Paul Reiser on Early Role in ‘Diner’ and Working With Will Smith in ‘Concussion’

Paul Reiser Big Break in Hollywood
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

Paul Reiser has a slew of movies coming out this year, including “War on Everyone,” “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” “The Darkness” and “Joshy.” Also upcoming: the second season of Amazon’s “Red Oaks” plus the May 3 release of the “Mad About You” boxed set, with all 164 episodes. The standup comic was first mentioned in Variety on March 5, 1981, when he was cast in Barry Levinson’s “Diner.”

What was “Diner” like?

It was my first job in show business. It was a crazy circumstance. A friend of mine was going in for an audition, and I was waiting for him, when casting director Ellen Chenoweth asked if I had a [headshot], and I said no. I went back the next day with a picture; next thing I know, I was in a movie. It was a great way to start a career — highly regarded director, (and the movie was) so well received.

How did you get into writing?

Barry Levinson gave me my first job and got me started writing. He said, “Here’s what you do: Just start writing.” And that was the first step. Part of the reason I became a writer is I don’t like to pitch. Barry was an important friend and supporter. I work with a couple of writers now that I really spark with. It’s what you do; you always want young fresh voices to work with.

Any other teachers?

For sure. In standup comedy, there was a very strong bond among all the comics who started at the same time. We were rooting for each other; with jokes, they’d say, “Does this adjustment help you?”

Do you ever read reviews about yourself?

I try not to, unless someone says, “You must read this lovely compliment.” It’s dangerous; we all wish we could be blase and “I don’t care.” But you do care. You don’t want to read even a compliment. Something sticks.

Are you still in touch with your co-stars from “Diner”?

I’m still very friendly with Daniel Stern, Kevin Bacon and Tim Daly, Ellen Barkin. There’s a certain bond from that; we’re very fond of each other. Kevin Bacon did a cameo on “Mad About You.”

TV has changed a lot since “Mad About You.”

There are so many more outlets. It’s only three or four years ago that Netflix sent things in the mail. It’s one of the first places you want to go (with a script). There are more outlets, [so] it’s easier — but not easy — to launch a show than to get a big film made. There’s something appealing about doing 10-13 episodes and binge watching. A lot of shows look like a big movie spread out. It changes the way you write.

Your movie “The Thing About My Folks” opened the Palm Springs Film Festival one year.

That’s one of those things I really wanted to get out, specifically do it with Peter Falk. I have two or three screenplays I’m playing with. In the last few years, I’ve enjoyed writing and producing TV scripts. I’m working on three right now. I’m much closer to that medium, and I like it.

You’re still acting in films, though. I saw you in “Concussion.”

“Concussion” was the best eight seconds of cinema. What I did was give Will Smith the big part, and I got a small role — and it got smaller in the editing room. I was happy to be part of it. I’m a fan, not rabid, of football. I thought the movie did a really good job of sticking to the facts, not leaning one way or the other. No attack.

Anything else coming up?

There’s “Miles,” an independent film I did last April with a second-time director [Nathan Adloff] and Molly Shannon. It was fun working with her. It’s about a boy for whom the only way to get scholarship is to play on a girls volleyball team.

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