Spike Jonze isn't much for public speaking. Though he's written and directed one of the year's most acclaimed films, Her, the 44-year-old filmmaker has only done a modest amount of press supporting it, granting a handful of interviews to very specific outlets and avoiding the red carpet at major awards season events. But Jonze did put in an appearance at Her's world premiere at the New York Film Festival in October, where he and the film's cast (including Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde… though incorporeal co-star Scarlett Johansson was sadly not in attendance) took questions from journalists in a short post-screening press conference. Truth be told, getting straight answers out of Jonze proved to be a challenge, especially with Phoenix being his famously odd self. But here are four complete thoughts the filmmaker had about Her, which opens on December 18. Make sure to move it to the top of your holiday viewing list.
On the Online Origins of the Film
The initial idea came from an article I saw online which talked about a site where you could instant message with artificial intelligence. I think it was called Alicebot. I went to it and said, "How are you?" It said, "How are you?" And I said "Not so good, I'm tired," and it said, "That's too bad." So we had this little exchange and I got this buzz, thinking, "Wow I'm actually talking to this thing!" And then it quickly devolved; you could tell it was just parroting things that it had heard before and wasn't actually intelligent. I didn't really think about it for a long time, and then I thought about a man in a relationship with an entity like that and the idea of what would happen if you used that as a way to write a love story. I was making notes for this movie when I got the opportunity to make the short film, I'm Here. I guess the two are related in that they are both L.A. love stories, but that one is more of a love story that's about love in your early '20s and what love is at that point in your life.
On Creating Her's Near Future
The initial idea was to try to make this sort of future Los Angele that was a nice place to live, playing off the idea that the world in general is getting nicer and nicer to live in -- especially in Los Angeles, where the weather is so nice and there's such great food and the mountains and ocean are there. But even in that setting, you can feel very isolated and lonely. Before making the movie, I met with the architects who made the High Line and talked to them about it. I remember asking them what the future could look like and they asked me this simple question: Is it a utopian or dystopian future? And I started saying that I had this idea of using the colors of Jamba Juice. [Laughs] So it was that basic question she asked that made it concrete. It was like -- this is what I'm doing, it's a utopian future, but feeling lonely in that setting is somehow even worse because you should be getting everything you need.
On Replacing Original Star Samantha Morton with Scarlett Johansson
To be sort of vague about it, every movie I've worked on takes a long time to find what it is and that was part of the process of this movie finding what it was. I'm hesitant [to talk about it] because I think what Samantha brought to the movie by being with us on set was huge, what she gave to Joaquin was huge, what she gave Scarlett was huge and I'd rather leave it at that.
On the Movie's Depiction of (Mis) Communication Between the Sexes
Olivia [Wilde] and I were having a conversation for the scene she appears in and we talked about what it is you hear when someone says something to you. There's a scene in the film where Olivia's character asks Joaquin's "When am I going to see you again?" and we were making up all sorts of stories for what she's actually hearing when he replies, before she arrives at her response: "You're a creepy dude." It has to do with what you hear when someone says something to you -- maybe you're not hearing what it is they're saying, but what you think they mean. And then with Scarlett, I talked about the way that Samantha is brand new to this world. She's a child who doesn't have any insecurities and self-doubts and then she learns those through her experiences with Joaquin -- these painful situations that create self-doubt. I think that's when Scarlett understood how hard this role would be, to go to that place where you don't have those kinds of fears yet.
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