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Something More Important: An Interview With Paul Weitz

Paul Weitz recently spoke with EthicsDaily.com by phone from Los Angeles about the new movie and how fatherhood has affected his work.

But now the smallest Weitz is one and the movie starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace and Scarlett Johansson is rolling into wide release today. “Company” follows a middle-aged ad executive, Dan Foreman (Quaid), whose new boss, Carter Duryea (Grace), is not only half his age but also having a fling with his daughter, Alex (Johansson).<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Paul Weitz recently spoke with EthicsDaily.com by phone from <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Los Angeles about the new movie and how fatherhood has affected his work.
 
“There’s some entree into this film for anybody because it’s an intergenerational story,” said Weitz, who previously co-directed (with brother Chris) films as diverse as “American Pie” and “About a Boy.”
 
The story stacks Dan’s experience against Carter’s whippersnapper attitude; complicates it with Dan’s wife’s unexpected pregnancy; and introduces the element of “daddy’s little girl” being stolen away.
 
These various life stages play important roles in charging the drama—and comedy, which is important to Weitz, now 38.
 
“It’s a nice thing to be able to discuss a real situation with a comedy,” he said, adding that Hollywood tends to avoid that because it’s so difficult to do well.
 
Comedies, however, have heavily influenced Weitz’s own life.
 
“It was so important for me to see comedies that meant something,” said Weitz, citing films like “The Apartment” by Billy Wilder and “The Graduate” by Mike Nichols. “Those are the films that made me want to become a filmmaker.”
 
The meaning Weitz wants to explore involves becoming truly human.
 
“There’s a big question in our culture about when one becomes a man, does one also become a human being or not?” he said.
 
Quaid plays a man with a good family life, but events soon spin out of his control: the unexpected pregnancy, the daughter going off to college, the new young boss as a result of corporate downsizing.
 
“Given all these things you can’t control, how do you conduct yourself with dignity?” said Weitz, who finds unpeeling that onion both funny and illuminating.
 
For one thing, “Men are generally taught not to show their emotions, which doesn’t mean those emotions don’t exist,” said Weitz.
 
Furthermore, the characters in “Company” try to find that balance of competition and mentorship—in this case, the underling mentoring the boss. Mentorship, too, has been important to Weitz.
 
“There’s a lot of things your parents can’t teach you because they love you and can’t teach you pain,” he said. “It’s easier for a mentor to point that out than a parent.”
 
Weitz said veteran actor Larry Pressman has played such a role in his own life.
 
Pressman “has always been great in terms of being inspiring, but also in terms of being able to tell me when he thought I was stepping out of line.”
 
Just as the relationship between Dan and Carter runs through “Company,” so does the father-daughter relationship between Dan and Alex.
 
“As I was shooting it, the father-daughter relationship started to become more resonant to me,” said Weitz, whose own daughter was brand new at the time. And just as Dan understands that work is part of life—not the other way around, as Carter believes—so does Weitz.
 
“To some degree, it’s just an extension of certain things I was feeling,” said Weitz of his new role as a father.
 
“It’s reinforcing my feelings that while I’m lucky to be able to direct films, it’s just a part of something more important.”
 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
 
Read our reviews of “In Good Company” and “About a Boy.”