An Interview with Joseph Reitman

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When it comes to television and film from acting, directing, producing, and writing Joseph D. Reitman has done it all. As an actor he appeared in such television series’ as Married with Children, Beverly Hills 90210, The Pretender, The Drew Carey Show, Charmed, Monk, Supernatural, Ray Donovan, Happy!, and Marvel’s The Punisher, just to name a few. He has also appeared in the films Clueless, American Pie 2, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Drop Dead Sexy, Lady in the Water, Ghosted, and the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, among many others.

What was it like growing up in Brookline, MA when you did? What are some of your most fond memories of those days?

Brookline is a great town. Honestly, I am so lucky to have been raised there. I grew up in such a diverse and forward thinking community The schools gave me an amazing education and really had amazing arts programs encouraging me to be involved with acting and music, after school programs for sports and things like magic lessons….it really helped me grow creatively. I also lived so close to Boston which was huge. Surrounded by college students…and walking distance to night clubs and comedy clubs…which I started going to when I was in high school. Some of my fondest moments are simple things. Watching my grandfather set the time on the grandfather clock we had every week and watching him put shoe polish on my Nike sneakers. Playing catch with my dad in the driveway and pretending the garage door was The Green Monster from Fenway Park. Riding my Huffy bike in the neighborhood. Late night conversations with my friends about the universe. Taking the T downtown. Walking to school and passing the birthplace of John F. Kennedy every day. Going to Irving’s candy shop, working at my parents shop Brookline T Shirts and Jeans. Breakdancing in the alley in Coolidge Corner. I could go on forever.

What were some of your earliest influences?

So many things….so many. My grandpa and my dad were the men who shaped me into the man I am…, but beyond family…sports is where it all started. Hockey players Bobby Orr and Gerry Cheevers, also Carl Yastrzemski from the Red Sox were the earliest. Sports and acting are a lot alike, but television ended up being a huge thing for me. I watched maybe 5 to 6 hours of TV a day. When I saw Rocky I was blown away as a kid. Stallone started it all…he made me want to be Italian. I remember seeing Robin Williams as Mork on Happy Days and  having it change my world. Every week watching SNL …and seeing John Belushi who I thought was a genius. In college J Ranelli taught me what it took to be a director and a teacher.  When I got to Los Angeles, Robert Pastorelli was someone I looked up to who was a great mentor and friend for a few years. Those are a few.

When did you first know that you wanted to pursue acting as your craft?

I remember a moment where my mom was upset I was watching TV and she said to me “You watch so much TV…what are you going to do with your life?” and I thought for a second and looked at the TV and pointed at it and said “I think…that.” And she said “I’m SERIOUS!”…and I said “So am I.” I also got into a theater group that was going to London…it was the first company I ever auditioned for and I got in. While in London we had a show at an all girls school and after the show there was a group of 30 girls waiting for me…and I thought “I like this…and I maybe I don’t suck at it.” 

What advice would you offer others wishing to pursue a similar career?

First off. If there is anything else you like to do…do it instead. Because it isn’t an easy road, and there is a ton of rejection. If you feel it is the only road…write. Writing opens up doors more than anything. Create content. Make things happen. do at least 2 things a day for your career. Even if it is watch a new show or go to the gym. Learn and study everything.

I loved the role of Tiny in Drop Dead Sexy. What was it like to work on that film? What was it like to share the screen with Crispin Glover?

That is so kind of you.  I loved working on that film. It was my first trip to Austin, Texas and I was there for 5 weeks. we had all night shoots…so the “days” I was off I was up all night.  I went out a lot….and I would be lying if I said I didn’t get in some trouble. Very few good things happen after 2 a.m. Working with Crispin was fascinating. I have a scene where he and I are in the back seat of a car. That still is one of my favorite scenes I have ever done. You never know what he is going to do next which I love as an actor and a viewer.

You were also in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, as well as the reboot. Why do you think the industry is seeing so many reboots in recent years? What are your personal thoughts on that?

Well…I am totally ok with reboots. Reimagining something is great. People cover songs all the time…it’s the same sort of artistic expression. Is it annoying that so many studios make them because of reasons like the IP is popular and these young people are famous so this is an easy green light…sure…since most of them do not live up to the original…and I think that is sadly why we have so many…it is easy to pitch and is a low risk investment. I wish more of them were made for artistic exploration. Kevin Smith obviously makes movies that are a reflection of society and comments on pop culture…and that is what makes him and his audience happy… so I love when he does it.

How does working in film differ most from working in television? Do you prefer one more than that other?

I do not prefer acting in either TV or film. I like working. It is fun to do a huge TV show…also fun doing an indie movie. The difference is greatest between sitcom and …well…anything. The schedule is different. You get a new script every day. You prepare for a live audience…sitcoms are great and also just a totally different animal. But TV and film vary based on how involved a studio or network is. Indie projects allow more freedom.  All the mediums are a blast in their own way.

