In Nancy Meyers' The Holiday, a romantic comedy from the director of Something's Gotta Give and What Women Want, two women trade homes only to find that a change of address can change their lives.
The initial spark for her new romantic comedy, The Holiday, was ignited a few years ago when screenwriter/director Nancy Meyers was planning a vacation and serendipitously happened upon an internet site that arranges house swapping -- across cities, across countries, across continents. "I had no idea this kind of thing ever existed," she confesses. "On the website, I read about all these fantastic houses. Eventually, I realized I would have to trade mine to get one."
But the idea of house swapping continued to intrigue her. "I thought it would be a wonderful starting point for two women who are both running away from something," says Meyers. "Amanda and Iris are both down in the dumps and realize they must do something about it. Swapping houses becomes the first step in taking their lives back."
Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz) runs a thriving L.A. marketing business, but is less successful when it comes to romance. "Her most recent break-up has caught her totally off-guard," says Diaz. "She decides she has to get away -- and that getting some distance may help her cope better."
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet) has just learned that the man she loves is about to marry someone else. "It's like a colossal smack in the mouth," says the four-time Oscar® nominee. "Iris is vulnerable and naïve when it comes to love and she needs to find a way to get over this man."
Deep down, both women realize that the problem they're facing is larger than just their most recent disappointment. "I think Amanda and Iris are secretly hoping that the change will help them fix something about themselves, help them address issues they've been dealing with for a long time. Leaving their environments helps them do that."
"The Holiday is about leaving your baggage behind and opening your eyes to what's in front of you and what you're really feeling," observes Jude Law, who plays Graham, Iris' brother, in the movie.
"When Amanda meets Graham she is attempting to relax and refocus her life," says Diaz. "And suddenly, she finds herself falling in love, something she truly didn't expect to happen again so quickly."
At Amanda's house in Brentwood, Iris befriends one of her neighbors, Arthur (Eli Wallach), a screenwriter from Hollywood's Golden Era. It is just the kind of friendship she needs at the moment -- someone who is genuinely interested in her. "He's very good company and his stories about his life, as a screenwriter in Hollywood, fascinate Iris," says Winslet.
When Iris hosts a Chanukah party for Arthur and his closest friends (played by Bill Macy and Shelley Berman), "I crash the party," says Jack Black, who plays Miles, a music composer.
Miles is having romantic problems of his own with his girlfriend Maggie, played by Shannyn Sossamon. "Miles is sort of Maggie's lapdog," observes Black. "He's always falling for the heartbreaking hottie. He wants to share his passion for music with her, but she's not really engaged in his world. It's Iris who becomes interested in everything Maggie's been ignoring."
Music becomes the vehicle through which Miles expresses his growing affection for Iris. "He walks up and down the aisles of the video store singing the themes of all his favorite movies to her," says Meyers.
Later, when Iris is at his house, Miles plays a piece of music that he wrote for her, telling Iris that it sounds like her. "That was probably my favorite scene," recalls Black. "I was just sitting at the piano, playing her songs, and we started singing. It was a very romantic idea and a lot of fun."
Meyers usually puts on music when she writes, and she often creates a mood on set by playing the songs she was listening to when she created a particular scene. On The Holiday, she treated the cast and crew to a wide variety of music.
The effect of a piece of music was especially palpable when she was shooting an exterior sequence with Amanda and Graham in a formal garden in the English countryside. "I'm a big Claude Lelouch fan (the French director whose most famous film was 1966's A Man and a Woman with its memorable score by Francis Lai)," says Meyers, "and I shot a '60s style montage with Jude and Cameron. We just improvised all day. It was raining on and off, so as soon as the rain would stop, we'd run out and shoot and then huddle back into the tent until it stopped again. It was a really memorable day."
Indirectly, the effect of music was even felt in the Chanukah party scene in Los Angeles, which Meyers imbued with a realistically celebratory feel. "That was a wild day of shooting," she recalls. "I decided that in addition to doing coverage for each person, I would just run the camera around the table and let the scene play out in live time. It was very freeing for the actors and turned out to be very effective."
In The Holiday, Meyers has fashioned a true ensemble, pairing two of today's most appealing actresses, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, with two equally charismatic leading men, Jude Law and Jack Black, and a strong supporting cast that includes Eli Wallach, Edward Burns, Rufus Sewell and Shannyn Sossamon.
Diaz brings a rich history of comedic and dramatic work to her portrayal of Amanda Woods, with credits ranging from her star-making turn in My Best Friend's Wedding, to There's Something About Mary, Being John Malkovich, Gangs of New York, In Her Shoes and many other successful films over the past decade.
