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October 17, 2013.
Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is tired of trying
to meet girls sometimes in near-future Los Angeles (which looks a lot
like modern day Shanghai). He's a sensitive guy who works for a company
that composes personal letters for people incapable of expressing that
kind of intimacy at a time when your computer tells you how to behave
and when to do so.
Going through a divorce after being dumped by
estranged wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), the heartbroken Theodore at
first becomes intrigued with the new, advanced operating system that
speaks to him — literally. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Samantha
promises to be an intuitive and unique entity in its own right.
Once initialized, his OS, a bright, female
voice, is insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny, so he's not
fascinated by her, he falls in love with... Her. Though Phoenix's
performance is surprisingly subtle and touching the real surprise in
director Spike Jonze's intellectually challenging film is Johannson as
the voice, which makes decidedly unique and provocative decisions on its
Having had its world premiere at the 2013 New
York Film Festival, Spike and company — Joaquin
Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde — took to Walter
Reade's stage and conducted this press conference after a preview
sparked the idea for
The initial spark was an article I saw online, where it linked to an
instant message — you could have an instant message with an artificial
intelligence. It may have been called Alice Bot. It was 10 years ago. I
had this buzz of, "Wow, I'm talking to this thing. This thing is
listening to me." Then quickly it devolved into this thing that wasn't
intelligent; it was just parroting things it had heard before. It was a
clever program. I didn't really think about it for a long time. Then I
eventually thought about a man having a relationship with an entity like
that, but with a fully formed consciousness. I thought, "What would
happen if you had a real relationship?" I used that as a way to write a
relationship movie and a love story.
all your initial responses to the script?
I liked it.
I also liked it. I think I met with Spike before I read the script, so I
was more into Spike's vision. It was compelling. It was at a time where
I was really busy. I had a baby, and I was like, "I don't have it in me
to do a film right now." But every time I met with Spike, I couldn't say
no because his vision was so beautiful, and it was in line with the
kinds of issues I was dealing with. That's the great thing about this
film: everyone finds their own pieces of issues in it. I just couldn't
say no. I had to work with Spike.
You could've said no, Amy!
I couldn't. He looks very sweet, but he's very insistent.
It was more like I would pretend I'd be about to cry if you said no, and
you felt too guilty.
I really liked it too. I actually had to beg Spike for the part. I
didn't have the option of saying no. I had to beg you for it.
I loved the script. It worked. Everybody else was already in place. It's
interesting. I loved that this supporting role was another piece of the
puzzle that Spike needed. I wanted to be able to make it work the way it
needed to work for the story. I wanted to figure out what Spike needed
to serve the story, to make it complete. [I wanted] to create something
for Theodore to bounce off of, to then fall in love with Samantha. It's
the experience that pushes him into this deep love. Spike and I read for
an hour-and-a-half and had so much fun with it. Even after that
experience, I thought, "If that's it, that's already great. I already
love this experience." Getting to go to China for a week and getting to
hang out with these guys was pretty amazing.
very specific and detailed near-future world that you created with your
longtime production designer K.K. Barrett, combining Los Angeles with
the exteriors in Shanghai, right?
The initial idea was to try to make this a future L.A. that felt nice to
live in, where the weather is so nice, and there's great food, and you
have the mountains and oceans. But even in that setting, you can feel
very isolated and very lonely. I'm making this utopian future [where] to
feel lonely in that setting is even worse because it's a world where,
seemingly, you should be getting everything you need. It seemed like an
interesting setting. I met the architects who did Lincoln Center and the
High Line — Liz [Diller] and Rick [Scofidio]. I got the opportunity to
go to their office and talk to them. Liz had gone to film school before
she became an architect, so she was very interesting to talk to because
she came from a storytelling [background]. This was when I was still
writing the script, so I was still trying to figure out what it was. I
remember asking her what the future could look like. She asked a simple
question: "Is it a utopian future or dystopian future?" It's the basic
question that made it concrete. I started [telling her] these ideas I
was imagining. I had this idea that it would look like the colors from
Jamba Juice. She said, "OK" and started giving ideas and talking about
what were some of the challenges of acting opposite someone who isn't
I'd like to say I trained really hard. But as an actor, I'm accustomed
to walking around the house talking to myself. You rehearse all the
time, so I don't think it was that dissimilar.
loneliness aspect of the film?
I don't know how to answer this. All I was concerned about was trying to
feel natural to something that wasn't there. I think I kind of
overlooked the loneliness of the character.
Morton was the original voice of Samantha. How did Scarlett Johansson
replacing Samantha Morton change the tone of the Samantha character and
the tone of the movie?
