Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson star in How Do You Know, the new comedy written and directed by James L. Brooks that takes a contemporary and romantic look at the question, "How do you know?"
Lisa (Witherspoon) is a woman whose athletic ability is the defining passion of her life, having been her focus since early childhood. When she is cut from her team, everything she has ever known is suddenly taken from her. Not knowing what to do, she stumbles toward regular life. In this mode, she begins a fling with Matty (Wilson), a major league baseball pitcher, a self-centered ladies man - a narcissist with a code of honor.
George Madison (Rudd) is a straight-arrow businessman whose complicated relationship with his father, Charles (Nicholson), takes a turn when George is accused of a financial crime, even though he's done nothing wrong. Though he may be headed to jail, George's honesty, integrity, and unceasing optimism may be his only path to keeping his sanity.
Before Lisa's relationship with Matty takes root, she meets George for a first date on the worst evening of each of their lives: she has just been cut, and he has just been served. When everything else seems to be falling apart, they will discover what it means to have something wonderful happen.
ABOUT THE FILM
"If this movie is about one question, it's 'How do you know when you're really in love?'" says Reese Witherspoon, the star of How Do You Know, the new comedy from writer-director James L. Brooks.
"We all have, at some point, a feeling that everything we've depended on we can't depend on anymore. And when that happens, the only thing we have left is love," says Brooks. "You can think your life is terrible, and then he or she walks in and it's not terrible anymore. That's it - love is our saving grace."
The title question is the most important one most of us will ever face, and as the world gets more complicated and disconnected, it's harder to answer than ever.
How Do You Know is a comedy about four people in transition. Witherspoon plays Lisa Jorgenson, a woman who finds the entire life she knew slipping away. The part was written for Witherspoon. "Jim first called me and said he was thinking about his next movie and he'd like me to play the lead character," the actress says. "I was honored and thrilled, because I'm such a huge fan of his work - I thought we were just going to have lunch, and then he said he wanted to write a movie for me. It was just unimaginable to me that he could think of me in that way.
"So we talked about his ideas a bit, and slowly after that he started sending me scenes and different things he had written as he did the research," Witherspoon continues. "It was a great experience, because when I finally got to read the actual, full-length script, I'd already known the character. I was excited to see where he was going to take her and where she was going to end up."
Brooks says that the project began simply. "I was driving by some ball fields, soccer fields, and filled with women and girls, all ages, and I thought, it's been a while since we've seen a female jock heroine. And I'm a research nut, so that started me on a year of talking to great female athletes."
And there was only one woman to play the role. "I had just seen Walk the Line, and I knew her comedy skills. Reese was the one," says Brooks. "So I spoke to her, and then, I went away for a year and a half."
"There's maybe five minutes of softball in the movie, but it informs the whole character," says Brooks. "I have a rule in research: the third time I hear something, it's generally true. This time, every female athlete I spoke to said that it takes another athlete to understand how much time they have to give to their sport. They can't go out, they can't go to the party, because they're playing, they're honing their skills. It's very hard for a man to understand that if he doesn't share it."
As a starter, Brooks wrote a scene: a major league baseball relief pitcher asks her out. "I wanted to show the athletes she dates before she meets Paul Rudd's character," Brooks says. "And as I started writing Owen Wilson's character, I had more fun with the character than I imagined - and I changed the story to make him a central part of the plot."
"The best way I can describe Matty is happy-go-lucky. He doesn't want to complicate things," says Wilson. "At first, Lisa's just another girl - he's just out to have a good time. But that changes as he hangs around with her more."
"If Matty is not having a great time in every minute of his life, he feels wildly uncomfortable," says Brooks. "How many women have known a Matty, where they know at that moment that they fall for him that it may not mean anything to him?"
The last thing Lisa wants or needs was a complicated relationship - and things get even more complicated when she's set up on a blind date with George Madison (Rudd), a man going through several transitions of his own. "He gets this letter - 'The United States Government vs. George Madison' - and all of a sudden he's in trouble for something he doesn't think he's done," says Rudd. "Things escalate from there and when he meets Lisa, he's right at the bottom. And there's something about her - the way she talks to him, and the way she handles that situation - that makes him fall for her on the spot. When I read that, I thought that was a great impetus for a story - what would happen if two people met on the worst day of their lives?" For Brooks, that setup was the third and final piece in the puzzle when he started writing.
