At the age of 25, Notre Dame graduate and former Army officer Jamie Reidy landed in the field of pharmaceutical sales. Working as a sales representative in the Midwest, Reidy was responsible for persuading doctors to prescribe the drugs of his employer, Pfizer, over competitors. He soon picked up the skills necessary to make it in the industry, including schmoozing doctors and ingratiating himself with nurses and staff, often through catered lunches and other means. He also picked up skills on how to majorly slack off. It all culminated in 1998, when Pfizer released the pharmaceutical blockbuster Viagra, which, two years later, accounted for 92 percent of the global market for prescribed erective dysfunction drugs.
In 2005, five years after jumping ship to Pfizer’s competitor Eli Lilly and Co., Reidy wrote Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman and was promptly fired. His memoir was then used as the basis for the movie Love and Other Drugs, which was released on November 24. The film’s director, Edward Zwick—known for big epics such as Glory and Legends of the Fall—faced a bit of a departure with Love and Other Drugs, but also found himself in old, familiar territory considering the film that kick-started his career was About Last Night. “The thing that has always interested me—amidst the scale, the historical spectacle, or the social significance or the political resonance—has been the relationships,” he said in a recent New York magazine interview.“In this case the challenge and the joy of it was to strip all that away.” Zwick compared the film to the salto mortale, the 19th-century Italian circus act in which acrobats flew through a ring of fire in hopes of being caught on the other side. “I was asking them to make that leap,” said Mr. Zwick of his stars Jake Gyllenhall and Anne Hathaway—who took a fraction of their usual pay for the $30 million production. “We were either in this together, the three of us, or not.” Recently, Reidy—the 4th “partner”—sat down with Made Possible to talk about what drove him to write the book that pissed off an entire industry and caused big-name Hollywood actors to get real.
Made Possible: Why did you write the book?
Jamie Reidy:I always wanted to be a writer and I’m a storyteller. So in my mind I was definitely going to write a book sometime. I was an English major in college, but other than that I was just basically doing a lot of running my mouth and not a lot of writing. It finally got to a point where I had to put or shut up—either you’re going to be a writer or you’re not going to be a writer, but stop talking about it.
After I became a pharmaceutical rep, my roommates and buddies were always thrilled with hearing my stories about working with doctors and how things go between nurses and reps, so that’s how Hard Sell came about. They often said “Reidy, you’ve got to write a book.” Then I got promoted to sell Viagra, and Viagra became just the phenomenon that it is. And, I said, “OK, that’s my hook. I’m going to write about selling Viagra.”
MP: What was the writing process like?
JR: Frustrating. The writing process probably took over a year and a half. It should have been much shorter because it was my story: I didn’t have to do any research. I didn’t have to come up with fictitious language or different characters. It was really just about sitting down and figuring out, ‘OK, we’re starting here and then we’re setup.” I was really lazy. I didn’t really honor the craft at all. My mom had a good line. She said: “You know what? I think writers, they write. They write everyday.” I didn’t write for one long stretch for no good reason.
MP: How did it get from this project you were working on in your own time to… published?
JR: Through a miracle. I got rejected by at least 26 literary agents, which is definitely saying something. It was probably more than that. That’s just the number of little rejection postcards they sent me that I kept. But a friend of mine from college knew the woman who is the president of Andrews McMeel publishing in Kansas City and he said, ‘Give me the manuscript. I’ll send it to her.’ And I told him, ‘You know, I appreciate it, but that’s not how it works.’ But my buddy was just dogged about it. He would not let it go. So finally I said, “Here. Here’s the manuscript. Stop bugging me.” And, sure enough, four months later I got the phone call that they wanted to publish it. So I got published without a literary agent, which is just unheard of.
MP: That’s really impressive.
JR: Yeah, a lot of writers really don’t like that story. [Laughs].
MP: This doesn’t feel like a book that is meant to expose the sales side of pharmaceuticals, was that on purpose?
JR: My publisher loved the term exposé, but I just wanted to write a funny insider’s look. That’s why I really kept the tone lighthearted. The theme was that being a drug rep is one of greatest day jobs in the world. It’s a no-one-knows-where-you-are situation, which, at least when I worked, meant you could do other things. You could have other dreams. You could go to school at night and not have to worry about your workload because you could take time out of your day to do homework.
MP: Yeah, but it seems like that freedom just ended up being an opportunity to slack off. The best example in the book is when you talk about your coworker who went to the movies everyday for a week. He’d seen everything that was out in theaters.
