How Do You Know: Interview with writer/director James L. Brooks

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James L. Brooks is the writer/director of "How Do You Know," the new romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, and Jack Nicholson. The film is being released by Columbia Pictures on December 17.




 


“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 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.”

 

Writing the script

 

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.”

 

As a starter, 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,” 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.”  

 

Working with Reese Witherspoon

 

“I had just seen Walk the Line, and I knew her comedy skills. Reese was the one,” says Brooks.  “So I spoke to her, and then, I went away for a year and a half.”

 

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 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.”

 

 “There’s maybe five minutes of softball in the movie, but it informs the whole character,” says 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.”