THE CHARLIE ROSE SHOW APRIL 15, 2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Interview Transcription
Host: Charlie Rose (CR) Guests: Kate Winslet, Actor (KW) Michel Gondry, Filmmaker (MG)
CR: Join me now as the director of the film, Michel Gondry, also one of the stars, Kate Winslet. Also starring Jim Carrey and others. I am pleased to have them here to talk about one of the most interesting films that you will see out there today. Welcome (to KW). Great to have you, welcome (to MG).
(To MG) There is something about you that reminds me of Charlie Kaufman. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s youth. You guys seem to be so young. Tell me about the collaboration and how you came to work with him. Because you were renound as a maker of music videos, he was renound obviously because of Adaptation and Being John Malkovich as a interesting, exciting, different film screenwriting.
MG: Don’t you think it’s the hair? (all laugh)
CR: It may be the hair (laughs) yes. Kind of a Versailles look (all laugh).
MG: Yeah, it is. Everybody in Versailles is wearing. We have a wig. When you come back home we have a wig (motions hands on side of head) like white hair (laughing).
CR: Tell me about the collaboration between the two of you.
MG: Yeah, I met Charlie like six (6) years ago when he was working with the Spike Jonze on Being John Malkovich. I had tried to read. I had read so many scripts that were really horrible and I was really depressed because I came to a point where I really believed that scripts were boring. And I read his script and I just realized that script to be just enjoyable and great and everything I dreamed of.
CR: What made it so great for you?
MG: Well, I think first of all you just like the character right away the way you write them. Then there is all this thing I like about it’s intelligent, but it’s heartfelt as well.
CR: Intelligent and heartfelt?
MG: Yeah. The story, you’re led into a story that surprise you every page.
CR: You do not know how it’s going to go from page to page to page.
MG: Yeah and it’s always a surprise. I think that’s really important. I think that’s usually the way he writes. He doesn’t know how the story will finish or. I mean you probably know him better than me. You talked to him or? (CR and KW laugh).
CR: I wouldn’t say that! You made a film with him (laughs).
MG: Oh yeah, that’s right (all laugh).
CR: (Turns to KW) So, what’s it like for an actress? Let’s just talk about a Kaufman film, then we’ll look at this particular film. That makes it different, uh (digital feed skips) to working with a script like that?
KW: Well, for me, and you’ll have to excuse me I have a terrible cold. For me, the thing that was such a relief, to be honest, was that I was being asked by Michel to play this crazy, neurotic, wonderful American girl in a contemporary movie because people are so used to seeing me play the more period roles that I have done and the more classical pieces and so on. So, I really just jumped at this because it was an opportunity to do something, like Michel says, that I had also dreamed of doing.
CR: But he had not made a lot of movies. This was not somebody who had made a whole series of films, other than music videos. How many movies did you made before this?
MG: I did just one movie, Human Nature.
CR: Only one. Human Nature?
MG: Yeah, yeah.
CR: So, he did not have a body of work that recommended you. He had what?
KW: Michel had. What did you have?
MG: The French touch.
KW: The French touch. (giggling and visible teasing between the two).
MG: I tell you, I had the good script. But it didn’t matter who I was at the time. Although, I had to start very humble.
KW: That’s, that’s very, very true actually.
MG: Okay, thanks! Thanks a lot for that! (all laugh).
KW: No, but when I met Michel. You know, I said well, who is this director? I really didn’t know anything about him. Just on hearing his name. And then when I had found out he had directed Human Nature and some of the music videos Michel has directed in the past. I went “Oh my God, it’s that guy??!! And so I was incredibly excited because Michel…
CR: That guy had what?
KW: That guy has a totally, I think, Michel, a totally unique vision. In my opinion that’s was…
CR: Fresh. Inventive.
KW: Yes, incredibly fresh. And also, frankly, he had the guts to cast me. The classical you know English Rose, whatever, in this totally different, diverse role and so I was, you know…
CR: Ready to go.
KW: I was ready to go. But, as Michel says, the thing is different on every single page as you go along. As an actor, you find yourself wanting to be challenged by new things all the time and this was very much a script that kept us all on our toes and it was very funny and also incredibly touching. And I felt, as well, underneath all the kind of complexities of telling of this story. It’s a very simple love story of two kinds of social misfits who were kind of meant to be together. And, to me, the love they have for each other is very sort of realistic. It’s true to life. You know, you can’t have every day in a relationship as though it’s the first day that you’ve met and so on.
