Director Nicole Holofcener

Nicole Holofcener

After gaining some fundamental
experience through stints with such notable moviemakers as Woody
Allen, as an apprentice editor on Hannah and Her Sisters (1986),
writer-director Nicole Holofcener next garnered attention with her
short film, Angry (1991). Though that film did not immediately
pave the way to success, she was lucky enough to get to direct her
first foray into feature writing, Walking and Talking (1996).
Today, Holofcener continues to carve a signature niche with compelling
ensembles of complex characters. Her latest film, Lovely &
, a dysfunctional family story that is at once entertaining
and poignantly human, opens in theaters on June 24, 2002.

MM caught up with Holofcener
before the film’s screening at the first annual Tribeca Film Festival
in New York to discuss the making of the film and her growth between

Rachel Gordon (MM): Lovely
& Amazing tackles some hot issues like fidelity, race and
body image. Why those topics in particular?

Nicole Holofcener (NH): It
wasn’t a conscious decision. I sat down to write and these
were the things that were foremost in my mind. It was an
intuitive choice. I had a few themes in mind, like an actress who
thinks she’s fat. I knew I wanted to write about the three
sisters; I knew I wanted the youngest daughter to be fat. It’s what
was important to me at the time.

MM: Yet moviemakers
often tend to purposefully reach for those glaring subjects.

NH: A lot of people will
ask what I’m trying to say with this or that, but I’m not trying
to say anything. I can tell you what I think that character
is going through, but I think I’m raising questions, not answering
them. We’re certainly a weight-obsessed culture. I’m
not saying anything new.

MM: Was there a personal
issue that inspired the story?

NH: I’m one of those skinny
girls who always thought she was fat. Me and my friends,
since our 20s, with that extra five pounds, were always ‘How does
my ass look?’ ‘Do I look fat?’ I’ve never been fat,
except when I was pregnant, and that’s okay. But like everyone
else, I’m obsessed. I’m one of those people who buys Vogue magazine, closes it, feels like killing themselves and then buys
it next month.

MM: Do you literally
just sit down and write?

NH: Yes, the first draft
at least. Walking and Talking was more trouble throughout. It never really fell into place as well as this one did for
me. That’s not how I write if I’m being paid to write, but
if I have the freedom to make what I want, it’s different. I
jot notes and let the characters talk. I’m not channeling
some greater writing god; I type in what’s fun, what that
character would do. I know the characters really well, and
if I don’t, it shows. Once I write that way, I rewrite a
lot because it’s usually a mess.

MM: You don’t think Walking and Talking held together as well?

NH: I was rewriting on
the set. We would rehearse the scene and the scene wasn’t
interesting, or one of the actors was having a problem with it. We’d be shooting a scene and realize it was kind of like the
scene we did the day before.

MM: The character of
Annie (Raven Goodwin), the youngest daughter in
Lovely &
Amazing, combines rebellion and premature wisdom, which is challenging
for a young actor. What kind of direction was involved with

NH: She had personality,
was precocious, confident and smart. She was only eight. I’m not sure how much she understood, but certainly enough. For periods of time she could just be present and respond. Sometimes when she was trying to be an "actress" she
would digress and act artificially. I encouraged her to be
herself. I wouldn’t say that to an adult actor because they
probably would smack you with "why did you hire me?" But to a little kid, you don’t have to do much.

MM: Did working with
younger actors affect production in any way?

NH: The scenes in the
public pool were the worst days of my life. Children screaming,
splashing water everywhere. Then there was the other young
overweight girl who had a scene. I felt guilty making these
overweight girls acknowledge each other’s weight. And people
are so careless. They put "Fat Girl" on the trailer
dressing room because that’s what it said in the script. But
I saw that and made them get rid of it.

MM: You use a limited
amount of close-ups, and when you do focus on a single character,
it is often in the context of placing them in a larger environment. How does that work with camera placement?

NH: We wanted to remain
at a certain distance from the characters, and then as the movie
progressed, get closer and intimate. That was something we
consciously reminded ourselves of when shooting. I wanted
shots of people off in a space. I wanted the boyfriends and
husbands to pass in and out of frame, because the shot is about
the sister and those men are on the periphery.

MM: About boyfriends
on the periphery: In both your movies, there’s an objectivity
to your character’s relationships, where you can’t really place
blame on anybody. How much do you think about that when you’re

NH: It is on my mind. It’s more truthful and interesting when people are flawed. When Elizabeth is complaining about her appearance and her boyfriend finds it boring, well, it is boring. I also think her boyfriend
isn’t right for her–that she could benefit from someone who is
more patient and supportive. So she is boring, but
that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve love and affection. And
maybe her boyfriend is a little cold, but he’s tired of hearing
this. To me, that’s more interesting. Maybe some men
will see this and think I’m giving them a bad rap, but I think these
characters are whole. It’s just that the story isn’t about them
so we don’t have to get to know them as well.

MM: Do you ever receive
negative feedback from women for creating female characters that
make mistakes?

NH: Not really. These
women at a Telluride screening didn’t really get the movie. They
were angry because Elizabeth was so skinny, thinking "how can
she put such a skinny woman in a role that’s obsessed about her
weight?" They didn’t get that that was the point.