RT Interview: Eric Roth Calls Benjamin Button His Most Personal Film To Date

The Oscar-winning scribe of Forrest Gump discusses his latest, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Eric Roth - Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage

Time, love, life, and death collide at the heart of screenwriter Eric Roth's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which marks the third feature film collaboration between actor Brad Pitt and David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club). But the critically-acclaimed Benjamin Button is no typical Fincher film; the story, based loosely on F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story about a man "born old" who ages backwards, is alternately epic and introspective, a gentle and gorgeous meditation on human mortality and how we choose to spend the little time we have with our loved ones -- themes that Roth reveals came straight from his own experiences.

The sprawling, time-jumping tale begins in a New Orleans hospital on the eve of Hurricane Katrina, where the elderly Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is spending her last hours with her estranged adult daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond). At her mother's behest, Caroline reads aloud from the diary of the love of Daisy's life, a man named Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) who was born in 1918 under strange circumstances; living life backwards, Benjamin reverse-ages through the 20th century, collecting life lessons and experiences along the way while coming to terms with the knowledge that while everyone around him gets older and approaches death, he's headed "the other way."

Speaking with Rotten Tomatoes, Roth, whose take on Benjamin Button has drawn comparisons to Forrest Gump (for which he won the Oscar for Best Screenplay), explains how much of Benjamin Button came from losing his own parents during the writing process, making it his most personal film to date, how pleasantly surprised he was when David Fincher took the director's chair, and more.


I was at one of the first screenings where, in the Q&A, you shared with us you lost your parents when you were writing this, which is a deeply personal thing to share with strangers. Can you talk about how much that affected your writing?

Eric Roth: Completely. Without them having passed away I couldn't have written this. It gave me insights into me, into them...

Had you already begun writing when you lost them?

ER: My mother was diagnosed with cancer just approximately the same time I started writing [the script] and she died not long afterwards. And then my dad died a couple years after that, but I was still working on it. In other words, it probably made me - unfortunately - a better writer. You have to deal with your feelings while you're doing things but I think you do that anyway, whether or not there are tragedies. I think good writing comes out of it even if you're not writing about [the tragedy], per se.

Did that lead directly to the scenes between the present-day, hospitalized Daisy and her daughter, Caroline?

ER: One hundred percent, yes. Exactly, as a matter of fact. When [the dialogues] become personal - these were things my parents said to me when they were in hospitals. I remember, I asked my mom, "Are you afraid?" and she said, "I'm curious." And I think that's almost the first line of the movie.

Anyone who's lost a family member in that way - to old age or illness - is bound to be incredibly moved by those scenes in particular.

ER: I think they're pretty real. David [Fincher], who lost his father at some point, can relate. In other words, this is what people have to go through.

Because of that, do you feel that this is a more personal film than some of your other projects?

ER: I think this might be my most personal movie. It's about as close as you can get to me.

As a writer, do you tend to identify with all of your characters within one film, or more with a single character - such as the lead character - in particular?

ER: I think you have to find one you have a relationship to. Whether you like them or not you have to give them some reality, some history, some psychological traits that would be accurate for that personality - find out where they came from in order to create a whole persona.

So do you identify more with Benjamin or with Caroline?

ER: Boy, that's a tough question! I would probably identify more with Benjamin. Just as a kind of storyteller observing the human condition, as it were. Caroline, I don't know if I could put myself in her situation as easily. That was a little more complicated, you're right, even though I have a child who's adopted so I get some sense of that from her.



Next: Roth on director David Fincher: "You know, you're afraid to meet someone and then you find out they put their pants on one leg at a time."

Comments

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

Sweet, Eric Roth is a great writer. Did anyone else hear how he is working on an original sci fi pick? That could be awesome! Also can't wait for this, I would actually go see it on Christmas if I could but I can't. Love Fincher, I think this will be epic! Most of the negative reviews I have read said that it is a weaker Fincher film on the level of Zodiac, but I thought Zodiac was great and criminally under rated and over looked so I expect this to be great. I am a bit curious to see how this performs at the box office, I think it will do pretty good.

Dec 22 - 08:08 PM

inactive user

Jared King

Okay, I'll be honest. I never heard of this film til' recently. I plan on seeing "CCOBB", although one critics description of it (even though he said it was the best of the year) said

"If Forrest Gump is an ordinary man with an extrodanary life, Benjamin Button is am extrodrodanary man with an ordinary life."

"Ordinary life"? Ben Lyons (new At the Movies critic) made it sound bland with the last two words. Still, I plan on seeing it, and I'm setting the bar very high, but I think it can make it. But what will be no. 1# at the box-office? "CCOBB", "Spirit", or "BS". ... "BS" dosen't work, I mean "Bedtime Stories".

