Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer on 'Cloud Atlas,' 'Matrix' Sequels, and Out-of-Line Journalists (Q&A)
Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Hollywood's biggest recluses this side of Greta Garbo and Deanna Durbin, the notoriously reclusive Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Indeed, for about 40 minutes in a hotel room in New York City, I was flanked by the Wachowskis -- who were widely known as the "Wachowski brothers" prior to Lana's recent sex-change, before which she went by Larry, and who recently joke that they want to be known as "Wachowski Starship" henceforth -- along with Tom Tykwer, their co-director on the soon-to-be-released film Cloud Atlas. And it was no less exciting, interesting, or out-there than I imagined it would be.
Cloud Atlas, an epic sci-fi drama, is every bit as much of a head-trip as the film that made the Wachowskis famous 13 years ago, The Matrix. It is an adaptation of David Mitchell's acclaimed 500-page tome of the same title -- a meditation on karma, past lives, and freedom that jumps across the centuries (past, present and Twilight Zone-ish future) and genres (drama, comedy, sci-fi and everything in between) -- that even Mitchell himself thought was unadaptable. Indeed, it was only after years of relentless efforts that the filmmakers were able to figure out a way of effectively transferring the stories onto the big screen -- namely, having the same actors portray multiple characters, in different eras -- and to raise the funds necessary to make the film that they wanted to make.
In the end, Cloud Atlas was made on a budget of more than $100 million, a portion of which was furnished by Warner Bros., but most of which was raised independently, which has led some to call it "the most expensive indie film of all time." The film premiered at September's Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a lengthy standing ovation , but questions remain about whether typical moviegoers, who are now more than ever accustomed to dumbed-down shlock and sequels and remakes thereof, will get in line to see a complex, rather mystical film about the meaning of life when the film hits theaters nationwide on Oct. 26.
Now, as its release date nears, the filmmakers clearly feel immense pressure to do everything in their power to generate attention for and interest in their project so that their investors will make back their money and people will see the project into which they invested more passion than any other. Consequently, despite their career-long dread of journalists -- they actually had it written into their contract to make The Matrix films that they wouldn't have to grant any interviews to promote it -- they are now finally meeting the press -- or at least some of it. "We’re only talking to a handful of people," Andy told me. Lana added, "Congratulations, you got in!"
Over the course of our conversation -- the audio of which you can hear at the top of this post (Tom has the German accent, Andy is the baritone, and Lana speaks a bit squeakily) and the transcript of which you can read below -- I felt like I got a real sense of the close relationship that exists between not only these siblings (who finish each other's sentences and are fiercely protective of one another), but between the entire trio ("We kind of had a love at first sight experience with each other," Tykwer says), which they see as preordained: Tykwer and Lana Wachowski were born less than a month apart, and Tykwer and the Wachowskis' breakout films, Run Lola Run and The Matrix, were released in the U.S. within just weeks of each other. As Lana puts it, it's all "very Cloud Atlas-y."
Much of our discussion was devoted to the filmmakers' passion for Mitchell's book, their tremendous desire to do right by him, and the standards by which they will measure the success of their joint-venture. But no subject was off limits, and all three subjects were unexpectedly forthcoming. Lana volunteers that she was beaten up every day when coming home from school; Lana and Andy reveal that their youthful aspiration was to make a Roger Corman movie, discuss why they would have felt heartbroken if they had not been able to make the sequels to The Matrix, and explain the roots of their aversion to doing press (and why they are now doing some anyway); and, of other journalists' questions about Lana's recent sex-change, Andy bluntly acknowledges, "I’m ready to break a bottle over somebody’s head if they ask the wrong question."
Read on for more.
The Hollywood Reporter: Thank you again for fitting me in.
Andy Wachowski: Thanks for being here.
THR: My pleasure. I saw Cloud Atlas at the Toronto premiere, where all you guys were, so it was great.
Tom Tykwer: Oh really? That was nice.
Lana Wachowski: It was beautiful, yeah.
THR: Yeah, totally. But, before we delve into that, I just wanted to begin by asking if you guys went to the movies as kids, and if you did, if there were any films or filmmakers that were particular favorites or influences for each of you?
