Director Jason Reitman is on a role! First with Thank You for Not Smoking, then Juno, and now Up in the Air, he’s proved that all three times can be a charm. If you liked either of his previous works, than you’re going to love his latest film, Up in the Air starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, with a number of amazing supporting roles by Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Zach Galifianakis and more.
Sadly, at the press conference for for the film at The London Film Festival, Clooney was unable to show up because (as always) he was busy working away on another one of his many projects. But! We were graced by the extremely humble and hilarious, Jason Reitman who is just as charming and funny as his films, the gorgeous and talented Vera Farminga, and the adorable new-comer who will blow you away Anna Kendrick.
You can read my first response to the film or check out what they had to say about the film below in one of the most laid back and entertaining press conferences I’ve ever been to…
Up In The Air is based on a book. If I were to read the book, would I recognize it in the film?
Jason Reitman: Yes and No. The book is about a man who fires people for a living and is about a man who obsessively collects air miles, but if I had directed the book exactly as if was, these two lovely ladies next to me would not be here because their characters are not in the book. The way I use source material, I see it as a tool box. There’s a story that I want to tell, and I’m looking for the right words. I’ll read a book or i’ll read an article and suddenly it will just be the language that I’ve been looking for to say something that I mean to say, or ask something that I’ve been meaning to ask. At that point it just becomes a tool box of ideas that I can either follow literally or sometimes I take someones dialogue and give it to someone else, or in this case I really chose a main character that would ask the questions that I wanted to ask.
Jason, I read that you wrote the role with George Clooney in mind. Is that true?
Jason: Yeah, I wrote the role with him in mind and with Vera and Anna in mind as well. It’s easier for me to write when I know who I’m actually writing for. That’s often how I identify the voice of the character. I had met Vera before and I’d seen many of her films. I knew the things that she was able to do that no other actresses is capable of doing. It was because she was able to walk that very fine line of being aggressive and feminine at the same time that I was able to write balance for what I did. It was because I saw Anna in “Rocket Science” and knew the sparkle and brilliance of her mind and how fast she is that I was able to write Natalie the way I did. If you’re going to make a movie about a guy who fires people for a living and you still want to like him, that actor better be dam charming and I don’t think there’s a more charming actor alive than George Clooney. I was very lucky he said yes.
What if he’d say no?
Jason: I would probably just ended my career right there and then. The story is actually kind of funny. I had been writing it for six years and I told his agent, “Look I’m about a week away or a month away from finishing this screenplay. In the middle of that I’m going to Italy on vacation with my wife,” and he said, “Well if you’re going to go to Italy you should just go see him.” I said, “That sounds like an awful idea, I don’t want to go see him if he hates my screenplay,” and he’s like, “No, no. Just go, he’ll love to see it.” I told him that I would send him the screenplay and if (George) enjoyed it, I would drop by. So I get to Italy and I call his agent up and ask him if he liked it and he told me to go see him.
We drive there and get to his house in Como. One of the first things he asks me is, “So what are you working on these days?” It’s a screenplay, it’s called Up In the Air and he says, “Oh I got to find that, I got to read that.” I was just trying to prove that I was a man to George Clooney. I played basketball with him; I hand’t done that since 8th grade. I never drink; I tried drinking with George Clooney. He opened four bottles of wine and I don’t know how I didn’t die of alcohol poisoning. Finally, around the end of the second day, he disappeared for a while and we walk into a room and he said, “I just read it, it’s great. I’m in.” Those are the words that changed my life and one of the greatest moments I’ll ever remember from my career.
Where the interviewers in the film authentic fired people?
Jason: When I started writing the screenplay seven years ago, the economy in America was very different. We were basically at the table end of an economic boom and I decided to write a corporate satire of a man who fired people for a living and wrote comedic scenes in which people lost their jobs. By the time it came to shoot this film, it just wasn’t funny anymore. I couldn’t go about shooting these scenes as written. We were scouting in St. Louis and Detroit, and the idea just came that we should try to use real people.
So we put an add out in the help wanted section saying, “We’re making a documentary about job loss and we’re looking for people who would go on camera and talk about their experience.” We got an overwhelming amount of response and we brought in 100 people. 25 are in the finished film, so the outside the people you recognize like J.K. Simmons, Zach Galifianakis, and Tamala Jones, everyone else who loses their job in this movie is a real person who came in and sat down at the table with an interviewer and for about 10 minutes answered questions about what it’s like to lose your job in an economy where really there is nothing available and you have to consider some very dire decisions.
