Ghostbusters. Meatballs. Twins. Dave. Just a few of Ivan Reitman’s contributions as a director, and that’s not even including Six Days, Seven Nights [one of Nick’s guilty pleasures]. He also produced Old School, Private Parts, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and Jason Reitman! Not a bad mix, all told. The man has been at the forefront of Hollywood comedy since most of us were in diapers or testicles. Devin dug his latest directorial effort, My Super Ex-Girlfriend (reviewed here), and spoke to the legend in an exclusive interview. Enjoy!
Q: I know you were interested in doing Batman before Tim Burton got to him. I guess My Super Ex-Girlfriend is your opportunity to do a superhero movie.
Reitman: No, it’s my opportunity to do a romantic comedy. It just so happens that one of the characters has special powers.
Q: The film does manage to be really spot on with the superhero clichés and conventions, though.
Reitman: I am an old comic book geek, like most of the Baby Boom generation. My real inspiration wasn’t to do another big special effects film – I figured there are enough of those this summer. I really wanted to make something that’s very funny that uses that character to throw a new light on to the romantic comedy. Romantic comedies are tough to make now because we’ve seen them so often that we understand the formula so well. How do you do a fresh one? When you get it right, it’s really delightful, and I was trying to find a way to create a new delightful romantic comedy that was set in the real New York.
Q: Uma Thurman is playing a role that feels like a real departure for her, because to be frank she’s kind of nuts in this one.
Reitman: She has a little bit of looniness in her for real, which is one of the reasons I wanted to cast her. She’s an extraordinary woman and I can’t think of anybody else who would be right for this part. For one thing she’s about eight feet tall and is gorgeous and is smart and is a really good actress, and she has all this baggage from movies like Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction that sort of make the role even more delicious. Most importantly there is a kind of looniness to her that I don’t think has been seen very often in her roles. I thought if I could capture some of this there would be something wonderfully amusing about her in the movie. Audiences seem to agree.
Q: This past weekend I was talking to Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman and Talladega Nights. We were talking about the history of movie comedies and about how there’s been a return to ensemble comedy casts. You have four really funny people as the leads in this film. How did you get that group together?
Reitman: Well you know, I have a long history of making ensemble comedies –
Q: Oh yeah. We were actually using Stripes as one of the main examples of the great ensemble comedies of the past.
Reitman: Thank you. Luke Wilson and I wanted to work together again – we had worked together on Old School and then we almost worked together again on another film a few years ago that fell apart. We wanted to work together since then, and when I read the script I thought he would be perfect as the center of it. He’s this wonderful comedic actor who doesn’t get enough attention for how funny and how wonderful a comedian he really is. He is like the quintessential American guy who we wish we could be friends with or fall in love with and who’s really amusing and funny all the time. I think he has amazing comedy chops that audiences will come to love in this film. As I was saying about Uma earlier, I couldn’t think of anybody else who would be better, so I sent the script to both of them and hoped they would do it.
Rainn Wilson was the first person I read when I was auditioning people. I didn’t know him, and I didn’t know about The Office because that show wasn’t really a hit yet. He just knocked me out at the reading – I couldn’t believe he was as good as he was and unknown.
I was always a big fan of Eddie Izzard and thought he would be a perfect kind of so-called supervillain and an important character in this movie.
Q: Why do you think the tides of comedy have changed in that way? For a while there weren’t a lot of the ensemble comedies but now they’re coming back in a big way.
Reitman: I think it’s because it’s so hard to get the really big guns and they’re so expensive. They get tied up and everybody wants to make comedies. Sometimes they figure if we can put three or four funny people together it’ll equal one really big movie star comedian. I’m guessing that. I’ve always did it because I think that’s the way to do it – it’s wonderful to see these people work together.
Q: You made one of the quintessential New York City movies, Ghostbusters. You’ve come back for this film – what’s different in the twenty years between these movies when it comes to shooting in New York?
