Think of some of your favorite movies. Now, look up those titles on IMDB. Actor-writer-director-producer Rob Reiner probably had something to do with them. Movies like The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, This Is Spinal Tap, The American President, Stand By Me, etc. all came from his brilliant mind. Never slowing down, Mr. Reiner has another film coming out this weekend, And So It Goes, which he directed, produced, and had a cameo appearance.
And So It Goes marks Reiner’s second film with Douglas (the first was of course, The American President) and first time working with Diane Keaton. Michael Douglas plays Oren Little, an unpleasant (to put it nicely) realtor who just wants to retire in peace. Cut to the return of his prodigal son, who drops his daughter (a girl Oren has never met), on Oren’s doorstep. With the help of friendly neighbor Leah (Diane Keaton), Oren is able to get some rest and relaxation, but of course this doesn’t last for long. His Grinch-sized heart starts growing in size, and pretty soon Oren realizes he needs to make room in his life for his new granddaughter… and maybe the nice neighbor lady too!
I was so excited to have the opportunity to conduct a roundtable interview with Mr. Reiner. In fact, he was one of the best interviews I’ve ever conducted. Not only is he an incredibly nice, insightful man, but he was also delighted to talk about his long movie career and the state of the business today! We also spoke about a few upcoming projects he has for TV and of course Lauren V. and I brought up his work with Leonardo DiCaprio! Check out the transcript below and make sure you catch And So It Goes in theaters this weekend!
Lauren B. (ClotureClub.com): Well we know this isn’t your first time in DC. The American President is one of my favorite…
Rob Reiner: I’ve been here many, many, many, many times.
Lauren B.: You filmed that here, right?
Rob Reiner: We filmed some of it here, yeah.
Dean Rogers (The Rogers Revue): You directed your first film thirty years ago. How did you get bitten with the directing bug? What made you transition from acting to directing?
Rob Reiner: It was actually the other way around, in a weird way. I did a little acting in school and in summer theater when I was eighteen, but when I was nineteen years old, at UCLA, I started my own theater company. It was an improvisational theater company that I directed and also acted in. Then I did some theater productions around LA that I directed, no acting. So, it was always something that I wanted to do and when I was twenty-one I started writing for The Smothers Brothers show. I was writing, directing, and acting all the way from the time I was a young guy. When I got the part in All In The Family, I thought, ‘This will be good because I’ll be in the show that was very cutting edge. No one has ever done anything like this. We’re dealing with all of these issues and it’s so, so pushing the edge of the envelope. It’s never going to go anywhere. No one is going to buy this (especially back in 1971).’ Then it took off, so all of a sudden I became known for that and we did it for eight years.
It seems like I started directing after that but I was doing that before and always wanted to. Then it became hard to make the transition from television to becoming a film director. In those days… it’s not like that now. Now everyone can move back and forth from television to movies, but back in those days, people that came out of television were literally like second-class citizens. The movie people were great and we were the peons. It was very hard to make a transition from being a sitcom actor to a movie director.
Lauren B.: Is there one that you prefer over the other between acting, directing and writing?
Rob Reiner: The directing is more satisfying because you’re able to use all of your talents and abilities. I’ve always said about directors, you have to know a little bit about a lot of things. You don’t have to be great at everything but you have to have a working knowledge. I enjoy that. I have some musical abilities, some acting abilities, some writing abilities. I have some visual sense and can put that all together in directing. Acting is like fun. There’s not a lot of responsibility. The director has all of the headaches. I love it when I get to act in somebody else’s movie because I don’t have to worry about it. One time Ron Howard called me up and said, “Wanna be in this movie? I have this movie called EdTV.” It was a movie with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. I said, “Uh… okay, I’ll do it.” He said, “Let me send you the script to see if you’re interested.” I said, “I don’t have to read the script. You’re doing it. If it stinks, it’s not my fault. I’m just an actor!” I like acting. I don’t like acting and directing in the same thing. I’ve done that a few times, but I’m not a big fan of that.
