five questions: thomas morton
HBO's "Vice" correspondent dishes on the documentary-style TV series...
To call HBO’s Emmy nominated news magazine show “Vice” interesting would be a massive understatement. And if you’re unfamiliar with the documentary-style TV series, let us describe it for you in the most concise way we know how: unpredictable, attention-grabbing chaos.
Immersing themselves fully into every country they visit and every topic they cover, the Vice team encounters some crazy stuff. (Only three episodes into the second season and they’ve already manage to dive headfirst into the Afghan money pit, surround themselves by rising seas, and investigate the effects of drone strikes in Pakistan.) A key member of that team? Vice’s Thomas Morton.
Tonight, the correspondent makes his season two debut, so you better believe we’ll be watching. As for what he’ll be getting into in the episode as well as during the rest of the season? We’ll let him describe that, as only he can, without giving away too much (although, he didn’t hold back when answering our five questions).
Read on below for our chat, check out the exclusive clip of tonight’s episode, and make sure to tune in to HBO every Friday at 11 pm to see the Vice crew delve into the latest issues.
Give us a little synopsis of the episode being that it’s your first episode back since last season.
In tonight’s episode, we went to Syria to hang out with the Kurds, who are this ethnic group who live up in the mountains between Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. They’ve been trying to start their own country for ages, so when the civil war kicked off between Assad’s forces and the Free Syrian Army, they just set up a border and were like, “You two settle this on your own.” While the rest of Syria has devolved into chaos, the Kurdish part of Syria has food, regular electricity, democratic elections, its own army and police force, its own driver’s licenses, women’s rights—they basically snuck their own country into being. Which is the same thing they did in Iraq under Saddam; they sat out the fighting and they pretty much run the place now. Although kind of a mixed blessing, there, I guess.
Can you talk a little bit about what we can expect from the show for the rest of the season?
We’ve got a bunch of new hosts this season so we were able to shoot a lot more stories and cover a lot more ground in a shorter amount of time than last year. Without giving too much away you can expect a nuclear lake, a shed full of ancestral skulls, a bunch of extremely ill people in the Gulf, a tour of Armageddon, a bunch of people who throw salt at God to make it rain, radioactive mutants, stoned investment bankers, and some folks in South Asia who are addicted to snorting rhino horns. I also fall off a train. (That’s in India.)
What’s it like putting yourself in situations that aren’t exactly safe?
The thing with most unsafe situations is they’re only truly unsafe for a couple seconds—when the bomb goes off or the bus skids off the road. So you spend all this time getting psyched up about the danger you’re about to be in then you meet people who live through it on a daily basis and you gradually chill out and realize “Oh, this isn’t that big a deal.” Of course that’s generally the moment the bomb does go off. I find it helps ease the sense of danger if you don’t speak the language wherever you are. Then you don’t even know it was a close call until your translator tells you at the bar later.
Clearly you’re there to get the story, but are there situations that you don’t feel comfortable in and say no to? What’s the dichotomy like of getting the story compared to feeling safe?
Sure, none of us are suicidal. I’d say the average spread is if there’s a 5% chance of something catastrophically horrible happening to us (like being shot through the brain), but the reward is seeing or experiencing something we’d never get to otherwise (like a unicorn pissing), we’ll risk it. Anything over five and we usually wimp out. Ain’t no point in filming something if you’re too dead to show it to anyone.
Do you have a favorite memory from last season or this season or any powerful moment that really stuck with you?
We filmed at a crater in Kazakhstan that had been made by a Soviet nuclear bomb test. To get to it you had to cross this crazy granite footbridge that was about a foot and a half wide with no handrails, like something out of Quake, and once we got across all our Geiger counters immediately jumped into the red and before us was this perfectly circular lake blasted out of the earth like a giant popped zit. It was one of the most surreal places I’ve ever been. To one side of the crater the sun was setting behind the hazy Degelen mountains, to the other the moon was rising in a gorgeous crescent, and above us two or three flocks of geese were flying wildly in every direction like something was shorting out their sense of direction. When we got back across the bridge our Kazakh drivers pretended they were going to leave us in the middle of nowhere because they were scared of our radiation. That was a good one.
When you immerse yourself in other cultures, I imagine things are quite different from what you’re used to. Is there anything you’ve been exposed to that you’re just really taken back by? Anything you really miss while travelling?
Again, the Kazakhs. They, like many cultures, like to break the ice with visitors by pounding shots of vodka together. Unlike other cultures, however, the Kazakhs like to chase their vodka with a warm cup of fermented horse milk. I still get little phantom burps occasionally that have the aftertaste of the horse. They’re like acid flashbacks.
Are there some crazy parts that get edited out that you wish viewers had been able to see?
No, we leave all the crazy parts in. That’s what makes the episodes good. Most of what gets edited out is just us pissing around between shots and leaving abusive messages on camera for the associate editor who has to watch all the footage when we come back. His name is Clyde.
What was the first album you bought?
I’m going to exercise a little historical revisionism here and say it was NOT Green Day’s Dookie Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me by The Cure. Technically the third or fourth album I bought but the first album I really bought. That pretentious enough to prove my goth bona fides?
What posters were hanging on your bedroom wall in High School?
I was pretty “over it” in high school, so my bedroom décor remained a thumbtacked pizza pie of pictures I’d ripped out of issues of SPIN when I was 12 and promotional postcards for seminal albums like Bowie’s drum and bass outing Earthling and the Geraldine Fibbers’ Butch.
What was your first car?
A 1990 maroon Volvo 740. Also, the last known whereabouts of my virginity.
Best or worst advice you ever received?
Take care of your hands and fingernails. Seems like the absolute height of preening, metrosexual vanity for guys until you realize how much women pay attention to them. Ditto your teeth and hair, but that should be obvious.
Favorite TV show/cartoon growing up?
I subsisted on a steady diet of Voltron, Duckula, and Thundercats until Ren & Stimpy came along and blew my mind open like the Strawberry Alarm Clock or something.
-photo by HBO