How did you first become interested in playing poker? What was it like to win Ultimate Bets $1 million dollar guaranteed tournament?

I first became interested in poker when my ex-wife was asked to play on Celebrity Poker Showdown. They sent us some material to look at since neither one of us played. Then we ended up playing in a weekly game in Hollywood. I then eventually started dating poker pro Annie Duke. We ended up selling a TV show to the game show network called Annie Duke Takes On The World early in our relationship and I then needed to learn how to play in order to be a good producer on the project. After we made the show she suggested I play in a poker tournament…the Ultimate Bet Stone Cold Nuts Million Dollar Guarantee. I didn’t want to play…she said “I’ll buy you in. If you win we will split it.”  She went to commentate the event from a studio…when got there she asked how I was doing and someone there said “He is the chip leader.” 12 hours later I had won. I was in my sweatpants freaking out at the  house when I made the final table. she had taught me well while doing the TV show and on top of it I got lucky on a couple hands. It was a super exciting day.

Do you have a dream project you would most like to bring into existence or a dream role you’d most like to play?

I have so many dream projects. I have a pilot I wrote about my life that I would love to make that is a Louie kind of show. I have a feature I wrote I want to make soon. There is an animated show I have a proof of concept that would be great to make. Three Documentaries …I could go on forever. Friends projects I try to raise money for endlessly. My vision board is covered with projects.

How do you think the industry has changed most since you first began working in it?

The biggest shift happened this year. Covid has made it so I am not sure I will ever go into an audition room again. Everyone auditions via internet submissions now. I also used to have to live in LA. You had to be able to get call to your pager. Drive to pick up the script. Drive to the audition. If you didn’t live in LA an agent would not rep you. Now…everything is over the internet. I can be in Mexico or Europe and submit my audition digitally. On the performance side…the biggest thing I see is that the kids getting into acting are so much more comfortable in front of the camera. When I started you didn’t get to see yourself on camera until you booked a job. All of these kids have grown up with a camera in their pocket and seeing themselves, so they intuitively know what is natural and not natural. It has also affected acting in general when I think naturalism is everything now. everyone is so used to seeing things raw and on camera every day….ad reality TV is such a big part of everyone’s existence…it has affected the way we all act.

Are there any moments over the course of your career that stand out most in your mind?

Of course. I will try to list a few…or the good ones.. Getting my first audition for an agent. Getting my first audition for Parker Lewis Can’t Lose at Paramount and walking on the lot and having the character of Data from Star Trek walk by and say, “what’s up?” Booking my favorite show Married With Children and playing Christina Applegate’s boyfriend…while having her picture on my wall.(I was so in love with her.) Getting cast in my first big feature, Clueless. Working on The Perfect Storm with George Clooney and meeting the “real” people of Gloucester Mass. Booking and filming Townies as a series regular for ABC. acting in Banditas in Mexico…Lady in The Water with M. Night and watching him work..….Most recently doing Happy! which was a chance to really play a great character and do some work I am very proud of…for me that was my favorite acting job I have ever had.. Those are the ones that really stand out.

How do you think the ongoing Pandemic will change the entertainment industry of the future?

Like I mentioned before…I think casting offices are a thing of the past. No one needs to see you in person anymore. I also feel like I can leave LA…which I used to be scared to do out of fear of missing an audition…but because of the internet that is no longer a fear. Other things that I have also dealt with this year have been changes to being on set…interactions…social distancing…wearing masks …etc…all of it has become complicated while trying to play a character

How have you been passing the time during the Pandemic?

I have been teaching class Mondays and Tuesdays over zoom. Coaching other actors one on one over zoom. Writing some. Doing YouTube work outs…trying to move some projects forward and playing with my dogs…honestly? That is about it. I also took a class on Coursera.org called The Science Of Well Being which is a class from Yale…I really enjoyed it. 

What projects are you looking forward to working on next?

I just finished acting in a film called Safer At Home written and directed by James Sunshine starring John Lehr and myself. Also, another film I acted in called Archenemy is just finishing postproduction and getting out into the world. I also did a radio play called White Privilege that will be on all platforms starting Sept 18th. As for what is next, I am working on a documentary that I hope to have finished by December and hopefully I will get one of my scripted projects off the ground very soon.

What do you think is key to a life well lived?

That’s a loaded question. Wow. Clearly finding happiness in everything you do. If you don’t enjoy the journey you are screwed. Other than that I think valuing experiences over material things is important. Do and see as much as you can. Follow your passion. Do not stay in bad situations you know you can get out of. Let go of all pain and suffering. Forgive quickly. Love often. Oh…and for me….don’t be afraid to take risks if there is a potential great reward…cuz if nothing else you usually get a good story.

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

Sure. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Remember to Vote November 3rd. If you who is reading this and need to reach me, I am @joeugly on Instagram and Twitter. Feel free to hit me up. I could use some entertainment. Also….please fix my spelling…cuz I am the worst.

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