Morgan Spurlock’s career has been built on immersion. He jumps into many of his subjects, whether it’s fast food, product placement, the war on terror, coal mining, or jail. But there’s more to it than that. His humor and personality give the audience a way into these different subjects — many times he’s both a tour guide as well as a tourist, an amateur scientist as well as a willing lab rat.
His latest documentary, Mansome, looks into the world of male grooming and what it means to be a man. In addition to its various subjects, the film also features Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Adam Corolla, and many others. Mansome had its world premiere at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival and will open this Friday in select cities. We’ll repost our review of Mansome tomorrow morning with an additional opinion of the film.
I had a chance to speak with Morgan on the phone, and he was amiable even as a nagging helicopter flew over my head twice. He’d been doing interviews for Mansome all day, but he was in good spirits.
“I’m used to it at this point,” Spurlock said. “It’s one of those things where you kind of wind me up and I hit it.”
How was Tribeca for you?
Tribeca was amazing. It was the first time I ever had a film premiere there. You know, I was there a few years ago with Freaknomics where I was one of five other directors who were in that film, but to go there with a full-length film that was all mine was really special. Yeah, it was awesome.
How did you first get interested in the idea of manscaping?
I got a phone call from Ben Silverman. He and I, years ago, produced the TV series 30 Days for FX. And he’d gotten into business with Will [Arnett] and Jason [Bateman] and was working on a couple projects when the idea of doing a film about this world of male grooming came up. And so when the three of them called me and asked if I’d be interested in doing this film, I just jumped at the chance — you know, the chance to work with Will Arnett and Jason Batemen and tell this very funny story that looks at male identity. I thought it was just a great, fun movie.
You talk about the origin of your mustache in Mansome. Did you ever experiment with other facial hair growing up?
No, I mean, you know, when we made Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, I grew a big old, crazy, kind of Ted Kaczynski terrorist beard. I was traveling throughout the Middle East and I had this big crazy beard. But other than that I never really did anything. There was a time… There was a time, I guess in my twenties, where I did grow some crazy long sideburns that basically came down and came to a point along each side of my face. So, I guess I have tried a few different things.
Actually, when you were growing up, did you notice anything change in the nature of manscpaing?
I think back then when I was growing up, guys had big, bushy chevron/Tom Selleck mustaches, or guys had beards. Like, my dad had this almost Abe Lincoln-esque beard. Either my father was channeling his inner Amish cheesemaker or he was admiring our sixteenth President — I’m not quite sure which one it was.
I remember when he shaved off his beard, it was so weird for me. It was very reminiscent of what happened with my son [when I shaved off my mustache]. My son had a little meltdown because it was very, very strange.
What was your meltdown like when your father lost the Lincoln beard?
I mean, I was a little older, so I wasn’t that emotionally distraught. It was just odd seeing him. I remember that I was looking at him [and thought], “Who’s this weird guy that’s in my house suddenly?” You know, he didn’t even look like him. It wasn’t like my son. But what’s been amazing is that different people who’ve seen the film have told me they had very similar reactions when their fathers shaved off their mustaches or beards, like where they cried or they wouldn’t let their father hold them or put them in bed. They were all very freaked out. So it seems like what my son went through is a very typical thing.
I remember when my dad shaved off his mustache I went through an odd transition period.
Where did you find all the subjects to cover — from the beardsman to the pro wrestler to the metrosexual?
We found the professional wrestler because we were looking for either a body builder or a wrestler — just somebody who had to have that clean-shaven look for their career — and that’s how we found Shawn Daivari. We wanted to find somebody who was competing through their facial hair, and so when we found Jack Passion, I was like, “He is just the most perfect character.”
And then of course Ricky [Manchanda]. We found Ricky in New York City through craigslist — you can find wonderful things through craigslist, including the magical metrosexual that is Ricky.
Were there any topics you wanted to cover that you couldn’t fit into the film?
I feel like there were… We show, Mr. Carmine, who’s there making toupees for people, and one of the things we wanted to get into was hair transplants and how guys are doing that to look a certain way and to continue to have this young look about them. And we filmed a guy getting an actual surgical procedure, and it is a bit of a bloody, messy procedure. Once we started trying to edit it and put that into the film, we were like, “You know what? This just isn’t very funny. [laughs] This really isn’t working with our movie right now.” [laughs] And so we ended up cutting that out and just going with Mr. Carmine instead.
Which was so much more charming too.
He’s amazing, like with that fantastic Italian accent that he has, as he’s talking about how people look with bald heads. And he’s like, “You looka ri-di-coo-lous.”
He goes, “You have a little head and-ah big ears and-ah big nose — you looka ri-di-coo-lous.” [laughs]
[laughs] You also have all of the interview subjects. I mean, you go everywhere from Scott Ian from Anthrax to John Waters to Zach Galifianakis. Was this just a matter of putting out the call to people you knew or people who knew people?
