There’s something inherently weird about meeting Charlie Kaufman. Not that there’s anything particularly odd about Kaufman – if anything, he’s strangely normal. But, instead, it’s the madcap version of Charlie Kaufman that I’ve developed in my head over the last 15 or so years. You know, the Crown Prince of Surreal, cackling to himself, completely shut off from the rest of the world, brewing some idea or another that will make normal human beings like me question my entire existence.
Then there’s the real Kaufman: Friendly, not particularly shy, engaging, with a dry sense of humor. When I walked into the room for this interview, it was Kaufman’s co-director on Anomalisa, Duke Johnson, who I engaged with first because Johnson and I happen to share a hometown. And you can probably guess what that’s like, with us trading stories of what schools we went to. It’s after about two minutes of this that Kaufman says, “I’ll come back in like 15,” then darts out the door. I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not. Kaufman then tiptoed back in, “I was trying for a joke.” I then felt bad for not laughing.
Where do we start with the masterpiece that is Anomalisa? (Which will hit theaters in late December.) It’s almost impossible to explain, but I will do my best by only using 82 words: Anomalisa uses surreal stop-motion animation to create the story of Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a traveling businessman who is in Cincinnati for one night. One of the quirks of Michael’s life is that everyone who surrounds him sounds exactly the same (almost all the characters in Anomalisa are voiced by Tom Noonan). Michael then meets Lisa (who is voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the film becomes a quirky, sad, touching love story that only the mind of Charlie Kaufman could give us.
Here’s the trailer, which at least hints at this film’s brilliance:
Here’s a sad fact: No one wanted to make this movie. Kaufman and Johnson had to use Kickstarter to raise the funds to get it made. Here’s another sad fact: As Kaufman reveals below, he’s had a lot of trouble getting anything made lately. Sure, if he handed off his films to more bankable directors, we’d probably have had two or three Kaufman movies over the last seven years, but Kaufman, understandably, wants to direct his own movies. It’s a small miracle we have Anomalisa.
Kaufman is incredibly candid, detailing how difficult it’s been for him to get movies made, both recently and even as far back as Being John Malkovich. Ahead, I got to spend what turned out to be a decent amount of time with Kaufman and Johnson, at least enough time to go back to the early days of Kaufman’s film career and why it’s become so difficult for even a genius like Kaufman to get a movie from page to screen.
Charlie Kaufman: Would you like an M&M?
No, thank you.
Kaufman: They’re not weird or anything. They’re just regular M&Ms. They’re just pink.
Kaufman: Don’t think that we’re…
I interviewed Jack Black recently and he mentioned he had seen Anomalisa. Then I remembered he was supposed to be in your Frank or Francis.
Kaufman: Yeah. And that also didn’t get made. So, there you go.
Could that still happen?
Kaufman: It could still happen. It would have to be reinvented, though. We had a whole cast and we were headed into pre-production. So, I’d have to get people back and who knows if they would be interested anymore. But, at this point, we don’t have any money, so that’s a secondary concern.
But you didn’t have money for Anomalisa, either.