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LFF Interview: Nicole Holofcener Talks Enough Said

The 57th BFI London Film Festival is well under way and we met up with the director of one its hottest films at The Soho Hotel. Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said is her most commercial film to date. This is not to say, the indie auteur has sold out. Nothing could be further from the truth. An intelligent comedy with a dynamite pairing of Julia Luis-Dreyfus and the late, great James Gandolfini, Enough Said just happens to be her most entertaining work so far. She is a charming interviewee – self-deprecating and unsurprisingly funny. As with her films, she is quite at ease flagging her own neuroses. When I posed a question regarding the director’s concerns such as, “Were you worried… ?” or, “Do you ever feel self-conscious.. ?” with excellent comic timing she would interrupt before I could say anything else declaring, “YES!” She is a hugely talented writer and director yet proved to be endlessly self-effacing.

How did you come to that title?

You know, this title was out of desperation. It was like the last minute I had to pick a title. Like, “We’re doing the titles right now at the lab, what’s the name of this movie?” There had been lists and lists and some of them were horrible. I looked at them and they were all so horrific that I came up with Enough Said, out of the blue. And we all kinda went, “Ah, that doesn’t suck. That’s the name of the film!” It does resonate, it does feel right. Especially in reflecting the end of the movie.

Do you find anything particularly hard about writing comedy? Are there any pitfalls?

Yeah, I try not to be too gross. I go gross. I have to be pulled in. Otherwise, I love writing comedy. It comes more easily to me than anything else.

Do you use anyone as a sounding board for the funny lines?

No. Because I don’t want it to be killed off too soon if somebody doesn’t like it. I don’t want to lose my confidence. I try not to show anybody anything until at least I’ve done a messy first draft.

And you encourage actors to bring their own material?

Every actor did but especially Julia and Jim. We don’t sit down and start writing together. The script, for me, has to feel pretty tight before that happens and then I would say, “If a line feels dumb don’t say it. Tell me what feels dumb/stupid/not right. If you have a better way to say it, tell me.” Or they would make something up in a rehearsal and I would say, “I love that, do that when we shoot it. Keep that.” They both added so many funny lines.

What about the challenges of writing a two-hander (because all your other films are ensembles)?

I thought it would be harder than it was. I love writing ensembles. Everyone always has a friend or a mother or a shrink or somebody and I like including everybody but my producer [Anthony Bregman] said, “You know your movies will be more successful if you have just… A LEAD.” And I was like, really? Let’s try it.” And I was also going to try and write something a little bit more commercial. Without it being bad.

How did you cast Julia Louis-Dreyfus?

Her name came up, as many actors did. And I loved her. I didn’t know she could do all of this. She’d read the script and loved it and wanted to be in it, in any part and so I was really excited to meet her. Once we sat down to meet we hit it off. She had everything. She’s warm and smart and her emotions are right there. And we kinda fell in love.

Was Catherine Keener ever in the frame for the lead?

I wanted to change it up. She knew that. She didn’t even know if she was going to be in the movie. She’d read it. Loved it. We’re friends. She was fine. And I thought it would be really fun for her to play such a narcissistic, glamorous woman as opposed to the neurotic character based on me.

Were you worried about the TV personas of the leads detracting from the performances?

That’s a good question. I do feel like it’s a problem with big names in general and I always wish I could work with nobodies. Or not famous people. But that’s not a reality. That’s not possible. When I cast these two, yes, I would say that was the only thing I was worried about. I felt completely confident that they were going to do a brilliant job but will anybody ever get past Tony and Elaine – is this just Tony dating Enough SaidElaine? I didn’t have a problem but I worried about the audience.

What brought you to James Gandolfini in the first place?

I’d met him a few years before for another role that I didn’t think he was quite right for. But I just loved meeting him. Thought he was a great guy. Really funny. Very shy and sweet and self-effacing. I went, wow that’s kind of Albert. And look at him, he was perfect. So he was available, he wanted to do it. I was lucky.

Was he self-conscious about playing this part?

Yes. He was self-conscious about playing this part. It’s funny, as Tony Soprano he paraded around with his belly and his boxer shorts but when embodying Albert, correctly he was shy and didn’t want to parade around. He wasn’t a peacock. So it was very much an actor, not him. And he felt Julia was so beautiful. He described himself as a buffalo – the buffalo that gets to kiss the bunny. That was also so lovely about their pairing. His sincerity and how much he gave to the part and how willing he was to bear himself was very moving.

Do you ever have actors in mind when you’re writing?

Yeah, I do. Sometimes. Not that they necessarily want to be in it or will be available or eventually who I want. But it helps me picture how they talk. It helps me picture somebody. I’d certainly pictured Catherine in parts that she took. But I did not picture these two at all. Which is amazing how you can write something so personal and then find just the right people. And I can’t imagine anybody else being in it.

Do you ever feel self-conscious when the writing involves your own personal experience?

Yes and no. That’s what moves me to write. I don’t want to write something that has no meaning for me. I sometimes do feel embarrassed but not too much.

When you’re writing, are you conscious of what – directorially – you’re going to do later?

I’m kind of directing already in my head because I’m assuming that I will get to direct it. [Fox] Searchlight read a first draft and they said, “You know, you can take them out of the house. You’ve got a little more money this time.” I had to be coaxed into going a little bigger. Which to me is weird too because if the scene works small you don’t need to be outside. But in terms of how the movie’s going to look and wanting to feel bigger, I had fun doing that.

please-giveIt does have quite a different feel to Please Give which, in comparison, feels a little claustrophobic.

Does it? Well, it cost a lot less money. That was three million. This was eight. But they always feel the same to me. I don’t ever feel like I have more money. It’s odd. But yeah, that movie was also in New York and it was about interiors.

Would you ever let someone else direct one of your scripts or are they too personal to let go?

I think they’re too personal to let go but if someone really wonderful wanted to direct – if Mike Leigh came to my door and said, “Can I direct this?” It would be such an honour and I’d be so curious to see what that would look like. And if I didn’t like one of my scripts I’d let someone else direct it – it’s a mess. Take it!

Do you think audiences are becoming less ageist?

No. Not really. I think obviously it’s unusual to see a romance between people over the age of forty. Not to say, that I’m obsessed with Mike Leigh but watching his movies really inspired me to want to make movies about real people with real faces. All ages are beautiful and he can get away with it and nobody bats an eye. And I wanted that. Generally, I write from such a personal place and now I’m middle-aged. Sexy or not, that’s where I am. So inevitably that’s where my characters are going to be.

Enough Said is released in UK cinemas this Friday, October 18th and our review can be found right over here.

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William Goodchild

The author William Goodchild

Since birth, William "Filmchild" Goodchild has possessed a voracious appetite for cinema in all its forms. He spent ten years in an underground vault in Soho where he worked as a Film Librarian. During this time he wrote a number of short films and commercials. He won a D&AD Award for his copywriting on Big for The Big Issue magazine. His most recent short, Eight Items was second runner-up in Sci-Fi London's 48 Hour Film Challenge, judged by a panel headed by Joe Dante. While always having a script bubbling on the back burner, the bulk of his time is now committed to film journalism.