After then we would fire them and asked them to respond the way they did the day they lost their job, or whatever they wished they had said. This would turn into improv scenes in which they would pelt our interviewer with all sorts of questions that he did not know the answer to. Their severance about why they lost their jobs instead of Jeff and they just went on. Some people were really angry. Some people got emotional and cried. Some people were really funny and I’m so grateful for their participation in the film. I could of never written the type of things that they said.
Jason you have a history of writing strong female characters. Do you think there’s a shortage of those in Hollywood right now?
Jason: Yes. I like to write original films and many of the men stories have been told and so many of the women stories haven’t. I’ve fallen in love with many really smart women over the course of my life. The most recent and personally the last one being my wife. I enjoy spending time with my wife, talking about these things. The best scene I’ve ever written and I only wrote half of it and that’s the scene in this movie where Vera and Anna talk about what they look for in a man at each of their ages. The only way I could write that is I asked my wife to have a conversation with herself at 18-years-old about what she looked for in a man. Everything they say is true to her, which breaks my heart every time she watches an audience because they laugh at her for five minutes. I enjoy writing for women and I enjoy working with actresses and I’ve just very fortunate. I’ve made three movies now and throughout all of them from Maria Bello on Thank You for Smoking and then with Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner on Juno and then not only Anna and Vera, but also Amy Morton, Melanie Lynskey — I’ve just been surrounded by great actresses. I just hope I can work for more and more.
Vera, how did you access your character when you first read them?
Vera Farminga: I didn’t have the luxury of reading the script without knowing what happens in the end. It was challenging to play a woman who is very much like a man. Often times when a women behaves this was it can be interpreted as — it was difficult for me to — it was a fine line, I found, to thread to have the softness and yet take control of her sexuality. I really like the male perspective of heartbreak.
In the nude scene, was that really you?
Vera: I had about six pounds more chunk on badonka donk. I was pregnant. And I did do the scene. I think my bottom half had become too large. I did attempt to do nudity. I got to choose my body-double and I thought that Jason did a good job in selecting someone that was pretty accurate.
Jason: [Joking] I studied her films to make sure that it was the exact representation. I’m a very specific director, both actresses will tell you that.
Anna, what in particular appealed to you about your character?
Anna Kendrick: First it’s that sort of rare thing. This girl who is so intelligent and complicated and her character does not revolve around a romantic story line. That was enough to make it fascinating in itself because it just doesn’t happen, you don’t read scripts like that. I was normally so timid in real life that I’m really excited my character is someone who gets to tell people off and I’m telling off George Clooney, which is pretty awesome.
Anna, how did you feel when you got this role?
Anna: I was shocked beyond belief because I thought Jason hated me. My audition was very plain and I think Jason was trying to suck me out by showing any kind of enthusiasm, but I thought he hated me. When I got the job I was so shocked and I thought he we just like that, he’s just going to be a time rack on set. But he’s very, very nice. I was surprised. I was thrilled beyond words. the script is so beautiful. And I didn’t think that George was doing it, for whatever reason I just assumed it was just too good to be true for a script to be this good and to be working with George Clooney, I just thought it was one of those things were it was rumored. And then Jason told me the Italy story and I got really excited. That was one of the funnest parts, seeing him, eating lunch with him, trying to act like, “Oh right, of course, you knew me,” because I’d do that kind of thing.
Why did Anna think you hated her Jason?
Jason: Well look, one, I’m a mean guy (laughs), but two — I wrote the role for Anna and Anna auditioned against thirty of the best actresses of her generation and I needed to know that she could actually do it. I basically saw her in one movie, and she’s great, but I needed to see her actually read the lines. When she walked in, I didn’t want her to get psyched out by saying, “Hey, I wrote this role for you,” because then she would probably freak out because it would become hers to lose. Since I’m a horrible actor myself, in trying not to show that I was already a huge fan of hers, I probably wasn’t as nice as could have been. It’s like when you meet a pretty girl and you don’t want to show her that you think she’s pretty so you’re trying to act as discreet as possible, and not yourself, and pretty soon you’re acting like a jerk.
The Up In The Air script was 7 years in the making. How did your timeline work?
Jason: The time line is that no one would make Thank You for Smoking. So I started looking for something else to write and direct. I found this book, fell in love with it, and I started writing it. Then out of nowhere, a millionaire, one of the creators of PayPal, who had sold PayPal to Ebay for $1.5 billion with his partners decided he wanted to make movies. He read my script, he got it form a friend, and called my agent and said, “Hey, I’d love to make this movie.” He wrote a check for $6.5 million and made Thank You For Smoking and all of a sudden I wasn’t writing Up In The Air anymore.
