Michael Moore is wearing shorts in New York City in mid-December. It’s unseasonally warm here, which is great for those who hate the cold, but not great for those who don’t want to die in a global warming-caused catastrophe. “I feel the same way I would if I woke up at 2 in the morning and the sun was out,” Moore says, laughing. “We should be just as freaked out.”
But Moore is here to talk about something more upbeat. His latest documentary, “Where to Invade Next,” which hits New York City and L.A. on Dec. 23 and nationwide in February, finds him traveling the globe highlighting social services done better in other countries than in America: lavish school lunches in France, extravagant vacation time in Italy, prisons that actually seek to reform inmates in Norway, free women’s health clinics in Tunisia. Thing is, he says, these can all be a reality here, too.
Things have been very, very bad for the world in the last few months, but I feel this film is an optimistic burst of fresh air. It’s like a utopian thought experiment for ways to we could hypothetically fix little parts of America.
Except the difference between utopia and this is this is actually happening in these countries. This is real. It’s not a fantasy. I want someone in charge here to tell me with a straight face they can do [healthy student lunches] in Slovenia but they can’t do it here. Somehow they can afford it but we can’t.
Is there one social service in your film that is closer than the rest to being implemented here?
We’re close to having a woman president. We’re three states from the passing the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment]. Decriminalization [of drugs] — that’s going to happen. The new drug czar was on “60 Minutes” the other night saying the War on Drugs is over. We lost.
Better maternity leave is one that seems close.
That’s going to definitely happen.
There’s always a pushback against these issues, even good ones, and usually from the far right. Why do you think that is?
Because they’re angry, old white guys — guys who like their La-Z Boys, do the same things every day the same way. Change is hard to take. But it’s too late. It’s over. Those days are over. The Republican Party is over. The Republican Party can’t win the White House. We would all have to stay home. Eighty-one percent of those voting next year are either female, people of color or young adults between the ages of 18 and 35. That’s 81 percent of the population. They have offended and alienated all three of those groups. Not a single young person thinks they’re cool. I haven’t seen a lot of 19 year olds running around with Ted Cruz T-shirts on. They’re over and they know they’re over. That’s why they push back on these things, because they know it’s their dying days.
You made this film under the radar. You weren’t talking about it on social media as you were making it and people didn’t know what it was until it played the Toronto Film Festival. Why did you do this incognito?
I wanted to unplug from the noise. I wanted to be away from the hype. We wanted to focus on the work. You don’t know me personally — and I don’t want to put words in your mouth — but you may think I’m somebody who likes to have the bully pulpit, who goes on the Oscar stage and screams, “Shame on you, Mr. Bush!” But I haven’t been on TV since October of 2013.
Speaking of the right-wing, I sometimes feel bad there isn’t much in the way of right-wing comedy. Fox News tried to have an analog of “The Daily Show” a decade back but it failed instantly. Why do you think that is?
They’re not funny. Why isn’t there more right-wing rock ‘n’ roll? Why aren’t right-wing artists being hung in MoMA? Generally they don’t express themselves artistically. But there was a time, in the early days of Rush Limbaugh, before he went huge, he would do conservative comedy on the radio. I didn’t think it was that funny, because you know. But he was trying to be funny. And he gave that up. There have been funny conservatives in the past — P.J. O’Rouke, Christopher Buckley. I went to see “Thank You for Smoking” and they were surprised I was there. I was like, why not? I’m always for a good movie. If you can make me laugh that counts for something.
Do you get along with the right?
Yeah. I treat them like human beings. I don’t see them in a dehumanized manner. I don’t see them as the devil. I just see them as wrong. And I love to debate. If they want to debate me on the issues, I love that. But if they want to go for personal attacks, I just say to them, “You know you’re admitting you lost the debate on ideas, because you have to go to that place.”
Speaking of which, did you actually watch “An American Carol,” the right-wing comedy that features a parody of you as the protagonist?
Yes, I did. There were only two people in the theater. It was so weird. But what did I think while I was watching it? [Laughs] I said to my buddy, “This really pisses me off. This film is so bad as a movie. I deserve a better attack movie. [Laughs] If you’re going to do it, man, do it.” And the poor kid who played me [Kevin P. Farley, brother of Chris], I don’t know how many times I’ve run into him and he said, “I’m so sorry I did that!” “It’s OK, man. Everybody has to pay the rent.”
I have to ask about Donald Trump. We’re speaking the day before the latest Republican presidential debate, the week after he said he would ban all Muslims from entering the country. You’ve said you’re going to release a letter if he doesn’t back down [which he didn’t, and Moore did], talking about when you first met him on Roseanne Barr’s daytime talk show in 1998. What was he like then?
He was scared. The producer took me aside and said, “He’s really nervous about going out there. He’s afraid you’re going to rip him up.” I’m from Michigan. I knew who he was; I was glad he even knows who I am. But that he thinks he has to worry about me is crazy. They asked me if I could calm him down. I felt I had to relax the guy. It was not my image of who he was. But I have read things by him and I now know what he was doing. He was trying to create the room. I’m sure when he does his negotiations he doesn’t walk in in a bombastic way. He does try to get along with everybody. It’s like he says: he writes checks to all parties, all candidates. That’s how he’s lived his life. He just wanted to get along. Can’t we all get along?