Every family has its issues. That’s especially true for the Westons, the family at the center of August: Osage County, director John Wells’ adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, out Christmas Day (nationwide January 10).
The clan, helmed by malicious matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep), has gathered at its Oklahoma homestead for a funeral, but digging up trouble occupies substantially more time than burying a loved one. Whether it’s the festering anger Barbara (Julia Roberts) has with for mother or the uncouth tastes a sister’s fiancé puts on display, the Westons are never short on deeply troubling issues or drama.
DuJour sat down with Julianne Nicholson, who plays Ivy, a devoted daughter with some of the story’s most shocking secrets, to talk about dysfunctional families, Christmas traditions and Meryl Streep’s unspoken rules.
This movie starts playing Christmas Day, so a lot of people will see it with their families. What do you do on December 25?
Just be with my family. That’s changed a bit because when you’re married, it shifts the dynamic. You have to go see that other family. If there’s divorce there’s also that family. I love now picking out a Christmas tree; when you have little kids you get excited about the holiday in a whole new way.
Hopefully your day will be a bit calmer than a day with the Westons.
It’ll be much, much nicer. Hopefully people can go see the movie on Christmas Day and realize that their family isn’t so bad after all. It’s kind of our gift to the world: see how much worse things could be.
What was it about the role of Ivy that you identified with?
I felt like I understood who Ivy was from the first moment I read the script. Tracy Letts is such an incredible writer. I felt like I got who she was; I love that she’s a watcher. She stayed home and took on responsibility as everyone else fled. But now, in her early 40s, she was going to bravely attempt a change.
Her siblings treat her a bit like a piece of furniture.
Ivy’s sort of a slow burn. In the beginning you feel like she might not have much of an interior life or like there’s not so much going on with her, but you see more and more that she’s a person with dreams and now she’s going to pursue them.
Almost every character in the film has a list of complaints about every other character. After all, they are family. What was the mood like on set with people whose job it was to act exasperated by one another?
Meryl has talked about how hard it is as an actor to live in that place, and I imagine for her it was, playing someone that angry and that sick and unhappy. For me, while my character has unhappy things happen, it was a joy to do. There were some scenes that weren’t light, even after the director yelled cut, but for the most part everyone was so happy to be there.
How did you stay amused off camera?
We all lived in this cul-de-sac, in neighboring houses. It was the craziest block ever to live on and we would see each other all the time. Meryl would host dinners or rehearsals or people for the presidential debates; it was her house where people would have a bite to eat or a drink or just get together to talk. It was what families do, and that was huge in creating our familiarity.
Was it hard to leave?
It was! I finished and there was one more day of filming before everyone could go home. Now I had a family and I missed them, but I stayed that one extra day so I could be there. This movie was so important to me; it felt so huge in my life and career that it was important for me to be there when it wrapped.
Julia Roberts has said it’s a blessing and a curse to work with Meryl because you really need to bring your A Game. Do you agree?
Oh, yeah. Meryl demands the best of everyone in the best way. Because everyone knows how amazing she is, you want to meet her and support her. When she goes home at the end of the day, you don’t want to be the person who she wonders why you’re here. So it was a little scary, but that said, she is the most generous actor I have ever worked with. If you’re present and you listen, though, you’ll be OK.
You’re on Masters of Sex, you made this movie and you’ve got a new series called Red Road coming soon. Where do you find the time?
It’s not easy. I’ve turned into a bit of producer in terms of my life. Whenever I get a new opportunity, it’s not as simple as saying yes or no. There are seven other things that have to happen before any decision can be made. It’s a lot. I also have an eye twitch and I don’t sleep very much. Those are some of the ways I deal with it.
August: Osage County premieres in New York and L.A. on December 25 and nationwide on January 10. Watch the trailer here: