THE BACK PAGES

JASON REITMAN IS FIRE

HIS DAD MADE GHOSTBUSTERS. THE ‘TERMINATOR' IS A FAMILY FRIEND. HE’S FED UP WITH LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD, DEEMS CRASH OVERRATED, AND HAS FOUND A HERO IN BIG TOBACCO. MEET THE CANADIAN WHO WANTS TO DO FOR MOVIES WHAT JON STEWART DID FOR TV.

Brian D. Johnson March 27 2006
THE BACK PAGES

JASON REITMAN IS FIRE

HIS DAD MADE GHOSTBUSTERS. THE ‘TERMINATOR' IS A FAMILY FRIEND. HE’S FED UP WITH LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD, DEEMS CRASH OVERRATED, AND HAS FOUND A HERO IN BIG TOBACCO. MEET THE CANADIAN WHO WANTS TO DO FOR MOVIES WHAT JON STEWART DID FOR TV.

Brian D. Johnson March 27 2006

JASON REITMAN IS FIRE

THE BACK PAGES

HIS DAD MADE GHOSTBUSTERS. THE ‘TERMINATOR' IS A FAMILY FRIEND. HE’S FED UP WITH LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD, DEEMS CRASH OVERRATED, AND HAS FOUND A HERO IN BIG TOBACCO. MEET THE CANADIAN WHO WANTS TO DO FOR MOVIES WHAT JON STEWART DID FOR TV.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

Jason Reitman is waiting for the Katie Holmes question to come up. It always does. He has just screened his first feature, Thank You For Smoking, to a theatre packed with students from the University of Toronto. The movie’s 28-year-old writer-director, who looks as if he could be a student himself, has been touring campuses across North America to build advance buzz for the film. Finally someone asks The Question. “Is it true that Tom Cruise made you take out the crazy sex scenes with Katie Holmes?”

“Yes, and I’m looking forward to directing Mission Impossible IV,” deadpans Reitman, who by now has his shtick down to a routine. He then explains how the rumour started. When Thank You For Smoking was shown at the Sundance festival in January, a tame comic montage of Holmes humping male lead Aaron Eckhart (with no nudity) was accidentally cut due to a projection error. When Reitman told the Sundance audience what they’d missed, they booed. He says he could hardly blame them—“a projection error sounds a lot like a wardrobe malfunction.” Soon reports were flying around the Internet that Cruise, incensed over a torrid sex scene involving his fiancée, had forced the director to cut it.

The rumour has not hurt the film. Based on the bestselling novel by Christopher Buckley, Thank You For Smoking is one ofthe year’s hottest indie breakouts. And Reitman is working the college crowd like the next Kevin Smith. “I usually get a male student who says, T thought I was going to see Katie Holmes’ tits,’ ” he tells the Toronto audience, explaining they were never an issue, and neither was the boyfriend. “The only time I met Tom Cruise was when I was 14.1 have an adopted sister. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were thinking of adopting. They came over to the

house to talk to my parents about adoption.”

If that sounds odd, bear in mind that Reitman’s father is Ivan Reitman, the Canadian producer-director who channelled the stars of Saturday Night Live’s comedy revolution into Hollywood blockbusters like Animal House and Ghostbusters. Now,

28 years after Animal ECKÍXRT BELLÔ BROSV House inaugurated a whole genre of firat-boy farce, Jason is hoping to win over a new generation by sending up political correctness.

“It’s the Jon Stewart generation,” he told Maclean’s. “They don’t trust anyone anymore.

And they’re tired of being told how to live and what to do.”

With a cast that includes Robert Duvall,

William H. Macy and Maria Bello, Thank You For Smoking is a sharp, irreverent satire built around a sympathetic portrait of a shameless lobbyist for Big Tobacco. Nick Naylor (Eckhart) can appear on a talk show with an antismoking advocate and a young man dying of cancer caused by second-hand smoke, and get the audience cheering as he condemns his opponent for exploiting “Cancer Boy.” At weekly “Merchant of Death” cocktails with an alcohol lobbyist (Bello) and a gun-control foe (David Koechner), Naylor likes to brag that his products kill more people than both of theirs combined.

