Keeping Up with the Steins Interview

The family comedy is a real family affair

Keeping up with the Steins is a family comedy about reconciliation and understanding the true meaning of the Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish ceremony of initiating a boy into manhood. Daryl Sabara (of Spy Kids fame) stars as twelve-year-old Ben Fiedler. His father Adam (Jeremy Piven) and mother Joanne (Jami Gertz) are obsessed with outdoing the luxurious, incredibly expensive Bar Mitzvah thrown by the Stein family for their son. Adam and Joanne decide not to invite Adam's estranged father Irwin (Gary Marshall), even though Adam's mother Rose (Doris Roberts) wants him there. He abandoned the family and is thoroughly despised by Adam. Ben is curious about his grandfather and secretly invites him. Irwin shows up on the family doorstep with his hippie, new-age girlfriend Sandy (Daryl Hannah) in tow. Sparks fly as the family deals with each other and Ben's upcoming Bar Mitzvah.

The film is a real family affair with first-time director Scott Marshall directing his father, the renowned director and producer Gary Marshall, in an acting role. Scott, Gary, Doris Roberts, and Daryl Sabara were recently in New York to open their film at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here is the cast and director on being Jewish, what's the real meaning of a Bar Mitzvah, and what it was like to work together.

Who here is actually Jewish?

Doris Roberts: I am.

Gary Marshall: I'm Italian; part English, but mostly Italian. My father was Italian. He changed our name to Marshall. My sister Penny is also Italian and so is Scott.

Daryl Sabara: I am. I had a Bar Mitzvah shortly after the movie. I didn't have a big party or anything. The movie convinced me. I had a good time.

Really, so how was your Bar Mitzvah?

Daryl Sabara: It was on the fourth of July. It was pretty quick. I already had a sense that it wasn't just about the party. After the movie, I didn't have any second thoughts. I really think that lots of people overdo it and they don't realize it's about taking responsibility.

Scott Marshall: It was really small. He sang a song, did the ritual and ceremony. The party was right there in the room. It was really mellow.

Where the non-Jews familiar with any of the Bar Mitzvah details?

Gary Marshall: I grew up in the Bronx and we had a lot of them. There's a lot going on in the Bronx. My son, more so, because he grew up in LA. He's been through a lot of them, some pretty elaborate.

Scott Marshall: I did go to a school with a lot of Jewish children. I always wanted a Bar Mitzvah. I was a little jealous of the big parties and the moment where they get to become a man. This film is like I finally got to have my Bar Mitzvah. I had to shoot three of them. It was fun...and I learned Daryl's Torah portion. I didn't really know what a Bar Mitzvah meant. Richard Benjamin has a great line in the movie, "Before you're thirteen, whatever you do is your parent's fault. After you're thirteen, it's your fault. Don't do anything stupid." That's the nice message.

Daryl Sabara: He can recite it even now.

Daryl, did you use the same one from the film?

Scott Marshall: It's different! You'd think he would have used the same one from the film. Actually...they change it every date.

Daryl Sabara: I didn't know that either. They do change them every date, so you don't know which one you're doing.

Is there really a lot of competition between families to outdo each other?

Doris Roberts: Yes, I think it's outrageous and stupid.

Does the meaning really get lost, as the movie tells us?

Doris Roberts: You're losing the point of what the whole ritual is about. I think the picture tells it very well.

Gary Marshall: I see it in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, in show business, in weddings, in Bar Mitzvah's, even in sweet sixteen's. It's a whole thing. My grandson went to a birthday party, he's three, and they had a band. They're three years old and they got souvenir bags. There's lot of affluent people, who instead of helping others, are helping themselves. They give them too much and they wonder why the kids aren't doing well. I have to be honest, there are kids out there overdosing on drugs, jumping out of windows. Somebody's kid is always od'ing. I ask my son how we got through it. Sports was one thing, but the other thing is that someone was always home. For a lot of kids, there's no reason to go home. It's getting messy, material things are undercutting all the emotions left in a family.

How instrumental were you in helping your son get the movie made? And how did you come to act in the film?

Gary Marshall: I must say I had none. I've always encouraged him. He's shot second unit for my sister Penny and I. He's learned, he went to film school. Penny and I thought, we really should send these kids to film school because we don't know what the hell we're doing. So Scott on his own got his first picture, and I was not his first choice for acting. He tried getting Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Marty Landau; it wasn't even close because they didn't want to do the skinny-dipping. This is not a high budget movie where you could pay somebody. He needed an office to interview the kids and I was the only one who could read with them. I read every few days, and finally the producers said, "What about your father?"

Scott Marshall: I got the script from the producers. They had the script and a little bit of money. I read it, I loved it, and I wanted to do it. I said I wasn't Jewish, but I married a Jewish girl, so that's close. We went to Jeremy Piven, he was my first choice and we got him attached. We started reading kids with my dad. Nobody wanted to do the skinny dipping scene and I didn't want to cut it out. We hadn't attached Daryl Hannah yet, so that might have helped. I didn't really want him in my first movie. I didn't think he was right for the part, but the more he read, I thought he could work. He turned out great.

So how was shooting that nude scene? It's hilarious.

Gary Marshall: We had no body doubles, there was no money. Well, I gave it a shot. Scott first told me Daryl Hannah was going to do it, that's how he opened up. Well, Daryl's very pretty isn't she?

Doris Roberts: You haven't seen that reverse shot. We've found out he isn't Jewish. (everyone laughs hysterically)

Gary Marshall: She just stood there!

How was it being directed by your son?

Gary Marshall: It was good. I said early to the cast that I'm not butting in. Doris knows what to do, so he learned to open to the actors. Actors always know how they will look better.

Doris Roberts: His instincts are absolutely wonderful. He creates an ambience that makes you feel free to do things. He's really very good and the picture shows it.

Doris, You've mentioned it's great to be in a movie about Jewish life that isn't about the holocaust.

Doris Roberts: I think so. I also loved the character I had to play. Women are divorced, and they turn out to be so bitter and angry about life. They spend the rest of their lives hating men. I didn't want to do that. I loved this guy, but it didn't work because he was a goof off. I thought she would be a good role model for women, not to be diminished because their man left them.

Gary Marshall: Both of my sisters are divorced and Scott has seen that. I think he was very happy with the way the role was played.

Why was Daryl such a perfect choice to play Ben?

Scott Marshall: My dad was not playing the grandfather yet and he came into read. He was great, a nervous, shy twelve year old. He was perfect. Although he's a foot taller now.

Daryl, do you still get nervous?

Daryl Sabara: No, now it's a lot easier, especially to talk to women. (everyone laughs) It was just that transition from twelve to thirteen. But I grew, and that helps, gave me some more self-confidence.

What was it like working with Jeremy Piven?

Scott Marshall: We lucked out. We shot this around the same time they shot "Entourage", the first season. We had to push. It turned out huge for him. I didn't know he was playing an agent. I got really nervous when it started to run. I was like, "Shit! It's the same character." Then I started watching it and realized it's not. It's hard-edged, like a shark, and he will scam you. Our Adam Fiedler has a heart of gold. I was relieved it wasn't the same. He was always my first choice. I've always believed he should be a lead actor.

What would have been the ideal or dream Bar Mitzvah?

Scott Marshall: I would have had a "Star Wars" theme. Jaws would have been a good Bar Mitzvah. (laughs)

Daryl Sabara: I really enjoy stand-up. Conan O' Brian, Jim Carrey, or Jack Black, a full stand-up comedy Bar Mitzvah.

Keeping Up with the Steins is in limited theaters today.