Kaufmans staring down the barrel of a big year. The
writer behind 1999's instant cult classic Being John
Malkovich returns to cinemas in 2002 with three more
productions forged from his aggressively offbeat scripting.
of Kaufman kicks off in April with the Fine Line release of
Human Nature, a comedy centering around three
troubled characters: a feral man dubbed Puff (played
by Notting Hill scene-stealer Rhys Ifans) who
thinks hes an ape; the repressed scientist (Tim Robbins)
who civilizes him; and a self-loathing nature
writer (Patricia Arquette) with extraordinary body-hair issues.
Like Malkovich, its a tale filled with absurd
grace notes mice trained to use forks and knives, an
ape-man testifying before Congress, a heroic pistol-wielding
dwarf and the like.
Next up is Sonys Adaptation, directed by
Malkovich helmer Spike Jonze. Kaufman initially
intended to craft a straightforward adaptation of New Yorker
scribe Susan Orleans The Orchid Thief, but
soon found he couldnt spin a script out of the story
of a man obsessed with a particular type of flower. His solution?
To write one of the most audacious pieces of narcissism this
side of Stardust Memories the tale of a
writer named Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas
Cage) who cant spin a script out of The Orchid
Thief. The absurd grace notes here are simultaneously
more self-involved and more disturbing with the movies
sad, fat, sweaty, balding Kaufman ultimately stalking
Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) and losing complete
control of his creative process. (The movies Kaufman
even has a dopey [and, in real life, fictitious] twin brother
also played by Cage whos trying to write
a formulaic serial-killer movie.)
Finally, Miramax will release Kaufmans adaptation of
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Long considered
one of the great unproduced Hollywood screenplays, its
based on game-show host Chuck Barris memoir of the same
title in which the Gong Show emcee claims
to have secretly moonlighted as a CIA assassin. George Clooney,
who plays Barris mysterious CIA overseer in the film,
Although his seemingly out-of-nowhere success with Malkovich
makes Kaufman seem like some sort of arriviste, he actually
scrabbled into the biz the old-fashioned way
struggling to get an agents attention for over a year,
then working in television comedy for another seven. (Among
his TV-writing credits are episodes of Ned and Stacey,
Chris Elliotts landmark sitcom Get A Life,
and the short-lived Dana Carvey Show.) His scripts
for Malkovich and Confessions floated
around Hollywood for years legends of the movie development
community, deemed brilliant but too edgy
before Jonze and Clooney, respectively, finally nudged them
into the green light.
Heres what Kaufman has to say about all that.
GENERAL REMARKS ABOUT HUMAN NATURE, WITH
EXCESSIVE PRAISE HEAPED ON
RHYS IFANS; PLUS AWKWARD
OBSERVANCES ON HOW
BEAUTIFUL PATRICIA ARQUETTE LOOKS NAKED AND COVERED IN DOWNY
are moments in your Human Nature screenplay that
reject the value of the spoken word. One of the movies
best scenes is the one where Puffs saying, haltingly
and with total disgust,
I dont really need to point out the irony, given your
[Laughs] Well, I wasnt exactly making fun of words
I was also kind of making fun of the idea of these movies
that make fun of the idea of civilization you know,
all this sort of wild-child, human-nature-is-pure
stuff I was having a bit of fun with. I wouldnt write
something sincerely about that theme, because I think everything
is quite a bit more complicated than that. I think that whole
if we were more like our pure selves, wed be fine
theme is kind of silly.
you write the man-ape character Puff with Rhys
Ifans in mind? Hes phenomenal in the movie.
No, not at all in fact, the audition process was really
extensive. I mean, we went through a lot of people, because
Puff has to be everything he has to go from this very
primitive person to this very sophisticated person. There
were different actors who were really strong in different
areas, but Rhys was strong and funny all the way across the
Hed be saying these elaborate sentences, but theyd
almost seem layered over this primal veneer.
We were trying for that. Hes a tremendous actor
and a really sweet guy, too.
apparently not afraid to walk around naked.
Nope. He was game. There are so many things that Puff had
to deliver on that could have made for a disaster. Little
things that you wouldnt even think about when youre
writing a script like the idea that this grown man
has to appear in a diaper. How do you do that without it just
being horrifying to look at? And you couldnt do that
with a lot of actors, just because of their sense of self,
you know? And because Rhys was so comfortable with it, it
just became acceptable and not even ridiculous.
no actor will ever find a better way to deliver the line,
Apes do not kill their presidents, gentlemen!
