Sleazeball lobbyist Jack Abramoff showed the country the dark side of Washington lobbying. Chris Matthews spoke with Director Jason Reitman, whose new movie, "Thank You for Smoking," takes a wickedly funny look at the "merchants of death," the lobbyists for tobacco, firearms, and - of course - smoking.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, 'HARDBALL': How do you make a guy who is an apparent sleazeball into a sort of winning character?
JASON REITMAN, DIRECTOR: Well, first, you got a fantastic book by Christopher Buckley, and then you hire Aaron Eckhart, who is just brilliant at being subversive and funny at the same time.
MATTHEWS: What did you learn about Washington while you were putting this film together, about the way the lobbyists really do operate here?
REITMAN: You know, I learned most of it just from reading the book, so I have to admit, that’s probably what I take for honesty, and I spent a few days in Washington. What I learned most is that they loved that book. That book was carte blanche for us to go into any building we wanted.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about lobbyists, how they reacted. I mean, I guess you haven’t bumped into Abramoff or anybody who’s really in the toilet these days, but one of the regular guys who bumped into you at the thing we were at, that social thing together, you bumped into any real guys who said, God, you’re tough? Or you made us look better than we deserve.
REITMAN: No, no, they love it. They love—they love the book, they love the movie. I’ve had a couple of alcohol people come up to me and said, yeah, you know, all my guns and cigarette friends can’t wait to see this thing.
MATTHEWS: You mean they like to be the villains. It’s exciting.
REITMAN: Well, I think they’re self-aware and they have a sense of humor about it.
MATTHEWS: How is this going to sell outside the world where people think lobbyists are sort of these big fat guys with the whatever—I don’t know what the image of a lobbyist is these days. Money coming out of his hands, a tan from the latest deal he’s been at, or a Florida vacation.
But what is the lobbyist notion compared to the very smart notion you have got, and wickedly witty notion of a lobbyist in this film?
REITMAN: Well, you know, the character in this film is more of a spokesman. He’s a guy who goes on television, a guy who goes and talks at live events. He’s not really the backroom dealer who’s trying to move legislation.
And I think people are very excited to see that, because this is a film that has a sense of humor, and is saying, relax a little, let’s have a good time.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the popularity of the film. You’re talking, I think we chatted one night, you talked about kids, people your age I should say, people in their early 20s, earlier than you, are getting a giggle out of this because it’s showing them the real world in the sort of the Jon Stewart fashion, the tongue-and-cheek, my God, it’s not on that level.
REITMAN: Well, it’s putting up a mirror to both sides and telling everyone we need to relax a little. I think the current generation, as in college, they’ve been spun to since the cradle, and they’re very tired of political correctness, and this film takes a really nice stab at that.
MATTHEWS: Because it’s so libertarian, the way it looks at things.
REITMAN: Yes, and it just relaxes. I think we’ve all gotten a little too uptight. I mean, look, you’re doing this special today where you’re putting the letter O in front of everyone’s names. And tomorrow, you will probably get a response from the Irish-American Coalition. And they’re going to be railing on you for it. We have all become a little too sensitive, and I think that’s why people really like the sense of humor of this movie.
MATTHEWS: I think the smart people will say we’re not taking things seriously enough. Anyway, Jason, your movie is funny, it’s tight, and it’s sort of like “Dr. Strangelove,” a brilliant satire.
REITMAN: Oh, wow, thank you.
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