“You sound 40% smarter because your accent just sounds that much more polished.”
Morgan Spurlock’s charm mission swings into gear.
“Until you do actually start speaking, and it drops,” he adds, beaming.
The acclaimed documentary maker is reflecting on the difference between “you Brits” and “us Yanks”, the subject of his new series New Britannia, which takes him around the British Isles with a catalogue of Brit/US-friendly guests in tow – Ruby Wax, Howard Marks, Jamie Oliver and company.
What qualifies and motivates Mr Spurlock – hamburger connoisseur (Super Size Me), pursuer of evil (Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?) and deconstructor of film product placement (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) – to cast his appraising eye thus?
“Because I am an outsider, and sometimes you need an outsider just to hold up the mirror and say that shirt doesn’t look very good, it doesn’t fit right… you need a friend, and seeing as how we have such a special relationship now, I just want to continue it.”
What, I dare ask, were the ill-fitting shirts he found along the way? He needs no prompting:
“In the US there is this disturbing north-south divide, I live in the north, and if I go visit friends in the south, it’s like “you’re just a yankee now” and I wonder… what year is it?
“Then, when I started travelling around the UK, I discovered the same north-south divide. I’d never known about it, and I had no idea it was going to be so definitive. I think it’s not antagonistic, because most of you don’t have to deal with each other, just like the States, it’s just… those people are stupid down there, those people are stupid up there, the idiot’s always on the other side.”
Spurlock claims he’s been in search of both positive and negative things, but obviously it’s the wacky stuff that’s tickled him.
“The whole idea of the class system fascinates me, which people love to say doesn’t exist any more. I discovered you could actually buy a title along with land, which is essentially buying class. It makes perfect sense that a right and title was once part of hereditary law (he raises his eyebrows), so why not attach some dollar value to it? For me, it was £179. I am now the proud Lord of Glencoe. Has quite a ring to it.”
The image of Lord Spurlock of the Loch sipping coffee in a London hotel is a few million miles away from Spurlock’s first entrée into the public consciousness, as the hamburger-munching activist of Super Size Me, a small-budget documentary that took on the fast-food behemoth with boardroom-rippling results. It was the reaction to it that helped him find his way:
“At one of the very first screenings for that film, before it got picked for Sundance, we held a Q&A afterwards,” he remembers, his face lighting up at the thought.
“There were only about 50 people, and one woman raised her hand and said ‘I just want to say thank you for making this film and talking about how terrible these corporations are,” and this other guy stood up and called her an idiot. Suddenly, people were arguing all over the place, and I leaned over to my editors and whispered ‘this is awesome.’ Wanting to make things that are entertaining and engaging all came from that moment. I’ve always believed if you can make people laugh you can make them listen.”
If Spurlock has become a totem for laser-focused investigation with a featherlight touch, he credits his upbringing in a house with two politically-minded parents, a father always busy with community clubs and events, and a mother who could never pass a stray, animal or human, without scooping them up.
“Throughout my childhood, her mantra was if I can help them, why shouldn’t I? That idea was installed in me from a young age, just by seeing her. That’s the greatest gift she’s given me… you don’t have to make a difference, but why wouldn’t you?”
Spurlock’s a father himself now, an event that’s shifted his priorities, if anything, into a higher gear…
“Before I just felt invincible, whereas now it’s about my son, and checking that I’m doing everything I can to safeguard his future, to make the world a better place.”
And what, for him, would that better place look like?
“Well, God forbid, we all start thinking. For me, it’s when that lightbulb comes on in someone’s head, for something they’ve never thought about before. That is probably one of the greatest things that can happen to you, just one…”
Morgan Spurlock’s New Britannia, Monday 2nd April, 10.10pm, Sky Atlantic HD and on the move with Sky Go. Here's a trailer below...
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