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Michel Gondry

The Call of the Wild

"Human Nature," a new film by French director Michel Gondry ("The Letter," numerous Bjork videos) from a script by Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich"), wryly observes behavior encompassed by the title through the interactions of a scientist (Tim Robbins), an extraordinarily hirsute naturalist author (Patricia Arquette) and the man they discover living in the wild (Rhys Ifans). David O. Russell, writer-director of "Spanking the Monkey," "Flirting With Disaster" and "Three Kings," volunteered as an astute observer of human nature to go into the woods with Arquette and Gondry, separately, for Calendar.

April 09, 2002

Russell: Patricia told me to ask you to say, "squirrel."

Gondry: Sqrrrrl.

Russell: And to say "feral."

Gondry: Ffrrrrl. She asked me how to say it in the movie, "feeral" or "feral," and I said it my way, "ffrrrrl," which she laughed at for the rest of the movie.

Russell: Patricia is a delight to work with. Did you feel comfortable directing her naked for so much of the film?

Gondry: I was shy as well, but I think I was honest with her. I never tried to trick her to get her to do what was needed for the story. An aspect you may notice in the film is that there is a lot of nudity and sexuality, but they are never associated.

Russell: Sometimes they were associated for me, but I know what you mean.

Gondry: I hate voyeurism. When you feel the director got his little personal excitement during the take.

Russell: How did you end up doing this movie?

Gondry: I had read so many uninteresting scripts in Hollywood that I had reached the conclusion they were boring in essence.

Until Spike Jonze showed me the one he was about to direct ["Being John Malkovich"]. I immediately begged Spike to introduce me to Charlie and proposed to him a concept for a story. He started to work on it, and in the meantime he let me read his spec scripts. "Human Nature" was among them.

Russell: So is Charlie working on something from your idea now?

Gondry: Yes, he actually finished a story we will shoot next November with Jim Carrey ["Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"].

Russell: What's it about?

Gondry: This guy finds out he has been erased from his girlfriend's memory and decides to undergo the surgery himself. We follow the process in his mind, witnessing their relationship disappearing memory by memory.

Russell: What was the most exciting thing about the script for "Human Nature" for you? What made you want to do it? And then, how did you see it as a film, what was your approach for directing it?

Gondry: I guess it's always a scary decision when you choose a movie to direct. You are embarking for a two-years holiday with few friends, so you better like them and get along all right. For "Human Nature" I immediately liked the characters. Lila, Nathan, Puff and Gabrielle had a lot of imperfections, but they were all unique and full of life on paper already.

Plus the story was elaborated in a way that was satisfying for my geometric brain. To direct it, I tried to avoid anchoring the film in too basic of a reality. I tried to give a certain distance, an artificiality to the location and maybe add some magic in them and conversely have a very naturalistic approach on the acting.

The most important thing was to never be in a position to mock or laugh at my characters. I wanted the audience to be able to identify with them. Especially Lila [Patricia Arquette], who could have been seen as a monster. Instead of rejecting her, I noticed in the screening that women were really supportive of her and generally would admit they had a little bit of her in them.

Russell: When Rhys Ifans is no longer a jungle boy and is refined and neatly clipping his nose hairs, I thought to myself, "In a nutshell, this is what the entire movie is about, the self-mortification and identity issues around, for example, trimming your wretched, unsightly nose hairs."

Gondry: And the more you pull them, the stiffer they come back!

Russell: It's interesting that you reach the saddest conclusion in one of the most euphoric parts of the movie. The same reflection is illustrated by Lila; her necessity to transform her appearance, even her philosophy to hold on to her man. Tell me about working with these actors.

Gondry: Patricia is someone whose screen charisma is completely true off screen as well. She is a charismatic and alive person. Conversely, unlike other charismatic people on screen, she is not a disappointment when you meet her for real.

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