Julianne Nicholson on August: Osage County, Masters of Sex, and Aging in Hollywood

Julianne Nicholson on August: Osage County, Masters of Sex, and Aging in Hollywood

August: Osage County offers a
painfully intimate look at a family reuniting in the wake of tragedy. Death
brings out the dysfunction in every family, but it’s clear that there have been
gaping cracks in the foundation of this particular family for years. The film is a profoundly unflattering portrait
of the Westons, especially indomitable matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep). We witness
how Violet’s drug addiction and penchant for “truth-telling” — delivering incredibly
cruel critiques under the guise of being helpful — have poisoned her relationships with her three daughters (Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson,
Julia Roberts) as well as their relationships with each other.

Women and Hollywood spoke with Julianne Nicholson, who portrays Ivy, the firstborn child. While her younger sisters have moved on to seemingly greener pastures far
from Osage County and their own “Mommie Dearest,” Ivy stays and quietly assumes
responsibility for taking care of her aging parents. The role is a departure
from Nicholson’s decidedly steelier characters on Masters of Sex (Dr. Lillian DePaul) and Boardwalk Empire (Assistant US Attorney Esther Randolph), both of
whom muscle their way into male-dominated fields.

Nicholson
shares her most memorable moments on set with Meryl Streep, her take on aging
in Hollywood, the appeal of playing period roles, and what to expect next on Masters of Sex.


August: Osage County is now available
on DVD.

Prior to
starring in August: Osage County, you saw the play on
Broadway and loved it — you couldn’t stop laughing and crying. Why did you have
such a strong reaction to it?


I think it’s so well written that, as extreme as these characters are, they’re
completely recognizable — and those relationship dynamics are completely
recognizable. Tracy Letts, the playwright and screenwriter, has a genius way of
making darkness hilarious.

When you were watching
the play — before you auditioned and were cast as Ivy — could you imagine
yourself portraying any of these characters?

It
didn’t cross my mind, actually. I was so absorbed in just what was unfolding in
front of me that I never put myself in any of the roles. I don’t really do that
in general — not for any reason except that’s just how my mind works.

Did playing Ivy come
naturally to you or did you have to dig deep to find parts of her in yourself?


Well, in every character I do, there’s a little bit of me in there. Certainly
her circumstances are thankfully much different than my own. For me there
was something about being where I was in my career and joining that cast — that I
had admired, watched, and respected for so long — that I personally felt it was
very easy for me to go there and be quiet and observe. I feel like that’s largely
what Ivy does in the movie — that’s her place within that family.

Speaking of this dream
cast, early on in the filming process you got the chance to bond with your
co-stars to help establish a convincing dynamic. What was that experience like?

We
had the luxury of a week of rehearsals so it was mostly spending time together
at the house. There was a week of just meet and greets, read throughs, and
going through every scene in the script.  On the first day where everybody met, we did a
read through around this big table with John Wells, the director. That night
there was a dinner and that is when it really
dawned on me. We were in this funny little steakhouse outside of Barnsdall,
Oklahoma, and in the backroom was Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor,
and George Clooney, who was a producer on the film — it was kind of a joke. That
was the beginning where the pinching of myself began.

And then we mostly just spent time together; everybody was open to being there
and making it as convincing as we could. It was a really incredible group of
individuals, and they brought so much. It was a wonderful group to get to spend
some time with. 

Were there any another
particular moments where you thought, “Wow. This is just so surreal”? I’m
imagining you playing Yahtzee with
Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts or something crazy.


Yeah, that happened almost every day at one point. The first scene I did with
Meryl, which is at the very beginning of the movie where she’s sitting at her
vanity smoking and I’m making the bed was the first scene we did where it was
just the two of us. That was very surreal. I drove home a very happy girl that day.

Sitting next to Meryl for the whole dinner table which was four days of filming
was also pretty amazing. One day she squeezed my knee under the table in
support to cheer me on. I could’ve died and gone to heaven.


In the movie your mother Violet, who is
played by Meryl, says that women are only beautiful when they’re young and they
aren’t “sexy” when get older. Older women are rarely portrayed in Hollywood
movies and when they are, their sexuality is usually ignored. Why do you think
this is the case?
 