Lauren B.: How much writing do you usually do on your films?
Rob Reiner: Some movies I do quite a bit; others, not so much. On Princess Bride, for instance, only a little bit because that was a William Goldman screenplay based on his book. On Misery I did a lot. On When Harry Met Sally I did a lot. On A Few Good Men, not so much because that was a play that Aaron Sorkin had written. We did a few changes here and there, not too too much. On The American President I did more. On Flipped I did the whole thing. It was a book but I did the whole thing. On And So It Goes I did a lot.
John Hanlon (JohnHanlonReviews.com): What’s the difference onset between filming a drama and a comedy?
Rob Reiner: In my opinion, there should be no difference. You’re trying to just get the performances that you want. I have fun on the set whether it’s serious… I like to make the set feel comfortable and safe. I’m not a method director or anything like that. I hire people who can do what they’re supposed to do. I even told Kathy Bates when we were doing Misery, “You can’t take this character home. This is too crazy.” She had started doing that. I said, “You let it go. You have your talent, your craft, and you have to trust that when you come to work that it will be there for you.” And it was; it was fine. I’ve heard people like Daniel Day Lewis never let go of a character. Everyone works differently, but to me you have your work and you have your home life. You have to be able to separate the two.
Lauren V. (DCFilmGirl.com): You’ve been acting and directing for decades. What do you think it would be like if And So It Goes was made back in the ‘70s or ‘80s? How different has film-making changed for you as a director?
Rob Reiner: First of all, I think [in the ’70s or ’80s] you could get a movie like this made at a studio. Studios don’t make movies like this anymore. They make three types of movies now: the big superhero franchise, tent-pole movies; animated pictures; and R-rated raunchy comedies. Anything that has an adult theme to it, even if it’s not for older people…. a picture like Stand By Me or even A Few Good Men, you could never get it made at a studio now. I looked, the other day, at all of the films I’d done and I realized not one could get made at a studio now. Not one. All of those pictures that they used to make at studios, they don’t make anymore. You have to finance them independently.
Lauren B.: Speaking of Hollywood making sequels, superhero film… You haven’t made a sequel to any of your films. Are there any characters you would like to catch up with if you could?
Rob Reiner: To me, the film is the film. If you look at the romantic comedies that I’ve done, and I’ve done a few of them, whether it’s Flipped or The Sure Thing. Flipped is for twelve years old and The Sure Thing is college kids and When Harry Met Sally is for young adults. So it goes… it’s essentially the same story over and over again. It’s my take on what men and women are with each other at the various stages of life. Michael Apted did that movie 7 Up. This is like the same thing. You’re seeing these people at different stages of life. The stories are slightly different, obviously, but the essence of all of them is men and women. You have the women, who are way more evolved and in touch with their feelings than the men… more emotionally mature. Then you have the men running around like idiots until they figure out that the women teach them what’s important. Then they come around and they go, “Oh yeah, she was right over there and saying the things I should be paying attention to.” I tell that story over and over again.
Lauren V.: Yeah, I definitely got a When Harry Met Sally vibe in this movie and like you said, it’s kind of a similar story for an older crowd. Michael and Diane were so fantastic together. Do you allow yourself, as a director, to get lost in the story or do you focus on the directing?
Rob Reiner: You focus on what you need to accomplish for that scene because you’ve worked a long time on developing the script. I write on all of the films that I do. You’ve crafted this thing and now you pretty much know in your mind what the story is, so each scene you want to make sure it serves the story. You want whatever values in that scene to serve the story as you go along. You mentioned When Harry Met Sally… if you look, there’s a scene in [And So It Goes] after they made love that [mirrors] When Harry Met Sally. In When Harry Met Sally [Meg Ryan] has this beautiful smile on her face and you pan over and [Billy Crystal] is like, “Oh God what did I do?” Here [in And So It Goes] I did this back and forth shot. It’s basically because [Michael Douglas] is trying to overcompensate for, “What have I done.” He knows what’s at stake now. He’s been in marriages and he knows you don’t just make love to a woman at that age. It’s not just a roll in the hay. There’s more to it than that and she feels that. She’s mortified and humiliated that he pulled away a little. Ultimately, he has to come around and see that she was right to begin with, but it’s similar. There are similarities.
