Writer and director Jason Reitman is the man behind hit movies like Thank You for Smoking and Juno. His latest box office offering, Up in the Air, is about Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, who makes his living crisscrossing the country firing people. 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.
Jason started writing Up in the Air seven years ago, long before the economy took a turn for the worse, but over time the movie evolved into an honest look at how the economic downturn affects everyday people on a very personal level. "I thought I was making a movie about a single man, about a guy who was trying to figure out who and what he wanted in his life," he says. "And over the course of writing it, the world changed. ... We went from an economic book to one of the worst recessions on record. So the film just began to reflect what was going on."
One of the reasons Up in the Air feels like such an honest look at today's world is that Jason cast everyday people who had just lost their jobs in the roles of the employees being fired. "I recognized early on that I did not have the life experience to speak to this in an authentic way," Jason says. "So we reached out in the community in Detroit and St. Louis, where we were shooting the film, and found people who had just lost their jobs. ... We said, 'We'd like to fire you on camera, and we'd like you to say whatever you said on the day you lost your job, or, if you prefer, what you wish you had said."
LaMorris, Marlene and Arthur were three of the real-life unemployed who were cast in Jason's film. All three of them say that the role validated their own experiences of being laid off. "What was going through my head was, at the time, I had my family, my wife, my kids and how am I going to support them? Times are hard, the job market's tough," LaMorris says. "It was real."
Marlene says that, after 27 years at the same company, she was fired with an impersonal letter and is still unemployed. "When it happens, you're basically just going through the motions. You're numb. Then after you process it, you realize that you're not going to see your work friends anymore. You're not going to have a paycheck or health benefits or vacation time or sick leave," she says. "So after it settles in, you realize that by just being handed a letter, in a day your whole life changes."
Arthur, another everyday citizen cast in Up in the Air, says working with Jason changed his life and that the movie gave the world a chance to see what he has been through. "Not only was I just devastated when I lost my job, but the fact that I was a model employee—I never came in late to work, I had perfect attendance, I got along with everybody—it was a double shocker, you know? You go through all these different emotions, because when you lose your job, you're like, losing your life," he says. "All of us shared this opportunity, which came my way through Jason Reitman, who I believe is a genius to have the foresight and the sensitivity to point out people and find people like myself that are going through real emotions and real trauma."
Jason says that using people like Arthur, Marlene and LaMorris made the film real in a way that he never could have as a filmmaker. "You said the kind of things that I would have never written and you said them in a way that I could have never directed you to do," he says. "You gave all the actors a run for their money. They were very intimidated when they saw your performances."
Jason's quick to point out that Up in the Air is not all serious. "It's a movie that is dramatic and is also comedic," he says. "It is just as much a mirror of George Clooney as it is a mirror to America, and hopefully you will not only kind of recognize what is going on in this economy in the film, but you'll recognize what it's like to go through a midlife crisis."
Jason won a 2010 Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and gave a touching acceptance speech in which he thanked both his wife and his parents. Jason's father, Ivan Reitman, is a legendary director and producer and the mind behind iconic comedies like Animal House, Ghostbusters and Stripes. Ivan was also a producer on Up in the Air, which Jason described as an"unusual" experience. "It's wonderful because obviously there's no one I trust more in the world than my dad," he says. "But it's strange because you have to figure out this new dynamic because we speak every night and you have to start separating the conversations. ... Every once in a while, the [lines] would cross accidentally and I would talk to him about something fatherly in a producorial way, and then you have to stop and go: 'Oh no, wrong conversation. Wrong mode.'"
His father is also the man who convinced Jason to follow his dream of making movies. "I was pre-med, and the reason I'd gone pre-med was I was scared of being a director. I'm well aware of the perceptions of the children of famous filmmakers," he says. "I thought: 'Why enter a career with there is the presumption [that you have no talent]? And, outside of that, if I find success, I'll be in his shadow my whole life. And if I fail, I'll fail on a very public level.'" But Jason says his father came to visit him while he was in school and explained that being scared isn't a reason to do anything. "He's the person who pushed me to come back to Los Angeles and pursue being a storyteller."
Printed from Oprah.com on Tuesday, December 10, 2013