Women and Hollywood: How long does it take you to write a script like this?
Nicole Holofcener: 6 months, maybe.
WaH: One of the best definitions of your characters, for me, is their authenticity. So, what do you think is one of the keys for you?
NH: I don't know. I think it just takes more energy to make them phony. It's just what I know. I hear people talk in my head and I write it down. I choose where they live and how they dress to be real. That person wouldn't wear that. That person wouldn't say that. She can't afford to live like that. All that bullshit that so many movies have in them. I don't want to see that.
WaH: So, for me you are the chronicler of women who grew up in the wake of the feminist movement--with the opportunities and challenges it represents. You show life with all the warts instead of glossing things over. Do you feel that's an accurate assessment of where women are now and the stories that you want to tell?
NH: The stories that I want to tell are completely, well somewhat autobiographical. It's completely based on my own self-absorption issues and problems. I wouldn't have been able to make this movie if there had been no feminist movement. I do feel like I started making films at a very lucky time. I don't know where I would be if I was starting out now, I think it's much more difficult, although easier to film things. But, I don't think of myself in a political way, though I am definitely a feminist.
WaH: You ask really interesting questions that are somewhat invalidated by the film industry which does not appreciate like women's stories and women's voices.
NH: Right. Like once a woman hits 50, she can only play the mom.
WaH: People are hungry for women's voices and women's stories and there is a real lack of that. So when people see it, it's like water in the desert. Every time a movie comes out people are like, "oh yeah, women can write and direct." I'm tired of this "oh, yeah" moment. You've been doing this for sometime, and I am wondering if you have felt some progression?
NH: I think I'm incredibly lucky, and I really mean that. I really know that all of it is luck. Because I know that there are a lot of women and men who won't get a chance. Why I got a chance, I'm not really sure. I'm not putting myself down. I think I'm a good writer. I think I have my own voice, which is unique to everyone, everyone has their own voice; if they would just write from a vulnerable embarrassing place, it's going to be universal and it's going to be entertaining. Because everyone is the same and everyone is unique.
WaH: The idea of making your lead character a masseuse, where did that come from?
NH: I have a friend, Sarah, who has given me many massages. Once we got to know each other very well, I started to ask her questions. Tell me stuff! What happens if they don't bathe? Do they ever hit on you? This and that. She was reluctant at first and then incredibly entertaining. This is a fun job, I thought. Entertaining at least to have, and a nurturing job, and she was kind of a searcher. This is something that someone who doesn't have a career can do.
WaH: I feel like you really touch a lot on class issues here. Like Albert, he just wasn't good enough for Marianne. Was that deliberate that you put the class piece in here.
NH: I don't think of it as class when I'm writing it, I just think that this is what this guy does. Yeah, she has a highfalutin profession and ultimately in that end scene when she is saying he didn't get me, that it is her saying that she felt rejected by him as opposed to the other way around too. Marriages are so complicated that no one person is the culprit. But, I am really interested in class without really realizing that I am. It's more the manifestations of different classes that interest me.
WaH: In movies about LA we always see people who are really rich or really poor. It's rarely people in the middle. So, I found it thrilling to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus do this. She's so good. I was reading that you guys had a real connection here and you met doing this movie. So, would you talk a little bit about her and what she brought to this role.
NH: It's weird to work with someone you've admired who has been in your living room for so many years. Occasionally I still pinch myself. Oh my god, Julia is calling me. Julia is in my movie? And then there is the other side where she is this great woman and I feel like we've known each other a long time. On set, we were really close and it was instant trust. We have the same taste in what's funny, what's not funny, what's over-the-top, what's not over-the-top. She was really easy to communicate with because of that. She never gave me a what-are-you-talking about look.
WaH: I laughed so hard when I saw her wearing Keen sandals.
NH: You are the second person to mention that. She was very specific. She said "and you see the keens? Can you see them?
WaH: I feel like in some ways that Albert plays the girl in the movie and James Gandolfini, was concerned about sounding too much like a girl about him feeling really vulnerable about his looks. Talk a little bit about that piece of the puzzle—was the overweight piece in the script that you wrote or was it added when you met him?
NH: No, the overweight piece was there. I seem to have, as my mother pointed out, lots of overweight characters who have issues about their weight. He was supposed to have a belly. If he didn't have a belly, I would have found something else that she could hang her hat on, whether he's bald or has short arms. It doesn't make any difference, it's all arbitrary.
WaH: Arbitrary, but not arbitrary, because it talks so much about where we are in terms of look issues and how important they are.
NH: Yeah, and she would initially reject him.
WaH: How was it like working with James Gandolfini?
NH: It was great working with him. Sometimes it was challenging. He was a really complicated person. He really wanted to make sure he was doing things for the right reason, but he was eager to please and knew it was my movie and had respect for that. I wish I could work with him again.
WaH: This felt like a complete departure for both James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus
NH: Which is probably why he was reticent and just took my word for it every time.
WaH: It's funny that he also worked on the manliest of shows.
NH: Except Tony Soprano was such a basket case. Therapy scenes or with his kids, you could totally see his vulnerability.
WaH: I felt like when I was watching the marriage of Sarah and Will, there were so many loaded things in that relationship.
NH: Yeah, no one has mentioned them.
WaH: They were almost just...
NH: Comic relief?
WaH: They were also like really pointed. She would say this stuff and he would be like, "Do you really think that?" All the women were like, yeah yeah yeah. Or he would say something and she would completely dismiss him. What was the goal with that kind of like antagonism in the couple there?
NH: I don't know. It was just really fun to write a loudmouth like that, someone who has no ability to edit herself. And, she found the right guy. I'm not saying these people shouldn't be together.
WaH: I didn't think that at all.
NH: Good. He can really take it. He doesn't take it too seriously; he loves her for who she is. I hope that her affection when it does come out is clear. I needed her even to have a best friend. But, it was a lot of fun to write.
WaH: I always ask everybody to share some advice.
NH: For me, I just kept writing. I wrote lots of scripts that never got made and they were terrible. I thought they were good at the time. You can't write two scripts and expect your career to take off. Keep writing. Be you. Be original. A lot of people go for a genre, which is fine if you can do that really well, but we all have such layered histories. We all come from a unique background. Write about your past, write about you. Or make stuff up, but make it about something that really matters.
WaH: Do you have any thoughts on why it is still so hard for women directors to be successful in the US.
NH: I am one of the few. It is hideous that Kathryn Bigelow wins a prize and the sky falls in. She made a really good movie. Also, the focus on the Oscars and the prizes is way too strong, and when one woman wins one it doesn't mean anything is changing at all. That is an illusion. The same for minorities. It is such a racist world and such a racist business. And ageist, and sexist. It's really ugly and I'm very lucky to be playing in it. But, I don't know how.