Yahoo! Exclusive: ‘Young Adult’ Director Jason Reitman Talks Charlize Theron, ‘Unhappy Endings’ and Strong Women Behaving Badly

Thelma Adams
The Reel Breakdown

Last fall, Charlize Theron told Yahoo!: "What I loved about the film was that Jason Reitman didn't want to hammer it down." In the Diablo Cody scripted black comedy, Oscar-winner Theron plays a desperate single who returns to her hometown to ensnare her high school boyfriend -- even though he's now married with a newborn. Her bad! When we got Reitman on the phone this week to discuss "Young Adult," now on DVD, the admiration was clearly mutual:

Jason Reitman: When I read the screenplay, I couldn't imagine any other actress, and I based my decision to make it based on Charlize's involvement. There's an honesty in the way that she acts that's unique. We can relate to her.

Thelma Adams: To a point. Her alcoholic home-wrecker wannabe is not easy to love.

JR: I think Charlize recognized how tricky a role this was to play. Frankly, it's one of her greatest performances, if not her greatest. I watched her create it day by day as she had to build the character from scratch and throw away the fear of not being loved. And that's one of the things that's great about Charlize: She's not terrified of whether people like her or audiences like her. She's ballsy and fearless when it comes to her acting.

[Related: Thelma Adams talks to Charlize Theron]

TA: What drew you to "Young Adult" after your Oscar run for "Up in the Air?" with George Clooney?

JR: It was just the screenplay. Diablo wrote another amazing screenplay. The last act -- the three scenes with Charlize's breakdown at the baby-naming, her love scene with Patton Oswalt, and the breakfast scene the following morning with Collette Wolfe -- those three scenes were a movie ending unlike anything I had seen before.

TA: Did audiences have trouble digesting the comedy's off-kilter ending?

JR: I think it's an unfamiliar feeling. The first time you watch the movie, it's going to be uncomfortable. But later, audiences can't get that character out of their heads, and while their instinct is to reject this woman, within a week you find the similarities. That unique feeling is what makes the movie special.

[Related: Jason Reitman's 5 Favorite '70s Movies]

TA: With "Juno," "Up in the Air," and "Young Adult," you have a string of strong women characters -- was that intentional?

JR: I've always been attracted to strong women in general -- in life and on screen. When you look at my movies, there's continuity between the lead women, lead female characters. I do this instinctually as a storyteller, and only looking back do I see the pattern. My mom is a strong presence. And I've always been drawn to really smart, strong women.

TA: When "Young Adult" debuted, it was positioned as an Oscar movie -- was that a marketing mistake? Wasn't it more like "Bad Teacher?"

JR: I didn't really see any problem. Most films these days are designed to provide one of three or four feelings that you get from every other movie, a simplified piece of adventure or romance or a sense of humor that you've seen before. I was reaching for a unique experience in story structure, character, and tone. That's why I got excited by this screenplay. It didn't simply deliver the experience audiences were used to.

TA: We've caught you out scouting locations. What's next for you?

JR: "Labor Day," based on the Joyce Maynard novel. We start shooting in June.

See the trailer for 'Young Adult':