Catherine Keener and Toni Collette have different kinds of personalities, both on screen and off, but they hope you don’t like one more than the other. They say this gently joking as they enter a room full of press at a Toronto hotel while they promote their supporting roles in Nicole Holocener’s latest comedy, Enough Said, which played earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Possibly best known as the latest film from the director of Friends with Money, Please Give, and Lovely & Amazing (all of which featured Keener) and containing one of the last performances of the late James Gandolfini, Enough Said casts the actresses as two different friends in the life of Holofcener’s divorced and soon to be empty nester Eva, played by recent Emmy winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Collette plays loyal best friend, and still somewhat happily married Sarah, a sarcastic, but down to Earth shrink who provides a shoulder to lean on when she can barely help herself. Keener, on the other hand, plays the more proper, new friend Marianne, a woman who establishes a quick rapport with Eva while at a party before becoming Eva’s client and friend. The rub comes in the fact that Marianne used to be married to Eva’s current beau (Gandolfini), and neither member of the former marriage has a single nice thing to say about the other.
It’s a comedy of errors and lapses in proper etiquette that Holofcener knows well and what drew both actresses on board. Dork Shelf caught up with Collette and Keener – both jokingly sporting hand injuries thanks to food cutting mishaps – to talk about the differences between female characters written by men and those created by women, the reality that Holofcener brings to her productions, and why they see both of their characters’ professions as somewhat crazy.
Catherine, you have worked with Nicole before, but do both of you notice a difference working on material like this with a female director?
Toni Collette: I notice the difference between working with a good director and a shitty director. (laughs) She’s great. I mean, I just don’t think of it that way, and some people even try to make that distinction with youth and not just sex. I don’t think I’ve ever really been able to answer that question. I mean, there are probably certain female attributes that might help certain writers and directors create the world to tell their story in. Then again, maybe it’s just having someone like Nicole.
Catherine Keener: I do think it really is just Nicole, but then again if I was a sociologist I could probably parse it into some kind of difference. They are there, but from our point of view, and I’m sorry for speaking for you…
TC: Go for it!
CK: You can punch me if I’m wrong, but honestly we don’t give a shit. As long as you’re cool, and there, and you want to play and work hard, and you can be serious about your work while having fun doing it, and you come prepared and ready to jump in, I personally don’t care who it is. It’s just like asking about personality. It would be like pitting my personality against Toni and who you like more than that. (pauses) Don’t answer that. (laughs)
But what I am say is that it’s just different from person to person.
TC: I mean, no two female directors are exactly the same, either.
But having a female writer and director on hand must lead to better roles for women to some degree.
CK: Now that I can agree with.
TC: I don’t know if I totally do. I’ve worked with some great male filmmakers who have made some great roles for women.
CK: There might be more great female filmmakers than there are female characters sometimes. I mean, with some things that are specific to women – like choosing a female gynaecologist over a male one (laughs) – I think it could make more of a difference. It’s not like I haven’t had great parts written by men…
TC: I thought you were about to say you had some great male gynaecologists. (laughs)
CK: (laughs) Which I HAVE, actually. But as I think about it right here and now, I think there is an insight into a truth about women that men haven’t been able to write yet.
Was that something that you saw in this script?
CK: I think it’s something that I definitely see in Nicole’s scripts, in particular. I think that does get back to the distinction between a woman and a man making a film like this. She makes parts for women that ring so true to me as a woman.
TC: But I think that’s what makes Nicole so special as a filmmaker, she just has an eye and a ear for all of that sort of thing. She’s so good at capturing these small, natural, idiosyncratic moments where people are trying to relate to one another and it’s so accurate and authentic. It feels real, and when I am watching a movie or I am reading something and it feels exciting, I think that’s the best. I mean, we are all as humans really into ourselves, and we love to see that sort of thing on screen. All art is reflection of us, and when it’s spot on, you can just gasp and be taken aback by it and say “That’s me!”
It’s also great with something like this where the relationships between all of the characters are so well fleshed out ahead of time in the script that it allows you to really focus on those little details to make it seem real.
CK: Well, at the very least it’s WAY more fun to do because you are starting from the middle instead of the bottom up in terms of where you can go with these sorts of things. But that goes back to the first question. Nicole is a woman, and she writes great parts for women. That just happens to be the case. If it were a man who kept writing all of these great parts for women, it would be a different thing, but I don’t have that kind of ability to see that. I’m sure it’s possible.
And it’s hard to really create that kind of male/female dynamic to such an equal degree.
CK: True! And she wrote an excellent part for Jim. Did you think that as a man looking at a male part?
TC: When it comes down to any artist in the world telling anything specific, it always comes down to the individual story.
It’s a very unique kind of romantic comedy, but it’s also unique in terms of age group, marital situations, and just how true to life it seems, was that something that appealed to you, and what within that were you most intrigued to kind of play around with in regard to your characters?
TC: I would have played a plant in this movie. (laughs) I really just wanted to work with Nicole. I had wanted to for a while now. I just loved the character.
CK: Your character is kind of crazy in a great way.
TC: (laughs) How so?
CK: Well, just that she’s a shrink and she’s kind of lazy in a special kind of way about her job.
TC: (laughs) I like to think I am a lot better at helping other people, but maybe this character really is a reflection of me. When it comes to looking at myself, I’m definitely not as handy. But I think that’s great for everyone to take stock of and that the film does really well. People in this world are just like the real world where they aren’t often as objective about themselves.
Catherine, what was it like then playing a poet, which is a job others could misconstrue as lazy?
CK: (laughs, sarcastically) Oh, it was just like every other day of my life. (laughs) It’s kind of funny, but I don’t know, I think that character’s poetry would be really bad. That kind of “love yourself” poetry that I just think is insufferable. You know that kind of thing that’s romantic, but only with yourself? And that’s fun to explore the kind of mentality that a person would have. I would only read poetry because I like it, and to me that’s a lot like listening to music, which anyone will tell you is one of the things you can automatically tell someone’s tastes from. Poetry at its best is something that means a lot to you, but if you are writing things solely about how much you love yourself, what does that really say about your own taste?