Shh! Don’t tell anyone, but Jason Reitman and Patton Oswalt are playing hooky. It’s a cool December evening, and the two are skipping out on the Los Angeles premiere of their own movie, Young Adult, to zoom across Los Angeles to a rival event: a live dramatic reading of the 1987 comedy The Princess Bride at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Reitman, the Oscar-nominated director of Juno and Up in the Air, came up with the idea to stage performances of classic screenplays after a particularly exciting table read of Labor Day, a drama he’s shooting next year. In October he recruited Oswalt, Jennifer Garner, and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul for a rendition of The Breakfast Club. In November he landed Steve Carell, Natalie Portman, and Pierce Brosnan for The Apartment. ”It’s a bit like listening to a bedtime story,” says Reitman, 34. ”When you’ve already seen the movie, there’s going to be imagery that breaks through, but half of it you’re going to make up in your head, and that brings the audience into the experience in a new way.” Each reading has sold out in a flash (sponsored by the nonprofit group Film Independent), and the plan is to hold even more performances, possibly expanding to other cities in the new year.
As Reitman and Oswalt arrive backstage at LACMA’s 600-seat theater, Rob Reiner, The Princess Bride’s original director, is the first person to greet them. Tonight he’s playing the role of the kindly, yarn-spinning grandfather, who was first embodied by the late Peter Falk. ”What a great idea! It’s weird! Surreal — but it’s nice. I get to narrate the movie!” Reiner says, beaming. Also on hand from the 1987 cast: Fred Savage, now 35 but happily resuming his part as the young grandson; and Cary Elwes, once the heroic Prince Charming Westley, now incarnating the villainous Humperdinck — the very character who killed (well, mostly killed) Westley. ”I made the picture 25 years ago,” Elwes says. ”So maybe my eyebrows have become more arched since then.”
While members of the original film bring a sense of nostalgia, Reitman says the point is to mix it up. ”What’s nice is seeing the parts performed by different types of actors,” he says. And so tonight Paul Rudd is playing Westley; Oswalt is the arrogant kidnapper Vizzini, originated by Wallace Shawn; Kevin Pollak riffs on Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max; Goran Visnjic takes on Mandy Patinkin’s Spaniard, Inigo Montoya; and Mindy Kaling, as Princess Buttercup, picks up where Robin Wright left off. Or maybe not. ”I’m thinking of doing an Edith Bunker thing as my voice,” she cracks backstage.