Fast Company

How Hollywood Sexes Up the Inside Story of a Viagra Salesman

Okay, so author Jamie Reidy didn't have all the sex his character does in Thanksgiving film "Love and Other Drugs." And, all right, he's not quite a dead ringer for Jake Gyllenhaal. But this, babe, is how Tinseltown makes magic.

Having Jake Gyllenhaal play you in a movie based on your book doesn’t exactly perpetuate a carefully cultivated slacker reputation. But Jamie Reidy (above, inset) now uses his trademark swagger to propel his writing instead of elude meetings in which he dealt Viagra.

Love and Other Drugs, which opens Nov. 24, is based on Reidy’s 2005 tell-all Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman (Andrews McMeel Publishing). The 20th Century Fox film, directed by Edward Zwick, stars Gyllenhaal as a roguish pharmaceutical salesman skating by on as little work as possible, and Anne Hathaway, as a patient-turned-love interest. "It’s surreal on so many levels--watching Jake Gyllenhaal as me, respond to being called Jamie, behaving the way I did, having the same conversations I had back in 1997," says Reidy, 40. "I was so distracted by those things, I had to see it again, just to catch everything I missed."

The R-rated movie focuses more on fictionalized sexual exploits and manipulations--sleeping with receptionist gatekeepers or wrangling dates for doctors--than the book, which is more of a guide to creative work dodging and making quotas.

"The book is the jumping off point for the movie, which captures the book’s lighthearted, self-deprecating spirit," Reidy says. "But the slacker stuff is gone, and Jake’s character has more depth than I have. He starts out where I was--selfish--and begins to change after he meets someone he really cares about."

Reidy did have his share of racy episodes. But putting them in print was another matter. "I had a boss who kept badgering me to date a pediatrician I wasn’t interested in, but who liked me, so I could increase my sales," Reidy says. "But I kept thinking, 'My mom’s going to read this book.' Of course, after the book came out, my buddies would call and say, 'Hey, why didn’t you write about that nurse...?' So I missed a lot of opportunities to tell those kinds of stories."

Not to mention the product sampling. "How could I sell a drug and not have tried it?" he teases. "Though I’m surprised it’s still the market leader compared to Cialis. One pill for 36 hours--seems like a no-brainer to me!"

Reidy grew up in what is now Chestnut Ridge, New York, just outside of Manhattan, programmed by a financial planner dad and computer systems analyst mom for a more conventional existence. Graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 1992 on an ROTC scholarship, Reidy spent two years on a U.S. Army base in Japan chaffing under the military system, before stumbling into a job as a Pfizer pharmaceutical salesman in 1995. There, he quickly learned to circumvent the expected nine-hour days.

Bored, he left in 2000, two months shy of learning he was the country’s top salesman in his drug division, intending to move to Los Angeles and write screenplays. Four months later, he’d landed a more lucrative position with Eli Lilly selling oncology medication, and later training sales personnel in LA. He spent his free time writing Hard Sell, weathering 26 agent rejections before getting the manuscript to a publisher through a college connection. "It was the best day job in whole world, although it’s gotten a lot harder since my book came out," he says. "A lot of companies have cracked down. Plus, now with GPS in cars and PDAs, they can track you to make sure you’re actually going on sales calls." Finally, Hard Sell came out--and Reidy was promptly fired. "They were just so pissed!" he laughs. "I’d been number one in the country working 15 hours a week. Pfizer put out a press release saying, 'We don’t know if it belongs in the fiction or non-fiction section.' But Eli Lilly wouldn’t stop disparaging me. It was embarrassing for them to have a sales trainer teaching their staff how not to do their job and succeed. I finally threatened to write a book called Hard Feelings about my time there to get them to back down. Now that Hard Sell is in paperback, I have a new epilogue thanking Eli Lilly for driving book sales."

His movie deal has enabled him to write full-time from his Manhattan Beach, California, home. Earlier this year, he self-published Bachelor 101: Cooking + Cleaning = Closing, which features recipes and tips for hopeless bachelors who want to win over the girl. He is also shopping screenplays and working on a collection of humorous essays about his dad, who he laughingly describes as "torn between rooting for or against me." Though the movie coming out has removed any lingering parental doubt or bitterness. "I always knew I wanted to be a writer," he adds. "It just took a long time to get my head out of my ass--from talking about it to doing it. It even got to a point when my mom said, 'Dear, I think writers ... well ... write.'"

The movie deal was less of a surprise. "You already had Viagra. Now just throw in a love interest and that’s a movie."

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1 Comments

  • Morgan Barnhart

    Hollywood sexes everything up, it's no surprise that they would jump on the opportunity to sex up a story about Viagra. Though they embellish, it sounds like it could be a fun movie.