Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer on 'Cloud Atlas,' 'Matrix' Sequels, and Out-of-Line Journalists (Q&A)
THR: Certainly, those are among the positive things that come from having a great success. On the other hand, I know that, even before The Matrix, the two of you [Andy and Lana] were not interested in a lot of personal publicity or attention, and, from what I gather, there was sort of a no-press clause attached to that film. When you do have so much success, there’s a desire on the part of a lot of people to commodify you, to bring attention to you, to get something from you. You’ve managed, I think to a remarkable extent, to keep attention away. But was it scary to suddenly be at the center of so much attention?
L. Wachowski: It was scary, at a little level. We went around with Bound, just going through the Venice Film Festival and the Deauville Film Festival, and that amount of attention bothered us. You know, at the end of Deauville we were like, “Oh, God, if we never have to talk to another reporter—” Please don’t take this personally. [laughs]
THR: [laughs] That’s all right…
L. Wachowski: We don’t mean it personally; it’s our issue. “It’ll not be soon, too soon.” And, we ended up having to do a little bit more on The Matrix. We were dragging, and I think trying to avoid it as much as we could, and the success enabled us to say, “Okay, we would rather make movies than do press, and if we have to do press, then we’ll just not make movies.” And I would say, though, that as we’ve gotten older and we’ve met other teachers, and due to the kindness and generosity of my brother, we’ve agreed to do press recently on this movie for a lot of reasons. One, because we think the movie is helped and people feel an accessibility to the movie through us—you know, we’re trying to reach out and say, “You know, the movie is a little scary, but don’t worry, you’re gonna have a good time.” [laughs]
A. Wachowski: Yeah.
THR: Do you feel the same way?
A. Wachowski: Yeah, I mean, there is a part of me that is protective of the movie. I mean, it’s one of our children. I feel like I want to get out there, and get in front of it, and kick back a little bit against the slings and arrows that are probably already in the air towards it. And you know, press? It’s like, well, who wants to talk about themselves endlessly?
L. Wachowski: [Posing a question to the interviewer] Yeah, do you enjoy talking about yourself?
THR: I’m not asked to… [laughs]
L. Wachowski: “For five minutes, talk about your childhood.”
A. Wachowski: It’s just horrifying.
L. Wachowski: “What’s wrong with you and your siblings—relevant problems?”
THR: [laughs] I guess. But, on the other hand, I do understand, as I’m sure you do, that when you do something that people love in large numbers, they want to understand it as much as possible. And I’m sure they don’t do it tactfully always, but, I mean— Has doing press been what you had dreaded it would be when you weren’t doing it? Or has it been relatively painless?
A. Wachowski: I mean, you gotta gear yourself up for it. It takes preparation, you know? There are a number of questions that are going to come towards you, and you have to be prepared to answer them, and you don’t know. I mean, Warner Bros. is keeping us somewhat insulated. We’re only talking to a handful of people.
L. Wachowski: Congratulations, you got in!
THR: [laughs] I’m honored, I’m honored…
A. Wachowski: And, you have to— I mean, there’s obviously, you know, some issues, especially with Lana—you know, stuff is going to come up. It’s like, I’m ready to break a bottle over somebody’s head if they ask the wrong question.
THR: Right, of course.
A. Wachowski: But, you know, it’s complex.
L. Wachowski: I’ll also say that our encounters with both Tom and David Mitchell— Have you dealt with David at all?
THR: No, never…
L. Wachowski: He’s one of the kindest, most gentle, and generous people I’ve ever met. And he has a patience and an openness to this kind of engagement, which has been really an amazing modeling thing for me. And he says that his son helped make him a better person. I’ve never met his son, but I say, “Well, then, in that way, your son has actually made me a better person.” It’s a very Cloud Atlas-y kind of connection. And dealing with Tom, too, who also participates in this kind of process very authentically— Like, he has also taught me things about this process that have been good for me to see—that it doesn’t have to be a contrived or a kind of commodified enterprise, that you can say, “Okay, this person is trying authentically to understand our work of art, and through trying to understand us, they will be able to understand a work of art in another dimension to it, and thus impart that understanding, to0.” We feel very intensely about the present evolution of dialectic around our art form. We hope that people like you are engaged in a project of trying to elevate that dialectic, or that dialogue, and try to bring insight and not just celebrity details to something like Cloud Atlas.
Tykwer: Or evaluation and judgment.