CR: Or the best day.
KW: Exactly. And it had this kind of light and shade. And I really like that more and more these days. Movies are kind of. They’re sort of, they’re cautious. And they sort of, they shy away from, you know, telling the truth I think, in a way, and that to me was the thing about this particular script that Charlie had written that was so incredibly unique actually.
CR: This film is about the device to tell the story of love. In memory is a doctor that erase someone from your memory. So, if you want to erase a bad love affair you can just wipe it out.
MG: Yeah, in the story.
CR: In the story.
MG: (Mumbles) People should not get used to this side of me. Nothing is gonna happen soon. But, I think to me…
CR: What does that allow you to do?
MG: Well, let’s say you go through a horrible experience in your life and you can’t live with the memory of it. You just go there and you get it erased. So then you forget.
CR: But as a filmmaker, you…
MG: I’m sorry. I was trying (all laugh). I thought it was in real life. What it does is like, it’s not that it’s science fiction but in fact it’s just a tool of a different aspect of a relationship that you don’t normally see so much in movies. That’s something we talk so with Charlie about. It’s like those little details in a relationship. You like how somebody are when they are just met, and how they are two (2) weeks later, and how they are together six (6) months, and how they are after two (2) years. We don’t really see that in movies because basically it’s all about the journey they have before they meet. And then after, they’re happy, they have children, end of the story. (CR laughing). So we wanted to see all the different nuances that you go across in…
CR: But this is a movie that is going forward and going back. Digging down and reaching up.
MG: Yeah, the narration is a little convoluted?
CR: Convoluted would be a good word.
CR: Convoluted would be a perfect word (claps hands once, laughs).
MG: Ah, thanks.
KW: He’s very clear, very clear (CR laughs).
CR: It’s convoluted for sure.
KW: Mmm, hmm.
MG: But I think the emotions are really we try to make them true.
CR: Try to make the relationship true.
MG: And the emotions. Actually, I have to say that with my accent Kate was alway here to translate my English. English…
KW: I doubled up as sort of actress stroke ( / ) translator on this film because for some reason I always found it very easy to understand Michel and sometimes no one else could understand what on Earth he was talking about. He would give Jim Carrey a direction. Jim would say, “Okay. Okay!”. “What did he tell me to do?” And I would translate.
MG: And I would say “Now I’m going to do a close up of you Jim,” and she would say, “No he’s doing a close up of me.” (laughs).
KW: (gesticulates to MG) I’d say, “What said is he’s going to do is entirely coverage of me.” (MG
and KW laugh).
CR: So, what, Jim Carrey is also in this movie. He plays the love interest. You chose him?
MG: Yeah. Oh, he chose me.
CR: He chose you?
MG: Well, I chose him and he chose me. Like, he like the script at the beginning and we liked him. Charlie and I talked together and to me had something that’s missing in lot of actor, especially in Hollywood. A lot of actor, male, they have this kind of attitude, this Marlon Brando syndrome. (KW and CR laugh). I should not talk about him because he’s alive. Let’s talk about somebody dead like James Dean. Like the frowning actor that’s Jack Black who can get like that. And it’s just so right.
CR: The what actor? Oh, frowning. (laughs).
MG: Frowning. (makes a tough guy face and holds hand up like a mask). They’re very serious about things. Like all the actors when they start to be a little famous they start to maintain this very masculine image of very serious. And I really don’t like that because I cannot identify with that. But Jim has this kind of childlike quality, he’s very outside. So what I started working with him I have to put him outside in. To get all this energy that he project outside, keeping inside, because his character was much more content intellectually. Kate’s character was the big one.
KW: She was sorta, she was the Jim Carrey character.
MG: And I used that. We kind of planned, Kate and I, little tricks to make Jim off guard all the time.
CR: Off guard.
KW: Off guard, yeah.
MG: Off guard.
KW: Because I’m just thinking about that now. God, we did do a bit of that actually. Not necessarily to kind of trick him. But Jim as a person has a wonderful energy that’s very alive and kind of buzzing and he loves to make people laugh. And, you know, he’s very funny and Michel was always trying to keep him as contained as possible. Michel would always get me to be big and loud and I would say to him “What do you mean more?” And he would say “Bigger bigger, do it bigger!” the whole time and I jus. And for whatever reason I just thought, well you know, I’m just gonna trust him otherwise I’m doing this properly. And Jim was always brilliant about that there wasn’t. He would always say to Michel “You know got…”
MG: Well, yeah.
