Why Paul Reiser is mad about Peter Falk

Each of these men has a respectable filmography. But you know them best for their small-screen successes - one as the befuddled but ultimately brilliant Lieutenant Columbo, him of the grungy trench coat and dilapidated Peugeot. The other as Paul Buchman, frenetic foil for Helen Hunt on the Emmy-hoarding 1990s sitcom "Mad About You."

Peter Falk and Paul Reiser join forces in a new film, "The Thing About My Folks," opening Friday. They play father and son in a soul-searching, road-trip story written by Mr. Reiser with Falk specifically in mind.

If it captivates the crowd that loved "Sideways" - another well-honed indie buddy film - "Folks" could even be a first-Oscar vehicle for Falk, last nominated for supporting roles in "Murder Inc." (1960) and "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961).

The actors file into a morning interview at a Boston hotel, an easy chemistry on display as they meet coming through the door.

"Nice and relaxed?" Falk jokes in that gravelly voice, noticing Reiser's bed-head hair. His costar waits to retort until Falk shuffles across the room toward a photographer's tripod for a quick shoot. "Work it," says Reiser. Smiling, Falk waves him off.

They get serious when talk turns to Hollywood.

How important are film legacies as compared with legacies in television - is that part of this project's aim?

Paul Reiser: Not at all.... ["Mad About You"] came and it was something that was a great opportunity. And we ended up doing seven years, and it was the kind of thing that you could explore - the fun of a new marriage and all the silliness - and was a great thing to do from week to week.... This story in the movie was something that I always wanted to do as a movie.... It wasn't a career thing so much as I wanted to see this movie, I wanted to put it out into the world.

Peter Falk: I try to get through the day.... There are a lot of great actors out there that've never been in a hit. Who would know that this script was going to come down the road? And there it was.

There are millions of people out there who want to see a movie in which things aren't blowing up. Now and then people just want to be engaged. They want to see people on the screen that they recognize from their own life.

In a screening of this film I heard critics laugh, then go silent during some periods of bare-wire intensity. You like to weave light and dark.

PR: I do, and what I'm very proud of in this movie is that it keeps 'em guessing. It's a comedy, and it's certainly full of laughs, but the audience is never quite sure which way it's going to go, which is why I think at the end they feel so satisfied, because ... they sort of give up and say 'OK, we're just going to relax and let this movie take us where it wants.' And it takes them to a whole lot of places that they don't usually go.

It has been called "semiautobiographical"....

PR: [Laughs.] From the waist up it's all me; below, I made it up. It's very much about my parents and their relationship and the issues that they spoke of. And a lot of the facts are true.... But the story was made up just as a fun way to have these conversations that I never really had with my dad.

Do you see this film hitting baby boomers as they compare the job they're doing as parents with their parents' efforts?

PR: I think that kind of introspection is something that my generation does that the generation before didn't do. They have that scene in the car where I ask: 'Did you this with your dad?' And he says, 'What are you talking about? Is this what you do in therapy?' And what I love about [Falk's] character is that up to this minute he's never done an ounce of that. He's never looked at himself and thought about how he was. It's just, 'I did my job, I raised my kids. I'm a good man, and don't you dare say differently.'

PF: I go back to my childhood. When I came home from school, I went out and played ball. I didn't go to my parents and have deep conversations or anything like that. My father wouldn't have known what to do with a deep conversation. Every Wednesday night we went to White Plains and watched the fights.

How has making this film affected your life?

PR: I'm more tired, I notice. [Laughs.] It's been great [seeing] strangers watching it and enjoying it and making it their own. It's gratifying.

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