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In the late 1960s, Rob Reiner broke into show business writing for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Several years later he landed the role that would define him as an actor—and earn him five Emmy nominations—Michael "Meathead" Stivic on the inflammatory sitcom All in the Family. But for the past three decades, Reiner has spent most of his time in the director's chair. He has helmed feature films such as The Princess Bride, Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally, This Is Spinal Tap, The American President, A Few Good Men, Misery and The Bucket List. Prior to our reviewing the PG-rated Flipped, Rob spoke with us about that project, filmmaking, his relationship with his famous father, and more.

Tell us about your new movie, Flipped.
Well, it's a coming-of-age love story. It takes place in the late 50s/early 60s, much like Stand By Me. And it's about examining those first very powerful, confusing feelings of falling in love for the first time. It's about two 12- going on 13-year-olds who live across the street from each other in this suburban neighborhood, and about what happens between the two of them and their families, and the values they both represent. [We see] how they help shape these kids to give them the character they need in order to make those first beautiful connections.

You mentioned Stand By Me. When I saw the trailer for Flipped, that was the film that immediately came to mind. What is it about the combination of the late 50s and early 60s, the music of the day and using relatively unknown young actors that, as a filmmaker, has appealed to you?
For me, that's when I came of age. I was 12 going on 13 during that period, so it resonates for me. When I first read this book, even though it took place in the present-day, it reminded me of the feelings I had when I first fell in love. So I decided to put it in that time period. I also wanted to strip away all the distractions kids have nowadays with cell phones, Facebook, texting and all of that [in order to] focus on pure feelings that really span time. … Everybody has those same first feelings. You never forget the first person you fell in love with.

You do such a good job working with young people. What do you look for when you're casting kids?
You look for kids that have a quality that can inhabit the role. You're usually not fortunate enough to get kids with a lot of experience at that point because most of them just started out. And that was certainly the case in Stand By Me. With Flipped I was lucky enough to get two actors who had a tremendously developed craft. It was almost like working with adult actors.

You've done a lot of writing throughout your career, which spans about 40 years, is that right?
Yeah. Ooh, I feel so old when you say that. But actually I started about 45 years ago. The first job I had was about 45 years ago.

I was looking at your resume. Is it true that this is your first screenwriting credit on a feature film?
Not really. On Spinal Tap I had a shared credit with Chris [Guest], Harry [Shearer] and Michael [McKean]. But I've written extensively on every film that I've done. Even though When Harry Met Sally was my idea, most things have come from either books or plays or other sources where there were original writers involved. Even though I've done a tremendous amount of writing on these projects, I didn't feel right to even ask for credit because these are ideas that other writers have come up with. In this case, it was a book that we optioned, and Andy [Scheinman] and I were the only writers that worked on it.

I got a kick out of a statement in the L.A. Times the other day. You might have seen this article. It suggested that trying to attract a conservative, faith-based audience might be hard for you because, "Reiner is perceived as a classic Hollywood liberal."
Yeah, I'm sure I'm thought of that way—certainly in my politics. But if you look at my films, I've tried to make films that are about real people going through real situations. Except for American President which had political overtones obviously, most of the films are about human beings experiencing the things we all experience. My favorite film of all time is It's a Wonderful Life. When I made Bucket List, we found that there were a lot of folks from the heartland and from the faith-based community who really liked the film because it was so life-affirming. We didn't get into specific religious denominations or anything like that. And we actually had two characters where one had faith (the Morgan Freeman character) and one rejected faith (the Jack Nicholson character). But in the end, they came together and became really good friends, and they were buried together on the top of the mountain. To me it's about a spiritual connection that we all have with each other as being human beings.

I know a lot of Christians would respond by saying, "I don't care if he's a 'Hollywood liberal.' I just want to know what's on the screen." Is that pretty typical of the feedback you're getting on Flipped?
Absolutely. We've had screenings in different parts of the country. We just came from Indiana. In Indianapolis, they have the Heartland Film Festival and we got what they call the Truly Moving Picture Award, which they reserve for pictures with certain kinds of family values. And we've had tremendous response. The best responses we've had have been from a lot of the faith-based groups and groups that are focused on families. This is the perfect film, I think, for families to go see together. Kids will like it because they can relate to what kids are going through, but at the end of the day the parents and the grandparents are going to like it more because it resonates with feelings they had when they went through it. And it's a film they can share together. [To see if Flipped meets your family standard, read Plugged In's detailed content review.]

I've spent the last 23 years listening to Christians quote dialogue from The Princess Bride, so it's safe to say we're able to look at things on case-by-case basis.
(Laughs) Yeah, I think you look at a person's body of work and I hope that the films that I've made can touch people in a very emotional way that they can connect with. The older I get, the more precious life is to me and the more kinds of life-affirming films I want to make. That's why I made Bucket List. That's why I made Flipped. And the next couple I have planned are also, hopefully, very life-affirming. I want my films to reach all audiences. And as you get older you change, too.

As an artist, what do you think the balance should be between simply entertaining an audience and giving them something bigger to think about—a message picture?
I think there should be that balance. Most of the time there isn't. Most of the time the films are there just for entertainment purposes or to give you a ride, whether it's a lot of explosions or action or CGI. I read years ago that Frank Capra, who made It's a Wonderful Life, talked about the responsibility we all have when you're asking people to pay money. They're sitting in the dark for two hours and giving you their attention. I think you have a responsibility to give them something so they're not only entertained but moved in a way that they can connect with the characters and take something away from it.

Can you think of a time when you realized that a film or TV show you worked on impacted someone or shaped the cultural conscious in a particular way?
Well, I was in show called "All in the Family" and that show touched millions and millions of Americans. It opened up a lot of dialogue between liberal democrats and conservative republicans and it certainly sparked a lot of conversation in the country.

Yeah. I'm not kidding when I say this, Rob, but to this day my father affectionately refers to my brother and me as "meathead." So thanks for that.
(Laughs) Well, that's what [series creator] Norman Lear's father used to call him: "You're a meathead. You're dead from the neck up."

As we draw to a close I'd like to ask you about your dad, comedy legend Carl Reiner. He's 88-years-old now and still working. Tell us something you admire about him. And what inspired you to follow him into show business?
I admire him and obviously, he's my dad and I love him more than anything. I look up to him. He's my idol. I just look up to him so much. I just watched how he conducted his life, you know? Not just his work but how he treated people and how he just lived his life. I've taken everything from him. He's kept me in very good stead. And even as we're talking here, I can hear my dad's voice coming out of me. It used to be a little freaky for me because when you're trying to find your own identity it's rough. But now it's very comforting to me to know that my dad gave me all of these good values and a path to follow that's been really fun for me.

And what was it as a young man that you kind of saw him doing his thing and said, "I want to make a career of that myself"?
I just loved what he did and I loved how people responded to him and respected him so much. I've told this story many times: I don't remember it exactly but he told me that I did this once when I was 8 years old. I came up to him and said, "Dad, I want to change my name." And he was all worried and got upset because he thought, "Oh my, this poor kid can't bear the burden of having to live up to Carl Reiner and living in that shadow." He felt bad for me. And he asked me, "What do you want to change your name to?" And I said "Carl," because I wanted to be like him. I always wanted to be like him.

(Laughing) That's great. Rob, thanks so much for taking time to talk with us today.
Well, thanks so much for having me.

Published August 2010