JR: Yeah [laughing], that’s my favorite line of all time. “If you want to see anything, let me know. I’ll tell you if it’s any good.”
MP: Still I think most people who read it are shocked by this job of convincing doctors to use one brand of pharmaceutical drugs over another.
JR: Everyone in America, whether they actually realize it or not, is impacted by the rep-doctor relationship. It doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s a fact. Before I started writing the book, I asked a friend if mine from college, one who I always thought was really smart, how she thought her doctor would prescribe her drugs. She said, "Well, he talks to me and figures out what works for me and then prescribes based on that." I just started laughing and told her, “Oh my god, you’re a smart, cynical person and you actually believe that?”
MP: Why do you think that sort of myth about prescribing drugs exists?
JR: I think we idealize our physicians. There’s a great line in Seinfeld where George says, “Jerry, you’ve got to see this guy. He’s the best.” And Jerry says, “Everybody’s guy is the best.” And it’s so true. You don’t want to tell anybody, ‘Uh, actually we’re sending our daughter to a substandard doctor,’ right? And so we over-rely on our doctors and we don’t want to hear anything about how they may be tempted to do something because a pretty girl takes them to dinner.
In fact, I was on CNBC and Larry Kudlow was filling in for the host. I was in LA doing a remote interview and he was screaming at me, “I have friends who are physicians, OK? You’re telling me they are going to be persuaded by a pretty girl who comes in and takes them to dinner! Are you crazy, Jamie?!” He was yelling at me. It was completely unbelievable that here was this guy who’s been around the block and he still thinks his friends who are doctors are above human nature.
So, yeah, people have no idea what’s really going on. People like to live in a bubble, especially around their medical care.
MP: Well, there’s actually the positive aspect that you talk about in the book. Where the idea is that reps are supposed to keep doctors, who are constantly busy and overwhelmed, up to date and aware of the different drug on the market…
JR: Yeah, absolutely. I think there is a real purpose for it and when everyone does the job they’re supposed to do, it’s a great thing.
MP: What was the reaction when the book came out?
JR: People I knew were really excited for me, but the industry reaction was not as positive. A pharmaceutical salesman who I’m still friends with took a lot of heat for sticking up for me. He said to the other reps, “Listen, what surprises you about this? Jamie sends funny e-mails about the random details of our job. He sent them for years and now you’re like, ‘I can’t believe he wrote a book!’ What did you think he was doing? He’s a storyteller and we laughed at all his stories, all the time.” So I was really psyched to get that kind of reaction.
Eli Lilly, my employer, fired me when the book came out.
MP: Were you surprised when you were fired?
JR: I wasn’t. I kind of set it up so they were going to have to fire me or pay me a lot of money to go away quietly. And they didn’t want to do the latter. I kind of forced their hand. What I was surprised by was how hard they came at me, disparaging me in the media. But that ended as a positive. One of the reporters working on the story of the book when it first came out said, “They just won’t shut up. Every time they say something, it makes think where there’s smoke there’s a fire.” But Pfizer handled it by saying, “we don’t know if this book belongs in the fiction or non-fiction section of the book store.” They were implying that I lied and that’s all they ever said.
MP: Besides the obvious—why do you think advent of Viagra was such a huge cultural moment?
JR: I think it really was kind of a perfect storm of the Internet, or pretty much everyone getting Internet access by late 1998, and the baby boomers turning into their mid- to late fifties. Certainly the timing of that was a big thing.
MP: By Internet, you mean pornography?
JR:Yeah, porn. I think super-convenient and easily-accessible porn helped. But also Internet pharmacies were a huge issue in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
Also, everybody thinks about sex all the time. That’s what I’ve learned. No matter how old you are or unhappily married or whatever, people are thinking about sex. And here comes a drug that allows them to do what they were thinking about but couldn’t. And the jokes were flying and suddenly it was everywhere. I remember getting ten to twenty e-mails a day with Viagra jokes, all forwards. I only remember like three or four [laughs].
MP: So now you’ve made it as a writer, that’s a big difference work-wise.
JR: Uh, it’s a lot less naps, I’ll admit. People don’t believe me but I haven’t taken a nap in so long I can’t even remember. It is a fantastic incentive to watch your bank account just go down and not see anything coming in. It’s certainly an intense feeling but it’s something pretty cool to be writing what I want.
I certainly recommend selling the movie rights to a book.
