Jason Reitman’s live stage-reading series — classic movie scripts like The Breakfast Club and The Princess Bride — has become one of the coolest phenomenons to hit Los Angeles these past few months, so what better way to close out the six-installment series than with an iconic L.A. story?
Next Thursday, Reitman will assemble a group of actors to re-create The Big Lebowski for one night only. Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 comedy, which may rank as the ultimate cult movie, presents a few challenges that make it a tantalizing prospect for Reitman & Co. to re-create on stage.
“There are so many characters in this movie,” Reitman says. “We’ve tried to keep all of our live-reads to movies that have maybe 10 or 12 characters. This movie has something like 40 characters in it. You don’t realize it when you’re watching it, but person after person turns up to do interesting and strange scenes.”
Luckily, three actors known for their diverse voices have signed on to ensure that worries about the size of the cast don’t drag any negative energy into this tournament.
From the Jesus to pornographer Jackie Treehorn to the irate neighbor who “kills” the Dude’s car, most of the small-but-memorable roles will be handled by a versatile trio. Nick Kroll and Patton Oswalt, two veterans of the live-reads, will be joined by The Simpsons’ Hank Azaria to “cover the field” of different characters in The Big Lebowski, Reitman says. “There will be a moment when the three nihilist will be played by Patton, Nick, and Hank, and we’ll be getting each of their German accents,” he laughs.
Most of the other major roles have yet to be assigned, but Reitman has already secured what he describes as “the perfect actor” to re-create Jeff Bridges easy-going stoner the Dude. However, that will remain under wraps until next week, just before Thursday’s performance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (A few other surprises may be held until the show itself.)
The things Reitman loves about The Big Lebowski: “It’s structurally perfect. It’s like a satire of film noir, but it’s one of the best film noirs. The dialogue is impeccable. … It’s further proof that if you’re that talented you can break any rule you want. At its core, the purpose of the [live-read] series is to celebrate great writing. There’s not much better writing than the Coen Brothers.”
The unfortunate thing for those who don’t get tickets to the Film Independent event is that these readings aren’t recorded to share afterward. Even so, film fans can’t help but be fascinated by the Up in the Air and Young Adult filmmaker’s cinematic experimentation.
February’s reading of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs brought together an all-black cast. December’s re-creation of The Princess Bride gave original star Carey Elwes the villain’s part, made director Rob Reiner the narrating grandpa, and allowed a grown-up Fred Savage to play his 10-year-old self again. Other movies in the series were The Breakfast Club, The Apartment, and Shampoo.”
For the grand finale, Reitman says he and Film Independent’s Elvis Mitchell, who helps curate the series, wondered “do we close with a movie like Manhattan, and make it more small and thoughtful, or should we go with something like The Princess Bride and really blow the doors off? In the end, we decided to go with the biggest audience pleaser, a film where the audience will probably know every line of dialogue.”
In this case, that may be literally true. The entire audience could recite this one in tandem with the actors, like a non-musical singalong.