Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. Your film has been selected to close the London Film
Festival. Is that an honour for you?
A. Of course. It's a great honour and I love the people
who run this festival; I love Samantha, who I met last night,
and Sandra Hebron. They just give a good feeling to this whole
thing, to me. They just feel like really good people who have
their hearts in it, and really care about putting on a good festival.
And we had good audiences, because the night I came here, I'd
left America - I voted and I got on the plane - and Kerry was
winning, and there was no phones or anything on the plane; I got
off the plane and it said Kerry had lost. So I was kind of shell-shocked.
I first went to a screening of Soldier's Pay, that documentary
we made with my friend, and the audience were really kind of sad,
and we had a Q&A afterwards, and it's kind of good in a way
to be here, with British people.
And I heard some great quotes that I've been emailing back to
the United States, like 'America is becoming the Europe that it
fled', you know, in the sense that it's a more fundamental state.
Q. Where did you get the name Huckabees?
A. My ass! [laughs] I don't know where it came from!
Doesn't it sound like a good name for a store chain. It probably
reminded me of Applebies, I now realise, but don't say that or
I'll be sued.
Q. Is it true that you had a dream and that gave you
the idea for existential detectives?
A. No way! No that's true. I tried to write a movie like
this for 15 years, so the long answer is that in college I had
this guy, Robert Thurman, as my teachers (he's Uma Thurman's dad)
and before that, I had been raised with no spiritual tradition
whatsoever. My mum's a Catholic, my dad's a Jew, and they didn't
want anything to do with anything, so I had kind of my own experiences
as a kid, my own insights, and then at college I met Bob and took
many classes with him, and he was a brilliant scholar, and deeply
unpretentious in a way that many academics are not. He doesn't
make you feel like he's the expert, even though he's an amazing
translator of Chinese sandscript, so Dustin's character is based
on him, in a way. The way he dressed, the suits, the hair and
And that spirit of Bob suffuses the whole movie, because there's
these esoteric ideas, but there's a great feeling of warmth and
humour about all of it, and that I think is the most important
thing in the whole movie that I share with Professor Thurman.
So I then went to New York and I tried to write something in 1990
that was a short film, the one about the Chinese fortune cookies,
where the guy write insanely personal fortunes by eavesdropping
everybody, and that was kind of an attempt at an existential investigator
who then got involved with their lives.
I got money to make that but I thought I can't make another short
film, because you kill yourself to make every short film, and
I still was working as a bar-tender and had an office job, and
I was calling in every dollar and every favour, and I thought
it was a good time to make a feature, or I'm going to turn out
like Uncle David who once wanted to a film-maker and, like, 'go
talk to him, he knows a little bit about cinema', so I said I
have to make this a feature and I spent 18 months trying to make
the fortune cookie movie into a feature and was struggling. There
was a lot of pressure on it; hurry up, you've got to stop bar-tending.
So then I had to use the old writer's trick, which is I had a
mistress project, and you can have the most uninhibited sex, I
mean writing, with your mistress on the side, and that was Spanking
The Monkey, it just came out. And then I used the money to make
that, which I had from the National Endowment of the Arts, and
then I had to give that back, because they said we gave you the
money for the fortune cookie movie, not the incest movie, and
we're politically embattled right now.
And then I tried to write it again after Three Kings. I wrote
a movie for Jason, whom I adored, and Mark, dear friend, Lily
Dustin was going to be in Three Kings and the studio didn't want
that, so after I made the film I went and apologised to him, and
said 'I love you and I really want to work with you; I'm so sorry,
let's do it in the future!'
And he said: "That's it?" And I said 'yes' and repeated
the whole thing, but he said 'no, you've got to do it the Jewish
way, you gotta bring me something'. So, five years later I called
him up and said 'now I'm bringing you something'.
But first I wrote another project based on a Zen centre in New
York that I'd been to with this Japanese Zen master, and again,
that's why it's been five years between films, I wrote that, put
it in a drawer, said I don't think it's ready, and then had the
Q. So is the process of making the film as much a quest
for you to find the answers, as much as it is trying to get a
A. Absolutely. I loved that I got to spend all this time
marinating in these things as my job every day. That's a great
thing, for me. And now I get to sit here and talk to you about
it. We're not talking about some heist, where we have nothing
to talk about. You know what I mean? 'Yeah, that guy's hair gel,
and he was very funny that day!
Q. There's lots of different theories you express in
this film - you're Buddhist?
A. They're mostly from Thurman; they're mostly Indo-Tibetan,
although there's the Zen. They are Buddhist, yeah, more or less.
I'd read Western philosophy and none of it has captivated me as
much as Eastern philosophy, which I'm only interested in so far
as it's practical and makes you feel more alive. The Eastern seems
more direct, for my taste. Indo-Tibetan is more the detectives,
and Caterine is more the Zen, which shares a lot with that; it's
more just 'don't talk to me about any nonsense, just what's happening
right now'. And that has a lot to offer, if you're sad right now
then let's talk about that. But she takes it a bit further through
her actual philosophy of cruelty, which some people have said
they feel like her in the last couple of days.
Q. You said that Dustin's character was based on Bob,
so was Jason's character based on anyone?
A. Me. That was me in my 20s. I didn't become a film-maker
until I was 30. These are my favourite kinds of people who will
take an idea or an investigation beyond convention, regardless
Q. Unusually, there's a heart
in the title of the film. So is it I Heart Huckabees or I Love
A. I Heart.
Q. Where did the Heart come from?
A. I like that there's a heart in it, it kind of makes
me smile. I think it's kind of sweet, and I think it's fun, and
I like that if there's any confusion about how to say it, or if
it bothers people, then I like that, because it makes people think
about how they say something, or say something in a different
way that may cause them to make the meaning new, you know when
you use a word differently.
