When I walked into the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Seattle to interview director David O. Russell, I thought I was prepared. A friend had warned me that the man behind the philosophical existential comedy I ♥ Huckabees could be a tough interview. "Don't get too attached to your own questions or agenda," she warned me. "Russell likes to take the conversation and run with it."
Russell also likes to use his ideas to jar people—including his characters—off balance. Two troubled men in Huckabees, Tommy (Mark Wahlberg) and Albert (Jason Schwartzman), hire "Existential Detectives" to help them learn the meaning of life. The detectives give them a large inflatable red ball and instruct them to smack themselves in the face with it. The impact stuns them momentarily and leaves them starry-eyed, knocking them out of coherent thought. Boom! Albert bops Tommy in the nose until he's dazed and confused. Whap! He returns the favor. Their momentary disorientation reminds them that it's possible to be set free from their ego and their angst.
Russell at the Hollywood premiere of his new film
In my interview with Russell, I was about to get smacked in the face.
Russell, who looks a lot like Albert, is energetic and restless. Seated next to him, Huckabees co-writer Jeff Baena patiently fielded my questions and filled in the gaps while Russell fidgeted, paced, made phone calls, and sometimes left the room entirely.
Here are some highlights from the periods in which Russell actually participated. (The complete transcript is posted here.)1