EmptyAWARDS: 2007 Independent Spirit Award, Best Screenplay, "Thank You for Smoking"; 2006 National Board of Review Award, Best Directorial Debut, "Thank You for Smoking." CURRENT CREDITS: For his directing work on Fox Searchlight's "Juno," only his second feature film, Jason Reitman has earned his first Oscar nomination, and last year he also directed an episode of NBC's "The Office." He's currently working on the pilot for "The United States of Tara," with an episode written by "Juno" screenwriter (and fellow Oscar nominee) Diablo Cody. MEMBERSHIPS: Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America.
The Hollywood Reporter: Thanks to your father, director Ivan Reitman, you grew up on the sets of some great comedies. What memories do you have of those films?
Jason Reitman: The first set I remember was (1984's) "Ghostbusters." I remember showing up on the Manhattan street set, and they had these giant slabs of concrete sticking up in the air -- and I remember thinking as a kid, "Wow, if you get to direct a movie, you get to break the streets of New York."
THR: And thus your career was decided.
Reitman: And thus my field as an independent filmmaker who made small, talky films was sealed.
THR: Knowing that, was it predestined for you to be in this business one way or another?
Reitman: My whole life, people told me I was going to be a director. I'd walk around sets and grips would tell me, "Hey! There goes my future boss!" In high school I made videos and stuff, but by the end of high school I was scared of being a director. The going perception of children of filmmakers was that they were talentless spoiled brats who had drug problems and were ungrateful for how fortunate their lives were. So I went into college and actually did go premed. Nobody ever questions that decision.
THR: But your dad actually talked you out of it, in a way.
Reitman: My father visited me at school and said, "What are you doing?" And I told him, and he told me a great story: When he was 17 or 18, he saw in Quebec that these submarine sandwiches -- which for some reason had not yet hit Toronto -- were really popular. So he came to my grandfather and said, "Give me seed money, and we'll make a fortune." And my grandfather said, "Ivan, I'm sure we could make a lot of money, but I don't think there's enough magic in it for you." So my father told me the story and said, "Jason, if you become a doctor, your mother and I will be very proud. But I don't think there's enough magic in it for you. You're a storyteller; you have to follow your heart."
THR: It must have been nice to avoid the whole "starving artist" portion of the career, though, right?
Reitman: I've never been a starving artist; I've always known where my next meal is coming from. But the way I made my first short film was I started a calendar company at my college and sold advertising space on the calendar. I've always been obsessed with self-realization, and I specifically chose the film festival route. The big joke is, when I wrote "Thank You for Smoking," if what everyone said was true -- gosh, I wish nepotism would have worked. I sent my script to every studio in town, and no studio would make it, not even a mini-major. It took an Internet millionaire who fell in love with the script and wrote out a check for $6 million to get it made. I certainly was never a starving artist, but I did fight very hard for the career I have now, and I chose the route that would give me as much legitimacy as possible.
THR: And, to turn Oprah on you, it's true that you appreciate it more if you earn it for yourself.
Reitman: I was at a Laker game and saw this guy my age who's the son of a magnate, and the kid has never done a thing in his life. And I looked at him and thought, "That could be me -- my whole life simply spending my parents' money and deciding what to wear to silly events." In that moment, more than ever, I felt proud of what I've accomplished. I'm proud that I held out to make "Thank You for Smoking" and that after that I fought hard to be the director of "Juno." Looking at that kid was like seeing an alternate version of my life.
THR: "Smoking" -- and even "Juno," to some extent -- has satirical elements. Do you think of yourself as a satirist?
Reitman: That would seem like an easy label, but I see myself as someone who has a lot more heart than a satirist. I'm an emotional, gushy guy at the end of the day. The ending of "Juno," with all that warm and fuzzy stuff, that's me coming off the birth of my own child and making an emotional end to that movie. But in many ways, yes. So often satirists are considered to be cold-hearted people. Like, Christopher Hitchens is a satirist -- yet I agree with a lot of the things he says. But it's hard to be lumped into a group with him because I consider myself an emotional filmmaker who wants to get people to feel things.
THR: As of this interview, it's only been a few days since the nominations came out, but what's changed for you in that time?
Reitman: When I went on "Good Day L.A." a couple hours after it happened, they introduced me by saying, "Oscar nominee Jason Reitman," and it's -- whoa, you feel different. I imagine it's like the first time you pass your medical exam and they put "Doctor" in front of your name. And people have honestly treated me differently.
THR: With more respect?
Reitman: Being the son of a famous filmmaker, I've always been searching for credibility and respect. This is a level of credibility that feels really good.
THR: So after Feb. 24, regardless of the outcome, what do you do for an encore?
Reitman: Historically, I'm about to make one of my worst films. That's what happens when you make a really great second film: The third one is an utter disappointment. I remember asking my dad advice on stuff like this, and he said, "Just make as many films as you can. You don't know in the midst that you're making something that will be remembered or not." So I'm gonna try to start directing as soon as possible; I have something I started even before "Smoking" that hopefully I'll finish once the strike is over and be directing by the end of the year. Then I can get that failure out of the way and get on to film four.