Rob Reiner has done it all. He has played a Meathead of a character for eight seasons on the groundbreaking sitcom “All in the Family”. After his tenure on television, he has gone on to direct some of the greatest movie classics of all-time including “Stand by Me”, “The Princess Bride”, “When Harry Met Sally” and “This is Spinal Tap”. This week, he is bringing the new romantic comedy, “And So It Goes”, to the big screen featuring the talents of Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton. I recently sat down with the actor-director to talk about his 30 years as a director and the gift of comedy.
Rob, you have directed five of my favorite films, I must ask this question. You directed your first film 30 years ago, This is Spinal Tap. I would like to know, how did you get bitten by the directing bug?
Actually it was kind of the other way around in a weird way. I did a little acting in school and did summer theatre when I was eighteen. When I was 19 years old at UCLA, I started my own theatre company. It was an improvisational theatre company that I directed and acted in. Then, I did some theatre productions around L.A. that I directed not acting. So, it was always something that I wanted to do. When I was 21, I started writing for the Smothers Brothers show. I was writing, directing and acting all the way from the time I was a young guy. When I got the part in “All in the Family”, I thought “Well, this would be good because I’ll be on a show that’s very cutting edge. Nobody is doing what we’re doing. We are dealing with all these issues. It’s so pushing the edge of the envelope that it’s never going to go anywhere because people are not going to buy this especially back in 1971.” It took off. Then all of a sudden, I became known for that and we did that for eight years. It seems like I started directing after but I was doing that before and always wanting to. Then it became hard to make that transition from television to becoming a film director because in those days, unlike that now. Nowadays, anybody they can move back and forth from television to movies. Back in those days, people that came out of television well they were like second class citizens. The movie people were like “The Great” and the television like “The Peons”. It was very hard to make the transition from being a sitcom actor to a film director.
Besides your dad, Carl, who have been your influences growing up?
Well, I love Sid Caesar oddly enough. I looked up to him and I thought “He’s the most brilliant sketch performer who ever lived.” Of comedy, I loved W.C. Fields and Jonathan Winters. You know, there are a lot of comedians that I loved growing up. I also loved the Elian Kazan movies and Brando and anybody who made a movie. I look at “Citizen Kane” and thought it was the greatest film that’s ever made. You get a lot of different influences like Francois Traffuatt. You look at Woody Allen is somebody that I was influence by. You look at Kubrick’s body of work and its amazing.
Do you have a favorite Kubrick film?
I like a number of them. I love “Paths of Glory”, “Lolita”. Of the epic films, I think “Spartacus” is the best ever made. “2001” is truly amazing.
What makes a great comedy?
I like things that are real and make you laugh. Something that works on a couple of levels that there’s an emotional underpinning to it and also that its humorous. I remember when I was 17 years old. I was an apprentice in a summer theatre in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and the first show they did was a play called “A Thousand Clowns”. It was a Herb Gardner play. Jason Robards was in the movie version of it. They did this play and it was all about a guy who was a comedy writer for a children’s show, Chuckles the Chipmunk or something like that. He had a kid that he was taking care of and Social Services wanted to take the kid away because he was a guy who didn’t play by the rules. It was a very funny play but it also very serious. When I was 17, I said “Wow! Look at that, you can be very emotional and serious and also get big laughs. That’s really cool! If I can do anything like that, then that’s would I like to be.” I tried to find ways of doing that.
I mean when you look at this film, you have a son who has drug problems and he’s on his way to jail. The lead has a granddaughter that he’s never met. There’s a dark side to this and then there’s a lot of laughs. The same thing with “Stand by Me”. They were going to see a dead body and all that . The kid’s worried that his father will hate him and yet there’s a lot of laughs and vomit all over. You can do both.
You worked with a lot a great actors over the years including Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. Is there a particular actor you would like to work with one day?
I acted in a movie with Meryl Streep called “Postcards from the Edge” in a little tiny scene with her but I would love to work with her as a actress to direct. Then, Cate Blanchett is the other person who I feel is just incredible.
Check out Rob Reiner’s newest feature “And So It Goes” This FRIDAY!