L. Wachowski: Yeah, or “I like this.”
Tykwer: But observation and interpretation, you know? You know, the movie is, in a way, playful? Even though it’s so profoundly constructed, there’s a lot of playfulness to it, and we want this to be also reflective. But I have to also admit that this process, of course, is so wonderful in so many ways, and also this whole idea that usually— I am, of course, completely used to the one-on-one thing, and I refuse to always be the guy who is giving the answers. You know, having this monologue with yourself, where you’re trying to make variations about it— It’s part of the joy that we keep some of those moments and we keep what we loved so much about the work, the dialogue between each other and the whole idea of, you know, it being a social art form. And directing or filmmaking is such an incredibly social job. You know, all you do is— Basically, you’re the membrane for all these genius people that go through you, and you just, kind of—you bounce off what they have to offer. And now I am bouncing off—with two very close, related, loving minds—what my own perception of the art that we’re surrounded with and create is. And I have to admit, even today, we had several moments where I think all of us were sometimes saying things we had not yet spelled out in front of each other. So it is actually, for me, quite wonderful sometimes. I mean, it’s, of course, not always, because you have to repeat—and it’s fine, because some people just need some information that is similar. But if you get the time for it—which is also something we addressed; we don’t want, like, three-minute slots; they’re useless, you know?—then you can develop your answer, you know? Because I listen to stuff. It’s not like I’ve heard all of this before. And it’s so different because, of course, if it was just us [the interviewer and him], it would be just, like, me doing ninety percent of the talking. And I think because we are directors, the whole thing becomes much more of a dialogue and, you know, sometimes more, sometimes less, the person participating as the journalist becomes part of the dialogue, rather than it just being a delivery process.
THR: You’ve all been filmmakers for quite a while at this point. As you look back, do you feel that, with this project, you have sort of been forced to grow or evolve in a different way than you had previously? It seems to me that there are themes in Cloud Atlas that are similar to themes that you’ve previously covered, but do you feel that it demanded things of you that you had never been called upon to use before?
A. Wachowski: Sure. There’s like, the convention of one director, one vision, and with us [referring to him and Lana], we’ve already broken through that convention, but as soon as we enter into the triptych of filmmakers, you know—I don’t know if it was “forced upon” us, but—certainly we embraced it.
L. Wachowski: It was not something that we had to do; it’s something we get to do.
A. Wachowski: That’s right. [laughs]
Tykwer: The experience of it is a real luxury experience. It’s been the most joyful—the whole movie has been the most, I mean, in creative terms, the most joyful—wonderful experience.
A. Wachowski: We went into it with love in our hearts, and the movie was an act of love. You know, we wanted to spend time together; that’s why we made the movie. And, it’s just—
Tykwer: It’s love actually everywhere—
A. Wachowski: Yeah.
Tykwer: Which was the nice thing. We felt like, “Okay, we really want actors who love the movie, and the people connected with it, and everybody has to kind of have an extra bit of excitement about the whole uncertain—” That’s why it was an incredibly inspiring period of time where you felt like everybody was contributing beyond their creative potential, but also as personalities and human beings.
A. Wachowski: And we’re internally grateful that we found this source material that was so inspirational to us. The philosophies in the book are so, you know, important, you know, just about humanity. That we were allowed to participate in it was fantastic.
Tykwer: And, you know, if you ask about change? You know, it’s more like it reinstated something that sometimes you’re not sure about anymore; it’s a hope that there is a potential to really reach out far, and do things that many people ask you to even not do, or be careful about. But, yeah, if it will work, it will be something that many, many other people will so joyfully embrace because it’s so rare, you know, a work of art coming out of a social-inspired process, and not so much the vertical, rule-driven thing that usually makes movies a bit more formulaic. And we all know that there’s an exhaustion about formulaic movies, and especially about epic, big-scale movies being formulaic. And we suffer from that, too, because we love big-scale movies; we love all kinds of, you know, even sometimes beautifully silly movies. But the movies that made us were movies that had scale and—
THR: And substance.
Tykwer: And substance. And, it’s getting harder to be together. And the battle for those kind of films has made us quite strong, and I think it wouldn’t have been possible if it was only one director. I think this movie wouldn’t exist without the three of us.
THR: Well, that process that was recounted in the New Yorker article about how you guys literally took this story that the author himself didn’t think was adaptable, and pieced it together with index cards, is just mind-blowing. It sounds to me like virtually everybody who has read the book loved it, but couldn’t imagine a way in which it could be adapted. So that time together in Costa Rica was really where it came together?
A. Wachowski: Yeah.
Tykwer: Very much.
L. Wachowski: Yeah.
THR: Well, if I can just ask one last thing, and then I’ll get out of your hair
L. Wachowski: No, no.
A. Wachowski: No, please.
L. Wachowski: Make sure they’re good questions! Very important ones! [laughs]
THR: The last thing is just: If it was up to you, what would you like someone who goes and buys a ticket to see this movie to leave it feeling or doing differently—(a). And (b), what would make it a success for you? Can you look at reviews or the box-office numbers and say that, at a certain threshold, it becomes a success? Or do you have some other sort of barometer?
Tykwer: Well, I’m actually following Andy, in a way, you know, in a perspective that I like about the second part of the question, that there is a—I don’t know how you put it always—but there is something about the movie that feels, you said, “bulletproof” or something?
