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Spike Jonze and Jonah Hill Are Playwrights Now

It’s seemingly impossible for a person to try their hand at everything without completely sucking at at least something. This apparently doesn’t apply to Spike Jonze as the director, producer, screenwriter, actor, skater, impressive dancer, etc. etc...

by Annette Lamothe-Ramos
Sep 12 2014, 5:00pm

All photos by Travis Schneider

Conventional wisdom holds that a person should do one thing and do it well. Try to juggle too many different projects or careers and you're bound to fuck some of them up. This apparently doesn't apply to Spike Jonze, who on Sunday added playwright to his resume, which already includes director, producer, screenwriter, actor, skater, impressive dancer, etc. etc. Somehow, Spike has managed to do all of these things without sucking at any of them.

100% Lost Cotton, the one-act play he directed and co-wrote with Jonah Hill for Opening Ceremony’s epic Spring/Summer 2015 collection debuted at the Metropolitan Opera House on Sunday during New York Fashion Week. According to Humberto Leon, co-founder of Opening Ceremony along with Carol Lim, the collaboration was initially received as somewhat of a challenge from Jonze, a longtime friend of the duo who had expressed interest in conceptualizing a fashion show for one of their future lines. Somehow this outlandish late night idea for an event that transcended the monotonous blur of fashion presentations and just “had to take place at the MET" manifested into a 45-minute over-exaggerated and fictionalized play about the designers’ lives and the inspiration behind the upcoming season.

The cast was comprised of seasoned Broadway pros like John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire), and theater virgins Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation), Dree Hemingway (Starlet), Elle Fanning (Maleficent), Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), and Victoria's Secret model Karlie Kloss, who had never acted in anything before. There were laughs, there were cries, there were good vibes, there was a lot of fucking profanity, but most importantly there was a musical number set to Drake's “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”

After taking a bunch of photos during a sneak peak at an exclusive rehearsal, we caught up with Spike to see how he's feeling after his first foray into live theater.

VICE: Hi, Spike. How are you doing?
Spike Jonze: I’m good! That was a hard couple of weeks!

I’m sure it was!
It was intense. I knew putting on a play was hard, but I didn’t really know just how hard it was.

Congrats on being a playwright now! How do you feel the morning after? Do you feel any different?
Yeah, it’s awesome. Sounds so cool. What a cool title!

You’ve worked with Opening Ceremony a lot over the years. I know Humberto and Carol have helped you kind of bring a lot of the characters in your films to life. What was it like having the tables turned and having to create a story for them for their collection?
It was fun. Humberto and I do all kinds of things together and it all comes out of the fact that we’re best friends. Even though we work in different worlds, we work very similarly and are always bouncing ideas off each other. I can tell him about a story I’m writing or things I’m thinking about for scripts and he’ll tell me about plans for the company or a new collection; it all comes out of that. So doing something for their collection was pretty easy because I know him so well. I visit him at work a lot and I see him in his element, so it was fun to sort of create this ridiculous, completely neurotic, mean, freak version of him.

I got to talk to him for a second about the line and the inspiration behind some of the key pieces, like breaking into pools, 1991, and quiet rebellion. How did you come up with this storyline based off of that?
The storyline was just like anything, whether it’s fashion, film, skateboarding—whatever you do at the beginning you’re doing it because you love it. The further you get into it it becomes more of a job, and the less careful you are at protecting why you’re doing it in the first place. I remember when we first started Big Brother, we were on a skate tour for World Industries and I was skating with Shiloh Greathouse. He had just turned pro and was talking about how since he turned pro he found that he wasn’t skating as much anymore and was falling out of love with skateboarding. The pressure of filming and touring had really changed it. It's kind of funny because we were geeking out at that time, but I think that feeling is inherent in anything you do. So it was funny that me and Jonah were kind of already writing about his story without even knowing the true inspiration behind the collection. Finally when Humberto told us that it was about 1991, being in high school, sneaking into pools, and the summer before life got so complicated and serious we just went, “Whoa! That’s what the play is already about!” It was one of those things that happened because a) we were really lucky, or b) because I’ve spent so much time around Humberto. Now that he’s become creative director of Kenzo and has two kids, I can feel how complicated his life is. As a person, Humberto has really been able to maintain this sense of what is fun and his job, and the fun of being famous, and in the play we show him struggling with this more.

Yeah, he said he had a lot of fun with this and loved that you took his description of the collection and basically just made fun of him. I’m sure there was obviously a lot of back and forth considering the characters were loosely based off of him and Carol. How many different versions of this script did you and Jonah have to write before you finally got it right?
We probably went back and forth four or five times, but it wasn’t like we were writing them like real people. Obviously Brian Molloy, Bobby Cannavale's character, is supposed to be like the teenage Brian Molloy but he’s not really like him at all. Also Humberto, Carol, and Lisa Love’s characters weren’t actually like them, so part of the fun was that this was all one big inside joke. But, just like any script, we had to go back and forth trying to make it better and create more depth to these characters. We had to make it stronger narratively, and once we went to the fitting we saw the actual apparel incorporate the reality of the clothing and how the pieces worked. There is a t-shirt in the collection that has one sleeve, so we had to create a story to explain that—we came up with the idea that they altered the original design in the heat of the moment, when in reality Humberto made it that way. So basically we just fictionalized the line in order to make the line be part of the story. It’s one of two main characters in the play; the other is the location, Met Opera House.

How did Jonah get involved in this?
Jonah got involved in this because I’ve known him forever and have been friends with him for years. We’d never worked together officially; I had a small role in Moneyball and Wolf of Wall Street, so I saw him around during that time, but we’d never properly done anything together and always wanted to. So when I started writing the story I just thought it would be way more fun to write it with him. We went to see Noah in IMAX at the Universal CityWalk then and I asked him if he’d write the play with me.

That’s awesome. How did you guys cast the actors?
I met Elle (Fanning) last year and had wanted to do something with her, so when I first started thinking about the fashion scene for the play, I thought she’d be really fun to write a character for. John Cameron Mitchell I’ve known forever and I love him; I just went to see him in Hedwig on Broadway with Humberto and his husband, Patrick, so he was fresh in my mind. John is not only a great actor but he’s a great theater actor, writer, and a playwright so I really was grateful to have him onboard. Bobby we already knew we wanted to use because we wanted these two roles to be filled by real theater pros because neither of us had ever done theater! We needed some real heavy hitters, and they ended up teaching us a lot. Blocking for theater is obviously different than staging a scene.

At any point did you think to yourself, Holy shit, what am I doing?
Oh it was hard! Especially because we only had five days to stage and rehearse the full show. Normally you would have a few weeks to stage a 45-minute play. But it was also really great because the group was so awesome it really felt like a little creative summer camp. It felt like the YouTube Music Awards we did last year, with a whole bunch of crazy people in a warehouse making this thing together, we were all there really just doing it to do something fun, and that was what the play was about. There was no reason to do it other than just doing it for fun, no one got paid, we just wanted to do this for Humberto and Carol and it was pleasant to have that spirit.

Tune in to VICE.com next week for an exclusive behind the scenes video from 100% Lost Cotton.