December 8, 2013 Sections
The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
TORONTO - Few people might have looked at the hulking, stoic late actor James Gandolfini and petite, endlessly expressive comic actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a natural romantic fit.
Writer-director Nicole Holofcener did — or at least, she had a hunch that was confirmed early on in the process of making her winning, quietly observed romantic dramedy "Enough Said."
"I felt like they'd have good chemistry and I felt like I could believe that she could go for him, and if I could believe it, I felt like other people could believe it," the 51-year-old said in an interview during the recent Toronto International Film Festival, where the film bowed to acclaim.
"You never know, but they came to my house the first time, and they hit it off. There was even a nervous sexual tension there. So I was really happy."
Emotions were more bittersweet as the film, which opens in select Canadian theatres on Friday, screened for audiences and sterling reviews began rolling in.
"Enough Said" casts Louis-Dreyfus as Eva, a massage-therapist divorcee treating the impending departure of her only daughter for college with barely concealed anxiety. Helping to alleviate her empty-nest trepidation are two new relationships she forms early in the film: one, a tentative romantic dalliance with Gandolfini's sweetly earnest TV archivist; the other a friendship with a beautiful, self-possessed poet named Marianne (Catherine Keener).
The twist? Her new acquaintances are bitterly divorced, and Eva carries on getting to know both of them without ever mentioning her familiarity with the other. Along the way, she absorbs so many of Marianne's poison-tongued rants about her ex, Eva finds that her own opinion of the blossoming romance begins to sour.
As Albert, Gandolfini displays a tender sensitivity and self-deprecating wit he rarely featured during his career-making turn in the lead role on "The Sopranos." It's a moving performance made only more moving by the sad reality that it will stand as one of Gandolfini's last screen appearances following his June death of a heart attack.
"(It's) so frigging sad," said Toni Collette, who portrays Eva's semi-happily married best friend. "I'm so honoured and thankful that I got the opportunity to not only work with him, just to meet him. He's so lovely, so sweet and generous, and cheeky, and good at what he did.
"He's beautiful in the movie. It's very bittersweet now, I guess."
Collette adds that Gandolfini "felt a bit uncomfortable playing a romantic lead."
Holofcener agreed, but said he never let vanity get in the way of his performance.
"He was very willing to look foolish, on camera and off, which I love — which made him a terrific actor, I think," said Holofcener, adding that he was "really charming and flirtatious in a sweet way."
"He has a clown side to him, for sure."
Louis-Dreyfus's "clown" side, meanwhile, is well-established, given the four-time Emmy winner's iconic comic turns on "Seinfeld" and, more recently, "Veep."
She had the tricky job of playing a character that was very much based on Holofcener, who concedes she has both worried about life without her teenaged kids and also spent time pondering how both she and her ex-husband portray each other when discussing their relationship now.
"I really pictured myself in the part sometimes," Holofcener said, noting that many of the character's quirks came from her. "I do knit. I can't keep candy in the house (without eating it). None of this stuff happened to me, but she's definitely portraying a side of me.
"Sometimes I feel like she's walking like me and responding like me, which is really weird, because I know for a fact Julia did not try to mimic me. But I guess it happens if you're taking on someone's cadence and their words, it's inevitable."
Holofcener knew of course that Louis-Dreyfus had the comic chops to effortlessly generate laughs in the film, but she admitted that the 52-year-old actress's deep dramatic range took her by surprise.
"I wasn't certain it would be there until I met her," she said. "I'd been a fan for years and years, and I didn't know if I could get past Elaine. Especially sometimes she does kind of Elaine things, and anytime she did, I would cut them out.
"They're just Julia things, really — her ability to cry so beautifully and not be over the top, but really heartfelt and very genuine," she added. "I'm just thrilled with the amount of emotion, all over her face, all the time."
Holofcener pauses before paying Louis-Dreyfus a big, if difficult to parse, compliment.
"She's not actressy in any way," she says. "She's one of the least actressy actresses I've ever worked with. And that's really appealing to me.... She's very straightforward. She doesn't seem like an actor when you meet her. She seems like just a person."
With files from Canadian Press reporter Andrea Baillie.