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Nicole Holofcener on Working With Netflix and Why She Wants to Make a Thriller

Nicole Holofcener is a master at making audiences care about people who are behaving badly. Anders Hill, the protagonist of Holofcener’s latest film, “The Land of Steady Habits,” does unforgivable things. He leaves his family, quits his job, falls behind in the mortgage payments, and, most deplorably, mentors a drug addicted teenager in unorthodox ways that help lead to tragic results. Yet because Holofcener is such a humanist as a writer and a director and because the film’s star Ben Mendelsohn plays Anders so deftly, you still care what happens to him. You even kind of like him. The film begins streaming on Netflix on Sept. 14.

“The Land of Steady Habits” premieres at this year’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival, where Holofcener is also represented by “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” a Melissa McCarthy dramedy that she helped script.  Holofcener, whose previous credits include “Enough Said” and “Lovely & Amazing,” spoke with Variety about working with the streaming service, being choosey about the movies she makes and why she’d love to direct a thriller.

Why did you want to adapt “The Land of Steady Habits”?

I’m a parent who has sons. I worry about them. There’s always the worry about drugs and their ability to launch themselves into the world. I’m divorced. The humanity of the story I related to. I’m not like Ben Mendelsohn’s character — I’m not angry and lost and confused — but I felt for him.

Frances McDormand was recently asked about working with you by the New Yorker. She said, “She’s not great on plot, but nobody can touch her on character and dialogue.” Do you agree with that?

I’m not. It’s not what inspires me to start writing a movie. I need an idea, but that’s not a traditionally structured one. There are no hijinks, really.

You are not a prolific filmmaker. You’ve made six feature films in total. Are the gaps in your resume because it’s difficult to find funding? Do you just need to find the perfect idea before you take on another project?

Kind of all of it. I don’t have a lot of ideas just sitting in my drawer. I need to wait until something inspires me or speaks to me. As a parent, I’m also very involved with my kids’ lives. I’m picky. I get sent scripts and I wish I could be making more movies, but somehow time just goes by.

You make movies that don’t necessarily fit into any one genre. There aren’t a lot of special effects and there aren’t any superheroes in them. Do you struggle to set up movies at studios?

It’s never been easy. I like to work with the actors that I want to work with, and I don’t cast based on bankability.

“The Land of Steady Habits” is being released on Netflix. Were you disappointed that it won’t have a wide theatrical release?

Not really. Netflix let me cast whoever I wanted and I had an OK enough budget. There’s no reason to believe this would be a big hit in theaters. It’s a small, dark movie. I think this may be the right place for it, because there’s so much competition right now in movie theaters.

Studies show that studios disproportionately back movies from white male directors. Recently, there’s been a lot of attention paid to this disparity. Is that push leading to change?

I don’t know the statistics, but it feels like it’s getting better. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to have this career, and I do feel that I came up at the right time, in the ’90s when there was an audience for smaller movies like the kind I make. The movies have gotten bigger and the theaters have become more scared of releasing different kinds of films. But with all the streaming networks and all the movement towards diversity in all areas of the world, I feel like it has to and will change.

Are there any types of movies you’d like to make?

I would love to make a broad comedy — a really silly, broad comedy. I’d also like to do a thriller, but not the bloody kind. I’m open to anything. I just don’t want to shoot a movie about a rodeo or get in cold water. Other than that I’ll do anything.

VARIETY PORTRAIT STUDIO AT TIFF

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