Anthony Bourdain’s estranged wife Ottavia Bourdain has joined the growing chorus speaking out against the new documentary Roadrunner after director Morgan Neville revealed that he used AI technology to create a narration. Ottavia, who separated from Bourdain in 2016, disputed Neville’s claim that she approved the creation of the artificial Bourdain performance. The film follows Bourdain’s life from the moment he became a celebrity with his 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential until his death in 2018.
In an interview with GQ before the film’s release on Friday, Neville revealed that he used an “AI model” of Bourdain’s voice because there were some quotes Bourdain wrote but never said that Neville wanted to use as narration. Neville, who also directed the Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, said his team “fed more than 10 hours” of Bourdain’s voice into the AI model. They worked with four companies before getting the right one.
I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that. https://t.co/CypDvc1sBP
— Ottavia (@OttaviaBourdain) July 16, 2021
“I checked, you know, with his widow and his literary executor, just to make sure people were cool with that,” Neville told GQ. “And they were like, Tony would have been cool with that. I wasn’t putting words into his mouth. I was just trying to make them come alive.”
However, Ottavia, who is interviewed in the film, disputed this. “I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that,” she tweeted late Thursday. One fan asked Ottavia how involved she was in Roadrunner. “Besides the interview, I gave and supplying some of the footage, not really,” she wrote. Bourdain and Ottavia married in 2007, the same year they welcomed their daughter, Ariane. They separated in 2016, and Bourdain began dating actress Asia Argento.
Neville also discussed his use of an AI model in an interview with The New Yorker, acknowledging that some fans might find it creepy. “If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know,” he said. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”
The film has also come under scrutiny for its portrayal of Bourdain’s relationship with Argento. The movie mentions that there were Italian tabloid photos of Argento with another man a few days before Bourdain’s death. However, Argento is not interviewed in the film. Some might have thought she just didn’t want to be interviewed, but Neville revealed he didn’t approach her. In an interview with Vulture, he said it would have “been painful to a lot of people” to interview her. “I just felt like if I crack that door open, I really better be damn sure it’s what I want,” he told Vulture. “Because it would have been painful for a lot of people, honestly, if I had interviewed her. So I just said — and believe me, we talked and talked about it — is this really what I want?”
Neville also told Thrillist he feared having Argento in the film would take away the focus from Bourdain. “I feel like if I even had one more minute of her in the film, it would throw the balance of the whole film off because I don’t know if it would bring me closer to understanding him,” he explained. “I’ve decided that it was going to end up in a more, kind of, lots of people saying, ‘This is what I thought,’ and her saying, ‘This is what I thought.’ And I just didn’t want to get into that game of he said, she said, they said.” Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is now in theaters.