Coaxing the best performance
October 2, 2005
Toward the end of his tribute evening at the Wheeler Opera House Friday night, when he received Aspen Filmfest’s Independent by Nature award, Rob Reiner revealed that he was interested in adding a musical to his filmography as a director. Over the previous two hours, which included a reel of highlights from his previous films and an on-stage conversation with actress Kathy Bates, Reiner demonstrated why he would be a good match for a musical.Reiner seemed, at heart, a song-and-dance man. He didn’t sing, although he likened directing to conducting an orchestra, trying to coax the best performances out of each player. And he didn’t dance, although his constant, animated gesticulating approximated movement art.
But in a laugh-filled evening, Reiner proved himself an entertainer through and through. He delved into some technical issues: camera angles, why television is such a good training ground for cinema. But when Bates nudged the conversation too far toward the technical side, Reiner – who minutes before had claimed to be a master in how not to bore people – looked out at the crowd, and asked, “Are you getting bored yet? Yeah, a little,” he answered himself.Reiner was right on target, and proceeded to make sure the boredom never returned. Turning the tribute into a quasi-performance, Reiner injected humor into every subject that came up, serious or not.When talk turned to “Rumor Has It,” the upcoming Reiner-directed film which features Bates, the actress revealed how glad she was that her dog got to be in the film, because it had recently had 16 teeth pulled. “What are you feeding that dog, only hard candy?” Reiner quipped.
Taking the audience behind the scenes of his romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally,” Reiner revealed that Meg Ryan wasn’t quite getting in the proper mood for the famous orgasm-in-Katz’s-Deli scene. It was up to Reiner to demonstrate just how unrestrained he wanted her to appear – a demonstration Reiner’s mother, Estelle, witnessed. It was Estelle who got the best line – “I’ll have what she’s having” – out of the scene, which recently made AFI’s list of the 100 most memorable lines. “Gable, Bogart, Brando – and Estelle Reiner,” Rob Reiner joked.Reiner praised the independent wing of American cinema, saying it has become the sole repository for challenging, intelligent filmmaking. He considered himself fortunate not to be part of the studio system; he has made virtually all of his films over the last two decades under the banner of Castle Rock, which he founded with several friends in the mid-’80s. He also shared episodes proving the advantages of going against conventional studio wisdom. Early in his career, a studio executive assured Reiner that the studio wanted to let the director make the films he wanted – until he revealed that he wanted to make “The Princess Bride,” a fantasy tale. “No, not that,” the exec shot back. Reiner made the film, now a classic of family-friendly cinema.
And when Reiner cast the little-known Bates in the thriller “Misery,” he recognized his instincts went against the Hollywood grain.”Getting the best actress for the part – that’s not risky,” he said. “Getting a name actress who may not be right for the part and might ruin the movie – that’s risky.”Reiner didn’t need to point out that Bates’ winning of the best actress Oscar for her performance in “Misery” vindicated him.