[Laughs] Yeah. Hes great in the Congress scenes.
talked in other interviews about wanting to bring respect
to all the characters you write, even the strangest ones.
How do you cultivate that respect for an artificially cultured
Well, the respect is more like, What is their struggle
and how do you make that sincere? You know, even
if its a comedy, to the people who are going through
what theyre going through in the movie, its not
Puff is a terribly manipulated human being from the beginning
his father is insane and raises him as an ape, you
know? You cant get more manipulated than that. And then
hes manipulated throughout the movie by everybody
including Patricias character. So I have a lot of sympathy
for Puff. Hes tortured.
And I think Nathan Tim Robbins character
is, too. In a lot of peoples eyes, Nathan is the least
sympathetic character but I never felt that way about
him. Hes also manipulated and tortured by his
family, and by his parents, and by his insecurities.
do you get an actress like Patricia Arquette to do all the
crazy stuff she does in this movie? Shes walking through
the woods naked, covered with unsightly body hair, singing
and climbing through the trees
You know, thats probably a question for Patricia, not
for me. She really liked the project and was committed to
it from the beginning that was an enormous help in
getting financing. I know that she wanted to work with [director]
Michel Gondry shed done a Rolling Stones video
with him a few years earlier.
very courageous, you know? Big-name actresses just dont
do naked any more.
Courageous in a bunch of ways because not only was
she naked, she was also covered with hair in a way people
might consider unflattering. Not that I didnt
think that I mean, we all were so amazed with the actual
beauty of it when she, uh
quite stunning in that body-fur getup.
Yeah. Which was important to us not that the hair be
beautiful, but we didnt want to be mocking
of the character, because we dont feel that way about
her, so we didnt want people to laugh at her. So it
was kind of a makeup issue, figuring out how best to portray
you come to settle upon Human Natures director,
Michel Gondry? Hes most famous on these shores for directing
Bjork [which the interviewer mispronounced Bork]
Not Bork. Bee-york. Robert Bork never starred
in any music videos as far as I know. I met Michel though
Spike. I was really impressed with his music videos and his
commercials. Theyre beautiful.
very pleased to see some of the same obviously artificial,
gorgeous, creepy nature effects in Human
Nature that Id seen in Bjorks Human
Behaviour music video.
Yeah, a lot of rear-screen kind of stuff. Hes ingenious
much of that artifice is a function of budget and how much
is your conscious approach to the material?
Human Natures not a big-budget movie by
any stretch of the imagination but Im not sure
it would be less expensive to shoot in a real forest than
it was to mount this big rear-screen stuff, which is complicated
. If we shot on a soundstage and we didnt want
you to know, you wouldnt know.
Human Nature your first producing gig?
I was an executive producer in name on Malkovich,
but yeah its my first producer gig.
producer, did you see your main job as protecting your directors
vision or protecting your script?
Well, I wanted to be a producer because I wanted to protect
my script. Which isnt to say I had any doubts about
Michel at all its just that, you know, as a writer,
you find out pretty quickly that youre not the king
of the hill. The director is.
But I felt at the same time it was important that Michel have
the freedom to do his work, and so I didnt get in his
way. I mean, during production I was just almost not even
there. I came around, but I didnt talk.
thats one way of dealing with it.
Well, yeah because its not healthy for the production
for there to be two voices on the set. So if Michel and I
would have any issues, I would talk to him afterwards, privately.
He did what he wanted, and I was certainly happy with it.
ON WRITING QUIRKY AND SWEATING OUT ADAPTATION
you noticed an evolution in the way executives react to your
material now, since Being John Malkovich was such
Oh, sure. Theres no question that Im in a better
place. The thing is, before Malkovich came out,
I still had a good reputation because of Malkovich.
There was interest in me.
were known among development people.
Yeah. Everyone had read the script. I was offered Confessions
of a Dangerous Mind before Malkovich was
even made. But it was always kind of like, Well, people
love this script and I was told this a lot in
television, too but no one will ever make it.
Ive been told that a lot. When Malkovich
was made and it got the critical acclaim that it got, it certainly
opened people up to possibilities for that kind of work.
going to ask how you kept from despairing during that This
will never get made period, but I suppose getting a
nice TV-writing paycheck helped.