"Cameron is a real comedienne and one of the great rewards of working with her is how much she makes me laugh," says Meyers. "She is great with dialogue and is really adept at physical humor. She sometimes reminded me of Goldie Hawn, whom I love. She has very similar comedic instincts." (Hawn notably starred in one of Meyers' earlier successes Private Benjamin).
For her co-star, Law, working with Diaz was pure delight. "Cameron is like having the sun on set every day," he beams. "She understands the world of this kind of film so well. I learned a great deal just by watching her."
Law and Winslet were new to the genre of romantic comedy. "The way Nancy breaks down the beats of a scene, the timing of a joke or a reveal, is kind of a science," says Law, who has earned Oscar® nominations in the past for his performances in Cold Mountain and The Talented Mr. Ripley. "It's hard work, but she makes it look easy."
Winslet heartily concurs: "Oh yes. The flow and rhythm of Nancy's writing is incredibly precise."
The Holiday marked a welcome change of pace for Winslet, who earned her first Academy Award® nomination for Sense and Sensibility. Her 1997 performance in Titanic made her, at age 22, the youngest actress ever to be twice nominated. She was nominated again for Iris, and then again for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. "I've spent a lot of time in my career wearing corsets," she says, "and am proud to be part of a contemporary comedy playing an English person."
Being asked to be funny was another new experience. "The biggest reward for me on this film was to be in the middle of a scene and hear ten people at the video monitor burst out laughing," she smiles.
But the character of Iris has several facets, all of which Winslet exploited to the fullest. "There were times when Kate brought me to tears," says Meyers. "She can reveal herself in so many ways, and all of them are honest."
To complement her two sterling leading ladies, Meyers took great care in choosing their romantic interests. "I wanted Graham to be complicated, but not in the normal way. Hopefully, his issues are unexpected," she says. "Jude is very right for this part. He is also wonderful with Cameron, and the work he does in this film is quite different from anything I've seen him do before."
The choice of Jack Black to play Miles was more than just a stroke of bold casting on Meyers' part, she admits. "When I saw Jack in School of Rock, I fell in love with him," she says. "I wrote this part for him because I adored him so much from that movie. But I never thought he would say yes because it's a very different role for him - it's a love story."
In truth, Black was surprised when he was approached. "When I first heard that Nancy had written a part with me in mind, I thought, really? Have you heard my band Tenacious D?" he laughs, "because I've got a lot of raunchy humor in my film history. But Nancy said, 'I know what you do and I like it.' So I was like, 'all right, good, let's do it.' I can't believe I actually got paid to stare at Kate Winslet from really close up and watch her kick-ass acting."
Meyers cast Amanda and Iris' ex-boyfriends with similar care, honing in on Edward Burns for Ethan and Rufus Sewell for Jasper. Interestingly, Burns had previously directed and starred opposite Diaz in the romantic comedy She's the One. In The Holiday, their relationship is far less cordial, however, "Cameron gets to punch me twice," Burns laughs. "I guess you have to be in really good shape to do a romantic comedy."
Diaz admits that she was in rare fighting form for her scenes with Burns. "I don't think I've ever had as much fun playing a break-up," she says. "Eddie was perfect as Ethan - dry and deadpan. I didn't want our scene to end. But Ethan deserved to be punched in the face. His actions were beyond questionable. They needed to be called out. And, believe me, I called him out."
Diaz enjoyed the opportunity to work with Law in a change of pace role for him. "We're used to seeing Jude's more dramatic side and, even here, he brings a certain weight to Graham. But he also brings great humor. He is so funny and completely charming."
Though Winslet and Sewell have been friends for a decade, they had never worked together before Meyers cast Sewell as Jasper. Acting opposite his longtime friend was all he had hoped for. "One of the best things about getting to play Jasper is the fact that all my scenes are with Kate," says Sewell. "All you have to do is look at her and you have the scene."
Winslet and Law recently co-starred in the drama All the King's Men, and she was thrilled that he would be playing her brother in The Holiday. "Our relationship is a bit like that anyway," she said. "So it was perfect casting."
One of the plum supporting roles in The Holiday is Arthur, a wise and winsome screenwriter from Hollywood's Golden Age. Everyone Arthur encounters in the film regards him with respect -- and that extended to the actor who played him, an equally seasoned professional with a prolific resume of great films including Tennessee Williams' Baby Doll, Arthur Miller's The Misfits, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and The Magnificent Seven, as well as stage dramas including Williams' "The Rose Tattoo" and "Camino Real." "Eli's autobiography came out about the time that I was casting the movie, and I saw him being interviewed," recalls Meyers. "That was it. He is in many ways exactly the character I wrote. He's had a phenomenal career. He's worked with many of the great legends. He's 90 years old and a true Hollywood person. He understood perfectly the kind of man I was writing about."
