Jason Reitman Men Women and Children InterviewIf you've seen one of Jason Reitman's movies, you know that he's very willing to go to some very extreme and, at times, uncomfortable places. From the cigarette industry ("Thank You for Smoking") to teen pregnancy ("Juno") to arrested development ("Young Adult," still his very best and most complicated film), there's a fearlessness with which he treats his subject matter that is positively intoxicating.

His new film, "Men, Women & Children," which expands nationwide this week, is centered around our relationship with technology (and how that relationship can mess with our interpersonal lives). It stars Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer, Jennifer Garner and Dean Norris, and takes a kind of "Traffic"-like structural approach, showing characters crisscrossing into each others lives (and, of course, web browsers).

We got a chance to talk to Reitman about what it was like asking Emma Thompson, who plays a narrator in the style of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," to say some really filthy stuff, when he knew he had pushed things too far, and what it was like working with Sandler.


Moviefone: There's a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" poster on the bedroom wall of one of the kids. The movie is set in Texas, obviously, and that movie is very important to Texans (autobiographical aside: this interviewer was born in Texas). But where did that come from?

Jason Reitman: That was a recommendation from the production designer Bruce Curtis. And I thought it was such a great idea. We were looking for old posters and fun stuff to put on the wall. And we were always trying to clearly set the movie in Texas. And that poster fulfilled every goal. It's this early Austin independent film and simultaneously was such a bad-ass poster.

The movie has this great narration for Emma Thompson. What was the filthiest thing you had her say and did she ever not want to say some of the stuff?

Emma Thompson is not a prude. And she has this line "titty-fucking cum queen." I still cannot believe I got to hear Emma Thompson say that. When she said it, she barely made it through the last syllable before she burst into laughter. I was much more concerned with what I could get away with, with an audience, before making people storm out of the theater.

Did you ever push it too far?

There used to be a scene where we watched the young boy, who is addicted to pornography, masturbating. And he was attempting to masturbate to a photo of his girlfriend and he was failing, because it wasn't porn. There was nothing graphic about the way it was shot, but just the idea of being in the room with him made audiences very uncomfortable. I could tell we were losing the audience. If it was in French, it would still be in there.

There's this whole motif with a satellite zooming through space. Was that something you had taken from the book?

The book talks about "Pale Blue Dot," because the Tim Moony character (played by Ansel Elgort) is a fan of "Pale Blue Dot." It was off of that that my producer suggested I listen to the "Radiolab" about the creation of the golden record by Carl Sagan. And I loosely knew the Voyager story but it went into way more detail and it really spoke to this human instinct to connect that we'd reach out into space to try and connect with something we didn't know even existed. It felt like the perfect way to open the movie. And I suggested it to Erin Cressida Wilson, my co-writer, and what if we had this narrator who was the voice of Voyager looking back on earth and observing humanity like a documentarian would observe animals in the wild.

Movies about people on computers can be very boring to watch. But you made things extremely visual. What was that process like?

It's interesting -- when you set a movie in 2014, if you're going to be honest with the way people act and interact, you have to face the fact that people spend the majority of the day alone, interacting with a little piece of glass. And that's not exactly an exciting thing to watch. Because they may be connecting with people on the other end but how do you film people tapping away on a keyboard or tapping away on glass? I had seen "House of Cards" and was wondering how people show that. At one point I was looking at my computer desktop and thought, Well what if I treat my desktop image on my computer as if it was the film playing? And everything that appears above it -- an icon, a window, a tab -- was stuff that I was used to seeing. You're used to see that floating above a desktop image. And I had started to shoot tests. I would bring them to the guy who designs all my opening titles, and we would try all this stuff out. It was really tricky to figure out. Then we had to board the entire movie because we had to create all of this negative space in the frame, for all of this stuff to exist. We also had to build the production design so that if we know a window is going to be next to someone's head, we can't have something really busy in the background. Then we had to build all of the stuff that goes on the internet, because I actually wanted the actors on set to be using the internet. I didn't want to do a bunch of screen replacements. So we built software that would emulate the internet in a controllable way and build all of these web pages from scratch.

Was it tricky to try and make a movie set in 2014 that wouldn't be dated in 5 years?

I kind of like the fact that it's 2014. I wanted to make a 2014 movie where, if you look at it in 5 or 10 years, you go, "Yes, that's exactly where we were at." Things are changing so quickly that the idea that this is a movie about a very specific moment makes me happy. There are elements that are timeless. The timeless elements are the things that the movie is actually about -- connection, intimacy, the lies that we tell, our secret desires -- all that stuff has been around since the beginning of human civilization. We are in a very specific time when we're revealing ourselves and we're not revealing ourselves to each other, we're revealing ourselves to our search engines. It's the first moment when that's happening and that's kind of interesting.

What was it like working with Sandler?

He reached out to me a few years ago. We were talking about movie ideas and I realized that our sensibilities were much closer than what I thought. There were a few ideas that we were interested in making together. And as we were writing this movies, we thought he would be perfect for the character of Don and he would lend an accessibility to the opening of the film. Because it opens to him masturbating to his son's computer and it ends with a very tricky conversation between him and his wife about whether or not they should be honest about everything. It was a tricky role that required genuine vulnerability and an openness about stuff that actors generally don't like being open about on screen. His willingness to go there is one of the reasons the film is so successful and his performance is so successful.

"Men, Women & Children" is in select theaters now, and opens wider October 10.

Men, Women & Children Movie Poster
Men, Women & Children
In Theaters on October 1, 2014

Like many Americans, average suburbanite Don Truby (Adam Sandler) and his 15-year-old son use the Internet... Read More

categories Interviews, Movies