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Julia Roberts & Dermot Mulroney Talk Working With Meryl Streep In August: Osage County – Video
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‘Into the Woods’ News! What Did Stephen Sondheim Tell Meryl Streep? – Article
Meryl Streep sat down with “Extra’s” Jerry Penacoli to discuss her role in “August: Osage County,” but ended up gushing about working with lyricist/composer Stephen Sondheim on the big-screen adaptation of his hit Broadway musical “Into the Woods.”Getty Images
Fresh off a flight from London where she had just wrapped shooting “Into the Woods,” Streep revealed Sondheim wrote a new song for her character, The Witch. “I have a new song that Sondheim wrote for me… and when he gave me the manuscript, he wrote on it, “Don’t f**k it up.”
As for her role as a drug-addicted and dysfunctional mother in “August: Osage County,” Meryl said, “It was an unpleasant place to be in her head… to be in her mind was like being in prison, like in the dining hall of a prison where you hide a shiv in your hair in case you have to cut somebody.”
Video in the article.
Julia, you just worked with Meryl Streep. What surprised you about her?
ROBERTS: She has the great balance. In her life, acting is a very sort of casual element of it. I like that balance.
THOMPSON: I’ve snogged her. (Laughter.) And what I learned was, you have to use tongues even if you’re not a lesbian.
ROBERTS: Tongue-kissing Meryl Streep.
THOMPSON: We had to do a snog. The angel gives her an orgasm in Angels in America. Mike Nichols can get anyone to do anything.
WINFREY: That’s right, that’s true. I might let the dark side in, just for Mike.
LOS ANGELES – Filming “Into the Woods” in London and promoting “August: Osage County” was putting Meryl Streep in two conflicting moods. “I feel like I should have two heads because I’m so into this music, place, magic that’s ‘Into the Woods,’” said the world’s preeminent actress with a lilt in her voice, exulting in her experience so far in playing The Witch in director Rob Marshall’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical. She is dressed all in black for this early evening interview at The May Fair Hotel in London.
In “August,” coincidentally another adaptation of a play (by Tracy Letts who won a Pulitzer Prize for this), Meryl plays Violet Weston, the acid-tongued, pill-popping matriarch of a bickering family in Oklahoma.
In the next breath, Meryl remarked, “I’m also in a very dark place with violence with ‘August’ so one bleeds into the other. I keep thinking…” And here she sang and paraphrased some of the lyrics of “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods”: “Careful of what you say, children will listen because that’s the story of ‘August’/Careful of what you do, children will see and learn.” How often does one have the pleasure of hearing Meryl Streep singing in person?
The actress, who said “Send in the Clowns” is her favorite Sondheim song, talked about a metamorphosis in “Into the Woods”: “The metamorphosis in ‘Into the Woods’ is [of] a witch who sets the whole machinery of impossible tasks in motion so she can have her wish, which is to not be ugly. Her mother put a curse on her. It’s very like Violet. Her mother put a curse of ugliness on her because somebody stole the beans, the baker’s father.
“So her metamorphosis is that Rapunzel, [whom] she loves more than anything in the world, will love her because she’ll be beautiful. Of course, women think that if they’re beautiful, they will be loved. The thing is, you can get your wish and Rapunzel will still hate you. It’s such an interesting problem that Sondheim sets up. Everybody has a wish, everybody gets their wish. That’s just the end of the first act. Afterward, what happens after it all shakes down…it’s an ambitious thing.”
Asked what her wish was, Meryl said with a laugh, “Oh, sleep for 12 hours.”
Meryl admitted that at first she was “not eager to do this part” in “August,” which is directed by John Wells and features a formidable cast—Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard and Misty Upham.
“The reason I did was [that] a very dear friend said to me, ‘You had a great mother. She gave you your appetite for experience, curiosity, sense of humor. Your mother sang in the kitchen and mine hit me. Your mother made you feel you could do anything. Mine made me feel like I couldn’t do anything. You have to do this for me and for all the girls like me who had bad mothers, who made it in spite of that, who got out, and for all the ones who didn’t and to let them know it’s OK to leave that behind.’
“She really made a case. I thought, OK, because when you’re a young actor, you think, oh yeah, it’ll be so cool to imagine having cancer and what’s it like to be close to death and then your family hates you…I really want to take that all on.
A gorgeous ensemble
“When you’re older and things happen to you, you bleed more easily. It costs more to go into that territory. You just don’t want to…but, I thought, I am going to do that for my friend because it made sense to me. Once I said yes, this cast was assembled. It’s a gorgeous ensemble. Then I thought, what’s it worth risking everything to go to this territory where you will be loathed. But it’s OK because some people’s wounds are so toxic that they cannot help but take it out on everybody else. They can’t stop themselves. Add drugs, illness, depression to it and it’s just….”