Every movie — at least the ones I've worked on — takes a long time to
find what it is, and that was part of the process of this movie. I'm
hesitant to answer that question because what Samantha [Morton] brought
to the movie by being with us on set was huge. What she gave me in the
movie and what she gave Joaquin off-camera was huge. And then I think
what Scarlett gave the movie was also huge. I would rather leave it at
you decide not to give Samantha an avatar or image in cyberspace?
I liked the idea of her existing the way she does exist, which is more
in the ether and in [Theodore's] heart and psyche.
I would add, as a fan of that choice, that I think she then becomes your
ideal; it becomes your own experience. Even if people are familiar with
Scarlett's voice, and imagine her as an actress, it transforms that. I
think she becomes whatever you want her to become. If you had defined
her, you would have stopped people from being able to create that for
themselves. That's one cool effect of it.
the Perfect Mom game come from?
I think the pressure of parenthood and the peer pressure of parenthood
seemed like a funny setting for a video game for me.
you're a parent. Do you find that kind of peer pressure?
Oh yeah, it's really intense. I think we ad libbed some of that stuff —
like "Oh yeah, I know this."
you think this film says about what it means to be a man, what it means
to be a woman, and what it means to be intimate?
I don't know if I can live up to the question, but thank you for that. I
was thinking about one of the conversations Olivia and I were having
when we were rehearsing. It [was] about what you [really] hear when
somebody says something to you. There's a scene where Olivia says, "When
am I going to see you again?" What does she hear when he says, "I'm not
sure. I'm busy." We were making up all kinds of stories about what she
actually hears that gets her to the place where she says, "You're a
creepy dude." That's inherent in everything — not exactly hearing what
they say, but hearing what you think they actually mean.
You said something really interesting yesterday about how the artificial
intelligence carries no baggage. She's pure, which makes her even more
of a kind of an ideal — romantically, of course. The difference between
human and artificial intelligence is baggage. So whereas the blind date
carries an enormous amount of pain and baggage and projecting all of
that on what Theodore is saying, Samantha is so open-minded and only
sees the best and assumes the best. That's the difference between human
One of the things we talked about, and what I talked a lot to Scarlett
about, was that Samantha is brand new to the world, so she's like a
child that hasn't learned any insecurities, any self-doubts. [Samantha]
learns through the course of the movie. She has these experiences that
give her those painful situations that create those self-doubts. I think
that's when Scarlett started to understand just how hard that role would
be, to try and go back to that place where you don't have those kinds of
talk about why so many of the characters don't really question the idea
that a human can fall in love with an object that has artificial
intelligence? Rooney's character seems to be the only character in the
movie who questions how normal it is.
Yeah, there might have been a couple of other characters along the way
that questioned it but fell by the wayside. But it seemed like Rooney's
character and Rooney's performance delivered that message and
represented that part of the population.
has a lot to say about the idea that people expect relationships to be
perfect. What was the starting point that you used to build the concept
of relationships in this movie?
I guess what you're asking is how much did we talk about the ideas of
the film versus the relationships and the characters of the film. I'd
say we mostly talked about the relationships and the characters of the
Yeah, we spent a lot of time dissecting the characters and finding the
truth of where they were in that moment.
When Amy and I started working together, we talked a lot about how we
were meeting this character at this moment in time. She's been trying to
be all these things to her husband and to her relationship and
everything. She's imploding.
I don't think intimacy is a male or female thing. If Spike is exploring
it from a male point of view, it's because he's male. But I don't think
being fearful of intimacy, or lack of intimacy, is specifically male or
that is a failure in men. And there are a lot of different reasons. It's
hard to boil it down to one thing. Each person has their own reasons why
intimacy is hard. For Amy — and I'm not talking in third-person, I'm
speaking of my character — Amy has a hard time with intimacy. Amy has
been pretending to be somebody else and something she's not. It keeps
her from being herself. When you're not expressing yourself as your true
self, you can never find true intimacy, because you're always hiding. I
think that the relationship she has with Theodore is probably most
intimate in her life because it's the most honest.
how difficult has it been to maintain a creative identity over the last
20 years of your career?
That's an interesting question. I don't know if I have a good answer for
it. I guess just making a lot of mistakes, doing a lot of things along
the way that didn't feel like that was me, and learning from those
mistakes, and staying on the things that felt more true to me.
TO SEE WHAT AMY ADAMS HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2008!
HERE TO SEE WHAT ELSE ROONEY MARA HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2013!
HERE TO SEE WHAT ROONEY MARA HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2015!
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