LBJ in Theaters 11/3/17 – check out the Facebook page here for more info!
Film Courage: One great thing I just heard you say was wherever we go, we take ourselves with us.
Rob Reiner: True. Wherever you are, there you are. It’s a line I remember from Buckaroo Banzai. But I’ve always loved that line because that’s true.
Film Courage: It is true and for better or worse you can’t get away from yourself.
Rob Reiner: You can’t! But hopefully you want to be around yourself. That’s the key! If you like yourself, then no matter where you go, it’s okay.
Film Courage: Right! And I know LBJ struggled with various self-esteem issues which was interesting to see [in the film] one statement was so fascinating in that he said [paraphrasing] there are show ponies and field horses.
Rob Reiner: Right, there are show horses and work horses. He said he thought of himself as a work horse. And the reason he was is because he knew that he was not a show horse. He was not somebody that you would immediately take…he wasn’t overly handsome, worried about sex appeal or whatever the Kennedy party had, right? But so if he was going to be liked and in the case of Johnson, he was so insecure, he desperately wanted to be loved. The way to make that happen was to work so hard to deliver results for people that they would love him for.
Film Courage: You did an excellent job of showing these various scenes where it was unspoken but you could see what was going on whether it was the crowd scene [as he’s shaking hands and being upstaged by Kennedy]. When you are directing a scene, how are you thinking about a character arc in each take?
Rob Reiner: Well the way I look at any film that I do is there’s a spine that goes through a film and you decide ahead of time what is the story you want to take? And in the case of LBJ, it’s LBJ. So this is the story of who is this guy? So every scene has to attach to the spine in some way. In other ways, each scene you will learn a little bit more about who this guy is. So by the end of the journey you say “Okay, I got a full picture of who he is.”
Film Courage: You didn’t play a[n acting] role in this film?
Rob Reiner: You know, I didn’t because first of all I don’t really like acting and directing. I find it splits my mind attention, my focus. I’ve done it but I don’t love it.
And there was no real part for me. Who am I going to play? I can’t be Jack Kennedy. I’m too…I’m a Jewish guy from the Bronx. I can’t be Bobby Kennedy. I’m too big.
Film Courage: So you’re known for a fast-paced directing style. Would you say it’s sped up over the years as the world has sped up, or you’ve actually slowed down and you’ve been a contrarian?
Rob Reiner: No…I’ve actually have had to speed it up because I have less time to make films.
Every film that I’ve ever made would never get made in a studio. They are not the kind of films studios make so I have to finance them independently and whenever you finance a film independently, you have a strict budget. You have a short amount of time to make the film. So I love doing crossword puzzles. I love puzzles and I try to figure out what’s the best way to get this done in the most economic way possible.
Film Courage: Having been on both sides of the camera, from being an actor what were a few things that you said as a director, I swear I’m never going to do this. Whether it’s 50 takes of one scene, not showing actors dailies, etc.?
Rob Reiner: The main thing I say is I would never ask an actor to do something I couldn’t do. And I’m not the best actor in the world (I’m a decent actor, but I’m not the best). The people who I get, who I ask to play these parts, they are all better than me at what they’re doing, at the part that they are doing.
So I know if I can do that and make the transition I ask them to make or play an emotion in the scene, I know they can do it because I can do it. I would never ask him to do something I couldn’t do.
Film Courage: I think you’d said 10, 20 years ago you couldn’t do this film. Why now?
Rob Reiner: Well, more than that. It was more than 20 years ago. When I think about LBJ, I was of draft age, you know during the Vietnam War. So I didn’t like LBJ. I mean I saw him one way, as my enemy, the guy who could send me to my death so I didn’t like him and it wasn’t until I matured, I spent time in politics, I spent time in government. I had a job in California government for seven years, that I started to really understand and appreciate what he was able to accomplish. And it’s only at that point where I said “Well, let me take a look at this guy” because it’s almost like if you look at it’s like a tale of two presidencies.
He’s got the Vietnam War and then he’s got his domestic achievements, which (except for FDR) is probably the greatest of all time and had it not been for Vietnam, he probably gone down as one of the greatest presidents of all time.
Film Courage: We have a lot of first time filmmakers who watch our videos. What would you tell a first time filmmaker about getting their film made?
Rob Reiner: Well here’s the beauty…when I was starting out…you know…making films, the materials, that are used to make a film are expensive.
It’s the camera, there’s film stock, there’s editing, there’s lights (all this stuff).
Now, to make a film, all you need is an iPhone, a Smart Phone and your computer to edit. I mean you can use available light. So there is no excuse to not just making a film. Write the script, get your friends who you think can act and actually make a film and it doesn’t cost very much.
So…you know… it’s that…”Just do it!” It’s a Nike thing…[off camera laughter].
After powerful Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson loses the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination to Senator John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), he agrees to be his young rival’s running mate. But once they win the election, despite his extensive legislative experience and shrewd political instincts, Johnson finds himself sidelined in the role of Vice President. That all changes on Nov. 22, 1963, when Kennedy is assassinated and Johnson, with his devoted wife Lady Bird (Leigh) by his side, is suddenly thrust into the presidency. As the nation mourns, Johnson must contend with longtime adversary Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Stahl-David) and one-time mentor Georgia Sen. Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins) as he seeks to honor JFK’s legacy by championing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Richard Jenkins, Bill Pullman, Jeffrey Donovan and Michael Stahl-David.
Directed By: Rob Reiner
Written By: Joey Hartstone