Jason Reitman, director of “Juno” and “Up in The Air,” started the first night of his movie program at New Beverly Cinema with a double feature of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Election.” “Election” was released in 1999 and was directed by Alexander Payne who would go on to direct “About Schmidt,” “Sideways,” “The Descendants” and “Nebraska.” Reitman stated that he considers this film to be the unofficial sequel to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” as it answers the question of what ever happened to Ferris after high school. Reflecting on what Edward R. Rooney, Dean of Students (Jeffrey Jones) said in the film that Bueller’s life would be in a ruinous state twenty years from now, “Election” shows that wasn’t far from the truth. Here we see Matthew Broderick still stuck in high school, this time as Civics teacher Jim McAllister, and he is confronted by a go-getter named Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) who is running for Student Body President.
Reitman started off talking about how Volkswagen was willing to pay a lot of money for Broderick to drive a VW Bug in “Election,” but that director Payne was adamantly against that. This was proof, Reitman said, that this was a director who stuck to his guns and never strayed from his vision. Whereas “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was John Hughes’ love letter to Chicago, “Election” was Payne’s love letter to Omaha, Nebraska. This city has been the setting for just about every movie Payne has made, and Payne told Reitman that he loves to shoot in the Midwest of America because of “the wind.”
Before “Election” started, Reitman brought out a special guest to talk about the movie’s making: Chris Klein. Klein played the well-meaning but hopelessly dim high school football star Paul Metzler. After “Election” he went on to star in “American Pie,” and he later went against type in John McTiernan’s remake of “Rollerball.” That movie was never mentioned during the Q&A, probably for good reason.
“This may sound hokey, but this is what dreams are made of.”
That’s how Klein described how he got cast in “Election” and ended up being plucked from obscurity. At the time, he was living in Omaha and going to high school. People in his hometown would never take him seriously when he told them his dream was to be a professional actor. You have to wonder what those same people think of him now.
During pre-production for “Election,” Klein said Payne was scouting out high schools and other locations in Omaha when his high school principal (who was essentially acting as his agent) brought him to the director’s attention. While Paul Metzler was a football star, Klein had become the star of the plays and musicals put on at his school. One day his teacher was instructed to tell him to get some papers which he forgot to bring. As he was walking down the hallway, Payne passed by him as he headed in the opposite direction. The next day, Payne called Klein up and asked him to audition and do a cold reading for him. Klein said he didn’t actually know what he was reading for, and had he known he’s sure he would have blown the entire thing. All the same, he did get cast.
Klein said he had not seen any of Payne’s previous films, so the director gave him a copy of “Citizen Ruth” which he watched with his mother. “Citizen Ruth” starred Laura Dern as a glue-sniffing drug addict who ends up getting pregnant, and she spends the movie deciding on whether or not to get an abortion. Keep in mind that Omaha, Nebraska is very conservative, so neither Klein nor his mother were adequately prepared for what they ended up watching. His mother ended up saying to him, “WHAT IS THIS MOVIE??!! IS THIS REALLY THE GUY YOU ARE ABOUT TO WORK WITH???!!”
When Klein read the screenplay, he told Payne that he didn’t know it was supposed to be funny. Payne responded by telling him that this was exactly what he wanted. The direction he gave to Klein was that his character Paul Metzler was nervous and never comfortable in front of people. This ended up working out perfectly.
Klein’s experience making “Election” reminded him of various panels he has been on with actors from his own movies. Many said they had no idea of what Reitman was doing on his films until the whole thing was over, and Klein described what Reitman pointed out as being very similar to his experience making “Election.” It never fully occurred to him what kind of film they had made until he went to the premiere and saw the movie with an audience. After that he exclaimed, “HEY! WE ACTUALLY DID SOMETHING FUNNY!”
Admittedly, having grown up in conservative Omaha for most of his life, Klein said there were several scenes in the movie which concerned him. But none concerned him more than the scene where Paul Metzler gets a blow job. Reitman, however, pointed out that the blow job was a huge moment for his character in that it is the first one Paul had ever gotten. The expression on Klein’s face in that moment is so priceless, but this is the way he saw that whole scene:
“Believe me; I have gotten A LOT of blow jobs! The thing though is none of them were ever put up on the big screen before!”
Reitman remarked that directing an actor (not an actress mind you) to do an orgasm in a film is “really hard.” This was a challenge Reitman faced when he directed Michael Cera in “Juno” where he was getting very intimate with Ellen Page. Reitman remarked that Cera is a wonderful guy and a great actor, but getting that expression on his face of the thing we want to experience multiple times throughout our lives proved impossible, so the scene got cut from the movie. All this talk about blow jobs from one movie to the next led Reitman to remark, “This has turned into an amazing Q&A!”
Once again, “Election” was Klein’s first time on a movie set, so there were many lessons for him to learn. Throughout it all, he spent just about every hour on location to where Payne told him, “Don’t worry, you can go home. We’ll call you when we’re ready for you.”
One other thing which really altered his perception of moviemaking was when the actress originally cast Paul’s sister Tammy, Thora Birch, ended up being replaced. As Klein saw it, she was basically fired and he became very fearful he would be the next to go. Payne may have been watching a young actor growing right before his eyes, but Klein described the whole process as him taking it so seriously so he wouldn’t get fired.
Klein finished by saying that working on “Election” was an amazing experience as well as a lucky one, and that watching professionals like Broderick and Witherspoon (both of whom he described as being “very generous” to him and others) made this one of the very best acting experiences he has ever had. To all this, Reitman remarked, “I’m so glad you two (Klein and Payne) ran into each other at your high school!”
Before the Q&A concluded, Reitman said that over various films and movie festivals he became friendly with Payne who, in turn, has been very complimentary on the work he has done. Reitman said this has meant so much to him and that they now text each other on a regular basis, and he had asked Payne if there was one shot in “Election” which best describes the whole movie for him. Reitman read the entire text he received from Payne to the audience:
“The entire movie rests on the one shot of the protagonist (Jim McAllister) washing his genitalia in the shower of that motel room.”