In the romantic comedy “And So It Goes,” Michael Douglas plays Oren Little, a bitter, curmudgeonly real-estate agent who is widowed and making plans for his retirement after a long and successful career. Oren doesn’t seem to want family and friends in his life, so it’s not surprising that he has a prickly relationship with part-time lounge singer Leah Hartman (played by Diane Keaton), who is a tenant/neighbor in the fourplex where he lives. Oren’s life takes a drastic turn when his estranged son Luke (played by Scott Shepherd), who is a single dad, suddenly shows up to drop off his 9-year-old daughter Sarah (played by Sterling Jerins), and asks Oren to take care of her before Luke goes to prison on a felony drug charge.
Living with a granddaughter he has just met, Oren is a reluctant and sometimes insensitive guardian to the little girl, while Leah (who widowed and has no kids) quickly bonds with the child. Over time, as Oren gets to know Sarah and Leah better, he starts to see things in a different light. There is an undeniable attraction between Oren and Leah, but is it enough to overcome Oren’s plans to move to another state when he retires? Rob Reiner, who directed “And So It Goes,” has a supporting role in the movie as Leah’s pianist Artie, who has an unrequited crush on Leah. At the New York City press junket for “And So It Goes,” I sat down with Reiner for a roundtable interview that he did with me and other journalists. Here is what he said.
You’ve done very few on-screen roles in the past several years, and it’s even more unusual for you to act in movies that you direct. At what point did you know that you had to be in “And So It Goes”?
I didn’t know that I had to be in this movie. The first thing I did was I wanted Marc Shaiman. The guy plays piano. I don’t play piano. I had to fake it. I wanted Marc Shaiman, who’s done all the music for my films. He wasn’t available. And then I tried to get Paul Shaffer, who I worked with on Spinal Tap,” and he wasn’t available. ‘
And so I was thinking, “Oh my God, who am I going to get? And I don’t have a lot of money. I’ve got to get somebody who can work for scale.” I looked around, and I found myself. And so, I did it. I don’t really like acting in my own movies, but it’s very hard to pass up the chance to wear an undetectable toupee …
Yes, what about that toupee?
The whole art of putting on a toupee is that nobody should know. I tried on a lot of different types to make sure I got the right one. There was one that made me look like Hitler. It’s bad enough I’ve got to wear a toupee. I don’t want to look like the leader of the Third Reich. Put that one aside.
You, Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton have been famous since the 1970s. Can you talk about how it’s taken you this long to work with each other?
It’s just the way things are. You make movies. I’ve been a huge admirer of [Diane Keaton] for so many years. And I’ve known her and seen her at places, but we just never had the opportunity. So this was like a gift. To find these two people and to do a romantic comedy about people finding each other later on in life, and to get these two incredible actors who are also very attractive and sexy and all that, it’s just incredible. It’s amazing.
Do you get intimidated by any actors?
I don’t get intimidated, only because I’ve now gotten to the point where I realize we’re all the same. We really are all the same. The Human Genome Project — all that stuff — it doesn’t matter who you’re with.
They’re just a person. You want them to act like a decent person. The only thing I don’t like is when somebody acts like not a nice person. Then it’s no good.
Other than that, it’s just a person. This person has this talent. This person does this. I don’t get intimidated, no.
There’s a scene in “And So It Goes” where Artie falls down on a Slip’N Slide. Is it hard for you to direct yourself in that kind of scene?
It is, and that’s why I usually don’t like acting in the movies that I direct, because it’s kind of a split focus. And whenever I’m doing a particular scene like that, I have to run back and look on the playback.
I usually don’t use the playback. I have a monitor that I’m watching, but I don’t play anything back, because I can see if I’ve got it. But this one, I can see. I don’t see if I have anything, so I have to go look.
How many takes did you do for that scene?
I think we did three. Two or three. I’ll drop my drawers if I can get a laugh.
And you didn’t have any injuries?
No. I did a big slip there though.
Can you talk about the concept of a grandparent becoming the guardian of a grandchild? It’s not something we see too often in movies.
The AARP says that something like 4 percent of all kids are being raised by grandparents. It’s probably more than that by now. I think it’s all good. You want to make your life useful, and you want to be able to do something with your life.
There’s a great story about a woman. I don’t remember her name. She was in a terrible accident. She was 20, 21 years old. A car hit her while she was jogging. She was going to college at the time.
Everything was broken. She was in the hospital for about a year-and-a-half. And they had to put her in an induced coma to fix her up. And when she came back, she couldn’t walk. She couldn’t see, she couldn’t hear so well, she couldn’t talk. And they had no room for her at the hospital, so they sent her to this old folks’ home.
And these old people said, “We’ve got this young girl. She’s 21, 22 years old.” She’s got this bed. So they started helping her to learn how to read again.
In a couple of years, she got back to where she was OK. And she started this thing about group sourcing, work sourcing with groups. She started this company and made, like, $2 billion.
The point is you want to be able to find something that you want to engage your life — whatever it is. If you want to be a singer, you want to help people, raise kids — whatever it is, hopefully you can embrace those things, because at a certain point, you’re going to be dead. Everybody is. And so you want to say, “OK, I did as much as I could” or “I touched people” or whatever you can do.
You’ve been very skilled at choosing the right music for your movies. Did you have any songs in mind when you read the script for “And So It Goes”?
It was initially written by Mark Andrus, and I always do at least two or three passes with my partner Andy Scheinman. But I never think about music at the time that I’m writing, because the movie has to work. And then you think about the best pieces of music that are out.
With Diane, [the Leah character] wasn’t originally a singer. Mark wrote a character who created these kinds of tapestries, these woven tapestries that she would make. And so, when Diane came up with the idea of [Leah] being a singer, I thought it was great. My mother, at age 65, became a singer, so that was something that resonated with me.
Diane and I, we had ideas for songs. We’d go back and forth, and she would basically just try them out and see if she could sing them and felt comfortable. And then, we hit on the songs we had which worked for the film and that she could also sing well.
Is there anything you did while making “And So It Goes” that you’d never done before making this movie?
Not really. I love to make a good atmosphere. That’s what we remember, just the doing of it, you know? I just like to have a good time. My producing partner, a guy called Alan Greisman, we make a whole joke about it. This [movie], we shot in Connecticut. The whole thing was in Connecticut.
I lived in Westport when we were making a movie. I said to Alan, “We’ve got to find a diner … because that becomes part of my life.” And there’s a little scene in the movie about the donuts. You’ll notice in the movie, there’s a place called Coffee An’. There’s a place in Westport called Coffee An’, and that’s where we went every morning.
So you really get into the local culture when you’re on location?
I do. When I did “Flipped,” we were in Ann Arbor. It’s a great college town. There’s a place called the Fleetwood Diner. And I would go there. That was my place. And when we did “The Magic of Belle Isle,” we were in New York [state], in Greenwood Lake, and there was a place called the Buzz Cafe. I used to go in there. It was run by a woman who used to be a hippie. It would have great music. I just like to make an experience out of it.
Do you approach each movie in ways that are the same or is it different every time?
It’s different in each project. In “Stand by Me,” I had four kids who didn’t have very much experience, so I spent two weeks with them, essentially giving them acting class. In the first week, we just improvised and played theater games. And in the second week, we worked on the script and the scenes. By the time they were ready to shoot, they’d become a well-oiled machine. Working with professionals who have a lot of experience, you don’t have to do as much of that.
I approach each thing differently. Like with “Spinal Tap,” the whole thing was improvised. There’s no prep work, really, for that, except for getting the sets and the scenes and the locations nailed down. And making sure you have actors. In this case, we had good actors who were all schooled in improv, so that was comfortable for us.
You’ve made a lot of movies that can be considered classics. Is that something you felt at the time you made them?
Never. You never know. You just do what you do. And if you’re lucky, it lasts, and that’s kind of nice, because you’re going to be gone, and hopefully, somebody will watch them and get some pleasure out of it down the road, but you never know. I just try to do what I think I like, and hopefully, somebody else likes it.
How do you feel when people tell you that they’ve shared your movies with their children?
That’s the biggest kick of all. It really is. “The Princess Bride” is a perfect example. There are people who’ve come up to me who saw the film when they were 8 or 9 years old. And now they have kids who are 8 or 9 years old. And they’re sharing that film with them. So there’s nothing greater. It’s just a great feeling.
[One of the reporters mentions that she named her dog Gordie after the “Stand by Me” character Gordie Lachance, played by Wil Weaton in the movie.]
There were four characters, the four boys, and the way it was written, Gordie was kind of removed. He was kind of an observer. He was the one who becomes a writer. There was no emotional Gordie story so much. The writing was so good and the short story, but I needed to find a hook or my way into it. I can’t tell stories unless I can find my way into it.
So I said, “Gordie’s father is upset because his older brother died. So maybe Gordie doesn’t think his father loves him. And the reason why he’s going to see this dead body is because he didn’t cry at his brother’s funeral. And maybe he’s holding some things in about how he feels about his dad.”
And then, I brought that character out and made it the main character, and then I could tell the story. Initially, when there’s a face-off at the end, with the older boys like Kiefer Sutherland, about who’s going to take the body. In the book, it’s Chris that gets the gun.
Andy Scheinman, who’s my writing partner, said, “Wait a minute. Let’s have Gordie pick it up. Now that we’ve made Gordie the main character, and it’s about him coming into his own, he’s the one who stands down to the older boys.”
And so that changed. That was a great moment, because when we first showed it to Stephen King, it was a true story. He actually went with three buddies to look at a [dead] body. He couldn’t speak afterwards and walked away for a little while and said. “It was great and it’s the best thing that’s ever been done by [a filmmaker who has adapted my work], but that’s not saying much.” He gave a little caveat.
And then he said, “Sometimes you do something, and somebody else does something, and you wish you would have thought of it. I wish I would’ve thought of Gordie picking up that gun.” So that made me feel really good that we had done that.
For people who are big fans of “This Is Spinal Tap,” what can you about the movie that hasn’t been revealed yet?
We had a whole section in the movie where they had an opening act called The Dose. It was kind of a punk band. And it was fronted by Cherie Currie, who was in The Runaways. And she was sleeping around with all the different band members. And so you’d see her with Nigel and then with David … And every time, they’d show up with a herpes sore.
And then it culminated with the band members sitting around deciding what to do with this opening act. Four of them had herpes sores, and the drummer didn’t. They were all going to vote on whether or not they were going to keep The Dose as the opening act.
And everybody wanted to get rid of her, but the drummer says, “Why? I think they’re great!” He was the only one who didn’t have a herpes sore. It took too long to tell that whole story.
Which one of your movies do you most want to see being made into a musical or play?
“The Princess Bride.” It’s difficult to pull off … as a musical. I’ve talked to Marc Shaiman about it. He said, “I wouldn’t know what to do. It’s too good a movie. I can’t imagine.” I talked to Randy Newman who also couldn’t.
There was a moment where John Mayer, who I thought had a sense of humor and could do some interesting lyrics. And then he said he was going to do it, then he backed out because he said, “It’s too much. I can’t do it.”
So it really requires finding the right composer. because there are certain moments in the film — “As you wish,” [which could be] a great love song and “the battle of wits” and “inconceivable” and “My name is Inigo Montoya.” There’s a lot of areas where you could put music, but you need somebody who really, really has a sense of the same thing that the movie has, which is there’s the love story and the adventure. And then there’s also a little bit bent and you’re poking fun at the same time. So it’s a tricky little line to walk.
For more info: "And So It Goes" website