Greatly respected for the comedies he’s directed and produced going back to 1979’s Animal House, Ivan Reitman has been involved with many classic films that have stood the test of time finding new fans every year. Of course, Ghostbusters and its sequel Ghostbusters II are at the top of that list, but who knows if Bill Murray would have become such a household name if he hadn’t starred in Reitman’s earlier films Meatballs and Stripes? Reitman also saw the comedic possibilities of Austrian bodybuilder and future California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, directing him in comedies like Twins, Junior and Kindergarten Cop.
35 years since Animal House, Reitman is still going strong and when he decided to tackle a football movie, he took a unique approach in the form of Draft Day, a look at the 24 hours leading up to the annual NFL Draft where every team is vying for an advantage and doing whatever they can to negotiate the best position to pick the most desired players.
Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who has been put into a bad position with one of the decisions he makes to get one of the most sought after players to help his team turn things around. At the same time, Sonny is dealing with the repercussions of his beloved father passing away and how that affects the important time leading up to the draft.
The film co-stars Jennifer Garner, Frank Langella, Chadwick Boseman, Denis Leary, Rosanna Arquette and many “blink and you’ll miss them” cameos from actors and actual football players in order to create a film with more veracity than one normally sees in a football movie. While it’s not a comedy, it’s a movie that’s involving enough that you don’t necessarily need to be a football fan to enjoy it.
ComingSoon.net got on the phone with the director a few weeks back to talk briefly about the movie, his first time working with Kevin Costner, casting hundreds of smaller roles and more.
Before we get to that interview, ComingSoon.net has received an exclusive deleted scene from the DVD/Blu-ray showing some of Sonny’s wheelings and dealings as he talks to Aaron Hill’s Andre, the former teammate of a prospective player Sonny wants to pick in the draft.
ComingSoon.net: Were you already interested in the NFL draft before the script came your way?
Ivan Reitman: I was interested as a fan of football. I wasn’t obsessed with it. I think there are people who are more interested than I ever was, but I think it’s a fascinating human drama, both in terms of the competition that’s going on in 32 war rooms across the country. And the pressure on these young kids coming up from college, so I think there’s wonderful storytelling. I always thought so and it wasn’t like I was planning on making a film about it, but suddenly, in the middle of the night, I’m reading this script called “Draft Day,” which I just sort of fell in love with. I just couldn’t put it down. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I felt a lot of pressure on myself as a reader and really had a good sense that I wanted to make it by the time I closed the last page.
CS: I’m not really a football fan so I never really understood the draft at all and even as I was watching the movie, it became almost educational for me, because I never knew anything about the negotiations or what it all meant.
Reitman: I think most people don’t. Even sports fans don’t really know the ins and outs of what’s going on. Certainly people who don’t follow football were really surprised by it, and really enamored by it. I actually got a lot of Emails and messages where people I didn’t know told me how much they liked the movie and how much they learned from it, and how surprised they were at how involved they got even though they knew nothing about or even really cared much about football.
CS: It’s interesting to me that this is fictional rather than a real draft, even though you have all the real teams like the Cleveland Browns.
Reitman: I don’t think we could have done it without the cooperation of the National Football League officially and with all the teams. I think critics criticized the movie for that, which I thought was kind of ridiculous of course. I think they criticized it because it was like a commercial for the NFL. I never saw it as a commercial, although to get permission from them, we had to get approval on everything. But their approval was more accuracy than anything else, and for me, I thought it was very critical to the storytelling that it all felt it was living in the real world with real teams and situations.
CS: That’s a funny criticism because in that sense, all sports movies would be advertising for sports.
Reitman: Yeah. (chuckles)
CS: I’m surprised you never worked with Kevin Costner over they years. You both have generally been around making movies in the same general timeframe. Was he always the obvious person to play the lead of Sonny?
