Posted on Friday, April 18th, 2014 by Germain Lussier
Early on in The Graduate, there’s that iconic moment. Ben Braddock, a recent college grad, is talking with the beautiful older family friend Mrs. Robinson. Ben says, “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.” It’s iconic thanks to director Mike Nichols’ choice of angle, the delivery of the line by Dustin Hoffman, and the way that one sentence sets the entire story into motion.
At Jason Reitman‘s final live read of the season, actor Jay Baruchel played the role of Ben Braddock. When he got to that line, delivered next to his Mrs. Robinson, Sharon Stone, the 32-year-old actor broke character, cocked his right arm on his side and whispered, “Yes!” He was excited, not just because he nailed the legendary line, but maybe he got the feeling what was to follow was going to go very well. Reitman’s casting of Baruchel as the nervous, unsure, yet charming and likable Ben couldn’t have been more perfect. The same could also be said for Sharon Stone, whose Mrs. Robinson was sexy, confident and cool.
Though both actors were merely sitting in chairs, reading lines of dialogue, their body language created an electric chemistry that turned the combination of a great cast and a flawless script into a memorable event. Below, read more details about the Film Independent at LACMA Live Read of The Graduate.
About half way through The Graduate live read, the night came into focus. It happened after Ben’s first date with Elaine, played by a live read regular, the magnificent Mae Whitman. There was Baruchel, hunched on the edge of his seat, filled with all the nervous energy and excitement you’d expect in that moment. To his right, Sharon Stone as Mrs. Robinson sat with her legs crossed towards him, ever so slightly turned towards him. On his left, Whitman did the same: legs crossed towards Baruchel, leaning in towards him. The physical symmetry of the two ladies, legs crossed towards nervous Ben in the middle was The Graduate in a nutshell and an encapsulation of the entire evening.
Of course, they weren’t the only actors Reitman assembled. In addition to Baruchel, Stone and Whitman, Kevin Pollak played Mr. Robinson, Paul Scheer played Mr. Braddock and Tig Notaro played Mrs. Braddock. Each provided strong support to the three leads and helped elevate the already fun night.
But the evening was really all about Baruchel and Stone. Baruchel is two years older than Hoffman was when he was nominated for the performance. While it’s impossible not to imagine Hoffman in the role, Baruchel did the best thing possible: he made it his own. Baruchel used his whole body to build and release energy; visually tensing up, gesticulating, and stumbling through dialogue effortlessly when the script called for him to do so. We really felt the character’s unease all the way through the piece.
In Mrs. Robinson, Stone had a less complex character, but she used her singular desire as an advantage. She played with the timing and the delivery of the dialogue, leaning back in her chair, her gaze often somewhere else, creating a Mrs. Robinson that was seductive, yes, but also a little colder than Anne Bancroft’s. That’s saying something. She was a perfect foil to Whitman, whose Elaine was so damn sweet and innocent, but easily hurt and broken. How Mae Whitman isn’t cast in every movie ever after participating in these live reads is beyond me.
Throughout the evening, it was almost as if Stone and Baruchel rehearsed these lines for days. The back and forth banter sounded like beautiful music. Each often turned to the other while talking, sometimes touching and addressing each other directly. At one point, when the characters meet in the hotel room for the first time, Stone turned to Baruchel basically daring him to kiss her like in the script. And he did, which got a huge applause from the crowd.
That crowd included Buck Henry, one half of the team who wrote the film, which certainly gave the evening some intensity. Some of the atmosphere was also derived from the lack of music by Simon and Garfunkel. The folk duo had multiple songs in the film; without them, the story lacks a certain sense of wonder imparted in Nichols’ film. It feels decidedly more serious. On the page, The Graduate is a beautifully written masterpiece with fantastic descriptions and stunningly poignant dialogue, but the Oscar-winning direction elevated it to the classic status it continues to enjoy to this day.
Jason Reitman’s Live Read of The Graduate, presented by Film Independent at LACMA pulled off the impossible. It did justice to one of the best films of the 1960s. Unfortunately, it was the last live read of the season but Reitman promised he’d be back in October. You can be sure we’ll be back too.
Photo credit: WireImage