Dec 22 - 10:42 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

Well thats because Ben Lyons sucks and its a joke that he is now on @ the movies. Just to think that we went from Ebert & Roeper to this guy... wow.

Dec 22 - 11:06 PM

Apple S.

Apple Shampoo

LOL! Ben Lyons is such a joke. I had no idea people took him seriously.

Dec 23 - 10:21 AM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

Well thats because Ben Lyons sucks and its a joke that he is now on @ the movies. Just to think that we went from Ebert & Roeper to this guy... wow.

Dec 22 - 11:06 PM

HyperionChild

Warren John

Great interview.....so looking forward to this movie.....Fincher and Roth are first-class talents in their fields.

Dec 23 - 04:05 AM

reapermad

Ryan Kelley

This guy is a true artist. Cannot wait for this film!

Dec 23 - 05:40 AM

Apple S.

Apple Shampoo

LOL! Ben Lyons is such a joke. I had no idea people took him seriously.

Dec 23 - 10:21 AM

arendr

Arend Anton

I've seen this movie. I did like it. However, I can't really say it's a great film. It's good, though. The acting is good, the direction is excellent (as expected from Fincher), and the effects and make up job are incredible. I do recommend it.

However, I would be upset if this movie ended up getting more accolades than say, Gran Torino or Frost/Nixon. It's good, not great. The problem I had with it is that in many way this is basically Forrest Gump with a new coat of paint. My personal feeling is that Roth is sort of repeating an old formula that worked for him once before.

Definitely see it, as it's interesting and the story can be very effecting at points. However, it just exposes the problem with this time of year for movies. The studios release certain films that feel like they were made for the Oscars, and that's how this movie feels to me.

Dec 23 - 10:24 AM

Jen Yamato

Jen Yamato

Hope you guys liked the piece. Benjamin Button is definitely a must-see among movies out now, even if it is a bit Forrest Gump-y. The parallels are there structure-wise, but I'd argue none of the annoying Gumpisms are. Plus, Fincher's use of technology to create Benjamin at different ages/stages is just incredible - and he makes Cate Blanchett go convincingly from 20-60-80 years old.

Dec 23 - 10:41 AM

arendr

Arend Anton

I agree with your analysis Jen. The aging is incredible, even more so for Blanchett than for Pitt. My favorite scene is the one with the U-boat.

It should definitely be seen, but I stand by the complaints I raised previously.

Dec 23 - 10:52 AM

arendr

Arend Anton

I agree with your analysis Jen. The aging is incredible, even more so for Blanchett than for Pitt. My favorite scene is the one with the U-boat.

It should definitely be seen, but I stand by the complaints I raised previously.

Dec 23 - 10:52 AM

inactive user

Jared King

I wouldn't say Ben Lyons (or Mankieweiz) are bad, just not as good as Roger Ebert, or Gene Siskel, or Richard Roeper, or Micheal Phillips. They entertain, just not like the rest.

I do plan on seeing "CCOBB".

Dec 23 - 12:50 PM

inactive user

Jared King

By the way, "Forrest Gump" is excellent. I don't know if you mean Gumpism as in "It's like that lousy Forrest Gump" or "It's too much like the great Forrest Gump".

Dec 23 - 06:41 PM

Sun-Woo

Jeff Gouebault

Its like this some moron said it was like forest gump and everyone decided that's what it was. At no point did this feel like forest gump to me those claims are bordering stupid. It has nothing to do with it its a completley different formula and the fact that it's in fact a short novel and that Roth adapted it excludes him using the same formula. Those comments are getting old as its one of best movie Hollywood has made in recent years, instead of these trashy remakes and mindless garbage movies like Hancock. Just watch the more man don't worry about what some easily influenced people are going about its amazing acting, incredible visuals, long prolonged shots, and a cinematic marvel. Its like i said on another forum these days its deemed avant gadre to not like a good movie its makes people feel "different"

Jan 3 - 09:17 PM

Sun-Woo

Jeff Gouebault

Its like this some moron said it was like forest gump and everyone decided that's what it was. At no point did this feel like forest gump to me those claims are bordering stupid. It has nothing to do with it its a completley different formula and the fact that it's in fact a short novel and that Roth adapted it excludes him using the same formula. Those comments are getting old as its one of best movie Hollywood has made in recent years, instead of these trashy remakes and mindless garbage movies like Hancock. Just watch the more man don't worry about what some easily influenced people are going about its amazing acting, incredible visuals, long prolonged shots, and a cinematic marvel. Its like i said on another forum these days its deemed avant gadre to not like a good movie its makes people feel "different"

Jan 3 - 09:19 PM

Coyote22

Dane Jorgensen

Yeah, if you mean "Gumpism" as a negative thing I have to seriously question your cred as a movie whatever you are...

