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Juno - Jason Reitman interview

Jason Reitman directs Juno

Interview by Rob Carnevale

OSCAR nominated director Jason Reitman talks about his relationship with his father, Ivan Reitman, the appeal of Juno and why it reflects modern families more than teenage pregnancy and abortion.

Q. How much of an influence has your father, Ivan Reitman, been on your career?
Jason Reitman: My father is my hero. He’s taught me to be the storyteller that I am and the man that I am. He’s just a great storyteller.

Q. Do you go to him and ask what he thinks about projects you might direct?
Jason Reitman: Absolutely. I’ll call him and say: “I think this is spectacular, tell me if I’m crazy.” And yes, the first time he read Juno he said: “Phew, this is good!” But then everyone did. The screenplay was so good that it attracted everyone.

Q. And how did it come to you?
Jason Reitman: I had a friend who worked at a studio who was close to the producer who discovered Diablo Cody. Within a week of it hitting town he gave me a call and said: “There’s a screenplay you’ve got to read!” I was like: “OK.” I was writing my own screenplay at the time but I asked him what it was about and he said: “It’s a high school comedy…” And I was like: “Oh really?” But he insisted that I read it, so he sent it over, I read it that night and it was just one of those experiences. By the time I got to the ultrasound scene I just thought I’ve got to direct this. If I don’t, I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life.

Q. What grabbed you so much about it?
Jason Reitman: It was a combination of things. I’m really attracted to authors who take on really tricky material with a very open mind and take a subject matter that you wouldn’t think would be a comedy. I mean for cigarette smoking [Thank You For Smoking] and teenage pregnancy [Juno] you’d automatically think of some melodramatic, heavy-handed think my way kind of piece. And yet both of them took a very different standpoint and that was what was so exciting and exhilarating. I love that they were open-minded. In Diablo’s case she kind of has a language of her own and she’s created this vocabulary that does not reek of trying to be strange, but that has a kind of sincerity to it. There’s also a realness to the way she creates sentences that I just fell in love with.

Q. How easy was it to get together such a strong ensemble cast?
Jason Reitman: Easier than I ever thought it would be – both in terms of getting the cast to say yes and the studio to say yes. I had this cast in mind very early. One of the first things I did was I took Ellen Page, Michael Cera, JK Simmons [who plays Juno’s father] and Olivia Thirlby [who plays her best friend] to the sound stage and shot about 40 to 45 pages of the script all in one day and then edited the footage together and showed it to the studio and the producers and said: “This is the cast I would like.” And they said: “Yes, yes and yes.” So, that kind of set the tone for how we were going to make this movie and what kind of cast we were going to have. Obviously, the actors in the film come from all different directions and are considered different types of actors but somehow – perhaps taking Ellen’s lead – they all kind of just decided to hit a similar tone and style.

Q. Has the movie generated any debates about abortion in the States?
Jason Reitman: You know, it’s funny because the movie doesn’t really say anything about abortion. At the end of the day, one of the things I like about it is that it doesn’t really entertain that question. She makes a decision, a very difficult decision and Diablo made decisions with a lot of sophistication in the way that she dealt with teenage pregnancy. The movie deals with the idea of what a family is because the idea of what a modern family is has completely changed. It used to be two parents and two children and that’s it. But that’s just not the truth anymore. A modern family could be many things: it could be a mother only, or a father only, or step parents, or adopted children, stepchildren… it’s ever-changing.

What Diablo [Cody, screenwriter] did so well was realistically portray various versions of a family without judging any of them. So, I would hope that if people take something away from the film it’s that you can be open minded and not judge people for their decisions. When Juno decides to give her baby up for adoption it’s not some sort of political statement, it’s just what’s right for her.

Q. Did you do any research into teenage pregnancy?
Jason Reitman: No. I talked to one girl who was pregnant as a teenager and she read the script: “That was awesome! I was worried that it’d be melodramatic. But it was so funny!” So, I thought: “Great.” She told me a couple of stories but nothing much really. I’m not big into research to be perfectly honest. I know some directors are fanatical about research but for me it’s more about taking the story for what it is and then finding out how it emotionally resonates – that I can judge for myself; I don’t need to look into the details.

To be fair, one of the things that happened was that I had a baby right before we did this movie and that gave me insight into what a lot of the characters were feeling. Being pregnant changes you as a human being and it gives you a whole lot of mixed feelings. Each one of the characters was dealing with one of the feelings that I went through when my wife was pregnant. You know, you have the anxiety of becoming a parent; at the same time as you have this desperation to become a parent and hope that you’re not going to encounter any problems along the way, and then there’s this guy thing where there’s this fear of closing a chapter of your life and entering a new stage. So, when I was directing these characters I could have very honest conversations about them – particularly with Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman who also just had babies.

Q. Were you afraid of becoming a father then?
Jason Reitman: Of course! Look, any guy who tells you that he didn’t have some fears is lying. Of course, it’s scary becoming a dad for a variety of reasons. That’s not to say it isn’t thrilling. It was. It was very exciting and in some ways was the greatest thing that’s happened in my life. But it’s also completely terrifying and you’re saying goodbye to a portion of your life and that’s just an emotional experience. I think I made better decisions that Mark did [Jason Bateman’s character]. I was able to come to terms with it. But I can’t help feeling that in the US there’s an increasing number of teenage girls who seem to be growing up all too quickly and 30-year-old men who are refusing to grow up. And this script seemed to hit that perfectly. I was 30 and I’d just had my first child and I think a generation ago that would have been considered late. But in Los Angeles I’m like a young dad! And yet here was this script that dealt with this idea in a very subtle way.

Read our interview with Diablo Cody