March 6, 1947– Rob Reiner:
“Everybody talks about wanting to change things and help and fix, but ultimately all you can do is fix yourself. And that’s a lot. Because if you can fix yourself, it has a ripple effect.”
On a Seattle summer day in 1992, I survived my fifth callback audition for the role of Jay in a new film titled Sleepless In Seattle. I began to have that feeling that I always fought hard against in my acting days: I wanted this role. I wanted it something terrible. I could taste it. I visualized my name as the credits rolled. By this final callback, I was dizzy with the possibility. Jay was a small, yet showy role, well-written and very funny. I had been able to keep Writer/Director Nora Ephron, the casting director, and assorted producers laughing with each read.
Leaving that callback, I found myself passing multi-hyphenate Rob Reiner in a hallway at the production office. After I tossed an “I love your work” to Reiner, I thought to myself:
“I really admire Rob Reiner. I wonder what his connection is with Sleepless? Hmmm… he would be so cool to chat with. Maybe he will notice me as Jay and use me in one of his projects!”
When I returned home, my agent had already called to let me know that Ephron and Co. thought I was “splendidly funny and waggish” and they wished to thank me for sticking through all the auditions, but they had decided to go with Reiner as Jay in Sleepless In Seattle.
Ephron is my one of my top writing inspirations, but I didn’t much care for Sleepless In Seattle when I finally got around to seeing it years later on VHS, watched on a boat floating on Lake Union not far from the film’s actual location. My reaction to the film had little to do with my not being cast (how was I supposed to compete against Rob Reiner?), but I found it rather treacley and twee, plus I felt that the filmmakers got Seattle all wrong. Everyone else in the world seems to loves it. Maybe I should watch it again.
Reiner is easily admirable. He created an iconic television character, Michael “Meathead” Stivic, son-in-law of Archie and Edith Bunker, on All In The Family (1971-79). He won a pair of Emmy Awards for the role.
His list of films as a director and/or writer: This Is Spinal Tap (1984), The Sure Thing (1985), Stand By Me (1986), When Harry Met Sally (1989), A Few Good Men (1992). A really nice run of hits that also includes a favorite at my house, The Princess Bride (1987), and just a while ago, I caught Misery (1990) on TCM, and I was surprised at how well this Stephen King adaptation held together as a thriller. It’s funny and suspenseful, with an Oscar winning performance for its leading lady.
His next project is LBJ. A political drama with Woody Harrelson in the title role and featuring Richard Jenkins, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It received some enthusiastic buzz at the festivals this past autumn. Reiner is currently wrapping film on Shock And Awe, about journalists investigating the assertions by the Bush Administration concerning Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction as an excuse for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This one also stars Harrelson, along with James Marsden, Jessica Biel, and Tommy Lee Jones. Reiner is on political themed film bent these days.
My acting nemesis, Reiner, is one of the founders of the American Foundation For Equal Rights, which formed to challenge California’s Proposition 8 in the courts. Five years ago, Reiner presented the star-studded West Coast premiere of “8”, a play by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black, whose When We Rise miniseries just finished airing on ABC. “8” is about the 2010 fight against Proposition 8, the Marriage Equality ban that California voters had approved in 2008. The piece starred Martin Sheen, my boo George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Jane Lynch, Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, gay hero George Takei, Chris Colfer, Matthew Morrison and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. It raised more than $2 million to help fight for Marriage Equality.
Quite a guy, Reiner, and did I mention that he has famous parents? He is one cuddly Daddy Bear of a Left Coast Liberal Elitist Snowflake, for sure.
“I was raised in a political family. Civil Rights issues were talked about around my kitchen table. People say, ‘Do you remember where you were when President Kennedy died?’ Well, I remember where I was when Medgar Evers died. This was something I was raised in. Gay rights is an extension of the civil rights movement. There are basic civil rights denied to people.”
As you might imagine, Reiner is not big on the current POTUS:
“The problem he has, as far as I can see, is that he’s a pathological liar. There’s nothing he says that you can believe. The guy never says anything that’s truthful… there is no way to believe what he says.”
“This is a man who has no understanding of how government works, who has no understanding of public policy and how that works. He has no understanding of the world and the interconnected-ness of everything. So, this is like we’re living in a dream world where if us out here in Hollywood would ever try to create a satire of a president, if we did this you’d go, ‘Oh that’s ridiculous – nobody would create a president like this!'”
Reiner called that moment at last week’s speech before Congress when there was a standing ovation given to the widow of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens as “cringeworthy.” That’s in the context of the guy denying he ordered the mission! Not only denying the mission, but blaming the generals for message!”
Reiner is so immersed in politics these days that it is easy to forget that he directed and appeared in so many great films and television shows and is the son of the great Carl Reiner. Asked if he ever felt pressure growing up to be great like his dad:
“It’s not a pressure to be great. It’s a pressure to just succeed and survive and find your own way in the world.”