LOS ANGELES -- The realm of "The Matrix" is full of question marks, but here's a brain-twister from reality: Who are the elusive brothers behind the computer-phobic fantasy?
Larry and Andy Wachowski, the former carpenters and comic-book scribes from Chicago who dreamed up the parallel digital world of "The Matrix Reloaded," do their best to remain out of sight.
They have refused to be interviewed since the release of 1999's "The Matrix." Their official Warner Bros. biography mentions their only other directing credit, "Bound," before claiming: "Little else is known about them."
While these evasions makes them seem as shadowy as their sunglasses-at-night heroes, those who know the Wachowskis say they are slightly timid "regular guys" who love basketball, their parents and hiding from the press.
Keanu Reeves, who stars in the "Matrix" films as a man trying to save humanity from a counterfeit computer universe, says the brothers can be alternately intensely focused, prone to joking or deeply reserved.
Each also seems to know what the other is thinking.
"You can go to either of them and ask a question and much more often than not they'll agree and tell you the same thing," Reeves said. "They are independent and together."
Both are married, have thinning hairlines and favor backward baseball caps. Both are college dropouts who wrote comic books and horror scripts while supporting themselves through carpentry and house painting.
The bespectacled Larry, 37, is shorter and thinner than his sibling. He projects a professorial image that some say fits his bookish nature - although he sometimes likes to wear pirate-style hoop earrings.
"Larry reads everything. I mean everything," said Jada Pinkett Smith, who co-stars in "Reloaded" as the human revolutionary leader Niobe. "One thing I've learned from working on this film is that life is about research, and Larry, he's constantly researching and constantly reading."
Andy, 35, looks like he could be his older brother's bodyguard: taller, broad-shouldered and thicker, his mouth sometimes rimmed by a dark goatee. Most say Andy is the quieter of the two.
"The Matrix" films are a fusion of the brothers' biggest interests: Hong Kong kung-fu movies, gritty Japanese animation, computer games, fairy tales and Eastern mysticism. "They kind of cooked it all up and made a souffle out of it," said Joel Silver, who produced all of "The Matrix" films.
Silver first met the brothers, whom he calls "the boys," when making the 1995 Sylvester Stallone action film "Assassins." It was the Wachowskis' first produced screenplay, and they despised the way it was altered during filming.
"I was very supportive of them and what they had tried to do," Silver said. "One day after a particular unpleasant experience with the director and another writer, they said, 'You know, we wrote something else that you might want to read."'
That was "The Matrix," a special-effects intensive sci-fi thriller packed with levitation fighting, massive explosions, marble-wall-pulverizing gunfights - and flavored with philosophy about the nature of consciousness and perception.
The brothers also wanted to direct it themselves, despite their total lack of experience behind the camera. So they did "Bound," a low-budget lesbian heist thriller, in 1996.
"I always felt that they went on and did 'Bound' as an audition to prove - even to themselves, or to anybody else - that they knew what they were doing," Silver said.
"Bound" became an independent cult hit. Warner Bros. then expressed interest in the brothers, and Silver told the studio bosses he had the Wachowski's next screenplay. "They said, 'It probably costs a fortune, right?' I said, ... 'Yeah."'
Made for about $70 million, "The Matrix" became an international phenomenon, winning four Academy Awards for technical achievement and earning more than $460 million worldwide.
The film's pioneering visuals - such as freezing a battle while the camera swings around it, and "Bullet Time," when characters dodge gunfire in slow-motion limbos - were imitated by countless admirers. Which was ironic, because some critics complained that the Wachowskis themselves borrowed too heavily from Hong Kong action films and "Blade Runner."
The 2001 films "Charlie's Angels," "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and last year's "Spider-Man" were among many featuring high-flying fight scenes reminiscent of "The Matrix." The camera-swinging move was even spoofed by the grouchy princess in "Shrek."
Larry and Andy were not pleased by the mimicry. "The brothers in the beginning were really flattered and then at the end they were irritated by it," said Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays the romantic warrior Trinity in "The Matrix" films.
The Wachowskis devised a multimedia approach to the sequels (the finale, "The Matrix Revolutions," is due in November). They tell the main body of the story in the films, but develop offshoots via a new video game, "Enter the Matrix," and a series of animated shorts called "The Animatrix."
Two of the shorts, which will be included on a DVD released June 3, explain how machines came to dominate humans. Others provide background that explains some of the characters and threats in "Reloaded."
Silver said Larry Wachowski explained how "The Matrix" game, shorts and movies would weave together by scribbling a diagram on a yellow notepad during a 1999 flight from Japan to Los Angeles. "It's not just marketing. It's not just hype," Silver said. "The story is being told in these different mediums."
How Larry and Andy divide their duties remains a mystery. Although Larry sounds like the brains to Andy's brawn, their colleagues remain unsure who is responsible for what in "The Matrix" world.
"I watch them, a lot of times, and I've never see them have a disagreement or argue about anything," Silver said. "Clearly, they spend a lot of time talking about things beforehand."
He said it would be wrong to characterize them as "one brain in two bodies" - but even the cast seems to forget that at times.
As Reeves put it: "They're one of the most sensitive people I've ever met."
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