Yeah, Im sure it did. And I was just thrilled that people
really liked this stuff. That was sort of enough. But I didnt
have any expectations that Malkovich would ever
get made. By the time that Single Cell produced it and Spike
came along, it was sort of a surprise.
it possible to be typecast as a writer of quote-unquote weird
Yeah, I think so. I mean, people send me quirky
ideas a lot. And thats in quotes, because a lot of them
arent things that Im interested in, but they fall
into that sort of quirky realm weird
ideas or weird people or weird biopics.
I dont think its affected me that much because
I really havent taken that much new work on since all
this happened. So I havent felt typecast that way.
on some level, Adaptation reads as kind of your
response to that sort of typecasting.
Well, there is an element of that. I mean, The Orchid
Thief the great book that the screenplays
based on isnt quirky in that way.
I liked that the book was about flowers and I had no
idea going in how I would make that into a movie, but the
challenge interested me: Theres not much of a plot in
the book, but the natural-history stuff that she was writing
about fascinated me, and I also liked the character that [author]
Susan Orlean was following around, this John Laroche guy.
toothless, insanely obsessed guy who moves from obsession
Yeah, exactly. So it wasnt necessarily a response to
[typecasting], but I wanted to do it because it wasnt
like anything Id done before and that interested me.
some point, Adaptation becomes this sort of very
self-devouring loop in the sense that, at the beginning,
the Kaufman character in the movie takes on the
assignment to adapt The Orchid Thief, but the
rings of self-reference wind closer and closer until
we have the character based on you following around the character
based on Susan Orlean and were literally seeing the
filming of this moment as the Kaufman character is writing
it. Theres like three layers of self-reference there.
Did you have a moment like that where adapting The Orchid
Thief went off the rails for you personally?
Yeah. Definitely. The reason I decided to do it that way was
because I couldnt
. I mean, the movie is about
failure. And frustration. Thats what I was feeling.
I didnt know how to write it so I thought Id
write about not knowing how to write it.
And I didnt tell anybody. I didnt tell the studio,
because at that point I didnt know any other way to
do it, and I was certain they would say, No what
are you talking about? This isnt what we hired you to
do. But I had to turn something in, and it was scary.
I felt like when I turned it in that I was going to be blacklisted.
[Laughs] You know, I took these peoples money
and then I turned in this nonsense. And self-indulgence!
I mean, I put myself in what was that?
put yourself in and a fictitious twin brother. You put yourself
Maybe fictitious. Donald. My brother Donald
. And they
liked it, and they wanted to make it.
was that week like between turning in the script and finding
out they liked it?
I was terrified when I turned it in and relieved when they
liked it. Its probably not as dramatic as it would seem.
The terror part of it is always stronger for me than the relief,
so its sort of what I remember of it. Once they accepted
it, I wasnt jumping up and down or anything. I dont
do that much. Fortunately.
know, I have to ask you the question that youre probably
going to get asked a jillion times: What the hell did Susan
Orlean think of all this?
Shes happy with it, as far as I know. You know, she
came around and she met with the producers and the director,
and she seems to be very supportive. I cant speak for
her, but Im sure shes happy that the movies
getting made. She certainly hasnt objected.
Meryl Streep play Orlean probably helps. And Nicolas Cage
is playing you.
Hes really, really wonderful in it, and he plays two
characters, which is a difficult thing, because theyre
in scenes together often hes acting with himself,
separating and delineating the characters in a very subtle
he gain weight?
He gained a little weight probably not as much as the
character needed to, but you know he has
he do the actor thing where he met with you and said, I
want to get inside your head?
. He did meet with me a few times, and I know thats
what he wanted to do, but he was very respectful about it
and very subtle about it. He asked me questions, and I guess
he observed me but not in any way that
made me uncomfortable.
And he isnt really playing me, because the
Kaufman character isnt even really physically like me
so that gave him some freedom and license to do his
own thing. But theres certainly mannerisms and things
I see when I watch the movie that I recognize. [Laughs] So.
kind of a shame that the recurring script direction in Adaptation
Kaufman sweats wont be in
the movie. That kept cracking me up.
[Laughs] Theres a lot of that.
Mr. Cage, in fact, sweat a lot in Adaptation?
