Were you aware you had a big gay following?
[Laughs] Yes, actually I am aware of that. I
first became aware of it when Girlfriends
magazine put me on their cover as one of their men of
the year. I consider that my highest honor to date. But
no, I'm aware of it because I know that if you
believe in equality, if you believe in standing up for
the rights of all, especially for people most affected
by bigotry and discrimination, then you have no choice but
to be present and accounted for when it comes to standing up
for gays and lesbians in our society.
You directed a documentary about R.E.M. Are you tight
with Michael Stipe?
Michael Stipe first of all is just a wonderful
human being and a good soul. He's always been
very supportive of me and very willing to be there and
share with me his insight in terms of how to navigate
oneself through this culture and this world,
especially when you become a known individual and all
the noise that surrounds that.
When you were making Sicko, you put a request on
your Web site for people's medical stories
and received thousands of responses. How many of
those were HIV-related?
I would say there were quite a number of them. I
have been talking a lot about this while I've
been on this press tour. In the mid '70s there were
25 pharmaceutical companies working on cures and vaccines
for various illnesses and diseases. Today there are
five. Five companies. What happened was the
pharmaceutical companies realized there wasn't any
money in cures and vaccines, because once you cure
them, they don't need your pills anymore. So
the industry made a conscious effort to steer away from
finding any permanent cures or vaccines and got the public
thinking more about living with an illness or disease
for the rest of their life. Whether that was high
cholesterol, diabetes, or MS. But in my humble
opinion, it is most evident with HIV. They have all done
such a good job of patting themselves on the back for
coming up with the right medicines for those with HIV
to take on a daily basis, and the right mixture and
concoction of these various pills and medicines. We have
enough examples of people now who are living and not
dying, but they are going to need to be on expensive
medications for the rest of their lives. This is good
news for the pharmaceutical industry. If we had a president,
if we had a Congress that said, "We are making
it a priority that we cure this--that we cure it
or, if necessary, vaccinate for it. We need to do something
so people are not tethered to the pharmaceutical
industry for the rest of their life." But that
would require some real leadership.
And, I would imagine, quite a bit of money. Is that the problem?
Yes, it would require a financial commitment.
But the pharmaceutical companies do such a good job of
convincing the public that your drugs cost so much
because of all this R&D [research and development].
Well, here's the truth: Of all the R&D monies
spent, only 15% comes from the drug company itself.
The other 85% comes from the taxpayers, grants, and
private contributions. Yes, it would need a financial
commitment at first, but if we were to cure this, think of
the lessening of the burden on this country.
It's interesting that so many people who are doing
AIDS research are not affiliated with the giant
But why can't the researchers make the same
headway? Is it just because they don't have
the same resources?
That would be my hunch. Look at Jonas Salk, the
man who came up with the polio vaccine. It essentially
eliminated polio from this country, which was
devastating the country at the time. He was asked after he
came up with the polio vaccine, "Are you going
to patent this? Because it's yours, you found
it." And he said, "Absolutely not. Would you
patent the sun? This belongs to the people."
That was the attitude that doctors and scientists used
to have. The man that invented the kidney dialysis
machine wouldn't patent it. But greed, greed entered
the room, and once greed came in, then it was all
about the money.
In the film you interview a wealthy doctor in London who
seems to be satisfied with making
"plenty" of money, as opposed to
"obscene" amounts of money.
And what do we usually hear about the doctors
under socialized medicine: They are paupers and serfs.
But it is true that they are not going to make, say, $10
million a year.
But you are going to live very comfortably.
Do you think doctors would ever make that concession in
Well, they're going to have to. It
wasn't always this way. My grandfather was a
country doctor back in the early part of the 20th century.
He got paid with chickens and milk and eggs.
[Laughs] He was in the profession because he
wanted to help people, not to make money. And we are
just going to have to get back to that if things are ever
going to get better.
I have to say after seeing the film, I felt like moving
to another country where the medical system and
the government make it a point to take care of
everyone. Is there hope for reforming the system? Are we
We're only doomed if we remain apathetic.
It's like the woman said in the film, the only
reason the French have [their generous benefits] is
because the government is afraid of the people. In America,
"we the people" are afraid of the
government. That's what has to change. The
people of America have to get up out of the chair, get
involved, and do something. When we all do that,
that's when things are going to change.
Do you think it's possible?
