LOS ANGELES – Juliette Lewis said she was “in tears” just thinking of doing a scene with Meryl Streep for ‘August: Osage County’.
Abigail Breslin is “Little Miss Sunshine” no more; she has grown into a voluptuous young woman.
Juliette, Abigail and many more stars livened up InStyle magazine and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual party last Monday that celebrated the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
In one corner of the posh Windsor Arms courtyard ablaze with red orchids and candles, Juliette told us that a pivotal dinner scene in director John Wells’ adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner (Tracy also wrote the screenplay) took four days to shoot. Juliette, who plays one of the daughters in the Weston family of strong-willed women, remarked that she was very honored to be acting with the formidable Ms Streep.
Imagine a dinner scene presided over by the family matriarch, a sneering, pill-popping Meryl (in a tour de force performance), and with such actors as Juliette, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney and Julianne Nicholson. Julia, as the eldest daughter, holds her own against Meryl. Chris also stands out, especially in a scene where he rebukes his wife, Margo (also fine as Meryl’s sister). Sam Shepard is memorable in a cameo as the patriarch as well as Misty Upham as the new maid.
But the film itself is “stagy” and only occasionally comes to cinematic life. The film’s ending, different from the stage version, also left some critics grumbling.
First day of shooting on Into The Woods today! Feel incredibly lucky to be part of it! Here we go…!
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Toronto: The movie adaptation of “August: Osage County” received a rare 10 minute standing ovation last night at Roy Thomson Hall. The film of Tracey Letts’ Pulitzer Prize winning play stars Meryl Streep as Violet, matriarch a volatile Oklahoma family. The ovation was like something from the Cannes film festival, not usually seen in restrained Canada, and was very disarming for everyone in the cast who was in attendance including Julia Roberts
I know, every time Streep is in a movie people say “Oscar.” But the three time Oscar winner weaves some kind of magic in this movie. You can see it from the moment she appears in half light, looking haggard with spiky short hair to when she pulls on a full, dark wig to play Violet, the pill popping cancer patient with loads of secrets. And yes, this is a comedy and a drama.
Streep was not at last night’s premiere because she starts filming “Into the Woods” this week and has a bad enough cold that she couldn’t travel up from New York with setting back that production. But her name was heard everywhere as the credits rolled and the lights went up.
Most of the large, talented cast was there however: Ewan McGregor, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, and Abigail Breslin among them. And when they got to their party at Soho House–the only party of any interest last night in Toronto– pop star Taylor Swift arrived and joined them. That caused mayhem as you can imagine, when Swift and Roberts posed for pictures together with Harvey Weinstein.
“August: Osage County” was a bit of a surprise for many reasons last night. There had been a lot of talk that the film adaptation hadn’t worked out. That may have come from a teaser trailer that made the film look like a Southern comedy played for yucks. There was also a lot of discussion about how to handle Oscar positioning with Streep and Roberts. Who would be considered lead or supporting?
But once John Wells’s movie unfurled, all became clear. Streep is the star, the quarterback. In one scene taken from the play she sits at the head of a dining room table with this cast all around her. She literally throws “touchdown passes” to each cast member, landing jokes and barbs as they run to the end zone. It’s sort of mesmerizing because she never flags or tires or misses. It’s like watching an acting master class. It’s breathtaking.
So yes, Meryl Streep jumps onto the Best Actress list with Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench and Sandra Bullock. “AOC” becomes an extremely serious contender for Best Picture. It will almost certainly win Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards. Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper will be up for all the supporting awards. Cooper almost steals the show with a scene right out of Letts’s play at the dinner table. Roberts gives her most soulful performance yet, and comes across with a humanity–as one of Violet’s three daughters–that gives the movie anchor while Streep storms on like a hurricane.
PS Kudos also to Margo Martindale, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sam Shepard, who also make this movie an absolute pleasure.
[Warning: This post contains plot spoilers about the upcoming movie “August: Osage County.” While we don’t think they’ll ruin the experience, you might be mad anyway. Please read at your own risk.]
TORONTO — If you saw Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning black comedy “August: Osage County” on the stage in any of the numerous cities it played a few years back, chances are you were struck by one scene above all else. The final one, that is, in which matriarch Violet Weston is seen sitting on the stairs of the house she once ruled, abandoned by her adult daughters, especially eldest daughter Barbara, who don’t/can’t/won’t stay and take care of a woman who, let’s face it, has made her and her sisters’ lives pretty miserable.