Dec 24 - 12:47 AM

Coyote22

Dane Jorgensen

Yeah, if you mean "Gumpism" as a negative thing I have to seriously question your cred as a movie whatever you are...

Dec 24 - 12:48 AM

Wilton M.

Tom Muchmore

CCBB is a fantastic movie. And, if you are worried it gets smaltzy like "Gump", it doesn't because it's directed by the gifted David Fincher. It never gets sentimental, but is still very emotional. It takes you on quite a journey...

Dec 30 - 05:14 AM

Vicky R.

Vicky Reed

In my own interpretation of this film, I saw a strong underlying theme of death and the nature of death for those experiencing it as well as those left behind. The place where Benjamin was raised led into this . . . death was always, for BB, a natural part of life. In War, death became quite unnatural, and I don't believe BB would have seen that had he not had the unusual upbringing that he'd had. Yes, it was a love story, but I saw so much more than just that in this film. It was so much more complex than BB' relationship with Daisy and the way that his "affliction" affected his living. . . As ludicrous as the idea of aging backward may be our world, if it were possible, if it really were to happen, I could see things working out just the way they did in this film . . . Forrest Gump, however, was a little on the "silly" side. Forrest Gump was an incredible film in it's own right, but I really see no comparison whatsoever. . . am I not getting something?

Dec 31 - 01:03 AM

John R.

John Rellman

You are getting something, but i wouldn't say there is "no" comparison.Both movies revolve around a man and his somewhat intricate path through life, while many interesting twists evolve that guide him beautifully along this path. This is not to say that other films aren't like this, but there are a lot of similarities. I watched the trailer for this film before I even knew that Eric Roth wrote it, and I Immediately thought of Forrest Gump! I had that same feeling of excitement that I got when watching Gump as when I saw the trailer, because it reminded me of an interesting man with many adventures learning more and more about life. Then when I watched it, I saw even more similarities: The boat scene, his "captain" friend, his lover, the southern accent, which at times almost sounds like Tom Hanks, that book which is a lot like Curious George, that scene where he has to leave because his mom has intercourse haha, the fact that Gump was in the army while Button was in the navy, the theme of destiny, life/death, and where we end up in the path of life,etc. These similarities exist, but they definitely do not prevent the film from being one of the best of the year. It is a wonderful film. There are many great scenes in it.One of my favorite scenes is where Button is playing with those toy soldiers going POW POW POW and he's is exactly like a kid. Forrest Gump is my all-time favorite movie(nothing will change that), but this film is excellent as well. I left the theater in no way thinking of its similarities with Gump, but rather thinking about how it was a wonderfully unique,creative,and beautifully-made movie that deserves all the praise that it has received.

Dec 31 - 03:38 AM

Vicky R.

Vicky Reed

In my own interpretation of this film, I saw a strong underlying theme of death and the nature of death for those experiencing it as well as those left behind. The place where Benjamin was raised led into this . . . death was always, for BB, a natural part of life. In War, death became quite unnatural, and I don't believe BB would have seen that had he not had the unusual upbringing that he'd had. Yes, it was a love story, but I saw so much more than just that in this film. It was so much more complex than BB' relationship with Daisy and the way that his "affliction" affected his living. . . As ludicrous as the idea of aging backward may be our world, if it were possible, if it really were to happen, I could see things working out just the way they did in this film . . . Forrest Gump, however, was a little on the "silly" side. Forrest Gump was an incredible film in it's own right, but I really see no comparison whatsoever. . . am I not getting something?

Dec 31 - 01:03 AM

John R.

John Rellman

You are getting something, but i wouldn't say there is "no" comparison.Both movies revolve around a man and his somewhat intricate path through life, while many interesting twists evolve that guide him beautifully along this path. This is not to say that other films aren't like this, but there are a lot of similarities. I watched the trailer for this film before I even knew that Eric Roth wrote it, and I Immediately thought of Forrest Gump! I had that same feeling of excitement that I got when watching Gump as when I saw the trailer, because it reminded me of an interesting man with many adventures learning more and more about life. Then when I watched it, I saw even more similarities: The boat scene, his "captain" friend, his lover, the southern accent, which at times almost sounds like Tom Hanks, that book which is a lot like Curious George, that scene where he has to leave because his mom has intercourse haha, the fact that Gump was in the army while Button was in the navy, the theme of destiny, life/death, and where we end up in the path of life,etc. These similarities exist, but they definitely do not prevent the film from being one of the best of the year. It is a wonderful film. There are many great scenes in it.One of my favorite scenes is where Button is playing with those toy soldiers going POW POW POW and he's is exactly like a kid. Forrest Gump is my all-time favorite movie(nothing will change that), but this film is excellent as well. I left the theater in no way thinking of its similarities with Gump, but rather thinking about how it was a wonderfully unique,creative,and beautifully-made movie that deserves all the praise that it has received.

