A Book Club Tackles Fifty Shades of Grey
Cast: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson
Director: Bill Holderman
Running Time: 104 minutes
Synopsis: Four lifelong friends have their lives turned upside down to hilarious ends when their book club tackles the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey.
Diane (Diane Keaton) is recently widowed after 40 years of marriage. Vivian (Jane Fonda) enjoys her men with no strings attached. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is still working through a decades- old divorce. Carol's (Mary Steenburgen) marriage is in a slump after 35 years.
From discovering new romance to rekindling old flames, they inspire each other to make their next chapter the best chapter.
Release Date: August 23rd, 2018
About The Production
Best Chapter: Third Act
"In society, in Hollywood, there's a tremendous amount of ageism, a belief that at a certain point your relevance is over. Forget society. It you believe there's another chapter the only obstacle to overcome is your own thought."
- Director /Co-Writer /Producer Bill Holderman
Well, that and life pre-Christian Grey. At least that is what Holderman's all-star comedy taps as it wraps the camaraderie of friendship around a sisterhood challenge to society's ageist attitude – lust for life and love for that matter has an end date.
Book Club is a definitive choice for Holderman's directorial debut. A film about women in their 60s breaking both self-imposed and relational barriers – carried by a cast of Oscar winning legends - is an atypical choice for a younger male director who co-wrote and co-produced it as well. Even better, he co-wrote and co-produced it with his friend and colleague Erin Simms, an intrepid female filmmaker, who like the narrative's characters, is emboldened to break any "no." It's a debut for Simms too – the first film she wrote and produced.
"It was weird," says Holderman. "I think the decision (to direct) came because I didn't want to have someone else do it. It wasn't 'I have to do it because I have always had this dream to direct.' I wasn't one of those eight-year-olds who was running around with a camcorder – 'I wanna be a filmmaker!'' Yeah, no, I wasn't that kid. It was more like, 'if this is gonna fail, I want it to be my failing and I want those decisions to be mine. I think I was frustrated having those extra layers in projects before, where if I have an idea or vision for something I don't have the ability to execute on it because it's someone else's movie. On this one, there was just no one else I wanted to do it with. So…Default."
There's a little more to it than that.
Simms says one has to go back to the very beginning: "Bill and I worked together for a bunch of years for Robert Redford at his production company. I was doing development and Bill was a producer running the company. Then E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy came out. So Bill decides to send his mother the trilogy for Mother's Day, which I thought was completely insane. How could he have that kind of relationship with his mother where…where sex is even a topic?! That's just wrong on every level. Then he tells me his mom is totally open, that she's 'active in that area.' (Think Vivian.) I thought that's hysterical so I sent my mother the trilogy for Mother's Day which is, you know, sending it to the opposite kind of woman. (Think Sharon.) She thought it was hilarious. And then, I decided well why not just top this off and I sent it to my stepmother, (Think Carol), who has been in a very long-term marriage, has way too much dopamine in her brain, happy all the time, life is grand. I mean, three very different women. Anyway, the next morning I was like `What about?' Now Bill is going to say, 'Erin always claims she came up with the movie.' Well I did. I came back the next morning and said, 'What about a book club with, you know, women of a certain age and they're reading Fifty Shades of Grey?' It was instant… that's what we're doing! So it's all Bill's mother's fault." He can take credit for that.
Simms added that the films adapted from the books hadn't been released, "so it was a very different time when we started to write our script," the characters inspired by women in their lives they deeply love. "Back then we tried to quote as little as possible from the books because everyone said to us there is no way E. L. James will ever give you guys permission to use her book, which really just reminds you - don't listen to other people. Well, she loved the script and told her publisher to let us use the (book) covers. We are big fans of E.L. James."
Simms continues: "So, we had sold the movie (previously) and they held onto it for two years, didn't do anything and wanted us to cast younger which, for me, is THE massive taboo. I was very upset. I mean, if you wanted us to cast younger then you didn't understand our movie. That was the first thing. The other thing was, 'Why are you guys using Fifty Shades of Grey?' Again, if I have to explain... We got the movie back and decided to stay in control of it, to see how far we could get. I knew that Bill had so much experience as a producer working with Robert Redford. He really hands-on produced Redford's movies, did a lot of writing on the movies and was right next to Bob the entire time. I knew he was ready to step up although nobody had any reason to believe he could."
He could and he did.
