How Spike Jonze Ended Up in The Wolf of Wall Street

 Director Spike Jonze attends the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures'
Spike Jonze. Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

It’s a pretty good week at the movies when you’ve got two year-end auteur films like Her and The Wolf of Wall Street coming out within a few days of each other, but the latter film contains a delightful surprise from the former: Her director Spike Jonze actually has a cameo in Martin Scorsese’s tale of amoral Wall Street greed, popping up in the first act as a small-time broker who teaches Leonardo DiCaprio the ins and outs of penny stocks. “That happened because Ellen Lewis was the casting director for Her, and she also cast The Wolf of Wall Street,” Jonze explained to Vulture. “When we were auditioning people for our movie, I would often read with the people we were auditioning, and she called me up later and said, ‘Hey, you’re actually an okay actor! You want to come do this thing?’”

Jonze readily agreed — “Yeah, of course I would love to work with Martin Scorsese!” — making this just the latest great film to contain an unbilled cameo from the 44-year-old director. Jonze can also be heard voicing a foul-mouthed video game character in Her (he’s the one calling Joaquin Phoenix a pussy) and he memorably rolled into Bennet Miller’s Moneyball two years ago as the self-impressed sleaze dating Brad Pitt’s ex-wife.

What’s to account for all these random roles? “I don’t know!” laughed Jonze. “I have no idea. All of them are with directors that I love, and that’s really why I did it. As a director, you never get to watch other directors work, and you also don’t get to collaborate with other directors that much. It’s a great way to learn from them and see how they do it. “

It helps, too, that Jonze is pals with some of the most creative directors working. He says the Moneyball offer came from Miller after the two spent Jonze’s postproduction process on Where the Wild Things Are screwing around and making experimental 16-millimeter Bolex films after hours (Jonze had lent Miller an office in his editing suite so the Moneyball director could write his coming film Foxcatcher). Jonze’s first notable role was as the fourth lead in his good friend David O. Russell’s 1999 film Three Kings, a casting decision that Russell claims the studio wasn’t keen on.

“It’s also about being able to do something I’ve never done before,” said Jonze, who was busy prepping his first film, Being John Malkovich, when Russell offered him that role. “With Three Kings, David asked me, ‘Do you think you can act?’ and I said, ‘I have no idea. But I’ll audition for you as much as you want!’”

Just don’t expect Jonze to build anything close to a second career out of it. “I do it because it’s fun, for sure — I love being able to make up a character, whether it’s in a movie or in a prank call — but the main reason I would do it is to work with a director like David O. Russell,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s for me. I mean, there are a lot of people better at it than I am!”

How Spike Jonze Ended Up in Wolf of Wall Street