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Reitman: It Could Only be Costner for 'Draft Day'

26 Aug, 2014 By: Chris Tribbey

Director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) didn’t have a second or third choice for the lead in the NFL drama Draft Day. It was Kevin Costner or bust.

“He was the one and only,” Reitman said. “I was thinking of him when I read the script, and I said ‘Oh my God, he’s the guy. I’ve got to get him.’ Fortunately he loved the script as much as I did.”

It turns out getting Costner to play the role of Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. might have been one of the easier tasks on Reitman’s plate for Draft Day, out on disc Sept. 2 from Lionsgate. Getting permission to use real teams and players from the NFL, as well as real teams from NCAA college football (specifically the Big Ten conference), was a tall task, considering how notoriously protective both the NFL and NCAA are of their rights.

“It wasn’t easy, because the NFL doesn’t partner with too many films,” Reitman said. “Fortunately, they loved the story. And I’d say the NCAA was even tougher. The complexity there was we couldn’t use any current players because of their rules. We had to use players who had been out of college for four or five years. Everyone liked what they read, and wanted to be involved, so we found a way to make it work.”

The result is a fast-paced, funny and tense drama about one GM’s fateful decisions for his team on the NFL’s draft day. After pulling off a (risky) blockbuster trade to get the No. 1 pick (giving up his team’s first round picks for the next three years), Sonny’s decision is second-guessed, scrutinized and mocked leading up to the draft. Who he picks — and who he doesn’t — could cost him his job, and saddle the sad-sack Browns with more years of losing.

The original script called for the film to center on the Buffalo Bills, but because it was cheaper to shoot in Ohio, the Cleveland Browns were chosen instead. And that actually made for a better story, considering the Browns’ history, Reitman said. “I think Cleveland has had a much rougher time than Buffalo, because Cleveland has never even smelled the Super Bowl,” Reitman laughed (Buffalo lost four consecutive Super Bowls in the early ’90s). “I think the movie benefited from it.”

Reitman’s goal with Draft Day wasn’t to make a film about the NFL, but instead about a stressful day in the life of one office, “and the workplace here is the NFL.”

“I didn’t want it to be a fictional league, and that was important,” he said. “I thought it was strange that some critics thought it was a commercial for the NFL because that was the last thing we were trying to do. We just wanted to make it real. The script [is] very tense, very moving. And I wanted to capture that, and place it in a real place.”

Helping keep the story tight and consistently entertaining was the impressive ensemble Reitman pulled in to complement Costner: Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club), Denis Leary (The Amazing Spider-Man), Frank Langella (Dave), Sam Elliott (The Big Lebowski), Sean Combs (Monster’s Ball), Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, Tom Welling (“Smallville”), Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) and Chadwick Boseman (42) all turn in performances that help make the film work, Reitman said.

“It was very important to me that the [actors] made an impression, and it’s a very large cast, and the actors really had to pull their own when they’re on screen,” he added. “They had to be a co-star, not just an actor. I was very fortunate to get people like Sam Elliot [who] basically had a one-day part, and just killed it. Sean Combs loved the script, and was after me to be in the movie.”

The Blu-ray Disc combo pack for Draft Day includes an exclusive 58-minute making-of featurette (“On The Clock: The Making of Draft Day”) and “Welcome to Primetime,” a behind-the-scenes look at the NFL Draft. Both the Blu-ray and DVD include audio commentary with writers Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman and deleted scenes.

“There were scenes that were really good that couldn’t make it into the film,” Reitman said. “I think the studios have gotten really good at [bonus features]. Because the DVD market isn’t what it used to be, they’re more careful with what they do, and make it really worthwhile to collect these things.”

He added that he hopes the film finds a second life in the home entertainment market.

“It’s a very, strong immersive story, and you don’t need to know a ton about football to appreciate it,” Reitman said. “What makes great movies are great characters and great pressure on our heroes. I think this movie has that.”

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