Interview: Morgan Neville Talks Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain releases on Friday, July 16 in theaters. The documentary by Morgan Neville is set to later premiere on television on CNN and then release on HBO Max. The film explores Bourdain’s life and the travel host’s shocking suicide.

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ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain director Morgan Neville about his emotional documentary. Check out the full video interview below or read the full transcript.

Tyler Treese: Roadrunner addresses the suicide right off the bat and it really goes deep in on it at the end. The film is still a celebration of life, but it doesn’t shy away from Anthony’s failings and his humanity. Was there ever any hesitancy to cover his death in-depth?

Morgan Neville: I felt like I had to. When I would say to people that I was working on a documentary about Anthony Bourdain, the first reaction I would often get was like a heavy sigh, like, “Oh, God, it’s such a tragedy” or “I can’t watch his show anymore” or “I don’t know what to do with his death.” I feel like that kind of grief has just frozen him in a way in people’s minds. So part of what I realized the film had to do was to help people process it enough that they could start to think about him as a full person again. We had to kind of explain it enough or at least process enough that people can go back and remember what they loved about Bourdain.

What was the process of scouring through the voiceovers and the outtakes to find narration for the film? That sounds like a daunting process. How much was cataloged already and how’d you go through all that?

I went through every article, book on tape, voiceover session, podcast and I pulled out all the lines of anything that I thought were interesting things he said. And then I put together a binder of like 500 pages of things he said, and I organized them by subject. And so then as I was making the film, I would always kind of go through it and look at what he had said about everything. And what’s amazing is how much he actually said and how much of his own life he already told and narrated, because he was always kind of the subject of everything he did in a way. He could be analytical about himself. So once I realized that I thought I could really use his voice helping to tell the story. In a way, I thought about it like William Holden in Sunset Boulevard that he’d be narrating it from beyond the grave. And I think Tony would have liked that, too.

Yeah, it’s a strange subject for a documentary because so much of his life has been documented so candidly on camera, which is very helpful. When putting Roadrunner together, how did that differ to something like Won’t You Be My Neighbor because of the vast amount of footage already available?

Yes, and what was great about it was that so much of his life was on camera, but not on television. So for instance, when he would shoot, oftentimes he would be very open about some problem in his life or what he was going through. And it was part of how he warmed people up or if he could get other people to open up was by being so open and vulnerable himself. But then they would never use that footage in the shows. So in the raw footage is a lot of him being fairly open and honest about things, which was incredible, but these things never made the show. Like this therapy session, we have some footage of it and they had done an episode in Buenos Aires because more people are in therapy in Buenos Aires than any other city in the world, apparently. They decided they were going to put Tony in therapy for a scene. And they kind of staged this therapy scene with the therapist and in the raw footage, it’s 90 minutes of Tony talking about his psychological problems like as a documentarian. That doesn’t happen ever. How often do you see your subject in therapy, on camera talking about what they’re going through? And of course, only a little bit of that made it into the episode they used, but I think Tony ended up really taking it seriously.