There have always been important filmmakers who are, if not outright recluses, loath to give interviews -- Terrence Malick, for example, and the late Stanley Kubrick.
The Wachowskis of The Matrix fame have had an aura of mystery for years, until lately, with the release of their almost impossibly ambitious epic Cloud Atlas, starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Jim Sturgess and co-directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run).
Of course, simply not talking is only half of the "recluse" equation. Your films have to have had impact. The Matrix was a box-office hit that had many young people thinking their first existential thoughts.
And for its mixed reviews at the time, V for Vendetta (which they wrote) influenced a generation such that its signature Guy Fawkes mask has become synonymous with the Occupy movement and the politically active "hacktivist" group Anonymous.
The popular assumption has been that their press-shyness was related to Lana Wachowski's transgender status (she was Larry when she and brother Andy made The Matrix).
Not the case, says Lana, alongside Andy and Tykwer at a sit-down with Toronto movie writers for Cloud Atlas, in theatres Friday.
"I've been openly 'in transition' for 12 years -- amongst my family and my friends," she says. "But the decision to be more public was a very long discussion because we value our anonymity.
"We like the way that anonymity allows you to inhabit the world. You can go into a comic book shop or a movie store and you exist and you can just listen to everyone. I mean we're writers principally and we like to be around people and have them act normally.
"I have a lot of friends in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and I knew that one day I would be more public and we just had to negotiate when that would be. And this movie is about transcending our fear of the 'other.' "
And that's just one of its themes. Cloud Atlas is based on the novel by David Mitchell, which is actually six centuries-spanning short stories -- each connected -- that include a harrowing 19th-century South Seas voyage, a young composer's poisonous relationship with his mentor, a Watergate-like '70s journalistic tale, a Cuckoo's Nest psychiatric ward serio-comedy, an Orwellian tale set in a futuristic Asia (in which cloned humans acquire a taste for freedom), and a post-apocalyptic fable set amid the ruins of civilization.
In a twist of casting, most of the actors are required to play roles of different genders and races in the various stories. (Unforgettable sight: Hugo Weaving as a "Nurse Ratched" type character in the mental hospital subplot.)
Which brings us to another incentive for the Wachowskis to step into the spotlight for the first time. The movie needs a push. At almost every step, Cloud Atlas seemed like the very definition of an "unfilmable" novel. "The making of the movie is actually not as interesting as the making of the making of the movie," Andy Wachowski says with a laugh.
To hear the Wachowskis tell it, it includes U.S. money smuggled out of China, and a thumbs-down from the studio just as Tom Hanks was opening his front door to let them in.
"It was an epically long process," Lana says. "We probably could have made several films in the time we waited to get the financing together."
The anecdote about Hanks' involvement gets them so excited, they begin finishing each others' sentences.
"We're in L.A. and we're driving over to Tom Hanks for the first big meeting," Lana recalls. "And literally as we're turning in, we get a call from our manager saying 'they (Warners) decided they can't do it.'
"They said, they made a mistake, and they're taking the offer back," Andy says.
"Which basically meant the movie's not happening -- in the doorway of Tom Hanks' house," Tykwer adds.
"And the door's opening and Tom is walking out and he's like, 'Hi! So nice to meet you,' " Lana goes on. "So I was very Scarlett O'Hara -- 'I can't think about this right now.' And we had the most amazing meeting. He had a poster of 2001 (A Space Odyssey) on his wall. And he was reading Moby Dick, one of my favourite books.
"And then Tom said, 'OK, I'm in!' "
The sentence-finishing is a natural outgrowth of the Wachowskis and Tykwer's collaboration. They've defended their triple-directorial credit to the Directors Guild, and have been on the same page, literally, since a trip to Costa Rica, where they wrote down everything they liked about the novel on index cards.
"It grew into a huge pile of index cards, an island of things we loved about the book," Tykwer says. "And then we started dividing them "¦."
"Your brain hurts," Lana adds. "It's like some horrible high-school level algebra class. You know these things fit together but you just can't see it."
Mitchell's idea of the connectivity of souls is a pretty big idea to play with in a big-budget Hollywood movie, but arguably no more so than The Matrix's reality-is-an-illusion.
"Andy and I are big readers, and our family is a big-reading family," Lana says. "And (Cloud Atlas) had that unabashed philosophical investigation of what it means to be human."
10 supposedly 'unfilmable' novels made into movies
William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, by David Cronenberg
Frank Herbert's Dune, by David Lynch
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, by Ralph Bakshi, Peter Jackson
Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Stanley Kubrick
Yann Martel's The Life
of Pi, soon to be released by Ang Lee
Jack Kerouac's On the Road, soon to be released by Walter Salles
Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Terry Gilliam
Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, by George Roy Hill
Virginia Woolf's Orlando, by Sally Potter (featuring Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth I)
Dr. David Reuben's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), by Woody Allen
-- Jim Slotek