Reitman: I think the city is more beautiful now than it was even then. I love New York. This is my fifth movie here – I did the two Ghostbuster movies, I did Legal Eagles, and of course Private Parts, which is a New York environs movie. This is the fifth one I’ve shot here. I love the Woody Allen movies of the 70s that were love letters to the city, and I thought there must be a new century way to show the beauty of the city in a fresh way. I looked for locations and places that are not clichés to sort of send my own love letter to the city.
Q: You’ve been doing a lot of producing, but not a lot of directing. It’s been five years between director gigs for you now.
Reitman: I know, how ridiculous! As soon as I got on the streets and started shooting I thought, ‘I am an idiot. I should have been doing this a while ago.’ I didn’t find anything that I got charged up for until now. A couple of things fell apart before they were about to go, and next thing you know five years goes by. I’m certainly going to try to not wait that long next time.
Q: I keep hearing about Old School 2. Is there any movement on that?
Reitman: We’re writing it right now, so hopefully that’s going to happen. The plan is to bring everybody back together and do it again. The negotiations are going to be very interesting. I think everybody likes the idea of working together, so I have my fingers crossed.
Q: Your son Jason made his directorial debut this year with Thank You For Smoking, and the film was so well received. Is there a sense of competition now?
Reitman: No, he’s great. Here’s here in New York supporting me today. I think he’s got a wonderful future in front of him. I think it’s great that he found his own voice as a filmmaker, and I think we’re going to see great stuff from him.
Q: You went back and added footage to the film for the Stripes DVD. Is that something that you like to do, or was that a special case for you?
Reitman: The best cuts of my movies are the ones that are in theaters. I’ve never been forced to change an edit of my film for any reason from an outside force. For better or for worse, the movies you see in theaters are the movies as I wanted them to be. Including Stripes. What I knew about Stripes is that I had all this material – it was pretty early in my career and we had done a ton of stuff. There was this one sequence in particular that I remembered as being pretty funny that never seemed to fit the movie itself but was this great, funny seven minute edition. So when Columbia Pictures said they wanted to do an updated Stripes DVD and put it in stereo – all of that I love. You actually get a print of Stripes on DVD that is better than what was shown in 35, and the mix is better.
Those opportunities were good and then I thought, let’s see if we can dig up some of this old stuff. It’s so wonderful to see Bill Murray and Harold Ramis in their prime, and plus guys like John Candy and John Larroquette and Judge Reinhold, who were making their film debuts in Stripes. It’s just a golden opportunity to see those guys at work. So we found about twenty minutes of stuff. None of it, I think, is right if I was going to do a theatrical version of the movie. There was one scene that was about thirty seconds long, or maybe a little longer, and it was a lovely, funny sex scene between PJ Soles and Bill Murray when they’re in Germany. I probably would leave that in a finished 35 mm theatrical version. The other scenes are just entertaining to see, particularly that South American sequence. It’s kind of a very funny, goofy curiousity, but probably would not be that good in the theatrical version.
Q: I grew up on the film, so it’s fun to see this stuff that seems completely fresh.
Reitman: Right. It’s fun to see that stuff, and it certainly doesn’t hurt it, especially in a DVD form. I’ve not really done that in any other movie. I’ve never thought there was stuff worth pulling out from my other movies.
Q: My Super Ex-Girlfriend seems like a very hard PG-13.
Reitman: You mean very sexy?
Q: Yeah. In the world we live in today I keep expecting PG-13 to be even tamer than PG was in the 70s and 80s. Did the MPAA give you a hard time about the sex scenes?
Reitman: I think it was right on the line. I think we took it as far as we could. They gave us some difficulty on some of the lines that we altered subtly, but I’m really happy with the movie in the way it turned out.
Q: We hear about the return of the R-rated comedy and you’re associated with some of the all time great R-rated comedies of the past. Do you have a project lined up that might end up R?
Reitman: I have no problem with making one, I think Old School 2 will be an R-rated comedy. In terms of my directing one, I would certainly do it if I had the right project.