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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rob Reiner has directed hit films such as "When Harry Met Sally," "This Is Spinal Tap" and "Stand By Me." His new movie "Flipped" is a coming-of-age romantic comedy that opens in major U.S. cites on Friday.
"Flipped" stars Madeline Carroll and Callan McAuliffe as two kids in eighth grade who are experiencing the ups-and-downs of first love.
Reiner, who will also be remembered as Mike "Meathead" Stivic on TV sitcom "All In The Family," talked about making the film, his love of politics and why he'll never run for office.
Q: How do you go about deciding what your next project will be, and what made you choose this?
A: "I always look for something I can connect with, with characters I can relate to, that are going through something I've been through or am going through, so I can understand the emotions. That's the only way I can do it. And when I read the book this is based on, by Wendelin Van Draanen, it reminded me of the feelings I had when I was 12, of first love. It was very similar to the feelings I had when I did 'Stand By Me.'"
Q: Is it true that your son introduced you to the book?
A: "Absolutely. He was 11, in the 5th grade, got assigned it, and asked me to read it with him. And I was just blown away by how intelligent and sophisticated it was, and how really understanding it was of all those powerful and complicated feelings of first love. She really captured what girls and boys actually go through. It wasn't a juvenile take on it. It was very profound and insightful."
Q: The book was set in the present, but you changed it to the late '50s and early '60s. Why?
A: "Because it reminded me so much of how I felt at that age, so I felt it should have taken place in that era."
Q: The movie's advertisements remind people that "You never forget your first love." Still remember yours?
A: "Oh yeah. I was 12, her name was Cathy and she was cute and blonde, a lot like Hayley Mills in "The Parent Trap." We exchanged ID bracelets and I tried to kiss her and she hit me with a hair brush. That's when I knew it was love -- I was willing to endure pain to get a kiss."
Q: Did you ever keep in touch?
A: "No but it's very interesting. She lives a couple of blocks from me, not far from my office now, and sometimes I'll go a few blocks out of the way, just to pass by her house. But I've never seen her since."
Q: The cliche is, 'never work with children,' but you seem to have an affinity for casting and directing kids.
A: "I've worked with kids a lot and this was far easier than on "Stand By Me." On that, a couple of the kids had very little acting experience, so I had to coach them as we went. This was very different. I'd seen Madeline playing Kevin Costner's daughter in "Swing Vote," and thought she was terrific. And when I met her, she just blew me away. And Callan is actually an Aussie with a thick Aussie accent, and we had a very hard time trying to cast the role. Usually at that age, if you're a good-looking kid, you're chasing after real girls, you're into sports, and it's hard to find a good actor. But we saw his tape with this perfect American accent, we flew him in, and he and Maddy were just perfect together."
Q: Are you still politically active?
A: "Yes, to some degree, but not so much now."
Q: It's got to be almost impossible to focus on both a Hollywood career and politics?
A: "You're right -- it is impossible. What happened is, for a seven-year period, when I made just two films that weren't my best -- I was chairman of a state commission. I had a government job, as I'd passed Prop 10 (a California increase in tobacco taxes that funded early childhood programs). So, I was very focused on that, and my film career took a back seat. Then I tried to pass another initiative that failed. Then there was this smear campaign and things got very rough, and I realized, I don't need this."
Q: Weren't you also considering running against Schwarzenegger in '06?
A: "Yes, but I discussed it with my family and I basically polled 40 percent -- in my own family! So I didn't pursue it."
Q: Any lingering political aspirations?
A: "None at all. It's an ugly business. Hollywood's a cakewalk by comparison."
Editing by Patricia Reaney