THE Q&A

'Sicko' the Controversy

Michael Moore talks about attracting the ire of the Bush administration with his new health care documentary, and how he wishes Katie Couric would be more forthcoming with the public

Michael Moore | MOORE THAN ENOUGH Michael Moore claims he doesn't relish the negative attention he attracts with his projects
Image credit: Chitose Suzuki/AP
MOORE THAN ENOUGH Michael Moore claims he doesn't relish the negative attention he attracts with his projects

It's 3:10 in the afternoon and Michael Moore has just finished making breakfast. Another episode in the lazy life of a wealthy documentary filmmaker? Hardly. Moore was up all night working on his new documentary, Sicko, a scathing look at the health care industry that's slated to debut at the Cannes film festival on May 19. Already under fire from the government for taking his crew to Cuba, Moore put aside his cereal to chat about HMOs, his treatment in the media, and (surprise!) the Bush administration.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So what makes you think there's a problem with our health care system?
MICHAEL MOORE: [laughs hard] I said to the crew on the first day, ''Let's not insult the audience by telling them that the health care system is broken. Let's start with the assumption that people know it. What kind of film would we make then?''

Health care strikes me as something that's a lot harder for you to be adversarial about.
True. You know, I have done no interviews on this film. I've kept very quiet. But it's kind of funny when you're reading about your movie that no one has seen and it's described as this and that.

What's the biggest misconception out there?
That I set out to go to Cuba. [According to press reports, Moore was served with a letter from the Treasury Department informing him that they were conducting a civil investigation to determine whether he had violated the U.S. trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba when he accompanied ailing Ground Zero workers there for treatment while filming Sicko.]

Care to clear that up?
No. [laughs] I just want to enjoy the next five days reading about how I wanted to go to Cuba to show off their health care system. I think people are going to have to do a serious rewrite after [the first screening in Cannes].

But it is true that the Treasury Department sent that letter.
That is very true and very serious. And the lawyer who helped us set up everything and made sure that we were going to do everything following the law [in Cuba] has never had a client receive this kind of letter before. And he takes down Audioslave, who did the first rock concert down there, and he's taken various other groups of artists or journalists or whatever. It's a very serious letter and we're taking it very seriously.

The PR can't hurt though.
I mean, I know the conventional wisdom is that the smartest thing for the Bush administration to do would be to say nothing, to ignore the film and it'll go away. But they can't help themselves, I guess. And somebody must have gone last week, ''Hey, it's premiering in Cannes. We really gotta do something. So let's really come out against him and no one will go see the movie.''

C'mon, surely they know this publicity helps you.
They're that divorced from the popular culture. They don't really understand me, the impact of my films, or how what they did will only bring more people to the film. I wasn't going to talk to anybody until we got to Cannes and people saw it there — and then this [letter] happens. But it's serious. The lawyers are telling us that we have to take some precautions immediately to protect the film. So we had to create a digital master copy and have it shipped out of the country so that if anything was seized, at least we'd have the master to make a negative from. This is really insane when you think about it in a free country.

When something like the Cuba thing happens, do you have this little moment where you're like... GOOD. They're playing right into my hands.
No. [pause] Nope. No, that is not my first thought. My first thought is: I don't need this hassle.

Are you sitting there just as the triannual feeding frenzy is about to start thinking, ''Why didn't I make a nice fun movie like Canadian Bacon again?''
You know, I don't relish all the noise that surrounds me and my work. I'm still stunned when I read these comments: ''Oh, he must like the hype!'' The last time I was on TV was the Today show in January of 2005, when Katie Couric said to me, ''I'd rather rearrange my sock drawer than talk to you.'' And off camera she's so friendly! Telling me inside stuff like how [the White House] called the big shots at NBC to complain about an interview she did. She's telling me...how she actually got a memo, and this is in the early days of the war, saying tone it down! And I said to her during the commercial, ''Why don't you tell this on the air?'' And she says, ''Aww, I'd lose my job.'' ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You can't lose your job. You have your job. It's called the KATIE COURIC JOB! You can write an op-ed and let the public know how this kind of manipulation takes place. And she says, ''I have to really watch it.'' And then the red light comes on and she's on the attack. And that's when I said, ''I don't need this.'' [A spokesperson for Couric responds, ''Katie has done many hard-hitting interviews over the years. Her responsibilities as a journalist require that her questioning reflects several different viewpoints. I'm glad Katie left such an impression on Michael.'']

Originally posted May 15, 2007 Published in issue #935 May 25, 2007 Order article reprints