For over 20 years, director Nicole Holofcener has been making character-driven movies on her terms. She writes comedic and heartbreaking scenarios, complicated but lovable characters and hires some of the best actors to bring her stories to life. No one’s perfect or a superhero. All of her characters have problems, and in her films, they’re honest about it.
Since her 1996 feature debut, “Walking and Talking,” Holofcener has been exploring uneasy dynamics in friendships, relationships and family bounds.
In Holofcener’s last film, “Enough Said,” a divorced woman, Eva (Julia Louis Dreyfus), strains her relationship with a client (Keener) to find out more about the woman’s ex-husband who is now Eva’s boyfriend (James Gandolfini). Clearly, there’s trouble ahead for these characters.
Holofcener considers those destructive tendencies fun to explore.
“There’s some great scenes to be had with people who go against their own best interests,” she says. “People are so much more interesting when they don’t have it all together. I’m going to gravitate towards messed up people – good people who do bad things or bad people who try to do better.”
For the majority of her career, Holofcener has focused on women’s stories and female friendships, often drawing from her own experiences.
“I have many friends, and I’ve had relationships with men who barely have any close friends but they long for one,” she says. “When I was younger ... my female friendships were infinitely more complicated than my romantic relationships. There was much more talking about feelings.“
That doesn’t mean the men in Holofcener’s movies are short on emotions. Instead, she strives to create characters and situations where feelings do come out and tough discussions are finally had.
Holofcener emphasizes many times over the importance of her cast. Her words will live or die by her cast’s delivery of the dialogue-heavy scripts.
“I think it starts with the cast and really knowing what kind of actor can pull this off,” she says. “Who has enough sensitivity or enough humanity and vulnerability in their faces and in their eyes so that we stay connected to them even though they may be rotten?”
Which brings Holofcener to her upcoming project, “The Land of Steady Habits,” which is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Anders (Ben Mendelsohn), a former Wall Street financier, leaves his profession for the makings of a midlife crisis: divorce, social ostracization, aggressive behavior and obsessing over her his ex-wife’s new life without him. He’s a complicated figure at best, a prickly jerk at worse. Luckily, Mendelsohn’s performance won over Holofcener.
“He’s just incredibly charismatic, so watchable in everything he does,” she says of her movie’s star. “He’s a scene stealer in the best way. I could tell he had a good sense of humor, which was important. Even though this is a very dramatic movie, it has some laughs.”
Holofcener talks about the shades of gray in a character – that no one is truly all good or all evil, but mixes of the two. “What interests me in a character is a blend. He can do some terrible things, but he’s a good person.”