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American Bigmouth 

Why Michael Moore won’t shut up

Thursday, Mar 4 2004
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I sit with Moore in the back of a second car; in front are an Asian driver and a tall African-American security guard chatting quietly into his palm. (Moore later explains that he receives occasional death threats.) We are headed to Eagle Rock, where Moore is scheduled to hold a press conference and then speak to students and faculty at Occidental College, a campus of fellow travelers if ever there was one.

I’d been apprehensive about spending time in an enclosed space with someone as unstoppably “on” as Moore is in public. The previous day he and his entourage had swept like a tsunami into Borders in Santa Monica, where several hundred of his fans had waited two hours to have their copies of Dude signed. He yelled out his “stop Bush” routine, bantered with everyone who approached the table, and turned this ordinarily decorous bookstore into a circus. One-on-one, though, Moore is refreshingly wary and ill at ease, even a little nervous. Like many performers, he seems to deflate like a pricked balloon without a large audience to play to. Once reassured that I’m not an attack dog, he relaxes into a charming, thoughtful and savvy conversationalist. He’s no less prickly than Dean, but there’s little evidence of the brash, self-promoting blowhard one sees poking out of his movies, or the overly solicitous nanny who’s rightly been called on the carpet for condescending to the ordinary people he champions in his movies. Hunched as always in a black jacket over a maroon T-shirt and jeans, an incongruously timid stubble of beard, and a baseball cap marked “University of Denver,” Moore wears the slightly haggard look of one who’s recently lost a ton of weight. He’s still a bulky Midwesterner (“If you were to travel with me to Michigan, I’d be one of the skinniest people at the airport,” he says), but he’s dropped 50 pounds on a slow, low-carb diet that involves no foods labeled nonfat. “They’re full of sugar,” he says. “It’s all bullshit.”

Losing weight is not the only change in lifestyle that has accompanied Moore’s financial success. With his wife, Kathleen Glynn, who co-produced Bowling for Columbine, and a not especially politically minded daughter who just graduated from college, Moore divides his year between a log cabin in Michigan (seven months, he’s careful to point out) and a $1.2 million apartment in Manhattan (five months). Not bad for the son of a clerical-worker mother and a father who made spark plugs for General Motors in Flint, Michigan. Moore is alternately wry and touchy about his newfound affluence, insisting that he lives above a Baby Gap store, as if that somehow made his living quarters more proletarian. He has few material needs to indulge, he says, other than a passion for country music.

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It’s clear, though, that Moore has new promises to keep — which may be why, on the way to Occidental, we’re stopping off to distribute free copies of Dude not to striking grocery workers at a local Vons, but to the people he worked with on Bowling for Columbine at MGM. The prospect of even a small audience clearly jazzes Moore, and as we sweep through the warren of cubicles in the studio building, he’s already revving up for my benefit, and that of a friendly but slightly nonplused group of midlevel executives.

“Quick, Moore’s here, get under the desks,” he whispers theatrically, and as we pass a life-size cardboard cutout of an action figure who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger, he mutters, “Hitler groper.”

Still, notwithstanding the booing that went on at the Oscars last year (Moore insists the heckling came from the suits in the gallery, not the creative types down below), Moore would be the last to deny that the entertainment industry has done well by him. When I point out the obvious, that he’s become part of the corporate enemy he’s been attacking ever since Roger & Me, he responds rather lamely that a lot of former ’60s radicals are working in the business now (some were even in SDS!) and that even Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein is a standup guy with “very committed political beliefs and a desire to see change.” And he concedes under pressure that the youthful political passions of today’s suits are neither here nor there when it comes to the global sins of big business. “As long as they can make money off me, it virtually doesn’t matter what the message is,” he admits. “Which is kind of sad when you think about it.” He laughs. “But that is the fatal flaw of capitalism. They’ll sell you the rope to hang themselves with if they can make a buck off it.”

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