The day after the Emmy Awards, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was exhausted but elated from her Best Actress win for “Veep,” a smart HBO comedy series that she seems to carry effortlessly. At an industry screening on the Twentieth Century Fox, she and her writer-director Nicole Holofcener talk about their fruitful collaboration on “Enough Said.”
Of course a lot of work goes into any series, but finally, as “Veep” demands fewer episodes than a broadcast season like “Seinfeld” or “The New Adventures of Old Christine,”Louis-Dreyfus now has more hiatus time to devote to movies. “Enough Said” provides a perfect vehicle for this smart comedy actress, who co-stars with James Gandolfini in what unfortunately turned out to be his penultimate movie role. This rarely glimpsed sweet and lovable Gandolfini is close to the real man, say Louis-Dreyfus and Holofcener.
Holofcener’s fifth feature film in 17 years is by far her most accessible movie to date: witty, sharply observed, painful and entertaining. Her characters ring true. In the opening party scene, Eva, an L.A. divorcee and masseuse trying to get back into the dating scene, meets Albert, also divorced, as well as poet Marianne (Holofcener regular and muse Catherine Keener), who becomes a client and friend. They all have daughters heading for college. Things get tangled when it turns out that Marianne is Albert’s still angry ex-wife.
Holofcener is a respected specialty film player (from “Walking and Talking” to “Please Give”) who hasn’t crossed over to the mainstream. (She also directs such cable series as “Sex and the City,” “Enlightened,” “Six Feet Under” and “Parks and Recreation.”) Now may be her time. With rave reviews and strong box office and an awards push from Fox Searchlight (which developed the project from a pitch), “Enough Said” could wind up a strong contender in the Oscar race in multiple categories.
(Some spoilers below.)
Anne Thompson: Nicole, when you wrote “Enough Said,” did you have any of the cast in mind?
Nicole Holofcener: I didn’t really have anybody in mind when I wrote it. Julia and I came to each other wanting to meet one another and talk about the possibility of her being in it, and we kind of fell in love. I wanted her to play Eva right away. I knew Catherine was not going to play Eva and I didn’t even know if she was going to be in this one, which I’m allowed to do. She makes movies with lots of directors and she knew, she didn’t care. Eventually I offered her the part of Marianne.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: The script was finished, and I went nuts and wanted to be in it so bad. I met Nicole and she was casting, and we really hit it off. I was a massive Nicole fan and we still talk about how we can’t believe we never met before only because we’re the same age, same town, we live near each other, same preschool. It’s bizarre that our paths never crossed. Thank god they did on this project. We hit it off right away. It was a fantastic lunch.
Did the script change after you became involved?
Louis-Dreyfus: Not fundamentally. We filled in a little but we do that in work and we rehearse it, certain things were added. But it was there on the page?
When did James Gandolfini get involved?
Holofcener: Around the same time. I wanted to make sure she thought that was a good idea and she did immediately and then I went to him and said, “what do you think of her?” And he said, “are you kidding?”
Something about Gandolfini’s performance is heartbreaking– not only because of what happened, but because there’s a sweet and lovely side of him we hadn’t seen before.
Louis-Dreyfus: That’s who he was. He was no Tony Soprano. He was just an incredible actor.
How did you prepare the actors?
Holofcener: The first time we all got together and read the first half of the script–which was just scary–I was pinching myself thinking, “look who’s in my movie!” They had instant chemistry, and we all had a lot of laughs and a good sense of humor. I said, “let me know if something sounds dumb, too long, if you want to say it a different way, let me know.” So they did. Right before shooting we rehearsed a little bit. All the daughters got together with who played their parents and then basically when we were on the set blocking the scene before we started shooting, we continued to mold and change things. It wasn’t a free-for-all but when you have smart, good actors who know what they’re doing, I want their input.
Julia, were the sex scenes the things you were most nervous about or was there something else?
Louis-Dreyfus: It was embarrassing to get somewhat naked under the sheets and stuff. But I think the most challenging was the airport scene, only because it was so emotionally draining. We had an extra who kept ruining the shot, it was a real bummer because you’re in that really raw crying, sad place. My older son had gone to college two years ago, so just tapping into that landmark moment in my life, that was just hard, but also exhilarating in a weird, sadistic kind of way.
