When I did my amazing gig last year as a guest lecturer at the University of Victoria I was asked a few times about my fave celeb interviews. One of the first that always comes to mind… Michael Moore… and not just because he fed me lunch.
I was covering the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival for The Georgia Straight and my editor wanted a straight story, minus any first person anecdotage. It’s in their archives and it focuses on Moore’s fondness for Canada, eh. But when Melora Koepke heard about my interview she asked if I’d write the first person version for her magazine – the late, lamented Montreal fixture, The Hour.
With his new movie, Where to Invade Next, drawing raves and Oscar buzz I thought I’d finally post it here…
Lunch with Michael Moore
Michael Moore doesn’t just surf the Zeitgeist, he makes the waves.
I’ve seen all of Moore’s movies at least once – even the kinda lame ones about his tours (The Big One and Slacker Uprising, which is available for free download at http://slackeruprising.com). I own the complete set of his muckraking, Emmy nominated TV series The Awful Truth on DVD, all his bestselling books, subscribe to his blog, follow his twittering and practically memorized his Bowling for Columbine Oscar speech about how, “we live in fictitious times.”
I think what he does – or at least tries to do — is important enough that I don’t obsess over how he does it, I’ve gotten over my queasiness about his nasty interview with Charlton Heston in Columbine and his Quixotic support for Ralph Nader over Al Gore that arguably helped elect George Bush. Okay, I’m not entirely over that, but I still think the guy pushes buttons like no one else on the planet.
So when I found out I could interview Moore about his latest autopsy of the American dream, Capitalism: A Love Story, after the film’s North American premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, I was practically giddy.
When Moore walked by me in the hall of the Hotel Intercontinental wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a Commie red Rutgers University ballcap and sneakers and said “hi” before disappearing into a room to wait for his interviews I was starstruck. And when someone from a higher profile paper took my interview spot, a member of his team told me they had to race to Pittsburgh for the US premiere and it looked like all I was going to get was the “hi” and a phone interview at a later date, I was decimated. And then…
Moore invited me to join him in his room for lunch before he left for the airport and offered to share his pizza. “It’s good, it’s healthy, it’s chicken, it’s whole wheat. Low-fat cheese. Go ahead.” I also scored a tiny glass bottle of Coke.
Asked how he defines himself these days, Moore’s answer starts with three words, “I’m a writer.” Then he expands. “My filmmaking comes from my writing. All good films are there because they’ve got a good story,” says Moore. “I’m a—I don’t use the words ‘political activist,’ because I think it’s redundant. If I’m a citizen of a democracy, it means I’m automatically a political activist. I have to be. All of us have to be. If we’re not active, it ceases to be a democracy.”
I suggest that in Canada there’s nothing in Capitalism a grade eight social studies teacher would get in trouble for teaching, but in the US questioning the merits of their economic system will have people accusing him of treason. Moore agrees. “They will, because they think it’s written in the constitution, “we’re a capitalist country” and how dare you speak against it.”
I mention that after watching the movie I pictured Larry King asking Moore if he’s a socialist. Moore does a not quite Saturday Night Live worthy King impersonation, “Well Mike, are you a socialist?” Then Moore switches to his own voice. “I’d probably just say I’m heterosexual. I’m overweight. I have blue eyes and brown hair. I don’t know what I would say to that. Because I don’t belong to any ideology, really. I’m a filmmaker. My job is to take a look at what’s going on and to make movies about it.”
Yep, a filmmaker who is almost the only non-politician who causes Fox News ranters to spontaneously combust. How does he deal with that level of rage?
He answers without cracking a smile, “I have a lot of security. They’re out in the hall right now.” His tone shifts to solemn, contemplative. “You know, I’ve lived a good life. I’ve accomplished things I never thought I’d be able to do. I raised a good kid. So I don’t think too much about it.” And it’s clear he has thought about it enough to try to make peace with the nightmare scenarios.
Then Moore talked about why he’s been treating Capitalism like it’s his last film. “I just got to thinking it’s been twenty years since I made Roger and Me and I’m still talking about General Motors. But now it’s bankrupt. The very thing I warned about, you know? I told people there weren’t weapons of mass destruction, we shouldn’t go into Iraq. I go back over all these movies, these things I’ve done, where it feels like I’m beating my head against the wall. At some point I just get tired of it. So if people aren’t going to join me and do it, if you Google “public enemy number one” and “FOX News” and it’s always my picture, then something’s wrong with that picture.”
I’m curious to know what accomplishment Moore’s proudest of. Surprisingly, he doesn’t mention the movies, TV shows or his adventures on the campaign trail. “I’m probably proudest of finding the courage on that Oscar stage to give up my moment and Kanye West myself.”
I thanked Moore for the za. He apologized that it was cold.
I wouldn’t have cared if it was frozen.