12/17/2013 09:31 am ET

Rob Reiner On Being A Loud Voice Of Reason in 'The Wolf Of Wall Street'


It's difficult to interview Rob Reiner in just 10 minutes, if only because there's just so much in his filmography: an iconic supporting role on "All in the Family," his famous father, Carl Reiner, who directed him in "The Jerk," and beloved features that Rob Reiner himself directed, such as "Stand by Me," "When Harry Met Sally," "The Princess Bride," and "A Few Good Men." He's the kind of guy who would be easier to talk to for three hours rather than 10 minutes I had with him during the press junket for "The Wolf of Wall Street." As it turned out, however, our conversation focused not one of his movies -- well, at least not in its entirety -- but one scene: the famous Code Red sequence between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise in "A Few Good Men."

For a guy who became famous for portraying Michael Stivic in the now legendary television show "All in the Family (and for how good he is in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street"), it's strange to realize that Reiner has gone 10 years without acting in a movie. (He has made a few television appearances during that time, most recently on "New Girl.") In "The Wolf of Wall Street," Renier plays Max Belfort -- also known as "Mad Max" -- the father of a crooked brokerage firm president (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is constantly yelling at his son for many, many personal and professional indiscretions. Max Belfort is a very loud voice of reason.

I was very happy when I learned you'd be in this movie.
Well, thank you.

I remember being very upset at as a little child when my mother told me you left "All in the Family" to direct. I didn't know what that meant.
[Laughs] Yeah. But, you know, I act once in awhile if something comes up that seems fun. I like to do it -- it's a lot of fun because there's no responsibility. You let other people have the headaches. The director has all of the headaches.

Though I feel that it has been some time since your last movie as an actor.
Well, I did a few parts on "New Girl" this past year -- I play Zooey Deschanel's father in about three episodes.

But movie-wise it's been about 10 years.
Yeah, movie-wise, I did a part in the movie I just finished directing, which is called "And So It Goes," with Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton -- and I played a little part in that one, but that comes out next year.

You look like you're having a lot of fun in "The Wolf of Wall Street."
I did. And the reason I had fun is because Marty Scorsese has a way of setting a tone on the set that allows everybody to feel comfortable and have fun -- and he gets the best out of people. You know, you have a script, but then he lets you improvise and he knows that if you can improvise, you're going to hit on something that's going to be a little bit more alive than anything that could be written in the script. And since his films are really so character driven -- the characters are the story, you know? -- he doesn't heavily plot movies. They're kind of character pieces and the characters, like I say, become the stories. So he knows, if that is going to be the case, that he's got to make it so that the actors can squeeze the most out of their characters.

And Max yells a lot.
Yeah, they call him Mad Max for a reason. I mean, the guy has got a volatile temper and he gets crazy, but then he tries to rein everything in, you know? When he sees his son going off the deep end, he tries to rein him in, to no avail. It's like a parent watching your child run into the street and the car is coming and he's going to be hit by the car and you're so helpless to do anything -- and you have to watch it happen.

It's interesting because he does yell a lot, but in a movie where so many people are doing terrible things, he's the voice of reason.
Yeah, yeah. In this sea of debauchery and excess, I'm trying to be the moral compass. But, it's like really pissing into the wind.

How does this work? Does Martin Scorsese call you or do you call him?
It's basically: he calls. Then if he calls -- and if you're smart -- you just do what he says. He's one of the great filmmakers of all time, so if he asks you to be in a movie, then, you know, you just go and do what he tells you to do.

Does a part like this get the acting juices flowing again for you?
Well, it's fun! I mean, when you have situations like this, it's a lot of fun. I have fun on "New Girl," because they also improvise there.

And it's a good show.
Well, yeah, aside from being a good show, it's very loose there. They let you try anything and that's fun for me. To me, it's like a lark. It's a fun thing to do. So, if it's not really fun, you know, there's no point in doing it. I mean, directing, even though it's difficult, it's very satisfying -- because, you know, you're using more of your creative abilities and stuff. But acting is a lot of fun if you're afforded situations like this one -- I'll do it anytime.

You mentioned "And So It Goes," which is an upcoming romantic comedy. I feel like the romantic comedy has been disappearing over the last few years. You directed "When Harry Met Sally," which is one of the greatest of all time. Do you feel that they've been disappearing?
I agree with that -- at least ones that are reality based. Most of them are kind of concocted kind of things. You know, "What if this happened, then this happened?" This one comes out of a natural place. I mean, it's two characters who find each other later in life. It actually sprung from the press junket we did on "Bucket List," everybody would ask, "What's on your bucket list?" And whenever they asked Jack Nicholson, he would always say, [Reiner, with his best Nicholson impression] "One more great role, man." I always thought, Well, that's an interesting idea for a movie. So that gave birth to "And So It Goes."

Why do you think romantic comedies have become an endangered species as of late?
Well, they're hard to do. If you're going to do them in an honest way and have people really behave like they do in life, it's very difficult. They're the trickiest kinds of movies to pull off because they have to be funny and romantic, obviously, but then if they're good, they have to have some kind of level of reality to them. And I think that's what makes it difficult.

I was reading a "Best movie scenes of 2013" post earlier today and it got me thinking that you have at least two that always show up in those "best of all time" lists: the orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally" and the "Did you order the Code Red?" scene in "A Few Good Men." When you direct a scene like that, can you tell you've just done something that people will talk about for a long time?
No. You never know that. I mean, listen, I knew that Jack Nicholson was giving a tremendous performance. I knew that speech he was doing was brilliant -- and brilliant acting and brilliant writing by Aaron Sorkin. But, you don't know what's going to stand the test of time. You never do. You kind of just go do your work and then you're surprised to find yourself on lists [laughs], you know? It's always fun, yeah.

Was that one take? How many times did Nicholson have to yell that?
Well, what's interesting about that is that I knew I had a lot of angles to shoot for that scene. There are reactions from Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollock and the plaintiffs and all that stuff. So, I said to Jack, "Do you want me to shoot the coverage first or do you want me to shoot you first? Whatever you want, I'm happy to do it." He said, "Well, why don't you shoot the reaction shots and then I'll be off-camera and it will give me an opportunity to rehearse. And that way I can use that as a chance to go over and over."

The crazy thing that happened, we started doing it that way, and he's off camera for the first four or five takes -- and he was doing it exactly the way he did it on camera. I mean, it was full out. I mean, every time. Finally, I say, "Jack, you know, it's like brilliant. Do you want to save it for when we put you on camera?" He says [doing his Nicholson impression], "No, Rob, you don't understaaaand. I loooove to aaaact." He said, "I don't get a chance that much to do a good paaaaart, but when I do, I like to do it." And then when we turned around and put the camera on him, he was just as good.

You do a good Jack Nicholson impression.
Well ... medium.

This isn't a question, but I am a fan of your father's Twitter account.
Aw, he'll love to hear that. I mean, the guy is almost 92 years old and he's tweetin'! He's tweetin' away!

And he's good at it. I feel it's a special thing that we get his thoughts on a daily basis.
Well, he's going to love that. I'll let him know and he'll love hearing that, I'm sure.

Why don't you do it?
I don't know, you know, I've got other things. I've got so many things that I have to do, that, it's like, to stop? And if I think of something funny, I want to put it in a movie! I don't want to waste it on Twitter!

That would happen. It would be in a movie and someone would tweet at you, "You tweeted that a year ago, buddy."

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.



"The Wolf of Wall Street"