He sweats a bit. Maybe he doesnt sweat as much as he
does in the script. Theres some sweating going on.
comes away from reading descriptions of the Kaufman
character in the movie thinking of someone like, say, Philip
Oh, yeah, yeah.
talking to you, you dont sound at all like this self-loathing
character in the script.
Uh-huh. [Laughs] I have that element to my personality. Youre
just not hearing it now. Its all interior-monologue
Kaufman character emerges from Adaptation profoundly
changed. Did writing Adaptation change you? Did
it mark an evolution point in your writing?
[Pause] I dont know.
almost reads like a chapter stop in your
Well, its intended to feel like that. Without getting
into too much detail about what happens in the movie, the
scripts intended to play with that notion. I dont
know. I dont know. I mean, it changes your life when
you finish something because youve finished it and you
dont have to do it anymore. [Laughs] Other than that,
Im not sure.
ON RISING THROUGH THE BRUTAL WORLD OF TELEVISION-COMEDY WRITING,
WITH SOME SAGE ADVICE FOR UP-AND-COMERS ON BUGGING THE CRAP
OUT OF YOUR POTENTIAL AGENT
did you bring to Human Nature from your TV-writing
I dont know. I dont feel like TV was a training
ground for me so much as it was a job and an opportunity to
write. As my first professional experience, it gave me a certain
confidence. I was a pretty shy person going in, and its
a very public way of writing. Youre with a group of
people in a room pitching ideas, basically.
Its brutal, and its not my personality, and I
survived it. Its very competitive, and youre writing
on really hard deadlines. And it was hard after a while.
Before I got my first job, which was on Get A Life
I mean, immediately before that I was answering
telephones in an art museum in Minnesota. I remember when
I went on the lot at Get A Life, I had a parking
spot with my name on it, you know? [Laughs] It was wild. And
I was driving this beat-up 1980 Jetta, which Id driven
from Minnesota, that had no air-conditioning. And it was all
rusted out, because all cars from Minnesota are.
must have felt like quite a validation when Get A Life
became this sort of cult hit and several episodes were collected
You know, Get A Life is my favorite show that
I worked on, and it was my first show. I couldnt believe
Id come out here during the hiring season, and I didnt
have any money, and I really had avoided L.A. for a long time
because I was terrified of it. And I was out here for two
months, and I didnt get any interviews. I was heading
back to Minnesota when I got called in for Get A Life,
and met with David Mirkin, the executive producer. Id
gotten one other job offer, for a bloopers-type show with
Fred Willard as the host, that was shooting in Minneapolis.
And Mirkin told me, Dont go back to Minneapolis.
Had I gone back, I dont think Id be doing any
of this because I wouldnt have come out here
again. I just wouldnt have. That was it.
you really had to hound your agent for quite some time before
For years Id send things to agents and not get any kind
of response. And I just decided at one point that I was going
to be a television writer, so I got an agent who agreed to
read my stuff and I decided I was going to be tenacious.
Every time the agent said he was going to read it in a week,
he wouldnt but it gave me permission in my mind
to call. So Id call every time at the end of the week.
And this went on for over a year.
Oh, my God. Fifty-two calls!
At least, yeah. Finally, I was just so frustrated, I said
to the assistant, Look is there somebody else
you recommend who might be willing to read this, so I can
start this process all over again? And the agent got
on the phone the first time Id ever spoken to
him. And he said, Charles, Im going to read it
this weekend. And of course he didnt. But it gave
me permission to keep calling. Two months later, he read it
and he liked it.
what it takes.
The only advice Ive ever given anybody because
its the only advice I feel sure of, and the only advice
I wouldnt have listened to myself is that youve
got to be persistent. Because the hardest thing is getting
anyones attention. Once youve done that, its
read what you have to say in Adaptation about
people who try to give advice on formula script structure.
You know, if thats your goal as a writer, Im not
judging it. Its just that, for me, it doesnt serve
my purpose which is that Id like to do something
thats challenging or risky or that I dont feel
has been done or havent seen done before. I feel like
Im doing something then
. The risk of failure
KUNG FU WITH A
TROUBADOUR POET: THE LOST KAUFMAN TV SCRIPTS
using the horrible segue, Speaking of failure
. You wrote a series of TV pilots that didnt air.
What were they about?
