In Up in the Air, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who travels 322 days a year for his job as a corporate downsizer. (That's the polite way of saying he fires people for a living.) He's passionate about his solitary way of life, until an eager young colleague and a beautiful woman turn his idea of happiness upside down. Just days before his Golden Globe nomination for the film, we chatted with Jason Reitman about his own passion for air travel, the common thread between all his main characters and how the sinking economy changed his film.
Rachel Bertsche: Ryan Bingham is so passionate about air travel, or "air world" as Up in the Air author Walter Kirn called it. That's so true of frequent travelers, and we all know someone like Ryan. My own brother travels a ton for work and really prides himself on his knowledge about flying and, like Ryan, is totally judgmental of amateur fliers. What is it about the air community that makes them have such strong feelings about something that so many regular people really hate doing? These days so many people hate traveling.
Jason Reitman: I think it's a combination of things. One, it's the thing that you first brought up—it is a community. If you look at a website like FlyerTalk.com, for example, you will find a group of people who have banded together in their passion for this kind of lifestyle of living continuously on the road and who have an unusual definition of the word home. It's a group of people that are just as comfortable if not more comfortable living in constant flux—hotel to hotel, airport to airport—who get a sense of thrill from being surrounded by those destination boards knowing that they could suddenly be off to any city in the world. People who live by their daily itinerary. And I think one of the reasons they have this not only passion, but indignation, is that there's been enough movies like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, there's been enough news pieces and articles on the frustrations of travels. It's an easy enough conversation point, so if you love travel then you angrily defend it. It's funny, we just had this contest online about what your favorite travel tips are, and tips came in one of two fashions. Either it was people who don't travel a lot putting up a tip about how to be more courteous, and being more courteous is the first sign that you are not a traveler. And then for the people who do travel a lot, the tips were, like, if you are not a real traveler why are you in the expert travel line? They have an expression called "gate lice," and that is for people without status that are hanging out near the entrance to the jetway unaware that they are blocking the way for first-class passengers and, more importantly, passengers with high status that need to get through. There's a strange sort of democracy that anyone can rise to the level of elite in air travel, anyone can earn their miles and show their loyalty and end up with a high level of status, and they don't want to be left with the riffraff.
RB: I loved the part where Ryan explains to his co-worker who you should and shouldn't get behind in line when you're going through security.
JR: Yeah, I would add to that list that you should not get behind people who wear belts. People with belts have no sense of urgency; they just do not care apparently what time they arrive.