For Meryl Streep, taking on the role of Violet Weston in the Weinstein co. film adaptation of “August: Osage County” was daunting because she knew how exhausting it would be to play the character’s gamut of emotional and physical problems.
“It was hard but extremely satisfying,” Streep told the crowd who gathered Monday night at the AMC Loews Theater Lincoln Square for a screening and Q&A sesh with key actors, writer Tracy Letts, director John Wells and producer Jean Doumanian.
As actors, Streep said, “this is what we really love. You’re dragged kicking and screaming into the house of pain, but you just really love being there, honestly.”
Thesps praised the beauty of the language provided by Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play (“It was very terrifying. I did not want to mess up my lines,” Abigail Breslin admitted) and the rehearsal-heavy approach taken by Wells as a director. “Osage County” revolves around a large family coming together in Oklahoma at the home of Streep’s domineering mother after the death of the patriarch.
Wells made sure members of the large company spent plenty of downtime together during the shooting in order to “observe each other, and be open to each other,” Julianne Nicholson said. “It was really a luxury to get a rehearsal period on this film,” added Juliette Lewis, because of the need to be believable as family members.
Margo Martindale noted that the Oklahoma landscape where the pic lensed became an important inspiration for her, as was the sprawling family home that was the primary set. “We all lived in townhouses connected to each other close by,” Martindale said. “We became a real family.”
Chris Cooper struck an emotional note during the panel, moderated by Los Angeles Times film scribe John Horn, by discussing how the real-life death of his 17-year-old son in 2005 influenced his portrayal of a father motivated to defend his son. But first he went through a process of giving himself permission to draw on his pain.
“In the film, here’s a boy who is a mystery to me and the father has this unconditional love for his son,” Cooper said. “I thought that enough time had passed. I’m allowed to incorporate this now.”
One of the trickiest parts of trimming down the play that ran more than three hours on stage was maintaining enough of the humorous moments to keep “Osage County” from becoming unrelentingly grim, Wells and Letts agreed.
“We spent a lot of time trying to get the rhythm of the jokes right,” Wells said. “When people started to laugh (at screenings) it was a great relief.”