Rapid Round: Rob Reiner Talks Donald Trump, Iraq War Film and the "Kardashianization of America" (Q&A)
The storied director — whose new, personal drama 'Being Charlie' is "the most emotional creative experience I've ever had" — recalls the role Richard Dreyfuss stole away and the unlikely advice that helped him through divorce.
For Rob Reiner — who helmed the laugh-filled classics This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally..., among many others — it's the dark and deeply personal drama Being Charlie that he considers a major highlight of his career.
"It was not the easiest but it was probably the most satisfying," he tells The Hollywood Reporter of his new film, which stars Nick Robinson as the titular teenager grappling with drug addiction and the shadow of his famous father (Cary Elwes).
The film was tough to make not only because it features a script co-written by and based on his complicated relationship with his own son, Nick, but also because a movie about a family dealing with substance abuse is a tough sell around town, he says. "The business has changed in a dramatic way. Now, studios just make tentpoles and franchises — that’s fine, they want to make money, I understand that — but for everyone else, it's very frustrating."
The shift in the film industry is part of what Reiner calls "the Kardashianization of America," which he also sees in the press (and is the subject of his upcoming Iraq War film Shock and Awe) and politics, telling THR of Donald Trump, "He’s taking his reality show and extending it to a presidential run."
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Funny, sad, tortured.
How did you find making this film with your son?
It wasn’t smooth sailing — it was tense and difficult at times — but it was the most emotional creative experience I’ve ever had. Nick didn’t back down, he was no doormat. We fought and many times, I’d see what he was saying and he was right. I remember saying, ‘Whatever happens to this film, we’ve already won, because it’s given us greater insight into each other and brought us closer.’ He’s the heart and soul of the film, and he taught me how to be a better parent.
Nick Robinson in 'Being Charlie'
What do you love the most about Hollywood?
You get to make up stuff for a living. You get to express yourself and they actually pay you to do it.
What do you hate the most about Hollywood?
We’re now living in the Kardashianization of America, where you don’t have to have any ability to become famous and successful. Not just in Hollywood, but the press and politics too. It used to be that you had to be able to do something to get attention — either sing, dance, act, something. Kim Kardashian and these people, I’m sure they’re nice people, but they have absolutely no talent, no anything, and yet people love them and they just want to watch them and give them money. But people who want to make movies about the human experience, and real things in life, have to scrounge around for money, and it’s difficult.
A friend reminded me that years ago, I did a TV special in the late ‘70s — it was actually the special that launched [This Is] Spinal Tap. A guy was flipping from one channel to the next: sitcoms, game shows, and one we had called Celebrity Night Watchmen, just a person standing in the dark building that was closed, saying, ‘There’s no activity here.’ Basically, it was nothing! And now we practically have that.
What was the best piece of advice anyone gave you?
When things are going really badly, just be patient. I was going through a painful divorce a long time ago, and of all people, it was a stand-up comedian named John Byner who said, ‘You’ll just go along and one day, you’ll feel better.’ I never thought about it at the time, but he was right. It just happened.
What’s been one of the worst moments of your career?
I was going for my first part on a show called Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, and Richard Dreyfuss stole it from me. They already had given me the part, and he had gone down there with me to the audition, someone saw him in the waiting room and said, ‘He’s good,’ and just gave him the part. He wasn’t even auditioning!
Is there a dream project you’ve never been able to make?
Hopefully, I’m going to shoot one this year. I’ve been trying to work on a project for almost ten years now, about how we got into the Iraq war, called Shock and Awe. The screenplay is finished, and it’s written by Joey Hartstone who wrote LBJ, which I just finished with Woody Harrelson. It’s the story of four journalists who worked for the Knight Ridder news service, and who basically got everything right in the run up to the war. They debunked the aluminum tubes for uranium centrifuges, the connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, and all the weapons of mass destruction, but nobody paid any attention to them. The mainstream was basically not doing their due diligence and lining up behind the administration.
I hope people come away with how important it is to maintain an independent press. So many of the news media is owned by big corporations and is beholden to certain things that don’t allow them to be independent. Look at the disaster that caused, not being able to hold the administration accountable for what they did. Quite frankly, I’m old enough to have seen that happen twice, with Vietnam and now with Iraq.
If you could do something all over again, what would it be?
I don’t really have those kinds of things. You learn more from failure than you do from success. The things that I did badly, I got more out of them than the things I did well.
To whom would you give an honorary Oscar?
Alfred Hitchcock — he never got an Oscar and he’s one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?
Do you have to ask? Of course, Hillary. It’s not even a contest. Donald Trump doesn’t have any real understanding of how government or policy works; he’s an entertainer and people like him because he’s bombastic and insults people. Essentially, he’s taking his reality show and extending it to a presidential run. That, to me, is disturbing. It’s really scary.