Meryl shared her reaction when she first saw the Broadway production of “August” which starred Deanna Dunagan as Violet. “She was wonderful,” Meryl said.
“I saw the play about eight years ago, I think. Three and a half hours flew by. It was so densely packed with action and speaking, you had to catch every word. It was amazing. When they announced that they were going to make a film of this play, I thought, it would be difficult to bring it to a film time. They’d have to take an hour out of it [and] introduce Oklahoma as a character. John Wells did a great job with that.
“Inevitably, things are lost. We all came to the first reading with a copy of the script of the play because we all had our favorite pieces that we wanted to go back to. But it’s not possible so it’s sort of reduced in its scope but it’s complete. John got the story he wanted to tell.”
The film’s centerpiece is a dinner scene, an explosive one full of blistering dialogue. “We didn’t rehearse for a long time but we shot it for a long time, as I recall,” Meryl recalled. “It felt like several circles of hell to shoot. That’s a very heightened dinner but I’ve been at family events where everybody comes pretty well stoked for the encounter with 20 years of resentments. If somebody says one word wrong, ‘I’m going to give it to her.’ That’s the way things sometimes happen at family events when it’s emotional.”
Getting the look
Meryl explained how she helped come up with the look of Violet, who is cancer-stricken. “Women obsess about their hair,” she began. “They’re worried about it from adolescence. In many cultures, it’s something that maybe does define a woman in her own eyes. I hadn’t thought about this.
“With Violet, I did decide early on that mouth cancer, which is a pretty horrible thing and the chemotherapy that she was just going to finish up would have taken her hair. I thought that was important because she was so filled with self-loathing that if she needed another reason to despise what she looked at in the mirror, there it was.
STREEP: One scene, to her, “felt like several circles of hell to shoot.” RUBEN NEPALES
“I thought that her affection for Elizabeth Taylor would lead her to choose a wig that is sort of her idea of Elizabeth Taylor. I tried to choose a wig that was readily available at Kmart so it would just pull on. It was a net thing, similar enough in style to her sister’s hair that I would feel we would resemble each other enough to feel like sisters. I felt that the first time you saw her, you should never forget what the course of her suffering is.”
Meryl admitted that amid the histrionics, Chris Cooper stands out in one scene. “The warm, beating heart of the movie is when Chris Cooper gets with his son and defends him to his mother.”
All HQ photos you can see here.
There are no surprises — just lots of good, old-fashioned scenery chewing – in “August: Osage County,” director John Wells’ splendid film version of playwright Tracy Letts’ acid-tongued Broadway triumph about three generations in a large and highly dysfunctional Oklahoma family. Arriving onscreen shorn of some girth (the stage version ran more than three hours, with two intermissions) but keeping most of its scalding intensity, this two-ton prestige pic won’t win the hearts of highbrow critics or those averse to door-slamming, plate-smashing, top-of-the-lungs histrionics, but as a faithful filmed record of Letts’ play, one could have scarcely hoped for better. With deserved awards heat and a heavy marketing blitz from the Weinstein Co., this Christmas release should click with upscale adult auds who will have just survived their own heated holiday family gatherings.
Onstage, confined to a creaking, cavernous old house that seemed variously a womb, a prison and a sarcophagus for those who passed through it, “August” consciously aligned itself with a particular strain of Great American Plays set in just such environs (including multiple works by Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams). Onscreen, gently opened up to include the big skies and infinite horizons of the real Osage County (where the pic was lensed), it suggests a more barbed, astringent “Terms of Endearment” for the Prozac era, with fewer tears and far more recriminations.
Once again, we are introduced to the Weston clan by way of patriarch Beverly, a melancholic poet (played here by an excellent Sam Shepard, in a role originated by Letts’ own late father, Dennis) who quotes T.S. Eliot’s immortal maxim that “life is very long” just before taking matters into his own hands: first by mysteriously disappearing, then by turning up drowned in a local lake. The ensuing funeral serves as a de facto family reunion, the previously empty house filling to the rafters with Beverly’s three grown daughters, their significant others and assorted relations. All have come to pay their last respects. None will leave without incurring the wrath of the widow Weston, Violet (Meryl Streep), a cancer-stricken, pill-popping martinet whose idol was Liz Taylor and who could be Albee’s Martha a few decades — and many rounds of marital prizefights — on from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
From all points they converge: Barbara (Julia Roberts), the eldest, with her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and moody teen daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) in tow; Karen (Juliette Lewis), the youngest, who shows up on the arm of her supposed fiance (Dermot Mulroney), a sleazy Florida hustler with unsavory business connections; and middle child Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), whose big secret is that she’s sweet on her first cousin “Little” Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) — a secret, it turns out, much bigger than even Ivy knows.
