Jason Reitman, writer and director of the political satire Thank You for Smoking, got his start working on commercials and short films, and won the chance to adapt Christopher Buckley's 1994 novel about a tobacco lobbyist on the strength of a pitch to Icon, Mel Gibson's production company. Although the project had been in development for almost a decade, Reitman's focus on making it a small, independent film got the ball rolling, and the resulting movie was the target of a bidding war at last year's Toronto Film Festival. It opened in limited release in March and starts nationwide this weekend.
Do you think audiences are more open now to looking at people who do reprehensible things as human beings?
Absolutely. I think there's a lot of corporations who did a lot of evil things and got away with a lot of things under the radar, and they've been being attacked for the last 30, 40 years, and I think it's time for the pendulum to—not swing all the way back, but we need to take a look at ourselves and take a little responsibility for our own actions. Now that we understand the dangers of cigarettes, now that the science is really out in the public, we have to make a decision for ourselves if we want to be smokers or not, if we want to make the product legal or not. And since it's a legal product, I think people should have the freedom to smoke or not. And they shouldn't be so obsessed with vilifying corporations, which, at the end of the day, are just groups of people.
So you would say that the movie is aiming to get you to come around to Nick's point of view?
I think the movie is aiming to make you laugh. I think it's an accessible piece of entertainment, but what's refreshing about it is that you have a character who's completely candid. We have characters who are supposed to be honest, but they aren't quite frank, they don't really speak their mind, because they're too worried about being polite and politically correct. And this is a guy who tells it how it is, and I think that's a very refreshing thing in the modern media and in modern politics.
Are you a smoker?
No, I'm not. I've never understood smoking.
The movie has a semi-conservative, libertarian point of view. Has that met with disapproval in Hollywood?
Hollywood's a liberal town. You live in a city where you can smoke anywhere you want. I live in a town where—there's a city in Los Angeles that just passed an outdoor smoking ban. You can't even smoke on the street. So it's a liberal town. They do not like corporations, and they're very public about that. And, look, this is not a Republican movie. I think one of the beauties of this movie is that Democrats think it's theirs, and Republicans think it's theirs. This is a movie that was based on a book written by a guy, and directed by [another] guy who both do not like being told what to do. We both have big authority problems. For the most part, people can relate to that. I've been showing the film at colleges this last week, and the kids f--king love it. Because it's like, "Enough already. I get it." So much in—not only from the media, but within colleges and high schools, where there's a very strong liberal bias, is about vilifying corporations. Look at the Truth [advertising] campaign. The Truth campaign says nothing about the dangers of cigarettes. It's all about how evil these corporations are, and how these tobacco honchos just want to kill young people. I think it's just a bunch of crap.
What's next for you?
There's another book similar to Smoking, satire on the white-collar world. I can't talk about its name right now. I have no intentions to go do big, broad comedies. I want to continue doing smart smaller films and hopefully model myself after Alexander Payne.