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No Strings Attached - Ivan Reitman interview

No Strings Attached

Interview by Rob Carnevale

IVAN Reitman talks about swapping special effects and sci-fi for more conventional matters of the heart in his new film, No Strings Attached.

He also reveals why he enjoyed working with Natalie Portman and reuniting with Kevin Kiline and how the emotional reality of the comedy meant an R-rating in America.

Q. Your trademark of science fiction is missing from No Strings Attached. Rather, it’s all about relationships. Why the switch?
Ivan Reitman: You know, I started working on this over three years ago with Liz Meriwether. She was a young playwright out of New York and as soon as I started speaking to her I just loved her very offbeat sense of humour. She seemed to have a wonderful eye and ear for the voices of her generation. I actually pitched this idea to her. I’d been talking about When Harry Met Sally and how the quaint idea of the question of that movie 30 years ago – whether it’s possible for a man and woman just to be friends – seemed like such an outdated idea today. Or it seemed to be in terms of the contemporary rules of engagement.

Now, it’s about whether it’s possible to have a sexual relationship without any kind of romance whatsoever. So, I pitched that idea to Liz and she really took to it and turned out this first draft that was remarkably funny. It was one of those scripts that got on the ‘black list’… that list of Hollywood screenplays that are unproduced. I think it was number one or two. Natalie Portman got a look at it very early on and wanted to play the role and that’s really how it started. I loved the language of the script, the ideas of it and I sort of welcomed the idea of just working with actors in a room and just trying to create a believable, truthful, funny scene together.

Q. If this film is, as we suspect, R-rated in the US, is that the price you pay for making a comedy that contains a sense of reality?
Ivan Reitman: Yeah, unfortunately, although it’s mostly for language that we got the R rating and for sexual situations. It’s not even about the explicitness of the sexuality, but the explicitness of the ideas. It’s just the way the MPAA, the ratings board in America, is set up. I think they’re much more concerned about a sexual conversation than they are about blood-letting. It’s a weird anomaly.

Q. Isn’t that frustrating in that it alienates a lot of your potential audience?
Ivan Reitman: Certainly, I mean it stops under 16s from coming to see it… at least initially in the theatres. They all end up watching it on TV or DVD or something. Fortunately, we’ve done good since being released in the US. We’ve been in the top two for our first three weeks. But it should be interesting to see how it performs elsewhere.

Q. Is finding the right chemistry between your leading stars something you worry about as a director when you shoot something like this?
Ivan Reitman: Well, the thing about chemistry is I don’t think you can act it, and I don’t even think it’s about arguing or attractiveness… as much as I’d like to take some credit for it, too, as director, I can’t. It’s really a magical thing. Sometimes it happens and often it doesn’t. But it’s particularly important in a movie about relationships like this. We were really fortunate that the magic just happened. But I thought there was something about this very tall, handsome man and this very short, extraordinarily beautiful woman that would resonate and that’s what you always hope for. But it’s really more of an act of God.

Q. So, if the chemistry doesn’t exist between you’re two leading players are you then screwed?
Ivan Reitman: Yes. You see it all the time. Good work is being done. Sometimes the screenplay is really terrific. But there’s just something oddly dead about what goes on. But there’s very little you can do. There are all kinds of historical examples of it and contemporary films sometimes suffer from it.

Q. How did you get Kevin Kline on board as Ashton’s dad in the movie?
Ivan Reitman: Well, I worked with Kevin some 16 or 17 years ago in a movie called Dave and we had a great time together and are very proud of the film. He’s generally known as Kevin de-Kline in America because he’s very tricky about the films that he chooses. I actually had to go to another director to get him to do Dave, but it turned out to be this great role for him. When I read this part I just kept thinking he’d be great – especially the egotistical, sort of film actor aspect. He loves the idea of being an actor, actually, in real life. He’s a very funny man but he loves the trappings of it. His wonderful wife, Phoebe Cates, makes fun of his actorly manner and I could just see him bringing all this stuff to that role. He has so many things in his armoury.

So, I called him and said: “You just have to do this!” But, of course, he declined the part because it was too small, there were only five days of shooting and there weren’t enough scenes in it. He likes to really get into it. But I finally sent him a very impassioned personal letter and he called back and said: “OK.” And then, literally within the first half hour of the first day that we shot together, we just sort of looked at each other, because we were both smiling, and said: “I guess we shouldn’t wait 16 years until the next one!”

Q. How did you go about shooting the sex scenes, which are sexy without being exploitative?
Ivan Reitman: I just tried to do it in a very straight forward manner. I didn’t think the shooting should be romantic. I didn’t think it was all about fancy camera angles, or moving dolly shots. The first one, which is the most critical one because it triggers the rest of the movie, really is kind of all close and all about how the two relate to each other and how they look at each other. It’s really relying on the chemistry we were just talking about and sort of the passion that’s in each other’s eyes. So, there were maybe three or four takes and I just let it go longer than they all expected. What that did is it felt awkward and very real. I also decided not to use any music. I’m very proud of the score for this and the way we use the songs to create different feelings. So, it’s quite stark during those scenes so we’re forced to really just watch them.

Q. Did Natalie have any issue with the sex scenes? They’re quite revealing for her…
Ivan Reitman: Well, she read a first draft of the screenplay and liked it. But in our first conversation I told her that I didn’t want this to be like a Doris Day movie from the 1950s. I said it really had to feel very contemporary and very naturalistic. I didn’t want to be nervous about what I’m going to show, or see things taped down over her chest. I said I wouldn’t be taking advantage of anyone; I just wanted it to feel real and allow the comedy to come out of the characters. She loved the script and she loved how bawdy it was. She had done this very funny on Saturday Night Live where the most filthy things come out of her mouth and it’s really funny.

I think because we know her as such an intelligent and serious dramatic person in real life as well [as on-screen] the juxtaposition of that creates great humour and I think she wanted her audience to see this other side of her, which is really a truthful side of her – that she has a wonderful sense of humour. She’s really quite accessible and she has the greatest, deep body laugh you’ve ever heard. I think she wanted to do a film that was not period or dramatic in structure and I think she felt these words for perfect for her.