Whatever else one may think of “August,” in Violet, Letts (who adapted “August” for the screen) has created one of the great, showstopping female roles in recent American theater — his Mother Courage, Mama Rose and Mary Tyrone, all rolled into one — and Streep plays it to the hilt, in and out of a black fright wig (to hide the character’s chemo-stricken hair) and oversized sunglasses, cursing like a longshoreman and whittling everyone down to size. Nothing slips by her, she says repeatedly. You’d better believe it. It’s a “big” performance, but it’s just what the part calls for, since Vi is something of an actress herself, craving the attention that comes with turning a solemn family gathering into an occasion for high theater. This may be Beverly’s funeral, but it’s Vi’s chance to shine.
Shine she does, especially during the long funeral dinner at the end of Act Two that is, as it was onstage, Letts’ piece de resistance. Streep is electrifying to watch here, goosing, prodding, meting out punishment and laying family secrets bare, surprisingly gentle one moment, demonic the next. And Roberts, who hasn’t had a big, meaty part like this in years, possesses just the right hardened beauty to play an aging woman let down by life, terrified at the thought of becoming her mother.
Wells, who is best known for having produced such small-screen phenoms as “ER” and “The West Wing,” does an impressive job shooting and cutting among 10 major characters, all of whom get their chance to engage Vi in verbal tango. He isn’t a natural film director per se (his lone previous feature, 2010’s “The Company Men,” was the earnest, corporate-downsizing also-ran to “Up in the Air”), but he understands what “August” needs in order to work onscreen, how to preserve its inherent claustrophobia without rendering it completely stagebound, and the result is far more successful than any more stylized “cinematic” treatment probably would have been. (Overall, Wells’ work here recalls the American Film Theatre series of stage-to-screen adaptations from the 1970s, of which John Frankenheimer’s “The Iceman Cometh” was the major highlight.)
“August” is the third Letts play to reach the screen in a decade, following William Friedkin’s films of “Bug” and “Killer Joe.” And if, on the surface, it appears to be Letts’ straightest piece (void of surveillance implants and fellated chicken legs), just beneath it may be the most violent and perverse. It’s a panorama of unfulfilled lives in which people do the most unforgivable things to the ones they (supposedly) love, mostly in an effort to feel better about themselves. What makes Letts an original aren’t his subjects so much as the foul, logorrheic, yet oddly musical way his characters have of expressing themselves. The people in “August: Osage County” talk the way we wish we could, and sometimes do, when some long-suppressed yearning or accusation wells up inside us — torrents of words batter and bruise only to arrive at some bracing, lucid insight: “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.” Or, “It lives where everything lives, somewhere in the middle.”
If Streep and Roberts have the roman-candle roles here, the entire cast is commendable, with Letts and Wells giving even the most seemingly incidental character (like the fine Native American actress Misty Upham as Vi’s live-in caretaker) a grace note or two. Lewis is a particular hoot as the daughter hanging on to her carefree youth with all fingernails firmly dug in, while Cumberbatch is very touching as the clumsy, unemployed young man whose diminutive name is one of Letts’ few overtly symbolic touches. (Also excellent: Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper as Little Charles’ parents.)
Shooting in widescreen — a practical necessity with this many characters to squeeze into a frame — Adriano Goldman (“Jane Eyre,” “The Company You Keep”) beautifully captures the hazy half-light of a house whose permanently drawn window shades are mentioned in the dialogue. Indeed, it is a place where we can never be sure whether we are traveling a long day’s journey into night, or a long night’s journey into day.
Meryl Streep/Julia Roberts’ August: Osage County, Clooney/Bullock’s Gravity, Jackman/Gyllenhaal’s Prisoners among Toronto Fest entries.
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AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY world premiering at
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The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival announced a portion of its lineup on Tuesday morning, with big films like “August: Osage County,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” “Gravity” and “12 Years A Slave” making the cut. Bill Condon’s “The Fifth Estate,” about WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, will open the prestigious film festival. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Assange, with support from Daniel Bruhl, Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie and Stanley Tucci.
More on the 2013 TIFF lineup can be found here. The Toronto International Film Festival runs from Sept. 5 to Sept. 15. Festival organizers said about one-quarter of the films screening were announced on Tuesday.
An astounding ensemble cast — Meryl Streep, Sam Shepard, Julia Roberts and Juliette Lewis — star in this adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play.