MP: Well, now that you brought it up. How did the movie come about?
JR:It’s a great story. Basically, I stalked Malcolm Gladwell. I met him at an Eli Lilly event just before Hard Sell came out and got his e-mail. I sent him a message that I was coming out with a book—I was trying to get him to review it for the New Yorker. My publisher sent him galleys, but the review never happened. I just kept e-mailing him about it and he eventually got me in touch with one of his good friends, a very successful screenwriter. He hammered out the concept, next thing you know I got a movie deal. It’s really something else. People in Hollywood look at me and are like, “I hope you realize this isn’t how it happens.”
MP: What was your involvement in the movie making process?
JR: I spoke with the screenwriter, Charles Randolph a bunch of times. We had dinner in New York and we probably spent ten, twelve hours on the phone just discussing things. The book’s really a jumping off point for the movie, which goes to a place that’s much deeper. You could see that it was clearly the work of a screenwriter. Charles was really concerned with getting things right in the pharmaceutical rep world, which I really appreciated. But once he was in the Jake and Anne story, then my input was really nil.
MP: What’s it like to be played by Jake Gyllenhaal?
JR: When I was on the movie set, it was great. All these grizzled crewmembers were coming up to me going, “Seriously man, you don’t get Jake Gyllenhaal to play you in a movie. That’s not how it works.” And I was like, “ I know. I know.” And they kept saying, “You don’t know.”
I like to say that when the script was first for sale, they could have had RuPaul play me and I would have been cool with that. When it came out on the front-page of Variety that we had sold the movie rights, my best female friend, who I took to the prom, e-mailed me that she read Danny Devito was available to play me. So obviously, to have Jake Gyllenhaal play me was a good thing.
MP: What was your reaction when they idea for the love story fist came up as the script was developing?
JR: I always knew they'd have to add a love interest, so that wasn't a surprise. And when it turned out to be Anne Hathaway? Uh, yeah, I was cool with that!
MP: Do people get confused about what’s based on your experiences and what isn’t in the movie?
JR: My buddies always e-mail me with “Dude what happened to that one nurse or this crazy sex story?” I left them all out [of the book] because my mom was going to read it. But then my mom stopped reading at page 17 because she thought I gave away too much family stuff.
The love story is the first thing that’s clearly not me. The first review of the paperback on Amazon says something like “bought this because the movie was based on it, but it’s nothing like the movie. It’s still an okay book.”
Yeah, I really wanted every woman in America to run from the theater crying and buy the book. But then I realized that every woman in America would hate me for getting so disappointed.
MP: The “Jamie” that Gyllenhaal plays is really different than you though. At he start of the film, he’s charming but not really a likable guy. His character gets fired from a job in the first scene and he talks about never finishing college, you graduated from Notre Dame and served in the Army before you were a rep. Why is there this huge disparity?
JR: The first time I spoke to Charles Randolph the screenwriter, he said, “I heard you were taking screenwriting classes at UCLA, and I was wondering why you hadn’t just written the screenplay yourself.” And I told him two reasons: Number one—there has to be a bad guy and I really like Pfizer and I liked all my bosses, so I didn’t want to hurt them. Number two—I had no arc. And generally characters have an arc. They learn something over the course of the movie that makes them a better person. And I told him there’s really nothing like that in my book. And he said, “You know why that is, Jamie? Because you’re a real guy. Really people don’t have arcs.”
So to really have Jake’s character go somewhere, he’s got to start out unfocused and rudderless.
MP: Now that the movie has come out, what's been the reaction from your family and friends that have seen it?
JR: It’s all been overwhelmingly positive. Some people claim my book is better, but they have to say that, right? My mom is less than thrilled with Jamie’s lady-killing ways, but I guess there are worse problems to have in life.
The most important thing is, the movie goes to a place that the book never goes. So people will get a much more rewarding experience than, ‘Hey, look, this funny guy is getting out of work all the time.” They will be way more impacted by this.
MP: What are you working on now?
JR: I just published a book titled Bachelor 101, which is a cookbook/lifestyle guide for idiot single guys like me. It's something I wish was around when I was younger; I could of benefitted greatly from some of the tips and suggestions.
It's being very well received, and I've gotten a number of "success stories" from readers. I hope that young guys who may be afraid of the kitchen now - like I was three years ago when I started this book - try out cooking and find out that it's easier than it looks and is surprisingly fun. Plus, you're allowed to drink wine while you do it, so how bad can it be?