By Pamela Chelin
"Until a week ago, I didn’t have a wife," says writer/director Jake Kasdan while drinking a fruit smoothie and munching on a tuna melt at the 101 Cafe in Los Angeles. It’s four days after Kasdan’s wedding to long-term girlfriend singer/songwriter Inara George and he’s about to be leaving for his honeymoon. "I need a break," he says. Kasden just finished planning a wedding, and writing and directing two films back to back, The TV Set and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
With bright and friendly blue eyes, dressed casually in a T-shirt, running shoes and cotton pants, the 33-year-old Californian shows no signs of snobbery which one might be tempted to project onto him considering his legendary filmmaking father Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill). Kasdan is laid back and forthcoming, with a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor. At the same time, he comes across as an experienced and passionate filmmaker who holds strong opinions. Of course, growing up Kasdan, he has been immersed in the business for his entire life. Though he did some small acting parts in some of his father’s films, he says that acting was not meant to be his path. "I was so self conscious that I began to be too awkward to be put in the movies," he concedes. "The last time, while we were shooting I couldn’t stop blinking, like a nervous tic, and that was basically the end of my acting career." Jokingly, he adds, "I realized that the trauma would be impossible for me to get over."
Spending so much time on film sets, however, Kasdan received and continues to receive his film education for free. He shows his parents his scripts as soon as they are written and invites them to see early rough cuts of his films, taking their feedback and using it where he sees fit. "I feel incredibly fortunate in a lot of ways," he says. "My father, my mother, my brother and I, we’re really close, we all live in town, we see each other a lot and we’re all really involved with each other. I definitely had an enormous advantage growing up around movies and knowing a lot more about this subject at a very young age, because I’ve been living with it my whole life. It’s been a huge help."
Though people may cry nepotism as Kasdan follows in his father’s footsteps, Kasdan is confident in his own talent. "People think what they think about second generation people," he says, "but it’s a relatively minor problem in the scheme of world problems. In my career, I don’t think it’s been a big issue. Getting going, it makes people more interested in you for better or worse. You don’t know quite which way it’s swinging at any given time, but then very quickly your work is your work and you sustain yourself and your career based on your tenacity and to the degree that you can convince people to let you do it," he says. "Nobody is going to do anything with you if you they don’t have some level of enthusiasm about it, because as soon as they have to spend any money their curiosity about your parents seems irrelevant. I have had plenty of rejection to prove that."
After time on his dad’s film sets, Kasdan began writing and staging plays. From there, he moved in to television working as a writer on TV shows including Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. From television, he moved back into the film world, directing Orange County in 2002, which was written by his friend Mike White whom he met during his days in television. However, he has produced and directed his own scripts, too, including Zero Effect a mystery starring Ben Stiller and Bill Pullman involving a private detective, and the critically acclaimed The TV Set, a dark comedy starring David Duchovny which exposes the vagaries of pilot season and the battle between network executives and writers. Both Kasdan’s and his friends’ experiences in television gave him all the material he needed. "It’s like a character comedy that’s very realistic. It’s as well as I could capture that experience with very little exaggeration," he says. "I really believe that there’s nothing that happens in that movie that not only hasn’t happened, but isn’t happening right now. Pilot season is going out of style. It’s such a stupid system and so directly responsible for a large part of the crapification of everything on TV."
Just as The TV Set was being released, Kasdan began to work on his most recent and biggest film to date, the satirical musical biopic, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story starring John C. Reilly. This was his first film collaboration with Judd Apatow, a friend with whom he had previously worked and to whom he speaks almost daily. Though Walk Hard didn’t do the box office numbers that Kasdan was hoping for, he focuses on the bright side, saying, "I’m really proud of it. We were just not able to permeate at that moment. Everything I’ve done had a long life afterwards and less of one in theaters. I’ve had enough of that kind of disappointment to know it all works out eventually."