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The Dude Abides at LACMA: Jason Reitman Directs All-Star Live Read of 'The Big Lebowski'

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Director Jason Reitman's live read of the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski at LACMA's Bing Theater was the hottest ticket in town last night. The cult film set in L.A. capped off Reitman's Film Independent series.

The casting was inspired: Seth Rogen (The Dude), Rainn Wilson (Walter), Christina Hendricks (Maude), Hank Azaria (Donny), Jason Alexander (The Big Lebowski), Catherine Reitman (Bunny), Fred Savage (Brandt), Nick Kroll (Jesus) and Sam Elliott reprising his role as The Stranger.

Given the popularity of Reitman's previous live reads—The Breakfast Club, The Apartment, The Princess Bride, Shampoo, and Reservoir Dogs—tickets for this event sold out instantly. Fans hoping to snag any unclaimed tickets for the 600-capacity theater showed up a 2 p.m. on Thursday, and within hours, a hundreds-strong line snaked around the building. For the many who didn't get inside, Reitman arranged for them to listen via outdoor speakers.

Film series curator Elvis Mitchell welcomed the excited crowd inside, saying that Film Independent chose The Big Lebowski because, in the shadow of the Oscars, they wanted to focus on a film ignored by the mainstream that found a place in many hearts and/or bongs. They wanted something that, like the rug in the film, would really pull [or tie] the room together.

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Reitman then introduced the actors—saving Sam Elliott for last, prompting many people to jump to their feet when his name was announced.

This was a cohesive cast, and it was remarkable to see the seamless interaction that could happen between two actors focused on their scripts all the way across the stage from each other. Rogen made the Dude his own, Wilson brought a simmering intensity to Walter, theater veteran Alexander found just the right of bombast for Lebowski, and Hendricks' strong, focused, seductive Maude made for some great moments.

Given the many characters featured in the script, nearly everyone pulled double duty. Azaria, Kroll and Savage (who replaced Patton Oswalt at the last minute), played multiple characters, sometimes even in the same scene.

Reitman read the "action" in the screenplay, setting up scenes and lending unexpected insights into the film. One line that got a lot of laughs was the introduction of The Stranger as having "a deep, affable, Western-accented voice—Sam Elliott's, perhaps."

Some of the evening's other highlights included:
• An early line (of George H.W. Bush on television) that Reitman realized too late was the only one he hadn't assigned. Azaria—a man of a thousand voices—stepped in to help…and nailed it.
• Several actors had a hard time keeping it together after a brilliant read by one of their fellow actors, such as Kroll's Jesus or Savage's Brandt.
• Sam Elliott commented that it was going to be a long night after applause broke out before he finished his first sentence. Later, after a small but funny flub that he blamed on his eyesight not being what it was 15 years ago, he said, "I lost my train of thought here…" then turned to the audience and clarified, "That's what it says on the page."
• After Catherine Reitman (spot-on as Bunny) said the line, "I'll suck your cock for a thousand dollars," her director/brother responded softly with the aside, "Sorry Mom. Sorry Dad."
• Lines such as, "He…explored the beaches of Southern California from Redondo to Calabasas" got a big laugh from the locals.

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One cloud that initially hung over the evening was the fact that the live read series was coming to an end. Thankfully, Reitman—who was just announced as Film Independent at LACMA's first artist in residence—banished that thought by announcing that the film series will be returning on Oct. 25.

If you'd like to buy tickets this fall, mark your calendar and check the LACMA and Film Independent websites in the months prior to the event—because at this rate, that standby line won't be getting any shorter!