mAgainst all advice, meeting heroes is always advisable – depending on how clever you are at hero-picking. For example, if you adored the notoriously grumpy Van Morrison as a teenager, then you’re likely to be disappointed. However, if you’re the kind of person who never grew out of your love of Ivan Reitman’s comedies, from Animal House to Ghostbusters to Dave, you might have been ridiculed (by jerks) for your taste over the years, but, man , you’re a pound to it when you meet your man.
As the Guardian’s official film correspondent for the ’80s, I’ve spoken to Reitman several times over the years, beginning with a phone interview for the last film he directed, Draft Day 2014. When I contacted him again a few weeks later to asking him if I could interview him for a book I was working on about 80’s movies, he immediately agreed and talked to me for over an hour, recalling movies that people had asked him to see to remember about for over 30 years. He never showed boredom or irritation. If I ever needed a quote or just had a question I could email him and he responded immediately. Needless to say, this behavior isn’t exactly typical of a true Hollywood powerhouse?
I only met Reitman in person in October 2021, when he amazingly arrived in London in the midst of the pandemic to help promote his son Jason’s contribution to the Ghostbusters canon – a testament to his love for his son, as quickly became apparent would . We first met outside a hotel in Soho, where he and Jason bravely punched each other in the Ghostbusters car Ecto-1. Rule number one in interviewing is don’t ask for photos with the celebrity, and rule number two is that if you absolutely have to, don’t do it before the interview. I tore those rules to pieces and asked the surprisingly shy and unassuming Reitman for a photo with him in front of Ecto-1, and after asking if I was sure I didn’t want one with Jason (no, sorry), agreed You to.
How do you convey to someone how much their work meant to you as a child and therefore your whole life? Poor Reitman had been nabbing nerds about it for most of his adult life, and I’m afraid I’ve added something to the nerd bunch. As I rambled on about how to recite entire scenes from Meatballs, The Twins, and most importantly, Ghostbusters, Jason beamed proudly next to his father, but Reitman himself only sowed an overpower. “Man, thanks,” he said to me as we walked to the hotel. “That’s so nice – thank you.”
Real humility is pretty scarce in most celebrity interviews — as is real emotion. But twice Reitman had to stop to cry (once he went to the bathroom to pull himself together) when speaking of it, firstly how proud he was of Jason, and then when speaking about his mother’s time in Auschwitz. Reitman was born in Czechoslovakia in 1946 after his mother and father (who was in the Resistance) were finally reunited after the end of the war. They fled communist oppression and made it to Canada when Reitman was four years old, losing pretty much all their money in the process. He was happy to talk about Kindergarten Cop for weeks, but when it came to talking about his family — his parents, his kids — his sadness, pride, and love were just too close to the surface. There is nothing more Jewish than crying with pride over one’s children or being haunted by the Holocaust and watching Reitman sit and reach for another handkerchief, this gentle, tender man didn’t feel like a director I mean my whole life (one who made it Bill Murray is a star and Arnold Schwarzenegger is a real comedian), but like someone in my family. I wanted to hug him, but luckily for him, social distancing rules kept me at a safe distance.
What an impressive and brilliant man Reitman was. It’s another terrible loss to this generation of self-made Jewish immigrants who shaped American comedy, and a very sad loss of a truly lovable man.