Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has only made five movies since 1996 (including “Walking and Talking,” “Lovely and Amazing,” “Friends With Money,” and “Please Give”), but each is an insightful, smart, female-centric gem about modern human connections.
Her much-anticipated new film, “Enough Said,” stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini in one of his final film roles. The two play a pair of divorced parents who begin dating after meeting at a party, bonding over the fact that each is sending a daughter off to college soon. Both Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini are delightful in their against-type roles: he’s a bear of a softie (Albert) who works in a museum of television history, and she’s a massage therapist (Eva) without any of Elaine Benes or Selina Meyer’s brashness in sight. They don’t seem immediately obvious as a couple, but their chemistry is palpable and things develop quickly, until doubts begin to plague Eva (read our TIFF review here).
Catherine Keener, who has been a constant in Holofcener’s movies, here tackles a pivotal supporting role as Albert’s ex-wife Marianne, as do Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, and three young women who round out the cast and make an impression are Eve Hewson (“This Must Be the Place”), Tavi Gevinson (a fashion blogger), and Tracey Fairaway (“Eden”).
We caught up with Holofcener at the Toronto International Film Festival, where we discussed female friendships, her leading ladies, and the bittersweetness of seeing Gandolfini on screen in one of this final films.
What inspired “Enough Said”?
I’m somebody’s ex-wife, and I did things that drove him nuts. And now I’m somebody’s girlfriend, for many years, and I’ve got different things that drive him nuts. I’m the same person. What are the deal breakers? What can we live with? How do we have enough hope and lack of cynicism to go in after you’ve had a hard relationship? When you hit middle age, like I have, it’s scary, when you know so much, and you know how ugly it can get. And yet, you still fall in love, and you can’t help it. And it’s bittersweet. And that’s kind of what I sat down to write.
I did have the machinations in my mind when I pitched it to Searchlight: I knew I wanted to have an ex-wife who would just spill … but does that make those things that she said true? They are just true for her. And if you’re insecure enough about your own perspective, and your own opinions, like Eva is in the movie, it can wreck everything. That’s probably not a very concise way of putting it, but that’s kind of how I work. [laughs]
How long did you work on the script?
You know, I can’t remember. I don’t remember much about anything, ever [laughs]. I would guess like six months, more or less. If I had a problem with something, I’d put it down for a while. I remember having a problem with how much of the plot should be in the movie—how early should the reveal happen?—because I’m not usually doing that kind of movie.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is best known for her comedic work, and while you definitely used that side of her, we also got to see an emotional side of her that we don’t see that often, which was amazing. How did the two of you work together to bring Eva to life?
First, you just cast really well, and that’s what I did. I didn’t really have to do much. Julia is the perfect person for this part, because the humor doesn’t discount the tragedy, and the tragedy doesn’t take away from the humor. It’s all the same.
It makes her real.
Right. And I feel that most people have both going on at the same time, always. I mean, my best friends are like that. You know, we can feel like our lives are ending, and we’re laughing … and crying. She just had that ability to go back and forth. I think we have really similar taste in what’s funny, or what’s not funny, or what’s corny. Something might be really touching, but I’d say, “This is kind of corny.” And she’s like, “Yeah, let’s get rid of it.” So it was such a huge pleasure.
Did she teach you anything about comedy?
Probably. Like I said, I remember nothing. But I’m sure. Sometimes she’s say, “You know, if I flipped these words, it’s going to be funnier.” And she was always right.
It’s kind of impossible not to get emotional seeing James Gandolfini on the screen.
Yeah. What was that like?
I mean, I knew he was in the movie, but it hit me more than I thought it would. What do you remember most about him, and about working with him?
He was a tease, and a flirt, in a very innocent way. He took the part very seriously. He was not beyond a good fart joke. He was a clown—very childlike. And very smart. All good things.
Did you write Albert with him in mind? Did the character feel like him?
No, I didn’t write it with James in mind, but yes, very much so. I wrote the character as overweight, sweet, still attractive, but not “handsome.” But he needed to be sexy and appealing; I didn’t want her to fall in love with some gnome.
