Enough Said - Nicole Holofcener interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
NICOLE Holofcener talks about getting personal once again for her latest romantic comedy-drama Enough Said and why she enjoys writing comedy – but always worries about going too gross.
She also discusses the joy of working with her stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late, great James Gandolfini and why she also loves to work over and over again with Catherine Keener.
Q. Where did the idea come from?
Nicole Holofcener: The idea came from, I suppose, my life, having been married and divorced… the idea of jumping into another relationship is pretty scary once you know you’ve so blown it. And you thought you were making the right choice at one point in your life and how could you possibly have gotten it so wrong? Am I going to be so wrong again? I don’t have a sound-byte for that answer. I should come up with one being that I’m asked it so frequently [laughs]. This movie is not easy for me to instantly encapsulate. My kids are teenagers and every time they walk out the door they leave me a little bit and they’re going to leave me and I guess I’m pretty freaked out about that. It’s all very personal even though none of it is actually true.
Q. Do you do massage?
Nicole Holofcener: No, but I have a friend who does. I just begged her to tell me about all of her disgusting clients. Not everyone’s disgusting, of course, but that wouldn’t be as fun to watch.
Q. Can you explain the film’s title?
Nicole Holofcener: This title was out of desperation. At the last minute I had to pick a title. It was like: “We’re doing the titles right now in the lab, so what’s the name of this movie?” There had been lists and lists and some of them were horrible. The head of the studio actually handed me a list. We were all so fed up with ourselves because we couldn’t come up with anything and she was like: “Here, which one do you like?” It was like “pick one – now!” But I looked at them and they were all so horrific that I came up with Enough Said out of the blue. We also went: “Oh, that doesn’t suck! That’s the name of the film.” So, even though it doesn’t suck, it does resonate, it does feel right, especially in reflecting the end of the movie. It really feels like, ‘OK, enough said’.
Q. Do you find anything really difficult when you write comedy? Are there any pitfalls you try and avoid?
Nicole Holofcener: I try not to be too gross. I go gross and I have to be pulled in. There was one line that I took out in the movie that was like: “Oh come on Nic, you can’t say that!” You’re going to want to hear it now, right? To me it’s so not gross, but I guess I have a bad barometer. Ok, so Jim [Galdolfini] and Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] are lying in bed and he says: “I think my daughter really liked you.” And she says: “Yeah, she’s really sweet.” And then Julia says: “I can’t bear how much I love my daughter. She could pee on my face and I wouldn’t mind.” I thought that’s what a mum would say, or at least that’s what this mum would say. But Julia was like, ‘no’. Jim liked it. There was another joke that Jim really liked, that had to do with a vagina. But then I said: “Oh vagina jokes are just too over-used, at least in the US.” Jim didn’t know that though. Otherwise I love writing comedy. It comes more easily to me than anything else.
Q. Did you use anyone as a sounding board for the lines?
Nicole Holofcener: No, because I didn’t want it to be killed off. So, if somebody doesn’t like it I don’t want to lose my confidence. So, I try not to show anybody anything at least until I’ve done a messy first draft.
Q. But do you encourage your actors to bring a lot of their own material as well? I gather James added a lot?
Nicole Holofcener: They all did. I mean every actor did, but especially Julia and Jim. We don’t sit down and start writing together. The script, to me, has to feel pretty tight before that happens. And I would say that if a line feels dumb, then don’t say it and tell me what feels stupid or not right. If you have a better way to say it, tell me. Usually, the improvisations I would know are coming, or they would make something up in rehearsal and I would say: “I love that, do that when we shoot it!” They both added so many funny lines.
Q. What about the challenges of writing a two-hander as opposed to an ensemble?
Nicole Holofcener: I thought it would be harder than it was. I love writing ensembles. Everyone always has a friend or a mother or a shrink… somebody, and I like including everybody. But then my producer said: “You know, your movies will be more successful if you have a lead.” I was like: “Really? I don’t know. But let’s try it.” And I also tried to write something a little bit more commercial without it being bad… without making a commercial movie if you know what I mean. So, once I came up with the character of Eva and I got her job down and I could feel her personality, it wasn’t hard to just stick with her. And she does have friends, obviously.
Q. How did you persuade Julia to get involved?
Nicole Holofcener: Persuade?! Persuade?!
Q. Well, it’s her first leading role in a film since Deconstructing Harry?
Nicole Holofcener: Yeah. Her name came up, as many actors’ names did on lists and lists and what about this one? I loved her. I didn’t know that she could do all of this. We had lunch. She had read the script and loved it and wanted to be in it – in any part. And so I was really excited to meet her. Once we sat down to meet and have lunch we hit it off. She has everything. You’ll meet her, I hope. She’s just warm and smart and her emotions are right there. We kind of fell in love. I knew I wanted her to play Eva. She didn’t know I wanted her to play Eva. I called her up and I said… I thought she knew I wanted her for Eva, so I asked: “What do you think of James Gandolfini?” And she told me later: “I got the part?” But then she said: “I love him.” So, it was easy.
