Interview: Enough Said Director: 'I Made James Gandolfini Cry'

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener discusses her hit comedy, working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini, and why she hates movies about cute old people.

by | November 26, 2013 | Comments

In another year filled with franchise product shoveled upon undiscerning audiences, Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said has managed to find success in that increasingly endangered niche: the smart, adult-orientated comedy. The filmmaker’s latest, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini as single parents negotiating a tricky new relationship, has struck a chord with audiences looking for a sharp, finely-tuned comedy, and
boasts warm, funny performances from its two appealing leads.

With Enough Said continuing to enjoy a steady theatrical run, we had a chance to speak with Holofcener about the film, making movies for “old people,” and her affection for both Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini — who she remembers with great fondness.

This is your biggest hit at the box-office, in gross terms at least, and I guess the common wisdom is that the audience is still out there for “mature, adult comedies.” What are your thoughts on that? Is that a good thing, or do you feel a bit compartmentalized by that tag?

Nicole Holofcener: Oh I’ll take it. Hey, as long as people are going I’ll take whatever compartment they put me in. I think people are definitely wanting to see movies like this — I know I am; I’d go see this movie — and that there aren’t a lot like this at all.

Sometimes when you hear that label it can be almost pejorative, though, as in “This is a movie for old people” — which can do a disservice. The movie’s enjoyable for anyone, I think.

I think it’s just real people. There’s not enough “real people” movies out there. Very few filmmakers do that real people thing well, like Mike Leigh; people that I aspire to be like. Whether they’re old or young, I think that this compartment — you know, I think it’s more of an indie compartment, or not as mainstream, I guess. Although this movie is my most mainstream. But yeah, it feels a little bit like the “geriatric romantic comedy” drawer, but you know, I guess I’m in it. I’m middle-aged. Nobody likes to say that, but I am.

A lot of movies about older people tend to be very pandering, whereas yours are evolving, I think, with you.

Well I’m not gonna be writing about cute old people, you can be sure of that, because I always find that really insulting — when old people are portrayed as so cute, and people call them cute. Maybe I’ll be writing about people older and older. But now it seems like old people movies are about Alzheimer’s or dementia. [Laughs]

Or really “quirky” old people swearing.

Right. An old lady who says “f-ck” a lot. Although the Marigold Hotel [ed. note: Holofcener is a fan] movie made so much money. Obviously people over 40 want to see movies that reflect them, and I’m happy to oblige.

Just not in the cliched way.

No! No, I still wanna make movies that I would wanna go see; movies that I’m proud of, not ashamed of. I feel like I do write kind of autobiographically, with some imagination thrown in, and I feel like everyone has their own unique voice — and I wanna stick to mine. Unless I’m directing something that someone else wrote, which I’d love to do some day.

Was there a point, say, after Friends with Money, where you were offered to do studio movies — and were you ever tempted?

I have been offered, over the years, studio comedies, most of which were terrible. But also I’ve passed on things that turned into huge hits; and I don’t really regret it, because I think that the person who ended up doing them did them really well, and that I wouldn’t have known how to do that.

What’s an example?

Legally Blonde. Remember that one?

I do. It was kinda funny.

Exactly. I read it and passed on it. It turned out really funny and I thought, “Oh good, that person should have done that movie.” It probably would have made 10 cents if I did it. [Laughs]

Well, you’ve done things on your own terms, anyway. I wanted to talk about Julia and James, because they’re both so great in Enough Said. Did you always have Julia in mind for the role?

I didn’t. I never knew that she wanted to work with me, or that she wanted to do something like this. We had lunch — her agent asked if I would like to meet her, and I jumped at the chance. As soon as I met her and we talked about the script — she loved the script and wanted to be in it — then that’s when I wanted her. It was sort of like, I met her, I wanted her, I cast her.

How could you resist her, huh?

Absolutely. I’m glad you feel that way too.

I just want you to do more movies with her. I wanna see her on screen all the time.

Oh good, I do too! She keeps texting me, “What are we doing next? What are we doing next? We don’t need a script!” [Laughs] We had such a good time doing it that we’re definitely gonna do something else together.

One of the things I liked about the film — and I don’t wanna say “She looks great for her age” or take that kind of lame angle — but she does look great and she looks her age, and you weren’t afraid to get the camera up there and map out her face. And I think that’s really great, because you don’t see a lot of American movies willing to do that.