Dec 31 - 03:38 AM

John R.

John Rellman

You are getting something, but i wouldn't say there is "no" comparison.Both movies revolve around a man and his somewhat intricate path through life, while many interesting twists evolve that guide him beautifully along this path. This is not to say that other films aren't like this, but there are a lot of similarities. I watched the trailer for this film before I even knew that Eric Roth wrote it, and I Immediately thought of Forrest Gump! I had that same feeling of excitement that I got when watching Gump as when I saw the trailer, because it reminded me of an interesting man with many adventures learning more and more about life. Then when I watched it, I saw even more similarities: The boat scene, his "captain" friend, his lover, the southern accent, which at times almost sounds like Tom Hanks, that book which is a lot like Curious George, that scene where he has to leave because his mom has intercourse haha, the fact that Gump was in the army while Button was in the navy, the theme of destiny, life/death, and where we end up in the path of life,etc. These similarities exist, but they definitely do not prevent the film from being one of the best of the year. It is a wonderful film. There are many great scenes in it.One of my favorite scenes is where Button is playing with those toy soldiers going POW POW POW and he's is exactly like a kid. Forrest Gump is my all-time favorite movie(nothing will change that), but this film is excellent as well. I left the theater in no way thinking of its similarities with Gump, but rather thinking about how it was a wonderfully unique,creative,and beautifully-made movie that deserves all the praise that it has received.

Dec 31 - 03:38 AM

Rastus B.

Rastus Bru

I went I saw I liked - a welcome retreat from the normal American cliche. Solid and credible acting and whilst the story is absurd it does fire the imagination and create thought - I recommend.

Dec 31 - 11:18 PM

Silvia J.

Silvia Johnson

I'm a fan of Eric Roth even from his earlier films - especially Forrest Gump. I'm surprised to see how a personal loss ca light up such a wonderful movie. As I read in an interesting English enhancement program, during my IELTS preparations (I'm a movie fan) Smarten Your English through Movies, "Death is the penalty we pay for the privilage of life". We can't escape death. But death can create some good movies.

Jan 1 - 01:45 AM

maelstrom54

Rob Federico

Benjamin Button is the most awesomely perfect film I've ever seen. The beautiful emotional sweep through the film and through his life is almost unbearable. The backgrounds...the period details and authenticity...the side characters...the music, are all exactly right, too. Thank you for making this film. By the way, the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, on which it's based, is in the public domain and available on the web. There's also a similar novel of reverse-aging called The Confessions of Max Tivoli.

Jan 3 - 06:39 PM

John M.

John Mead

Maelstrom--

Thank you for your post re: "Button". I could not possibly agree more.
This is a magical, haunting, wondrous film about the most important of human experiences--birth, life, death and love. I feel like writing Eric Roth and thanking him for his magnificent script. I can't get this film out of my mind and may go see it again several days after first seeing it--something I have never done. This is as close to movie perfection as I have seen.

JM
Newport Beach, CA

Jan 4 - 11:26 AM

Sun-Woo

Jeff Gouebault

Its like this some moron said it was like forest gump and everyone decided that's what it was. At no point did this feel like forest gump to me those claims are bordering stupid. It has nothing to do with it its a completley different formula and the fact that it's in fact a short novel and that Roth adapted it excludes him using the same formula. Those comments are getting old as its one of best movie Hollywood has made in recent years, instead of these trashy remakes and mindless garbage movies like Hancock. Just watch the more man don't worry about what some easily influenced people are going about its amazing acting, incredible visuals, long prolonged shots, and a cinematic marvel. Its like i said on another forum these days its deemed avant gadre to not like a good movie its makes people feel "different"

Jan 3 - 09:17 PM

What's Hot On RT

Box Office
Box Office

Planet Of The Apes Is No. 1

<em>Unbroken</em>
Unbroken

Trailer for Angelina Jolie's latest

<em>The Hunger Games</em>
The Hunger Games

New Mockingjay teaser trailer

<em>Jimi</em> Trailer
Jimi Trailer

Clips: Andre 3000 plays Hendrix!

Find us on:                     
Help | About | Jobs | Critics Submission | Press | API | Licensing | Mobile