Tykwer: Well, when we met, the first time we met—well, we kind of had a love at first sight experience with each other. [laughs] It was probably because we had, we felt, I mean, we’re really kind of the same age—like, I mean, we’re like, just four weeks apart—so really we feel like one generation, in terms of culture and influences. And yet, interestingly enough, I’m European, they’re Americans. And, it was quite overwhelming how close it all felt, in terms of what made us become who we are, and why we do what we do, and, in particular, of course, influences, in terms of the films that we loved. You know, it’s probably in that first meeting the root of what we’ve ultimately done, because we were so excited about that agreement, about what cinema can be, and about something we want to preserve for people who love cinema in a way that cinema should not resemble television too much in terms of visuals—and, at the same time, in the last years television has grown so well into being so brilliantly written and deserving so much attention because it’s really become amazing. And yet, of course, we all became filmmakers because of big, wide— What’s the word that we use?
A. Wachowski: Epic.
Tykwer: Epic, large-canvas, spectacular movies that you could not bring to any television no matter how big it is because it would always have a deficiency. We love the fact that films could do that, and, at the same time, be inspiring, and complex, and actually artistic, reaching artistically far. So, when you bring it down to these films, the list is not that huge, you know? There’s some names that stand out, obviously.
L. Wachowski: When we first had our first dinner we were like, “Oh, God, you know?” You go on a date, and you just fall in love, and you can talk all night, and the restaurant was closing up, and the waiters were all there. But the range of love for—I mean, the breadth of the love for—cinema was very near. It’s like, we could watch Conan the Barbarian and love it, and then the next week we could go watch Jules and Jim and I would be, like, sobbing.
Tykwer: On the same day!
L. Wachowski: We went to see this triple-feature once of—
A. Wachowski: When we were—this is when we were very young. Our mom and dad would— They’d take us to movies all the time, and you instantly knew that you were seeing movies that none of your other friends were watching because they just gave us this language. The triple-feature was—
L. Wachowski: Where’s Papa?—
A. Wachowski: The King of Hearts and Harold and Maude.
THR: [laughs] That’s great…
L. Wachowski: And you’d go watch the movie, and you’d be like— You know, you’re a kid, and your mind is like, “Oh, my.” And then we’d go to this amazing breakfast place with incredible skillet eggs and then our dad would go, “Okay, what did you think?” And then you’d have to talk about the movie. And then you’d go to the next movie, and then you would get lunch and you’d talk about that movie. And then you’d go to dinner, and you’d talk about the last one.
THR: As someone who also has siblings, I know I didn’t always get along with mine. I’m curious, did you two always get along, or was it only later in life that you sort of meshed?
A. Wachowski: No, we always got along. I think it was just that our familial unit was very strong; it came from our mom and dad’s. And we also had this bonding because of the neighborhood in Chicago where we lived. We lived in a white Southside Irish neighborhood that was sort of, you know, upper middle class, or middle- to upper-middle class. And, they didn’t like us because we were Polish, and we went to the public schools and—
L. Wachowski: We were in the lower-income bracket.
A. Wachowski: We were in the lower-income bracket as well. [laughs] And so our family sort of came together a little bit more, and it sort of bonded us, and we had to stick up for each other.
L. Wachowski: I’d get beat up every day coming home from school.
A. Wachowski: Yeah.
L. Wachowski: Yeah.
A. Wachowski: And so, we played together.
THR: Did each of your decisions to pursue filmmaking come out of a desire to control the outcome of things, or for escapism, or something else? What was at the root of each of your decisions? And did you two [Andy and Lana] make that decision together, or arrive at it separately?