You’ve been in a lot of TV but not many movies. Why is that?
Louis-Dreyfus: I had both of my children during the run of “Seinfeld” and so making 22 episodes of the show a year is time-consuming, although we do have a hiatus. I went on to do a couple series after that, “Watching Ellie” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” but that’s a demanding schedule and so the idea of going to make a movie on the hiatus was not something I can personally do. For me, I couldn’t go on location or have those kinds of hours. It was just impossible for me, much to my agent’s chagrin. Now doing “Veep” for HBO, it’s a ten-episode commitment, and my kids are getting older too so it’s a different time.
In some ways this role is the exception. There are more great roles for women in television than movies.
Louis-Dreyfus: Thank god for Nicole. Her voice is so distinct, real and human. It’s not even gender-specific, I think, it’s just the characters are very real as opposed to the girlfriend, the neighbor, the wife. You’re is a great writer, Nicole.
Why make Eva a masseuse?
Holofcener: I have a friend who’s a masseuse and I asked her to tell me some good stories about creepy people. I love that stuff, and I have a friend who’s a therapist and I said, “tell me about your weirdest patients.” She told me some funny stories and I thought, “I want to write and shoot those scenes.”
Louis-Dreyfus: You’re so intuitive because you talk about your writing that way. You just go, “it just comes.” Because I think her being a masseuse is really informative about the person and the fact that she’s someone who for a living nurtures other people and yet can’t seem to take care of herself at all. It’s a great way to understand the character.
Holofcener: It did inform me writing Eva in that way. If she’s that, and looks like that carrying that thing, then she’s going to wear those things, and she’d go there, it just kinds of flows out.
We’re all capable of doing the wrong thing for whatever reason. Why can’t she break this impasse and tell people what’s really going on?
Holofcener: She wants to hedge her bets, she wants to lower her risk and you can’t, but she’s trying. Her kids going away to school and she’s losing her marbles, her footing, and she’s scared and wants to find out what she can before she gets in too deep and gets hurt again or feels like she’s failed another relationship.
Louis-Dreyfus: I also think she’s been hijacked by herself emotionally. Sometimes if you’re doing something, you don’t fully realize you’re doing it even when you know you’re doing it. In other words she has been taken over, the fear of this impending departure is just fueling this childish horrible thing she’s doing and she’s not quite in control of herself.
Julia, you’re very real in this movie, everything about the performance is real and that’s probably the most difficult thing to do, the stylistic flourishes that go with TV comedy sometimes are not there for you.
Louis-Dreyfus: This is how Nicole writes and this is her voice, which is that very real thing that you’re taking about. Is it hard? I don’t know.
Holofcener: She knew what she was getting into: “You’re not going to have a lot of makeup, you’re going to wear worse clothes than me,” and she was like, “what?” I wanted her to wear worse clothes. I think one time she said, “can I not wear that thing?”
Louis-Dreyfus: We were on the same page. It was fun, it was a completely different thing to do. It was a thrill, honestly.
How many takes for a given shot?
Holofcener: Very few. Four of five. Not a lot of time. If it’s not bad and if it’s going well, I like to try different things. I wasn’t that rushed. Some scenes were.
Audience member: Was it always going to be a happy ending?
Holofcener: Yeah, it was never going to be a “let’s get married” ending but it was always [going to be a happy ending], I think so. I think that the studio at some point might have wanted a happier ending and I tried that, and tried different versions. The ending was actually a little scary. We weren’t sure what tone or note we wanted. We decided in the middle of the movie that he would do these jokes, “give me money, just kidding.” “I weave. Do you weave? No.” And the third one would be, “I bought night tables. Did you? No.” We had to set those up and make sure those stayed in the movie.
Louis-Dreyfus: There was a debate about those last couple lines which was very crucial and we played around with it on the day.
Holofcener: We had him say, “Did you buy night tables?” And Julia said, “No you didn’t.” And then he’s like, “you got me.” We tried it that way, but this one was it.