I do think it's possible. First of all,
the majority of Americans either have themselves or
know someone who has had a terrible experience with
the health care system. Once it happens to you, you become
much more sympathetic. It's actually one of the
reasons I am optimistic about the rights of gays and
lesbians improving in this country in the
not-too-distant future. Because everyone has someone who is
gay or lesbian in their family or their extended
family. Those gays and lesbians who 20 or 30 years ago
decided to come out did something very brave and also
helped to turn things. For those who were filled with hate,
the hate was against the unknown and it had to do with
their own personal fears. Once it was humanized, once
their son or daughter said to them, "I'm
gay," or their best friend said, "I'm
gay," or that next-door neighbor that was
always there for them to help with the kids or mow the lawn
said, "I'm gay," it became very hard
for a lot of people to hate. Now, that's not to
say that there weren't a lot of people's
parents who just disowned their kids and friends, who
said, "Well, I'm just not going to be
friends with them anymore." But you know, that
wasn't the majority experience. As more and
more people have been willing to come out and more and
more people realize that these are people that I care about,
it's reduced the hatred, it's reduced the
sense of wanting to be a bigot, because now
it's personal. So the more that that happens, the
more that people are willing to take that risk, the
more that people are willing to speak out, things will
get better. But it will require the brave and
courageous actions of a few people, and then more and more
people will join them.
Do you feel that Fahrenheit 9/11, outside of
financial considerations, was a success in terms
of motivating people and changing the country?
Oh, yes. A lot of people tied it to the election
and that would have been nice. But I gotta tell you, I
knew that I lived in a nation of slow learners.
[Laughs] And believe me, I'm one of them. I
said to myself, they may not come around in just four
months between the film and the election, but I did
know that when people eventually found out the truth
about this war, they would turn. And they would turn on Bush
and they would turn against the war. And that's
exactly what happened. And there had to be those few
people at the beginning--myself, the Dixie
Chicks, a few others--who were willing to stand up and
say the emperor has no clothes. And we knew that we
were going to take some pretty severe hits for doing
that. But we also knew that people would eventually come
around. Every day I get great e-mails from people who used
to support the war, people who used to be Republicans,
and they are grateful that someone had bothered to
say, hey, I think what's going on here is wrong.
Sickoisn't very anti-Bush. I mean, you didn't
avoid it, but was minimizing that intentional?
Yes. First of all, that would just be too easy.
I have already made my anti-Bush film, when it
wasn't popular to be anti-Bush. Now I live in the
mainstream majority of the 70% who don't approve of
him. That wouldn't be very challenging. But I
did decide to begin the movie with a good Bush joke,
just to have a good laugh and to fool people a little bit.
You know, after those first 10 seconds you think, Oh,
my god, here he goes again. [Laughs] But no,
it's time to take you now to a new place.
In the film you give the biggest anti-Moore blogger a
check for $12,000 to pay for an operation his wife
needed. But you sent it anonymously. Did he find
out it was you?
Yes, I called him actually just before the first
screening of the film in Cannes and told him that it
was me. I didn't want him sandbagged by the
Was he pissed?
No, no, in fact he put a thing up on his Web site right
away thanking me and wishing me well with the film. He
has since gotten a lot of hate mail from people on the
Is he still rallying against you?
Not as much.
You tackled some gay issues in your TV show The Awful
Truth. Would you ever throw your weight behind
one of our issues and make a film about
"don't ask, don't tell" or
I am not sure what I am going to do for my next
film, but I certainly believe that I have no right to
tell another couple whether they can or cannot be
married. That is simply not allowed in my ethical book of
standards. I am a very spiritual person--I
don't talk about it publicly that much, but I
went to the seminary when I was in high school; I read
the New Testament. And let me tell you something: There is
nowhere in the four Gospels where Jesus uses the word
homosexual, nor the word abortion. The right wing has
appropriated this guy. It makes you think, what
someone can do in your name a thousand years from now.
[Laughs] And they have used him to attack gays
and lesbians, when he never said a single word against
people who are homosexual. Anyone who professes to be
a Christian and does that is certainly not following the
teachings of Jesus Christ.
Would you ever make a movie about that, or do you think
that's already being taken care of by other filmmakers?
I think it's a very ripe subject for
someone like me to make a movie about it, simply
because we are not there yet and it remains one of the
last open wounds on our soul that we are not willing to fix
yet. And so I have often thought as a straight person
that I should continue to tackle this issue even in a
long-form documentary, because generally you
wouldn't expect that of me.
We would expect you to take on the most important
hypocrisies of the time, and gay marriage has
moved to the center of the debate.
Right. But it's also something that
doesn't affect me directly. But those are
exactly the kind of films that I often think about making. I
mean, I have probably one of the best health plans in
the country because I belong to the Directors Guild; I
have a ridiculously good health insurance plan.