Interview: Up In The Air‘s Jason Reitman, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Walter Kirn
Interviewed by: Perri Nemiroff
Source: Cinema Blend
Please fasten your seat belt, put your seat and tray table into the upright position and prepare to enter air world. For most, traveling by plane is a hassle. Youâve got to pack up all your stuff, go through security and spend hours on a stuffy plane. On one trip, Walter Kirn came across a ânew creature,â a person who lives to fly. This chance encounter inspired Kirn to write Up In The Air.
The novel tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a corporate downsizer who considers himself a resident of the skies. He spends the majority of the year traveling the country firing people without remorse, just looking forward to getting closer to his goal of acquiring ten million frequent flier miles. Ryan thrives on his simplicity but when out of his comfort zone and off the road, heâs as complex and troubled as they come.
Kirn passed that complex story over to Jason Reitman who not only related to Ryanâs situation himself, but knew exactly what to do to adapt Kirnâs book to film. Along with actresses Vira Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, Kirn and Reitman give insight into the movie youâll be eager to see once it lands in theaters in December.
With all of the Oscar buzz surrounding the film, is there any competition between you two actresses?
Kendrick: Iâve got a hit out on Vera. AH!
[Farmiga pushes Kendrick, they laugh.]
Kendrick: Iâm going to Nancy Kerrigan youâre ass.
Farmiga: Oh, sir, there is no competition.
Kendrick: Oh! What?
Youâve been working since you were young, but before this movie, people didnât really know who you were. Can you tell us about where youâve come from and what this has done for you?
Kendrick: I grew up in Portland, Maine and I started in theater in New York when I was 12 actually. I did a show on Broadway when I was 12. I started to get into film and television when I was about 17 and eventually sort of moved to L.A. and, you know, tried to work and stuff. I think itâs a little bit weird to start working at 12 and still be thought of as a newcomer but itâs cool. Iâd rather be a newcomer than old news.
Have you ever been fired from a job?
Reitman:Iâve never been fired. Iâm frankly very good at what I do. Never been fired from anything. Iâve fired people but never been fired. I fired a seven-year-old girl once. I was directing her on a commercial and she was a bad influence on the other kids.
Kirn: I was fired from my first job as an ice cream scooper. The ice cream scoops were to be made large and hollow so as to maximize profits but I couldnât bear to give my friends hollow scoops of ice cream. At the end of one day my boss came up to me and said, âWalter, weâre going to have to let you go.â I was 15 and I said, âWhy?â She said, âBecause youâre a very heavy scooper.â
Can you tell us about the people you used in the film who were laid off?
Reitman: When I first started writing this movie it was 2003 and we were at the tail end of an economic boom and as I approached the actual shooting of the film we were now in one of the worst recessions on record and I had to adjust how we were doing these firing scenes. To do it as pure satire just didnât make sense anymore. We were shooting the film in St. Louis and Detroit, two cities that just got pummeled and we put an ad out in the paper asking if there was people whoâd lost their just that wanted to be in a documentary about job loss. We said documentary to kind of weed out actors who were trying to, you know, sneak into the film and we got a startling amount of responses. We ended up letting 60 people on camera, 22 of which who are in the film. We would interview them for about ten minuets on what itâs like to lose their job in this kind of economy and after that we would actually fire them on camera and weâd ask them to either respond the way they did the day they lost their job or if they preferred the way they wished they had responded. It was kind of an incredible experience to watch these non-actors improv with 100% realism.
Vera, youâre characterâs integrity could be considered questionable. Do you look at her as an honest or dishonest person?
Farmiga: Iâll tell ya, I think itâs what drew me to the character really. I saw her as a feminist manifesto of sorts. I really think thatâs what appealed to me about her was the integrity of self. Absolutely. Sheâs true to herself, her own needs, her desires and she has the world accommodated on all levels. I think Jason does write women as sort of modern heroines in a way. I think Alex represented to me everything that is so hard about being a woman which is this conflicted choice between career and family, between romance and respectability, between recklessness and restraint, the push and pull of being a woman. But sheâs true to herself and thatâs pretty cool to see feminine desire portrayed in that way. Usually when characters are represented this way theyâre bereft of dignity and she has self esteem, so I thought it was cool.
What was the adaptation process like?
Kirn: I think that the book is to the movie, what a piece of paper is to a paper airplane.
Reitman: That was great! Thatâs no the first time youâve said that though!
