What was your first reaction when you heard Jim Carrey was interested in Eternal Sunshine?
Kaufman: Itís great that big stars come to us -- and he came to us -- and want to be in my films for little or no money. So you know going in that their intentions are that they want to do this because they like it, and they want to be a part of this project as opposed to thinking itís going to be a Jim Carrey movie. I like Jim Carrey as a performer, and I was fine with it. I was nervous about meeting him because I pictured him to be this explosion in human form. But when I met him at the first rehearsal he was sort of very gentle and sweet, and kind of rumpled-looking in a way that surprised me. And Iím very happy with his performance.
Gondry: Early on, I did videos with the Rolling Stones and worked with other people of that stature, and I found out that sometimes those are not necessarily the most painful people to deal with. I had to deal with young artists who are so arrogant and disrespectful and then when I met Mick Jagger, I was completely surprised at how simple he was and you can talk and have a conversation with him. So I was not too anxious about Jim. I was very grateful that he would trust me to direct him. He liked my first film and didnít change his opinion because my film didnít do so well at the box office. I respect that; he didnít need to be reassured by my success to give me his trust.
How did he feel about you never turning the camera off?
Gondry: I wanted to make sure he would be captivating without doing his big performance. I think it is very important even if they donít say a lot, that someone is captivating and you want to know what is going on inside him. I noticed a lot of times that the simple fact of switching the camera on will switch people off. Itís very weird and so depressing. People are very conscious of the camera and they suddenly become who they are supposed to be and when we switch it off they became natural. Every time I said ďCutĒ I would see what I was losing, and that is what I want on camera. I always wanted to shoot when other people stop and stop when other people shoot. It felt better when the people were not acting. So two things reassured me. I went to see Jim when he was shooting Bruce Almighty, and he was doing a scene where he was walking down the stairs and doing a speech. And every time he was going up the stairs to get ready for the next take, he was not being the character but being Jim, and for some reasons I saw a difference and I knew that was the Jim I wanted for this movie. I just had to find out how to really use him. And the second thing was a dream I had, when I dreamed he was playing a scene where he was charming and childlike and energetic without being Jim Carrey, and I donít know if dreams mean anything but I think you can direct dreams and I thought that was a very good sign.
Was it a weird sensation seeing Nicolas Cage playing you in Adaptation?
Kaufman: Iím involved so much in my films that by the time it gets to the screen Iíve already seen it and am used to it. The first time that I saw it with an audience it was a little uncomfortable. But I quickly got distanced from it. And I donít really think heís playing me just because his name is Charlie Kaufman. He was definitely written as very physically different from me.
Is there a particular way you write?
Kaufman: I donít have any rule. But I carry a notepad around with me and am constantly writing down ideas. Then I just kind of sit there and try to think of how to do what Iím trying to do. Then I get some idea, and it leads me in a certain direction which changes another scene that Iíve already written, and I go back and rewrite that. Itís this sort of back-and-forth construction. Itís not like I start at the beginning and end at the end. I think I have a tendency to torture myself in general, So yeah, writing is no different.
What made you decide that you wanted to become a writer?
Kaufman: I donít know. I went to film school, and I was trying to be a director. I had always written, and I thought that writing was a kind of way to become a director, so I started writing screenplays. But directing is not really a step. Itís something I want to do. Itís important for me not to consider writing as lower on the totem pole than directing, as it is often considered. Itís a different job. Iím kind of interested in directing something Iíve written to see what it would look like.
What do you want this movie to say?
Gondry: I donít think when Charlie wrote this he had a message in mind but sometimes I would say to Charlie, ďIt would be great if this movie could explore the process of melancholy when we have a memoryĒ -- because Iíd read this book about memory, about why we have this melancholic feeling of nostalgia when we think of a memory. To define nostalgia is like a mix of happiness and sadness and the book says it occurs because our system knows we are thinking of an event that will never reoccur, so we are happy to think of it and have that in us and yet we are sad because itís not going to happen again. So maybe we donít want to lose those memories because even though weíre getting older. We have memories to keep us warmer.
Do you deliberately want to keep your movies to a small budget?
Kaufman: I donít think we could get more money or want it. With Adaptation, Sony Pictures said to us, ďThis is the amount of money we can give you to leave you alone. If you ask for any more money, weíre not going to leave you alone.Ē They were very upfront about it. So the movies are moderately budgeted deliberately. If we had more money, it would mean weíd have to turn in a commercial product because they have to make their money back. Writing blockbusters doesnít interest me. I think that if I could write King Kong and they would do it for the budget of this movie, then maybe I would do it. But if I would write King Kong and theyíd want to make the movie for $70 million and sink another $70 million into it for marketing, theyíre all over you. Theyíre breathing down your neck. Theyíre not going to let you have real characters. Theyíd be saying, ďThis has to happen in that movie. This character has to learn this lesson. The effect has to be there. This effect has to be really big.Ē You know?
Do you let other people read your stuff before itís done?
Kaufman: Never. Only when itís done. Itís really hard to have people read things when youíre not done because I think, regardless of their reaction, it tends to dissipate your energy and the intensity of the experience.
APR.04 & AUG.04, LONDON