Director Morgan Spurlock has set his sights on McDonalds, Osama Bin Laden, the advertising world and Comic-Con, to name just a few subjects of his popular documentaries. His latest, Mansome, targets modern masculinity, and the myriad ripple effects created for men by a newfound obsession with grooming and appearance in our society.
Spurlock’s movie – executive produced by Will Arnett and Jason Bateman (who are interspersed throughout the film in hilarious comedic interludes) – explores facial hair, products geared toward male customers and body issues, and includes interviews with ordinary people, sociologists and celebrities (Zach Galifianakas, Judd Apatow, John Waters and Paul Rudd make particularly memorable appearances).
As with any Spurlock production, it’s no surprise to find humor and energy interjected into the exploration. We spoke with Spurlock shortly after Mansome had its world premiere at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, and he had a lot to say about his documentary’s unique interviewees, the oft-traumatic removal of facial hair, his upcoming narrative film and much more.
Movies.com: Confession time - you had the idea for this documentary while manscaping, didn't you!
Morgan Spurlock: I wish I could take full credit for it, but no - it came from [executive producers] Ben [Silverman], Jason [Bateman] and Will [Arnett]. They started talking about this idea and thought it sounded very funny, and Ben called…and so he said, "Would you be interested in meeting with Will and Jason about doing a film that looks at the world of manscaping?” And I think I busted out laughing the first time I heard it. And so Jeremy Chilnick, my producing partner, and I flew to LA, had lunch with Will and Jason and just cracked up for probably an hour and a half talking about the ridiculousness of what the film could be. I left lunch and I was like, "We're making this movie.”
Movies.com: Will and Jason in this movie are so hilarious - you use them as almost these chapter headers, where they essentially introduce each new section of the documentary. Did you give them a lot of direction or just let them riff with each other?
MS: The beauty of them is - when you see the way they interact on camera, it's how they interact in real life. Like they literally give each other sh*t like that constantly. They make fun of each other constantly. I knew we wanted to shoot with them last, and kind of use them as the links in the chain. So we would have them talk about a couple different topics - kind of, something that would be leading out of X and into Y. You know, covering some sort of a theme…what does it mean to be a man, what makes one masculine, talking about moustaches or beards or their hair. It was almost one of the last things we shot.
Movies.com: You've got this film separated into seven sections - i'm always interested to know how a documentary evolves. Whether it's very organic and just grows as you interview more people, or if you have an outline that you start with and stick to.
MS: Whenever we start something, Jeremy and I will sit down and we'll make an outline. Like, in a perfect world…if everybody had rainbows and unicorns, here's exactly how the movie would be! And then you start shooting and none of that ever happens. But at least what it does is it kind of puts you down a path. And makes you start to commit to something. And so for me it's like I wanted to have those pieces be a part of this conversation. And the more you talk to people, it just opens up more and more doors.
Movies.com: It's kind of like schadenfreude watching this as a woman, because you're like, "FINALLY! Dudes understand what we've been going through!" But it does still seem that societally - at least in America - men's grooming is in some ways more of an option than a necessity, as it is with women.
MS: I would say to a point. But it depends on what that grooming is. We live in a society now where we've made looks so important, we make decisions based on how somebody looks. And so I think that while it may be acceptable for men not to do it - and women could not do it too - we live in a time now where you start to limit your prospects. Whatever those prospects may be - for dating, for employment, for opportunity.
Movies.com: There was an event last year in Brooklyn called the "Brooklyn Beardfest and Stache Bash," and the year prior there was a Beard Ball in Williamsburg. It seems like the hipster movement is taking this idea of showcasing masculinity via facial hair, which you cite in the film, and turning it into something trendy.
MS: Yeah! Well that's what I thought was amazing - the whole idea of Movember, which is an incredible thing. Like here is this guy, Adam Garone, who created this charity event where for the month of November in Australia - he's Australian - and they call moustaches mo's. So for the month of November, all these guys grow mo's. And so it started off as just this thing with him and his friends…and now to date they've raised over 300 million dollars for prostate cancer research. They are the leading contributor to prostate cancer research in the world.
And the fact that they're doing it through getting men to grow moustaches is ridiculous, but amazing because, as he even says in the film, every guy wants to know what he looks like with a moustache. And now you have an excuse because you're doing it for charity.
Movies.com: I actually contributed to Movember this past year in memory of my dad (pictured right), who died of pancreatic cancer. And he had an epic moustache - which I actually thought of during the moment with you and your son in Mansome. When he cries because you shaved off your moustache? That happened to me with my dad - only I was 18.
MS: [laughs] No way, really?
