teaching our communities, what the black market is teaching our communities.”
Which is why, though he would have preferred the Eminem interview didn’t leak, Cooke was more than willing to discuss it … and not just because he hopes it will bring fans out to theaters. After all, Em’s honesty about his addiction could help inspire others.
“Talking to Marshall was an honor, the guy is one of the great artists of our time; and he is incredibly sincere and open and forthcoming, and I think it’s so huge for other addicts out there, who struggle, to have somebody that they see as having made it, having everything that he would want in life,” he said. “And yet, here is a guy who says openly that he couldn’t imagine how anyone could just live life without being on something. He he had this feeling of discomfort inside of himself that he was trying to fix and resolve through that perfect cocktail of various drugs, which is what addicts experience.”
Cooke said that he shot the interview with Eminem at some point over the past three years (“I’m not good with remembering exact dates from the past,” he laughed), and that Em agreed to appear in the film after hearing little more than a basic plot outline. Seems he wanted to talk, because he too knew that his words could help those struggling.
“I just told him what I was doing about the film, that I wanted to ask him about addiction, and that there was no agenda and whatever he wanted to share,” Cooke said. “When Eminem talks about his addiction I think it’s very arresting, because he has that power and impact. So hopefully people watch it and they have some sense of empathy and sympathy for the person who falls into that trap, because that’s a very strong man revealing something very, very challenging that could have killed him.”