KW: “to tell me if you see me doing something you know that you’ve seen me do before that isn’t Joel. You have to tell me.” He was very concerned to make sure that he was as consistent with the character as possible and that he was indeed very different from all the other parts he’s played before. And he is in the movie, I mean, he’s nothing like no one’s ever seen him in any other movie.
CR: Absolutely not.
MG: I mean, Kate, if I could correct one thing. I don’t think I’ve really tried to contan. Contan him?
MG: Contain him. I think it be more I tried to. I saw him on the set of another shooting when we were preparing and I saw him in between two (2) takes that they had to retake one set and they had to go down the stairs. And I just realized that in between the takes he was a little bit different and it was really touching. And I just the tape. I just found the DVD of Living Color. In Living Color. That’s how the…
CR: Yes. I used to see him on the set of In Living Color when he was doing it a hundred years…
MG: I don’t know if you noticed, but at the end of the show they all go forward. They, like, stand in a line and they all say thank you. And always Jim is like totally lonely and he’s in the back. It’s so charming and I don’t know what’s going on. I have to call him and find out what’s going on his head. You see this kind of skinny guy, he just there. And I really wanted to just capture that and I thought to get that on the screen. I need to mess around with him. Create a carousel…
CR: There was a kind of bewilderment you wanted to create. Is that? No, that’s not…
MG: This word, I don’t know.
CR: A sense of not knowing quite what is going on?
MG: Yeah, exactly. Totally. Sometime he would be a little upset in the beginning. I remember we tried to find the words to not say action because when you say action everybody start to stiffen. But then, when he saw the dailies he understand. He began understood and he became totally relaxed.
KW: Yeah. Michel would keep the camera running a lot. We used a lot of film stock because it would keep running and keep running between takes. Which for me was sometimes difficult, because not only was playing Clementine a wonderful experience obviously, but incredibly exhausting because she is larger than life and she is, you know, neurotic and sort of always on fire all the time.
CR: All right. Here’s a scene in which Clementine, played by Kate, talks to Joel. Basically set this up. Michel, I can’t risk having you do this. This is when he wants to, basically she says that he should try waking up to stop the procedure because what is happening is in his head is that. what you know all these scenes in this experience have been wiped out.
MG: Uh huh.
CR: And she wants him to stop this procedure. Just set it up and give a context to me before the audience sees it.
MG: Okay, that’s a little bit like a dream quality. So he’s in his mind. Now he realize that what’s happening and he realize that he really love her and he doesn’t want to lose her memory to (rambles off indecipherably).
KW: And Clementine is in on it now, you know. She is aware with him that this is what is happening, that his memory is being erased. So she is within the memories with him.
MG: So they’re trying some tricks to wake up. Honestly, it’s something I’ve done many time. I’ve dreamed, tried to wake myself up because I’ve realized, I mean my dream, I just get scared want to get wake up. So he’s doing stuff he’s, like the, he’s pulling his eye with his finger.
KW: Trying to wake himself up after the procedure.
CR: Roll tape. Here it is.
(Plays the “Wake yourself up!” in the woods scene).
CR: (MG laughing). For many people that who even loved this movie, you gotta pay attention. You gotta make sure you’re focused, uh, because it’s going in lots of different directions. That’s on purpose. You won’t be. Almost like reading a difficult novel.
MG: Well, we. Well, I don’t know, it’s not, we’re not trying to be difficult on purpose. But, it’s like, as well we’re not trying to take people for idiots. We think…
CR: For idiots?
MG: Yeah. We think like, maybe they could use their brain a little bit. And the good think, it’s like, I remember Charlie saying that, “Well, if they don’t get it, they can go see it a second time.” (CR laughing). Uh, in fact, a lot of people go many times.
KW: So many people. So many people. I mean friends of mine who have seen it. They, you know, they very graciously phone afterwards and go, “Hi. You know, I just saw the movie. Ohmigod, I want to see it again immediately!” And I, they feel very kind of energized by it. And in fact, it isn’t, I mean, I don’t personally think that it’s confusing. There were times that we were shooting it when I was incredibly confused.
CR: But you will give that you have to pay attention?