Q. Was Catherine Keener ever in the frame for the lead or was it a conscious decision to give her something else to do?
Nicole Holofcener: It was conscious. I did feel like I wanted to change it up. She knew that. She didn’t know if she was even going to be in the movie. She read it, loved it, we’re friends, she was fine with not [being a lead]. She knows I will one day do a film without her. But I thought it would be really fun for her to play such a narcissistic, glamorous kind of woman as opposed to the neurotic character based on me.
Q. What is it about her, in particular, that you love directing?
Nicole Holofcener: Well, at this point she knows me so well and knows where all my bodies are buried and knows what’s real in these scripts and not. She just has such a unique way of expressing herself. I mean, she’s incredibly gorgeous and I never get tired of looking at what she does. She surprises me all the time. And that’s really important to me, especially in the lead. It’s the same with Julia as well. I mean, thank God, you’ve got to look at that face for hours and months. I choose a take and it’s in the movie and then I think ‘let’s look at some other stuff’, and then I realise: “Oh my God, that one’s so good!” But that’s what’s so fun. And I’ve had that with Catherine.
Q. Were you worried at all about the TV personas of the two leads detracting from the performance? Or is that a problem with big names in general?
Nicole Holofcener: Absolutely. It’s a good question. I do feel like it’s a problem with big names in general and I always wish I could work with nobody’s or less famous people. But that’s not a reality and it’s not possible. When I cast these two I would say, yes, that was the only thing I was worried about. I felt completely confident that they were brilliant and would do a brilliant job. But will anyone get past Tony [Soprano] and Elaine [Benes]. So, is this just Tony dating Elaine? I didn’t have a problem but I worried about the audience. But then I thought: “Fuck it, what am I going to do?” I can’t control that. I have two great actors that I’m blessed to have so, whatever, if it flops because of that I can’t do anything about that.
Q. What brought you to James Gandolfini in the first place?
Nicole Holofcener: I’d met him a few years before for a role that I didn’t think he was quite right for. But I loved meeting him. I thought he was a great guy, really funny, very shy and sweet and self-effacing and I thought, wow, that’s kind of Albert. And look at him, he’s perfect. He was available and he wanted to do it. So, I was lucky.
Q. Was he self-conscious at all, about playing this part?
Nicole Holofcener: He was self-conscious. You know, it’s funny – as Tony Soprano he paraded around with his belly and his boxer shorts, eating, but when embodying Albert, correctly, he was shy and didn’t want to parade around, he wasn’t a peacock. So, it was very much an actor, not him, being Tony Soprano. He felt Julia was so beautiful, and he described himself as a buffalo. The buffalo that gets to kiss the bunny, or something like that.
Q. That could have been a title…
Nicole Holofcener: It’s so true, we thought of that. The Buffalo and the Bunny. And that’s what was also so lovely about their pairing. I have many memories that are wonderful, of laughing and goofing around. His sincerity, and how much he gave to the character, and the part. And how willing he was to bare himself, was very moving.
Q. You mentioned Catherine [Keener] surprised you, but how did James [Gandolfini] surprise you?
Nicole Holofcener: A good actor, like Catherine and Julia [Louis-Dreyfus], he was always very embarrassed acting. I could never be an actor, because I’d be overly embarrassed. It’d be so embarrassing, I would never want to do it again. Which always surprises me, that actors can feel so
embarrassed. And look like they just want to kill themselves! Then they want to do it again. All of that. It’s such a gift, it’s so lovely to watch. I feel often very moved by it. And he was very open and giving, and embarrassed. And in spite of it, kept giving. That’s so moving, and surprising, and every take is different. Because he’s really doing it, he’s not faking it.
Q. Do you have actors in mind when you’re writing?
Nicole Holofcener: I do, sometimes. Not that they necessarily want to be in it, or will be available. Or eventually who I want. But it helps me picture how they talk and what they are like. Or I picture a friend, or a friend’s husband. It helps me to picture somebody. I certainly pictured Catherine in parts that she took. But I did not picture these two at all, which is amazing, how you can write something so personal, and then find just the right people. And I can’t imagine anybody else being in it, now.