For those who saw the John Wells-directed (and Letts-scripted) movie at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, a different ending awaited.Violet, played by Meryl Streep, is indeed shown toward the end of the action in the house she once ruled, calling for the Native American nurse who serves as the sort of eyes and ears of the audience. But the film doesn’t end with the play’s iconic image of Violet on the stairs. Instead, in the following scene, Barbara, played by Julia Roberts, can be seen driving away, conveying in a rather different way she’s leaving her mother and shifting the focus to the younger character.
It’s impossible not to notice the difference, and filmgoers exiting the premiere were buzzing/arguing/complaining about the movie’s final scene.
But here’s the thing: It might not be the movie’s final scene.
Wells and Letts are still in a push-pull with producers and Weinstein Co. executives over whether the movie should end in the current manner, as many in the latter camp want, or with a shot of Violet in the manner of the play, as Letts and Wells have long learned toward.
In fact, in his first cut Wells left the ending as it was on the stage — with the shot of Violet on the stairs. But when the film was screened for early audiences they didn’t approve.
“We tested it over and over again and people rebelled in the theater,” Wells said in an interview Tuesday. “They were terrified about what happened to Barbara.”
Keeping it the way it was in the play, he said, was just too alienating to the people the film needed to appeal to.
“They felt like we were hitting them on the head with a hammer. I heard it over and over again — to the point that it was ‘Let’s see what happens if we put Violet on the steps and then cut to Barbara.”
That went over better, with audiences now saying they had more closure with the daughter character. And so, in went the final ending for Toronto.
But that result — though blessed by Weinstein — isn’t something Wells is convinced of. And he may yet triumph in his bid to revert to the other ending.
“I’m not sure I’m OK with doing it that way,” he said. “I don’t want to say there’s anything wrong with the current ending, because there isn’t. But it’s something we’re still talking about. We don’t open for three months, and it’s possible you’ll see something different.”
A Weinstein Co. spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
In an interview alongside Wells, Letts agreed but struck a somewhat more ambivalent note. He said he felt there was something stark and powerful about ending with Violet on the stairs — that’s how he wrote it for the stage, after all — but he also said that closing with a Barbara drive scene was OK if it clarified the matter for viewers.
“A little ambiguity is not a bad thing,” he said. “But we don’t want audience confusion, where it’s suddenly ‘I don’t know where the ball is.’ So this is what we’re trying to figure out.”
Why audiences were OK with a Violet-centric ending on the stage but not the screen remains an open question. Letts wryly suggested that it’s because the play didn’t afford the option; he couldn’t very well show Barbara offstage in a prop car that she pretend-drove.
Whatever the reason, there’s more at stake than just the plot point, though the idea of focusing on Barbara’s leaving instead of Violet’s solitude has some implications in its own right. There’s something of a fundamental question about the ending: How much freedom should creators have in adapting a work as they see fit. It’s a question that transcends this piece and, indeed, stage-to-screen adaptations generally. Should those putting a new spin on a popular entertainment brand be given wide latitude to make the choices they want to make? It’s been a question turning up a lot lately, from the Ben Affleck’s Batman casting to – why not? – Miley Cyrus twerking her image.
The “August” ending also raises a curious wrinkle in the world of filmmaking. As Wells noted, not that long ago, when film was still presented on film, once a cut was locked it was locked. It cost a hundred or two hundred grand to change it, which allowed little last-minute dithering over an ending. But like so many other things that have gone digital, from Web journalism to cable news coverage, a finished story is never really finished
At the close of the “August: Osage County” movie, Meryl Streep is, symbolically speaking, standing alone. Does Julia drive? The Weinsteins and its director are, for all the film-festival chatter, still hashing it out.
Legendary movie mogul Harvey Weinstein sat down for a lively, career-spanning discussion at the Toronto Film Festival hosted by Credit Suisse and The Daily Beast. From the tumultuous history of ‘Gangs of New York’ to Meryl Streep’s unique preparation methods for ‘August: Osage County,’ here are the best bits.
A modish mélange of A-list stars, film executives, and journalists gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto on Tuesday night to honor the man, the myth, the legend: Harvey Weinstein. Nicknamed “The Punisher” by none other than Meryl Streep, the bullish movie mogul’s name has become synonymous with Oscar—he has racked up 321 nominations and 78 wins, including two out of the last three Academy Award winners for Best Picture.
