BIRMINGHAM, Mich.—Like most everyone, director Mike Binder knows exactly where he was on 9/11. Unlike most of us, though, he didn’t witness it on TV.
“I had just finished doing an interview with Diane Sawyer on `Good Morning, America,’” says the Detroit born-and-raised writer and director of “Reign Over Me.” After leaving the studio, “I had the car stop at 32nd Street so I could run an errand, but they wouldn’t let me in the building. I was like, `Why, what’s going on?’ And the doorman says, `Look up, you idiot!’ And there it was, that plane stuck in the tower. At first, no one could move ... And then we were scared as hell.”
Reign Over Me
Don Cheadle, Adam Sandler, Saffron Burrows, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Liv Tyler
(Sony; US theatrical: 23 Mar 2007 (General release); UK theatrical: 13 Apr 2007 (General release); 2007)
Sometime later, with no way to fly back to Los Angeles, where he lives, he and a friend were walking through Manhattan’s Bryant Park. They saw people attempting to console a weeping woman.
” It hit me that she would never, never be the same person, and I realized none of us would be. Oklahoma City, Katrina ... those happened to other unfortunate people. But 9/11, that happened to us all. And that was pretty much the genesis of `Reign Over Me.’”
“Reign Over Me” tells the story of two New Yorkers, former college roommates who have lost connections—with each other, and the outside world. Don Cheadle is Alan, a successful cosmetic dentist who realizes he has no true friends outside his family. One day, he sees his former roomie, Charlie (Adam Sandler), on the street, and realizes he has not spoken to him since his wife and daughters were on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.
Charlie professes not to know him, and appears unstable. Alan’s efforts to get Charlie to talk about anything except video games and old rock `n’ roll LPs are futile, and he becomes determined to ensure that Charlie gets help.
“That was actually another idea I had been playing with, unconnected to 9/11,” says Binder over breakfast in Birmingham last weekend. He had come back to Detroit—which he still calls home—with Sandler to host a preview of “Reign Over Me.”
“I wanted to do something about two old friends, men who have lost their ability to communicate, who for different reasons have nobody to talk to. So I put these two things together and started writing. When I was finished, I knew that the nature of the material meant that if I wanted to get it made, I would have to have a real movie star attached.”
Binder first sent the script to Tom Cruise, who he says loved the story but ultimately elected not to do it. But when Cruise was attached, he was to be paired with Spain’s Javier Bardem in the role that went to Cheadle. Bardem suggested Sandler when Cruise opted out.
Sandler was interested, but Binder says he was unsure whether he really understood who this guy was. “He went back and forth, and I was making all kinds of changes, but I just couldn’t make him happy or feel comfortable. And during that period, Javier had to leave for another project. Don Cheadle had finally become a big name with `Hotel Rwanda’ and he was interested.”
Binder said he couldn’t please Cheadle either. “He was like, `I just don’t know this guy.’ It was an incredible frustrating thing.
“But when I got in the editing room, I thought, `Man, I’ve got something here with these two guys.’ It just really worked for me.”
Binder, whose start in showbiz came from doing stand-up at the Comedy Castle and other local clubs before he graduated from Birmingham’s Seaholm High in 1976, wanted to be an actor when he moved to Los Angeles. He had his first big job, in a TV movie about comic Freddie Prinze, three years later.
But he soon decided he wanted to write and direct more than he wanted to act. He made his writing-directing debut, the Detroit-set “Crossing the Bridge” (as in the Ambassador) in 1992.
“I insisted the actors read every line just as I wrote it,” says Binder. “I finally realized that if I just let the actors do their job, they would make me look a lot better.”
Since Binder and Sandler are best known for comedy, Binder knows there will be some confusion concerning “Reign Over Me. ” The budget was only $20 million, with Sandler and Cheadle taking a fraction of their usual fee. While Binder says he wishes “everybody would love every movie I made,” he’s fairly content taking risks on movies he believes in.
“Ultimately, when the stardom part wears off, that’s what you’re left with. That’s what important.”