Frankly, I would have been disappointed if an interview with director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman hadn’t turned surreal with the first question posed. The team that brought us BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and now with ADAPTATION, a tall tale of orchid hunters and moviemaking, have their own take on reality, which makes for a refreshing change of interview pace.
When I talked with them on October 25, 2002, it didn’t take long for things to go from odd to odder.
ADAPTATION is the story of one man’s epic quest to adapt the unadaptable. In this case, turning THE ORCHID THIEF by Susan Orlean, into a feature film. The problem is that the non-fiction book is a rambling account of a rogue orchid hunter with the history of orchid mania and a glimpse of contemporary Seminole life thrown in. The man is Charlie Kaufman, writer of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, and where that film left off as far as reality is concerned, this film starts and then takes off at a gallop.
Charlie is played by Nicholas Cage who for some reason bears a striking resemblance to Gene Wilder of all people. Cage also plays Charlie’s twin brother Donald. While Charlie is, to put it as gently as possible, a mess, Donald is the picture of happiness, though a happiness born of being completely oblivious to the world around him. Actually, Charlie is pretty oblivious, too, but he takes a different route to the same destination, utter self-absorption. When we meet him, hes having lunch with a film executive who thinks hes brilliant, but what we hear is Charlies non-stop monologue wondering if he’s sweating too much, saying too little, weighing too much, looking too bald and so forth. Living, as he does, exclusively in his head, and a forbidding landscape that is where self-deprecation plays on an endless loop 24/7, whats actually happening around him doesn’t stand a chance of getting through. You can tell that merely being awake is excruciating for Charlie by the way he walks, hunched up as though he were being physically beaten down by his self-loathing. The result being that even on the set of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, which is re-created for the film, Charlie is given all the respect and deference due a dead cockroach.