Before starting our interview at the Four Seasons hotel, Richard Linklater wants some chocolate.
"I'm not a health nut," says the director of the new "Fast Food Nation," the screen version of Eric Schlosser's fast food-industry indictment. "Someone misinterpreted [my doing this movie]. I see a bunch of cheese; no, no. [I want chocolate.] I don't care about my health."
That's essentially the point of the screen adaptation of "Fast Food Nation" as well: Eat what you want; just know what you're eating.
In the movie, which Linklater ("Dazed and Confused," "School of Rock") wrote with Schlosser, Greg Kinnear is an executive at fast food chain Mickey's sent to investigate reports that the company's meat has elements of cow feces. Bobby Cannavale, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Patricia Arquette play others wrapped up in the bottom-line-driven world of fast food production.
When tackling "Fast Food Nation," Linklater says he didn't think much of "Super Size Me--which, for the record, he liked--because he was more interested in the workers, the consumers and the animals that were behind the burger. That's why he chose to turn Schlosser's book, a non-fiction investigation of the industry, into a drama.
"I don't want facts and details and all that; I think the book ends up kind of a companion piece to the movie," Linklater says. "But the movie is the human stories, and that's where my heart and interests really lie, with those workers and all these people that are different parts of the food chain."
In fact, the director is so geared towards character-driven films that the book didn't initially inspire him to make a movie.
"I read the book and enjoyed it but I read a lot of non-fiction," he says. "And the most I'll ever think is, 'I hope someone makes a documentary.' There really wasn't a movie in there for me."
But once he and Schlosser created the dramatized story, Linklater found himself telling a much more politically and culturally minded story than he has in films like "Before Sunrise."
"People are really encouraged not to think about where their food comes from," he says. "You're encouraged not to think about it, but let's put all our analytical time into pop culture things: Who's dating who, TV, 'American Idol,' sports. We all keep up with all these things, and I do too. But the more important something is--life and death, war--you're not allowed to speak out when people are dying. But please speak out and have an opinion about all this stuff that doesn't matter."
What does matter is the way that fast food is prepared. Linklater was startled to learn this while working on several scenes in "Fast Food Nation" that were filmed in a real meat-packing plant.
"That burger you're eating isn't that cow that lived on a farm with a family and daisies around," he says. "No, that's a bunch of different cows that's gone through this whole industrial process."
Linklater has been a vegetarian for years (though he did enjoy a Jack in the Box "taco thing" when he was a "drunk college kid"), but those scenes actually made some of the cast members, including Cannavale, hungry. Linklater agrees to an extent.
"It kinda did me too, in some strange way, like it activated some dormant stomach enzyme or something," he says. "I could see like a T-bone steak and Heinz 57 sauce was kind of in my mind at the end of that strangely, a lot of people were going, 'I'm not even going to eat lunch, much less meat.'"
But the movie isn't meant to turn viewers off of eating meat. Linklater just wants people to be informed.
"A lot of [the cast members] eat meat and they're going to keep eating meat," he says. "And I know this is Eric Schlosser's personal view because he eats meat. He's just like, 'Make sure you know where it comes from.'"Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times