How to hype a film about the comic exploits of a chief Big Tobacco spokesman that avoids taking sides? When that film is Thank You for Smoking (opening Friday, March 24), a scabrous satire from 29-year-old filmmaker Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman, legendary director of Ghostbusters and Stripes) based on the same-titled 1994 novel by Christopher Buckley (himself the son of William F. Buckley), it’s hard not to consider certain . . . nepotistic possibilities.
Then again, you could also push it as “the film that Tom Cruise cut”: a showcase screening of Thank You for Smoking at January’s Sundance Film Festival unspooled without a scene of reportedly steamy sex between lobbyist Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) and investigative reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes, soon-to-be mother of Cruise’s star child), who will do anything for a story.
Let’s get that sex scene out the way: “Could Cruise have really been responsible for the unkindest of cuts?”
“Yes, the sex scene in which Aaron and Katie are ‘humorously humping’ was missing,” says Reitman. “Two days later, the LA Times ran a story, asking, ‘Was It the Mormons, or the Scientologists?’ Honestly? It was a projection error.” The problem with this explanation is that it calls to mind a “wardrobe malfunction.” “It sounds like a lie,” admits Reitman. “In the aftermath, people started asking about the ‘nude scene’ in my movie — which I now wish I had. It would really open up the 15-year-old-boy demographic!”
Thanks to both the appeal of Chris Buckley’s words and the arrangement of compressed shooting schedules for the name players, the first-time director was able to assemble a dream cast that includes William H. Macy, Robert Duvall, Maria Bello, Sam Elliott, Dennis Miller, and a kimono-clad Rob Lowe.
“Dennis was a friend of the family,” said Reitman, who was in town recently promoting the flick. “Well, Dennis and Rob Lowe. Everyone else wasn’t, by the way. I know what this is starting to sound like . . . ”
Like it helps having a respected director as a dad?
“You’d think it would, but it’s the opposite. People presume that I don’t know how to direct. Actors don’t want to be in a movie where the director doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
In the midst of all the TomKat hype, the film’s subject matter has been a bit overlooked. Has Reitman heard any reaction from Big Tobacco, the object of fear in films such as The Insider?
“We’re still hoping for some litigation. Come get us. Give us the publicity. I don’t think the cigarette companies are in a mood to be suing right now. They went through the big settlements in the late ’90s. They’ve renamed the Winston Cup, killed Joe Camel ... When Phillip Morris changed their name to Altria, I called up Chris Buckley and said, ‘Apparently, “Benevolentia” was taken.’ ”