PRINT | E-MAIL True Colors
An Interview with Director Robert Luketic
by Scott Holleran
February 7, 2004
With two feature movies to his credit, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! and Legally Blonde, director Robert Luketic's sassy style offers a distinct alternative in a genre dominated by vulgarity.
Luketic, a 32-year-old native of Sydney, Australia, took a break from his Hawaiian vacation to talk with Box Office Mojo about the hit Legally Blonde, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! and his upcoming projects, Monster-in-Law, starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, and a movie based on the Matt Helm spy novels.
Box Office Mojo: Your first major movie, Legally Blonde, was hugely popular at the box office. How do you account for its success?
Robert Luketic: I think it was a wonderful performance by Reese [Witherspoon as Elle Woods] and it had lightness, an energy and texture to it. It [also] ground[s] you in an emotional reality. Despite all the improbability and the pink, we all sort of want to belong and have a place in the world. I didn't get that from the sequel [Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde].
BOM: Do you like the sequel?
Luketic: No. I'm very proud of the movie I made and [the sequel] just wasn't for me. I was a little bit disassociated from it. I was staying in Laguna [Beach, California] and it was on Pay-Per-View. I was sitting there, watching it, and they used a shot, which I had used. I thought: Elle Woods graduated in the original and that was the story.
BOM: True or false: the college in Legally Blonde was changed from University of Chicago to Harvard?
Luketic: Well, at one stage, it was any university that would give us use of their name. At some point, we had a connection at Harvard. It was about a young woman who was perceived as being stupid for being blonde and for being attractive. One review of Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! said it didn't work—because Kate Bosworth is too beautiful. Hollywood never used to be like that. It really bugs me that somehow, to be taken seriously, you have to disfigure yourself.
BOM: I see Legally Blonde as the triumph of femininity over feminism—
Luketic: Yes. My girlfriends love being women [and the theme of Legally Blonde is to] celebrate yourself. There was this [feminist] backlash that was saying we regressed [women] 20 years. I remember getting horrible letters signed by 20 or 30 people. I sent back a lovely Hallmark card.
BOM: What are some of your cultural influences?
Luketic: Ninety percent of what I watched growing up was American. There was always The Brady Bunch to come home to. I was very into pop music during the '80s; Duran Duran, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, music from John Hughes movies—that New Romantic pop music movement. I really became excited about cinema in the 1980's, during the Australian [motion picture] renaissance.
BOM: For Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!, you shot the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in the San Fernando Valley. You shot many of the Harvard scenes from Legally Blonde at University of Southern California and CalTech. Do you prefer southern California locations because you live in Los Angeles?
Luketic: First and foremost I have a love of Hollywood and L.A. When I first moved here, I was offered the chance to direct these movies and they were not exactly big budgets. So, we were being economical, too. I actually love Los Angeles.
BOM: How did you approach Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!?
Luketic: There's a wit [in Victor Levin's script]. We're obscuring Hollywood and celebrating it at the same time. We play with the cult of celebrity. I always like to come into a scene with drama and add some comedy. I don't want it to become melodramatic.
BOM: How do you decide how long to leave the camera on a particular scene?
Luketic: Until I capture the moment. I'm looking at the monitor and all of the sudden it feels right—does it sound real? It has to be authentic to an emotion. Grossing somebody out [for laughs] is so easy—it's harder to make people feel things. I like to take a leaf out of [the late director of Some Like it Hot] Billy Wilder's book, just for this genre, romantic comedy. I'm the first to admit when I don't need a scene, though it takes me a week sometimes.
BOM: Why isn't Tad Hamilton! performing better at the box office?
Luketic: I think we tried to position [its release] where I don't think we had much time. It was originally going to come out in March. There was some internal decision [that was] made. We've already made half our money back. The budget was only $22 million. I think the marketing was not sophisticated enough—I've been a bit bugged by it.
BOM: You are involved in the marketing and the music for your movies. Why?
Luketic: [For Tad Hamilton!'s music], I got together with the people who worked with [Moulin Rouge, Strictly Ballroom, William Shakespeare's Romeo+Juliet director] Baz Luhrmann and that's something I start very early on in the process. Every morning in the car, I'll put on a track of CDs.
BOM: What is your philosophy of using color in motion pictures?
Luketic: I really believe in brightness and light. Me and the production designer always want to put color in the set. I like to use color to create the heightened reality. Deep down, if we really are all very honest with each other, we all pine for romantic fantasy—we want [romance] to be reality. I don't care how hard you are; I fail to believe that anybody doesn't want that. I really do believe that. For young audiences—do people really believe that young men in particular only want fast cars and no romance? Do people really believe that young people have had a romantic lobotomy?
BOM: Who are some of your influences?
Luketic: [the late director Federico] Fellini, [director] Peter Weir. I love the comic book advent of the action hero with Indiana Jones. I like Todd Haynes. My theme as an artist is [to portray] having the courage to stand up for what you believe in—a sense of belonging, not as a sense of conformity, but as being you without changing who you are.
BOM: What is the theme of Monster-in-Law?
Luketic: It's about making a judgment on someone before you really get to know them. [Jennifer Lopez] is about to marry into this family with a strong woman [the mother-in-law, played by Jane Fonda]. Is [Lopez's character] ever going to be good enough for her son? It's different for me—it's very grounded in reality. It's a sophisticated comedy. It's not as campy. We start shooting in April.
BOM: How do you find working with Jennifer Lopez?
Luketic: We talk a lot to each other. I've spoken to every director she has worked with and they all say she is a force. She will give you every thing she has because she really wants to be a good actor, and she is a good actor.
BOM: Monster-in-Law marks controversial activist/actress Jane Fonda's return to the screen. Have you considered that there may be resistance to a movie with Fonda, who collaborated with America's enemy, the communist North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War?
Luketic: We all evolve. Jane took time out from the business and the world is a very different place [now]. We should give people chances.
BOM: Is your next movie Matt Helm based on the campy Dean Martin movies?
Luketic: It has nothing to do with those. They were really cheesy. I'm going to make you so connected to [writer Donald Hamilton's spy character] Matt Helm in a very real way. In these big action movies, we're not invested in the characters who are snowboarding or whatever. Tonally, it will be more pop. The very first Matt Helm novel is about the government needing to [restore] intelligence to real, get-your-hands-dirty intelligence work. It will be contemporary yet fun. I have read 12 of the 26 [Matt Helm] novels. I'm in the middle of The Devastaters right now. It is about the world working together. It will be about a sense of justice.
BOM: Which principles guide you in deciding whether to make a movie?
Luketic: I have to be captivated by the characters and understand them within the first 10 or 15 pages. Do I care about the person or persons? That's the indicator—the characters.
BOM: What about plot? Do characters depend on a plot?
Luketic: I just don't think there's that [type] of [plot-driven] writer anymore. I don't know why that craft has been lost. I see the craft of engaging plots and characters as very different. I think studios realize they depend on scripts, but I don't think we're creating the culture that nurtures the writer.
BOM: As the director of the highly popular Legally Blonde, you are in demand. How do you handle fame and the Hollywood sycophants?
Luketic: I don't really believe them. Half the things they say, I don't believe. But at the same time, I appreciate it as what I do to earn a living; it's my work. Occasionally, I go and have a drink. Maybe once or twice a year, I go to clubs. I'm very Zen about things and I concentrate on getting my work done. I do try to get away.