Audience: Nicole, did you have something that happened to a friend that you wanted to write about, and felt the need to show it?
Holofcener: Nothing happened to me. I’m a much better person! It didn’t happen to a friend of mine but the themes were just things that were running around my mind: being in a relationship, having been divorced, just that kind of stuff that I started taking notes about. Some things are from my friends. My friend did have a housekeeper that put her bracelets in drawers a lot, she would find her stuff in the weirdest places. So I stole that from her.
Audience: Was the title always “Enough Said”? Were there others?
Holofcener: “The Masseuse Who Knew Too Much. “He Means Well,” “That Ship Has Sailed,” “Threesome.” We thought that one nailed it! No, “Enough Said” came at the very last moment.
Audience: Julia, could you take about your process of getting into character?
Louis-Dreyfus: It’s sort of intuitive for me because in a weird way it’s really an actor’s version of what Nicole does as a writer. I think about it a lot. I need to make sure that it fits somehow. Is this shoe comfortable? I had my little notes because I would think about the dialogue, if it seemed true, and I can’t define my process except to say that we would talk a lot about scenes beforehand. I would call Nicole and we would talk a lot on the phone about it. I love this character so much so I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t judging her as I played her, which meant really understanding exactly where she was emotionally. And because such very good people are capable of doing terrible things that they didn’t mean to. We shot out of sequence, so we kept a bible of what Eva knew in each scene because that was really crucial. Little bits and pieces of information had a way of weighing down on her. We had to keep a bible of info that she knew from scene-to-scene.
Audience: Did James Gandolfini see the film?
Holofcener: He could have, he just didn’t choose to. It was almost finished. His representative saw it and loved it, probably encouraged him to see it. I wasn’t surprised, I was excited to have him see it when it was done, but he didn’t…
Audience: Julia, how did you and James Gandolfini create your chemistry?
Louis-Dreyfus: We just talked about these people the same way I badly described my process. We sort of did that together. We talked about it psychologically. It was interesting, though, because we also kept some distance at the beginning. Remember when we’re first starting to date? There was a little distance there, which was appropriate. As we got to know each other better in the movie, we got to know each other better as friends. That was really useful, so by the time we got to that scene in the kitchen, man, that was crazy. That day we talked at great length about what that scene meant to each of us. It was very personal.
Holofcener: Very early on, there was a respect creating a certain chemistry. I think they were both so excited to work together. There was a nervousness, but he was very charming, flirtatious in a sweet way, very self-effacing, and all those things were very appealing.
Audience: How do you blend humor with deep emotion? How much of that came out of shooting or the script and how much was achieved in the editing?
Holofcener: The comedy and drama was mostly in the script, I pictured that stuff. I don’t think I wrote when the character cries, maybe in the airport. It’s just so part of what the story was about that it was definitely in the script and then finding the balance when I’m directing is such a collaboration. How broad can we go here? When she hides behind the bush: “is that too silly?” It’s upsetting and funny at the same time. We were always talking about a balance but mostly I think it’s my taste. We have similar taste.
Louis-Dreyfus: That might have been the broadest thing in the movie, hiding in the bushes, but broad things are real. When we were making the movie, there was a constant barometer of “would you buy this in real life?” It was a question of, how can you hide in a bush and buy it so that it’s not arch, which has it’s own place but not in this film. There’s a way to do it.
Audience: What is your personal reason for why you make movies and TV shows?
Holofcener: (jokes) Money. My personal reasons? I don’t know what else I’d do. That I’m allowed to do it is so fun, creatively fulfilling and incredibly gratifying. I want to tell these stories and express this stuff. I wouldn’t die if I couldn’t. I’d find another job, but I have a really good one. TV shows keep me working, in practice– it’s been four years between movies. Recently, I did a lot of “Parks and Recreation,” two “Enlightened” episodes and a pilot that didn’t get paid up. Those are fun, they pay, and I get to meet new actors. I only do shows I like.
Louis-Dreyfus: Well, I don’t have any other skills for sure.