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From Steppenwolf to Broadway to Hollywood: August: Osage County

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Film : August: Osage County


At a recent Q&A, sponsored by SAG Chicago, the audience was privileged to hear a panel discussion, including playwright Tracy Letts; director John Wells; and cast members Juliette Lewis; Julianne Nicholson; and Margo Martindale. Stated John Wells, "One of the biggest challenges was figuring out the best way to convey the pages to the screen... it's a balancing act." While the play was confined and contained in one single location, the screen version of the story had much more flexibility and scenery/setting changes, such as the scene with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts running freely on the fields of hay, the tall grasses on the prairie. Juliette Lewis enthusiastically relayed her experiences working with directors Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and now John Wells, stating that in August: Osage County, "the material is so tough and juicy... dealing with raw emotions and an unspoken affinity. During the rehearsals the cast spent many a day talking intimately about personal family dynamics, 'backstories' and "coming home again," which laid the ground work for their roles in the film. Margo Martindale had worked previously with the'mother of all actresses,' the great Meryl Streep, and excitedly relayed, "It's a whole new world playing her sister! A highlight of my career thus far was running lines with Meryl and Julia."

The cast all lived together in one house, before filming, which infused the ensemble with impeccable chemistry. Julianne Nicholson had just finished a Sam Shepard play in New York, and explained the 'surreal' transition of filming in Oklahoma, and how "you can't go home to your real life..." The house had the structure and bones of the setting of the original play, to authentically set the scene. When asked where did he get the complex characters from, Letts stated, "my family and yours too!" Letts shared that "the hardest part was filming the scene at the end, with Meryl Streep embracing and cradling her head by her loyal caregiver Johnna (Misty Upham), who turns out to be an important equation in this family dynamic. "The film, like the play, has so many layers and contradictions, each character has an inner tornado within- it's truly what an actor dreams of."

August: Osage County revolves around a dysfunctional family in the South, ala a mix of Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams, and Sam Shepard, whose role in the film, though brief, was outstanding and pivotal. He is the eponymous, iconic patriarch figure, with Julia Roberts becoming the de factor matriarch role model, when alcoholic, pill popping mother (Streep) falls ill. Meryl Streep is in her usual form, as the chain smoking, over protective matriarch, 'too wise for her ware.' It is with Julia Roberts (Barbara), her oldest daughter, that she has an intense love/hate relationship, garnering Golden Globe nominations for both actresses. When Barbara arrives at the scene, she immediately 'takes charge' of the situation, taking the cigs and meds away from her mother immediately. The film also features two other daughters and a wayward son, with themes of incest, molestation, and adultery. The movie is filled with twists, turns, irony, surprise, and revelation. Ultimately, the playwright's message is to never look at the bad side of things...always keep your head up, regardless of the madness around you, enveloping...and to cherish family... despite themselves.

August: Osage County, in theatres, wide release, nationwide, this holiday season


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