(500) Days of Summer got great reviews. How satisfied were you with how well it did at the box office?
I was pretty satisfied. I feel like we were competing with movies that were literally 10 or 15 times the size of our movie. I think we held our own. There’s a fantasy that your movie will do $100 million, which obviously it didn’t do. I don’t feel like I was disappointed. It seemed to click with the right people, so I feel really good about it.
We’re told “this is not a love story,” but it really is. Talk about the way you tried to circumvent traditional love story plot devices.
I always thought of it as a coming-of-age story masquerading as a romantic comedy. In terms of the conventions of the genre, we had a wedding and a karaoke scene. We’re using the same lyrics but singing a different song. It really wasn’t about challenging the genre as much as it was about saying something that was real and true. Sometimes, you walk out of a romantic comedy, and there’s genuine interest in talking about relationships. They tend to not resonate with me. They don’t seem to be authentic or genuine, any more. Our aim was to be honest.
The characters of Summer and Tom are based on real people. How have those people responded to the film?
There’s a lot of different personas. I think there’s a mixture of feelings. There were some parents who were freaked out. [Co-writer] Scott [Neudstadter] tells the story of one of the girls [upon whom Summer was based] reading the script. She said, “I totally identify with Tom.” He was like, “Are you kidding me. That’s so fucking ironic.” That’s how everyone views themselves — as the underdogs.
Zooey Deschanel has such a great, classic look. Talk about what it was like to work with her.
The movie would not have worked without her. She was the first person we cast. She has this likeable quality. She’s just cinematic. She has a commitment to naturalism and doing what’s real, which is really important in a movie like this. You could easily fly off the handle if you didn’t have grounded performances. She had a hard job because the movie was told from the point of view of Tom, the male character. And she had to invent a lot of her character outside of those boundaries. Summer is a projection in a lot of ways. She had to find the reality in that. She’s the sweetest person you could be. When you’re talking to her, the entire world dims. It’s like a spotlight is on her. She has these eyes that captivate you and she casts a spell.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific in the film, too.
He’s learned the craft of comedy from when he was a little tyke. Anyone who is a cinemagoer knows him from Brick or The Lookout, these challenging, brutal roles. He’s got that hard edge but still has the sensitivity you need for this story. He has that vulnerability without losing that masculine streak, which is really important.
The film really captures a side of downtown L.A. that we don’t normally see in movies. Any chance other filmmakers are heading downtown in its wake?
I don’t know. I know there are people shooting downtown. While we were there, there was always a New York cab driving by because it’s always doubled as New York. They put a plaque on our bench. Downtown Los Angeles is becoming a true culture, a true neighborhood. I read all the reviews and someone from Dallas said it was clearly a fake Los Angeles because nobody lives downtown like that. I was like, “C’mon, what do you know? Give me a break.”
This was your first time making a feature film. Do you have another feature lined up?
Not that I know of. I am choosing which one to do first. It’s been an epic journey with (500) Days of Summer.
Will there perhaps be a (500) Days of Autumn?
Maybe ten years down the road.
Tell me about the origins of the Sid and Nancy mash-up video.
This guy from Mean magazine called up and said they were doing these cinemash things and trying to get different people top lay different parts from different movie. I said Zoe should be Sid and Joe should be Nancy. Once that idea was out there, we had to do it. It was fun to get back on set and watch Joe run around in a beard and eye make-up. Once, the idea got out there, it was like “Fuck, we have to do that.”
It’s great you could get that clip on the DVD.
Yes, the DVD is packed. We got this guy who does all of Ridley Scott’s DVDs to help us out. I’m really, really jazzed for it to come out. And I don’t usually use the word jazzed.