For Paul Reiser, landing Peter Falk to play his pop in The Thing About My Folks (opening Sept. 16 in select cities) was a decades-long dream come true. "I was playing with this [script] for, like, 20 years and always hoped Peter would be in it," shares the actor-writer-producer, best known to TV audiences for his seven-year run on Mad About You. "I even bumped into him a few times, but never told him. I figured the best he would say is, 'Great let me see it' — and then I'd have to go write it!"
As it was, each time Reiser went to flesh out his germ of a film idea — in which a father and son learn some hard truths about each other over the course of an unplanned extended road trip — he put the unfinished script away for another day. Then, after the events of 9/11, he says, "There were all these feelings about not putting off what you want to do."
The time elapsed turned out to be time well spent. "I now have sons of my own, two little boys, so I knew more about fatherhood and understood it more," he notes. "I'm glad it took this long because it's richer; in my first draft, I was 27 and [Falk's character] was 55. That [the dad] and mom are in their golden years gave this movie a framework and made it stronger."
Most fortuitous, though, was Falk's eventual reception of the completed script. "Once I finished writing it, I literally called him the next day, asked him to read it and he said, 'Let's do it,'" Reiser recalls. "I was hoping he would, because I didn't know who was going to be second [choice]. Regis Philbin?"
In another bit of perfect (if tricky) casting, Olympia Dukakis fills the pivotal, albeit largely off-screen, role of Falk's wife. "It couldn't be somebody who's so huge a star that they suddenly take you out of the movie, and it couldn't be someone you'd never seen before," Reiser explains. "Fortunately, she responded to the material — and the chance to play with Peter was a big part of that."
Plus, he notes, "Olympia actually had played my mother in a movie we did for Showtime — and her husband, Louis Zorich, played my father on Mad About You. So it was kind of mind-blowing that my fake mother was married to my fake father. There is this whole parallel universe where I apparently exist," he quips.
Also falling in line happily was Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds, Big) as Reiser's wife. "She was actually going to do another movie, for money, but canceled to do this," he laughs. "She believed in it, which was gratifying."
The experience paid off well for Reiser, who currently tends to favor work behind the cameras, especially writing, over stepping before them. "Would I do another TV show? Sure, maybe," he tells us. "I'm not itching to. [Doing a series] is a really grueling and full existence. After eight years of developing and then doing Mad About You, it really felt time to say we're done. We had done everything we had set out to do — we even did a finale where we showed what happens [to Paul and Jamie] 20-30 years in the future.
"But if a great role came around with some great people," he allows, "I'm sure I'd jump at it."