What do you think Bourdain would say about this film?
I think he would have had mixed feelings about the attention. There's a scene early on, where he's talking about doing Oprah for the first time and he says, "Oh, I hate myself". And then he smiles. On the one hand, there's a little bit of self-loathing and on the other, he loves it. He loved the attention. I think the fact that I'd made a film about Keith Richards and a film about Iggy Pop would have helped. He would have liked that I had some tastes that he liked. His friends tell me that he would have begrudgingly loved the film.
Very early on, we have the poignant line from Bourdain: "There's no happy ending". We all know the ending. So how did this frame the narrative for you?
When I first started cutting the film, I just started at the beginning. I didn't want to think or talk about his death, because I didn't want it to infect the entire film and for it to feel like a eulogy. So we told the story of him having that flush of success, where Kitchen Confidential takes off, and then he gets a TV show and all the excitement of that. And when I put it all together, it seemed like we were never going to get to the ending. So, I wanted to put something at the beginning that reminds people that we know where the story's going, and we'll get there, but we're going to take our time. We tend to read history backward, but we live our lives forward. I wanted to make sure that the film felt like we were actually on this journey with him and that the answer wasn't preordained.
Why did you decide to make this film and what fascinated you so much about him, as a subject?
There were a few things, one of which was that I thought he was a fellow traveller. To me, there was part of him that was a documentary filmmaker, in addition to being a TV host and a writer and a chef. But writer was really the label he liked more than any other. I felt like he was somebody who was fighting the good fight. He had a purpose to what he was doing, it wasn't just to make TV or make money - he couldn't care less about making money. It was really to show how people on the far side of the planet live and to make them dimensional people with hopes and dreams and fears. That just made me like him and feel like there was more to explore.
The other part of it was his death, which was so inexplicable to me and to people who didn't know him, and even to some people who did. I felt like unpacking that, in a way like a public service. I thought the film could maybe be cathartic for people.