Director Morgan Neville’s poignant documentary chronicles Bourdain’s journey from New York chef to well-known author to beloved globe-trotting TV personality, and tries to shed some light on the mystery of his 2018 suicide at the age of 61.
Neville said, “I think his death was such an unexpected thing for the public, that for the people it’s just like this cultural rip-off on paper.”
Neville, whose movies made TV’s Mister Rogers “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” And the backup singers in “20 Feet From Stardom” believe the film could give audiences a more holistic understanding of Bourdain.
Fans who felt they knew Bourdain through his TV work, most recently on CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” will likely find it cathartic — and heartbreaking.
CNN spoke with Neville about what he discovered in making “Roadrunner,” which airs Sunday, April 10 on CNN.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CNN: What did you find interesting about this project? You didn’t meet Borden. What attracted you?
Neville: I had questions about that. I guess I was like a lot of people, I was a fan. I had read some of his books, starting with “Kitchen Confidential”.
I watched the show over and over again, but always really liked it when I saw it and liked it and found him to be a funny, complex, smart guy who’s really kind of an ambassador for curiosity, I guess. .. I felt like work he was doing important work, you know, that what he was doing was humanizing people on the far side of the planet and showing similarities and breaking bread with people Was talking and what did all these things mean.
So that was everything I liked about him, but I also… I just had questions about him, like I think a lot of people did. And of course in the wake of her suicide, I guess the reaction I got is, How does this happen?
Bourdain traveled tirelessly for his television series, including “Parts Unknown”. He especially loved Vietnam.
CNN: You wanted to find out who Borden was. What did you come up with that surprised you?
Neville: The first surprise was that he was a shy, naughty man who constantly read books and worked in the kitchen on his feet 12 hours a day, six days a week for 20 years.
You know, like he was before. …the “Kitchen Secret” version of his early life is great and it’s funny and it’s romantic, but I don’t think you understand his shyness and his kind of playfulness, his grit too, his physicality and all that . From the very beginning.
And so it was part of him, and then he began to see that once the world opened up to him and he could travel all the time, how these things he always wanted became the new defining principles of his life. … he was addicted to heroin, she wrote about him and that the rigors of the kitchen kept him straight and narrow …
Anthony Bourdain worked in New York’s restaurant kitchens for decades.
Courtesy of Dimitri Kastrin/Focus Features
And he says in the film, “Inside here, I’m safe in the kitchen, but outside that door, that’s what scares me.” And when he left the kitchen behind, he was aware that he was suddenly going deep into the water and didn’t know what was going to happen there. … so he was very aware of the fact that he was becoming oblivious to the things that had really anchored him for a long time.
And some of the things that he got along the way were really energetic and exciting, but part of it is that I felt like he never really found a new pier that stuck. I mean, he got married, he had a kid, he had moments like, oh, I can live this kind of life and I can be such a responsible person and I really like all these new things. I can join. … be it jujitsu or writing. But… there was an unease that I think he actually revealed in a way that he could never shut down.
Bourdain’s ex-wife Ottavia Busia-Bourdain appears in “Roadrunner”.
Courtesy of Discovery Access/Focus Features
CNN: So what was the journey like for him in that context?
Neville: a medicine. You know, an addiction for sure.
And then, the journey is wonderful, you know, the journey is great, and a lot of the things that he admitted were wonderful. But traveling 250, 270 days a year – at a certain point, it’s not traveling, it’s running and I think it’s something he never really understood. I mean, I know he thought about it… he negotiated a book contract to take a year’s sabbatical and take his family and live in Vietnam and write a book about it.
He had such escape plans or modifications that he could make in his life. And he never made any of them. He never did one less episode in a year. And that’s what I think most people would have, most people would have said, “Oh, my life-work balance sucks, maybe I should work less.”
But for Tony, I think it was both a feeling that maybe it will go away if I don’t get so hung up on it, and that there’s something about the addiction to traveling and experiencing it. Kind of became out of a passion for self-fulfillment.
Some of Bourdain’s best friends, including chef David Chang, are interviewed in “Roadrunner.”
Courtesy of Focus Features in association with Zero Point Xero
CNN: How is the film you made different from the film you thought you were going to make? Or is it?
Neville: I think the main difference from what I first thought about the film is that initially I considered Tony as my audience. In fact I really wanted him to feel like him, where, you know, I looked through every song he mentioned anywhere. And I put together a playlist, an 18-and-a-half hour playlist of songs that we listened to. And I mentioned every one of his films.
I saw them all. I looked at every book he mentioned and, you know, went back and read or re-read many of them. I feel like I wanted the movie to have his energy and DNA and if he saw it — I feel like there are easter eggs in the movie, that if he saw it, he’d be like, “Oh yeah!” Like Tony will get what other people won’t.
But what has changed is that, as I began to interview and spend more and more time with the people in Tony’s life who were dealing with grief after suicide, I realized that it was a part of Tony’s life. That’s what he was blind to and that’s it – it’s both the amount of love people have for him, but it’s also the amount of pain.
And I felt like I owed something to the people I interviewed. And that is, at a certain point, a part of the story that Tony shouldn’t like. And that became for me the way the film developed in my mind. It’s both things, but I’m definitely starting to feel a lot more that I really want to respect the kind of honesty and vulnerability that the people talking to me give me because I know it’s not easy for anyone. Was.
“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” shows how Anthony Bourdain went from a chef in a New York restaurant to one of the most prominent and beloved figures in the foodie world and beyond. Don’t miss the movie on CNN this spring.
CNN: Is there a message of mental health in this movie?
Neville: I think so. … I think at least, the movie has allowed people to talk about things like suicide, which some people rarely feel like they have permission to talk about because it’s a shame. or associated with feelings of embarrassment or guilt or whatever.
I have a feeling that this movie will probably be one of the more watched documentaries that deals with suicide that has been made. And so I feel that responsibility and I hope it will have a positive impact.
I mean, I would say we thought long and hard about how to handle all of this, so I hope people figure out that in some way, if not a treatment, at least one kind of Processing and talking about these things and maybe just thinking about Tony in a more sensible way.
CNN: So what will fans like you find that they haven’t seen before?
Neville: I feel like there’s a sense of connecting with someone you know, but like understanding them deeply. I think there are all kinds of things that people would take away, but I think more than anything, it’s just a sense of appreciating the complexity of who this guy really was.
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