The first trailer for Spike Jonze’s new movie Her was released last week and generated a rush of positive buzz. The film is set in the near future and stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a lonely, soon-to-be-divorced writer who buys a new computer operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Samantha is so human and intuitive that Theodore begins to fall in love with “her.”
Prior to the release of the trailer, that description of the plot inspired a raft of Siri jokes, but the tone of the trailer is so full of longing and loss that those flip jibes fall flat once you’ve seen it. Jonze, 43, has not made a film in four years and first conceived of Her while working on his last, Where the Wild Things Are. He spoke with EW about Her and why he wanted to make it.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There’s such a deep sadness in this trailer, this sense of people longing to connect but being unsure how to do it.
SPIKE JONZE: Wow, thank you. On one level, the film is about technology and the way we use it to try and connect, but it’s also about this moment and the way we’re living our lives.
How big of a challenge was it to find the right tone?
Because this is a love story between two characters, one of whom is never on-screen, probably the biggest challenge was to make it a complex relationship between them and acknowledging their differences, but also using [that dynamic] as a way to explore the differences between you and anyone you fall in love with. It’s been a long process. On all of our films, we basically edit for over a year, and this one was no different.
A lot of films feel very “written.” The characters don’t speak the way real people do or you can feel the beats of a three-act narrative playing out on screen. Your films feel much more … organic, I guess. As a viewer, you’re never quite sure where they’re going. I’m guessing that it’s harder to make films that way, though.
I try to always go back to what the intention was when I started [the film]. You close your eyes and think, “What is this scene supposed to feel like, again?” And then you have to figure out why it’s not feeling that way. When I started writing this movie, I watched [Woody Allen’s] Crimes and Misdemeanors. I was kind of in awe of that movie, the way it effortlessly juggles so many different characters and tones and ideas. That’s what I aspire to.
What strikes me about the trailer is how much chemistry there seems to be between Joaquin’s character and Scarlett’s. That’s pretty hard when one of them is invisible, no?
I was so drawn to Joaquin to play Theodore because he’s so compelling to watch. He’s got to represent both of them on screen, and I thought if anybody could pull that off, it would be him. He’s not only representing what his character is feeling, but also his reaction to her, which helps embody her.
Did you know Joaquin before this? Do you travel in the same social circles?
Only a little bit, but I always imagined that at one point we’d work together. We hit it off just immediately. I finished the script on a Saturday and I went over to his house the next week. It all happened sort of quick. Within a week of me finishing that first draft, Joaquin said yes and our producer, Megan Ellison, said she wanted to do it and Warner Bros. said they wanted to distribute it. That is not normal. I’d never had that kind of good fortune in putting a movie together.
Her arrives to theaters November 20.