Rob Reiner

The thought of interviewing Rob Reiner is daunting. As a director, he’s responsible for some of the most popular and influential films of the past thirty years. Films like This Is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride and Stand By Me. As an actor, he started his career on one of television’s most important shows of all time (All In The Family). Now he’s part of Martin Scorsese‘s impressive ensemble in The Wolf Of Wall Street, playing Max Belfort, father of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio).

That’s a lot of history and talent wrapped up in one man, so when I spoke to Reiner I focused on what his directorial expertise tells him about Scorsese, what it was like being one of three directors who act in the film and how his latest two films, Flipped and The Magic of Belle Isle, inform his current view of the Hollywood landscape. Read the full interview below.

You haven’t acted in a while, so how did you get involved with this? Did Scorsese come to you specifically, or did you have to audition?

Well he calls, you know. He called and asked me to do it and if you know what’s good for you, when Martin Scorsese calls, you just do what he says.

Had you been thinking about coming back to acting or was it the Scorsese and the material?

No. The last couple of years I did some parts on New Girl. I played Zooey Deschanel’s dad on that, and that was fun to do. So any time a part comes along, that could be fun, I’ll do it. I mean, I remember years ago Ron Howard was making a movie called Ed TV and he called me and said ‘Do you want to be in the movie?’ And I said ‘Okay.’ He said ‘Well I’ll send you the script, you take a look at it and see if you like it’ and I said, ‘I don’t need to read the script. If it’s no good it’s not my fault, I’ll just be an actor.’ And that’s why I kind of like it. I mean I like it because, you know, it’s fun, you go in there and you do it and the director is the one who has all the headaches. You don’t have any of the headaches so it’s a fun kind of thing for me to do.

You are one of three actors-turned-directors in the movie. Did talk with Jon Favreau, Spike Jonze, or Scorsese about the fact that you all have roles in this movie?

You know we did talk about it and I think one of the reasons Martin likes directors if they can act is they’re not going to cause problems because they know what it’s like on the other side of the camera.When I show up to act in a movie for somebody else, I just want to be nice and helpful and do what they want because I know how difficult it is to make a movie. I don’t want to cause any problems. So you show up and do your job and I think if a director understands that, you don’t make a lot of demands.

What do you think makes Martin Scorsese so special?

Well, what makes him special and what sets him apart is that he really is committed to character and to the development of character to the point where the character becomes the story. I mean he’s not a traditional filmmaker in that he doesn’t structure a plot in any kind of traditional manner. He really focuses on the character and allows the character to become the plot, to become the story. He knows how to do that because he sets a tone on the set where you come in and you really can get into playing the person you’re playing.

I mean, he allows you to improvise. He knows that if you can improvise, you’re going to wind up with something that has a greater internal spark to it than anything that could be written. That is the way he makes movies. I think it’s a very gutsy way because it’s making a movie without a net. He doesn’t rely on, like I say, traditional story structure. So if you look at his character pieces, whether it’s Raging Bull or Taxi Driver or The Aviator or Goodfellas, they’re all about looking into a certain world and really getting inside the characters. It’s a very gutty way to make films. But he’s obviously he’s a master, he’s incredible.

Much has been made about the length of the movie. Were you in any scenes that got cut?

No, all the scenes I was in were in. I mean, we did a lot of different versions of those scenes and we improvised a lot of different versions of it, but essentially all the things I was in were in the movie. You know maybe there is a trim here and there. Basically he needs the time because, like I say, he doesn’t structure in a traditional way. He needs the time to develop the characters to the point where you really are invested. And then when it’s over you’ve had a full, satisfying meal because you’ve had a very intimate investment in all those characters.

I want to focus on two of your films that I don’t think people really ask you about, and they are your last two: Flipped and The Magic of Belle Isle.

Right.

Flipped, I loved. I put it on my top 10 list of that year and it’s so smart and funny but it just didn’t connect with audiences in theaters. Why do you think that happened?

Well, you know, it’s a very difficult film to market. I mean nobody makes those kind of films and I appreciate that it was one of your top films. It was one of my favorite films of anything I have ever made. I mean, for me, it’s like a companion piece to Stand By Me because it’s young people going through experience, experiencing feelings of love for the first time in their life and everybody has gone through that. And it’s told from both points of view, the boy and the girl. But there’s no names in it. I mean, there are not any big stars or anything like that and it’s really basically two young kids. It’s a tough thing to market.

Studios don’t make movies like that. And we did it for Warner Brothers but I don’t think they really knew what to do with it or how to handle it. But you know funny thing about movies, they have a way of creating a life of their own. I mean I’ve made movies that nobody saw initially and then all the sudden people over the years pick up on it. Like Spinal Tap and Princess Bride. People find movies after a while and hopefully they’ll find that one because it is one of my favorite movies.

Moving over to Belle Isle: First, I grew up in Monroe, New York which is next to Greenwood Lake, where the film is set and shot.

Oh yeah, right right.

And my girlfriend grew up in Greenwood Lake, so it was a really big deal that that movie happened. But getting a little more filmy about it, it was your first film that lived mostly on demand. What are your thoughts on VOD?

Well, I mean, the fact is we made a tiny little movie. It cost like $5 million and we made our money back because it was was released day and date in theaters and on demand at the same time. So we wound up doing okay with it. But again, it’s very tough to get these little films made that are purely character films. I admire what Martin Scorsese has been able to do with The Wolf of Wall Street because it’s not a cheap film. They had a long budget and he was able to put it together, but they struggled. I mean Leonardo DiCaprio had this project for a long time and it fell apart, the studio didn’t want it, and then he had Red Granite come in and finance it. So, I mean you just have to stick with it. But it’s tough to get these character films made.

Do you think that that is going to the future? Because Spielberg and Lucas said they think Hollywood is a ticking time bomb with all these blockbusters. Do you think this sort of smaller distribution model is the way that people should go in the future?

Well I don’t know. I mean every picture is different obviously, and if you’ve got one of these big tentpole franchise movies then you’ve got to blow it out with this huge ad campaign and try to make a lot of money. But there are so many channels now, there are so many ways of exhibiting films. I mean there is so much niche marketing and places you can go that it depends on the film. It really depends on the film.

Of your films, are there ones now considered classics that you knew had that potential while you were working on them?

You never know. You just make films and do what you think is something you like and hopefully other people like it, but you have no idea. I mean you can’t really think about box office or critics or any of that stuff because at the end of the day, it’s about does this picture have any longevity? I mean does this picture, will it be discovered? Is it something audiences will attach themselves to? And I’ve been lucky I’ve had a couple of pictures that have stood the test of time and have been around for a while, but you never know. You never know when you go in, you never know what’s going to click with an audience.

The Wolf of Wall Street opens December 25.

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