There were a bunch of different ones. I wrote something called
Depressed Roomies, which was about two guys who
live in a tenement apartment, and
. Well, its kind
of silly. [Laughs] Theyre absurdist, I guess. It got
attention and people liked it, but it was weird, and it dealt
with sexuality that was questionable for television at the
time. And it didnt feel like a sitcom it wasnt
naturalistic. It was sort of theatrical.
I also wrote something called Rambling Pants,
which was a pilot about a poet, a traveling poet whose name
Pants? Thatd be a good band name.
[Laughs] Yeah. He was a very bad poet, but he doesnt
know that. He travels the country and gets into different
kinds of adventures again, pretty silly. And that one
has a lot of singing in it. People break into song way too
much in that one like every fourth or fifth line.
kind of worked out those demons a bit in Human Nature,
I havent worked them out yet. It will rear its ugly
this was sort of the Kung Fu of troubadour-poet
Sort of, yeah. That could be a model for it. He has a sidekick
who was actually a newspaper reporter who kind of went astray
and looks to Pants as a hero this very naïve,
sort of dumb Jimmy Olsen kind of guy.
And I wrote something for HBO which was about a relationship.
I wanted to follow this relationship from its inception, but
its sort of anti-romantic its a couple
in this sort of a gridlock situation, where people are together
but theres never really any clear reason why. And it
was called In Limbo.
every episode going to end with them deciding to stay together
for some totally depressing reason?
No, it wasnt, because that one was more naturalistic.
It was probably closer to Adaptation in its form.
I get really frustrated with sitcom romance and movie romance
in general, because it doesnt seem to bear any relationship
to my own experiences in that realm. I was just trying to
do something that seemed true to me, about struggles that
couples have. I think theres a lot of damage done to
me personally by movies that dont reflect the real world
because I tended to feel less-than watching
movies, because my life is never like that. So I didnt
even want to be mocking of them I have sympathy for
it, so I thought it might be interesting to present that.
And you know, all of these pilots got fairly close. Some of
the HBO executives liked In Limbo but I
dont know if it didnt have the hook
SHEPHERDING (BY GEORGE
AND SPIKE, RESPECTIVELY)
been shepherded through Hollywood, to a degree, thanks to
Spike Jonze taking an interest in your work. Youre able
to make those assertions about screenwriting because you have
a very privileged vantage point. Do you feel blessed?
I guess Im lucky. It was a long time coming. Its
not like I just arrived here. Ive been struggling to
get into the business for many, many years, and after I did
get into the business, I was working in situation comedies
for a good seven years. So I did serve my time. But when I
hear about other writers experiences, yeah, Im
happy I get to do at least at this point what
Im interested in doing.
your relationship with Spike Jonze? Youve now worked
on three movies together. [In addition to directing Malkovich,
Jonze co-produced Human Nature and directed Adaptation.]
Hes a great guy, and I couldnt be more fortunate,
because he was very interested in my contribution to Malkovich
and kept me involved throughout the process, which is atypical
as I understand it. I mean, I was involved in preproduction
and casting and production and editing I was a partner
And hes also interested in the things Im interested
in the characters, and what the characters motivations
were at different points in the movie. We went through the
script with a fine-tooth comb and talked about everything
he have a lot of dialogue or story suggestions? I know he
comes at it not only as a director, but as an actor.
Well, the script for Malkovich changed considerably
in the last third, and I knew that was going to happen going
in. The original script flew off into some sort of chaos,
which had been my intention, but it wasnt interesting
to anyone else. [Laughs] So we worked together on changing
the end. But its my dialogue, and the first two-thirds
of the movie are almost exactly the same as the original draft.
In terms of Spikes background as an actor and a director,
the questions that he had were always about character, and
if we needed to change something, the discussion was always
based on him asking, Whats going on here?
and my defending it acceptably or not. And I would write the
now George Clooney has sort of become your champion, getting
your adaptation of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
to the screen.
Yeah, well, George Clooney liked the script. From the beginning,
he wanted to support it by playing one of the roles, helping
it get made and it went through a series of directors,
stops and starts for various reasons, and he finally decided
he wanted to direct it.
whos familiar with Confessions asked me
to ask you this: You think Chuck Barris was serious about
this CIA-assassin stuff, right?
