Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson & James L Brooks How Do You Know Interview

Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson & James L Brooks How Do You Know Interview
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson, Kathryn Hahn
Director: James L. Brooks

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 (Owen Wilson), a major league baseball pitcher, a self-centered ladies man - a narcissist with a code of honor.

George Madison (Paul Rudd) is a straight-arrow businessman whose complicated relationship with his father, Charles (Jack 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.

Columbia Pictures presents a Gracie Films production, a film by James L. Brooks, How Do You Know. The film stars Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, and Jack Nicholson. Also starring Kathryn Hahn. Written and directed by James L. Brooks. Produced by James L. Brooks, Paula Weinstein, Laurence Mark, and Julie Ansell. Executive producers are John D. Schofield and Richard Sakai. Director of Photography is Janusz Kaminski. Production Designer is Jeannine Oppewall. Editors are Richard Marks, A.C.E. and Tracey Wadmore-Smith A.C.E. Costume Designer is Shay Cunliffe. Music by Hans Zimmer.

How Do You Know
In Cinemas January 26, 2011


"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 James L. 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. Reese Witherspoon plays Lisa Jorgenson, a woman who finds the entire life she knew slipping away. The part was written for Reese 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," Reese 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."

James L. 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 James L. 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 James L. 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, James L. 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," James L. 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 Owen 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 James L. 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 (Paul 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 Paul 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 James L. 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, Jack 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."


In How Do You Know, James L. 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.


Lisa Jorgenson has a true love of her life: her sport, softball. She has dedicated herself to it and been celebrated as one of the world's best. Like many athletes, she is highly competitive and driven. "Her whole life has been based on creating goals for herself and then exceeding them," says Reese Witherspoon. "When we meet her in the story, she's at a crossroads, because she's uncertain about the future of her career."

In fact, too old at 31, her playing time is over - she's been cut from the team. "I think every athlete has the idea in the back of their mind that someday they're going to have to change paths; a sports career doesn't last forever," says Reese Witherspoon. "But it's another thing to be suddenly thrown from the ship. She's forced to rebuild her life without a clue of how to do it."

It is a character, Reese Witherspoon says, that could only have been written by James L. Brooks. Not only is the character richly detailed, but reflects James L. Brooks's signature outlook on life. "Jim has an extraordinary understanding of the absurdity of normal life," she says. "He can look at a very simple, even mundane situation and find it absurd and completely hysterical - that's the perspective he brings. He's also brilliant at drawing characters who are grounded in reality - he finds these times in people's lives when they are at a crossroads and finds what is so beautiful about those moments."

Reese Witherspoon, with no background in softball whatsoever, practiced "two or three hours a day with softball players for months," in preparation for the role, says James L. Brooks. "There's maybe 20 seconds of Reese playing ball. The point is that it isn't about how she caught or threw or hit the ball, though she picked some of that up. What matters is you've been with those athletes, and she took that on."


Matty, on the surface, is every girl's dream. Handsome, charming, funny, athletic, famous, and rich, he doesn't take anything too seriously - or even the least bit seriously. Especially his relationships - with his choice of women, why should he? And Lisa is just another girl he can have a good time with… until he starts to develop stronger feelings. "He starts to see what makes her unique, and he falls for her," says Owen Wilson.

"There's no question that he falls in love," says James L. Brooks. "But he falls in love in a different way than any regular Joe would."

Matty might seem to be a bit of a cad who plays the field, but James L. Brooks says he operates according to a strict code. "He always tells the truth," says James L. Brooks. "He's not conniving, he's not lying, he's not sneaking around. He has a code of ethics, and his code of ethics is to tell the truth."

When he goes all out - or, at least, as far out as he is capable of going - to win her, so rock solid is Matty's confidence that even a potential rival, George, enters the picture, he remains unshakable.

"Matty is such a sweet guy, but he just isn't very aware of what people around him are thinking and feeling," says Reese Witherspoon. "To Matty, life is a party, and he wants Lisa to be part of the party and not bring him down. He never asks Lisa about herself - whereas George wants to know everything about her and wants to help her, even though he has troubles of his own."

James L. Brooks has had a long relationship with Owen Wilson. "When I met Owen, I was producing Bottle Rocket. He was living on the floor with his brothers and Wes Anderson and the other actors. He's very gifted - this character has to drive every scene he's in and be exuberant at every moment. He can't have someone set up the joke and then counter-punch the comedy - he has to give himself his own setups. And he does it brilliantly. There's never a minute when he's not giving you world-class reaction shots."


Into Lisa's midst comes a character in some serious trouble. George Madison is unlike anybody Lisa has ever dated - odd, funny, and most of all, not an athlete. He's also someone who has found himself in the hottest of hot water: the target of a federal investigation. A potential new love affair should be the last thing on his mind, but it just might be the only thing that can keep him going. He has every reason to doubt that he could actually fall in love in this state, but he is convinced that it is so.