First
of all, I think it’s a shame, and it’s not true that older women aren’t sexy. I
think it’s something that is in our society: we equate youth with beauty. We just
keep putting that message out there. In this country, I don’t think people are
brave enough to show that there is an audience out there that have that
experience and would like to see it when they go to the movies.


In this movie, it was so refreshing to
see these gorgeous and complex female
characters


I thought so too! And all 40+ except for Abigail [Breslin]! It’s a huge point
of pride for me to be a part of that group. Personally, I’ve never seen Julia
Roberts look more beautiful than I did everyday in front of my face and not
onscreen — to see her not looking like a movie star, that beauty that comes
with age and experience, I wish we could see that more and more. Personally, I
feel better now than I did when I was twenty.


Why is that? I feel like the industry
generally doesn’t make women feel that way.
 

No,
it certainly doesn’t. I don’t know why I’m able to feel that way — dumb luck? I
feel like with the experiences I’ve had in the last couple of years and the
strength that I have in my life and things I’ve done — having a loving, committed relationship for 12 years now, being the mother of two children,
giving birth. And sticking in this industry, which is not always very kind to women, makes me feel good. I feel like things are definitely better for me now at 42
than they were at 22.
 

The film shows how much
Violet influences her daughters’ identities and their relationships with other
people — their sisters and partners. How would you describe Ivy’s relationship
with her mother and sisters?


I think they are very complex relationships. It’s so funny: you have such
different dynamics within a family whether you’re one on one, or if you’re all
together, or if you’re with just two people. I think Ivy has taken care of her
mother for 10+ years — I mean, really her whole life, but by herself for the
past decade. Maybe I’m just talking as Ivy right now, but she believes her
mother must know that and recognize that and love her for that. Violet is also
an addict, and very selfish — she only thinks about herself. That’s a big part
of their relationship and how Ivy feels about herself.

She hasn’t seen her sister Karen [Julia Roberts] in so long. I feel like there
really isn’t much there, which for me is such a foreign concept because I’m so
very close to my siblings, especially my sister who is very close in age to me.
I can’t imagine not having at least some kernel of something in there, of love,
attachment, and care. In the case of Karen and Ivy I don’t even know if that’s
there. It’s so buried. I don’t think she actually feels much for her these
days. 

I
think Ivy and Barb [Juliette Lewis] very much have an older/younger sister
dynamic. She thinks Barb can do no wrong and probably thinks everything came
more easily for her and is a little bit jealous of her, but loves, admires, and
probably misses her.

I read that you’ve loved working on Boardwalk Empire and Masters of Sex because you enjoy being
able to explore women’s experience’s from the past. Why is that?
 


It’s a huge part of why I do what I do — just to experience other people’s
lives is such a gift. To go into other times and feel what it would have been
like, what it could have been like, is very interesting to me. I feel very
grateful to be born in the time that I was in this particular country.

I have opportunities. I feel like there’s still
a long way to go for women and gender equality but we’ve come a long way, baby.
We’re doing ok.

It’s complicated now when you feel like you want
to work and you want to be at home. That’s a divide that I think a lot of
women, myself included, struggle with. Meanwhile, I’m cooking kale chips and I’m
running late to work because they called me in early. That’ll give you an idea
of where I am right now.

Very
glamorous!

Very glamorous — true. 

What’s the first
performance by an actress that you remember being inspired by?

Honestly, I’d have to say Judy Garland in The
Wizard of Oz
. It was literally The
Wizard of Oz,
then Jessica Lange in Tootsie.
There was a huge period in between. 

I
was blown away by the storytelling in The
Wizard of Oz
as a little kid. I was just completely taken into that world.
I wished I was her and thought that adventure was amazing. I don’t know that I
actually equated it to a performance, but that was the first time I was really riveted by a performance by a
young woman onscreen.

What’s coming up next
for you? Can you tell us anything about season 2 of Masters of Sex? Your character (Dr. Lillian DePaul) has developed
such an interesting relationship with Virginia. 

I
don’t think I’m really supposed to. You see them still working together. Their
relationship is deepening, and all that can go along with that — relationships
get more complicated the longer they go on. I love them together. I find them
so surprising and interesting — that dynamic of two people who are so different
that really find an understanding and genuinely care for each other.

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Comments

L. Ivey

I thought Barbara, not Ivy, was the oldest child. At least, that's how it came off. I believed Ivy was the middle one.

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