It's ironic, but it's also sincere, the heart, because I think
the most daring thing about the film, in some respects, is its
sincerity, because films about these matters are typically very
dark, like The Matrix, or something, wrapped up in some dark mythology;
or they're satirical, or making fun of it. And this is neither
of those. So it's a big risk, not only for regular audiences,
because it's a different movie, but for smarty-pants writers,
it's a risk, because for smarty-pants critics, it doesn't fit
their vernacular either, so we've been savaged by some of them,
and we've been embraced lovingly by some of them. But it's definitely
divided them and I wasn't surprised by that at all, because it
breaks a lot of the rules for what the so-called smart people
are supposed to do.
If you're going to be smart, you have to be pretentious about
it, or very ironic about it, and if you're kind of being sincere
about it and funny about it, you must be an idiot, you know? But
Q. But there is that screwball comedy element to it,
and quite glib, so how did you go about balancing some of the
heavier stuff with that screwball stuff?
A. I think it's all the same thing. I think that deep
spiritual insight and comedy should have the same DNA; they both
subvert the habitual mind. Someone slipping on a banana peel is
funny, because you see the ego out of control; and likewise if
I talk to you about infinity because you're ego is saying I don't
know what the fuck you're talking about, and I'm going to pretend
that I do, or I'm going to tell you that I think you're foolish.
So, to me, it's the same thing because I think any spiritual experience
that's worthwhile is not about your ego, and would destabilize
your ego a little bit, it'll humble you in some way, and I think
comedy does the same thing. And a Zen monk once said to me, 'if
you're not laughing, you're not getting it'. So, to me, it is
the same thing.
Q. So what about some of the visual stuff in the film.
How does that relate internally? I heard you talk about it being
very stark visually and the colour palette is very important...
A. A lot of times you make these decisions for reasons
you don't fully understand until later, some of them are instinctual,
so I think in retrospect, the reason the film has a formality
to it, visually and sartorially, is because I perceive all of
this, while having fun with it, to have very serious roots. And
there's something European about that, where these ideas were
sort of life or death, especially in the last 50 years plus, up
to the Sixties I would say.
In other words, it was important to me that the detectives had
their roots in some serious tradition; it wasn't glib, it's not
some fly by night new-age thing. Because if you're joking around
about something it can be mistaken for a lack of seriousness.
So I think that was part of it.
I like the European feel of it, as I said, for what I just said,
because I think that's kind of a European sensibility to take
these things so seriously. And also I just like it, I like how
it looks, and I was probably watching a lot of Vernwell, and he
tends to, especially in discreet charm, harmonise the palettes
- it was almost black and white, except for a few things.
Q. How difficult was it to pitch and did you ever wonder,
during the process, am I ever going to get this made?
A. You always wonder that, for the most part. Every single
film, just about, goes through this dance; even the ones that
you would think would be no-brainers. I was trying to get Will
Ferrell's movie, Anchorman made, because I'm producer on that,
and they wouldn't make that. So every film goes through that.
This film, how do you pitch it? You just say there's this married
couple, existential detectives, who will investigate your life
right now, and they will follow you, and you hire them, and they
have these clients who get mixed up with each other and hilarity
ensues, that's all I'm going to say.
And I had a choice, which is nice, which was a luxury. I could
have made it for less money with Warner Bros and Miramax sharing
it, or with Fox Searchlight which, ironically, Rupert Murdoch's
company gave us a little bit more money, so we didn't have to
go to Canada.
Q. But in terms of casting, as well, you had some quite
high-profile names that dropped out, or weren't available?
A. Gywneth [Paltrow]? It was funny, Gwyneth came on like
some little angel, she just came on long enough to get it set
up at Searchlight, and then she jumped off because she said she
had to mourn her father's death and hadn't stopped working. Naomi
was sort of the first choice anyway, and had scheduling problems
and came back, and Nicole [Kidman] I spoke to about it. Nicole
came up to the house and talked to me about the script, but she
wanted to get out of Stepford Wives and do this, but we had the
same producer. Scott Rudin was the same producer and he said 'absolutely
I also spoke to Britney Spears to do that part, because I thought
that might have been very fun.
Q. And what did she say?
A. Oh she would have done it. She came to my house three
times, she was begging to do it, and I think she might have been
quite good in it. But I think Naomi... I was kind of captivated
by her since Mulholland Drive, and I think that persona and who
she is fits the film perfectly. And she and Jude had never done
a comedy, nor had Mark Wahlberg for that matter, and it was a
real opportunity for them to up-end their golden personas, you
know, and turn them inside out.
Q. And why did you go to Isabelle Huppert?
A. Well I always imagined their nemesis being French.
She was always this French nemesis. I suspected they all had been
in graduate school together, teaching together, and to prepare
it, it was very important that we had that back story. I was originally
thinking of Deneuve, but Deneuve was very busy and then I thought
better of it, because she's a bit old to be rolling around in
the mud with Jason. And Isabelle is very complex, very intense,
very sexy and very French.
We would say things to her on the set; I remember once, I said
'you know, make that pouting face, you know that pouting contemptuous
face that you make', and Dustin and Lily knew exactly what I was
talking about, but she said 'no, I don't know what you're talking
about'. That, in itself, seems French.
Q. What's next for you now after Huckabees?
A. I don't know. I would love to make a sequel, or something
with these characters at some point, because I love these characters.
I'm writing something with Bob Thurman.