A. Wachowski: Of course, there’s always a big genesis to that development. You know, you can’t really say the reason I wanted to become a filmmaker was much more— It was not very reflexive. It was more like an instinctive urge towards a certain—to this idea of this immersive way or narration and storytelling; of course, I mean, it’s attractive to every child or young person. And then, discovering there’s jobs behind there? That’s always kind of fascinating because, of course, for quite a long time, you know, you don’t really differentiate between that world and this box. It seems to be, like, there, and so my big discovering movie was the original King Kong, when I was probably 12 or 11. I think I was maximum 11. You realize something’s manufactured here, even though it was so overwhelming, that movie. It was really— It was, like, one of the big, big movie experiences for me. I knew it was manufactured and I do remember that it stayed with me. And an important aspect: I do remember that the fact that I could see that it was manufactured was not distracting, and it was actually adding to the pleasure—it was adding to the pleasure to always be part of the narrative and somehow simultaneously reflecting about the way how it was made. So, I mean, that was my first structural reference point, probably, which has stayed with me forever as an idea about art that I enjoy. I love art—and particularly cinema art—that gives me both those balls to juggle, meaning I enjoy very much that movies invite me on aesthetic journeys that I’m experiencing and learning about a way of telling a story; and then I still don’t want to lose the idea of getting lost in a story and being really taken by it and making an emotional experience, which is impossible without immersion.
L. Wachowski: There’s something interesting about the ability to conceive of the mechanical, or the making of something underneath it that you— What he was describing— Every artist, I think, goes through this moment of relating to the process in some ways. Kubrick has a funny line: when he was developing and thinking about becoming a filmmaker, he went to see—it was a pretty bad movie; I’m just drawing a blank—and he was like, “I could do better than that.” Right? Because it would require the kind of ego to insert yourself into the mechanical process. I remember very strongly watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the moment comes where he sticks the staff into the pinhole, and the camera pans from the medallion down—
A. Wachowski: From the medallion on top of the staff. And there’s Harrison Ford looking grizzled—
L. Wachowski: And there is Harrison Ford. And the moment that he does this tilt down, I’m suddenly freaking out because, in my head, I remembered that the translation of whatever the—
A. Wachowski: The bad guy, the Nazi guy, had—
L. Wachowski: When it goes to the old man, the old man says, [assumes German accent] “It is essentially 177 kadans,” [reassumes normal accent] or whatever the thing is. And the other guy goes, “Approximately six feet.” And he says, [assumes German accent] “But, you take back some—”
A. Wachowski: Because the Nazi only had one side of it, and he flips over the medallion, and he says, [assumes German accent] “Oh, but you take away seven kadans!”
L. Wachowski: [assumes German accent] “Ten kadans” or whatever it is. [reassumes normal accent] And you realize, “Ah, that means that the staff is less than six feet, which means that, with this tilt down, Harrison Ford is about a foot-and-a-half shorter than the top of the staff, which means that Harrison Ford is actually three-and-a-half feet tall!” [laughs]
THR: So you guys caught them!
Tykwer: Has that ever been exposed publicly?
A. Wachowski: I don’t know.
[NOTE: IMDB.com confirms this goof: “The staff is supposed to be 60 inches tall (6 kadams = 72 inches, minus 1 kadam). The pole that Indy inserts into the hole in the map room towers over his head, indicating (incorrectly) that Indy is less than five feet tall. The laserdisc edition disproves any claim that he's standing on a lower step.”
THR: That’s great. The next question I wanted to pose to the two of you [Andy and Lana]. Did you reach the conclusion together, at the same time, that you wanted to go for this as a career? Or, was one of you sort of ahead of the other as far as making the commitment?
A. Wachowski: I don’t know if it was— I think that we were—
L. Wachowski: We wanted to write together, and we started writing comic books.
A. Wachowski: Yeah, we started doing comic books, and, I mean, we had done everything together. We were in a construction business before that. We were—
L. Wachowski: And we wrote role-playing games together. We wrote, like, a three-hundred-fifty page role playing game when we were kids. And, it’s still available! [laughs]
THR: Yeah? [laughs] Where can we get that, Amazon?
L. Wachowski: No, no publishers. We need a publisher.
THR: Oh, I see, I see...
L. Wachowski: The rights are still available!
THR: So, just each step along the way, you felt together that
L. Wachowski: Somehow playing together—which we did, particularly with role-playing, which we liked—that became writing and making art together. Like, playing just became— Making art was a natural extension of playing together.
