Spike Jonze interview: Her is my 'boy meets computer' movie

Spike Jonze’s new film with Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams is up for five Oscars, but don’t expect your normal romcom, he says

It’s hard to know quite what to expect from an encounter with Spike Jonze. The first time I met him, for his 1999 directorial debut Being John Malkovich, he was cripplingly shy – barely able to get out a word. But today, dressed in a jacket and tie, and sitting in the early evening gloom in a London hotel, he’s quite the host. “You’re so much smarter than I am,” he says when I articulate one question about his new film Her. Well, that’s one way to get your interviewer on side.

As much as I’d like to buy into his flattery, it’s Jonze who is the clever one.

Groundbreaking videos for Beastie Boys, Björk, Fatboy Slim and Arcade Fire; a founding member of the multi-million dollar Jackass TV show and movie franchise; an ad-hoc acting career in films like David O. Russell’s Three Kings and Martin Scorsese’s recent The Wolf of Wall Street (he’s the penny-stocks broker Jordan Belfort meets). And we haven’t even got to the films yet.

Her is Jonze’s first solo venture, after his two wondrous collaborations with writer Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, and his more troubled take on Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic Where The Wild Things Are. Critics awards have been pouring in since December. He’s just won a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. And he’ll go to the Oscars in March with Her up for five awards, including Best Picture – one of the Academy’s saner decisions this season.

The story of how a Los Angeles loner named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falls for his computer’s new Siri-like Operating System, it’s an eerily prescient piece – a Singles for the Smartphone generation. “I think a lot about the way I’m so personally interfaced with technology all the time,” admits Jonze, who already gave Her a dry-run with his 2010 short film, I’m Here, a robot romance starring Andrew Garfield and Sienna Guillory. Joaquin Phoenix with Amy Adams in Spike Jonze's 'Her' Joaquin Phoenix with Amy Adams in Spike Jonze's 'Her'

At 44, Jonze is in the perfect position to predict the near-future – having lived through the pre-Internet, analogue age. “I feel really lucky that I got to experience the Eighties, but also lucky that I got to experience the Nineties, and super-lucky that I’m getting to experience right now,” he says. “Everything is happening so fast in the last ten years – like the internet. I remember when MySpace came out. It did do something pretty incredible – which was unite people around the world with common interests and common tastes.”

Admitting he’s fascinated by the evolution of computers (“Is artificial intelligence less than our intelligence?” he ponders), his research took him from reading futurist Ray Kurzweil to watching TED talks on developing technologies. But as much as Her deals with our increasing reliance on digital companions, it moves away from that as Theodore gradually becomes intimate with his OS – who names herself Samantha (voiced, brilliantly, by Scarlett Johansson). “I realized as I was writing it,” says Jonze, “that I really wanted to make it a relationship movie.”

Even if it’s not your run-of-the-mill rom-com, it explains just why Jonze’s movie has been moved from its original January UK release to a Valentine’s Day slot. Never mind it’s a man and his OS, it’s a heartfelt expression of just how difficult couplings can be. “To have an intimate relationship with somebody [requires] a leap of faith,” says Jonze. “Even after years you don’t really ever know how they see or think about the world. Our subjectivity is so completely our own.” Spike Jonze in the Golden Globe press room. The director won Best Screenplay at the awards for 'Her' Spike Jonze in the Golden Globe press room. The director won Best Screenplay at the awards for 'Her'

Jonze has been married, to writer-director Sofia Coppola – and you have to wonder if Theodore, who begins the film separated from his wife, is something of a self-portrait. Divorcing Coppola in 2003 – he’s since been linked to actresses Michelle Williams and Rinko Kikuchi – it wasn’t the first time Jonze dealt with the pain of separation. Born as Adam Spiegel, his own parents divorced before he was in high school. His father Arthur ran an international health-care consulting firm in New York, while his mother Sandy remained in Maryland, where Jonze was raised, working in public relations.

He found solace in the friends he made at Rockville BMX store – where he got the ‘Spike’ nickname due to his unkempt appearance. From there, he won a job on Freestylin’ magazine photographing bikers and skateboarders. But this was the Eighties, a different era. “That was the last time subcultures were truly subcultures, meaning nobody gave a shit outside that subculture. As far as skateboarding, not only did nobody give a shit, people looked down on it. Like independent music or punk rock music. Nobody gave a shit.”

Yet somebody was watching; his early effort Video Days, a twenty-minute reel of skateboarders pulling stunts, led to Sonic Youth hiring him to shoot footage for their promo for 100 per cent. Since then, he turned the Beastie Boys into ’70s cops for ‘Sabotage’, put Björk in a Busby Berkley-style routine for ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ and made a man with a dog’s head troop through the streets holding a boom box for Daft Punk’s ‘Da Funk’. 

When we meet, Jonze has just come from the YouTube awards, shooting a live ‘video’ for Arcade Fire’s ‘Afterlife’, but he’s surprisingly off-hand about a medium that he, along with the likes of Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham and Jonathan Glazer, turned into an art form. “I’m not as excited about doing them as I once was. And there are a lot more people are much more excited, and should be doing it, because they’re living it. I don’t want to do it just to do it.”

Understandably, he’s more focused on his career as a filmmaker now; even his videos have begun to take on the form of mini-movies, as with his sublime 28-minute promo for Arcade Fire’s ‘The Suburbs’, a more disquieting vision of the near future. Yet he says he’s hopeful for the shape of things to come. “Maybe that’s me being naïve or optimistic at the very least. But we evolve because we always do. We will live in a different way.” What about the robots, though? Will they ever take over? Jonze stares back. “Well, we did!”

‘Her’ opens on 14 February

Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
    Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

    They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

    A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
    David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

    Hanging with the Hoff

    Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
    Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

    Hipsters of Arabia

    Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
    The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

    The cult of Roger Federer

    What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
    Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

    Malaysian munchies

    With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
    10 best festival beauty

    Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

    Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

    A Different League

    Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

    Steve Bunce on Boxing

    Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf