EXCLUSIVE: 'Simpsons' Producer James L. Brooks Insists He Gets Along With Rupert Murdoch
Six years since his previous movie, Spanglish, James L. Brooks is back with a romantic comedy, How Do You Know. But in one sense, he has never been away: As exec producer of The Simpsons, he’s been a crucial part of the cultural zeitgeist for the past two decades.
The Hollywood Reporter: How Do You Know is about a female sports star who’s cut from her team. What got you interested in that?
James L. Brooks: For a long time, I recognized that the new way of dying in America was by ruin. Ruin was all over the place, even before the recession. I did the first 20-25 pages of the script, and then The Simpsons Movie called, and it took me away for two years.
THR: Did that help or hurt?
Brooks: That made everything a little looser for me, strangely. Two years had intervened since I started writing. I really enjoyed the character [played by Owen Wilson] and changed the story to make him figure in more than one scene when I came back to it.
THR: You do a ton of research. What did you learn about women’s sports?
Brooks: I have a rule in research: The third time you hear something, it might be true. And here — I’m not exaggerating — easily 100 female athletes said that it would be very difficult for them to date anyone who wasn’t an athlete. They are young women, and the only men who possibly understand what their sport requires tend to be athletes. What’s fascinating is, men don’t have that same mind-set.
THR: Was the film always called How Do You Know?
Brooks: It’s had three titles: The Perfect Ending, Everything You’ve Got then How Do You Know.
THR: Was it a complicated shoot?
Brooks: Arranging the shooting schedule was very difficult. People had other jobs. I like to shoot in a certain order; that went out the window very quickly.
THR: But you also had reshoots?
Brooks: I did the final part of this movie four weeks ago because, suddenly, I realized a different ending would work better. Otherwise, there were very minor reshoots — three or four days spread over different times.
THR: There’s been talk about the budget being $120 million.
Brooks: That’s not true at all. That is simply not true. First of all, it’s way off because of the intricacies of shooting in an incentive state [Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.]. These are complicated things, and there’s one charge [that might not apply to the budget], and I can’t go into that. Even if the charge goes against us, which I don’t think it will be, we are nowhere near that. The highest extreme this picture can possibly cost is well under the figure you just said.
THR: Can you tell me what it cost?
Brooks: No I won’t because Rule No. 17 is never say a number. Rule No. 4 is tell the truth — and that number ain’t accurate.
THR: This is the first movie you’ve directed since Spanglish. How did you deal with the response to it?
Brooks: I was crushed initially because there was a reaction to a character I wrote [played by Tea Leoni] that was so extreme. But I’ve had good things turn out well, and I’ve had things where, you know, I’ve been crushed.
THR: How do you handle that? Do you curl up in a ball?
Brooks: No, as you get older, the ball that you curl up in gets smaller. You go through whatever you go through; you take the hit. You don’t blabber.
THR: You’ve had great support from Sony on that movie and this one. Could you have gotten so much support from Fox?
Brooks: I did when we did The Simpsons Movie.
THR: Are you doing another?
Brooks: We always say, television first. We love the season we are having right now — we really feel good about it. But we’re open to it, and we sort of have half a notion.
THR: Does that mean you’re developing a script?
Brooks: No. When we say we’ll do it, we commit. We go all the way, and that’s why it took two years the last time. We have not decided to do it, but we keep on looking at each other and talking about it a little bit.
THR: You’ve lashed out at Fox. Do you ever run into Rupert Murdoch?
Brooks: He came in — I wasn’t there — to record a part once. He gave us permission and actually participated in it.
THR: :Do you get along with him?
Brooks (Laughs.) I try to get along with anybody who has over $900 million!