Rob Reiner once redefined the romantic comedy with trailblazing hits as When Harry Met Sally The Princess Bride and The American President. Now Reiner returns to that familiar genre with a new take on the classic The Graduate. Jennifer Anniston stars as Sarah Huttinger whose life is in a tailspin. She’s finally agreed to marry her boyfriend Jeff but isn’t at all sure that marriage is what she really wants–in fact she’s not sure what she wants in general.
As conflicted as she is about her love life her professional life isn’t much better–an aspiring journalist Sarah’s career has stalled at the New York Times obituary column. To top it all off she’s on her way home to attend her sister’s wedding which means spending a lot of time with her tennis-obsessed Pasadena family. Somewhat of a black sheep Sarah’s never quite felt a part of things when it comes to her relatives. But when she meets Internet millionaire Beau Burroughs their encounter unexpectedly unlocks some well-kept secrets that may help Sarah uncover the truth about her family and finally discover who she truly is once and for all. Can the Reiner magic rub off once more? He talked to Garth Franklin.
Question: Rob can you tell me a little bit about your fascination with The Graduate…
Reiner: I don’t have a fascination with The Graduate as it relates to this film but I have a fascination with The Graduate as a film because it is clearly one of the great American films of all times. It’s a classic and there’s a reason why it’s on everybody’s top 100 list. When I saw it as a kid like a lot of people my age it spoke to us. It was definitely of the Zeitgeist at the time and we all were going the confusion of what to do with our lives and who we are and all that and it also had a filming style that was unique at the time and if you look back at it still holds up. So it worked on all the great levels plus it’s funny sexy and all of those things. So I have an interest in The Graduate but not as it relates to this film oddly enough even though you’d say well how could that be because it is a springboard to the movie. But to me this movie is not a remake of The Graduate it’s not a sequel to The Graduate it uses the conceit that the people in this film were the people that The Graduate was based on but that is just a springboard for this emotional journey that Sarah Huttinger goes on.
Question: What was your attraction to this in the first place ?
Reiner: Well initially I was called as a favour by Alan Horn who runs Warner Brothers who is a dear friend of mine for thirty years – we started Castle Rock together – and he said would you come in we’re in trouble can you help out. But you can’t just do that as a favour you can’t make a movie as a favour you have to find what about the movie you can connect with. Two things have to happen: could I find the emotional through-line of the movie that I could connect with and secondly did I want to accept the cast members because you’re not going to make a movie if you think one of the cast members is miscast. In this case I looked and I said they’re all perfectly cast; they’re exactly what is needed for the film. But the most important is to hook into the emotional through-line and so I identified it as this emotional journey that Jennifer’s character goes on – that we all need to go on to find out who we are so that we can make meaningful relationships and connections with other people. You can’t have a deep meaningful relationship with somebody unless you have a good strong purchase on who you are; so this became something that I could identify with and I think a lot of people can identify with is this emotional journey to self discovery and that’s what the movie is about. And I said okay I can tell that story.
Question: Okay. Sleepless in Seattle did a lot… mentioned a lot An Affair to Remember and this hearkens back to The Graduate is that a growing trend now to use classic films of the past to springboard on to a new subject?
Reiner: Well I… it’s only been done… you mention the two times and…
Question: Ye but it…
Reiner: …in Sleepless in Seattle they actually did talk about it and they actually acted on it. In other words they went and met at the Empire State Building and all of that stuff so they kind of used that more as a guide. Ours was kind of just like I say a springboard and then the wacky circumstance of the fact that she winds up going into the same place that her mother went you know. But it’s kind of honest and truthful because we do want to know who our mothers are because that’ll give us an insight into who we are. We want to know who our fathers our. In this case she lost her mother when she was nine so it was a big confusion in her life and she wanted to try to kind of go down the same path of her mother to get a greater understanding of who she was and in the process wound up sleeping with the same guy her mother slept with. That’s a kind of funny conceit that we have but I mean it wasn’t really trying to mirror The Graduate in that way.
Question: You’ve redefined the romantic comedy genre in so many ways with When Harry Met Sally and so on – I mean is it hard for you to find a romantic comedy these days – and they’re so hard to write and everyone seems to think it’s hard to write – that you connect with?
Reiner: They’re hard to find. I have made a number of romantic comedies and they’re pretty much all the same. I mean we do them in different variations. It’s like a musician writes a piece of music and then there are variations on the theme and you see a lot of variations on one theme. And mine has always been about the guy who has to come to understand who he is in order to make a good relationship. It’s always about the woman who’s been there and arrived and she’s just waiting for the man to catch up and become a complete person. This was the reverse of that and that’s what I found interesting. Here you have the guy who’s the solid citizen and the woman who can’t make the commitment and that to me is an interesting role reversal and I think it’s a product of the times and how we see the women’s movement and how it’s reflected in our society. We see women struggling with the same things men are struggling with and why shouldn’t they? Why should a woman have to be the emotional ballast of a relationship? Why can’t a woman be struggling with who she is? Now ultimately the relationship is not going to work unless you’ve got two realised people and that’s what this is about. But normally in my stories the man is always the least realised and he has to do some work on himself. This one was the woman and I thought well that’s a different thing for me; but I actually wound up relating to Jennifer because of that because we all want to realise ourself before we make commitments to other people.
Question: With an actress like Shirley MacLaine who’s been around for a long time does she take direction or do you just let her do as she wants?
