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EExclusive Interview with ‘Up in the Air’ Writer/Director Jason Reitman

Up in the Air writer/director Jason Reitman pulled off an interviewing first, doing something no other director has ever done during my nine years of interviewing filmmakers. Reitman started off our interview by saying he wished I’d hated his movie. No, that’s not because I’m some sort of jinx whose support of a film causes it to tank. Reitman made the comment because after a whirlwind tour across the United States promoting his third critically acclaimed film, he was simply tired of hearing the same old questions. “What’s it like to direct George Clooney?” “Why did he want to bring Walter Kirn’s novel to the big screen?” Etc, etc, etc. Reitman had even created a pie chart out of the questions.

“Oddly enough if you hated the movie it might actually make for more interesting conversation,” said Reitman, explaining his reasoning. “I’d have no idea what you were going to ask me. It’s like what the f–k do you ask when you hate a movie?”

So, the gauntlet had been thrown down. My questions had to be different than every other journalist who had the pleasure of speaking to Reitman during his extensive and exhausting publicity tour. That in mind, here’s what Reitman had to say about his follow-up to Thank You for Smoking and JunoUp in the Air.

Jason Reitman Up in the Air Interview

You have such a good voice for women characters. How do you write with such a strong female voice?

Jason Reitman: “I am fascinated by women, and it’s actually only been asked a couple of times… And I appreciate the compliment. I think a few reasons. One, I write well about things that I’m most curious. Two, I’ve had two long relationships with older women in my life. Seven years, from 16 to 23, I was with a woman who was 10 years older than me. And for the last eight years I’ve been with my wife who is also older than me. My wife helps me write them. Like that scene, the best scene in this movie where the two women talk to each other.”

Where Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga are just sitting across from each other, talking about relationships and what they look for in men?

Jason Reitman: “I sat down with my wife and said, ‘If you could have a conversation with yourself and talk about what you look for in a man, what would you say?'”

And their conversation is exactly what she said or did you change anything?

Jason Reitman: “No, she gave me a list.”

Did she tell you anything you left out of the scene?

Jason Reitman: “Good question. I’ve never been asked that. I’m sure she did, and I can’t remember. I’m sorry, you’ve stumped me. No, I’m sure she did but I’m trying to think…like I’m trying to think from her perspective now versus her perspective then. I mean part of it was that she was saying stuff also about settling down, and Alex [played by Vera Farmiga] doesn’t want to settle down. So there was kind of less of that in there.”

Does your wife like how you ended up playing that scene in the movie?

Jason Reitman: “Yes, she does. My favorite line that she said and the most dangerous line is, ‘God, let him make more money than I do. That’s a line that women, while I was making the film, they’d come to me and be like, ‘How could you put that?’ And I always believed in that line. I thought it was a great line. And it’s that kind of tough admission that as much as a woman is supposed to aspire to have no ceiling on her aspirations and work, it is very difficult to live with a man if he makes less than you do.”

It’s more difficult for the man to live with a woman if he makes less.

Jason Reitman: “Yes, but it makes it hard on you because, you know, he doesn’t know what his existence is in the world anymore.”

Yes, exactly, because he’s defined by that.

Jason Reitman: “Yes. And the female mid-life crisis, the feminist movement pushed the idea that a woman could do anything she wanted, could be anything she wanted and could have everything, but no one can have everything. We all have to sacrifice. And I think mid-life crisis comes from sacrifice. It’s the moment you realize you can’t actually be everything you wanted to be. The last few generations of women were promised certain things that have brought up certain problems, and I see this in women right out of college when they start to get an inkling that it’s not as they were sold. And then women right before they’re going to turn 30 and right when they’re about to turn 40 again, when they hit these giant life milestones they’re constantly dealing with what they’ve been told and what they’re experiencing and what their expectations are and what they want and what they feel guilty about wanting. And I find that really interesting and I think it’s hardly explored onscreen.”

“Onscreen you see men in mid-life crisis all the time. And you rarely see women in a very complicated way dealing with, ‘Do I even want a career? Do I even want to be a mom? Do I want both, is it possible to have both, really? Do I want to have an affair? Do I want to be sexual? Do I want to just have a cross-country affair with a guy and not feel guilty about it? I don’t feel guilty about it. Should I feel guilty about not feeling guilty about it?’ You know, these kinds of things.”

Why don’t female filmmakers tell that story?

Jason Reitman: “Well, let’s see if I have an answer for that.”

And why is it taking you to give us this story?

Jason Reitman: “I don’t know. I mean, look, it’s explored in literature and other places. Who are your favorite female directors?”

I like Kathyrn Bigelow.

Jason Reitman: “She would never talk about this. This is not her interest. That’s not her interest.”

And Kimberly Peirce. She did Stop-Loss.

Jason Reitman: “Well she’s a lesbian and pursues other issues, social issues that are more important to her.”

Right. But there are no females telling this kind of story.

Jason Reitman: “There’s Mary Harron, who didn’t seem to be interested in this either. She directed American Psycho and Bettie Page. There is Jane Campion who’s not interested in it. There’s Andrea Arnold, the British director [who] directed Fish Tank. She’s great. She’s not interested in that. No, you know what? She is a little bit interested in that.”

I haven’t seen Fish Tank.

Jason Reitman: “Fish Tank just come out. It’s spectacular. She made a short film called Waspthat won an Oscar, and then she directed something called Red Road or something like that.Fish Tank is out right now. It’s amazing. It does actually deal with that a little.”

