Aleksandar Hemon scored a rare chance to profile the publicity-averse Wachowskis as they prepare to unleash Cloud Atlas onto the world.
I first met the Wachowskis in December, 2009, when they were in the midst of their struggle to find financing for “Cloud Atlas.” Uncomfortable with being idle while they waited, they were also developing “Cobalt Neural 9,” a project that had grown out of their frustration with the Bush Presidency and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Curious about how the early aughts would be perceived in the future, the Wachowskis imagined a documentary film made eight decades from now, looking back at the country’s plunge into imperial self-delusion. In order to write a script for “Cobalt Neural 9,” the Wachowskis were filming interviews with people, from Arianna Huffington to Cornel West, who they thought might be able to help them elucidate their concerns. I was invited to participate and was costumed to look as if I were speaking in 2090. Dressed like a Bosnian Isaac Hayes (with sparkling lights attached to my skull, a psychedelic shirt, and a New Age pendant), I ranted about the malignant idiocy of the Bush regime. Lana sat next to the camera, asking most of the questions, while Andy was somewhere beyond the lights, his voice occasionally booming from the void.
Usually, I experience an erosion of confidence around famous people-an inescapable conviction that they know more than I do, because the world is somehow more available to them. But I got along splendidly with the Wachowskis. Seemingly untouched by Hollywood, they did not project the jadedness that is a common symptom of stardom. Lana was one of the best-read people I’d ever met; Andy had a wry sense of humor; they were both devout Bulls fans. We also shared a militant belief in the art of narration and a passionate love for Chicago.
Eventually, I asked them to consider letting me write about the making of “Cloud Atlas.” They talked it over and decided to do it. By then, they’d sent the script to every major studio, after Warner Bros. had declined to exercise its option. Everyone passed. “Cloud Atlas” seemed too challenging, too complex. The Wachowskis reminded Warner Bros. that “The Matrix” had also been deemed too demanding, and that it had taken them nearly three years to get the green light on it. But the best the studio could do for “Cloud Atlas” was to keep open the possibility of buying the North American distribution rights, payment for which would cover a portion of the projected budget.