Spike Jonze and Catherine Keener Interview

Pictured Above: Maurice Sendak, Spike Jonze and Max Records

I interviewed Spike Jonze writer and director of “Where The Wild Things Are” in Chicago at the Trump Hotel. Catherine Keener who plays Max’s mom in the film was also present.

Backstage Notes:

Spike is really cool and receptive. He listened intently to all that I had to say about the film and my reactions to it. He’s also funny, we were joking around and laughing lots. I totally enjoyed meeting this creative and bright director. Catherine Keener is stunningly beautiful inside and out. She’s very sweet and loves to chat about her own children as do I. She has a wonderful,  calm demeanor and I can clearly see why she was cast as the compassionate mom in the film.

Sarah Adamson: I loved this film so much and can’t wait to see the movie again and again and again. It’s such a wonderful film. I get so emotional just even talking about it. I have such a connection to it.

Spike Jonze: As a former second grade teacher, how do you think kids are going to engage in this?

Sarah Adamson: I think they’re going to love it!

Sarah Adamson: What age do you feel kids should see this? Could you give us some guidelines?

Spike Jonze: Parents know their kids better than I know their kids.  Some five year old could love it…there’s an emotional intensity to it.  It might be too much for a four or five year old.  But the thing I would hope is that parents and kids can go see this movie and come out of the movie with something to talk about. When I’ve shown the movie to kids – the conversations that I’ve had afterwards were really astounding at how hefty their insight was and their ability to pick stuff up.

Pictured at Left: Catherine Keener, Maurice Sendak, Spike Jonze and Lauren Ambrose

Catherine Kenner: I was talking to somebody at my kid’s school about that.  They’re in clusters so kindergarten and first grade, youngsters, middles and olders. I said definitely the middles and olders but the youngsters, it depends on the relationship with your kid.  There’s discovery within a child that should be done on his or her own time. I feel like, with me and my kid, we could go through this together and it would be an amazing thing – going through this movie together. When he was five or six it could have happened easily with us.  I know that the dynamic with some parents and a five year old – they couldn’t take it because they’d think their kid couldn’t take it.

Sarah Adamson: One of my favorite scenes is when Max is in the car with his mom and he’s still thinking about what the teacher told him about how someday the sun is going to die. You so got it, because that is such a characteristic of a gifted child. They really do worry about world issues. Intrinsically, they take that in and they’ll worry about it for weeks.  How did you know to do that?

Spike Jonze: I didn’t know we were making a movie about a gifted child, this is the first time I’ve heard about it. I love that it’s in there. I was really just trying to make a movie (to show what) it feels to be nine years old.  As a kid, you come here, you just arrive, you get to a new place, its all foreign – you’re just trying to navigate it and understand it. As Keener said, as a kid, your picking up on ideas that get floated around or people’s emotional reactions. People communicate on two levels, one, which is the words they say and the other is the emotions they communicate with an intonation. Kids are picking all that up all the time. If a kid is getting a signal that something is bad or scary then their going to pick that up.  If they’re getting a signal, simultaneously, that their not supposed to talk about that then it becomes internalized.  I think kids have the same level/depth of feeling that we have, they’re not a different species we are the same they just don’t have the experience to necessarily translate what it all means.

Sarah Adamson: Absolutely, after working with children for over 25 years I totally agree with you.

Catherine Keener: But don’t they respond too – if you set the bar higher than the general public does don’t you think they respond to that? Don’t you think they want to be challenged that way? I’ve worked with kids before in movies and it’s been the most awakening experience for me. These are small children and they want to work with you as a partner, as an acting partner. They want to be there for you. They want to collaborate.  It’s amazing how children will really respond when you ask it of them.  It’s so funny that you say, “The gifted child” because there is that book The Drama of the Gifted Child, and it is very much like this. I find that with a lot of children if you ask it of them then they show their gifts.

Sarah Adamson: Well the old adage in teaching was my motto: “You get what you expect.” Real simple. Set the bar higher…you’re going to get it.

Catherine Keener: And they’re so much happier that way.

Sarah Adamson: Absolutely, and we should expect more from them because they can do so much more. And they’re thinking about so much more as you pointed out! Their little brains are spinning and there are all kinds of things going on. 

Catherine Keener: And as adults we are the same way.

Questions: How did you make this short book into a film?

Spike Jonze: For a long time I didn’t want to make this into a movie because I loved the book so much.  What in the world could I possibly add to this? I didn’t want to make something just to make something. Oh, I get to make Where the Wild Things Are? That’s cool, you know? I didn’t just want to take it because it was there.  I had to do it. There is something I had to bring to it.  The initial idea that made me feel confident about it was when Max gets to the island. Who are these wild things? What are they like? What do they sound like?  I started thinking it would be cool to get there and there would be these 10 foot tall creatures that suddenly talk just like us.  Then I started thinking about them as, maybe they are us. Maybe they’re our wild emotions. It just seemed so inherent to the book.  I never really even asked Maurice…I never really got a confirmation that that was what the book was about. It just seemed like, to me, that’s what the book was about. It was almost like un-cracking the poem, to me, this poem that I’d always loved.   But Max is acting totally wild in the beginning and so it only makes sense that he would go to this place where they are wild. So the idea is that the wild things are wild emotions and that’s where Max goes to live with them and experience them and try to be their king. So that was sort of the way it went.

Sarah Adamson: I had an emotional reaction to the film. I was tearing up at the trailers.

Catherine Keener: Yes, I had an emotional reaction and I was in it! It’s embarrassing that I was moved.

Sarah Adamson: I was crying during the previews. I don’t know why because it’s not a sad movie.  It’s funny too!

Catherine Keener: It’s hard to explain why.

Spike Jonze: It touched me too, even though I was making it. As we were shooting scenes, there was a moment, just the way the wild things…the way Max would lean on the wild things and the wild things would lean back on him. I would suddenly cry. There’s a lot of feeling in the movie, in the wild things and in Max, especially in Max. He’s the heart of the movie and such a soulful person.

Catherine Keener: Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to talk about the movie because its not a movie in your head. It’s a movie in your gut and in your heart. It’s hard to articulate that with so much feeling even in an interview, its very difficult.

Sarah Adamson: Thank you so much for chatting with us today. Everyone go see Where the Wild Things Are, it’s wonderful!