Rob Reiner started acting early in the footsteps of his father Carl and eventually landed the role as Michael ‘Meathead’ Stivic on All In The Family, which earned him two Emmy awards. He went on to develop into a writer and director with a string of Oscar-nominated movies such as: This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Stand By Me, and A Few Good Men. His new film, The Magic Of Belle Island stars Morgan Freeman and opens in theaters this week.
So I have to start off by asking about Nora Ephron who passed away recently, you are so associated with her because of your work together on When Harry Met Sally so I just wanted to ask you about what it was like working with her and how she’ll be remembered.
Well, she’s going to be remembered as one of the greatest most brilliant observers of men and women and that awkward wonderful dance we do with each other. She was a joy to work with. I mean she’s funny and aside from the fact that she’s brilliant and added so much to all of the work, she was also fun to be with. I mean she made every meal an experience. She ordered just the way Sally did in the movie and she did it one day [while] we were working on the script and we were at lunch and she was ordering like that and I thought- Nora do you see yourself? Look at how you order? I said we gotta put that in the film. I said we gotta make that part of the character and she said ok and we put it in there. When Harry says she orders a meal in a way the chef didn’t know how good it was going to be, that is the way Nora was. She loved to have dinner parties either at her house when she was cooking or at a restaurant and she always loved to order things for people and she loved their reaction to eating them because she got such pleasure out of life. She loved to almost orchestrate each meal, you know, and so you had a great time and a lot of fun and the food was great and the conversation was always good. It was always fun and smart and one of the great thrills was getting an invitation to a Nora Ephron dinner party because you knew you were gonna have a great time and so I miss her for all those reasons.
Ah, that’s fantastic! You know you mention that famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from the film, which made an iconic place even more iconic
Oh Katz’s, you know, you can go to that place, you can sit at that table, there’s a sign there that tells you that table that Harry and Sally ate at.
Yeah, I was there the other day and everyone still comes in and takes pictures with the sign, what made you choose Katz’s?
Oh, I don’t know, it was one of the most famous delis. We always thought we’d do the scene in a deli, you know, just the idea of her faking an orgasm in a public place, and so you know Katz’s is a great famous deli and so we thought we’d do it there.
That’s great. Well one of the things you’re particularly good at is romantic comedies with equal parts romance and comedy and as a man I never feel embarrassed walking into one: When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride. Your new movie The Magic of Belle Island is a lot like that, I was wondering, you have a major star in Morgan Freeman and a great young actress Emma Fuhrmann and it seems like it would have plenty of appeal, I was just wondering why it’s an independent film?
Well because this is the kind of movie that studios are not making at all right now. Studios are only interested in big action franchise tent pole kind of movies, comic book type movies with a lot of visual effects and R rated raunchy comedies. I mean basically those are the only two types of films they make, so everything else you either have to finance independently, very low budget like this one was or go and try to sell foreign presales for like, thrillers. You know, the next one I’m gonna do is a thriller and we’ll have to sell all the foreign rights ahead of time to finance it because the studios are not interested in these kind of films anymore, but they get made and people like them. You know for me as a filmmaker I just wanna tell stories and whatever the best way to finance, that’s what I try to do. I’m not trying to say okay, well studios are only interested in this kind of movie so therefore I’m going to make that kind of movie. I would do it if the story was something interesting to me but I like this story because it’s very similar to what I did with The Bucket List. It’s about you know, embracing life when you don’t have, when you think that that’s all life has to offer. It’s about a guy who’s given up and just like the guys in Bucket List, they realize we only have a short time left, so let’s try to live it as best we can. That’s what this is, it’s about a guy who’s given up on life and he learns to live again because he finds these people that live next door to him in this lake side community. To me, when I turned 60, I started becoming very aware of my own mortality and you have to embrace life and unless you’re Shirley MacLaine, you don’t get another shot at this, so that’s why the story interested me and I didn’t really care whether or not studios would make it because to me, I just wanna tell the stories that I want to tell, you know.
Thanks to Netflix I was watching the first season of Saturday Night Live the other day and you’re in one of those first episodes, and it made me realize that you were like “Mr. 70’s” between All in the Family and I know you wrote the first episode of Happy Days and you had all that stuff going on. What was it like at that time? Did you embrace that tremendous fame?