"Nancy has given me rich things to do and say in this movie," said Wallach. "In an early scene, Iris says to me, 'If you're not busy, would you like to have dinner with me?' And I say, 'Busy? Honey, I haven't been busy since 1978.' You know how painful it is for an old screenwriter to say that? Nancy put her finger right on the essence of my character. She's devoted to the craft, she's challenging, and she doesn't let you get away with anything."
Besides being ideal casting for the role of Arthur Abbott, Wallach's personal anecdotes, encompassing over six decades of colorful professional experiences, were an inspiration to the cast and crew. Law especially appreciated the legendary actor's generosity when he was preparing for a drunk scene in The Holiday. Wallach shared with him several tips John Huston had given him for playing drunk when they were working together on The Misfits."
Wallach also bonded with Jack Black. "I had a lot of fun with Jack," says Wallach. "We teased one another with our own little endings to scenes, because whenever they'd say 'Cut,' Jack would just keep on talking."
Observing the 90-year-old actor was particularly rewarding for Black, who explains that, "watching Eli reminds you that, to be good at acting, you have to let yourself be a little kid in a way."
In The Holiday, the veteran screenwriter Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach) recalls writing for leading ladies during a period when headstrong heroines were a Hollywood trademark. To school Iris in the ways of these admirable women, he sends her to the video store to rent some classic Hollywood films. After studying actresses like Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, she starts to get the picture.
Winslet and her co-stars recognized a similar classic instinct in their writer and director. "The great dialogue in The Holiday harkens back to an old Tracy/Hepburn film," according to Burns. "The situations may be exaggerated, but you feel like you're seeing real people deal with real issues. Nancy is especially good at finding the humor in that drama."
And like those halcyon-days comedies, Meyers' protagonists revel in the ageless battle of the sexes. "Nancy asked me to watch a lot of Cary Grant movies, because he was a master at enjoying his leading ladies," says Law. "He was able to draw humor and vulnerability from them by being a very solid male presence, but with his own vulnerability."
Even more satisfying, says Law, is the fact that The Holiday embodies all the virtues of those classic films while still being completely contemporary. "Nancy strives for a timeless feeling in a cutting-edge, modern film," he added. "There's no hiding the fact that we're making it today."
SHOOTING THE HOLIDAY
Production on The Holiday began in Los Angeles, then moved to England for a month before completing filming back in L.A. The California portion of the film is green and lush. In contrast, the English exteriors are very white - cold winter weather with snow and bare trees. The interiors, however, are the exact opposite. Iris' cottage is warm with color, while Amanda's house is sleek and modern - darks and lights without many colors in between.
Both Iris and Amanda are taken aback by their new surroundings. Amanda's Brentwood home conveys confidence with a stylish and contemporary decor, which immediately lifts Iris' low spirits. Iris lives on a much smaller scale in Shere, a quaint village in the English countryside that dates back to the 11th century.
Principal photography began on a quiet street of graceful homes in the Brentwood area on the Westside of Los Angeles. Real Santa Ana winds gave Meyers and her team a winter day as balmy as the one she had conjured up for her story. Nearby front lawns still displayed Santas, elves and reindeer, reminding anyone who might have forgotten that it really was January in Southern California.
Although Amanda's home is supposed to be in Brentwood, the exterior of the gated property the production used for the film is actually in San Marino, an exclusive suburb adjacent to Pasadena. Visionary Southern California architect Wallace Neff, whose commissions included Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks' legendary Pickfair mansion in Beverly Hills, built the Mission Revival house for his own family in 1928. The interiors of Amanda's house were filmed at Sony Studios in Culver City. "We wanted to make it look like a young woman in her 30s lived here, so we built a very updated interior onstage," relates production designer Jon Hutman.
Hutman and U.K. locations manager Benjamin Greenacre searched long and hard for Iris' cottage. "We came upon Shere in Surrey (which is in the south of England) almost by chance," says Hutman. "Once we found the perfect site, production began just up the hill from St. James Church and down the road from the 16th century White Horse Tavern." The cottage interior was then built at Sony Studios in Culver City.
"It's quite a mad feeling to have just taken over this town - covering it in snow and Christmas decorations, stretching garlands across roads and placing lights in trees," says Greenacre. "We became a huge tourist attraction. They were very generous with us - even when we had to close the local pub for a couple days."
