This week in the theaters Ivan Reitman’s raunchy comedy No Strings Attached, based off one of the hottest scripts from the blacklist by Liz Meriwether hits theaters with the odd duo of Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher and one hell of a supporting cast (sans Ludacris — what was he doing here?). The film deals with something we all love to watch, talk about, and do — have sex. From graphic sex scenes and period jokes, to Natalie Portman starring at Ashton Kutcher’s cock with 3D glasses saying things like “it looks like it’s coming at me” (and right before her Oscar too… bad timing) this is not you average rom com — though that doesn’t save it from the mundane cliches that plague this genre. That being said Reitman is a master at his job, whether it be producing or directing, the man knows his craft. I was surprised to find that even he has trouble within his job, apparently directing past 50 is even harder than getting started at 20 — and having a son that people want over you is not always the easiest.
Find out how he keeps going, what gets him excited, why Liz Meriwether is the new writing force to be aware of in town, and his explanation as to why sex is still so scary for the ratings board….
Anytime a filmmaker decides to take sex seriously in a film, they seem to be penalized for it by the ratings board. All of a sudden, by adding a condom it becomes more real. Isn’t that what we should be promoting?
Ivan Reitman: I totally agree with you, but to me the rating isn’t going to be an issue. We worked on this thing for about three years. We worked on the script and it was pretty evident right from the start that as far as everything I knew about how the MPAA ratings board worked, this was going to be a restricted film which people under 17 weren’t going to be able to see. It is unfortunate because I think this is a perfect movie for basically 13 or 14 up.
How did you get involved with your screenwriter Liz Meriwether?
IR: She is a playwright and I’ve written these very funny scripts and somebody who works for me said, ‘You should check out this Liz Meriwether,’ and they brought her in [she was in town from New York]. This was about three years ago. Much like you, I fell in love with her as soon as I talked to her for about a half hour. She cranked out a first draft in about two or three months that was so damn funny. It had no plot and it had no shape to it, but it had a series of conversations that were to die, many of which are in the movie. And then we took a couple of years to get the story so there was a movie.
How did Natalie Portman get involved with it?
IR: That very first draft had gotten on the Blacklist, one of the top, so it was kind of a sensation and Natalie got a hold of it and called me and I’d never met her before and we liked each other right away and she loved the script and sort of said she wanted to do it, and I said really? And she said, yeah. I think I thought of her as a serious, her image.. she was such a young girl. I made her a producer right away because I wanted her. I thought she was perfect as I talked to her. I saw this really lovely bodily kind of sense of humor that I didn’t know she possessed.
It’s nice to see her in this and the upcoming Your Highness, because you wouldn’t think that she’d do these types of comedies.
IR: I haven’t seen Your Highness, but this coming out at the same time as Black Swan is like, kind of amazing. They’re both about sex, but they’re polar opposites of each other in terms of attitude and character.
Speaking of actors taking on various roles, Carey Elwes has a part in this film as well. Did he have more scenes than what’s shown?
IR: He had more scenes. His stuff, it had nothing to do with his work, it was the line of the story that just didn’t take. It seemed to be extraneous to the real movie, but it was never a big part. I told Cary, I love you, I’ve loved you since Princess Bride and he actually came in and read and just blew the doors off. It was just so perfect. I said, what are you doing here? And I said, it’s kind of a small part. He said, ‘I don’t care, you can pay me minimum. I want to work with you because I love the script.’
He’s a real actor, huh?
IR: Yeah, just a real actor.
How do you decide what type of role you’re going to take when you make a film? If you want to direct, produce, write…?
IR: It’s often my option. It’s not always. I developed Old School and Road Trip with Todd Phillips. I found Todd Phillips at Sundance, actually my son introduced him to me because of a short he did or a documentary he had done called Frat House and we started working on Road Trip together and it was always going to be for him. And I really helped him go through those first stages as a professional filmmaker as opposed to kicking it around in the indie-world. Other times it’s just, I wasn’t really motivated. There’s also a certain attitude by the studios. Anybody over 50 shouldn’t direct anymore, somehow, particularly movies about this generation. I just knew I loved this script, it was my script, and I wasn’t going to let it go.
Do you get the same kind of satisfaction from producing a film?
Directing is your baby, your project?
IR: Always has been. I’m a good producer, so I got sort of side-tracked. I’ve just been having these conversations with my son, who just started producing now that he has directed these three amazing movies. About half-way through one, he recently said, ‘Okay dad, I get it. I don’t think I ever want to produce again.’
IR: It was very sweet.
As you were growing up, did people tell you that could only do one thing? A lot of filmmakers start writing, then producing, but you’re all over the place.
IR: Well people do put you in a role. It wasn’t role situations as much as ‘you’re the comedy guy’, so you can only do — a certain kind of comedy guy. It was hard to screen plays even at the height of my career that weren’t down that particular alley.
People just wanted you to do one thing?
What gets you excited?
IR: I’m really excited about this. This is the most fun I’ve had in decades. I love working with this group of actors, I think. Beyond acting and Natalie, I’m very proud of the ensemble I was able to put together. I don’t think I’ve had this good a group of people since Stripes, which was like a disgraced ensemble of people who went on to great success. Every time was a joy. The script was good. Our last act was working. I could tell right away. The extraordinary chemistry between Natalie and Ashton, I didn’t really know about it until I saw them in rehearsal for the very first time. I said, ‘Oh thank God!’ I remember thinking, after like 30-seconds, actually before we rehearsed the meeting, just sitting in the room that we weren’t doing scenes, we were just talking about the script, I got real excited.
No Strings Attached opens in theaters on Friday, January 21.