The Brains Behind The Shades
'The Brothers' who wrote and directed The Matrix Reloaded shun publicity
by Peter Howell
HOLLYWOOD - The brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski think of themselves as two college dropouts from Chicago who love comic books, science-fiction movies and philosophical literature.
They also happen to be the elusive co-writers and co-directors of The Matrix and its sequels, the most significant and popular sci-fi film franchise since Star Wars. The first Matrix, released in March 1999, made $460 million (U.S.) worldwide and the long-awaited follow-ups The Matrix Reloaded (out next Thursday) and The Matrix Revolutions (Nov. 7) are likely to each top that figure.
As the buzz builds for The Matrix Reloaded, it would seem only natural that The Brothers - as they are commonly known - would be basking in the spotlight. At the very least, they could drive a car or two into a hotel swimming pool, light a couple of cigars with a $50 bill or take turns dating Britney Spears.
Instead, they've retreated into Garbo-like seclusion, refusing all contact with the press and public. So determined are they to maintain their privacy and let their creation speak for itself, their contract with Warner Bros. includes a proviso that they don't have to do interviews or public appearances.
There are no new quotes from The Brothers in the promotional material for Reloaded. Warner simply reissued the old quotes for The Matrix from 1999, in which they gave their reason for making the movie: "We believe passionately in the importance of mythology and the way it informs culture."
That quote and others were attributed to "the Wachowskis," not to either Larry, 37, or Andy, 35, of whom very little is known.
There's no promotional photo, either.
In fact, The Brothers haven't allowed their images to be part of a promo package since the release of the first movie in 1996, the noir thriller Bound.
The duo are so publicity shy, it's highly unlikely they'll even show up at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, when Reloaded makes its European debut as part of the festival's prestigious official selection.
They wouldn't be caught dead on a red carpet.
Thus it's no surprise that the Wachowskis were no-shows at Warner's Soundstage 16, the hanger-sized building in Burbank where the press gathered to interview the stars and other players of The Matrix Reloaded.
But even without the Wachowskis in attendance, their presence still loomed large. (Much like the spectral twin villains played by Neil and Adrian Rayment in Reloaded, whom it is tempting to see as artful projections of The Brothers.)
To the stars and other players behind The Matrix film franchise, the Wachowskis are figures of mystery and wonder, inspiring complete confidence and blind obedience. All involved in The Matrix, from lead star Keanu Reeves on down, profess total devotion to The Brothers, to the point where they're willing to risk major injuries to achieve the best stunt effects possible.
Reeves said he immediately agreed to make concurrent sequels to The Matrix, even though he's not a sequels kind of guy - he turned down a big-money offer to make Speed 2 because he didn't like the story.
The Brothers, though, had him from the first page of the Reloaded script.
"The scripts were great," said Reeves, who plays the cyberpunk hero Neo, mankind's best hope against a world ruled by evil machines.
"I had such experience and faith in Andrew and Larry Wachowski, I just said `yes'. I was in Chicago and I got the two scripts and I just sat down and read them.
"I thought they were very moving and exciting and original. I thought they had done such an incredible job.
"There's some really great surprises in there."
Reeves also agreed to participate in more fight scenes than before, despite the pain of the neck surgery he endured before making The Matrix.
So determined was he to give The Brothers the realistic fighting they craved, he would regularly jump into tubfuls of ice to soothe the many aches he sustained making Reloaded and Revolutions during a gruelling 18 months of rehearsing and filming in California and Australia.
His co-stars Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne suffered even more. Moss who plays Neo's leather-clad lover and fellow robot fighter Trinity, broke her leg during filming, but struggled on regardless.
Fishburne, who plays Neo's mentor Morpheus, badly injured his wrist, forcing him to wear a soft cast for six weeks.
To make things even tougher, the cast and crew also had to fight the gloom of the deaths of key Matrix player Gloria Foster, who played the inscrutable Oracle, and of newcomer Aaliyah, a singer/actress who was to have been one of the main figures of the underground city of Zion, the last human outpost against the marauding machines.
And as if all that wasn't enough, the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, came right in the middle of filming, casting a pall over the set just as it had over the rest of the world.
But everyone wanted to do justice to the Wachowskis and The Matrix, Moss said, despite the setbacks.