He doesnt treat it as a joke in his book, so I didnt
treat it as a joke. Again, I like to leave it open to the
viewer, which was my intention because I think its
interesting if its true and its interesting if
its not true. Thats why I took the job. If its
not true, why would he come up with this fantasy? In a way,
I always thought it was such a pre-adolescent fantasy. You
know, if youre not happy with what you did with your
life and you want to embellish it, to say that you were an
assassin for the CIA as an adult as a 50-year-old man
seems odd. So I wanted to look at the psyche that would
create that fantasy. If it was a fantasy.
worked with a lot of strong directors. Do you know if hes
bringing a strong vision to the material?
You know, I dont know, really. Theyre up in Canada.
I hear that hes doing a really good job; Ive spoken
to the producer a few times, and theyve sent me some
production stills, and it looks beautiful. I was told that
Clooneys extremely prepared hes got a complete
shot list and storyboards and stuff. And theyre on schedule,
and hes got a good cast so hes got good
taste in that regard. Hes partners with Steven Soderbergh;
they have a production company together, and I know theyre
good friends, and obviously Soderberghs a real healthy
THE KAUFMAN FORMULA:
BIG IDEAS, NO SOLUTIONS
told Salon magazine once that you dont like solutions,
and you dont like movies that provide them. In fact,
you called movies that provide solutions meaningless.
Wow. Thems fightin words.
I wanted to ask you at the risk of falling into some
colossally pretentious wordplay if this means that
you find meaning in, you know, the Buddhist sense
of the word, in irresolution, in nothingness.
. Im not really presumptuous enough
to assume that I have any solutions for anything. And I think
a lot of movies fall into that trap, or they feel that people
want them to say, OK, this is the problem, and that
is the solution this is what you need to do.
You know, If you just love each other, or put your family
over your career whatever the hell theyre
talking about. My life is confusing, and I dont have
any solutions to my own problems. For me to get up there and
present solutions to other peoples problems seems silly
to me. Im more interested in the confusion and the struggle,
and I feel pretty secure that if I explore that, then Im
being truthful, as opposed to sticking on some sort of moral
put the conclusion-drawing on the audience.
Well, I also think movies or any other kind of fiction are
more interesting if you allow people to come away with different
interpretations of it. I love that about Being John
Malkovich. We didnt really say what the movie
was about for that reason. We didnt want to taint the
experience. People would talk about it in reviews or online
what they liked, what they identified with, what they
thought the movie was about and stuff like that to
me is wonderful. I love people to have conversations about
the things that Ive worked on, you know?
your way in to a screenplay? Do you start with
characters or do you start with a conceit?
I think I start with a few things. I think about it for a
long time. I dont do a lot of writing at first
I play it out in my head and figure out relationships. As
I said, I was sort of inspired on Human Nature
by those movies that suggest theres a pure
state for humanity that we need to try and achieve. And Id
always wanted to write about a feral man. And then I was thinking
about nature. Theres a sort of mock seriousness about
it although I wanted the characters to be real and
for people to have real feelings for them, I also was kind
of playing with philosophical notions just for fun. I think
I did that in Malkovich, also.
strikes me in surveying your work that youre structuring
your stories almost like light-hearted episodes of The
Twilight Zone. Each of your screenplays takes a handful
of Big Ideas and messes with them in broad, funny strokes
Malkovich explores mind and body and celebrity,
Human Nature dives into language and socialization,
and Adaptation tackles the artistic process. Do
you go into these stories with that sort of mission in mind?
The answer is, Yeah. [Laughs]
that and it was a yes-or-no-question.
I do like to step outside of the conventions of American movies
and play with form and ideas. Its just another layer.
My idea is to pile as much stuff into it as you possibly can.
The more you stuff into it, the richer the experience
and the more it gives people to play with in their own minds.
And its fun for me, too.
But theres also a quality of improvisation to it, also;
I do leave things really open when I start writing. I dont
necessarily want to draw conclusions for myself or know where
the script is going, even because that makes it more
fun and more challenging and also more of an adventure for
me, and I think it does for people watching it, too, if things
go well. Its a high-wire act.
your movies are funny although theres a huge
undercurrent of sadness in Human Nature
but it strikes me that your movies are funny in the situational
sense, not the one-liner sense.
thats not an easy path to tread these days in movies,
particularly when theyre so influenced by sitcoms. Do
you just find one-liners tiresome?
