Notes from the Jason Reitman-Directed Live Script Read of The Apartment

Part of the wave of initiatives in Elvis Mitchell's rebooted Film Independent at LACMA programming is a series of live script reads directed by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno), who kicked things off last month with a star-studded rendition of The Breakfast Club. Last night's second script read of the 1960 multiple Oscar-winner The Apartment, with Natalie Portman and Steve Carell in the Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon roles, respectively, demonstrated how the marriage of cherished movie memories, live theater, and fresh talent is such an inspired idea to begin with.

Following the success of Reitman's Breakfast Club live read, anticipation was high for The Apartment, with Reitman doling out casting announcements via Twitter leading up to Thursday's event. His selections were varied but pretty great: Portman, post-baby, gave elevator operator Fran Kubelik a tough-edged fragility of her own, while Carell, initially rushing through his lines, eventually relaxed into the naïve bluster of clueless accountant C.C. Baxter at his own signature Carell pitch.

J.K. Simmons, initially set to play Baxter's sauve philandering boss Mr. Sheldrake, couldn't make it as planned, sending a wave of disappointment through the crowd. "Believe you me, he's been in everything I've ever made," Reitman admitted. "So this is a little weird for me."

Luckily, he found the perfect last-minute replacement. "There's a young actor, you may not know his name, you may know it soon, and I'm thrilled that he's going to be joining us tonight," Reitman announced, teasing the crowd. "In the role of Sheldrake, originated by Fred McMurray... Pierce Brosnan!"

James Bond as Mr. Sheldrake. So fitting!

Reitman's supporting cast helped Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's script leap off the page, with Jake Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Colette Wolf, Nick Kroll, and Ken Jeong providing multiple characterizations. Comedian Kroll (of The League fame) and Jeong in particular, turning up the comic midcentury swagger, knew to pause to let their punchlines breathe; Jeong, who gamely shrieked through a few awful Asian accented lines as the waitstaff at the Rickshaw restaurant -- shaking his head the whole time -- clearly had more fun than anyone in the entire theater just watching the proceedings unfold.

From the aisles there was the added dimension of seeing locations from the film projected above the stage, with key characters digitally removed by Reitman & Co.; you could, or inadvertently did, transpose your own memories of watching the 1960 film with the live dialogue onstage. Add to that Reitman's own stage direction, read from the script with vivid scene and character details otherwise simply visualized in cinematic form, and the whole of the story and its characters came alive in a wholly new way. For a movie event sans actual movie screening, it was an incredibly extra-cinematic experience to have. That's the way magic was made, movie-wise.

(Next month's already sold-out live read, teased thusly at the end of last night's event: "Inconceivable!" Start hunting for tickets now.)

[Photo credit: Alex Wyman, WireImage, courtesy of Film Independent]

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