John Hanlon: What is it like directing Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton? You’ve all been in the industry for so long. Is it more hands off than when you work with younger people?
Rob Reiner: I’ve worked with Michael before. Every actor is different. If you’re a coach of a sport’s team, there are certain players that you know you have to kick in the butt and certain players that you leave alone. It depends on their personality and how you will get the best out of them. It doesn’t matter if they’re experienced or young kids, you get a sense of the best way to approach each of them. Michael… I’ve worked with before so I know exactly how he works. He has tremendous craft and he has been at it for a long time. He really knows where his mark is, what time to show up… he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s a producer too, so he’s like an ally on the set. You know you have someone you can rely on.
Diane, who I never worked with before, I was surprised to find out she works very much how I do as an actor. She’s very instinctive. She told me before we started the picture, “I don’t act. I just am who I am.” [everyone laughs] I said, “That’s good because who you are is pretty damn good!” She was right! I saw there was really no division or delineation between how she was off camera to how she was on camera. Basically she plays herself and she knows what she can do. We try to tailor it as best we can for her but she then takes the dialogue and makes it her own. She tweaks it around and it becomes this Diane Keaton thing. It’s like the way I like to work. I like to work improvisationally. She was great to work with.
Lauren B.: So that doesn’t bother you if people go off script?
Rob Reiner: No, it doesn’t bother me. There are certain jokes that you want to make sure you get. There are certain jokes that are constructed in certain ways and if they are doing it with too much jazz… you want to get the melody too. It’s not bad to play jazz but you want to make sure you can at least hear the melody so the joke gets hit. If the person has the capability to do it, not everyone can do it, some actors are good at it and others aren’t. When we did This Is Spinal Tap, everything was improvised, the whole film. It was good because we had actors that were comfortable with doing that. If you’re not comfortable then you’re better off not.
John Hanlon: You mentioned Flipped, and I absolutely loved Flipped.
Rob Reiner: Thank you! It is one of my favorite films out of all of the films I’ve made.
John Hanlon: It didn’t find the audience it should’ve found.
Rob Reiner: No, we never found anyone for that.
John Hanlon: Well, you found me! [everyone laughs]
Rob Reiner: I’m glad of that because it’s one of my favorite films of any I’ve done.
John Hanlon: Are you personally disappointed when a movie you worked so hard on doesn’t find an audience?
Rob Reiner: You know, I’ve lived long enough and done enough movies where I’ve had films… like Spinal Tap didn’t find an audience, and now it’s found one as years go by. It’s there. If people ever care about wanting to look up and see what I’ve done, they will find ones that they don’t like and find ones like this, “Ohhhh this is interesting.” So they have a life of their own and they go on. For me, at this stage in my life, I care more about the doing of things. The result? Who knows what will happen to something. The critics will hate it or like it, who knows. I like the actual experience of doing it. As you get older, you’ll find this out. As you get older you really start internalizing this and it becomes a real thing for you. All of those clichés that people say really start to come true. You enjoy the process; it’s all about the process. You enjoy just experiencing your life and everything is more precious.
Dean Rogers: Since you’ve done comedy for a long time, what do you think makes a great comedy?
Rob Reiner: I like things that are real and make you laugh, something that works on a couple of levels. There’s an emotional underpinning to it and it’s also humorous. I remember when I was seventeen-years- old, I was an apprentice at a summer theater in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and the first show they did was a play called A Thousand Clowns. It was an Herb Gardener play and Jason Robards was in the movie. The play was all about this guy who was a comedy writer for a children’s show… Chuckles the Chipmunk or something like that. He had a kid that he was taking care of and social services wanted to take the kid away because he was a guy who didn’t play by the rules. It was a very funny play but it was also very serious and I thought, ‘Wow, look at that, you can be very emotional and serious and still get big laughs! This is really cool! If I could ever do anything like that, that is what I would like to do.’ I try to find ways of doing that. If you look at And So It Goes, there’s a son who had drug problems and he’s on his way to go to jail. He was a granddaughter that he’s never met and her mother has major drug problems. There’s a dark side to this and there’s a lot of laughs. Same thing with Stand By Me. They’re going to see a dead body and the kid’s worried his father hates him, yet there’s a lot of laughs in that too. There’s vomit all over the place. [everyone laughs] You can do both!
