A Rare Chat With Those 'Matrix' Directors
by Barry Koltnow
HOLLYWOOD - The Brothers Wachowski are in obvious pain. They must endure an entire interview without benefit of an anesthetic. This is worse than root-canal surgery for the Chicago-based filmmakers, who value their privacy just slightly less than Howard Hughes did.
In studio-released bios, which usually contain a great deal of information, there are two brief sentences, followed by a disclaimer: "Little else is known about them."
But their film "The Matrix," was released Wednesday, and the brothers - Andy, 31, and Larry, 33 - are required by their contract with Warner Bros. to promote their work, which is a futuristic and complex high-tech thriller that stars Keanu Reeves as a young man battling bad guys in an alternative reality.
This is only their second film (the well-received "Bound" was their first). If their new film does as well as expected, there definitely will be a third collaboration from these talented brothers, who both dropped out of college after two years to start a construction business. They share a love of comic books and movies. Larry does most of the talking.
Question: How do I know you are, in fact, the Wachowski brothers?
Andy: You're right; we could be a simulation.
Q: How have you been able to avoid media scrutiny until now?
Andy: Hard work.
Larry: And we go around deleting Internet files all the time.
Q: Was making films a natural outgrowth of your love of comics?
Larry: It was a natural outgrowth of writing comic books while we were working in construction. Then, we were kind of inspired by Roger Corman's book "How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime." And we thought, "Hey, let's do it. We'll write a script, call Roger Corman and he'll give us the money to make it."
Q: So you then wrote a script?
Andy: We wrote a script for a low-budget horror movie and people liked it, but thought it was too disturbing to be made into a movie.
Q: What could possibly be too disturbing to be made into a movie these days?
Andy: Oh, it involved cannibalism of the rich, vampirism, stuff like that.
Q: Sounds like a hit to me.
Larry: Then they asked us if we had a more accessible script, so we sat down and wrote a movie about assassins (it was called "Assassins"). Dino De Laurentiis bought it and asked us if we had another script we'd like to write. We told him we did, but we wanted to direct it.
Andy: He asked us what it was about and we hemmed and hawed for a while before explaining the plot of `Bound' (a thriller with steamy lesbian love scenes). He listened and then said, with a thick Italian accent, "This first woman; she is a lesbian?" and we said, "Yes." And then he said, "And the second woman; she is a lesbian?" We nodded our heads, thinking he would be turned off by the whole idea. But he slapped his hands together and said, "We have a deal!"
Q: That really was a steamy love scene between Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly. A lot of guys still talk about that scene.
Andy: Thank you, but it's not just guys. One of our most gratifying movie-going experiences was at the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, where 1,200 screaming lesbians filled the Castro Theater and cheered the movie. It was truly awesome.
Q: And then came "The Matrix"?
Larry: We had a lot of offers after 'Bound' to do thrillers with lesbian love scenes, but we actually had written 'The Matrix' before 'Bound.' But nobody in this town wanted to do it. Everybody thought it was too complicated.
Andy: It took 2 1/2 years to convince Warner Bros. to let us make it.
Q: It's an ambitious movie. Did you intend to take this kind of thriller to the next level of filmmaking?
Larry: The ambition that we had, to take four Western actors and put them in a Hong Kong action piece, was something that was never done, for obvious reasons. The commitment it took, four months of kung fu training, was not something most actors are willing to make. So, in that case, I guess you could say we wanted to raise the bar.
Q: How do you set about accomplishing something like that in only your second film?
Larry: It starts with the script, and the script was very complex. Joel and Lorenzo (producer Joel Silver and Warner Bros. president of production, Lorenzo DiBonaventura) suggested that we draw the scenes like a comic book. We hired some of our friends in the comic-book business and sat in a little room with these guys for five months and literally drew the entire movie as a comic book. It became the bible for how to shoot the movie. That helped a lot, not only in having people understand what we were trying to do but in keeping costs down. The movie cost $65 million, which is reasonable for this kind of movie.
Q: Why Keanu?
Larry: There were a lot of people in the talent pool who had difficulty with the script, but Keanu came in and he got it so unbelievably.
Andy: He came in with a stack of notes, and started philosophical discussions about the script that only Larry and I thought about.
Larry: He knew the literary allusions we were making, the archetypes, the myths we were playing with. Everything.
Andy: We strongly believe that we probably couldn't have made this movie with anybody else. It took a maniacal dedication and he had it.
Larry: We told him we wanted to make the most physically demanding movie ever made and his eyes lit up.
Q: How do you divide up the labor when you co-direct?
Andy: Pretty much down the middle. Sixty percent for him and 40 percent for me.
Q: Why are there so many brother directing teams in Hollywood?
Andy: It's easier. You can always get family members to help.
Q: Was it a difficult movie to make?
Andy: It was grueling.
Larry: I've never been in a war, but it sure felt like that.
Q: Was there a moment when you thought you were in over your heads?
Andy: In the construction business, you learn to break things down into little steps. If you look at the entire project, you can get overwhelmed. So, if you break down the movie into little steps, it seems more manageable.
Larry: At a certain point, we'd say, "Well, we just finished another `Bound.' " We kept thinking of the little steps as another "Bound." We made about five "Bounds" in this movie.
Q: Will everyone get this movie, and do you care if they don't?
Larry: We have such strange, eclectic tastes that we wanted to make a movie you could get on many levels. We think we've made the best kung fu movie ever with American actors, so if you like it only on that level, that's fine. But if you want to look a little deeper, there's a lot of stuff there, too.
Andy: If there is any dialogue at all after seeing the movie, it would be pretty cool.
Q: Is it the film you hoped to make?
Andy: It's pretty close.
Q: Are you ready to make another movie?
Andy: We have to wait and see how this one does.
Q: If it does well, you'll have to do a lot more interviews.
Andy: Oh, no. We'll have more power then.
Larry: We can put it in our contracts that we won't do interviews.
Q: So this could be it?
Larry: With any luck.