Once we were moving forward with Will and Jason, I decided I wanted to have some other funny people comment on this world. Of course Adam Carolla from The Man Show, I’d been on his show before, I’d met Zach in the past, so we just started reaching out to these people and asking them if they want to be in the movie. I think having Will and Jason on board did lend a lot of comedic credibility to the movie already. I think it made people realize, or made people kind of see, where we were coming from and the type of movie we wanted to make and gave them a lot of confidence.
With Will and Jason’s bits in Mansome, were those all improv?
As we were shooting those, I gave them an idea of what I wanted them to talk about, like just kind of a seed. We knew where we were coming in and out of scenes from. Like we knew we were coming out of mustaches and going into beards, so [I’d tell them to] just kind of talk about this in the beginning and end up here, and then they’d just run with it. And how you see Will and Jason in the film, how they interact with each other, is exactly how they interact in real life. That’s what makes them so fantastic.
It just seems so natural. Obviously it’s a film, but it seemed like they were just hanging out at this spa.
And it’s literally just them hanging out, doing what they do all the time. It’s great. Like the very first lunch we had, it was that exact same energy in the lunch. All they did was just take the piss out of each other for two hours. I was like, “Yes, we have to make this movie.”
[laughs] Was there any material from Will and Jason’s parts of the film that you had to cut?
Oh, I mean, there’s so much stuff. When we make a film, we shoot hundreds of hours of footage that we end up cutting to like 90 minutes. So each one of the interviews with our people that are in the film were each about 20 minutes. There’ll be a lot of great bonus material when that mantastic DVD comes out.
[laughs] Is it going to be called “the Mantastic edition”?
I think it will have to be “the Mantastic edition.” I think I may have to write that down immediately!
[laughs] That actually ties into another question I had. You’re obviously shooting so much material, how do you find the shape to such a big topic like masculinity and manscaping?
Yeah, I mean you just have to hone in on characters. For us, that’s why the people were so important. When you have such a big idea and a big topic, you just start to hone in on character stories and let that dictate the direction that you’re going. So whether it’s Jack, who’s not only competing for his own manliness but also for America; or Ricky, who’s still trying to define his own place in this world, someone who for years felt like he’d been put down by his friends and people in his peer group, and he was trying to find his own sense of self; or somebody like Shawn Daivari, who, ultimately, this is his career, and to make it everyday in his career, he’s got to get up and shave his entire body for an hour-plus. By kind of rooting it in these people’s stories, I thought we could dive into some deeper kind of stories of body dysmorphia, or the Adonis complex, which I think really opens up some bigger questions.
How do you feel about body dysmorphia and the Adonis complex, since those are such big topics that describe what it is to be a man today, or at least the image of man?
I think that through this film we’re able to look at those and talk about those in a way that makes them a little more accessible to people. We’re coming in with laughs, and the movie does make you laugh and make you think, and so when you leave that film, I think you’ll have some very different ideas of what does it mean to be a man in today’s world.
There’s a lot of focus on what it is to be a man, but did you ever think about delving into what it means to be a boy and if there’s this tie between childhood and these notions of masculinity?
There’s some of those things that are talked about in the film. There is a big moment when you cross over from being a boy to a man, and that’s when you get your first razor. Like when you really start shaving, and so there were some of these conversations that we had because we wanted to have that kind of crossover conversation, but we decided to just root it into manhood and adulthood. We thought that was kind of a better story.
What do you think the future is for manscaping and man grooming? Like, will we see more products for the testicles?
Well, here’s my prediction. I think– Have you seen The Hunger Games?
I think in a few years, guys all across the world are going to have beards like Wes Bentley.
I think [laughs] — I think guys all across the world are going to have these incredibly intricate, crazy beards that they’ve taken hours to shave and look awesome. For me, everyday I look in the mirror, I’d love to have one of those beards, but then that just looks like work, and I’m like, “I’m not going to do that,” and I’d just shave it off.
I know you’re working on a narrative film. Is there anything you can say about its status?
Right now we’ve closed the financing, we’re trying to just figure out schedules right now. That’s the big thing.
Has it been something you’ve been wanting to make for a while now?
Yeah, we’ve been trying to make this film film for– I got attached to the film about three years ago, so we’ve just closed the financing, we’re working on the casting right now. You know, I’ve wanted to make a feature film for years, ever since I was a kind it’s what I’ve wanted to do. So hopefully it all works out.
Any other documentaries on the horizon for you?
Yeah, you know, no other feature docs that I’m working on, [but] we’ve got a series on Hulu called A Day in the Life, which is a weekly doc series that we do. We have a show called Failure Club that we do for Yahoo, which is also something we’re really proud of, but no other feature docs that we talk about right now.
Was there any subject that you wanted to chronicle but didn’t feel comfortable about chronicling?
I never get into anything that I don’t really want to do. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to make the movies I want to make, tell the stories I want to tell, so I’ve been really fortunate.
What do you think makes a great documentary?
I think things that seek out the truth, that make you look at the world in a very different way, that expose you to think you never thought about. I mean, for me those are sort of the heart and soul of what makes a great doc.