"Everything starts to escalate," says Paul Rudd. "He's indicted for stock fraud, his girlfriend leaves him, and his former assistant gives him dire warnings of a peril of which he is unaware. He vigorously points out, before she spills the beans, that she is legally constrained from saying more. Then, when he's really hit rock bottom, he meets Lisa - and suddenly things start to look better."

"George is so absorbed in his own problems that on that first date, he can't talk about anything else," Paul Rudd explains. "The way she handles it is just perfect: she suggests they just don't talk during the entire dinner. And for a moment, he changes focus from himself, and I think he falls in love with her in that instant."

How can a guy whose life is falling apart compete with a rich, charming, handsome, athletic ballplayer? "All he has going for him is his honesty - and the fact that he feels he has nothing to lose," says Paul Rudd. "And he listens to her, which is exactly what she needs."

"The only thing that George and Lisa have in common is something they don't even know - they are meeting each other on the worst day of their lives," says James L. Brooks. "They are each trying to dig themselves out of their troubles in their own way.

James L. Brooks says that Paul Rudd pulls off a pretty incredible acting trick: his character forgets his troubles by falling in love, but, thanks to Paul Rudd's performance, it's not facile or glib. "In the way that I don't think I could have made As Good As It Gets with anybody but Jack, I don't think I could have made this picture with anybody but Paul," says James L. Brooks. "I think his reaction is real - you believe, every step of the way, that somebody in the ashes can rise out of it. I think you understand that somebody really could act that way. That's what Paul brought. And somehow he doesn't sacrifice one comedic beat in getting there. He's really funny and really real."

"The role has a great deal of range to it," says producer Laurence Mark. "It requires the actor to be funny, emotional, sad, lovestruck, and sometimes even nutty - and we also always have to believe him. Paul seems to have all of this in his repertoire."


In the role of Charles, George's father, Jack Nicholson has to make a largely unsympathetic character vulnerable, human - even likable.

"Early in the movie, Jack's character tells his son that if he's forced to choose between his son and the company, even though it may kill him, he may pick the company," says James L. Brooks. But this is also a man who raised his son alone after his wife left them both. Would he really sell out his kid that way? "I wrote that line, I wrote the character, and I still can't decide if that's his core truth. The final mystery to him and everybody else is whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. As Bill Hurt told me a long time ago, sometimes the job is to hold the question and not to provide the answer."

"He loves his son, but he loves himself as well, and he understands what no one else does: he is facing the possible destruction of one of the two people he loves most in the world," explains producer Paula Weinstein. "He's at a moment when he wants to duck for cover, but that leaves his son exposed to take the hit. It was fascinating to watch how their camaraderie and affection comes out of all that emotional confusion."

"Because I've worked with Jack, it was natural to turn to him," says James L. Brooks. "I'm always slack-jawed at his acting, but he has moments in this movie that are as elegant as anything I've ever seen him do."

"I couldn't imagine anybody but Jack Jack Nicholson in the role of Charles," says Paul Rudd. "Working with him has been one of the biggest professional thrills of my life. He has a persona that's larger than life and he's been the biggest name in movies for four decades, but what was amazing to me was how good an actor he is. He makes it look so easy, but he's present every single moment he's in front of the camera."


Kathryn Hahn rounds out the cast as Annie, George's very pregnant assistant. "She is fiercely loyal to her boss," says Kathryn Hahn. "She's also very pregnant by a man she loves but who's worried he's not good enough for her and that's why he won't marry her. So, when we meet Annie, she's in a place where her world revolves around her work and the man she works for - who suddenly finds himself in big trouble."

Annie is in a bit of a quandary herself. She values loyalty in herself and others, so she feels a strong need to give George some information that might help his case. However, she's been enjoined by the company lawyers from talking to her boss - and this single-and-pregnant woman needs to hold on to her job. "She just hates to see George in the state he's in. But he won't let her tell him what she knows about his case because it would put her in jeopardy," says Kathryn Hahn. "So she has to help him in other ways. She finds him an apartment and makes him food when his legal bills force him to sell everything he owns."

"Kathryn Hahn is an intoxicating human being," says James L. Brooks. "If you don't like her, you don't like anybody. That's who she is in real life, and that's what she brings to her character."

Not coincidentally, Kathryn Hahn was pregnant when James L. Brooks cast her in the film. "I happen to have seen her be amazing in 'Boeing Boeing' in New York, and as soon as I saw her in our casting office and noticed that she was pregnant, I thought to myself, 'Ah... that should cinch it. Jim is going to want to hire her," laughs Mark.

Some juggling was required to fit in Kathryn Hahn's scenes before the baby came, but that was fine - until almost the end of Kathryn Hahn's scenes. "I was about eight months pregnant and looking forward to finishing my work, going home and having my baby," Hahn recalls. "Things didn't exactly go in that order."

Hahn spent three days shooting the hectic scene in the hospital room after Annie gives birth. Then - in the early morning hours after filming - Kathryn Hahn went into labor. Her daughter, Mae, was born that night. She would finish the scene two months later.