My boy David O. Russell may be shooting negative karma beams at the back of Sharon Waxman’s head, but that’s not stopping him from spelling “P&A” with a capital “N-Y-T.”
It feels like those multimedia interstitials for I [Heart] Huckabee’s have been running for weeks now (Seriously, what’s the buy on those things? If it’s entirely clickthrough-based, they’ll have to start pushing the DVD before too much longer.) And if People Who Don’t Skip This Ad wasn’t niche enough, Fox Searchlight is pitching the film at the even smaller People Who Actually Opt In For Ad Mail market.
Here’s the kicker: This morning’s I[H]H spam was a plaintive 1,000-word Story of My Life And My Movie by the director himself. And I mean himself. No copy editors were harmed or even inconvenienced in the making of this email, which Gawker helpfully published this afternoon.
And which I’ve happily pasted in its spamalicious entirety after the jump. Now if you copy it and forward it to all your friends, not only will you help save the life of a little girl with cancer–who’s been kidnapped–but Bill Gates will take you on a trip to Disneyland. Which has to be good for your karma.
Subject: Times Select: A note from David O. Russell, director of I Heart Huckabees
From: “NYTimes.com Ad-Mail”
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 2004 10:10:48 -0500
You received this e-mail because you signed up to receive special offers and announcements from NYTimes.com advertisers.
Here is a special announcement from FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
In 1990, I wrote a short film about a man who concealed microphones on every table in a chinese restaurant, enabling him to eavesdrop and write insanely personal fortunes that eventually involve him in several people’s lives. This was the first time I tried to write about a kind of existential detective.
When I was fortunate enough to get grants from both the NY State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts to make this short, I tried to grow it into a feature but wasn’t entirely happy with the results. I made Spanking the Monkey instead which had been my side project while working on the fortune cookie feature.
Ten years later, I had seen Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore — loved it and him — and feeling he was a kindred spirit, sought him out and we became good friends. I wrote a script for Jason and my friends Mark Wahlberg and Lily Tomlin that centered around a zendo — or zen center — I had gone to for four years in Manhattan.
Each evening at six, stockbrokers, carpenters, janitors, scientists, all kinds of people would regularly arrive at this eastside town house, take off their coats and sit in silence together investigating consciousness and being — which I thought was funny as well as serious. The setting was ideal for a comedy about questions that had interested me for many years dating to when I had read J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey in high school, and then took the classes of Indo- Tibetan scholar Robert Thurman in college.
I wrote this zendo comedy for 18 months after Three Kings was released and then, though it was filled with things I loved, concluded the film wasn’t ready which made for difficult calls to Jason, Mark, Lily, and Tea Leoni. I put the script in a drawer.
A week later I had a dream in which I was being followed by a woman detective, not for criminal reasons, but for spiritual reasons. I thought this was funny and I felt this was the idea to make into a movie. This is the script that became I Heart Huckabees, which I worked on myself; then with my friend Simpsons and King of the Hill writer Richard Appel; then myself some more; and finally finished with my then assistant, and fellow investigator, Jeff Baena.
People ask how I pitched such an idea to the studio. Like this: Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are existential detectives whom you hire to investigate the meaning of your life at this moment. Their clients include Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law, and Naomi Watts. Their nemesis is Isabelle Huppert. Hilarity ensues.
Claudia Lewis of Fox Searchlight, a friend of my producing partner Greg Goodman, loved the script and embraced it. Soon thereafter, we invited Scott Rudin to join us to help. To me the movie is about some of my favorite kind of people — those willing to follow a question or a cause to far reaches regardless of convention.
Jason’s character is based on myself in my twenties when I was an activist for better low income housing and education in Maine and Boston. His friendship with Mark Wahlberg’s character is based in some ways on my own unlikely but close friendship with Mark. We come from very different backgrounds and yet we are able to be very frank with each other about many personal and spiritual things. It is an enormous gift for a director when he knows an actor personally and sees comedy, emotion, and depth in him that have not yet been revealed in a film.
Somewhat similarly, neither Jude Law, with whom I have shared several dinners over the years, nor Naomi Watts, whom I adored in Mulholland Drive, had ever done a comedy. In the very year that they were anointed as golden icons with Oscar nominations and glamorous press, they both relished the opportunity to turn such icons on their heads through their characters in Huckabees.
Perhaps the most perfect thing about Isabelle Huppert joining the cast, beyond her dark complexity, intelligence and sexiness, is that 23 years ago she held Jason Schwartzman in her arms as an infant while visiting her friend Talia Shire (Jason’s mother); now Isabelle would be rolling in the mud with him and making out in this film.
When Dustin Hoffman agreed to play Lily’s husband and co-detective, I could not have been happier. He is probably the reason I got into cinema in the first place having seen The Graduate when I was 15 and holding it somewhere in my heart ever since — or feeling like it was already there before I even saw it. Dustin’s first request was that I come to his home and read the script to him out loud so he could hear it the way I hear and feel it. This took two days as we stopped and spoke many times about many things.
My wish was to have a cast that shared my enthusiasm for questions about being as well as a sense of humor about these questions. I was very lucky in getting this cast and we had an enormous amount of fun working together. The blessing of being able to work with composer and songwriter Jon Brion, in addition to my trusted team of editors, continued the spirit of the film to the very end of making it.
Philosophy interests me only insofar as it is practical and makes people feel more alive and open — not closed. I knew that making this film was a bit of a ‘Geronimo’ leap, but I was sustained by my actors and crew and how close to my heart the characters and questions of the film are.
People sometimes ask me what the film is saying or what it means. I can only say the response I have heard that is closest to the film’s intention is when people see it and feel a kind of elation at the end combined with a thoughtfulness and wondering.
David O. Russell is the director and co-writer of I Heart Huckabees – now playing in theaters everywhere.