Q. Do you ever feel self conscious about writing, when it’s so personal to you?
Nicole Holofcener: Yes and no. I guess the embarrassment issue comes up for me in terms of writing too. That’s what moves me to write. I don’t want to write something that has no meaning for me. I do feel embarrassed, but not too much. Like when I first met them, Julia and Jim, we sat down to rehearse the movie or to read the script. I don’t know, I just started telling them what was real in the script, or what was really personal to me. What are my demons, and what I’m trying to battle, in the script. That I’m not going to tell you guys. I think that me being willing to be that open – I started tearing up, and I was kind of embarrassed. And I thought: “Did I freak them out?” And I asked Julia later, I never got to ask Jim later: “How was that for you? Did you think I was a weirdo?” She said ‘no’, it had the opposite effect. Which, of course it did. Just like I would want someone to be that open with me, if we’re going to jump into such an endeavour. And it’s not for the money. It should be for the meaning.
Q. Because of the more modest scale of your films, when you’re writing do you not have to think about what you’re going to do directorially later. How does that work?
Nicole Holofcener: I’m kind of directing already in my head, because I’m assuming that I will get to direct it. Searchlight, they read a first draft and said: “You know, you can take them out of the house. You have a little more money this time, put them in a public space.” I’m like: “A public space? Do you know how hard that’ll be to shoot, and we’ll need three cameras!” I had to be coaxed into going a little bigger. Which to me is weird, because if the scene works small, you don’t need to be outside. But in terms of how the movie’s going to look, and wanting it to feel bigger. I had fun doing that, so it was okay.
Q. Would you ever let anyone else direct one of your scripts, or are they too personal to let go?
Nicole Holofcener: I think they’re too personal to let go, but if somebody really wonderful wanted to direct – if Mike Leigh came to my door and said: “Can I direct this?” That would be such an honour. I’d be so curious to see what that looked like. And if I didn’t like one of my scripts I’d let somebody direct it! Here, it’s a mess, take it.
Q. Are you ever tempted to revisit characters from your previous films, or do you think about them afterwards?
Nicole Holofcener: No, not really, I feel like they’re done. Although there’s themes I feel like I’m not done with. I don’t want to be too repetitive, or make the same movie over and over. But I don’t feel like I’m done with therapists, and their relationship to their clients. I’m not done with people’s issues with money. Guilt. Sometimes I write a character and go: “Oh, I already did that. I’d better move on.” But I don’t ever think about reprising a character no. Should I?
Q. I was just curious, I wondered how much of a life after the films they have for you?
Nicole Holofcener: I would say themes, more, still have a life.
Q. I love that age is not a huge issue in the film. Do you think we as audiences are becoming less ageist?
Nicole Holofcener: No, not really. People keep talking about how old they are in the movies. Middle-aged love, and second time around, and all this stuff. I think obviously it’s unusual to see a romance between people over the age of 40. Not to say that I’m obsessed with Mike Leigh, but watching his movies and wanting to make movies, really inspired me to want to make movies about real people, with real faces. All ages are beautiful. He can get away with it, and nobody bats an eye, I assume. And I want to do that. Generally, I write from such a personal place, and I’m now middle-aged. Sexy or not, that’s where I am. So inevitably, that’s where my characters are going to be.
Q. I was thinking about how complex the Gandolfini part is for him to play. He’s got to play Albert as written, but having read the whole script, he’s also got to kind of put across the hints of what the girls are gossiping about. So that the seeds are planted for Eva to go, I see exactly what Marianne is saying there. Was there a lot of talk about how to play it?
Nicole Holofcener: Not really. He was so willing to be so made fun of. I’m sure that was hard to do, to be the buffoon, at least temporarily. She ends up being much more of one, but for a time we’re all looking at him like that. He was a really subtle actor. I think the only time I had to correct him to be smaller was when he wanted to say ‘mozzarella’, like an Italian. I was like, ‘You gotta say mozzarella, mozz-a-rell-a’. I’m trying to remember, I tend to forget what kind of direction I ended up giving. I don’t think very much.
Q. Was he a talker about the part, or did he just get on with it?
Nicole Holofcener: More than Julia, yeah. He had more questions. “Why would I say this, can you explain this to me, are you sure you want me to do that here?” He was more challenging. We would talk a lot about stuff, but I could throw something much more at Julia, and she’d go: “Okay whatever, let’s try it.” If I said, try it really obnoxious: “Okay!” If I said that to Jim he’d be like: “Tell me why.” If I didn’t have a reason, I was like: “I don’t know, I thought it would be funny?” But he needed a little more encouraging.
Q. Do you ever feel that you’re at a disadvantage because you’re a woman in the film industry?
Nicole Holofcener: I don’t personally. Well, that’s not true. I do feel that I’m probably not offered a lot of things that men get offered. Because they think I’m just going to make a chick flick. Or that I would only be interested in doing that kind of thing. But I do feel that I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t have anything to complain about, obviously, I get to make my movies. But it’s still a very sexist business.