Nancy Meyers has gained legions of fans thanks to her early writing work on films such as Private Benjamin and Baby Boom and then such later films as her directorial effort on What Women Want, then of course 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give which she wrote and directed and also earned Diane Keaton an Oscar nomination. Suffice to say, this woman knows romantic comedies, and she has scored yet another winner with The Holiday starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Jude Law. While my interviews with Cameron, Kate and Jack are forthcoming I thought I would get you started with a taste of what the mind of hit romantic comedy writer/director sounds like.
While in L.A. I had the chance to talk to Nancy along with a group of other journalist as we discussed The Holiday, which centers on two women on opposite sides of the globe, Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz) and Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet) find themselves in a similar predicament. Desperate for a change of scenery, the two women meet on the internet and swap houses for the Christmas holiday discovering that a change of address really can change your life.
Sit back and listen to what she had to say.
What is it about romantic comedies, why do you like making them?
Nancy Meyers (NM): They’re the films in the past that I liked the most. So I think when I decided this was how I was going to spend my life making films it was the genre I most appreciated as an audience member. I was led there by some of those films and I don’t think about other genres. I like writing about women, I like writing about how men and women relate. I like diving into stuff that has happened to me in my work and so far it has translated into other people because I get a lot of “That was me! how did you know?”
You make a point in this movie that Hollywood has changed, is that an important theme for you?
NM: It is something that I think about. The first movie that I made, Private Benjamin, came out in October of 1980 and stayed in the theaters ’til March of ’81 so it was out for six months and we did well, but it wasn’t extraordinary that a film would stay in the theater for six months but it gives people a chance to know that they don’t have to go first weekend. It all has become such a big race and who wins the weekend and all that stuff. Yeah, it bugs me. It bugs me that [this] is the way it has become.
With romantic comedies when you start, do you start with points about relationships or comedy threads?
NM: I don’t know, I don’t know how it all begins because it takes a long time… I know some things look like maybe it is an idea, but it isn’t. It’s an idea about a certain kind of woman who resists relationships and another kind of woman who is… unrequited love interests me a lot and how really smart people can get turned upside down.
After all these films, writing and directing them, what have you learned about love?
NM: I don’t know what I’ve learned except I have found it somewhat personally helpful to put my own stuff into movies, things that have happened to me. The actresses, whether it’s Diane Keaton in her mid-fifties or Kate Winslet at thirty, privately tell me, “I totally get this.” So what I’ve learned is it is pretty universal. I have no love tips, but all I’ve learned is that it’s all universal, it’s a universal theme.
Where are you in this movie?
NM: Oh, I can just about relate to every character in some way. Loss and difficulties in relating, liking the wrong person and liking the right person, it isn’t just the first 20 minutes I can relate to, I can also relate to what happens.
How difficult was it to find the balance between your two stories in this movie?
NM: It was really hard. I thought after Something’s Gotta Give, where I had spent so much time writing two people in one environment, it was almost like a play at times to write it, I really, for me, wanted to write a broader canvas, but not a broader subject by writing multiple characters and multiple stories and it was actually fun trying to weave them together. The only conscious thing I did was to not have each girl meet one person. So, on Kate’s side of the movie she befriends Eli and that relationship and helps her and guides her. I just thought it would be better for the audience not to have two girls who immediately meet guys and fall in love and have that kind of parallel situation, but it was really fun to write an ensemble movie.
Talk about casting Jack Black as a romantic lead.
NM: Yeah, I saw School of Rock and I just adored him, I thought he popped off the screen. He spoke to me as an audience member. I just thought this guy is so great with these kids, that was a really hard performance, great movie, and he was spectacular in it. When I was thinking of this movie I thought he was someone I would like to write a part for and I’m aware he’s not Clark Gable, he’s not tall dark and handsome, but he’s adorable, he’s lovable. It’s my way of saying this is the right kind of guy, this is what most guys look like if they’re lucky, he’s so adorable, and why not? Everybody has a heart and deserves to fall in love and he should get a great girl. So I fixed him up with Kate Winslet.
How much of Jack’s character was written and how much did he bring to it?
NM: I would say it was written. The “boob graze” joke, which is something that one day on the set he bumped into me and said, “Oh, sorry about the boob graze,” and I just laughed so hard because men bump into women all the time like that and act like they didn’t do it, but he immediately said sorry about the boob graze so I wrote it into the next scene he did.
How did you decide on the rest of the cast?
NM: I wanted Kate and Cameron during the writing process. You know, I think a screenwriter would lie to you if they said, “I don’t think about anybody when I am writing.” I can’t imagine it, you know somebody has got to say it and do it. It’s natural to start fantasizing about who is going to be in it and I thin Cameron is a great comedienne and I thought about this before I cast her and once I cast her she continued to thrill me in that area. It’s really hard I think to be that cute and sexy and that funny and that sort of girl-friendly. I am really only interested with women in my movies that are girl-friendly, I’m probably never going to work with those girls that only the guys like because I just don’t get them. So Cameron’s really a girl’s girl and boys adore her obviously. She seemed absolutely the right choice for a California girl.
Then, if you’re writing a 30-year-old woman in England you obviously think of Kate Winslet, she’s just one of the great actresses.
Jude’s character evolved more during the writing than the others. I sort of put him through some twists and turns that you don’t expect. Then, when I was done, of course you think of Jude Law. He’s so handsome and he’s really such a terrific actor, but I wasn’t immediately sure that he was going to fit into the genre and do this kind of work. So I met with him and we went through the script together and he just got it. You know, he just hasn’t had a chance to do it before.
The architecture of the two houses plays a large part in this movie, how did you go about sort of setting these two places up as what could be considered characters?
NM: I love the Spanish architecture that’s in L.A. and I thought that was a good idea and nothing seemed as organic as that house, and in England we wanted a cottage. I didn’t want her to live in an apartment in London, I wanted to be out in the country. Right now I can’t tell you why, but I wanted to be in the country because I thought it was a better contrast for our character to be out of her element. We built a cottage in Shere, which is in Surrey, about an hour outside of London, and it was really an amazing process to build a cottage because the people that lived there couldn’t believe that people from Hollywood were coming and building this cottage, but they did a magnificent job. We built the road, the wall around it, put in the trees.
How did you get Lindsay Lohan and James Franco for the fake trailer in the movie?
NM: I know Lindsay because I directed The Parent Trap and I told her she owes me everything so I made her do it. I called her and said, “You have to do this for me,” but she was sweet about it, she was totally there. James Franco I met at a few dinner parties, we have mutual friends, so I knew him a little bit and I asked him if he would do it and it turned out Lindsay and James knew each other and it was really fun. We did it in a day and a half and we did it about six weeks ago because I didn’t do it while I was shooting.
With romantic comedies do you think you can ever tamper with the conventions or do you know in the beginning, when we meet the characters, that you better have them walk away hand-in-hand in the end?
NM: I like when they end up together, but some there are conventions in every genre as you know, when you go to see the James Bond movie you are pretty sure he’s going to be alive in the end. There are conventions to every genre, it is just how well you do it. You try not to leave a trail, you try to be inventive with it.
The Holiday hit theaters on December 8. For more on the film click here.