NYFF51: Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix Open Up with “Her”


Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde at the Walter Reade Saturday. Photo by Eugene Hernandez

The scourge of loneliness gets a swipe from Her. Spike Jonze along with cast members Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde, shared some together time at the Walter Reade Theater Saturday afternoon ahead of the World Premiere of Jonze's terrific Her, closing out the 51st New York Film Festival.

[Related: Spike Jonze on "Her" Femininity and His Vision of the Future

Phoenix carries the bulk of the onscreen time in the romantic drama, though the sultry voice of Scarlett Johansson as his ubiquitous companion/Operating System is his guide. In the film, Phoenix plays a lonely writer Theodore who embarks on a relationship with a newly purchased gadget that's designed to meet his every need. Facing divorce and living in a somewhat utopian version of Los Angeles (imagining city planners getting it all right with an extensive, state-of-the-art subway system), Theodore charges on as his late night talkathons with his clever and sensitive Siri-esque OS grows romantic (there's even "sex," but that's better left to the experience of seeing it on screen).

The initial idea was to make this future L.A. a nice place to be in," said Jonze Saturday. "We were playing off this idea of the world being a nicer place to live in, especially in L.A. where the weather is so nice and there's great food and you have the mountains and the ocean there. But even in that great setting you can feel very isolated and lonely."

Phoenix's turn as Theodore adds to a parade of striking performances by male leads at this year's NYFF including Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), All Is Lost (Robert Redford), Adam Bakri (Omar), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) and others. Theodore falls in love with his OS and Phoenix pulls off a dynamism despite not having a physical counterpart.

"I'm an actor so I'm accustomed to walking around my house and talking to myself," joked the normally Q&A shy Phoenix. "[It's like] I'm in rehearsal all the time, so this was similar."

In his conversation with FilmLinc following the announcement in August that Her would close NYFF 51: "The biggest challenge is that it's a love story in which one of the characters isn't on-screen. To feel their connection and love for each other, which has everything to do with Joaquin and Scarlett, was the biggest challenge. So to give their relationship its due and feel what they're feeling was the biggest obstacle."

Originally, Samantha Morton had been tapped to play the OS (coincidentally also named "Samantha"), but the part eventually went to Scarlett Johansson, who was not present at the Walter Reade Saturday. When asked about the change, Jonze spoke highly of Morton, but said that films take on their own personalities and it's important to allow for their evolution.

"I think that the movie—to be vague about it—takes a long time find what it is supposed to be," said Jonze. "I'm hesitant to answer the question because I think what Samantha brought to the movie and being on set and what she brought to Joaquin was huge and then what Scarlett brought was huge. So I just think I should leave it at that."

Jonze noted to FilmLinc in August that after previewing the film soon after completion, a friend said that the film had a feminine quality, which he had hoped to capture when hiring his cinematographer. "I showed it to someone recently and their response I took as a very high compliment. The person said that it felt very feminine—a woman's film made by a man," said Jonze. "I was very excited about that. When I first met [D.P. Hoyte van Hoytema], one of the first things I liked about him was that he has a very feminine sensibility about him in terms of the sensitivity that he brings to his work. And that's one of the reasons I hired him. I wanted the film to feel feminine. And then my friend said that it was feminine and that really was a high compliment."

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