A. Wachowski: Well, yeah. I get sucked into the pitfalls of reading reviews sometimes, and I find it’s incredibly damaging to my psyche, you know? I went through this process where, especially after Speed Racer came out, we were producing Ninja Assassin for James, and it was, like, incredibly devastating, because we had spent a certain amount of money, and not only was it rejected at the box-office, it was skewered by the critics. And I read each and every one, and it was a miserable time for us. We got to have some cathartic moments on Ninja Assassin, thankfully, carving up bodies and body parts flying. [laughs]
THR: And I guess somebody [a critic] goes off a roof in this one too, so— [laughs]
A. Wachowski: Oh, yeah. That’s true, yeah, that’s true. That was a nice experience. But, with this film, the film is the reward. Just having one person come back and— We met this reporter in Toronto, this Japanese lady, who was extremely consternated about how the movie would perform. You know, performance is, like, it’s how movies are judged now—like, how they do at the box-office, and if it doesn’t do well at the box-office it’s a complete failure, ‘The Wachowskis failed.’ And so, she was imagining this film coming out, and no one going to see it, and she was extremely disheartened by that prospect because she had this profound attachment to the film. And we said to her, “Look, that’s it. You’re just sitting here telling us of your profound attachment. That has to be enough for us.”
L. Wachowski: She was the archivist.
A. Wachowski: She’s the archivist, you know? It’s like, she can go off, and talk about the movie, and hopefully infect people with the same enthusiasm for the movie, and hopefully establish some kind of dialogue.
Tykwer: We get a lot of enthusiasm about the movie. You feel like people sometimes talk to you in a way that is deeply complex, profound, hitting notes that are important for us, and then stuff that was important for them individually that is their particularness that embraces elements of the film, and you feel like, “Oh, my God, this is all resonating.” It’s in there. Because I don’t know this person—have never spoken to the person before—so there was zero influence. It’s all just from the movie, so it’s in there, and that can never be taken away. And whatever it will do, our expectation is that it is impossible to not leave a mark. [laughs]
A. Wachowski: Yeah. I mean, we want our investors to make money because without them, without their courage in coming forward to be a part of this project, we couldn’t have made it. And so, you want them to be, you know—
A. Wachowski: --rewarded for their participation. But, you know, that’s the conundrum of art and commerce coming together. And it has to just be what it is going to be.
L. Wachowski: On the one hand, though, that we did have a real terror about some particular audience members and whether or not they would like it. That really started with David Mitchell. With David, you know, we were all completely on pins and needles. David came to Berlin to see the film, and I was dying. I couldn’t sleep because if he felt disappointed in it, it would’ve been painful for me emotionally. And the same was true of Tom Hanks and the cast. We did a unique thing in this film; mostly actors see a movie at the premiere, but we wanted them to see the movie like we had made the movie. They all flew to Berlin for the first cast read-through, and we had this amazing read-through and it was very—
A. Wachowski: Bonding.
L. Wachowski: —much a social family. You know, we were this kind of fun—
A. Wachowski: Troop.
L. Wachowski:—troop, circus troop. And we wanted to have that be the way they first experienced it, not with, like, tons of people. And so, they came and, again, very, very nervous about it. And when we finished the screening for David, I was trying to like, give him his energy, and he kept leaning over and hitting me during the whole movie, and like, laughing, and leaning over, and saying, [whispers] “Oh, my God, that was amazing! That was—oh, that’s so clever! You clever monkey!” And then, it ended, and I was like, I was leaning towards my wife, and I sort of whispered to her, “Do you think he likes it? Do you think he likes it?” And my wife goes, “I think you should just look at him.” And then I turned and he had like, tears all over his eyes, and he looked over at me, and he said, “It’s magnificent.” And then, you know, my heart was like, dancing. And then, with Tom Hanks and the cast, after it ended, Tom was just devastated by it. He couldn’t find words in the beginning. He just kept saying, “Thank you,” and then, this, sort of, tumbling torrent of words about how he can’t express exactly why he’s so emotional because the scale of it is so big, and how it’s talking about humanity, and the main characters aren’t simply these individual characters, but it really is this idea of humanity. Anyway, because he was so excited and so happy, again, we felt within the troop there was a joyfulness, and a feeling of success and achievement about the experiment we all set out to do. We had done it together. We landed on the moon together. So that was important. And then, you know, we made the film so that audiences would have this to be inspired, the way the book inspires you, to be engaged, and to allow love to transform your life. I loved in the book that there were these multiple generation of love can change your life at any time—young, middle-aged, old. Love can change your life. And your imagination, and your courage—that individuals’ actions, and their imagination, and their courage is essential to the creation of a better world. And if the movie inspires people towards those kinds of acts of courage, acts of imagination, and acts of love, then that’s the best gift you can get as an artist.