After Juno catapulted them to the Hollywood A-list four years ago, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody team up again for Young Adult, a pitch-black comedy about young adult novelist Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) , who deals with a sudden case of mid-life crisis by retreating to her tiny Minnesotan hometown. There, she tracks down her former flame (Patrick Wilson) and dedicates herself to stealing him back from his wife and young daughter. She also befriends her high school's resident outcast Matt (Patton Oswalt), the only person brave -- or foolhardy -- enough to call her on her B.S. The team behind Young Adult, which opens in limited release on Friday, passed through New York recently and spoke with the press about YA fiction and the resurgence of bad girls post-Bridesmaids.
Jason Reitman on Working With Charlize Theron
"I was only going to make this movie if I could make it with Charlize. I had read the script and I thought it was phenomenal, but I knew how easy it would be to misinterpret this character. On the page she was written perfectly; she was nuanced and complicated, a woman with deep wounds that, like anybody, wanted to be loved and was searching for her place in life. And she only knew how to find it by going back to high school, the last moment when things kind of made sense to her. She's one of those characters that, in the hands of the wrong actress, would just be a mean girl. I knew that Charlize would never judge the character and would turn her into a complete human being. On top of that, Charlize has this great talent that only a few actors have where they can change their nature without dialogue. Watching that happen as a director is like magic. It's easy to look at the final product and go 'Oh yeah, I kind of see what she's doing,' but the amount of kind of pitch-perfect acting and pure raw talent that's required to make this character say and do the things that she does and still be vulnerable and human and broken is a very, very rare thing. So there was no reason for me to attempt this movie without her. And really, after Charlize, I just needed Patton Oswalt. I needed someone who was going to be the accessibility point to this movie; the audience sees the action through Patton -- he says the things that everyone in the audience wants to say and his rare combination of brilliant comedy, but also pathos, makes the whole thing work."
Charlize Theron on Whether She Was Mean Girl in High School
"I actually got a lot of the 'mean girl' stuff out of the way after primary school. I experienced a lot more of that stuff from the ages of 7 to 12, when there was a really popular girl in my school and I was obsessed with her. I mean, you would go to jail for that stuff today. I was in tears one day because I couldn't sit next to her! Then just three weeks ago in London, I was in a fitting for a film I'm shooting there and this girl goes, "Oh, I know Charlize." And it was the girl that that fucked me up in primary school! Who now lives kind of a sad life. But I kind of got that out of my system, so that by the time I went to high school, I was more immune to all of that stuff. I wasn't really in the popular crowd. I went to art school and was kind of obsessed with ballet and I wore really, really, really nerdy glasses. I was blind as could be and boys don't really like big nerdy glasses. I didn't have any boyfriends, but I had a massive crush on this one guy. They just did a story on me for Vogue and the interviewer found the guy, who did not know that I existed, by the way, in school. And he told the reporter, 'Yeah, tell her the crush was mutual.' Fuck that. The crush was so not mutual." [Laughs].
Diablo Cody on Her Interest in YA Novels
"I've been an avid consumer of young adult literature since I was one. Some people leave that stuff behind when they become old adults, but I never did. I was always interested in the fantasy world created in those novels, and that I think it's the kind of thing we see reflected in pop culture now more than ever, what with reality shows and these weird, fully made-up people living these fake fairytale lives on camera. The idea of somebody whose priorities were completely screwed up, who wanted to live in that world, even though it's completely unattainable -- that was intriguing to me. I didn't talk to any YA authors beforehand, which is probably pretty lazy of me. But the feedback I've gotten has been really interesting. Since we've started showing the film, I've heard from a couple people who are not only young adult writers, but are in the position that Mavis is in, where they are writing books that are credited to another person or to a creator. And they were very enthusiastic about the movie, and said that I nailed it, which felt good.
Patton Oswalt on Balancing Comedy and Drama
"It came from knowing that we were working with a good director and the fact that I got to play off somebody that really understood human nature, which is what's important to comedy. So all of that kind of swirled together and created this performance. I was very lucky to be offered this script. I got to know Jason socially and then I started doing these table reads early for the script. When it comes to my career choices, I'm so beyond genres like drama and comedy. I just want to do really good, really interesting projects. That can mean something like this script, which was so good when I read it, or something like that little Adult Swim show [The Heart, She Holler] that I just did. I like stuff that constantly rolls the dice down the felt and just goes for it. Hopefully, if I'm ever at a point where I have the luxury of intention, I will make the right choices. But so far I've been lucky enough that the choices I have been given have been really, really good."