I had thought of him for another movie, and I’d met with him a number of years ago, and I really liked meeting him. I thought we were such a funny pair—like when we sat down to meet and he said, “I’m a huge fan of ‘Lovely and Amazing.’ ” I was like, “What?” I couldn’t picture it. It was so flattering and thrilling. I thought, “Well, we could make an interesting pair.” I need him and he needs me in a way that’s sort of cool. Because I’m sure he didn’t get offered many softie parts.
They had great chemistry. Was there anything that was improvised? Like when she says, “I like your paddles,” and he says, “I like your ass.” She has a look on her face like, “I can’t believe you just said that!”
It’s actually really good acting. Because it was improvised in rehearsal—Jim said it in rehearsal, but it’s not in the script. And when we were shooting the scene, I said, “You’ve got to say that.” And he said, “I’m not saying that!” I said, “You’ve got to say it—it’s brilliant!” And he said, “I’m not saying it!” And then he said it, and she acted like she’d never heard it before. But it was new. And it was great.
Do you really work from the script, or do you let the actors work things out? You mentioned rehearsal …
We do some rehearsal, but not a lot. There’s not like a “Let’s see where this scene goes …” not at all. If there was more time, and I had great actors like that, I wish—that would have been a blast. But there was no time to do that, really. We’d rehearse something, and he’d make a joke, and I’d say, “Keep it.” Or he’d say, “Can I say that?” And I’d say, “No, you can’t say that.” She had a lot of improvisation as well. Everybody did, to some degree, but mostly the two of them. They were really good at it.
You and Catherine Keener have worked together on all your movies, and this time she’s a little different of a character. What’s your relationship with her, and do you always write characters with her in mind? Why wasn’t she Eva?
To some degree—I mean, I adore Catherine, and obviously love working with her—I did feel like maybe I shouldn’t put her in the lead, because my movies are so similar to one another a little bit, and it would challenge me not to picture her. It was very hard, and I think I probably still wrote it with her in mind, because she’s so perfect.
But I was sort of interested in seeing what it would be like to have a different lead, and she understood completely. And then when the part of Marianne had to be cast, I was like, “Catherine!” I mean, how fantastic would she be to play this kind of snooty poet? And it’s not something she’s done for me. I was thrilled she was still a big part of the movie, a very pivotal role.
One of your hallmarks is your insight into the intricacies of female friendships, going back to “Walking and Talking.” What did you set out to explore in this movie?
You know, I never set out to do something different—except for that casting thing; that was a conscious choice. I don’t know—I have a lot of close female friends, and that’s a huge part of my life, and she had to have a good friend. And so it’s very easy to write. [Eva and Sarah] are very different from one another. I love writing that stuff.
And the same with the daughters. You know, I don’t have a daughter, but I am a daughter. And I think I may use me being a daughter more than me being a parent in those scenes; I can relate to the kid. Like in “Please Give,” I related to the daughter—I had really bad acne, and that was a huge part of my adolescence, so I was more her in that. So I don’t know; I’m kind of everybody.
It’s interesting. I would have assumed you had a daughter after seeing this, because there was so much there.
I’m very close with my sons, but they are not girls, in any way [laughs]. God forbid they go off to college! No, not yet, I have three years. They are twins, so…
Yeah, so if all goes well, they go off to college at the same time. And I’m just going to fucking fall apart, I think. [laughs]
You also explore the rich layers of divorce and you said that that grew out of your own experiences—what’s your advice for people?
I don’t know. I can’t give advice to anybody. But if I were to give advice to somebody, I would say watch for those red flags. Listen to when your gut tumbles a little bit. Listen when he does something a little weird—he’s weird!
And there’s that saying that if something bothers you a little bit when you are dating, it will only get worse over the years.
Probably. I mean, I’d like to be the person who isn’t bothered by small stuff, and I’m working really hard to be that person. The end. [laughs]
A new clip from the film below. Fox Searchlight will release “Enough Said” on September 18th.