"I don't know if you can remember (the long credits) at the end of the movie, all the people it took to make the movie. I was just like, 'Oh, my God.' And every person from the set decorators to the set painters to the construction people ... I mean, people were so inspired to work on this film and really cared and really wanted to do it. And why? It was because of them."
The Brothers haven't let success go to their heads, apparently, but they have changed since the success of The Matrix.
"They're definitely evolving as human beings and growing and changing, just like all of us have changed so much," Moss said. "They're even more committed and even more dedicated. They also had so much more on their plate.
"They're setting the tone for the whole thing. So they're responsible for inspiring a big group of people. They're interesting, complicated people, just like all of us."
Fishburne agreed that the Wachowskis have changed since The Matrix, but "I'm not sure exactly how, because Larry and Andy are very private people. They don't share the intimate details of their lives with very many people. Actually, outside of their immediate family, I don't know who they share those things with."
They may not be willing to talk to the press, Fishburne said, but they give their all to their movies.
"The obvious thing to me is that they put themselves under a great amount of pressure, to make sure that these two movies meet the expectations that they have for them. Not necessarily anybody else's expectations, but their own expectations. I think they put themselves under a tremendous amount of pressure."
Asked to describe the Wachowskis' directing style, Fishburne dodged the question, careful not to intrude on The Brothers' privacy.
"How would I describe it?" Fishburne teased, pausing for a very long minute. "Hmmm ... it's a good question. You'll have to get back to me. I'll let you know."
The newcomers to The Matrix team are just as loyal to The Brothers and as careful not to say anything to annoy them.
"The Wachowski Brothers are very unique," said Jade Pinkett Smith, who debuts in Reloaded as Niobe, a Zion warrior.
"Larry and Andy are probably two of the smartest people I know. Larry reads everything. He reads everything, you know what I mean? One thing I've learned through Larry and through Andy also is that life is about research."
The Brothers research includes the films of Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott and the Coen Brothers, the religious teachings of Christianity, Buddhism, Gnosticism and Taoism and such diverse books as Jean Baudrillard's Simulcra And Simulation, Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland and Kevin Kelly's Out Of Control.
Italian actress Monica Bellucci, who plays shady lady Persephone, said the Wachowskis are even harder to figure out than her character, who also debuts in Reloaded.
"Larry and Andy are so mysterious, both of them," she said.
"So mysterious. And actually, I'm so sad that I didn't have time to get deep in the relationship with them.
"Because I would have loved to know where The Matrix is coming from. Which kind of philosophy they read.
"I would like to know what kind of experience they had because this film is much more than a visual movie, it's much more than a beautiful special-effects movie. There's a deep meaning, a philosophy of life. It's a story about love, about man looking inside himself and looking for answers ... there's something really religious about this movie."
If there's one thing you don't do with The Brothers Wachowski, it's to try and split them.
"They're like a matched set," said Michael Aries, the producer of The Animatrix, an animated prequel to The Matrix that the Wachowskis are launching as part of an ambitious multi-media assault to promote and extend the franchise.
"I've tried to play them against each other and that doesn't work." He said they're close and have the kind of relationship that allows them to complete each other's sentences. "They share the same sensibility, but they definitely have different personalities."
Really? How different?
"I don't know if I can, or I should really characterize them," Aries said, getting more cautious. "Actually, they both have amazing senses of humour and they're both incredibly smart."
Couldn't he say a little more than that?
"Well, I've felt that Larry is much more likely to speak first and speak in a very direct way. Whereas Andrew tends to think things through for a while, and then drop a bomb afterwards. It's kind of a delayed reaction. They definitely have a sort of give-and-take rhythm, but I've worked at times with them where there's a certain good cop/bad cop rapport going on, as though I'm being interrogated. Sometimes Andy is the good cop and sometimes he's the bad cop. And vice-versa."
John Gaeta, the computer wizard who has supervised the creation of the Oscar-winning special effects seen in The Matrix, probably knows the Wachowskis as well as anyone. He well knows both their "hilarious" and their "stressful" sides.
"They're very intelligent, they're very funny, they're very specific in what they want. They don't beat around the bush trying to find the thought or the idea. They know it ... It's a fantastic blend between the very intellectual and the very light-hearted. It's a nice balance."
The Brothers are also as crazy as foxes. When you've got everybody else saying such nice things about you, why bother to say it yourself?