A. Wachowski: Yeah. I mean, the step towards filmmaking really came on from— We read Roger Corman’s autobiography, How I Made 100 Movies and Never Lost a Dime, and it was, you know, such a revelation—you know, first of all, how cheap he made his movies, but also, like, “the Corman school.” The talent that’s come out of there is just, you know, absolutely staggering.
L. Wachowski: But we get the movies and we’re like, “Hey, this is pretty good!” And, again, you start inserting your own potential.
A. Wachowski: Correct.
L. Wachowski: You try imagining yourself, “Hey, maybe we could do this!”
A. Wachowski: That’s right. “We could make a Roger Corman movie!” And that’s actually— That was going to be our first foray.
THR: To do that kind of a movie?
A. Wachowski: We wrote this script called Carnivore, this low-budget horror movie, still unproduced.
L. Wachowski: Also, rights still available!
THR: [laughs] I wonder if you can summarize how different things were before and after Run Lola Run and The Matrix, which, I guess, came out within about a year of each other
Tykwer: Within three weeks of each other!
L. Wachowski: Almost the exact span of time that we were born apart.
THR: Oh, my God...
L. Wachowski: How’s that for Cloud Atlas?!
Tykwer: It’s really interesting. And it’s also part of why we, I think, particularly came to each other’s attention. Because those two movies were—I mean, at least the release in America was—kind of the same month and were kind of discussed in similar patterns in ways. It was a philosophical setting that’s driving them, in very different ways, obviously, but there’s, like, those ideas swirling around in a movie that is profoundly trying to be as entertaining as it can get with lots of fun ideas flying around.
THR: None of you were entirely anonymous before those films came out, but I imagine that they must have taken things to a completely different level for you. What were the biggest ways in which things changed after those movies made it big? I guess Run Lola Run came shortly before The Matrix, so [Tom] if you would go first?
Tykwer: It expanded, obviously, the range of possibilities of what— It’s something that objectively happens to you and subjectively it doesn’t. I didn’t reflect about it that much, I have to admit. It was more like— You know, if you look at the movie I did after that, I think I could’ve put that movie together with Lola being not a success or being a success, somehow. You know, it wasn’t like a huge film that I did and a big budget—
L. Wachowski: Princess?
Tykwer: The Princess and the Warrior. It was just a similar movie to the movie I had done before, in terms of the scale, and it was German, and it was, sort of, very particularly local. And I think that was kind of healthy in a way, I guess. I don’t feel I did reflect about it that much, in terms of, “Oh, I can do anything now,” because I don’t really believe in this whole idea that there are all these un-done movies in ourselves that would only happen if the system would turn towards us or embrace us. I think either they’re there or they’re not there, and then you try to develop them. And you have to imagine, I mean, Lana and Andy made The Matrix based on one movie before that was a movie that was made for two million dollars, no?
L. Wachowski: Three.
Tykwer: Three. I mean, like, you know, that kind of a jump is also, kind of, unheard of. In particular, in those days—it was even less possible, and it had to do with the fact that, I think, there was a certain determination. That’s what they wanted to do. There was a certain presence to the idea. And that movie, of course, was expensive just because the ideas in it were expensive, not because they were saying, “Oh, we want to make an expensive movie,” you know? [laughs] I think we would all be happy if it was ten percent of the money that it costs, any movie.
L. Wachowski: For us, because The Matrix was successful, we got to make the other two, which we had— You know, if we were only allowed to make The Matrix, we would’ve been very sad because the movie is an incomplete idea and the other two complete the ideas of that movie, and without them it is kind of a false representation of what we wanted it to be. And so we were very happy. It was like a rush of excitement that we were gonna get to finish the ideas.
A. Wachowski: I mean, I think, like, from a community standpoint, like, the success of those films were more important. Like, the community of filmmakers that we deal with and touch, you know? Like, we were able to get James McTeigue a job, and turned him into a director, and he made V for Vendetta, which we produced. And just, you know, how it extends to our friends and family, you know? We now have a building in Chicago that is like a family business for us. And so I think it’s the way it affects people’s lives around us more than our own careers.
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.
Sundance: On the Scene