Well, I like writing colorful dialogue I think that
both Malkovich and Human Nature have
quotable lines in them but I dont like writing
lines that have nothing to do with the characters. I cant
have people making jokes; I have to have people talking about
what theyre talking about because thats whats
interesting to me. Hopefully, Ill do it in a funny way,
or have a dynamic between the characters be funny, or even
have the way that people speak be colorful but yeah,
I dont laugh at sitcoms, generally.
also told Salon that you try to write your scripts so they
can be pleasurably read.
Yeah. I cant imagine not doing that. Im writing
something, you know?
I know for me, one of the problems going into production is
that I consider these scripts finished products I try
to write it like Ive written a story, for a bunch of
reasons. One is that I think it helps you sell the ideas that
youre trying to sell, and I also think its important
to create a kind of mood in the reader. And its good
for the people who are making the movie to give them
a sense of the feel of the script, what it needs to look like
when its a movie, how it needs to play, what the rhythms
of it need to be.
told IndieWire.com that you write down ideas on a little pad
in your pocket.
[Laughs] Its weird to have this stuff out there, you
on the little pad in your pocket at the moment?
.[Pause] Oh, you know what? Its
a new pad, and the only thing on it is the title of a book
that I was interested in buying and Im not going
to tell you what that is.
A NOVEL? A MOVIE?
A MEMORY-WIPING ROMANCE?
now moved from being a writer to being a writer and a producer.
Is there a directing gig in your future, or perhaps a novel?
I think both, Im hoping. The question is: Which first?
Because both are such enormous time commitments, and I cant
decide. I feel like I need to direct. Im really only
interested in directing things that Ive written; Im
not interested in being a director for hire.
you have a story in mind?
I have ideas. After the movie that Im working on now
that Michels also directing gets together,
Im free for the first time in a long time, so I think
Im going to write a spec script so Ill
own it, and thatll give me a better chance of getting
the director job.
the new movie with Michel about?
Its called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Its a movie about memory. USA is making it; hopefully
itll be in production sooner or later this year, depending
on casting issues.
It takes place in a mans memory as part of it is being
erased. He found out his girlfriend had done this had
him erased from her memory and he doesnt want
to be alone with the memory of their relationship, so he decides
to go and have the same procedure. So most of the movie takes
place in his head, as the memories are being erased
and youre watching their relationship unfold sort of
backwards, from the end to the beginning, as each moment is
And at the end of it, as the relationships close to
the beginning, he becomes more attached to her, because these
are better times so he wants to stop the erasure process.
So hes inside his head, and hes basically trying
to hide her from this procedure. So there are a lot of technical
problems with how to play a story backwards, and have a man
function inside his own brain, and interact with his own memories,
stuff like that.
And it sold at the same time as I took on the job for Adaptation,
and all of a sudden, out of not doing anything, I was saddled
with two complicated scripts. It was a difficult time.
like you do a heck of a lot of multi-tasking.
Yeah, or avoiding. [Laughs] I had to block out certain projects
to focus on others. Im not great at writing different
things at the same time, because I really do like to immerse
myself. When I wrote Malkovich and Human
Nature, I wasnt working as a screenwriter
I wrote them for myself during my time off from television.
So there was no pressure, and no one was expecting anything.
But it didnt work out that way this time around: Things
start to pile up, and people want to shoot a movie.
And the thing I didnt realize about writing movies that
are going to get produced is that the writing doesnt
stop until post-production stops at least for me. During
production, Im writing when were editing and trying
to change things. So youre living with these scripts
for years. [Pause] Its awful. [Laughs]
nice by-product of all this, however, is that you do have
three movies coming out this year.
I know. Thats so weird. Its a fluke they
were all written at different times. You know, Human
Nature was originally going to come out last year, and
they talked about releasing Adaptation at the
end of 2001, but it just wasnt ready. And then Miramax
decided to start Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
That movies been started and stopped several times over
you feel theres a lot riding on these three movies?
Is there a lot riding on Human Natures success?
[Exhales] I dont know. You know, I cant think
about it, because its not anything that I have any control
over. You know, the Malkovich thing was kind of
fluke, probably. I guess if I have
three movies come out and they all lose enormous amounts of
money, itll probably change my profile. [Laughs] But
what can I do? Ill just continue as long as I can to
do what it is that I want to do and then I guess when
I cant, Ill try to figure out another job.
youll still have had a remarkable run, given the kind
of material that youre writing.
Yeah, but, you know, I still need to earn a living. So Ill
have to go back and do TV or something if theyll