Movies.com: My mom freaked out, too - she'd never seen him without a moustache. He had it for 30 years and one day, boom - gone. I love that moment in the documentary because it's true - you don't only identify yourself based on a silly thing like facial hair, but it's how others identify you as well.
MS: That's right! And that's the thing - the minute I shave off my moustache, I'm invisible. So my son doesn't see me as being a father, my people look at me differently - that I work with - they're kind of like, "Who are you? Who's this guy that's in the office now? It's this weird strange person that used to look like that guy but now is like the balding younger brother." [laughs]
Movies.com: It cracked me up when you were contemplating shaving off your facial hair and you were asking your barber and his associates what they thought of the idea. Because that's exactly what women do! With their friends, their stylists.
MS: [laughs] "Should I cut it short? "Oh, no - you shouldn't cut it short!"
Movies.com: And you know, it really doesn't matter what they say. If you're asking the question, you've already made the decision.
MS: [laughs] That's right!
Movies.com: There's a very interesting juxtaposition that you create during the section with clothing buyer Ricky, who is very conscientious about his appearance to the point of obsession. Ricky self-identifies as a metrosexual, and in the next scene you feature an interview with Judd Apatow where he says he thinks "metrosexual" is an offensive term. How did Ricky feel about seeing the finished film?
MS: Ricky loves it - because Ricky's proud of who Ricky is, and I think Ricky's story - what I like about his story - is the fact that here's a kid, he says, “Listen, I've been trying to fit in my whole life.” As a kid, he was such an outsider, and was made fun of…so he started to do everything he could to fit into society, that now it's almost like he's continuing to try and find his place of where he belongs.
Movies.com: I was touched by how self-aware he is.
MS: He's incredibly self-aware. And I think for him he realizes that there is a level of perfection that he doesn't think he'll probably ever get. But he doesn't want to give up trying because he wants to be able to look in the mirror and be like "That guy's perfect." And it literally stems from so much of what happened in his childhood.
Movies.com: Another interview subject who sticks with me is Carmine, the barber in Yonkers who makes custom hairpieces.
MS: How amazing is he? Because you see him put that wet rat on some guy's head and you're like, “That's the worst hairpiece I've ever seen!” But then by the end you're like, "Oh my God, it's hair! It's like real hair on there!" The guy is a magician! He is fantastic, what he does.
Movies.com: How did you find him?
MS: We were literally doing a search. Because I wanted to find guys in hairpieces. So it started off as I wanted to interview guys with really bad hairpieces. And as we started trying to find those people, we started going to toupee places…and then we found Mr. Carmine. And then he's so passionate about what he does.
Movies.com: It's clear that there are moments of incredible luck where you stumble upon certain people and they're great characters for a film. What was the craziest way you discovered a Mansome interview subject?
MS: We started looking for weird products. And eri Haitkin, our producer on the film, came in and she goes, “Look what I found!" And she shows me this - I dunno if it was a press release or a story - about this guy in Vegas who created Fresh Balls. And the minute she read it, I was like, “That is fantastic!”
Movies.com: And I noticed in one particular product shot that he had something called Fresh Breasts, too.
MS: Yeah! Fresh Balls for the dudes - or Fresh Breasts could also be for very buxom guys! If you are a drippy-breasted guy… [laughs] I do know guys who have large breasts.
Movies.com: Well, I'd never heard of "bat wings" before. So thanks for teaching me that phrase, Fresh Balls guy!
MS: [laughs] It's enlightening!
Movies.com: I'd love to know about the upcoming narrative you're directing. I know you've mentioned you'll be divulging more details this summer, and that you have a lead actor and his father cast. Anything else you can tell me?
MS: [nods no]
Movies.com: What about the process of working on a narrative as opposed to a documentary, since this is a new format for you. What's that been like?
MS: Well, it's like you're doing rewrites on a script and you know how the story's going to start and you know how the story's going to end. Like, I know how it begins on page 1, I know how it ends on page 111. And so to already come in and kind of have an idea and a real vision of knowing from beginning to end what's going to happen is very different. You know, we'll shoot a documentary for a year…and with this you've got, you know, eight weeks.
Movies.com: What kind of a director do you think you'll be after coming from this world of interviewing people behind a camera - do you think you'll be more relaxed, allow for more improv? Or will you work to break out of that and be more precise?
MS: I don't know! I think having made films already gives you a level of confidence in that you know what goes into the filmmaking process, but it's a very different animal. You know, for me it's about making sure we have the best people working on the film where I feel confident that everything's getting done so that I can focus on just directing the movie.
Mansome opens in theaters on May 18.