Reitman on Re-Teaming With Cody After Juno
"Well, I have the rights to Diablo's life -- it's a deal that really benefits me more than her. [Laughs] We get along so well and we trust each other so much, there's never been a question of whether or not she's going to be on set. So when she can be on set it's great. I put her to work -- I say, 'I need a line' or 'I need a scene' and she does it. But there's also enough trust that if she's not there, she knows I'm not going to screw up her script. I'm a writer myself and I strangely feel as though the writers job on set is to be a tailor. You know, if you put on a pair of clothes that don't fit, it's not your fault -- it's the clothes' fault. The clothes should be tailored and that's how I feel about dialogue. If an actor can't say the lines, in my opinion, it's not the actor's fault. If I'm with an actor and they're struggling with the words, then I tailor the words for the actor. One of the great parts about working with Diablo is that she's so specific in her writing: the production design, wardrobe, even the songs. So the only question then is, 'Do I agree with her or not?' and I usually do. On this movie, even though we love the same music and we come from the same era, there's a few songs that I'm not a huge fan of including the Teenage Fanclub song, 'The Concept.' But I knew it was right for the movie and that's all that mattered."
Cody on the Cancellation of The United States of Tara
"It was one of those things that wasn't shocking because we never really had the audience that we wanted, in terms of numbers. I was honestly really grateful that we survived for as long as we did and really grateful to Showtime that they would support something that was that offbeat and interesting. It was some of the most satisfying work that I've done. But you also have to understand that when you're dealing in the realm of the small and weird, things don't always survive. You just appreciate them as long as you can, and treasure the experience. Sometimes I think about the mythical fourth or fifth seasons, and where it would have gone. I think we still had a lot of stories to tell. But it wrapped up nicely, considering that we didn't know it was going to be the last episode.
Reitman on Why His Characters So Rarely Change
I like characters that don't change because I don't think people change or they very rarely do or they do by a tiny percent. I think people have revelatory moments and they learn things, but most often they don't change because of those things or they change for five days. Think about the number of times you've gone on a diet for five days or become a vegan for five days. We have moments where we think 'Oh I should be doing that more.' I remember I told my therapist once -- yes, I'm in therapy; I'm Jewish [laughs] -- 'I'm worried that if this works I won't be a good writer anymore' and he said 'Don't worry, you're only capable of about five or ten percent improvement.' And I think that's true for people and that's why Up in the Air ends the way it does and why Young Adult ends the way it does. They end with people learning things and not changing.
The Cast and Crew on the Renewed Popularity of the Bad Girl
Theron: "I've never been a fan of labels. I think it's very easy to look at somebody and just kind of throw a label on them. I'm not a big fan of overly justifying bad behavior, or why people are the way they are. I think that it's a cop-out and I don't have a lot of empathy for that. I thought the things that Mavis did were pretty despicable, but not to the point where I was disgusted by her. I would never let her hang out with my boyfriend, but I'd love to go and have a beer with her. All I know is that what I liked about Diablo's script, was the idea of a woman, who's dealing with very, very common mid-to-late 30's issues, but in the way a 16-year-old would deal with them. When she says things like, 'Don't you know love conquers all,' it's the sort of thing a typical 16-year-old would say. And here she is -- 37 and trying to get her life together, but she just doesn't have the tools to do it."
Cody: "When people talk about movies like Bridesmaids, they always say, 'Oh, we're seeing raunchy women.' And I say, 'No, you're just seeing women.' That's what feels fresh about this; you're actually seeing women in complicated, funny situations where you would normally expect to see male characters. So I don't really see it as women behaving badly so much as just seeing more multi-faceted female characters. And I hope there will be more of that, because I'm enjoying it."
Oswalt: It feels like you have finally made progress as a group if you can be depicted as being part of the full spectrum. Usually, any kind of sub-group or smaller group in a movie goes starts off being made fun of and victimized and then it swings too hard the other way, where they're amazing and always positive, which is just as dehumanizing. Then you finally arrive at the point where a single individual can be a hero and a villain and funny and an asshole just like we all are every second of the day. So that's definitely progress, too.
Reitman: "I think 'women behaving badly' is just kind of a cheap term. I've always been interested in making movies about women; they interest me far more than men. And I'm interested in honesty in filmmaking and I think the darker moments are far more interesting than the cheerful ones. I guess that's my approach. I don't know why they made Bridesmaids and I don't know why they made Bad Teacher, but that's certainly why I made this movie."
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