The story’s villain is a Birkenstock-wearing wimp of a Vermont senator (Macy) who wants to slap a skull-and-crossbones on every cigarette pack. As a counteroffensive, Naylor takes

The eldest of three children, Jason was born in Montreal, raised in Los Angeles and remains a Canadian citizen. He and his two sisters were showbiz kids who spent their childhood hanging out on their father’s film sets among stars such as Bill Murray and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Surprisingly, he says Arnie was more fun than Bill: “Bill’s an island. He’s a troubled person. But Schwarzenegger’s a good time. He makes jokes. He wants the same thing as the next guy.” Amie, who shared family vacations with the Reitmans, spent a lot of time at the house. “He’d come over and talk to my dad about movies, and he talked to him about running for governor. They are very close.”

his lobby to Hollywood, where a Zen superagent (Rob Lowe) offers to concoct a whole movie around cigarettes: a space opera with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts puffing productplacement smokes in a disease-free future. Another mission sends Naylor off to muzzle the original Marlboro Man—he’s dying of emphysema—with a briefcase full of cash. But he meets his match in a seductive reporter (Holmes) who’s even more ruthless than he is. Throughout it all, Naylor uses libertarian logic to justify his job to his precocious eight-yearold son (B.C. actor Cameron Bright)—“it pays the mortgage.” The boy’s character is the one embellishment that Reitman added to Buckley’s novel. It lends his anti-hero some warmth, and sweetens the satire with a soft centre. Reitman says the father-son relationship was partly inspired by his own childhood. “I was very enamoured with my father,” he says. “We had many talks like that, not about cigarettes, but about life. We’d just sit in the car and I’d ask him about everything. Often he’d take a business call and he’d put on the speakerphone. After we’d talk about it and what it meant. ‘Why did so and so ask for that?’ He taught me to be the

man that I am."

Jason displayed an independent streak early on. At 16, while still in high school, he mortified his parents by leaving home to live with a 23-year-old girlfriend. “That was a bit of a bump in the road,” his father recalled last week in a phone interview. “It was certainly tough on my wife and I, but it turned out well. Jason was always fairly mature and it sort of aided in his maturation.” (The romance lasted seven years; Jason has since married a Cana-

film

dian, Michelle Lee, who’s only five years his senior.)

Although Reitman was interested in film, the prospect of following in his father’s footsteps scared him. So at 17, he entered a pre-med program at Skidmore College in New York. “I was very bad at it,” he says. His father came to visit and

told him a story of his own road not taken. On a visit to Montreal, Ivan had discovered submarine sandwiches, which hadn’t arrived yet in his hometown of Toronto. “He thought they were incredible,” says Jason. “And he came back to Toronto with the idea of opening up a submarine sandwich shop. My grandfather told him, T’m sure those submarine sandwiches are delicious, but I don’t think there’s enough magic in it for you.’ ” And that’s what Ivan told his son about going into medicine. Ivan now admits “it felt odd to be talking your kid out of a medical career to go into the arts.”

But Jason took the advice and transferred to an arts program at the University of Southern California.

Ivan’s own entry into showbiz bore a closer resemblance to fast food than his son’s. He cut his teeth producing B-movies like The Columbus of Sex and Cannibal Girls—not to mention Shivers, the horror film that launched David Cronenberg’s career. To the Hollywood manor born, Jason took the high road, launching his career with a series of award-winning shorts. They showed a deft satirical touch—in Consent (2004), a six-minute gem, two college students lie on a bed, about to make love, while his and her lawyers negotiate a sexual consent form that covers every erotic possibility in hilarious detail. Yet as an entrepreneur, Jason showed some of his father’s flair. To finance his first short, he raised $9,000 by selling ads for desk calendars that he manufactured. Ivan matched the revenue.

