Barry Levinson's 'Diner' As Read By The Cast Of 'The League;' A Timeless Interpretation

Usually when I go to a Live Read, I know the movie like the back of my hand. Ghostbusters, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, American Beauty, these are all movies I've seen dozens of times and know backwards and forwards. However, the November reading was a film I'd never seen until this week: Barry Levinson's Diner. It totally deserves to be mentioned among those films, but it somehow fell through the cracks in my years as a film fan. It's as timeless, funny and poignant as any movie I've ever seen.

Watching the film, I began to worry about the Live Read. Sure this was a movie with dynamic characters based on a razor sharp script, but Levinson's film also created such a perfect atmosphere. The movie was 1959 Baltimore, from the weather to the locations, outfits and the music. Oh, the music. Diner is a jukebox full of awesome tunes and the Live Reads don't play music during the read. Was it going to work out?

Presenter and director Jason Reitman had an answer for that. To make the script move at a clip worthy of its amazing original cast, and to make the audience forget there was no music or settings to enhance it, he'd need actors who are incredibly familiar with each other. Actors with an ability to deliver filthy dialogue very fast, have perfect chemistry, talk a ton of crap and dish about football. How about the cast of FXX's The League?

Yes, almost the entire cast of The League read Barry Levinson's Diner at latest Jason Reitman Live Read, presented Film Independent at LACMA. Below, read what the cast brought to the script and what the script revealed about itself. 

Diner Live Read 1

Okay, so here's how the cast broke down. All photos by Araya Diaz/WireImage.

  • Nick Kroll in the role of Fenwick originated by Kevin Bacon
  • Paul Scheer in the role of Shrevie originated by Daniel Stern
  • Jason Mantzoukas in the role of Modell originated by Paul Reiser
  • Rob Huebel in the role of Billy originated by Tim Daly
  • Katie Aselton in the role of Beth originated by Ellen Barkin
  • Steve Rannazzisi in the role of Eddie originated by Steve Guttenberg
  • Nadine Velazquez in the role of Barbara originated by Kathryn Dowling
  • Mark Duplass in the role of Boogie originated by Mickey Rourke
  • Here are a few words that came to mind during the live read.


    If Jason Reitman had done what he usually did, and throw together a group of actors who've never worked together, Diner wouldn't have worked. But considering The League cast (everyone except Jonathan Lajoie, who plays Taco) have all been on a show together for six seasons, there was a strong level of familiarity. During crowd scenes, they talked over each other when they needed to. One actor would pick up the other's cadence and fall right in with it, making the dialouge sound incredibly natrual. If one person started to pick up the energy, so did the person on the other side of the conversation. The one down side was, because these are all actors with such great comedic sensibilities, some scenes that were intended to be dramatic (such as a showdown between Fenwick and his brother Howard) came off funny instead of serious.


    Every actor brought something unique to their role. As Boogie, Mark Duplass had a nice puffed up confidence. He wasn't as smooth or quietly powerful as Mickey Rourke, but who could be? This made him more likable, however. Nick Kroll got all animated in his seat to channel the often drunk and crazy Fenwick. His voice went up and down in register, creating a different but perfect interpretation of the character. In the film, Shrevie is a bit of a goof and Paul Scheer nailed that. What he also nailed was the characters's confusion and anger, especially in the record scene. In the film, Shrevie's wife Beth is quiet and almost scared, which Katie Aselton totally nailed. She also added just a touch of cluelessness that brought the whole thing together. Jason Mantzoukas played Modell, probably the smallest role of the group, but he killed it. He took Paul Reiser's trademark delivery and turned it up just a notch to make it his own. Billy is an important role, but a largely physical one thanks to scenes like the piano and punching, so it's a bit harder to do sitting down. Rob Huebel did a solid job though, adding an air of superiority needed for the role. Nadine Velazquez in the role of Barbara doesn't have a ton to do, but she made the smaller role very appealing with her loose, carefree delivery. However, out of everyone, Steve Rannazzisi is the one I'd be okay recasting in the film. He was Eddie, from the football talk to the lack of confidence, to crazy yelling and stupidity. It's a role very close to his character on The League.

    Minor characters

    As good as each actor was as their primary character, Diner is filled with secondary and tertiary characters and the actors all really reveled in these. Different voices, deliveries, big changes in volume, everything was played incredibly funny. In particular, Velazquez as Carol the popcorn girl, Knoll as the Rabbi at the end and Scheer as the gangster, Bagel, all had a lot of fun. These are all actors who are great at improv comedy and having to immediately switch to a different, weird, character, was right in their wheel house.


    Besides the people actually reading, one of the best parts of these live reads are the people not reading. Watching them tells so much about how dedicated to the event they are or not as well as how they're interpreting their character. Are they rigid, are they laid back? It's all very revealing. For Diner, with the exception of Kroll and Duplass on occasion, everyone was largely stoic. They were completely riveted to the script for the entire reading, staring and turning pages unison, like they were one body.


    At the beginning of the read, Reitman acknowledged there was some improv in the movie and differences between the page and screen but, for the most part, everything was on the page. Usually, these differences are one of the best parts of the live read and they're easy to pick up because I'm so familiar with the material. Being a new fan of Diner, I surely missed a bunch. One big one I did notice though is when they pick up Billy at the train station in the movie. In the script, it's an airport, and it's followed by an extended scene at the Diner of Billy telling a funny story about jumping out a window and making a teacher faint.


    In the end, the main take away from the Diner Live Read was that without the music and the setting, Barry Levinson's script could have taken place at any time, in any town, with any people. It's just a timeless piece of humanity. Sure the script has specific references to technology and pop culture but beyond that the fears of the characters, their goals, their interactions and desires, it all feels incredibly modern for a movie that's set in 1959 and written in the early 80s. That's the mark of a great script and the cast of The League did it justice.

    The next Live Read, presented by Film Independent at LACMA, is a big one: The Empire Strikes Back. Check back here to learn more about it