Well, I’ve always tried to. I learned this from my dad and from Norman Lear. They found a way to express themselves through their work and also to, you know, express political ideas and social ideas through the work and outside the work and have the work inform your real life and have your real life inform the work. That’s what I’ve always tried to do and I was lucky to get with All in the Family. You know we did a lot, we got a lot of people talking.
Yeah, that was an amazing show and then you went on into the 80’s to the 90’s with a string of successful films that are just tremendous: Spinal Tap, A Few Good Men, Misery, The American President, and one of my all-time favorites, Stand By Me.
Oh thank you, that’s my favorite of all the ones that I’ve done.
Is it really? I know that you named your production company Castle Rock after Stephen King’s town. What was it like working with Stephen?
You know, he was a pleasure because once we had done Stand By Me he, at the time, he said this was the best thing that had ever been done of his work [and] he was more than happy to work with us and we did Misery after that. We did seven Stephen King movies and he would always go to us first with his projects because he felt it would be in good hands. We did a couple of supernatural things, but most of the pictures we did of his work were more character based you know, Stand By Me and Misery and even though it was a thriller it was more of a character thriller and certainly Shawshank Redemption and Dolores Claiborne and so on. He’s such a brilliant writer, I mean he’s so underrated because you know, I think people get tricked by the fact that there’s horror or there’s supernatural but if you look underneath it all he writes great characters. I mean the dialogue is sensational and the characters are great so we always had a great relationship because he always respected that we were not going to mess up his books.
That’s terrific. That one book of novellas with Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption is amazing. Those are two of the best films of all time.
And they both come out of the same collection of short stories; those two stories were both in a collection called Different Seasons.
Yeah it’s pretty tremendous. So I wanted to ask you, looking back on your career, you’ve done all these things, you’ve won Emmys, you’ve had the number one TV show, you’ve had all these successful films, what’s your thoughts looking back on your career now, what is your advice?
Well you know, for anybody, try to find something that you really love to do that you are good at and it can’t just be one or the other. In other words, if you are really good at something but you don’t enjoy doing it then don’t do it and you really enjoy doing something but you are not good at it then don’t do it either because you’ll ultimately be unhappy. Find something that you really love doing and your good at it and just do it and follow your own instincts about things, I mean, you can’t look at other people. That’s never going to help. You just have to go your own way. Always find your own way but find the thing that you are really passionate about that you care about and that you are good at and it doesn’t matter what it is and it doesn’t have to be show business, it could be flipping pizzas, I don’t care what it is, if you really enjoy it. Ultimately it is all about process, about the time we spend on the planet, it’s all the journey, it all the getting to, you know, there is no end result to any of it except death you know? So it’s all process so when I make a film or do anything I just want to enjoy what it is that I’m doing, because the experience of making the film is what you look back on. You don’t think about is this good or bad or what is it, did people like it, didn’t like it, the critics they liked it, they didn’t like it, did it get an award, it didn’t get an award. None of that stuff matters because it’s all the process of doing, just doing it, getting up every day and doing this thing and enjoying it if you can, then that’s all there is and then at the end when you’re done then you won’t be doing that anymore.
You know you work as an actor, a director, and as a writer. How different is the process as a creative person? Is it similar in a sense or not really?
Well, I try to take my experiences as an actor, I started as an actor, and try to inform all the work that I do. I don’t ever put an actor in a position that I’m asking him to do something that I knew I couldn’t do. I’m not the best actor in the world, I’m not the worst but I know if I can do it then I know another actor can do it so when I’m working on a script it’s always with that in mind and how it’s ultimately going to be performed. I mean the thing about being a director is you’re like a jack of all trades, a master of none- kind of good at a lot of little things, not great at anything because there’s somebody who can shoot it better, there’s people better with music, there’s people who are better actors, better whatever, but you have a good sense of all of it. You bring your entire life’s experience and all of your abilities to bear on the job and hopefully you have some good instincts and you can make some decisions because that’s what it is, you have a million decisions to make and if you have good instincts then you can do it, you know, you don’t have to be great at any of these things but you have to be kind of good at it or at least have a working knowledge of all these different aspects of film making. I try to bring them all together when I do it and for me acting is just fun, I mean it’s just a fun thing to do, but directing is more all encompassing.