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Spike Jonze on Developing 'Her' and Shooting a Sex Scene Between a Man and His Operating System

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire December 19, 2013 at 11:52AM

Since first premiering at the New York Film Festival, Spike Jonze's future-set love story "Her" has gone to snag a slew of awards including the National Board of Review's Best Picture and Director honors, and accolades. Indiewire's Eric Kohn called it "one of the best studios movies of the year," while New York Magazine's David Edelstein proclaimed it to be "one of the best films in years" (it also topped his 10 Best Movies of 2013 list).
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Her, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams

This marks the first time you're solely credited for one of your screenplays. Did you seek out consultation from anyone during the writing process?

Always. Definitely. Not just on this movie but with every movie, I always show scripts and rough cuts to my friends and just talk to my friends.

On "Wild Things," in fairness, I could have written that one by myself. When I went to Dave [Eggers], I had 60 pages of notes, I had the whole shape of it, but I just wasn't ready to do it. I was too nervous and I needed his guidance and support and blessing. Also, he's a full-time writer and besides just learning from him in terms of the substance of writing, the intellectual process of writing; the discipline, I guess, of a being a writer was really important. On this one, I was just ready.

Did writing "Her" come easy?

Easier because of "Wild Things," for sure. I knew I could do it because with Dave, we wrote the first draft together every day, but as it went on I'd write a lot by myself and send him stuff and he'd send it back to me. It was like he was my dad, teaching me how to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time. That process and working with Dave gave me the confidence.

My favorite scene in "Her" is the one that in hindsight could have made or broke your film (it made it) -- the first sex scene between Theodore and Samantha. It is so tender and erotically charged that it just demands that you submit to it. How did you go about handling that scene?

It's interesting. You want to make movies that are going to connect with people, but the only way I know how to do that is first and foremost I have to believe it and I have to connect with it -- that's the gauge. Do I believe it? Does Joaquin believe it? Did our editors, Eric Zumbrunnen and Jeff Buchanan, believe it? That's all we can go after.

Spike Jonze, Her

I think that first sex scene, it works or doesn't work, if you believe and feel the characters up to that point. Theodore and Samantha are revealing themselves in a way that creates intimacy and they've created that intimacy with each other by being vulnerable, honest and real. I think that's what we needed to feel.

In terms of it being a sex scene or even if it's just her being a computer, we never question any of it. Just what does it mean emotionally and what does it mean to make yourself vulnerable, to show that kind of desire to someone you're close with? To feel that kind of excitement of being lost in that kind of ecstasy? And being amazed about being lost in that ecstasy? It was just playing it, being it. Catherine Keener said something that was interesting: "It's all play. It doesn't matter if the scene's funny or if it's tragic or it's heartbreaking or erotic. Approach it with that same sort of play."

All your films are off-kilter. You're unlike any filmmaker working today. Are you ever surprised by the critical adulation your work receives, given that it is so different from the norm?

I can't tell exactly...I know what you're saying. Certainly with "Being John Malkovich," nobody was more surprised that Charlie [Kaufman] and I. We thought we were just making this movie that we thought was funny and interesting. That was a real shock. I think the thing that is meaningful is when I can tell that someone's been affected by the movie or by anything I made. When you walked in, I could tell you were affected by it -- not only by what you said, but just by feeling what you felt. That's the thing that's the meaningful part to me.

This article is related to: Spike Jonze, Her, Interviews, Academy Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson







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