KW: Yeah you do have to pay attention, but at the same time it does. You know, you almost have to sort of surrender to it and let it take you where it’s gonna take you, you know. And if you’re on the ride then you’re on the ride and if you aren’t then, then you aren’t. But it’s one of those movies that has energy…
CR: Yeah, yeah.
KW: That does kind of sweep you up.
CR: If you’re not on the ride it wouldn’t seem to be fun to me if you don’t get on the ride. You know?
KW: Of course not, of course not.
CR: You know if you’re resisting where it wants to take you.
KW: Yeah, absolutely.
CR: What’s the difference in the Clementine the real and the Clementine in his mind?
KW: There is no difference. It’s simply that the real Clementine, or certainly some of the sides, that we see in the present.
KW: There’s part of her that you know she’s a little bit of a cow.
She’s, she’s not that pleasant all of the time. She could be a bit of a bitch.
CR: Cow is an English expressing that means what?
KW: Cow means, you know….
KW: Bitch, basically. (laughs). Yeah. But there are some parts…
CR: A Versailles expression, too.
MG: Uh, yes. In Versailles is ghetto (all laugh)
KW: There are some parts in the present when Clementine and Joel are at a bad place in their relationship. You see her, there’s a lot of yelling and screaming at him and being very critical of him as a person and so on. And then a lot of the memories that you see, a lot of the sequences that Joel walks into from having his memory erasing procedure done ,you see parts of their relationship that were incredibly touching. And the thing about this story is that the memories are erased in reverse order from most recent to most past in their relationship. So as the movie goes on, rather than see things get worse and worse, they almost get better and better. And you realize at the end of the story just how perfect they were and how incredibly heartbreaking it is that they’ve done this awful thing to each other. That they’ve had them; that they’ve had all memories erased and all memory of this wonderful, crazy relationship is, it’s gone. And that’s where I think it’s really quite moving, in a surprising way, too.
CR: That they have lost something so, you know.
KW: So incredibly.
CR: So is that the point, that we shouldn’t forget any relationship regardless of where we’re going?
KW: Well, I think every relationship, good or bad, teaches you something. You know, it teaches a lot about yourself and maybe not to repeat the same mistake again. I don’t know, maybe something like that. But, in this case, it’s almost about two people turning away from maybe, absolutely the relationship of their lifetime.
KW: And the wonderful thing is. (to Michel). Am I allowed to say what happens at the end? Well, a lot of people have seen it now, but…
CR: I don’t think so, do you? (to Michel).
MG: Well…. I don’t (mumbling) take responsibility. KW: You don’t take what?
CR: You don’t take responsibility?
MG: I don’t want to yelled at for
CR: You what?
KW: No, well the thing. The thing that…
MG: I don’t want to be yelled at.
CR: Oh. Who would yell at you?
KW: No, the thing I…
MG: Oh, many people.
KW: Listen. I, you know, I think this is a really great…
CR: Well, name one. (all laugh).
KW: Listen. I think this is a really great… (MG laughs). Producers or something like that. But basically when they’ve, when they’ve… CR: You’re allowed to tell us.
SPOILERS – START
KW: Well, when they’ve done this and they have erased each other from each other’s minds, fantastically as very short time later they meet again as complete strangers. And that is…
CR: Right. And they don’t know it.
MG: Well, that’s at the beginning of the story.
KW: And yeah. Don’t complicate things, Michel. (laughs).
MG: The story’s like the change of our, you know like the six (6) months we have to change our watch?
MG: And there’s been going for (Michel says “sortir” or “sort here”). And remember when we change, and I was like ten or something, and still now after like sixty (60) time people are asking, “Well are, do we have to. We are, like, gaining or losing one hour?” So at the beginning of the film as little ask, “What is that before or after?”
SPOILERS – END
KW: Yeah. It does. Yeah, it does have that to it.
MG: But I think to come back little bit. I mean, I want to say a something about, like, is that the real Clementine in his mind? I think it’s obviously that’s his point of view of her. But, she become alive, she become the real person. I think it’s when you in love with somebody you start to talk to this person in you’re mind. And this person give you answer you would not expect. It doesn’t feel like you’re talking to yourself even though you are. So I feel, you know us (mumbles), to make her real even though we are seeing through, most of the time through, Joel’s mind.
CR: The film is called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Kate Winslet. Jim Carrey. Directed by Michel Gondry.
* Transcription is to the best of my ability.