One of the pivotal scenes in “August: Osage County,” the upcoming screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is an explosive family dinner where barbs are hurled and dark secrets are revealed. For director John Wells and his all-star cast, the scene was central to the film’s themes and narrative, and star Meryl Streep led the way as the sharp-tongued matriarch Violet Weston.
At the Envelope Screening Series, Wells and cast members Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper talked about shooting the 19-minute scene.
For Wells, the dinner scene speaks to a universal family dynamic. “It doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are,” he said. “You believe that you become someone else away from your home. And you walk back through that door, and you’re suddenly a 14-year-old again saying things that you would never say anywhere other than in the house, and taking on a role that may not be how you perceive yourself. And you suddenly find yourself in the same chair, telling the same old stories.”
Nicholson said of the scene, “It took just about four days to film it, and every day to be sat at that table with those people was a joy and a thrill. And to watch Meryl just bring it every single time — whether she’s on camera or off camera. It was different every time. It was alive every time. It was a master class in acting, and I’ll never forget it.”
Martindale agreed and said Streep’s commitment motivated the other actors to raise their game. “She’s giving 150,000% — and you’d better too,” Martindale said.
Cooper chimed in, “The master class is watching Meryl give us a different take on the scene that we’re doing. She’ll do the drugged-up version, she’ll do the nasty underbelly, she’ll do the comic version, she’ll do so many.”
Wells said Streep’s performance was captivating to the point that sometimes her fellow actors got caught up and dropped their lines. “I was just watching her,” one cast member admitted to Wells after flubbing a line.
“Well, that’s good,” Wells told the actor. “We were all watching her. But you’re in the scene, and you need to say the line.”
For more from the cast and crew of “August: Osage County,” watch the full video above and check back for daily highlights. The film opens Dec. 25.