Starting in 1996 with her painfully funny independent debut Walking and Talking, Nicole Holofcener has emerged as a distinctive chronicler of female friendship, affairs of the heart and familial angst, writing and directing such effervescent yet emotionally acute pictures as Lovely & Amazing (2001), Friends with Money (2006) and Please Give (2010). She’s also enjoyed a parallel career in US television, helming episodes of several shows on the pioneering HBO network – including Sex and The City and Six Feet Under – and, most recently, Amy Poehler’s brilliant NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation.
Already a hit Stateside, the New York-born filmmaker’s fifth feature opens in the UK on October 18 and is that rare cinematic beast: a grown-up romantic comedy, both laugh-out-loud hilarious and deeply relatable. Enough Said stars Seinfeld ace Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva, a divorced masseuse whose teenage daughter is about to leave home for university. She starts dating Albert, an unassuming television archivist also facing the prospect of an empty nest, who’s portrayed by the late, great James Gandolfini (in heartbreakingly tender contrast to his iconic role on The Sopranos). Their tentative romance is complicated by Eva’s burgeoning friendship with new massage client Marianne: a successful but lonely poet with a glass half-empty outlook, played by Holofcener regular Catherine Keener.
Nicole kindly took the time to chat to Birds Eye View scribe Manish Agarwal, ahead of the movie’s British unveiling at the 57th London Film Festival…
BEV: Did you have Julia Louis-Dreyfus in mind when you wrote the character of Eva?
NH: No, not at all. I am a huge Seinfeld fan, obsessed with it. My kids are, too. But no, I didn’t know that she wanted to do that, or could do that. And we didn’t know each other. Eventually her name came up – just like every other actress on the planet’s name came up – but she had read it and wanted to meet me. I leapt at the chance. We had lunch and I wanted her immediately after that. Soon after came James, and that was it. Love at first sight. We kind of fell in love. A lot of laughs. A lot of tears.
She’s a great comic actor, but also conveys this sadness.
Yeah. She’s so real and available. I saw that when I met her personally. That’s what made me believe, Oh she can do this. There’s no doubt she can do this. When she started reading out loud with Jim, I was just thrilled.
Your usual leading lady is of course Catherine Keener, who’s been in all of your films. What’s so special about her?
You could probably tell me!
I always find myself rooting for her. Even when, as in Enough Said, her character isn’t very likable…
I felt like Catherine would be perfect for this – and in so many other roles – because she’s so human and layered. Hopefully you feel at the end of the movie that Marianne’s narcissism is in a certain place. She’s not evil, at all. Catherine just is so interesting to me: the way she speaks, the way she looks, the way she moves. To me she has no mannerisms. I love watching her. It’s a selfish thing!
What did you enjoy the most about working with James Gandolfini?
His talent. I felt very lucky that he did such a great job – and did such a great job every day. He was always surprising. Every take is different. He’s completely present. He’s sweet and shy and hilarious. Sometimes a little difficult, but not in a diva way. Just in a challenging way: Why am I saying this? Why do you want me to try this? Are you sure this is the right choice?
Whereas I think Julia trusted me right off the bat a little bit more, Jim was more cautious. I think because his character is very vulnerable and he wasn’t accustomed to playing the leading man. And with somebody so beautiful as Julia. He kept offering to be fired! But he was brilliant. He was great. And he knew I was very happy with what he was doing.
Did they input a lot into the characters themselves?
Yeah, absolutely. The script was pretty tight, but they’re so funny and smart you’ve got to let them have some freedom. They improvised a fair amount. Some scenes are completely as written and some scenes are embellished a lot. The sad scene in the kitchen, for instance, Jim did a lot of improvising in that and I ended up choosing what I thought was the best. It turned out to be the most emotional lines in the movie and they’re his. I think that really helped him, putting it in his own words. Mostly, though, the stuff that they added was funny. I was so lucky! Because some of the biggest laughs they just slipped in.
I love that his character is a TV archivist. Why did you choose that job for Albert?
It’s sort of embarrassing how self-referential it is. We had to cut out some of the lines, because it was ridiculous: look at the two of them standing there talking about television! I didn’t really have time or the imagination at that point to change it. We had the location and that was the character. I wanted Albert to be this guy who knew the TV line-up in 1974.
We do have a couple of good outtakes. There was one point where he says something like: “Television is a really important part of our culture.” And she’s like [dismissively]: “Uh huh.” Then she says: “Have you seen Seinfeld?” And he’s like: “Yeah, it sucked.”
The past 15 years have been a real golden age for American television, which you’ve seen firsthand from being a director-for-hire on everything from Six Feet Under through to Parks and Recreation. Yet your own stories have always been for the big screen. Have you ever been tempted to write for TV?
Yeah, I wrote a pilot that HBO paid me to write. They didn’t pick it up. In fact, my agent just called me this morning about it so I’m wondering if there’s new interest… I have mixed feelings about it, actually. It would be really fun to have the freedom that that network gives you, but God you have to work really hard! I’m not a workaholic, by any means. But whatever medium will allow me to do what I want to do. I mean I prefer film, because it’s a bigger, longer story and a bigger screen. But whatever works.
Do you worry that the stories you want to tell – often depicting female friendship – are being squeezed out of cinemas?
Well there’s so few movie theatres now that lots of things are being squeezed out. I think Bridesmaids opened up a whole new window for female-driven comedies. But so many good, small films are getting squeezed out because of blockbusters.
Do you prefer writing or directing?
I love both. They’re both so different. I love being able to be in my house with my dog [when writing]. Or I’m in my pyjamas in bed writing. It’s quiet. It’s heaven. Then I take a nap, then I wake up. And I’m being paid! But I can hate it too. Because if I hate what I’m writing it’s unbearable: I hate myself and I hate the day. Then when I’m directing it’s laughing and working with actors I respect. It’s so much fun. People help me get my vision out.
Is writing cathartic?
It is cathartic, especially because I don’t really know what I’m doing until I’ve finished it. When I get to the end of a script and read it back I’m like, Huh! So that’s what this is about. That’s what I’m trying to say! Who knew? That’s kind of exciting and scary at the same time. It doesn’t help me actually in my life, in terms of my issues. It’s cathartic to work out some of my problems – things I wish I could change about myself – but then unfortunately I go back to my life and still have those problems. So writing’s not cathartic personally, but professionally and creatively it is.
Birds Eye View celebrates and supports female filmmakers. What advice would you give to women starting out in film?
I would give the same advice to a man starting out – but I like to give advice to women! I would say the advice that I followed for myself was really just to try not to copy anybody else. Everyone has a unique voice. It might not be interesting – you might find that out – but if you have your own voice I think you have a better shot at being listened to. Unless you’re Quentin Tarantino, don’t go for a genre movie or something similar to what you’ve seen or what you think will be popular. Write about what you know. Write about your family. Write about your own experience. Do something honest. Even if it’s not about you, be honest.
Enough Said goes on nationwide theatrical release from Friday October 18. BEV is hosting an exclusive preview for members of our Nest scheme on Tuesday October 15. That screening is now full, but for details of future offers be sure to join The Nest today!