Years ago, Ron Howard called up Rob Reiner and asked him if he would like a part in his new movie, EDtv. ''I said, 'Okay,''' recalls Reiner. ''And he said, 'Lemme send you the script.' 'You don't have to.' 'Don't you want to know what it is?' And I said, 'Why? If it's no good, it's not my fault. I'm just acting.'''
Of course it's all on the director's shoulders. And the former All in the Family star should know, having scripted a rather successful second act for himself behind the camera.
Scanning Reiner's directorial résumé is like browsing through a Blockbuster: You're sure to find something you're in the mood for: satire (This Is Spinal Tap), fantasy (The Princess Bride), romance (When Harry Met Sally), or courtroom drama (A Few Good Men). There's even a bargain bin (Alex & Emma). Why the eclectic mix of flicks? ''It wasn't calculated,'' says Reiner, 58, in his comfy Beverly Hills office, kicking back next to the Misery typewriter that James Caan famously smashed into Kathy Bates' face. ''I have a lot of different interests, and my mind goes in a lot of directions. Film is the one art where you can express all these things. It gives you a very broad canvas to work on.''
Next month he'll add another picture to his collection with the post-Graduate romantic comedy Rumor Has It, starring Jennifer Aniston, Shirley MacLaine, and Kevin Costner. His plate is full with other projects both celluloid (he's developing the Iraq-war-themed Whiskey River) and political (Reiner, who's considering an eventual run for governor of California, is fund-raising for an early childhood education initiative). In between meetings, Reiner reflected on a directing career that has involved an exploding drummer, a tipsy giant, and a very public orgasm.
THIS IS SPINAL TAP 1984
Following an eight-year, Emmy-winning turn as Michael ''Meathead'' Stivic on All in the Family, Reiner dabbled in acting, writing, and producing before he and three buddies (Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean) brainstormed a pioneering mockumentary, about a tragically dense metal band with percussionists who die odd deaths and amps that go to 11. It took several years to get made and grossed only $4.5 million. But from an outline of fewer than 10 pages and on a budget of under $2.5 million Reiner & Co. improvised their way through what many call the greatest rock movie ever. ''[Cinematographer] Peter Smokler who we hired because he'd shot lots of rock & roll documentaries kept saying to me the whole time: 'What's funny about this? This is exactly what happens on the road! This is not funny!' I said, 'No, it is. It's just a little bit bent....' All the stories in the movie were taken from real experiences. John Sinclair who was the keyboard player when we did a demo reel couldn't be in the film because he got a job as a keyboardist with Uriah Heep. Midway through their tour, he tells us, 'We got booked into this Army base.' So we put that right in the film. Then we heard Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers once couldn't find the stage. That went in.... It's like a bible to every rock & roller. Sting once told me, 'Every time I watch it, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.' There's a fine line between stupid and clever, and we hit that line.''