Jack Nicholson plays George's father, Charles. A business tycoon, he's worked all of his life for only two things: the success of his company and his son's well-being. In fact, he's put his son as the figurehead of his empire (even if Charles remains the power behind the throne).
"Because of their long association, Jim and Jack wanted to make certain that the role would allow Jack to show colors he hasn't shown before," explains producer Laurence Mark. Amazingly enough, Nicholson has never played the father of an adult man. "So, Jack's involvement actually affected the role in a positive way, making it even more dimensional."
ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
In How Do You Know, Brooks has populated his story with a handful of characters, each in transition, who will have to face the life-altering decisions that they have been avoiding. Read more
ABOUT JAMES L. BROOKS
"Jim is the most amazing observer of life," says Laurence Mark, producer of How Do You Know. "He's a terrific listener and a keen observer, and that manifests itself in his characters. It's why they have such depth, are so interesting, and have such fascinating things to say."
"His voice is unique," says producer Julie Ansell, who has been Brooks' producing partner for 20 years. "He has insights into people - when he writes something that touches on something you've experienced in your own life, you think, 'That's it - I couldn't have put it into words, but that's how I felt.' It hits you deep inside."
"He writes about real people, real dilemmas they face," says producer Paula Weinstein. "His characters are complicated, difficult, confused, human, flawed, funny, and true. Watching his movies is like reading a great novel that you don't want to end - you just want to stay in their world a little while more."
"No one writes dialogue the way he does," Ansell continues. "He wants to get into his characters so deeply that sometimes we spend two years doing research, talking to hundreds of people for each character."
"Jim gets an idea for his characters, then he wants to find out what's real, what's true," says Weinstein.
It's said that the details are what sells a story: we can feel characters are real if we believe the small, fine aspects of their behavior. "All we have in movies is detail," says Reese Witherspoon. "Detail is what makes a movie funny, it's what makes it real, what makes it authentic. It's why you invest in the characters. Details from the amount of money people make, how much they travel and how they travel, who their closest friends are, what kind of people they date, what they eat and don't eat. All of that informs your character and the story."
Brooks becomes fascinated by those details. "When he was doing research for Lisa's apartment, he went to real athletes' apartments," says Mark. "Jim saw a trophy case - it wasn't too fancy, but it showed how proud the person was to have won those trophies. Jim hangs on to details like that, and it's how his research pays off."
Even the smallest details get researched. For example, there is a special drink that Paul Rudd's character, George, makes for Lisa. Jim turned to his friend, three-star Michelin chef of The French Laundry, and Keller really put his mind to it. He invented a brilliant drink for the movie.
Interested parties can find out exactly what Lisa's drink tastes like:
Into the shaker, put:
1 sugar cube
3 dashes of bitters
1.5 oz of Makers Mark
Muddle, and add to the shaker, with ice:
½ ounce lime juice
½ ounce Cointreau
Dash of grenadine
Pour into a Martini glass or over ice. Finish with a beautiful orange peel.
The actors also got into the research act. Even though Witherspoon would appear playing ball for only a few moments in the final film, Witherspoon trained with legendary UCLA women's softball coach Sue Enquist for months. "I'd work with her three days a week for two or three hours, just working on basic skills like throwing, catching, batting, posture, stuff like that. But there was also a different aspect of it - it was a study of a completely different kind of person. I'd never really known many athletes in my life, so jumping into their world and learning how they wake up, what their day is like, how much they work out, how much of a personal life they have, what their college experience was like, really informed my character. Their relationships with their teammates are paramount in their lives."
Witherspoon also trained with the USA Women's softball team. "I got to meet almost all of them and work and train with some of them. It was an incredible, awe-inspiring experience - they have an incredible athleticism, professionalism, drive, and focus that was really inspiring."
The film is set in Washington, DC, and the production filmed there and in Philadelphia. "Filming in DC has gotten easier, but it's still more complicated than most places," says DC production supervisor Carol Flaisher. "There can be four - or more - permitting agencies: the Park Service, Secret Service, Capitol Police, General Services Administration. It's not easy to close down anything here - for security reasons. But the tradeoff is that you get a unique and energetic city that becomes another character in the movie."
The production even got the chance to film at Nationals Park, the home of Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals, the team that Matty pitches for. With the big league club out of town, the production took over for scenes of Wilson talking with the other relief pitchers in the middle of a game, as well as a shot of an outfielder making a spectacular catch.