I know. And she is beautiful. You don’t see a lot of movies with unattractive middle-aged people, either. But she’s still really, really pretty, and I’m so happy that she was willing to look her age. I think that gives a real intimacy to the movie, and a realism that I really wanted.

Julia brings a lot of pop culture baggage, at least from the audience’s perspective. Did you play into that at all? I felt like, for example, the scene in the theater where she’s trying to keep James’s character quiet had an almost Seinfeld flavor to it.

Ah, that’s so funny. If anything it’s just a coincidence or a mistake. I definitely did not wanna play into that, especially because they were both such huge television stars — I wanted everybody to not be thinking about that. But Seinfeld covered everything. It’s impossible! You put them in a movie theater: It’s Seinfeld! You put them in a drugstore, or a bakery: It’s Seinfeld! [Laughs] Right?

Oh, sure. There was one moment I explicitly thought of Elaine though, when they were all getting drunk at the dining table and the classic Elaine cackle came out.

That’s so funny, yeah, when she’s cracking up.

It’s so infectious when it’s unleashed.

It’s an amazing laugh! We all fell in love with that laugh.

I know you will have talked about this a lot, but it must be very bittersweet to have this warm and wonderful performance from James, and then have a lot of the press be about the fact that he’s no longer with us. Is it hard to deal with?

Yes. Well, I mean, I’m used to it by now. I’m not used to that fact that he’s dead, because it was such a shock; I mean, he just dropped dead. I think everybody feels that kind of shock. It’s really sad. I feel like we’d be celebrating a lot harder, Julia and I, because we feel — especially when we’re traveling — that he’s not with us, that he’s not on the stage with us. It would be such a different experience. I mean, aside from the tragedy of him, and his children, and, you know, that his life is over, personally and selfishly, of course, I wish he was sharing this with us. He never saw the film, and I think he would have been proud of it. So yeah, it’s just awful.

Do you have a favorite moment working with him on the film?

I don’t think so. It was a whole experience, over many, many hours. I mean, one of my favorite moments was when he first came over to my house, when he and Julia sat on my couch, and we read through the script. I was just pinching myself; I couldn’t believe who was sitting on my couch. The both of them. It was surreal, you know. And then they were reading my words, and saying what they liked and didn’t like. Once you start making the film it becomes kind of a blur, in a way. But it was great working with him. I wish I could work with him again.

It’s been remarked upon, of course, that there’s a tenderness and a vulnerability to his performance here. I mean, we’ve seen glimpses of it before, but it’s in full bloom in your movie.

I was so touched by it on the set, and felt so grateful. Like, he would do a really emotional scene and then kind of make jokes afterward.

To diffuse the scene, or because he was uncomfortable?

Yeah… He just had such a funny sense of humor. He’d be like, you know, “You’re making me into the girl,” or he’d say “You made me cry like a bitch in the kitchen” after that kitchen scene. [Laughs] And I was like, “Yep! Yes, you did. You cried like a bitch in the kitchen!” So he could laugh at himself and at the same time give a performance like that.

You’ve alternated between film and TV over the years, with shows like Enlightened and Parks and Recreation and Six Feet Under. Do you feel like the gap between film and television is closing, as a lot of people are suggesting?

It’s closing. It’s absolutely closing. I think Alan Ball started it, you know. Like, he went from winning an Oscar for American Beauty to doing Six Feet Under. The stigma of working in TV is definitely gone. I’d be happy to work in television if I could write and direct stuff that interests me, and work with great actors; there’s just no downside to that. I think I go where the material goes, and I think that actors and directors now feel the same way. I don’t know what that means for movies. Maybe there’s gonna be less good movies out there.

Are there stories that you feel are still better-suited to the big screen, though?

Oh, I guess I’d always rather the big screen. I don’t know why. I guess one big story, told at once, in one big dark room with everybody watching it that way… not that anyone does anymore. I guess that’s kind of how I write; I think of it as kind of a 90-minute thing. But I would definitely choose the story over the medium.

Well hopefully you can make another one like Enough Said.

Thank you! Oh and I picked my kids up from school and they’re like “Mom, you’re still at 95 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes!” I don’t know what I am now, but—

You’re still at 95, I just checked.

Am I really? Well it speaks their language.

At least kids like it, I guess.


Enough Said is currently in national release.

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