Saturday, April 08, 2006

Friends with Money: Catherine Keener and Nicole Holofcener (Q&A)

The past couple of years have been heady ones for Catherine Keener to say the least. This Spring, the two-time Academy nominee (Being John Malkovich and, more recently Capote) returns to theaters in the drama-dy Friends with Money which boasts an eclectic cast of talent portraying people we either all know or sometimes are, in the very least. Directed by Keener's close friend Nicole Holofcener (Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing) the new flick delves into the tricky waters of how, once we become adults, the influence of money permeates most of our life's decisions, those we choose to be in our lives and consequently takes us along pathways that we couldn't foresee in our salad days. One might consider the latter a metaphor for Keener's ongoing relationship with Holofcener over the years. Last week I participated in a press junket over at the Regent Beverly Wilshire for Friends with Money which stars Keener, Joan Cusack, Frances McDormand and Jennifer Aniston and is directed by Nicole Holofcener. Here's some of what took place...

Q: What do you think of Nicole referring to you as "a prettier, funnier version of herself?"

CK: I don't think she said "funnier," but "prettier,"yeah. (laughs and looks at Holefcener) That's pretty acurate. No, I'm kidding!

NH: Sometimes it's interesting because she and I are so different. We're really not -- I mean, I'm a Jew and she's Lebanese. We're so different and yet, at the same time, there's something about Catherine that really speaks to me and how I can express myself. And somehow, when I'm writing, I picture her saying [the dialogue] or joking on it -- it makes me a better writer.

Q: Catherine, you ever base your character portrayals onscreen on what you see in Nicole?

CK: No, but I do understand what [Nicole's intentions with] the dialogue is. I have more of an ear for the dialogue. I kind of understand what she means moreso than, say, when I first read Charlie Kaufman's script [for Being John Malkovich]. (laughing) And now that I know him, I read his scripts differently too. I just have a better understanding -- it's not like, "what language is this?"

NH: Well, also, when the writer's planning on directing it, I don't explain that much. You know, so, [Catherine] gets it, the [actors] who haven't seen my movies won't understand it as well.

CK: It's true. Definitely true.

Q: Nicole, you've directed episodes of Sex and the City which catered to a specific demographic. Why did you pick this particular age group for the cast of Friends with Money?

NH: What do you mean, different?

Q: Yeah.

NH: Because [the cast of] Sex and the City were younger? Well, I can relate to people in their 30s and I can relate to people in their 40s...and I'm writing about women in their 40s [because] I'm in my 40s. And the things, the issues that I wrote about were prevalent in my life and important to me and, what I find to be, interesting to write about.

Q: Catherine?

CK: ...I got confused by that whole Sex and the City thing. Because I feel that -- I never watched Sex and the City -- but...

NH: -- you could relate to it! (laughs)

CK: ...that's about it (laughs) -- I love all the women on it and the direction was GREAT! (looking at Holefcener and continues) That was a particularly, a Manhattan consumer kind of perspective to me. That's what that felt like; of people who like to go out an buy stuff and live in New York. I'm one of those people, but...

Q: What do you think Nicole gets about people who live in L.A., then?

CK: Well, how ridiculously -- I mean, I love Los Angeles -- it's just that our lifestyles are. or can be, so cliche. But underneath that, which I thought also with Sex and the City, it can be so cliche -- that pursuit -- that those women revealed themselves to be so much more. (looks over at Holefcener) as your characters do. They really are well-meaning, true people who are shallow and can be a little self obsessed and all that but still be good and still deserve love and still want friends and still have loyalty and still have moments of enlightenment. Regardless of how unsustained they are.

Q: Greg (Germann) said that he could see a part of himself in each of the male characters in Friends with Money. Did you feel the same while shooting?

CK: Wait, do you mean did we share the same [psychological] references and things? I think that we did. But I think, also, that the writing was so there that you almost don't have to. You can plug in your own feelings about it. I think it felt very universal -- those feelings. You know, wanting more but 'this is really what we have.' And we spend so much time thinking about what's coming, what's next, what's not there that you never [pay attention to] everything that IS there.

NH: I think that if we'd had rehearsal time, the luxury of a rehearsal -- which I didn't even want -- but had we done that, we would've spent a lot of time going 'oh, I went out with THAT guy!' We just, sort of, got all of these stories and intimacies but there wasn't the time, really to [deconstruct characters].

CK: Yeah, but we did have this shared well of references.

NH: The actors would ask me [often] on whom their characters were based on and --Greg would come to the set and go 'that's YOU!' (laughs)

CK: And all of her friends knew it. They all knew!... It's very true about [Holofcener's] friendships -- I know her friends, I'm one of them -- they do truck in that honesty. And, you know, sometimes it's a little daunting for people who are witnessing it [without emotional context] they just feel like 'God, that [remark] was just so...are you hurt?' But, like a friend of hers was at Sundance -- she'd just bought this coat that was a lot of money -- and [the friend's] like 'that coat's terrible, take it off!' And my girlfriend's like 'that girl just shredded Nicole!' --

NH: -- well, if your friend won't stop you and tell you that you've got an ugly coat, then who will? (both erupt into laughter)

CK: Exactly!

Q: In this film your character works very intimately with her husband as a writer, have you ever done anything with Dermott in that way?