Does it?

Jason Reitman: “Wasp does it. Wasp is a wonderful short film. It won the Oscar. It’s about a woman who’s in her mid-30s, she has three kids, she’s a single mom, and this guy she went to high school with comes back to town and they run into each other and he kind of asks her on a date. And you can just tell this makes her feel beautiful in a way that she hasn’t felt in a while. And now they’re going to go on a date, she has no one to take care of these three kids – it’s a really tough film. She goes on this date at a bar with him and she leaves her kids, including an infant, in a car in a parking lot next to the bar. She’s trying to go back and forth making sure the kids are okay. And it’s about this struggle of, ‘I want to be a mom, I want to be good to these kids, I just want to feel sexy for one f–king night of my life.'”

“She’s going into the bar and she’s with the guy and the guy doesn’t care. The guy’s just, like, single and he’s not conscious of the fact of what’s going on outside. And then the baby gets stung by a wasp. And it’s just great… It’s just about desire and it’s about being responsible, and also having desires and feeling guilty for having desires and all that kind of stuff. It never says that, it’s just about that. And Fish Tank deals with similar issues about growing up that are really interesting.”

“But I think the reason why you don’t see it onscreen is because it’s not very marketable. I think the people who say yes to films are generally guys. You know, they greenlight the movies and people generally don’t see them. Lots of films about what it’s like to be an adult aren’t made in general and then the few that are, are about men. So I don’t know. That’s all I have to say about that.”

Audiences are not going to dramas. They just want to escape.

Jason Reitman: “The people who want to make movies about adults have generally become independent filmmakers who make movies for nothing that play in art houses. And what I do has become fewer and far between, which is a film that is supposed to play for a wide audience but it’s about adult themes and is made for adults.”

How do you sneak these in?

Jason Reitman: “I was very lucky. My second film grossed $230 million dollars, even though it was made for seven.”

Which is awesome.

Jason Reitman: “And I got George Clooney. And I’ve proved three times in a row now that despite the fact that I like tricky subject matter – like cigarette lobbying, a teenage pregnancy, and firing people – that I make my films in an accessible way, that I like the audience.”

Do you really like the audience?

Jason Reitman: “Yes. I think I make my movies very audience-friendly. They’re very cognizant of the fact that there’s an audience watching. They make people laugh; they make characters that are unsympathetic sympathetic. They’re short. My movies aren’t long. My movies are kind of very trim. My first two movies were 90 minutes long. I don’t believe in scenes that only slow the movie down.”

Anna Kendrick is a revelation in this. How did you figure out she could handle this role?

Jason Reitman: “I wrote it for her. I saw her in a movie called Rocket Science and in her saw this series of women that I’d fallen in love with in my life. Girls who were too smart for their own good, frustrated by their own brilliance, who were always in a room going, ‘Why isn’t everyone as smart as me?’ And I’ve always loved these women. My wife is one of these women who are hyper-articulate and completely not self-aware, and I wanted to write about that kind of character. I saw Rocket Science and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s her.’ And then the only question was is it really her or was it like she did it once and was only able to do it once.”

“I had her audition – I didn’t tell her I wrote it for her. She auditioned against 30 of the best actresses of her generation who all wanted to play this part, and she’s the only one. It was just like night and day. She came in and it was just like she started doing it and I had to stop myself from giggling because I was having such a good time finally watching dialogue be said the right way.”

She just stands out when you’re watching her on that screen.

Jason Reitman: “Yes. It’s great because I think there’s multiple generations of women who see themselves in her and are excited to see her onscreen because they feel that they haven’t seen themselves portrayed in a loving way. That even though she’s annoying and she doesn’t know, and you want her to just kind of get her comeuppance, you know I love that girl. You know I love her for all her eccentricities, and I guess that’s a commonality in my films. I take people that are normally portrayed as a villain onscreen and I try to portray them as human beings. So that by the time they show vulnerability, and Anna has that kind of wonderful moment of vulnerability when she breaks down in the most public embarrassing place, in the hotel lobby, you just love her. You want to grab her and you want to hug her.

Jason Reitman: “Two movies, both with strong female protagonists. One is written by Jenny Lumet who wrote Rachel Getting Married. And the other one is the new Joyce Maynard book, Labor Day, that just come out.”

Well it’s good somebody’s out there presenting these strong women characters.

Jason Reitman: “You know, if you had told me six years ago that one of the kind of notable aspects of my films was going to be strong, unusual women you don’t see on screen, I would have said, ‘Come on, you’re full of sh-t. It just doesn’t seem like it’s in my DNA. And certainly when I made Thank You for Smoking I thought that was mainly really a guy’s movie, even though Maria Bello’s character is really great. And it’s not because I actually make women look good, because I don’t – I mean George Clooney is the star of this. It’s that there’s so little out there and that what I do comes across as unique when it comes to female characters. And for whatever reason, I’ve always loved tough women.”

I don’t think that’s really it though because there’s quantity and quality, and what you’re doing is quality. It doesn’t matter if there’s anything else like it or anyone else doing it.

Jason Reitman: “I guess so. I always loved tough women. I’ve always dealt well with them. Like even when I did commercials, I remember people would say you’ve got to watch out for the woman at this company or the woman at this agency. ‘She’s tough. She’s a dragon lady,’ or whatever. And I came to realize that I was always great with these women, that for whatever reason I would meet them and we would get on famously.”


December 5, 2009 - Posted by | 1

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