Jason Reitman's follow-up to Thank You for Smoking is getting critical praise
We attended the Los Angeles movie-junket for Jason Reitman's new independent drama-comedy, Juno. The film has been receiving much praise from many of the better-known movie reviewers.
Juno stars Ellen Page as the title character, a whip-smart teen confronting an unplanned pregnancy by her classmate Bleeker (Michael Cera). With the help of her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), Juno finds her unborn child a "perfect" set of parents: an affluent suburban couple, Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), longing to adopt. Luckily, Juno has the total support of her parents (JK Simmons and Allison Janney) as she faces some tough decisions, flirts with adulthood and ultimately figures out where she belongs.
We spoke exclusively with director Jason Reitman who shared with us some of the challenges and personal-accomplishments in the making of the film:
Jason Reitman: Nah, there's two films. I wish I could say that I didn't think about that stuff, but I do think about ... kind of, shooting-percentage. Two for two was really important for me.
Why this particular film?
Jason Reitman: Why? Because I fell in love with the screenplay. I was writing my own movie when I got a copy of Juno and I was completely taken by it. As a director, I need to have that feeling of as though "If I don't direct this, I'm going to regret this for the rest of my life. I'm going to be angry to see another director get the opportunity to direct it". And I've only had that on a few films: Charlie Wilson's War felt that way. Notes on a Scandal, Lars and the Real Girl and Juno. When I read the script for Juno I had that, and Juno for more than any of the one's I just named. I wanted it so bad, that I knew that I would have been really angry if somebody else other than myself directed it.
How easy was it for you to actually acquire it?
Jason Reitman: Very hard. I read it for the first time and I had not directed. Thank You for Smoking had not come out yet, so I didn't have much going for me at the time. I was in the midst of finishing Thank You for Smoking, but I didn't have any street cred(ibility) yet and once Thank You for Smoking came out and was a success, I had, then I could actually be in the running.
Concerning Ellen (Page) and Michael (Cera), did they kinda gravitate to this, or did you also have to work for that?
Jason Reitman: No, they both fell in love with the screenplay. Anybody who read the screenplay wanted to be involved. Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, everybody read it was just like "Yes, I want to do this".
And did you read the book first? (Interviewer's major faux-pas ... I had attended a roundtable-interview earlier in the day with screenwriter Diablo Cody who was talking about her previous book that she had written and had somehow thought from that conversation, that Juno was initially a book that she had written! )
Jason Reitman: Of Juno? There was no book ... she has written a book, but this is not based on that book.
After your second film, what would you say is unique your directing style?
Jason Reitman: "Tonal consistency" ... I know that's not sexy, but I think that's truly what I do. I'm not a master of cinematography, I think. I know how to make a film which is tonally consistent. I think I know how to take a subject matter that is dangerous and make it humorous and real ... dangerous with being offensive.
With your dad (Ivan Reitman) being a director, did you want to act when you were younger? Did you always know you wanted to direct?
Jason Reitman: No. Never wanted to act. I was in the grandparent's day play in my school in 9th grade and I forgot my lines and that cured me of acting right there.
At what point has your dad "not been such an influence" on you? I'm sure that in the beginning, your dad kinda helped you out, gave you tips, so on and so forth ... but was there a defining time in which your dad's influence (started to) taper off, shall we say?
Jason Reitman: No, it didn't really happen that way. I think it's happened the opposite way. My dad was the one who convinced me to become a director. I was kind of shying away from it and he said "no, you're a storyteller. you should follow your voice". I started doing it, once I got down to having to do a feature film, he gave me some very-strong advice and really guided me, but then I say now is that he asks for my advice just as much as I ask for his.
That's very cool! ...good credibility there.
Jason Reitman: Yeah, it is nice. Like when I read my dad's screenplay now and I give him a note on it. He takes it really seriously, it's cool.
Have you ever wanted to work with him?
Jason Reitman: Absolutely. I think we will.
But no, immediately plans for that?
Jason Reitman: I think in the next year, I can imagine it easily happening.
[MINI-SPOILER WARNING!] With the character of Jason Bateman, is he an immature jerk that is kinda holding on to his unrealistic childhood dreams, or is it that he's with a woman that's kind of holding him back?
