'If I find people who are really talented...they become my muses'

Nicole Holofcener on Gandolfini, Allen and Aniston, Sex And The City and the threat of AI

by Richard Mowe

Rapt attention for Nicole Holofcener from a capacity crowd at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival
Rapt attention for Nicole Holofcener from a capacity crowd at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary
Writer and director Nicole Holofcener, who is receiving the honour of a special focus at the 58th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, has been able to chronicle aspects of her life through her films.

Looking chipper and peppering our conversation with self-deprecating asides she relaxes to the task in a capacious leather armchair which almost swallows her up. We’re in the rarefied surrounds of the town’s Grand Hotel Pupp (which famously had a starring role in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel).

Nicole Holofcener on blockbusters: 'I think I would be really bored with all the green screens and special effects'
Nicole Holofcener on blockbusters: 'I think I would be really bored with all the green screens and special effects' Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary
“I do see a development in my work over the years because I follow my life but not on purpose. What is important to me is the time in which I am writing and I write about that. I started writing in my thirties and I wrote about people in my thirties and now we are all getting older and I won’t be able to get financing!

“Some times I try to write about younger people because I know it is good for marketing and for distribution and for younger actors and all that but I am too self-absorbed. I like to write about people my age and what I have learned over the years. I have my sons around me but otherwise not so many young people. Mostly, although not exclusively, it is still about me - motherhood, marriage, and the friendships in my life.”

At 64 she worries that the younger generation have a lot less hope than she did in her life at the same age. “They see the world falling apart and jobs going away and they see the advent of artificial intelligence and I think people feel a lot more lost now than before. AI scares everybody. “I am glad that I have most of my movies behind me but I think if I was starting out I would be a little worried about being replaced.”

One of her first jobs on television was working on the ground-breaking first series of Sex And The City. “It was my first television job. It was a great introduction, especially because it was the first season and nobody knew what was happening,” she said

“I did not know if I was going to be working on porn. Also Six Feet Under was a good experience. I was a fan of these shows and to be asked (or I would ask myself) and it was amazing they were happy to have me. On some shows I had less fun because the sets were not particularly happy or the producers were mean. I would walk on the set as the new girl and that can be alienating to some of the cast. And all of it helps to pay the bills.”

Her astute choice of actors has been one of her many strengths. “Often you will get a list from the studio asking what do you think of these people and often they are gorgeous when the part does not call for somebody gorgeous. And you still need stars and this is why I have such low budgets because I am picky and I want who is right for the movie. There was a time when I cast the wrong person, simply to get financing and it was a disaster,” she added, declining discreetly to give any further details.

Signing on for autographs … Nicole Holofcener meets a fan
Signing on for autographs … Nicole Holofcener meets a fan Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary
Casting Jennifer Aniston against type in Friends With Money was one of her high profile coups. “She knew my movies and she had to look like a sad girl and the time in her life was very sad. She had just split from Brad Pitt just a month before starting work. She wasn’t sure she wanted to dive in or not but she did.”

It was a tough job, however, to convince James Gandolfini to take on the rom-com Enough Said. She recalled: “He was the hardest person to convince to play this part. He was unsure he would be able play it - he was self-conscious that he was over-weight and wondered whether people would find him believable. Eventually I convinced him. Sadly he passed away and never saw the movie but he did give everything I asked of him. He was such a great actor and Tony Soprano had so much range and I really had wanted to work with him.”

She rues the fact that he did not get awards recognition for the role. “I didn’t understand why not. May be it was because it was a subtle performance rather than a big showy one. The Oscars don’t pay that much attention to comedies - and essentially my films are comedies.”

She considers actors such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus from her most recent outing You Hurt My Feelings and Catherine Keener (from the beginning of her career) as her muses because she they keep returning to work with her.

Holofcener on her changing perspective: 'I do see a development in my work over the years because I follow my life but not on purpose'
Holofcener on her changing perspective: 'I do see a development in my work over the years because I follow my life but not on purpose' Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary
“If I find people who are really talented, then in a way they become my muses. I think that Catherine and I are very different in the way we talk and walk and look, but Julia and I are more similar in that way (I am wearing her eye glasses right now!). They get me and they get my material. I do not know what I am going to be writing next but I would be very happy if Julia appears in my mind and imagination. My mother keeps saying, ‘Stop casting the same people and you’ll get more viewers,’ but I can’t help what I want,” she said with a shrug of the shoulders.

In her formative years she worked in a lowly capacity with Woody Allen on A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and Hannah And Her Sisters. “I learned the most not from watching him at work but from watching his movies. I had the feeling that I want to make movies like that. I did not really work with him directly as I was a production assistant on the set. Mostly I tried to keep out of his way. In the editing room I got to watch the dailies and that was fantastically useful. But I think his influence on me was not personal but it came just watching his movies. It was a bit like that with Mike Leigh who I met once, and who seemed to be nice but also rather notoriously grumpy when I gushed at him.”

Would she ever consider leaving her comfort zone for something overtly commercial? She responded: “I have done some rewriting on a Marvel movie and that was fun but I have no interest in directing a Marvel movie and nobody has asked and that’s OK. I think I would be really bored with all the green screens and special effects.

“I would be happy to do a broad comedy but they do not make so many any more. I would be happy to do a thriller but I don’t know I could do it, but I really like watching thrillers. Anything too dramatic or melodramatic would not be good for me.”

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