Documentarians don't come much more dedicated than Morgan Spurlock. The director nearly destroyed his liver on his McDonalds-only diet for his film Super Size Me; he and his girlfriend (now wife), Alexandra Jamieson, lived on minimum wage for his FX series, 30 Days; and this year he went to prison for the show. On the occasion of the Season 1 DVD release of 30 Days which brings to light different perspectives on controversial issues (homophobia, alcoholism, anti-Muslim sentiment) by asking people to walk a mile in someone else's shoes and before the July 26 premiere of Season 2, we caught up with the West Virginia native to find out if his experiments are still going as planned.
TVGuide.com: Congratulations on your DVD release, and on your release from jail. How did that happen?
Basically, I was sentenced by a judge in Virginia for contempt of court, so I got sentenced to 30 days. I came in just like any other inmate. It wasn't like I came in and was like, "Hey, it's going to be a vacation." I came in and was booked and processed along with everybody else. That was the key for me. I didn't want any special treatment. It was incredibly eye-opening for me to take a look at the prison system in the United States. [Note: Spurlock didn't actually commit a crime; his sentence was prearranged with the court for the FX show.]
TVGuide.com: That must have been hard on both you and Alex. You didn't have that same support system that you did during your other ventures.
To not have that really does make a difference. And when you're in jail, you spend a lot of time with your thoughts; you spend a lot of it in your head.
TVGuide.com: Was it harder than your other experiments?
It's just really different, because part of what jails and prisons do is to take away the self, try to knock you down mentally, emotionally. You become a number, just a cog in the machine. You come out and the assimilation back into society [is difficult]. Suddenly there's noise everywhere music blaring, people are talking really loud in a restaurant. And that was just after four weeks. Now imagine being in a place for five years, 10 years.
TVGuide.com: Did it change any of your preconceived notions?
Before I went in, I'd say, "Oh, jail, that's where they put the bad people" and when you spend time with these people, you meet a lot of people who make mistakes. These are people who need help to kick their drug habit[s], who need a second chance to turn their [lives] around....
TVGuide.com: So this year has already been kind of crazy for you.
It's been a crazy couple of years. Ever since [Super Size Me's debut at] Sundance, which was 2004, it's been nonstop. But to be in a position where you can actually do the things you've wanted to do for a long time is a really fortunate place to be.
TVGuide.com: You must be excited about seeing 30 Days on DVD now. Which was your favorite episode from the first season?
I could say, of course, that it's the one that Alex and I are in, "Minimum Wage." But I think that my two favorites are "Muslim and America" and "Straight/Gay." The idea of the show was to have someone walk a mile in someone else's shoes, to really take a moment to understand how someone else looks at the world. That's why I think "Muslim" and "Straight/Gay" really are a great representation of the model. You have these people who went and experienced something, who took a complete fish-out-of-water look at their life and [at another life] that is so antithetical to their own. And they come through, not having drunk all the Kool-Aid, but with the blinders pulled back a little bit, with a little more tolerance and understanding.
TVGuide.com: Have you talked to any of last season's participants since the show ran?
I've talked to a few of them. David Stacey, the guy who became Muslim for 30 days... it had a profound impact on him. It really changed his worldview in a lot of ways. He travels around the country now and lectures at schools. He goes to mosques and churches and talks about understanding one another's religions.
TVGuide.com: How do you feel about the ones that didn't turn out so well, like the binge-drinking mom whose hard-partying daughter didn't change her mind about drinking in the end?
Oh, I thought "Binge Drinking Mom" turned out amazing. When you're 18, 19 years old, like the daughter, you're invincible. But when you see the impact the mother had on her young son, who's at home witnessing the degradation of the mother... it's heartbreaking. I've run into so many parents who watched that episode with their kids to talk to them about the dangers of alcohol and [the importance of] making smart choices.
TVGuide.com: How do you find the participants for the show?
You can't just have an American Idol-type casting call, where people show up saying, "I want to be on TV, pick me!" It's important to find people who have a very strong belief system but at the same time have somewhat of an open worldview. If it's the "Straight/Gay" episode, we go to gay organizations and start casting the one side, and then to fill the other void maybe we find someone who's the relative of someone who's gay, or who's come into contact with someone who's gay.
TVGuide.com: Are you planning for a Season 3?
You'll have to ask FX.
TVGuide.com: But if they want one, you're in?
Oh, of course I'd do another one. After Season 1, we were like, "Oh, my gosh, what are we going to do next year?" But then you open up the paper and there are great issues to talk about. This season alone, the immigration issue we're opening with is an incredible hour of television.
TVGuide.com: Is it weird that people feel like they know you, since your documentaries are all in the first person?
It's a little weird, but luckily people aren't throwing rotten tomatoes at me. Most people are really nice. It is still weird to have people point at you and talk about you.
TVGuide.com: And speaking of your personal life, what's Alex up to now?
She's writing another cookbook, and we're going to have a baby later this year, so she's working on that!
TVGuide.com: Well, congrats again!
Pick up the July 17 issue of TV Guide to read about other reality shows such as Treasure Hunters and Last Comic Standing.
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