With movies like “Lovely & Amazing,” “Friends with Money” and “Please Give,” Nicole Holofcener has long since established herself as a filmmaker with a unique voice. In a time where relationship and romance movies are being critically and commercially crucified, her films are wonderfully refreshing as they feature characters that feel real. Whereas most other romantic films are filled with clichéd characters who go through situations that make you want to gag, the people that inhabit her films are remarkably down to earth and have flaws we can all understand and relate to. Even if you think her films deal with familiar subjects and situations, the attention Holofcener gives to her characters and the actors who play them makes you feel like you are experiencing a story you have never watched before.
Her latest film is “Enough Said,” which is set to make its debut on DVD and Blu-ray on January 14, 2014, is no exception. It stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva, a professional masseuse and single mother who is slowly getting back into the dating game. While at a party, she meets Albert (James Gandolfini, in what turned out to be one of his last performances), and the two find themselves forming a deep connection very quickly. Things get complicated however (SPOILER ALERT) when Eva discovers that one of her patients, Marianne (Catherine Keener), is actually Albert’s ex-wife. Throughout their sessions together, Marianne has been giving Eva many different examples about what a lousy husband Albert was, and this makes Eva wonder if her first impressions of Albert were the rights ones to have.
I got to talk with Holofcener recently as she was doing press for the “Enough Said’s” digital release, and the movie itself has since received various nominations from the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. During our interview, I got to find out how she comes up with such wonderfully unique characters, what it was like for her to work with the late James Gandolfini, and we also talked about Catherine Keener who has appeared in most of Holofcener’s films and how their creative relationship has evolved from their first film together.
“Enough Said” is fantastic and one of the best films I’ve seen in 2013. With this and “Please Give,” I really love how your movies deal with characters that are down to earth and have flaws like everybody else. Most romantic movies usually don’t have that, but your films are among the exceptions.
Nicole Holofcener: That’s very nice. Thank you. That’s what I’m going for.
With “Enough Said” and the other movies you have made so far, how do you come up with such unique characters?
Nicole Holofcener: I have no idea (laughs). I mean they’re kind of an amalgamation of people I know and people in my imagination. I guess by going very specific. Sometimes I’ll focus on a character’s habit or a quirk or a mannerism or something irritating or something specific. I started with the Sarah character (played by Toni Collette) in this movie with the fact that she has made problems that started with a friend of mine who said she left bracelets on the kitchen counter, and she finds them in the kitchen and how much that annoys her and why she won’t simply ask her housekeeper not to do that. Then I have Sarah, and it’s like everything kind of falls into place after that, not easily. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it informs who that person is and what her issues might be. And then all of a sudden she had this whole story with her housekeeper and it ended up being a good scene, but it started with the bracelet on the kitchen counter. So very specific, I guess. By going very specific and individual.
When I read a script, I hate that when they say things like, “Sarah, 35, driven, type A, but inside falling apart.” It’s like will then you don’t even have to read what happens because you’ve already been told who she is.
This looks like a movie that sticks very closely to the script you wrote, but was there any improvisation used by the actors?
Nicole Holofcener: Yeah, absolutely. The story is very much the script as written, but they (the actors) ad-libbed all over the place and I got rid of some and I kept some. But they had the freedom to do that especially because they were so funny and smart. They changed things but not the story.
The characters are so down to earth, and everybody seemed so relaxed onscreen. How did you manage to get such naturalistic performances from your cast?
Nicole Holofcener: They were sedated. I just gave everyone a Xanax every day. If only it could be like that (laughs). Some days were more relaxed than others, but as they say, the director sets the tone. I’m pretty relaxed, and while I take directing seriously, we’re not in a war zone. I try to have a good time and help people feel safe and relaxed so that they can give vulnerable performances and trust me. I try to earn their trust, and then I try to help them feel comfortable.
Well it definitely looks like he succeeded in doing so.
Nicole Holofcener: Well that’s good.
I do have to ask you about the late James Gandolfini because this is a great role to see him in. It shows audiences that there was more to him than Tony Soprano. People should’ve known that before “Enough Said” came out, but this movie makes that clear for those who couldn’t quite get “The Sopranos” out of their heads. What was it like to work with him?
Nicole Holofcener: It was great to work with him. It was often challenging. He asked a lot of questions. I think we were sometimes mutual pains in the asses, but in a very affectionate way; He’d look at me like, “C’mon!” I’d look at him like, “C’mon!” He was playful and very hard-working, very self-effacing and sweet, shy. The crew loved him. He was very friendly and warm toward the crew which was very nice and so was Julia (Louis-Dreyfuss). So I had a very relaxed family kind of feeling.
Yeah, you definitely get that from watching the movie. Catherine Keener also stars in this movie as Marianne, and you’ve worked with her several times in the past. How has your working relationship with her evolved from the first time you worked with her to this one?
Nicole Holofcener: Well the first time I worked with her I was kind of scared. She had more experience than me. It (“Walking and Talking”) was my first feature and I was pretty intimidated by her. But she was very giving and warm, and that’s why we continue to work together. We’ve gotten to know each other so well, and discovering how wonderful she is, every part, just maybe want to work with her again and again. And now that has been so many years, it’s a short hand. Even though she’s still great, I’m not intimidated by her anymore (laughs). She can still be a little scary.
Keener is a terrific actress, and the rapport between you and her really shows with each movie you work together on.
Nicole Holofcener: Good, yeah. It’s a pretty special relationship, definitely.
Well I really, really liked this movie a lot. I really gravitate towards movies with very down-to-earth characters. I usually avoid romantic movies like the plague, but with movies like yours where you can really relate to the characters and the problems they experience in life, they really stand out in a wonderful way. “Enough Said” is one of those movies.
Nicole Holofcener: I’m so glad. I hope that people who avoid romantic movies will watch this one for the same reason (laughs). Thanks, that’s good.