CK: We did this one film, Living in Oblivion, it was so good.

Q: In Friends with Money, you and your spouse get into heated fights while going about the creative process -- any similar moments while working with your real-life husband?

CK: No, no. This was one of her friends' lives --

NH: -- it's fiction.

Q: Could you ever imagine working so closely with someone you're living with every day. Is it scary, frustrating?

NH: My boyfriend edited this movie. We'd work together, go home, go to work...but I was the boss!

Q: -- and?

NH: -- so what I said, went.

Q: Did you bring it home?

NH: Well, yes, with something like this, you know, you're going to bed and it's like 'oh God, we should've made that cut' because it's not work for me. It's in my doesn't stop.

CK: I think it's so fun to work with someone that you're really close can be such a great shared experience -- I'm being flowery now -- but some great thing that you go through together. And it can so intensify the relationship. You know, memories become that way because they're shared. I really love working with people I'm close to. I feel trust for them.

Q: Jennifer Anniston's character [Olivia] seemed the most vulenerable in comparison to the rest of the cast. How did you get that performance out of her?

NH: She was acceptable. She was open and she read the lines. And she just let herself be in Olivia --

CK: -- she was just receptive to anybody, truly, it was a close crew, and she was receptive. Everybody was.

NH: know, I think actors tend to do more than they need and I think that Jennifer was very aware of how little she had to do to express so much on her face. Sometimes my job is just saying 'less, less, less' to people because if they've got the face and the soul in their eyes all they have to do, really, is just respond to what's going on in the scene and it's there. You don't have to fabricate it -- we all know what it' s like to be dumped by some guy, everybody does -- whether it's a guy or some other form of humiliation. So if you just feel it, which she was able to do, I just don't get in the way. [with directions]
[in the film Keener's character mis-pronounces Sponge Bob Square pants while in an argument]

Q: Cathy, do you really not get Sponge Bob?

CK: I actually love Sponge Bob, that's the funny thing, and that's one line where I'm like 'I didn't do that right' --

NH: -- no, you were great but somebody said 'how could you not get Sponge Bob?' -- to me -- and I was like 'FUCK YOU, MAN! You're not in my movie!' (laughter)

CK: I don't know, I think at some point you can't -- maybe it's a long running thing [with her character], she just has to be different. You see her in bed saying 'everything's modern, I'm so sick of it', she has to be ahead... She's like, 'I will show them.' She's a very pitiable person.

Q: In the film the realization of the second story addition to the house signified a turning point for Cathy's character. As the writer was that intentionally where you wanted everything to come together?

NH: Yeah...her oblivion, why the nieghbor's dissing her and that the husband may have known all along and maybe he doesn't care that much about other people --

CK: -- like when he says to her 'you must've known' and the fact is that she really didn't and that was, for me, was like 'where have I been? What am I not looking at? What am I not seeing?'

NH: And she's the one who wants the view from the bedroom to see the ocean but it's like you can't see the ocean without [paying] a price.

CK: Absolutely.

Q: You've been in a couple of hit movies recently and you got nominated for an Academy Award for your turn in Capote. What's this year been like for you? Wasn't there a gap for a couple of years?

CK: I think so and then everything just sort of came out [simultaneously] feels lucky. It's almost like I don't want to reflect on it too much because it's like --

NH: -- "ha ha, joke!"

CK: Not so much that, but you do feel like you could go 'God, I have a lot. I'm good to sit back for a while. Let some other things --

NH: -- let some other people get good parts -

CK: -- I don't know how to respond to that without seeming like an idiot, I mean that. It's just awesome! I haven't had a chance to remember it yet. I'm still sort of calming down, it's a very charged time. And then there's the luck of the roll with how people release movies -- someone, for example will release Capote like right after The 40 Year Old Virgin but The 40 Year Old Virgin is the thing I did last. So, I thought it'd be a year or something but then it just so happens that it went [into theaters] just like that (snaps fingers). So, that's just luck, you know, that's just dumb luck that that was positioned that way because it made me stand out a little bit more because...

Q: Aren't you glad it was such a wide range of subject matter?

CK: Yeah, I feel like I really had a lucky streak and...everything.

Q: Did your work directing on TV productions help you develop your big screen style of at all?

NH: I did Walking and Talking, my first movie and then I did Sex and the City after that. And the show like SATC and Six Feet Under are just like movies. They're shot on film, they're shot single camera -- the budgets are bigger than the movies I've done -- but there's a very similar pace and the actors on both of those shows do work in movies. They don't feel different, the only difference is that I didn't write those shows. And those particular shows were a real challenge for me because I loved those shows and I didn't want to screw it actors can go from TV to movies to TV because TV shows are [now] like movies. It's not like a movie actor has to go and do a sitcom which I think would be very different. Just like, I don't direct sitcoms -- I wouldn't have a clue of how to direct something with six cameras...that's a whole different issue. I try to get along with one or two. (laughs)

Q: In writing the story, did you outline [the screen play] for each couple or did it just flow out of you when deciding where to jump to during the course of the film?

NH: I just did it intuitively, you know. And I'd re-read and as I started the next day I'd say 'how long has it been since we've seen them? What can I do to see her again?'

CK: Is there anybody that you felt that we didn't see enough of?

NH: I don't think so. No, I think I wrote everything that I wanted to write...