Reitman received Buckley’s Thank You For Smoking as a gift from a friend. “It was love at first sight,” he recalls. “That combination of ballsy humour and libertarian politics. I thought, this guy is similar to me. There are very few of us out there who are this fed up with liberal do-gooders.”

Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions, which owned the rights, paid him scale to draft a script. He handed it in and heard nothing until one day his cellphone rang. Gibson was calling from his private jet in mid-air. He talked for 20 minutes, raving about the script, and that was the last Reitman heard from him.

Reitman shopped the script around. Every major studio turned it down. He says they all wanted him to rewrite the ending so the hero would have a change of heart. “I got these notes from high-profile people, saying he has to go work for the Red Cross. I thought that was ridiculous.” In the five years between writing and shooting the movie, Reitman honed his craft by directing commercials for WalMart and GM, including a Buick ad starring Tiger Woods. He eventually financed Smoking with help from dot-com tycoon David Sacks, who sold his company PayPal to eBay for US$1.5 billion. They met at a fabulous hilltop house that Sacks had just bought, the one owned by Marsellus in Pulp Fiction. It was still unfurnished. As they sat in folding chairs by the infinity pool, with a view stretching to the Pacific, Sacks peeled loose rubber from the soles of his shoes. Reitman suggested he dip into his fortune to go down to Rodeo Drive and buy a new pair.

Made for just US$5 million, Smoking ignited a controversial bidding war after its premiere last September at the Toronto International Film Festival. Two Hollywood distributors claimed they’d bought it. Fox Searchlight Pictures proved to be the winner, forking out

‘THERE ARE VERY FEW OF US WHO ARE THIS FED UP WITH LIBERAL DO-GOODERS’

US$7 million for the rights, a festival record. To put that in perspective, the previous year, Paul Haggis’s Crash sold at the festival for US$4 million. When the comparison is pointed out, Reitman says, “Well, it looks like we’ll be getting twice as many Oscars and we’ll make $200 million. I’m fine with that.” (A joke.) Then he adds that he’s not a fan of Crash. “I didn’t think it was the best picture. It was heavy-handed. I don’t like to be hit over the head.”

In Hollywood, where the engines of vanity and wealth are air-cooled by liberal guilt, Reitman plays the taboo-buster. And as he tours his film on campuses, he’s heartened by an “overwhelming response from students who are in the middle of a backlash to a liberal education system and entertainment business.” When he showed Smoking at Berkeley, “an older woman stood up and attacked me for not going after the real issue, that the tobacco companies are evil. And they just booed her until she shut up. I loved it.”

Smoki7ig, of course, is not really about tobacco— not a single cigarette is smoked onscreen. It’s an assault on liberal sanctimony. But behind its satirical edge is a philosophy of rugged individualism that’s as old as Hollywood. Although he may claim Jon Stewart as a kindred spirit, Reitman is a maverick with a conservative core. Given the chance, he says he doubts he would vote for universal health care. As for his lifestyle, he admits, “I’m a bit of a boring guy. I’ve never seen cocaine. I’ve tried pot once. That said, I think you should have the right to do drugs, sleep with hookers, kill yourself.”

Reitman, whose favourite movie is Dr. Strangelove, is now developing a new satire with Buckley. He can’t talk about it yet, except to say it’s “dangerous,” “involves terrorists,” and is low budget. “I don’t want to make a movie that costs so much someone’s going to tell me to soften the satire to reach a broader audience.” Then he adds, “I’m not ready to sell out just yet. When my father was my age, he was making Animal House. When he was 50, he was making Dave. I’m filled with vinegar. When I’m 50,1 may chill out. Maybe Crash will be right up my alley at that point.” M

WE’RE STALKING...DANIEL CRAIG

Since becoming the newest James Bond, Craig has endured hostile press and even a website calling for a boycott of his first Bond pic, the upcoming Casino Royale. Accusations he is afraid of speedboats and doing a torture scene have met with defence from fellow stars, including Judi Dench, who plays M in the series. Last week, his own father joined Craig’s defenders. “It’s all cobblers,” Tim WroughtonCraig said of the criticism. “Daniel is a hard lad.”