Reitman finds himself on the ascent

Jason Reitman is a suitably quirky man, one who clearly matches up with the movies he makes.

The director behind Juno and the upcoming Up in the Air walks with confidence, speaks with rapid-fire sarcasm and obsessively documents everything on his iPhone.

Master shot · Academy Award-nominated director and USC alumnus Jason Reitman (pictured above, right, with George Clooney), follows his 2007 hit Juno with Up in the Air, a dramedy starring Clooney and Anna Kendrick. - Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Master shot · Academy Award-nominated director and USC alumnus Jason Reitman (pictured above, right, with George Clooney), follows his 2007 hit Juno with Up in the Air, a dramedy starring Clooney and Anna Kendrick. - Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Taking pictures of all the unkempt journalists at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, prepared to quiz him on his latest film, he slyly promised, “I’m going to cut out your face and put it on photos of naked ladies.”

Up in the Air is a perfectly timed comedy about Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert (George Clooney) who is hired by numerous companies to fire their employees. The title comes both from the character’s obsession with collecting frequent flyer miles and the unexpected turns his career and personal life take.

Like the director’s Thank You For Smoking, which was about a smug tobacco industry spin doctor, Reitman prefers anti-heroes to anything resembling a traditional protagonist — a tendency he compares to the films of his father, Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters).

“Imagine for a second my father and I were musicians,” Reitman explained. “My father wants to take a song you love and play it better than you’ve ever heard it before. I want to take a song you hate and play it so well that you learn to like it.”

Like Thank You For Smoking, Up in the Air is an adaptation of a novel. Reitman’s palpably irreverent attitude toward just about everything clearly embodies his style as a writer.

“There’s no question of faithfulness,” Reitman said. “I think there’s something in that book that responded to a question I had already wanted to ask, and at that point I’m going to use that book for everything it has and not use the stuff that doesn’t fit my mold.”

Up in the Air continues Reitman’s trend of ambiguous endings, a philosophy he explained when asked to account for his protagonist’s final destination at the end of the film.

“I have no idea where he goes,” Reitman said flippantly. “The honest answer is it doesn’t really matter. Half the audience thinks one thing, half the audience thinks the other. That’s how I know I did my job right.”

Anna Kendrick stars as Natalie, a young go-getter who butts heads with the experienced Clooney in trying to streamline the firing process. While filming Up in the Air, Kendrick frequently crossed over to the world of florid teenage vampire romance for the Twilight series, in which she plays high school queen bee Jessica.

“I feel like I have the best of both worlds,” Kendrick explained. “I’m a part of this thing that is such a big deal to a lot of people, but I completely recognize that I don’t play a very instrumental part of. And then I get to go and play at the grown-ups’ table.”

The up-and-coming 23-year-old actress displayed the same youthful and ironic wit as her director when asked about the question she hears most when recognized by Twilight fans.

“They ask me what Rob [Pattinson] is like. And I say, ‘He’s great,’” Kendrick said, before adding a slightly exhausted, “as I’ve said in every interview.”

But despite her sudden visibility in two major films, Kendrick still acts a little starstruck at the drop of Clooney’s name. She explained that Clooney thankfully didn’t pull any of his famous on-set pranks on her.

“He knows that the girl that’s wondering what she’s doing on a George Clooney movie in the first place is not the girl that you play a prank on while you’re filming,” Kendrick said. “But he’s goofy. He’d be like playing Nerf ball around my head as I’m trying to get prepared for a scene and I’d feel like I’m the mom and he’s the teenager: ‘George! I’m trying to focus!’”

Kendrick’s experience seemed typical of the on-set atmosphere fostered by a cheeky superstar and his equally irreverent director. Reitman’s wicked and weird sense of humor, which fits so well with the kinds of films he makes, is taking the routine world of press tours by storm. Reitman even made a chart of his most frequently asked questions.

Still, Reitman had a lot of original things to say on his return trip to Los Angeles. A former USC student, the Oscar-nominated Reitman explained how he built his career while studying as an English major.

“I started making short films there,” Reitman said. “While I was at USC I wrote [film] reviews for the Daily Trojan — bad ones. I was in Commedus Interruptus, I had a radio show on KSCR and I started a desk calendar company where we sold ad space to every company in the area. I took that advertising money and I made my first short film.”

After giving me a friendly “Fight On,” he asked if there were any students from UCLA in the room. When a counterpart from the Daily Bruin raised his hand, Reitman joked, “Oh dude, no more answers for you.”

It sounded just like something one of his characters would say.