Director Ivan Reitman has done something a bit out of the ordinary. He’s directed a romantic comedy. In No Strings Attached, Natalie Portman plays Emma, a doctor with some emotional damage. She doesn’t want commitment. She does want to have sex. So she enlists long time buddy Adam (Ashton Kutcher) to be her sex buddy. It’s a relationship with rules. No cuddling. No spooning. No pet names for body parts. No falling in love. So, can they be friends with benefits and nothing more?
We got a chance to speak to Reitman, who gave us his opinion on the phenomenon, how social networking has changed relationships and why Portman and Kutcher were perfect for these roles.
ComingSoon.net: So do you think men and women can do what the film asks? Can they be friends, have sex and nothing more?
Ivan Reitman: I don’t think it’s what I think. It seems to be for real. It seems to be an important… you’ll know better than me… is that a wedding ring on your hand?
Reitman: But I think, it seems to be quite an interesting social phenomenon. My theory, and everyone has a different theory, god knows, but it does really come from the way people don’t talk to each other much. We live in a more cynical time. I don’t think this is me sort of as an older guy saying stuff like that. I think things are generally more cynical. I think everyone acknowledges it. In human relationships there is an extraordinary amount of protectiveness, including how much we see each other. And so much of that kind of relationship stuff is conducted using short sentences and abbreviations in whatever form.
CS: 140 characters?
Reitman: [laughs] Yeah. I mean, it began with texting, right? One created one’s own language with texting. And so much of romance takes place over that kind of… so that abbreviation almost is kind of, it seemed like a perfect compliment to this idea of “I should have sex. I’m not going to get married for a while and I’m not going to have a full time relationship with someone. I want to have sex. I’m a human being. I deserve it. It’s fun.” And people do. People do and they have different kinds of rules. The kind of goofy rules of dating now. They’re remarkable.
CS: Social media really has changed everything. There are a number of references to it in the film. Are you on Facebook? Do you tweet?
Reitman: I tweet mostly to follow a couple of people. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been a purveyor of a tweet on my own. I’m just a voyeur. [laughs]
CS: You’re a lurker!
Reitman: I’m a lurker! And I have a Facebook account just to see some of the things. Things like, for example, for “No Strings Attached,” we put up the red band trailer the other day and there was a remarkable response to it. So it’s an opportunity for me to read what people are really saying without any kind of censor or anyone else getting in the way. I just really wanted to see how they were responding to the material.
CS: There is really a trend these days, having women be a bit more raunchy, which is actually refreshing to see. So what do you think that is? Are women different these days?
Reitman: I actually think it’s beyond kind of a few odd… I think Ashton was putting it in a slightly different context with his conversation about women’s sexuality, and allowing women to express what has always been sort of a really natural part of their own beings, is finally being reflected in our art. It’s really a natural evolution of the women’s movement… this is really a movement… though I guided the whole thing, the words really came from Liz (Meriwether) who is this extraordinary kind of… she has an extraordinary ear for her generation. And it was really useful actually, because with me being out of the generation, being a little objective about it, and then at same time being able to place it in an honest context. A realistic context.
CS: Realistic brings me to the sex scene. It’s a really… there are no punches pulled or fuzzy shots with soft music…
Reitman: Yeah, there is no music. The studio kept saying, “Please put music in. Please put music in.” And I just refused. I thought it would make it sound phoney. It would make it sound like a movie scene. I didn’t want it to. It’s certainly faster than it would be in real life. [laughs]
CS: Let’s hope!
Reitman: [laughs] In most cases. Because how much can we hang around, frankly? [laughs] And we’re hanging around longer than most people are expecting. But I think that’s the power of it. I think it’s effective. And I think people think it’s real… I mean they’re still gorgeous to look at.
CS: Natalie is a great actress, of course. But she’s really funny! When did you get that? When did you know she’d be right for the role?
Reitman: Our first draft got out there somehow. I don’t know how it did. It was like a sensation. It got on the Black List. I think it was the third or second or something. She has a production company and her production person got her the script, and she read it, and called me and said, “I really like this.” So I met her and said, oh my gosh she’s perfect for this part. I said, “Are you prepared to do all this?” I had never seen her do a comedy. She did “Garden State,” but it’s a different kind of thing all together. It’s not really a comedy. It’s kind of melancholy, that movie. I said, she’s perfect and to get that level of seriousness… I think the character of Emma has to be someone… you have to believe she’s a doctor. She has to be smart enough to be a doctor. Complicated enough to have the emotional complexity and damage that this character has in order to be so afraid of any commitment. And strong enough to play the traditional male role in this kind of movie. I said, I’ve got to get her. And she wanted to do it. You know, god bless her, she hung in there for three years. And she got other parts and she did the same thing with “Black Swan.” She went seven or eight years, I think she said, before that thing finally got made. We made her an executive producer on the film. She was very helpful in terms of the development of her own character and certain parts of the screenplay. She had really smart notes about it. It was all about finding that right guy for her, that the studio would make the movie with.
There were plenty of guys who wanted to do this. It’s a great, great part. But kind of a scary part for a guy. So I needed a guy who was really confident. And much like… Natalie was coming from a place of being a serious actress and can she do a comedy… and revealing her to a large audience in a fresh way, I sort of do the opposite with Ashton. He’s a guy sort of known for playing these goofy parts in movies or in that television show. His persona was formed playing these really broad roles and as you can see from the press conference, he’s really thoughtful, really smart, really sincere kind of special guy who happens to be gorgeous and really tall. And I thought, all this is perfect. I knew I was taking a risk because no one thought of him for this kind of part. I think it will be really great for him. He really deserves it. He’s good enough.
CS: You’ve got so many good people in this cast. I have to ask about Kevin Klein because I love him so much.
Reitman: He’s the only one who didn’t audition… well, Natalie and Ashton didn’t either. I wanted them in the film. But I called up Kevin because I had done “Dave” with him. Because he says no to everything. He’s said no to me a few times… on this film, I said, “I’m not going to take no. You have to play this. You’re absolutely perfect for this.” It’s kind of a small part for him. He was very sweet and he did it really for me I think. And he’s great in it.
CS: Well, it may be a small part, but… you don’t forget him! I wanted to talk about the very uncomfortable father/son scene with Kevin. Dad giving sex advice…
Reitman: [laughs] That scene was a little longer, but it was a little too long for the rhythm of the picture at the top. It just had really good dialogue in it. They were all fun to shoot. This movie was really fun to shoot.
No Strings Attached opens in theaters on Friday, January 21st.