Lauren B.: We saw you in The Wolf Of Wall Street recently…
Rob Reiner: That was a really fun movie.
Lauren B.: Do you think you will always direct?
Rob Reiner: To me, I get more pleasure out of directing so I want to continue as long as I have opportunities. But, if you get a call from Martin Scorsese and he says, “Do you want to act in my movie,” you go, “I’ll do whatever you say!” If a part comes along that I think I can do something with, I’ll do it because it’s fun.
Lauren B.: Have you started lining up your next directorial…
Rob Reiner: I have more things in development than I ever have before because I’m really enjoying my life right now. I have three movie projects; two of them that are very close to going and I’m in the process of trying to cast them. Then I have four television projects. I’ve gotten into it because I love what’s happening on television now. The kind of stuff that I’ve made, you can’t make them at studios. They don’t want them, but television… you look at Breaking Bad, House Of Cards, Homeland… there’s great, great stuff on television. You get an opportunity to really develop the characters, so I have a few things I’m working on for television.
Lauren B.: Can you tell us anything about them?
Rob Reiner: They’re in development. One is [based on] a Carl Hiaasen novel called Basket Case, about an investigative reporter. That is being written and will be Spike TV’s first scripted show. One that we are developing for TNT is called Honest and it’s a murder-mystery thriller about a con-man that is told in the same way as Memento. Each season is ten episodes and you start with episode #9 and you peel back, and in the tenth episode you jump forward in time and you tie up all of the things you’ve been seeing laid out. That’s in development. I have a thing about LBJ that I’m trying to do a mini-series. Then I have something about the CIA and Skull and Bones in 1969 that I’m starting to work on. There’s a lot of things floating around.
Lauren V.: Was there something in particular you learned about being a director after you completed this project?
Rob Reiner: What I’ve learned over the years, because now I have less money to work with and less days to shoot, I’ve learned to become more economical in how I approach things and I learned not to waste a lot of energy spinning my wheels on something that isn’t very important. When you’re young, everything is life and death. The one thing you learn as you get older is nothing is life and death except life and death.
Dean Rogers: Is there a particular actor that you haven’t worked with yet, but would love to work with one day?
Rob Reiner: Yes. I acted in a movie with Meryl Streep, Postcards From The Edge… I had one tiny scene with her. I would love to work with her as an actress that I would direct. Then Cate Blanchett is the other one that I think is an incredible actress. Those two I would love to work with.
Lauren V.: Hopefully you’ll get to work with Leo [DiCaprio] again! Wolf of Wall Street 2!
Rob Reiner: Love Leo! Love working with Leo. He’s a great guy; he’s a really sweet guy and really giving. I had fun with Jonah Hill too. He was great in it, Moneyball, and the Apatow movies. He’s got a great range that kid [everyone laughs]… that guy.
Lauren V.: I heard you’re going to the Nats game later? Are you a big baseball fan?
Rob Reiner: Huge! Love baseball. I have been to every park in the country because my oldest son is a huge baseball fan. Each summer, we would go to 3-4 parks around the country and eventually we visited them all.
Lauren B.: Who’s your team?
Rob Reiner: As a kid, growing up in the Bronx, I was a New York Giants baseball fan. I still like the New York Giants football team. Anyway, they moved to San Francisco and I was still a fan, because I love Willie Mays. We moved to Los Angeles and I was still rooting for the Giants and then at the end of Mays’ career they sold him to the Mets so then I became a Dodger’s fan.