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About The Characters
In How Do You Know, Brooks has populated his story with a handful of characters, each in transition, who will have to face the life-altering decisions that they have been avoiding.


Lisa Jorgenson has a true love of her life: her sport, softball. She has dedicated herself to it and been celebrated as one of the world's best. Like many athletes, she is highly competitive and driven. "Her whole life has been based on creating goals for herself and then exceeding them,” says Reese Witherspoon. "When we meet her in the story, she's at a crossroads, because she's uncertain about the future of her career.”

In fact, too old at 31, her playing time is over – she's been cut from the team. "I think every athlete has the idea in the back of their mind that someday they're going to have to change paths; a sports career doesn't last forever,” says Witherspoon. "But it's another thing to be suddenly thrown from the ship. She's forced to rebuild her life without a clue of how to do it.”

It is a character, Witherspoon says, that could only have been written by Brooks. Not only is the character richly detailed, but reflects Brooks's signature outlook on life. "Jim has an extraordinary understanding of the absurdity of normal life,” she says. "He can look at a very simple, even mundane situation and find it absurd and completely hysterical – that's the perspective he brings. He's also brilliant at drawing characters who are grounded in reality – he finds these times in people's lives when they are at a crossroads and finds what is so beautiful about those moments.”

Witherspoon, with no background in softball whatsoever, practiced "two or three hours a day with softball players for months,” in preparation for the role, says Brooks. "There's maybe 20 seconds of Reese playing ball. The point is that it isn't about how she caught or threw or hit the ball, though she picked some of that up. What matters is you've been with those athletes, and she took that on.”


Matty, on the surface, is every girl's dream. Handsome, charming, funny, athletic, famous, and rich, he doesn't take anything too seriously – or even the least bit seriously. Especially his relationships – with his choice of women, why should he? And Lisa is just another girl he can have a good time with… until he starts to develop stronger feelings. "He starts to see what makes her unique, and he falls for her,” says Owen Wilson.

"There's no question that he falls in love,” says Brooks. "But he falls in love in a different way than any regular Joe would.”

Matty might seem to be a bit of a cad who plays the field, but Brooks says he operates according to a strict code. "He always tells the truth,” says Brooks. "He's not conniving, he's not lying, he's not sneaking around. He has a code of ethics, and his code of ethics is to tell the truth.”

When he goes all out – or, at least, as far out as he is capable of going – to win her, so rock solid is Matty's confidence that even a potential rival, George, enters the picture, he remains unshakable.

"Matty is such a sweet guy, but he just isn't very aware of what people around him are thinking and feeling,” says Witherspoon. "To Matty, life is a party, and he wants Lisa to be part of the party and not bring him down. He never asks Lisa about herself – whereas George wants to know everything about her and wants to help her, even though he has troubles of his own.”

Brooks has had a long relationship with Wilson. "When I met Owen, I was producing Bottle Rocket. He was living on the floor with his brothers and Wes Anderson and the other actors. He's very gifted – this character has to drive every scene he's in and be exuberant at every moment. He can't have someone set up the joke and then counter-punch the comedy – he has to give himself his own setups. And he does it brilliantly. There's never a minute when he's not giving you world-class reaction shots.”


Into Lisa's midst comes a character in some serious trouble. George Madison is unlike anybody Lisa has ever dated – odd, funny, and most of all, not an athlete. He's also someone who has found himself in the hottest of hot water: the target of a federal investigation. A potential new love affair should be the last thing on his mind, but it just might be the only thing that can keep him going. He has every reason to doubt that he could actually fall in love in this state, but he is convinced that it is so.

"Everything starts to escalate,” says Paul Rudd. "He's indicted for stock fraud, his girlfriend leaves him, and his former assistant gives him dire warnings of a peril of which he is unaware. He vigorously points out, before she spills the beans, that she is legally constrained from saying more. Then, when he's really hit rock bottom, he meets Lisa – and suddenly things start to look better.”

"George is so absorbed in his own problems that on that first date, he can't talk about anything else,” Rudd explains. "The way she handles it is just perfect: she suggests they just don't talk during the entire dinner. And for a moment, he changes focus from himself, and I think he falls in love with her in that instant.”

How can a guy whose life is falling apart compete with a rich, charming, handsome, athletic ballplayer? "All he has going for him is his honesty – and the fact that he feels he has nothing to lose,” says Rudd. "And he listens to her, which is exactly what she needs.”

"The only thing that George and Lisa have in common is something they don't even know – they are meeting each other on the worst day of their lives,” says Brooks. "They are each trying to dig themselves out of their troubles in their own way.

Brooks says that Rudd pulls off a pretty incredible acting trick: his character forgets his troubles by falling in love, but, thanks to Rudd's performance, it's not facile or glib. "In the way that I don't think I could have made As Good As It Gets with anybody but Jack, I don't think I could have made this picture with anybody but Paul,” says Brooks. "I think his reaction is real – you believe, every step of the way, that somebody in the ashes can rise out of it. I think you understand that somebody really could act that way. That's what Paul brought. And somehow he doesn't sacrifice one comedic beat in getting there. He's really funny and really real.”

"The role has a great deal of range to it,” says producer Laurence Mark. "It requires the actor to be funny, emotional, sad, lovestruck, and sometimes even nutty – and we also always have to believe him. Paul seems to have all of this in his repertoire.”


In the role of Charles, George's father, Jack Nicholson has to make a largely unsympathetic character vulnerable, human – even likable.

"Early in the movie, Jack's character tells his son that if he's forced to choose between his son and the company, even though it may kill him, he may pick the company,” says Brooks. But this is also a man who raised his son alone after his wife left them both. Would he really sell out his kid that way? "I wrote that line, I wrote the character, and I still can't decide if that's his core truth. The final mystery to him and everybody else is whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. As Bill Hurt told me a long time ago, sometimes the job is to hold the question and not to provide the answer.”

"He loves his son, but he loves himself as well, and he understands what no one else does: he is facing the possible destruction of one of the two people he loves

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