Director Jason Reitman is promising some colorful stage directions when he and a group of actors perform a live, onstage reading of "Shampoo," the 1975 film that starred Warren Beatty as a promiscuous Beverly Hills hairdresser, on Thursday.
"That will be the funny part. I will be reading all the sex scenes," Reitman laughs. "So I will be announcing every thrust."
Reitman's "Live Read" program has had instant sellouts since the series began last October as part of the new Film Independent program of classic and contemporary film at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Once a month, Reitman presents a cinema favorite with a different cast of actors cold-reading the famous scripts. No rehearsals, no staging. Reitman orchestrates the performances by giving the descriptions and directions the screenwriters insert in their scripts to set the scene and direct the actors.
There may be no action or locations, but it's a rare chance to witness the blueprint of a movie. "I got the idea from my own films," says the critically acclaimed director of "Juno," "Up in the Air," and the recently released "Young Adult." "It's how we begin the process of making all our films. This really emulates a table read, when a group of actors sit down for the first time with a screenplay and get to read it out loud."
"It's wonderful to watch," says film critic Elvis Mitchell, curator of Film Independent's program at LACMA. "It gives audiences a chance to watch film in another way and reminds us why we love these movies, because they work first and foremost as scripts."
"To be honest, I wasn't sure how these would go," adds Reitman. "Would people think it's boring to hear a screenplay read? But the reaction has been amazing. We have been selling out each time without people even knowing what movie we are doing or who is cast."
Previous "Live Read" installments have featured '80s cult faves "The Breakfast Club" and "The Princess Bride," and cinema classics such as Billy Wilder's "The Apartment." They have attracted a stellar lineup of actors including Steve Carell, Natalie Portman, Aaron Paul, Jennifer Garner, Mindy Kaling, Paul Rudd and even some surprise guests such as Fred Savage reprising his childhood role as the grandson in "The Princess Bride."
There are no prior rehearsals and Reitman says that's what makes these evening so intriguing for audiences and the actors. "The actors get to read roles they would never get a chance to read, and it's wonderful to watch how they figure them out onstage. There is always something fun about hearing these words through new voices," he says.
There are some juicy roles to cast in "Shampoo," director Hal Ashby's razor-sharp satire on sexual politics. While Beatty may have scooped the lead role, it was a tour de force of female characters with Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant in a role that earned her a supporting actress Oscar, and a young Carrie Fisher making her screen debut playing her sexually precocious daughter. The screenplay, written by Robert Towne and Warren Beatty, is fast-paced, witty and racy.
Set on election day in 1968, "Shampoo" not only portrayed the freewheeling sex lives of the wealthy Beverly Hills set, but it also took a pointed look at what would be the fade-out of 1960s idealism at the emergence of the Nixon era.
"It's one of my all-time favorite films," says Reitman. "It's a delicious script. Besides its political commentary, it's a fascinating look at love and desire. While many movies are love triangles, this is really a love pentagon."
Reitman announces his cast via his Twitter feed, with some surprise announcements saved for the evening of the show. For "Shampoo," the cast will include Diane Lane in Lee Grant's role, J.K. Simmons playing her husband (originally played by Jack Warden), Olivia Wilde in Julie Christie's role and a casting coup of Kate Hudson taking on the role her mother, Goldie Hawn, made famous as the young and naive ingénue Jill.
"Kate is so different from the role of Jill that it will be interesting to see what she brings to it," says Reitman.
The director plans to stage three more "Live Read" performances through April, and promises some intriguing casting choices in the future. "We don't record these or live-stream them, so this really makes it special for the people in the room that night," Reitman says. "In this Internet age where everything is available to everyone there are so few one-night only experiences, and this is one of them."
'Live Read,' directed by Jason Reitman
Where: Bing Theater, LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.
When: Thurs., 7:30 p.m.
Price: $10 for general public; $7 for LACMA members, seniors (62-plus), and students with valid ID; $5 for LACMA Film Club, Film Independent and New York Times Film Club members.