The production also filmed on a medieval street less than an hour away in Godalming, the first town in the world to give its citizens electric streetlights. The Holiday brought Christmas lights to Godalming's Church Street. "Combining the square in Shere with Godalming's Church Street made for the perfect village," Hutman says.
Other Los Angeles locations included Arthur Abbott's house, which is in Brentwood and reflected the glamour of old Hollywood, according to Hutman. Miles' house was designed by Richard Neutra, the Vienna-born master of Southern California modernism and is situated on Neutra Place in L.A.'s Silverlake area, near downtown.
The majestic dining room where Amanda and Graham linger over lunch on a gloomy English afternoon was actually the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, though the exteriors for this montage sequence were filmed in England at the Georgian country house, Cornwell Manor. For Meyers, that montage was actually enhanced by the damp winter weather. "Lelouch said that A Man and a Woman had to take place in winter because it's the lovers who provide the warmth," she says, "and that is one of the reasons I wanted to set The Holiday in winter. Of course, I didn't realize that to make the movie, I would have to wear two coats, two pairs of paints and two hats for an entire month."
But director of photography Dean Cundey took it all in stride. "The English crews have a great sense of humor when you're struggling with weather," he says. "It's part of what we do in the film business. With authentic locations and environments, it is always a compromise between ease of working and what really is most interesting and best for the picture."
DRESSING THE HOLIDAY
Meyers has always savored the process of building character through costume. "The fittings are a great time to talk about character with the actor," she observes. "As you go through each scene and put on the clothes, you get to discuss what the scene is about. Through that give and take you start to build your collaboration and the movie begins to take shape. I remember the first costume fitting with Jack Nicholson on Something's Gotta Give took six hours and he only tried on one pair of pants."
Costume designer Marlene Stewart had long admired the director's commitment to what her characters wear. "Nancy uses clothes to tell the story, and the attention she gives the costumes shows on the screen," says Stewart. "Her films have a classic feeling that gives them visual staying power."
Stewart found an excellent collaborator in Diaz. "Cameron loves to experiment with clothes and try a lot of things on," says Stewart. "Her character typifies the confident working woman of today, so her look is feminine, self-assured, sexy. Clothing in contemporary movies set in L.A. can be very youth-oriented, but we went with a more classic feeling. We used quite a few fabulous pieces - Dior, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Narciso Rodriguez and Dolce & Gabbana."
The simplest character to dress was Ethan, played by Edward Burns, who spends most of his screen time in a pair of blue boxers and a t-shirt. "It was role reversal at its best," laughs Stewart. "The guy was in his underwear instead of the girl."
NANCY MEYERS (Director, Writer, Producer) spent two decades writing and producing hit films before making her directing debut in 1998 with a witty update of a classic comedy The Parent Trap, starring Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson and Lindsay Lohan in her first feature film.. For her second outing as a director, the romantic comedy What Women Want, Meyers told the story of a man who could hear the inner thoughts of women. Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt starred as professional rivals who become lovers in the worldwide critical and box office hit.
Meyers next wrote and directed 2003's Something's Gotta Give, a sophisticated comedy about unexpected love starring Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton and Keanu Reeves. Keaton earned an Oscar® and SAG nomination, and won the Golden Globe Award and the National Board of Review award for her work, while Nicholson was honored with a Golden Globe nomination.
Meyers' first credit as co-writer and producer was Private Benjamin, the groundbreaking comedy starring Goldie Hawn as a privileged young widow who impulsively joins the Army. Meyers received an Academy Award® nomination as well as the Writers Guild Award for best original screenplay. The movie was a huge box office hit and Hawn received an Oscar® nomination for Best Actress, while Eileen Brennan was nominated as Best Supporting Actress.
Meyers then co-wrote and produced the critically acclaimed Irreconcilable Differences, a cautionary tale about a family damaged by success. The 1984 film starred Ryan O'Neal, Shelley Long and eight-year-old Drew Barrymore. Next came the 1987 romantic comedy Baby Boom, which Meyers also co-wrote and produced. Baby Boom was her first collaboration with Diane Keaton, who starred as a management consultant with a latent maternal side.
In 1991, Meyers and Keaton were reunited for Father of the Bride, with Meyers again a co-writer and producer. Keaton starred opposite Steve Martin in this remake of the 1950 comedy. A box office hit, Father of the Bride spawned a 1995 sequel, which also starred Martin and Keaton.
A Pennsylvania native, Meyers settled in Los Angeles after graduating from American University in Washington, D.C. She is also the mother of two daughters.
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