Reitman: I heard his voice as soon as I read the script, while I was reading the script. I sent it to him very early on. I sent it to him before I was technically involved in it and fortunately, he loved it as much as I did, so we decided we were going to make this thing together. I certainly knew him and he lives in the same area that I live, which is in the Santa Barbara area, and I had met him socially. I think we both wanted to work together and this seemed to be a great opportunity to do so.
CS: He’s having a nice resurgence and we’re seeing him a lot more than we have in the past few years.
Reitman: He jumped back in, which I’m really happy about. He’s really one of our finer actors. I think he’s what we love about our screen heroes. He’s a strong, real masculine guy that we believe we can count on with a high moral standing.
CS: He’s developed and grown with age so that the age he is now gives him a little more weight in roles like this.
Reitman: Yeah, I think he’s smart about who he is and how old he is, where he is in the world, and he’s been doing kind of appropriate things as an actor and as a human being.
CS: I thought the entire cast was an intriguing one. I generally love Jennifer Garner and she seemed like a natural. So much of the movie is Sonny on the phone, but whenever we cut to whomever he’s talking to on the other end, it would be someone like Sam Elliot or Terry Crews or Pat Healy.
Reitman: Because a lot of people were only appearing for one sequence or a couple sequences, so I wanted them to make a real impression when they were on screen, and they had to be the co-stars of those scenes. It couldn’t just be actors playing the role. They needed to be somebody that you would indelibly remember and understand the effect of. We went through a lot of trouble in terms of auditioning wonderful people and finding what I think is a great ensemble.
CS: So a lot of those guys auditioned like Sean Combs and Terry Crews and Sam Elliot?
Reitman: Somebody like Sam Elliot certainly didn’t have to audition, but many of the people did, yes.
CS: I’ve spoken to a lot of younger directors and they often have a list of actors they want to work with so they try to find some way to do so. You’ve obviously done this for a long time, so is that still the case where there’s an actor you might want to work with and try to find something you can do with them?
Reitman: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s new people coming on every day. I just try to stay open and not to force my opinion too early on, to sort of be open to really respond to what people are doing.
CS: The thing about this movie is that it really is Kevin talking on the phone a lot but you found some interesting visual ways to keep it from getting boring by using a unique split screen. The draft itself is only in the last half hour of the movie, but did you realize early on while reading the script that you’d have to find some way to create tension up until then?
Reitman: I knew that a lot of the movie including the last half hour was on the telephone and that somehow, if I was going to potentially direct this, I would have to make that dynamic work for a film audience and since your audience is now being played to by the internet, it’s a very short attention span, so just to make that stuff sing visually. To somehow put people who are in different parts of the country are on the telephone in the same room as if they’re having a dialogue together. This was something that was very much on my mind right from the beginning that I knew I was going to have to solve somehow and find a way to do it.
CS: A lot of your movies have a very timeless feel, which is why they’re very popular, and “Draft Day” has the same quality where I feel you can watch this movie ten years from now and it won’t feel dated. Is that something you’ve been aware of?
Reitman: It’s not conscious as a way I direct but I am a fan of the great movies of the late ’30s and ’40s . There’s a timeless quality of the sort of Golden Era of Hollywood, and it’s not so much that I’m emulating those styles because these films are much more contemporary in terms of feel, but there’s something in the writing and in the playing and in the type of characters I like to have in my films that is more of a throwback to those movies and it creates that sense that it doesn’t have to necessarily be seen at the time. Certainly, “Ghostbusters” is the most obvious, but you can watch “Stripes” and “Meatballs” and “Six Days, Seven Nights” and “Twins” and “Dave” right now and I think they work pretty well and as effectively right as they did. Some of them actually work better than when they first came out. Hopefully, people feel the same way about “Draft Day.”
You can read here what Reitman said about why he’s not returning for the long-in-development Ghostbusters 3, the original film he directed of which is celebrating its 30th Anniversary by being rereleased into theaters nationwide actually, today!
Draft Day arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, September 2.
(Photo Credit: Apega/WENN.com)