Many of Rob Reiner’s thoughts end in exclamation points.
Seated in a conference room at the Four Seasons, the affable actor-writer-director expounds with an infectious grin on everything from “Breaking Bad”— “Once I finally got into it, I was like a meth addict!” — to the fact that the stars of his new film “And So It Goes,” Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas, had never worked together — “I couldn’t believe it either!”
At 67, with nearly 50 years logged as an actor — most memorably as Michael “Meathead” Stivic on the groundbreaking Norman Lear sitcom “All in the Family” and more recently on “New Girl” and in “The Wolf of Wall Street” — and as a director of quality and quotable films — “Stand By Me,” “A Few Good Men,” “This Is Spinal Tap,” “Misery,” “The Princess Bride,” and “When Harry Met Sally. . .” to name a handful — Reiner is a happy guy.
“As happy as a neurotic Jewish man can be,” he says with a laugh.
“And So It Goes,” which opens Friday, chronicles what happens when Douglas’s curmudgeonly widower, Oren, collides with Keaton’s compassionate widow, Leah, a budding nightclub singer. Reiner appears in a small role as her toupeed accompanist.
Reiner can’t say enough about Douglas, who is a friend, and Keaton of whom he’s been a “tremendous fan. She’s just an amazing actress.”
“I was very lucky. Both Diane and Michael, these are two icons, Academy Award winners and they had never worked with each other and they both had wanted to and they’re great together.”
‘I’ll do anything for a laugh. If I have to drop my drawers I’ll do it.’
The film is clearly geared to a more mature audience. Reiner says he’s never worried about demographics.
“All of the movies that I’ve made up until now, none of them, could get made at a studio today, even ‘A Few Good Men.’ which was a big hit. They make essentially three types of movies. They make the big, action, tent pole franchise-type superhero movies; they make animated films; and they make R-rated raunchy comedies, and that’s it. So if you’re not making one of those three you’re not getting your picture made at a studio. “
Q. You worked with Michael before on “The American President.” How was it to reunite?
A. I love working with Michael. He’s like having an ally on the set because he’s a producer, he knows the drill, he knows what’s involved. So, aside from the fact that he’s an incredible actor who’s got great craft, he makes your life so easy. I’ve known him for a long, long time, and we’re good friends. We share a similar experience with having famous fathers who achieved at a very high level. I love the guy.
Q. I’ve always wondered about that. When “American President” came out I remember thinking wouldn’t it be funny if you had a support group with you and Michael and Carrie Fisher and Jamie Lee Curtis and other second-generation Hollywood stars and talked about what it was like.
A. Well, we have! I certainly have with Jamie. Jamie’s a good friend. She’s married to one of my best friends, [actor-director] Chris Guest. And Michael and I have had these conversations and what it’s like to be in the shadow and all of that stuff.
Q. In “And So It Goes” you play Diane’s accompanist. Is that you really playing the piano?
A. No, I fake it. But it was funny, we had a scene where she’s auditioning for a job at a club and in the back is Michael, and the club owner is played by Frankie Valli from the Four Seasons, which was fun. But Diane is so into her part she doesn’t really pay attention to everything going on. They were in the back in the dark. So I’m sitting at the piano and I say to Diane before we did the first take, “Are you nervous that you’re going to have to sing in front of Frankie Valli?” And she said, “Frankie Valli?! Where’s Frankie Valli?” She had no idea he was back there! She said, “Why would you do that?” I thought she knew he was there! [Laughs.] But she was great. I said, “Don’t worry, I feel nervous too. I have to play piano in front of Liberace over here.” [Laughs.]
Q. You have a small part but it seems you went out of your way to embarrass yourself.
A. Basically, I’ll do anything for a laugh. If I have to drop my drawers I’ll do it. I’m a whore when it comes to comedy. [Laughs.]
Q. After “The Bucket List” and “The Magic of Bell Isle,” “And So It Goes” almost seems like the third part in a trilogy: “Rob Reiner’s Musings on Aging.”
A. That’s exactly right. When we were promoting “Bucket List,” everybody asked the same question: What’s on your bucket list? We all had different answers but whenever they asked Jack Nicholson that question he always said, “One more great romance.” So it was an idea that came out of that junket.
Q. So did you send Jack a fruit basket?
A. Yeah, I should send him a fruit basket! But you’re right, when I did “Bucket List” I had just turned 60 and I had started thinking about the inevitability of things. When I turned 60 I thought of myself as a very, very, very young old person. You’re at the beginning of the last third. So you start thinking about your mortality and the things that are precious and wanting to embrace life as best you can with the time you have. You don’t think about that stuff when you’re young so much. And so the idea of two people finding each other at that late stage in life was appealing to me because your feelings don’t go away. Your desire to have intimacy and closeness with people doesn’t go away and you want to share those things as long as you can.
Q. In that vein, you don’t have to be doing this anymore, so you must want to be doing it. Do you approach every film now with a passion-project mindset?
A. Yes, but I’ve always done that. I’ve never done anything I wasn’t passionate to do. I remember one time I did a commercial for Coca-Cola and I only worked two days to direct it and I said I’ll never do this again. I love Coca-Cola and I drink Diet Cokes all day, but I don’t want to do that. You learn this early on, but you don’t really internalize it until you get older: It’s all process, it’s all about the doing. So it’s not like I need to do it, I like doing these things. So, if you’re working in a creative area, you want to do something that is an extension of who you are creatively. Because there is no “end” to any of this except death, you know? But up ’til that point it’s just the doing.
Q. You talked about those three kinds of films. What do you think of those R-rated comedies?
A. If they’re inspired then great! I loved “Bridesmaids” and “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.” But then some of them, “Hangover II” and “III”? I’m sorry. I don’t need to look at that. “Hangover” one had some great jokes in it and I still sing “What do tigers dream of?” It’s brilliantly funny and there are some great moments, but to me it has to be inspired. It can’t just be raunchy for raunchy’s sake.
Q. You’ve done a lot of different types of films. But one thing many of them have in common is famous quotes. What are the most common ones that people say to you? “This one goes to 11” from “Spinal Tap”? “You can’t handle the truth” from “A Few Good Men”?
A. I get quoted from all of those! And from “Princess Bride,” “The Sure Thing,” “When Harry Met Sally . . .,” different ones.
Q. Are there people who still call you “Meathead” when they see you?
A. Yeah, absolutely [laughs]. It’s fine. I’ve made the joke a million times: No matter what I do in my life, I could win the Nobel Prize, and the headline would read “Meathead Wins Nobel Prize.”Interview has been edited and condensed. Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.