NEW YORK – Morgan Spurlock (search) was once more feared in McDonald's Land than the Hamburgler.
Spurlock became a human guinea pig in the film "Super Size Me (search)," where he embarked on a monthlong diet consisting exclusively of McDonald's food. His experiment wreaked havoc on both his health and relationship with vegan chef and current fiancee, Alexandra Jamieson. He packed on more than 20 pounds, sent both his cholesterol and blood pressure sky-high and even damaged his liver.
But the film went on to become the third highest-grossing documentary of all time, and earned Spurlock an Academy Award nomination. Taking the premise from his monthlong McSperiment, Spurlock has a new offering on his plate -- a television show.
"30 Days (search)," premiering Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FX, is a documentary series where people are placed in uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations for a period of 30 days.
In the premiere, the only episode starring Spurlock, both he and his fiancee give up their cash and credit cards and move to Columbus, Ohio, where they spend 30 days trying to live on minimum wage. Spurlock makes ends meet by picking up trash, making pizza and working in construction. His fiancee washes dishes at a coffee shop.
Other episodes include a Christian man who spends 30 days living with a Muslim family; a straight man who spends 30 days living with a gay couple in San Francisco and an aging athlete who experiments with anti-aging drugs to revitalize his marriage.
Spurlock took time out of his busy U.K. promotional book tour in support of "Don't Eat This Book (search)," (Penguin) to discuss his new show, his book and the fast food industry.
Q: Do you think Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald's Corp., who died in 1984) spun over in his grave after your film and book came out?
A: (laughs) You know, that's a great question! I don't know. I thought he might be spinning in his grave after his wife left $250 million to NPR [National Public Radio].
Q: Do you think it was a coincidence that after "Super Size Me" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003, the McDonald's menu was suddenly without Super Sized items?
A: Yeah, they say that was just a coincidence and it had nothing to do with the film whatsoever. So, I guess we should believe them! You have to think, it was kinda timely the way that happened. Right after the film premiered at Sundance, and right before it opened in theatres, that was their last chance to be pro-active rather than reactive. You can't help to think that the film had some impact on that decision.
Q: What do you think about the new "healthier" choices on the McDonald's menu like the salads and the veggie burger?
A: What I like to tell people is that they're getting the lettuce curtain in front of the big fat stage.
Q: What was your least favorite item on the McDonald's menu?
A: I would have to say the fish sandwich. Those things are terrible!
Q: You came up with the idea for "Super Size Me" during a Thanksgiving weekend at your parent's West Virginia home. What was mom's reaction to your idea?
A: My mom just shook her head and said, [in a soft tone], "Well, if that's what you wanna do.'" I think my mom just realized a long time ago to stop trying to change my mind.
Q: What was your vision for the film at the beginning, and how does it feel to have had an impact on people's lives?
A: It's really overwhelming. It's completely gratifying and humbling. My goal when we were making the movie was to make a film that I hoped would deal with a serious issue, but in an entertaining way. When I got to Sundance, I was just hoping that we could sell it and get into a theater. The film has gone beyond every expectation I ever had.
Q: What was your life like after the film became a massive hit? You must get stopped and recognized as "that hamburger guy" all the time.
A: It's been a really surreal experience -- that's for sure. The great thing is to see the impact the film and the book have had both here and abroad. I'm in the U.K. right now and just this past Monday, a guy stopped me on the street and said, [in a British accent], "You're that guy. You're that 'Super Size Me' guy." He goes, "Hold on. Hold on." He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his wallet and starts showing me pictures of him from five months ago, and he goes, "Look at that, that used to be me! I've lost three stones since I've seen your movie." He was talking about how he stopped eating fast food and how he joined a gym.
Q: How important was your fiancee's influence when you were detoxing from the McDonald's diet?
A: Alex's detox was key in cleaning me out and getting me back to normal. Over the eight weeks I was on her diet, my cholesterol, my liver function and my blood pressure all returned to normal.
Q: When it came to your new show, "30 Days," why did you opt out of starring in every episode?
A: Because Alex told me that I wouldn't have a girlfriend any longer!
Q: So, you just decided to drag her along to live with you in Columbus, Ohio?
A: I told her, "How about I just do one episode?" She said, "If you're going away for a month, I'm coming with you." So, I said, "Let's do this one together." She was into the idea and she liked it, but it got really hard. I think she was thinking, "What did I get myself into?" but I think she says that a lot in our relationship.
Q: What was the hardest thing about living on minimum wage, and what did you learn about the people you interacted with during your 30 days?
A: You realize that these are people who work hard every day. And they're not kids. These aren't people who are like 16 and 17 years old who are using this as a stepping stone to a better job. For me, I saw what a strain it was on my relationship with Alex. I could only imagine what it would be like to do this day in and day out, month in and month out, year in and year out, and how hard that would be on a couple.
Q: As a teenager growing up in West Virginia, or when you first moved to New York, what was the worst job you've held?
A: There was this one summer where I worked part-time for a rental company where they rented party supplies. We would have to set up and tear down tents for big weddings -- load in tables, dishes. It was a terrible job!
Q: When you were pitching "30 Days" to the networks, did you face any resistance? Why did you feel FX was a good home for your project?
A: We met with all the networks, and FX got it from the beginning. All the big networks were like, "Who wins on this show?" They were like, "Who gets voted off?" "Does anyone win?" You win, the viewer. This is a show that's really dealing with important issues in America, and I think most people try to stay away from anything that has a lot of teeth. For me, I hope the show just plants some seeds in people, so they start to think about the world we live in and the decisions we make in our everyday lives.
Q: Who do you think would win in a fight, Grimace or the Burger King?
A: (laughs) Dude, look at Grimace! Seriously, he's all nice and happy, but nobody has ever seen him get mad and crazy. He'd have that purple power and get all nutty and rip him apart.
Profile of Morgan Spurlock
Reading: "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith" by Jon Krakauer and "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century" by Thomas L. Friedman
On his iPod: Jack Johnson. Wants to pick up Coldplay, "X&Y"