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The Holiday - Nancy Meyers interview

Nancy Meyers, director of The Holiday

Interview by Rob Carnevale

NANCY Meyers talks about directing romantic comedy drama The Holiday, the surprise casting of Jack Black as a romantic lead and why screen veteran Eli Wallach (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly/The Magnificent Seven) was such a delight to work with…

Q. You wrote the part with Jack Black in mind. Is that something that you do very often?
Nancy Meyers: Well, I did the same thing on Something’s Gotta Give, my last movie, because I have a friend who is friends with Jack Nicholson. I’m a slow writer so I didn’t want to spend the next year thinking of him with every line if he would never be in a movie like this. So my friend called Jack [Nicholson] and asked him if he’d meet me. I went up to his house, we met and he was interested in the idea. It was such a good experience for me, actually writing with someone in mind. So I thought I’d try the same thing on this movie with Jack Black.

I saw School Of Rock and thought he was the cutest guy and fell in love with him. So Jack came over to my house, I made him some pasta, we sat in my kitchen and I told him the idea. When I asked him if he’d ever be in a movie like this, he replied: “Nancy, have you seen my work?” But I assured him that I had and told him that I thought he was fabulous and that he’d be in a movie with Kate Winslet. He just said “yeah”.

Q. Was he a lot of fun to have around on set?
Nancy Meyers: He’s tremendous fun. All day people have been asking if I had to reign him in but he’s not like that. He’s not bigger than life. He knows his lines, and he’s doing a character in our movie that doesn’t do outrageous things – well, except in the video store…

Q. Was that scene improvised?
Nancy Meyers: Well, it was scripted but there is some improv in there. Certainly, when he and I got together and went over the different songs he was supposed to do from the different scores, I didn’t know that instead of humming them he would be “doo, doo, doo, dooing”. But, of course, I loved that. It’s what makes him really great. I think another actor would have just hummed. He also improvised the “are you embarrassed?” lines over the Gone With The Wind theme.

Q. How much of a culture shock was it to film in England in spring?
Nancy Meyers: Oh my God, it was so cold. LA people are so spoiled – every day is 72 degrees no matter what season you’re in. We get really excited if it gets into the 60s. When we came here that was the only thing that was really different. It was so cold for us. And of course, the crew said: “You know it never actually snows here anymore?” I replied: “Really? But I saw snow in Bridget Jones!” But they told me that it was just the movies. So we hired a company to make snow and then, during the first week of shooting, it snowed maybe three times.

Q. How much of your impressions of Englishness are shaped by movies that you’ve seen?
Nancy Meyers: A tonne! It’s the same with you and us. I love to visit here. I really, really do. I’m always excited when I come here. I could have gone anywhere but I just wanted to come to England even though it is tied together with movie images and before that, literary images.

Q. What’s interesting is that the English characters aren’t typically repressed. Jude Law, for instance, cries a river and Kate Winslet is very outgoing when she’s in LA…
Nancy Meyers: They were really good with me. I told them that if there’s anything that doesn’t feel right or sound right, they should tell me. On occasion, Kate would point out things, such as the difference between saying something was thrown in the bin rather than the trash. But in terms of their emotions, I think they would have told me if something was wrong. The great thing about Jude crying in the movie was that I was prepared for him to say – like any big male movie star – “you don’t really want me to cry, do you?” And I’d have to convince him. As we were waiting to do the scene I was waiting for him to come up to me but instead I saw out of the corner of my eye that he was off the set silently weeping.

Q. Did you find that you had to keep asking Jude to smile more on set as he’s known for playing darker roles?
Nancy Meyers: Actors are like this sometimes – they do what’s comfortable for them. I remember on What Women Want, Mel Gibson would come in like a tough guy in the morning and I’d have to say: “Mel, it’s not that kind of movie. Don’t be so tough.” It’s the same with Jude. He’s played a lot of dark characters in more serious films, so sometimes I’d have to coax a smile. But he was really game for it.

Q. I gather Eli Wallach turned 90 while you were filming. Did you mark that in any way?
Nancy Meyers: About a week before shooting, while we were doing make-up, hair and wardrobe tests we realised that it was his birthday. We had a huge cake and candles.

Q. Was he full of anecdotes during filming?
Nancy Meyers: So full of anecdotes that sometimes we had to say: “Eli, just let us get this take!” But the problem is that everyone was so interested in him and what he had to say. There are so many stills on this movie of Eli sitting in a chair and all of us around him, listening. He’s worked with all the great directors and tells stories about Clark Gable. You don’t usually hear Clark mentioned that often in conversation.

So he’s really quite fascinating. He’s had a phenomenal career. And he was absolutely wonderful to direct because every time I gave him a direction, his response to me was: “Thank you.” Everything is a positive for him and it was a real life lesson because most 90-year-old people are not starring in movies. So that positive way of viewing life was amazing and I’m trying to do it myself.

Q. What was Cameron Diaz like to work with?
Nancy Meyers: She’s a doll. She’s absolutely willing to try anything. If I say to her: “Next time you come down the stairs, bump your head on the beam.” She’ll say: “Oh yeah, cool!” She’s up for anything. But she’s also extraordinarily gifted as a physical comedian. I can’t think of other women that I think are that funny, that can do that kind of stuff such as slipping and sliding on the ice. We initially brought in a stuntwoman because it was the first day of shooting and we didn’t want Cameron breaking her leg, but as we were watching Cameron asked: “Do you mind if I try it?” She did it in one or two takes.

Read our review of The Holiday