Weinstein, former head of Miramax and now The Weinstein Co., carried a whopping seven films into this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, including Stephen Frears’s Philomena, the Nelson Mandela biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the ensemble dramedy August: Osage County, starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, and more. And Weinstein is no stranger to TIFF, having used it as an awards launching pad for several of his Oscar-winning hits, including The King’s Speech.
On making August: Osage County:
The process of August: Osage County is an interesting one. About five or six years ago, a young guy who works for me named Ben Famiglietti walked into my office and said, “I just read an amazing play.” I said, “Let me read it.” And he dropped off a 190-page script, and I said, “This is crazy.” And then I started reading it and it was the most incredible dialogue I’d read in a long time, up there with Tennessee Williams. These people were desperate for money, and I think it was $500,000 or something… I wrote the check [for the rights]. The play went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and was a financial success at the box office, and they kept their word and Jean [Doumanian] sold us the rights to make it a movie. George Clooney was our biggest competitor, so I thought it was only fair that George produce the movie with Jean.
On working with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts on August: Osage County:
Off-set, the cast loved each other. Meryl’s process is one of the most interesting ones. In order to do this role correctly, she was at Costco at two o’clock in the morning shopping like a homeless person. She becomes the role. She lives it. She is it. This is my sixth movie with her, and we’re about to do a seventh, and an eighth. And [Julia Roberts] loved it. It’s her favorite role, and she’s spectacularly good in the film. I’ve known her 20 years, and she was actually giddy last night. She and Taylor Swift went into the SoHo House and they went to the photo booth and they were just hugging all night with each other, with their tongues sticking out. Taylor Swift, I think, was shocked that Julia Roberts knew who she was, and Julia Roberts had the same reaction.
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In some cosmic switcheroo, Taylor Swift may just have been the perfect megawatt replacement for Meryl Streep last night at Grey Goose Soho House. Streep had been the most anticipated guest of TIFF 2013 in connection with her latest sure-to-be Oscar nominated leading role in August: Osage County, but bowed out at the last minute due to illness. There were tears for many, especially one pint sized fan who wore a “Meryl in training” T-shirt to the film’s screening at Roy Thompson Hall earlier that evening. Not for the film’s cast and Gucci and Holt Renfrew’s hosted after-party guests however—they all seemed thrilled by the surprise appearance by Swift, who showed up in a wowza Calvin Klein Collection number after walking the red carpet of One Chance. Flanked by Harvey Weinstein and a dapper Brenton Thwaites who I’m sure will be the talk of the blogs all day long (he’s about to be a Disney prince!), Swift held court on the second floor for most of the night, that is, while she wasn’t busy hanging with the film’s star studded cast, aka. the fixtures of the rip-roarious festivities.
Julia Roberts, breathtaking in raspberry Dolce & Gabbana, chatted animatedly with co-stars Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Julianne Nicholson and Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding 2.0!) for most of the evening. Her million dollar smile and signature cackle were as omnipresent as you’d, or say a little gal watching Pretty Woman on repeat a million times, imagine. Everyone was hugging. Everyone was so huggy! Nearby, Chris Cooper, whose performance instigated applause multiple times throughout the screening, ate dinner with wife Marianne Leone.
The cast seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves, spending hours in and around the club. I even found Roberts, McGregor, Mulroney and Swift making use of Soho House’s photo-booth, conveniently located beside the women’s bathroom. “It’s a good look, you should keep it,” said Mulroney to Swift as I meekly shuffled by. (I had to touch her back. It was soft. And awkward.)
Later that night, the party got even wilder as more celebs packed in. Juliette Lewis, who swapped into a white off-the-shoulder cocktail dress after the premiere, toasted with friends on the newly opened rooftop as the familial-y blessed Jack Huston and the familial-y famous Jason Bateman hung out at tables nearby. Back on the club floor, we were thrilled to see that IRL, Mad Men’s Lane Pryce aka. Jared Harris, was very much alive. Felicity Jones was there too, cause why the heck not.
And because that wasn’t all, I witnessed Ralph Fiennes showing off his moves to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” as an impromptu dance party broke out on the main floor. Devil may care? More like wizard can dance, am I right?