Spike Jonze talks new film ‘Her,’ looking at technology and relationships
While Jonze’s persona is well-known, he keeps his private life pretty private. His real name is Adam Spiegel; he was born in Maryland and is related to the Spiegel catalog family. As a kid, he adopted the name Spike Jonze while competing in skateboarding and BMX events. After high school, he moved to Los Angeles and worked at a biker magazine. In 1992, he shot skateboarding footage for a Sonic Youth video.
That was his breakthrough in filmmaking. Eventually he directed music videos for the likes of R.E.M., Puff Daddy, the Chemical Brothers and Björk — as well as TV ads for Nike, Sprite, Nissan and Coca-Cola. He also was acting, most notably as a redneck in David O. Russell’s 1999 black comedy "Three Kings." That was the same year of "Being John Malkovich" and his marriage to fellow filmmaker Sofia Coppola. They divorced in 2003 and Jonze hasn’t spoken publicly about it since.
In "Her," Theo also has relationships with real-life women played by Mara, Amy Adams and Olivia Wilde. Jonze was reluctant to say much about British actress Samantha Morton, a two-time Oscar nominee who performed the voice role of OS Samantha on set. The director says that after shooting the film, he realized it wasn’t what the movie needed.
"I don’t want to go into detail because I really respect what Samantha did for us," Jonze says. "She gives a lot and she was on with the set. She is a big part of Joaquin’s performance. Her DNA is in the movie, even if her voice isn’t."
The director met with Johansson while she was starring on Broadway in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." "She thought it would be cool to work together and do a voiceover, and originally she thought it might be just a voiceover," Jonze says. "But then, as we started talking about the specific idea that she needed to strip away all the guards that we build up to protect ourselves, at that point I think she realized this was going to be really hard. It was not just a voiceover but a real challenging character. Even more challenging is that it all has to come through in a voice."
"What Scarlett gave the movie is immense," he adds. "It’s not only the texture of her voice, but the way she played it."
He describes OS Samantha as super intelligent, without any fear or any insecurity and capable of learning through experience, but like a child in other ways. And as her relationship with Theo hit some tough patches, as all relationships do, she experiences pain.
"I think children feel heartbreak just as deeply as we feel heartbreak, and so does Samantha," he says.
Jonze says he conceived the film about a decade ago, long before Apple came out with Siri, its voice-activated personal assistant. Of course, the movie begs the question: Is what Theo has with Samantha real? At one point in "Her," the British philosopher Alan Watts (voiced by Brian Cox), who died in 1973, drops in as a friend of Samantha. (His consciousness has been uploaded.)
The filmmaker says he discovered Watts five or six years ago and liked what he wrote.
"I think for this movie specifically, one of the things he talked about is change and the difficulty for us to accept that everything is in the constancy of change and everything will end," Jonze says. "It’s one of the themes in the movie that Samantha is going through."
While "Her" is warm, sweet and amusing — a relationship movie everyone can relate to no matter who or what their romantic preference — it is also filled with high concepts. But the filmmaker — who voices a bratty video-game character in "Her" and has a small role in the upcoming "The Wolf of Wall Street" — seems somewhat unwilling to take himself too seriously.
So while bantering about reality, technology and relationships, Jonze shies away from making too much about what he’s done. "I’m hesitant to make grand statements because I feel like that it’s not exactly what I’m writing about."