Continuing on with our Magic of Belle Isle interviews, Breezy Mama‘s Melissa Ota had the opportunity to sit down with legendary director, Rob Reiner, who she found to be one amazingly cool guy (as did everyone else on the Magic of Belle Isle set).
Renowned Hollywood director, actor, and writer, Rob Reiner, was shockingly normal! His praises have been sung for movies like, The Princess Bride, Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally, and A Few Good Men. With an impressive resume and the candor of an old friend, Rob divvied out life anecdotes in nearly every response. In the current film, The Magic of Belle Isle, Reiner continues to inspire audiences with a positive underlying message to embrace life regardless of its difficulties.
So you mentioned a little bit in the press release . . . what do you want people to walk away from this film thinking or feeling?
Well, a similar kind of feeling that they had when they walked away from Bucket List, which had a very similar theme which was about embracing life no matter what you’re situation is. Finding something good about life and celebrating it. Bucket List was two guys facing cancer and this was about a guy who basically has given up on life because he’s in a wheelchair and his wife has died and he can’t write anymore, he’s drinking, and he shut the door on himself. It’s what happens with this relationship with the woman next door, and her children and the people in that community who actually get him to learn how to live again. And so that’s what it’s about—no matter what your situation is, it’s finding a way to embrace life.
In the original script, Morgan was supposed to be a much younger guy; did the script change much from what we ended seeing?
It didn’t change too much, but it was initially supposed to be someone in his 50’s, and Morgan as you know is in his 70’s. I was originally going after a George Clooney, you know someone like that, but, Laurie McCreary called me up (she’s Morgan’s producing partner) and we had done Bucket List together and I had enjoyed working with Morgan, and we had a great time, so she asked if there was anything I was developing a cast around that Morgan might be interested in, and I thought, “oh my God, what about this?” And I thought, Morgan is so good, you really don’t need to change it and make it an age thing because it’s really about a person who’s just given up, and learns how to live again. So I thought Morgan can do this. What an idiot for not thinking of him earlier, because if I could do every movie with Morgan, I would.
Was it different working this time together?
It wasn’t all that different in that when we did Bucket List together, Morgan and I found out that we work exactly the same way. We’re both very, very fast, he processes things so fast, and when you do a take with him, he would nail it every time. We would never have to do many, many takes, and I’m the same way. If we get it on the first time, it’s like, “Let’s move on.” Luckily we had Virginia who is also great at the craft so she could do it was well. So to me, it was the greatest pleasure of all. And really necessary on this one, because we only had 25 days to shoot. So you have to have people who are up on their craft and can really do what they do. So it was a pleasure, absolute pleasure.
You got some incredible performances out of the kids, and the dog, so can you talk about the dog?
The dog was interesting, because think about the auditions for that dog. You have to get a dog who can lick his balls on cue. [laughter]. So basically you’re bringing in these dogs, one after another, and you have a trade secret where you put peanut butter there (well not me, but the trainers put peanut butter there) and the dogs were more than happy to do whatever. But that was a funny, funny audition. I thought, “what am I doing for a living here?” The other funny thing was that they were retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and the one thing they can do is fetch. So these dogs, their instinct, were to go run after the ball because the minute they see something to fetch, that’s what they do. So we basically had to train these dogs not to fetch.
How many dogs did you interview?
Well we had about 5 or 6, and they could all do the ball licking part, but they all looked a bit different. I had to think about what would look good with Morgan, and what would be a classic looking dog.
And the kids?
Well, that was different. With Maddie, I had worked with her before, so I knew what she could do and I knew she’s be perfect for the part of Willow. And then with Emma and Nicolette (Pierini), I went through an extensive casting process, going through many, many girls, because I had a clear image of what I wanted for each of those girls. I was looking for a “Scout type” (from To Kill A Mockingbird), kind of very cute, adorable, tom boyish, kind of girl, so Emma was perfect. And when she came in and read, I went, “oh yeah, that’s it” and same thing with Nicolette.
Do you use improv?
If an actor can do it, some actors don’t/can’t like to do it. Morgan and Virginia don’t like improvisation, but someone like Fred Willard—he IS an improvisational actor. A guy like him, I let him go.
Something that happened in this film, which was not dialogue improve, but Virginia, it was her idea to do that very romantic kiss with him [Morgan] on the porch, which wasn’t in the script. In the script it was that she gives him a kind of chaste, goodbye kiss, but as the picture progressed, she felt like there was more of an undercurrent romance going between them, so she gives him this very romantic kiss, which shocked Morgan—you can see it on his face. And I thought it really made sense, it definitely upped the stakes in the movie, and it made me change the end of the movie.
We’ve never seen Morgan in a romantic role.
Yes, I don’t think ever. And that was the other interesting thing because he IS very romantic. He has a very sexy quality to him and even though he’s an older age, he comes across as very powerful and sexy, so it just made sense.
You have an extensive entertainment profile, and very admirable political career, and the family . . . how do you find balance between everything?
Well family is always first. Always, always first. As a matter of fact, there was a time when I was thinking of running for governor of CA and I sat with my family, we all discussed it, it was the 3 kids, and basically I polled 40% in my own family. I couldn’t carry my own family essentially. So, that was it. I’m not going to run. Because they don’t want me to, so that was that. So, I find that the family comes first, and if there’s anything that gets in the way, of that, then I don’t do it.
What was it like growing up with your dad?
Out of the “show business fathers” you could have, it was probably the best situation I could ever have. Because he was a real father, he was a home kind of guy. When I was a young kid, and he was doing Show of Shows, a live television show that was on for 90 minutes every Saturday but when it was off for 13 weeks a year, it was the summertime. So we went as a family on summer vacation-we were all together as a family. I saw him a lot. And when I was 13-14-15-16, he was doing the Dick Van Dyke show during the summers, but he’d let me come to the studio and hang out with him. Which as a young teenage boy was like, “who wants him around when you’re doing your work?”, but he let me watch how he worked with the actors, how he re-wrote scripts and I learned a lot.
When did you realize that you had come out of the shadow of your father?
Interesting question, because it really didn’t happen until I did Stand By Me, and I was already in my mid-30’s, I had been successful in All in the Family, I had done a couple of movies—Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing. Spinal Tap was a satire and my dad was raised in satire—that’s what he did. The Sure Thing was a romantic comedy, and he had done those. Stand By Me was the first time I had done a film that was completely an extension of my personality. It had a melancholy feel, but was also kind of funny, it had an emotional part to it—all of this, and it was something my father in a million years never would have approached. And it was doing that, and being accepted, and being validated because it was accepted—that was the first time I was like, “Okay, I’m breaking away.”
So you felt free?
Yes, I felt good. That was a big turning point. . .