Reiner: Not only does she take direction but she asks for it. I mean really good actors – even if they have tremendous craft which she does – there’ll be scenes where they want to hear how you hear it. There’s a music that comes to romantic comedy and all comedy there’s a music hitting the right notes in a particular scene. She’s got great craft so she’ll have an instinct on something and 9 times out of 10 it’s the right one, but then every once in a while she’ll say wait a minute I don’t know is that the right tone you want me to hit and I’ll say no how about this and she’ll go nope I know exactly… Now luckily you have somebody who has the craft that can play the notes for them and they go oh got it you know. It’s like a great studio musician, so she has all those things. But no she looks for direction a lot of times and she’s open to it and that’s what good actors do.
Question: Your star is Jennifer – I mean she’s kind of been in the spotlight for the last I don’t know eight months or so now and I don’t know if any of this was going on during filming but how did you see her coping?
Reiner: Right. You bring up an interesting point because she was going through the worst of all of this during the making of the film and most people didn’t know that. There was a lot of speculation going on but nobody was acknowledging that and then after the film finished a lot of the stuff came out, but she was dealing with it and experiencing it during the making of the film and I gotta tell you I have never seen anybody with such grace under fire as Jennifer was. I mean I have such respect for her. I never saw somebody exhibiting the kind of strength that she had. She was professional. She came to work and did what she needed to do. There were times when what she was going through applied in scenes and she would allow that to happen but for the most part you have to separate those things and do your work and so she was extraordinary; and a tremendously gifted actress who has the ability to play comedy drama. She can find the truth of a scene like that and knows how to blend the emotionality of it and the hour. Somebody who can be as adorable and attractive as she is a rare, rare commodity.
Question: Had you dealt with that sort of outside pressure before and was that a distraction?
Reiner: Yes I’ve done it. I mean when I did The Story of Us Bruce and Demi were going through some rough times. Now in that case Bruce brought a lot of that stuff to the set but it worked because it was all about a marriage breaking apart. So a lot of what was going on could be used.
Question: Now you said recently that you are not going to stand for Governor recently in the press in the last few days. Why did you come to that decision and what do you think of California and politics at this present moment in time?
Reiner: Well the reason I decided not to run for governor at this point was very simple – as what I stated in the announcement a few days ago in the L.A. Times – I have a young family. I have young kids and we had family meetings and they just didn’t want me to do this right now. They knew it was going to take me away from them and at the time they’re young and they need their dad around – that’s what we all decided to do. That’s not to say that down the road I might not do that because…
Question: Have you ruled it out altogether…
Reiner: I have not ruled it out because I’m still invested in California politics and wanting to do good things for children. We’ve got a ballot initiative that’s going to be on the June ballot next year for universal preschool. That’s going to give high quality preschool to every four year old in the state which is start the process of transforming our education system. So I am invested and I will continue to do things because I do care about that and if at some point, down the road, I feel that I can be more effective as an elected official then I’ll seek that.
Question: Rob can you talk about your next things – Whiskey River is that something that you’re working on next?
Reiner: Yes. I will direct it if we can get a script that works and that the studio will allow me to do. It’s something that I’ve been working on for a while now. It was an idea that came to me by James Webb who is the former Secretary of the Navy under Reagan and he is a military man his whole life and his son is actually going to be deployed to Iraq next year and he had this idea about the fairness of what we ask of our men and women in uniform and it poses the question that if we are in a moral and just war then why should only a small segment of the population have to sacrifice – shouldn’t we all have to sacrifice. And it’s being written now by John Patrick Shanley.
Question: And did you also do a voice in Yankee Irving which was a film that Christopher Reeve was doing before he died.
Reiner: Right. Right. It’s a feature length animated film that Fox is going to release next year and it was the last project that Christopher Reeve was involved in. He was supposed to direct it.
Question: Who ended up directing it?
Reiner: Well one of the guys who did Toy Story II and has done other animated films.
Question: So it that completed…
Question: Are you acting…
Reiner: I’m acting. I play a baseball.
Question: Do you miss acting?
Reiner: Oh no I don’t miss it. I like it whenever I’m doing it. I have fun whenever I’m doing it.
Question: So that was completed then that’s done?
Reiner: It’s finished – ye it’s finished. I actually have a couple of things to do one more session to do. I’ve done about ten sessions.
Question: What kind of a character is this?
Reiner: He’s a baseball – a talking baseball. (Laughter)
Reiner: Yes he’s a ball that was found by a young boy in a sandlot who had been discarded. His dream was always to be in the major leagues this baseball and the first time he was thrown he was hit out of the stadium foul – so he’s basically a foul ball and he’s been lying fallow in this sandlot for years and he’s picked up by this kid and the two of them together find… these bad guys stole Babe Ruth’s bat and Babe Ruth needs the bat to win the World Series and they go on this adventure to try to recover the bat to give it to Babe Ruth.
Question: Do you have any plans with your father?
Reiner: Not right now but I have done in the past.
Question: Were you pleased that Schwarzenegger’s ballots were defeated…
Reiner: I was pleased with that. I actually campaigned against it and I was pleased not because there might not have been merit to some of those initiatives but because the way in which they went about it was… it was like a power grab and it didn’t allow the unions and the other side to be participants in the reform. I think if you’re going to do any kind of meaningful reform you’ve got to bring labour leaders and business leaders together to the table to work out differences – you don’t just do a once-sided power grab and I think that’s what… that’s what the public saw and they rejected it.
Question: Who do you think is going to be the Democratic candidate?
Reiner: Well there are two right now there’s Steve Westley who’s the State Controller and there’s Phil Angelides who is the State Treasurer and they’re both going to be vying for the nomination. They’re both good men and I think it’ll be a tough primary.
Question: Will Arnold be re-elected?
Reiner: I think he could be. I mean I think it’s going to be a tough race.