Kirn: What I mean by this paper airplane comparison is this, he took this story and he folded it and he refolded it and he transformed it in a way that I completely recognize my own impulse in writing it but when I sat down to see it was not only honored and delighted but surprised by the transformations that had taken place in my own material and some of the potentials that I left untapped and, you know, here are two characters [gestures towards Kendrick and Farmiga], one of whom is sort of in the book and one of whom is not at all in the book. Thereâs an Alex of a sort and there is no Natalie. So thereâs so much invention. I think that anyone whoâs interested in book to film adaptation really should look at this book and this film and see the way that that can be something more than a linear process but actual sort of chrysalis, you know, butterfly process. I read Jasonâs script amazed and when you talk about Oscars and that sort of thing, because I know the source material that it came from intimately, there is a very deserved one there.
Reitman: Wow. Thank you. That was incredibly generous and startlingly well put. And a great market thing. Iâm not sure if you noticed that but he said that âyou should really read the book and see the movie.â
Reitman: Oh! You know what? Thatâs true!
Kirn: You know, you wonât read this book and then know everything thatâs going to happen in the movie and you wonât see the movie and know everything thatâs going to happen in the book.
Reitman: Thereâs more waiting for you.
Do you yourself have an affinity for âair worldâ like the character Ryan?
Kirn:Jason and I have compared mileage âŚ in the menâs room.
Reitman: [Laughs] You stole it! I was thinking it!
Kirn: Just before we came in. He has approximately 15,000 times I think the mileage that I have. I wrote this book in [Earl], Montana of all places, in a snowbound winter on a ranch thinking about airports and airplanes and thinking about a particular conversation Iâd had that had startled me. I sat down in a first class cabin â somebody else must have been paying â and you know, Iâm the guy you donât want to sit next to on an airplane because I want to know your story and want to tell you mine and I asked him where he was from this line is in the movie. He said, âIâm from right hereâ and I said, âWhat do you mean by that?â He said, âWell, I used to have an apartment in Atlanta but I never used it. It just collected dust and then I got a storage locker, I stay in hotels and am on the road 300 days a year. So this is where Iâm form and this is my family.â He pointed to a flight attendant and said, âI know her. I know her name. I know her kidsâ names.â And I thought, this is a new creature. I felt like an ornithologist discovering a new bird and when youâre a novelist and you discover a new creature and you discover a sort of new environment in which this creature is possible, you have to write the book.
Reitman: Well, Walter, itâs not how many miles you have, itâs how you use them. [Laughs] Sorry, I couldnât resist that. Iâm a flyer. I fly a lot. The reason I love that book is because I am loyal to one airline. I fly it religiously. Iâd rather have a connecting flight than fly nonstop on another airline. I have a very specific way that I pack. I have a specific way that I go through security. I choreographed how George packs and goes through security on this film. I was very detail oriented on this. I love flying. I think that â the reason why I loved to go to movie theaters when I was a kid is I liked to be alone and I liked to turn the rest of the world off and the movie theater used to be that place but it stopped being that I think mostly because of cell phones. But, your cell phone doesnât work on an airplane and, oddly, being in the air is the last refuge for those who like to be alone. I love to be amongst strangers. I like sitting next to the person, you know, thatâs got the window seat and have a conversation with them, the kind that which I could not have if someone if I actually knew them. I see a beauty in the idea of travel that I recognized in your book and I wanted to explore that on film. Thereâs a great line in the book and itâs true for me, âEverything you hate about travel is why I love it.â
Can you elaborate on the adaption process and what itâs like seeing your work altered?
Kirn: I wrote a script to this book, which was terrible and caused its option to be dropped by another studio and that script disappeared into the sands of â or into the dustpans of Hollywood and then I woke up one day thinking there would never be a life to this book and found out that, you know, somebody whose name I knew, whose work I respected and who happened to be very hot thought â or was telling people that this was going to be his next movie. So really, it was like waking up in a dream world because Iâd failed to do it, the thing had disappeared and I wasnât sure whether to believe the e-mail and I said something like, âSo youâre involved with my movie or somethingâ and Jason said, âNo, this is my next movie. Iâm writing itâ and so on. See, anything that comes to me from the Los Angeles zip code is subjected to a 99% skepticism test and then when I heard from him again a few months later, and then when I actually saw him and he showed up at the place where we were supposed to meet and then when I found out that theyâd actually casted the movie, I thought this is the first guy that has ever told me the truth from the city and heâs told it to me four times and it just gets better and better and then I read the script and it was a good script and then I went to the movie at his house â now that was manipulative â and it was a great movie. And, so, I have had the best case scenario experience and Iâm not just saying that. Iâm a realist as a novelist and Iâm being realistic here. Sometimes miracles happen and this was one of them.