I made Thank you For Smoking, went back to writing Up In The Air and then Juno came into my life and it was this irresistible screenplay that I knew if I didn’t direct, I would regret for the rest of my life. The interesting thing was that I basically finished the screenplay after Juno, out five years into it, I basically got to the end of the script having never gone back and reread what I’ve been writing and as I read from start to finish, I watched myself grow up.
Over the course of the six years that I wrote the script, I became a professional director, I bought a home, I got married, I became a father. In the first act, we have a cynical guy in his 20s who’s really just a satirist and over the six years I became a bit more sophisticated as a writer, but I also realized that this was important in my own life and that really changed Ryan’s journey as I continued to write.
What was your experience having to do emotional scenes in the middls of airports?
Anna: Well actually it was a hotel lobby and it was a little uncomfortable. It was still just the space and the extras and even though their a part of the film, you don’t know them. It’s still sort of embarrassing. On that particular day, it was less about other people, it was more about the space.
Vera: What was most amusing for me was the fanaticism that George attracts and that was overwhelming and so odd. For me, no one ever knows who I am, they always think I’m a producer of the film. But watching George have to deal with that and having just to simply open the door and close it and there’s a standing ovation that goes lost, and he’s so gallant and gracious and takes his bow.
What was the overall experience like shooting in so many public places?
Jason: It’s a total pain in the ass. Shooting in airports is very difficult. We shot in four international airports. There was actually a fair amount of access and because American Airlines partnered in this film basically our trade was that they were our airline and hay gave us access to all their checking gates, as well as their departure gates. But still all the actors had to go through security, everyday, on the way to the set. They would put George through as much security as they possibly could. We had to bring in our own electricity and the wire from our generators through an airport. It was really tricky. We are the first film to actually shoot the TSA — it’s this thing of going through security — usually if you see that in a movie, you’re looking at metal detectors that were thrown at a convention center hallway or something. This is the real thing and all of the people on camera were real TSA security people who volunteered their time.
Anna: They were really picky about what they did and didn’t want to do onscreen. You had to talk this woman into crossing off the name and then stamping the thing. She was like, I don’t wear gloves. Her supervisor had to come over and tell her it was okay.
Is this the first time you and your father have worked together? How was it?
Jason: This is the first film that my father and I have actually worked on together. I avoided doing it in the first movies. I wanted to make a name for myself. And once I made a couple films, there’s nothing that made me more proud. My father wrote one line in this movie and that line is, “Oh that’s like firing people on line.” It’s a monster line. It’s a really proud moment for me it’s as if we were in a baseball game and he just showed up and was like, “Oh you want me to hit one? Sure.” [Home-run expression]
How to you get distinguished actors to do such small roles, how much explanation do they need?
Jason: Once I give a great role like the ones I gave to Vera and Anna, I presume that on the next film, they’ll come in for free and offer four lines of dialogue each. I’ve begged all of them to come in and do those roles and they’ve all been very gracious. I try to keep a strong relationship with them so that when I ask to come back and do these roles. When I started my career, my thing in school was I wanted to be a director that actors want to work with. Actors make movies, not only fiscally, but they make them work and I knew that the only way I would ever be a successful director in the way that I want to be a filmmaker would be if good actors actually wanted to work with me. I’m slowly trying to work my way towards that. And I look at people like Sam Elliot, who show up for a day, and that makes me more proud than anything.
Jason can you talk about your choice in your films?
Jason: I start putting together my Itunes library while I’m writing a screenplay and I’m very specific about music and it’s a very personal thing for me. I originally thought that this movie was going to be done to Hank Williams music and then I got into the edit and realized I was wrong and started moving into folk music. But it’s very personal for me.
The film balances between the darkness of everybody getting fired and the optimism of these people finding new jobs and the cherry on top of that was the song that came in at the end of the credits. How did that come about?
Jason: That was dumb luck. After Juno, I’d gotten use to teenagers sending these songs. The idea of them appearing in one of my films, but I’d happen to be speaking in a college in St. Louis, where we were shooting, and a man in his mid-50s came to me with this song and that was unusual. He handed me a cassette tape. So first off I had to find a please to actually listen to this. We find a car and sat back and I was ready for something ridiculous and instead along came this voice, which is in the credits now, and he introduced himself, explained how he had lost his job. He was now in the middle of his life trying to figure out the purpose of his life. He started to singing a song that had never been written, but it’s an authentic song.
I guess my feeling was that we’re in the middle of one of the worst recessions on record in America and about a million people have lost their jobs in the last year. But we really don’t experience who these people are, they’re often just numbers on newspapers, percentages. And he was a guy who was able to sing very authentically about how he felt and I thought what a better tribute than to end the movie. And I new halfway through listening that it was going to be in the credits.
The film will be hitting theaters December 25th.