In March, the Current convened with Steve Conrad, writer of The Weather Man and The Pursuit of Happyness, at SXSW to discuss his latest vision (and this week’s release), The Promotion — which stars John C. Reilly, Seann William Scott, and everyone’s favorite Office sweetheart, Jenna Fischer — in addition to sweet-ass casting, twisted humor, and coming to terms with adulthood.
I’ve never been to Texas.
For some reason, yeah. I guess I was expecting Austin to be what I think Texas is like.
Tumbleweeds and stuff?
Well, no, like, uh …
Yeah, yeah, totally. Yeah, absolutely.
People either think horses or racist people or some combination of the two.
I pictured, like, big hair, and, like, shit-kickers.
Your `scripts` sort of tend to attract this enormous talent ... do you do that consciously, or do you write for them, or — ?
No, I don’t know what to attribute it to … it’s just been a real privilege to watch this stuff performed by, I mean, well, I had `Robert Duvall and Richard Harris` in the first one `Wrestling Ernest Hemingway`, and then I had Nic Cage and Michael Caine and Hope Davis —
Did you write that for Nicolas Cage?
The Weather Man? No, the only script I ever wrote where I knew the actor before I started was The Pursuit of Happyness. The other pictures, I come up with on my own and then the cast came later. But I don’t know what the common denominator is among them.
I remember Robert Duvall told me way back then that he likes … playing people that can make you laugh, but he doesn’t like comedies. Like, he likes to be a human being, and if the human being does something that is funny, that is a real success for him as an actor. I think that got into my head somehow. I mean, The Promotion is absurd, and some twisted fun, but if you, like, bend your mind a little bit, it could actually happen to somebody.
With The Promotion, it’s kind of `thematically reminiscent of` ... The Weather Man — which is fantastic, by the way, I have it on my shelf at home —
Oh, thank you — you know, I never, ever get to talk to anybody about that movie, because people —
Yeah, like — it was the first thing I wrote where I just didn’t care anymore, ’cause I’d fallen into this sort of wasteland where I couldn’t get any of my stuff read by anybody, it had been like seven years since I’d done anything ... So, I thought, I’ll just do something that is interesting to me ... It’s really close to my heart, because it starts what I consider to be the stuff that I stand behind now as a grown person, like, it’s what I want to write about.
That, and then Pursuit of Happyness, and then this `The Promotion`, they all kind of tend to be sort of films about … put-upon guys who’re trying to make it in the corporate world … or prove something to themselves … I guess that comes from a personal place.
Oh, absolutely. A common denominator among them is they’re all me and the actors checking out how you find dignity in your professional life when your walk of life isn’t “rock star” or “movie star,” if your walk of life is, “OK, I didn’t wish to be this when I was 7, I am this now, how can I derive contentedness and happiness doing what I do?” … It’s coming to terms with where your expectations crashed into reality. That seems to me to be the matter of grown-up lives, is doing that thing, figuring that trick out.
In The Promotion, I just, I feel like we should be able to really laugh hard at that, and to laugh hard at just how challenging it is to make your way in the world, even if your dream is just a yard. You know? Like, to get a yard, you have to go through a lot. •