Four-time Academy Award-nominated production designer Jeannine Oppewall was charged with creating the design of the film. "Design is an organic process," she says. "It starts with a feeling about a place and environment, and you make choices from there - you build the design out of a series of choices based on one or two strong feelings or ideas."
Working within the confines of a contemporary romantic comedy, Oppewall says, "I can't really differentiate between a look that's stylized and a look that's real. In this movie, there are characters who are definitely living in very real circumstances, whereas Jack Nicholson and Owen Wilson's characters are living in somewhat artificial circumstances, because they're surrounded by moneyed choices. The money they spend separates them from real life."
In fact, Matty and Charles live in the same building - an expensive one in an upscale part of town. "Matty has money and a modicum of taste. People with money can usually buy taste, and that's what we did with his place. He bought into a nice, expensive building, had somebody do it over. Charles has a smaller apartment - we essentially took Matty's apartment and chopped it down, adding walls to make it smaller."
One can compare to the apartment where Lisa lives. "Matty's apartment is large and hard-edged, while Lisa lives in a modest, residential neighborhood, in a much smaller apartment, but one with a lot of light and air and warm color."
Oppewall notes that as George's life falls apart, his descent is reflected in the design. "George starts off in a kind of a comfortable, upper-class, well-appointed bachelor pad, and ends up living above a cake store on a scruffy street corner, with his belongings piled up haphazardly."
Each of the characters has a different color scheme, not only to differentiate them from each other, but to underscore who they are. "Matty has a burnt orange in his hallway that sets the tone for almost everything else in the place; he likes things bright and lively. Lisa is in the purple family, reflecting the sun and warmth and light in her personality. George's place isn't particularly colorful at all - he's trying to figure out where he is in life."
Costume Designer Shay Cunliffe also describes the characters through her designs - and notes that the challenge is to do what is right for the characters without going too far. "Jim walks a tightrope between trying to mine some deeper area of emotion and getting what's funny out of a scene," she says. "Every department is trying at every moment to find that thing that makes him smile broadly but doesn't tip the balance into being too in-your-face.
Key to Brooks' filmmaking is that he insists every detail of the production enhance his storytelling. "With my department, wardrobe, it's extremely challenging to deal in that realm - especially with contemporary clothes, which you might think you could just run out and buy off the rack. Each change for Jim is tremendously important. Each beat of his movie is extremely considered. He feels deeply what the visual representation should be. So, it can become quite a test to find that simple dress that's the dress you fall in love with but which you also feel would be worn by the character who will be wearing it."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
JAMES L. BROOKS (Writer/Director/Producer) has won three Academy Awards, received 8 Academy Award nominations, and 19 Emmy Awards during his long and prolific career. He is tied with one other person for the most Emmys held by an individual.
Brooks most recently wrote, produced, and even contributed to the soundtrack of the box office hit The Simpsons Movie. Prior to that he wrote, produced and directed Spanglish starring Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni and Paz Vega.
Brooks began his career as a television writer and went on to help create such landmark TV hits as "Taxi," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Rhoda," "Lou Grant," "Room 222," "The Tracey Ullman Show," and "The Simpsons." He also wrote and produced the television movie "Thursday's Game."
Brooks began working in film in 1979 when he wrote the screenplay for Starting Over, which he co-produced with Alan J. Pakula. In 1983 Brooks wrote, produced and directed Terms of Endearment, for which he earned three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. In 1987, he wrote, produced and directed Broadcast News, which won the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Picture and Best Screenplay and earned two Oscar nominations. Through Gracie Films, Brooks served as executive producer on Cameron Crowe's directorial debut Say Anything, produced War of the Roses, and co-produced Big with Robert Greenhut.
In 1990, Brooks produced and directed his first play, "Brooklyn Laundry," a Los Angeles production starring Glenn Close, Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern. Brooks' company, Gracie Films, made an overall deal with Sony Pictures in 1990. He produced two new series for ABC ("The Critic," another prime time animated series starring Jon Lovitz, and "Phenom," starring Judith Light, William Devane and Angela Goethals). For Columbia Pictures, he directed I'll Do Anything starring Nick Nolte, Albert Brooks and Julie Kavner.
In 1996, Brooks was the executive producer on Wes Anderson's debut feature Bottle Rocket and producer on Crowe's Jerry Maguire starring Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Renee Zellweger. In 1997, Brooks co-wrote, produced, and directed As Good As It Gets, starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and both Nicholson and Hunt won Oscars for their performances.
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING