If you haven’t yet seen Up in the Air, here’s what you probably already know: George Clooney is in it. It’s about air travel. It’s about firing people. It’s probably going to win an Oscar for something. The film’s 32-year-old director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno) learned at the knee of his director father Ivan (Ghostbusters, Stripes), who also produced Up in the Air.
Do you partake in the Los Angeles ritual of waking up at 5 a.m. to watch the Oscar nominations?
Ivan: Only if you think you’ve got a shot. It’s a very cruel thing to do if you don’t. I’ve only gotten up for Jason, starting with Thank You for Smoking; I thought he would win a screenwriting nomination. He did not. And then on Juno, he did.
Jason: Thank You for Smoking was heartbreaking because I’d gotten a Writers Guild nomination and an Independent Spirit Award, and I thought, This might just happen. My father consoled me. He said, “It’s only going to make you more hungry.”
How did you get the initial meeting with George Clooney?
Jason: His agent knew I was writing a script for George and I was going on vacation to Italy, and he said, “You should just go see George [in Lake Como]. I thought it was an awful idea—what if he hates it? And his agent said, “Oh, he’ll read it in advance.” And I got to George’s house and the first question he asked was, “What are you working on these days?” Ivan: [Laughs loudly.] Nice.
Jason, after just three films you’re already polarizing critics. For example, Armond White of the New York Press opened his Up in the Air review with: “Jason Reitman’s movies come in three forms: Rubbish (Thank You for Smoking), Crap (Juno), and Swill (Up in the Air).”
Jason: [Laughs.] That’s a good one.
My editor wanted me to get your reaction to that.
Jason: Did your editor also suggest you tell me I’m extraordinarily pale and Jewy-looking and I should lose some weight? [Laughs.] What was the name of the guy who wrote that?
Jason: Well, I don’t think he’s going to like my fourth film any better. My films are polarizing. I don’t want to tell my audience what to think. Thank You for Smoking—liberals thought it was theirs and conservatives thought it was theirs. And pro-lifers thought Juno was theirs and pro-choicers thought it was theirs. Up in the Air has a similar divide, depending on what people think the ending of the movie means. I would be curious to hear what Armond thinks of The Insider, a film that goes [slams down fist]: “Smoking bad! Tobacco people bad!” And for me that’s so boring. But, look, for some that’s the experience they want and those movies exist for them. I want people to talk.