3-Time Oscar winner Meryl Streep, the Grande Dame of Acting, is about to land again in theaters across US this December (and at award ceremonies next year wearing frumpy, wedgie-gifting dresses. Meryl’s hunch seems absolutely right – the people who select her wardrobe and hairstyle – including her longtime hairstylist J Roy Helland – do their best to destroy her ‘naturally good looks’ ) with her latest film August Osage County, adapted from stage to screen by its Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts himself, already turning heads at film festivals and screenings. The moment it debuted at Toronto, reviews by renowned publications hit the internet emphasizing two or three common observations/contentions: a) that it was going to be an All-Meryl-Some-Julia-Little-Others Show (ironic as the play only credits the Native American character of Johnna as ‘others’; I guess the film is even more discriminatory than the play!) b) that the altered ‘less depressing’ ending was a weak, ‘sell out’ move by Harvey Weinstein and c) that Meryl was a lead character and not supporting (another sly move by Weinstein to snag Meryl another Oscar; this decision was quickly changed after award screenings and Meryl’s now in competing for Best Lead Actress).
Its almost two months since the Toronto film festival and as August Osage County is drawing closer to its theatrical release, the cast and crew are quickly turning up to promote the films at interactive Q&A sessions, press conferences and even online. There is a fifteen minute B-roll footage of the crew filming some of the expository scenes outside the Weston family’s ‘House of Pain’. There are press junkets in the form of videos where each actor gives an insight into the characters they portrayed. The film’s director John Wells, known mainly for his work on television, shares about his experience filming the intense dining table scene and his experience with the entire cast. All these videos can be found here.
Streep may be the most honored actress of all time, but fellow cast member Chris Cooper, who’s worked with Streep before in the Oscar winning ‘Adaptation’, suggests ‘you have no idea just how talented she is… She’s the Master!’. Streep’s best known for improvisations during rehearsals, which is quite a feat considering the level of precision she achieves in defining her character both internally and externally. Cooper as well as the others were astonished by the ‘level of variety she brought take after take’; she’s ‘once playing a drugged version (of her character Violet), then a comical version, then another’, and her changes ‘rippled across the dining table’ and each actor ‘played his/her character slightly differently in each take’. This impressive observation was made by Dermot Mulroney, who gets to hear ungracious welcoming remarks like “Who are you?” and “That’s peculiar Karen to bring a date to your dad’s funeral’ (Mulroney’s character Steve is actually Violet’s youngest daughter Karen’s fiance) from Violet. English actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s praise was even more ecstatic: “Meryl was extraordinary. The hardest thing with her is to actually act. You just want to sit and watch her. You want to be in the audience”. I’m unsure, however, whether Meryl would find this remark complementary, as the actress once said that in retrospect, she found her performance in French Lieutenant Woman to be less satisfactory as she always felt her co-star Jeremy Irons was busy observing Meryl’s performance rather than focusing on the character. Some critics have accused her of ‘outshining the film itself even more with age’, and even I noted in one of my reviews that in some films, I found myself getting a twofer: a) the film itself and b) Meryl’s own film within the film. In case of great films, this becomes quite an experience to savor, but in case of mediocre ones, it feels like the film and Meryl are two distinct entities put together in a chaotic mess.
Meryl turned up along with Wells, Letts, producer Jean Doumanian and the cast including Cooper, Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis (Roberts remained absent) for a live Q&A in New York on November 25. Twitter and Facebook users were given an opportunity to post their questions, a few of which would be chosen for the interview. I excitedly framed about five/six questions pertaining to the film (a lot many users asked silly questions like: Meryl, where are you coming to Italy? as if it has anything to do with the film). One of them, quite a simple one (and yet, its usually the simple ones that are picked for interviews to relax the interviewees), got selected; actually, the first part of the question got selected. This question was asked to Tracy Letts, and although the interviewer doesn’t reveal the user name, I’m pretty sure based on the wording that it’s my question.
The selected question: “In the process of adapting this play to cinema, did you find yourself looking at a particular character or scene (I used the word ‘situation’) in a new light? ” (The second part of the question wasn’t asked)
Mr Tracy Lett‘s Response: Well, they’re robots! (a peal of laughter from the audience; the robots thing is an extended joke from the interview) (the interviewer: We can’t wait to see your next movie!)… Dermot’s very good, yeah… in Magnificent Seven Robots (a cackle from Meryl)… um ah I.. I.. did I see any of them in a new light? No I did not, but I tell you what, I had an opportunity as a result of the ability of cinema not only to show the place in which it is set but the scene in which Barbara pursues Violet across the field.. uh allowed me to encapsulate in a.. in a.. few very short images and lines something thematic that I was trying to get at it at the heart of the piece, something about the.. the uh… even though you can see fifty miles to the horizon, there’s nowhere to go…a kind of claustrophobia that is felt in the Plains as it turns in a lot of other places as well. So I don’t know about an individual character I saw in a new light (Meryl nods looking towards him) but I certainly enjoyed uh… seeing them explore their boundaries, a little bit.
Towards the end of the 45 minute interactive question, an interesting question was asked to the entire cast: ‘What was your favorite line of Violet?’, which yielded funny answers such as ‘Why don’t you f-ck a f-cking sow’s ass?’ (Julianne Nicholson; this line is spoken by Violet to her husband Beverley when he introduces her to Johnna), ‘You look like a magician’s assistant’ (Margo Martindale; Violet’s remarks about her daughter Ivy’s appearance in a suit at her father’s funeral) ‘Hide-a-burrr…What?’ (Juliette Lewis; Violet is unable to pronounce Karen’s fiance’s German surname) and ‘It burns like ‘a’ bull-sh*t! ‘ (Margo again; spoken by Violet to Barbara while talking about her mouth-cancer). It was certainly a refreshing forty-five minute session with this cast, topped by Meryl’s infectious giggles and perky personality. Guess this girl just can’t help stealing the spotlight!
The entire interview can be found here.
- “August: Osage County” to feature NE Oklahoma (sacbee.com)
- You: ‘August: Osage County’ director, cast on dinner with Meryl Streep (latimes.com)
- Review: ‘August: Osage County’ One Giant Smorgasbord of Performances (hotterinhollywood.com)
- Julia Roberts & Meryl Streep: ‘August: Osage County’ Press Conference! (justjared.com)
- “August: Osage County” to feature NE Oklahoma (miamiherald.com)
- August: Osage County Film with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts at the AFI Fest (lalascoop.com)
- August: Osage County (copankep.wordpress.com)
- Meryl Streep May Scare Her Fans in ‘August: Osage County’ (nytimes.com)
- Meryl Streep Channeled Her Parents for ‘August: Osage County’ (blogs.wsj.com)
- State film office sets up screenings for ‘August: Osage County’ tonight (hispanicbusiness.com)