Jason Reitman: His character or him?
Jason Batemen's character
Jason Reitman: (Reitman laughs at the confusion) I was going to say. Jason Batemen is a settled down guy with a kid. Jason Bateman's character is someone who is afraid to grow up who is looking cyclically. I think with Juno, he's flirting with the idea of childhood.
I see. Were there elements to the film where it would have been taken a little bit farther than that, where already, there was a little bit of a creepiness aspect to it, but I was just wondering were there might have been scenes, like in a basement ... maybe they took things a little bit farther?
(Earlier in the day at the press-conference with Ellen Page and Michael Cera, which you can READ HERE, Ellen had mentioned [or perhaps was joking] that there was a scene cut out of the film [that might be put onto the DVD] where her character goes a step further with Jason Bateman's character ... which I was trying to find out more about that aspect)
Jason Reitman: Have you seen the movie?
Jason Reitman: There's that one scene in the basement.
It sounded as if there was something else, as if there was more...
Jason Reitman: No, the movie you saw is the script and in that scene we had to strike a very delicate balance because it has to seem like flirtation, but not sexual flirtation, rather it's kind of flirtation with each others' world ... that she wants to feel like an adult and he wants to feel like a kid again.
[END OF MINI-SPOILER] What's in your immediate future?
Jason Reitman: I'm going back to the script that I was writing when I found Juno. I had basically put that script on hold. As soon as the strike ends, I'm going to get back to that and I'm producing Diablo Cody's next screenplay. She has a screenplay called Jennifer's Body. We're going to shoot that in March. And I've got a few things in my company cooking that I'm really excited about.
What are your long term goals?
Jason Reitman: To be the greatest director that ever lived.
I'm sure you will be.
Jason Reitman: Thank you very much (said playfully). I appreciate that. Long term goals. Just to keep my shooting-percentage as consistent as humanly possible. If I can go 3-for-3 of 4-for-4, that probably would be my ultimate goal right now.
I'm just curious, do you ever think about winning awards and such, when you're making a film?
Jason Reitman: Nah, not really. I mean, I've never made one of those kind of films that feels like you're making an award film. Maybe when I do like an 18th century costume drama, then I'll be like "Huh, I wonder if this is my awards film" (said jokingly), but right now, I'm just trying to make films that feel special to me and with Thank You for Smoking and Juno, it felt unique. They felt like they were my voice and they are the kind of films that I wish there were more of, cause I wanted to see it.
Who are your "film director" heroes? Is there anyone that you're trying to emulate when you're...
Jason Reitman: Alexander Payne. He's the guy I think, for me he has the perfect career. I think his movies are flawless and the guy is who made me want to be a director, all the directors who came out of the Sundance scene in the 90s: Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, Wes Anderson. The three of them. Each of their first films had a profound effect on me.
Do you have an affinity for the independent-type films or do you want to get that big blockbuster going?
Jason Reitman: No, I think making movies for less money allows the film to be more personal and that's, I think, the most important thing.
With the big blockbuster films, do you think there's a way to make them big blockbustery, but also to get personal at the same time?
Jason Reitman: I don't know. Some people have had success with that, but if you want films to be consistently personal and if you want as much control of them as possible, at least at my stage in my career, you have to make them budgetly-sound.
With the cast of Juno, Allison Janey, J.K. ... were these, like you said before, you kinda show them the script and they're just automatically on to it, or was there anyone you had to pull a little bit in order to get onto this project?
Jason Reitman: Everyone who opened up this script, fell in love with it. It's just one of those things that was so well-written and so unusual that people couldn't help falling head-over-heels for it.
Has this film gone to a lot of festivals?
Jason Reitman: Yeah, it played at Telluride, Toronto, Denver, AFI, Stockholm, London, Rome, Austin.
Did Thank You for Smoking go the same route?
Jason Reitman: It was a different time period, so it's a little different. Like Thank You for Smoking time period ... We played Toronto and then we did not play a film festival til Sundance and then we played the various film festivals from Sundance through March. And this one (Juno), everything we're playing is between Toronto and December.
Thank You very much.
Juno arrives in theatres on December 7th.