"I have a mother who has her own business; she runs it by herself and pushes herself to be up to date on everything - art, news, music; Always pushing to be relevant and to sort of challenge people who question it," tells Holderman. "So I was always a little skeptical of this being my first movie for 'several reasons.' The pressure that I felt in terms of delivering a movie about women was mitigated because I had these actors represent the characters. My job was to make it true to what the script intended, to work on the script, and work with them on the script so that it feels like it has a truth to it. My job was to deliver on that truth. Their job was to bring the character. The only way I could sleep at night was to know that they were going to get me through this."
Despite Saks' and Simms' belief that Holderman was always up to the task, "there were a lot of challenges. We were making an independent film in a studio genre. We had a studio crew," notes Saks. "Wrangling a huge cast is always a challenge and we had a lot off incredibly talented actors. Bill is a first-time filmmaker but he's produced so many movies and the crew we surrounded him with was topnotch."
That includes Director of Photography and multiple BAFTA Award winner Andrew Dunn (Tumbledown, Edge of Darkness, Threads). "He and I met over Skype," tells Holderman. "He was the number one choice on our list. We sent him the script. He read it. We set aside 30 minutes and we ended up Skyping for 90. Afterwards, I was like - done. I didn't talk to another cinematographer. Then I panicked – 'Oh God, what did I just do? I didn't do my due diligence.' Everything you learn as a director is: do your due diligence. But with Andrew and his resume, he was the number one choice. I was head over heels. I don't know how we would have made the movie without him. Everyone wanted to work with him. The crew we got was remarkable because they all showed up for Andrew. He has this calm, centered beautiful spirit and it put an energy over the entire production."
But being a first time director wasn't an easy pitch with talent the caliber of this cast. Holderman knows the film has the potential to resonate with more than just fans of the book; the audience for his film has a history with these genuine, warm and funny actresses – watching their films over the years with their best friends, children, on date nights, etc. Now with the journey of these characters, that audience gets to realize the beauty of getting older means the pressure is off, the filters have dropped and they don't have to take themselves or anyone else so seriously anymore. And yet, they do. They wake themselves up and thus everyone else into realizing they may be seasoned (like all of that fine wine they drink) but another fabulous adventure awaits.
The past is just prologue for what's to come.
Co-Producer Alex Saks, Holderman's agent when he and Simms wrote the script, fell in love with it. "I grew up watching movies like The First Wives Club, When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail.
(Directors) Nora Ephron, Rob Reiner - that's fun for me. Bill likes to make fun of me because I literally watch The First Wives Club all the time. But I think that's what this movie can be and what Bill wants it to be in terms of something that is about female friendships that is timeless and classic. The jokes and humor are not only relevant and timely, they're transcendent."
Both films also share a leading lady – Academy Award Winner Diane Keaton. "We wrote the movie for Diane," notes Simms. "I mean, the character's name is Diane, it was always Diane since the beginning and I never really thought past 'What happens if Diane Keaton doesn't say yes?' I never went there. When Diane read the script, she was like, 'Well, I understand why you guys came to me.' "
"Well first of all, it was actually something that I had the opportunity to read. It wasn't like you get a lot of scripts coming your way all the time!" quips Keaton.
"Her name is Diane, and that means a lot to me," says Keaton. "And the way she's written, feels right up my alley. It's funny. Funny is great. Funny makes you feel better. The characters, we find them united and it remains. I mean we've got future blows to deal with, without a doubt, but we have each other, and so that's really important in this movie. It's well written by Erin Simms and Mr. Holderman. It's the most fun I've ever had."
"The meetings with the actors were hard because Bill had to convince them to take a chance with him," says Simms. "So many legends, so much happening and a tight schedule. It was tough."
She would find out the meaning of tough when she pitched the script to Jane Fonda. "At the end of working with Redford, I had put together a movie called Our Souls at Night," which starred Fonda and Redford. "I knew Jane from that project so I just emailed her and said, 'Hey, got this script do you want to read it?'. She read it in like two seconds. She's so amazing. We wrote the movie for Diane but we also wrote a role for Jane and called the character Jane at one point. I sent it to her and 24 hours later she came back and said 'No. Pass. It's not sophisticated.' It was heartbreaking and I don't know why Bill and I didn't give up. We rewrote the character. At one point, it was her and her gay best friend; at another point she was obsessing over a married man. We had so many storylines. Eventually we realized this character is propelling everyone forward, she's further along in the journey of embracing sexuality and confidence. She has the reverse storyline. Once we hit on that, the story came together. Two months later, I still wanted Jane but Bill thought there's no chance. I don't know what came over me. I just emailed Jane 'Hey, we rewrote the script for you. Loved your notes, super smart. I know it's pretty obnoxious for me to ask you to read this a second time. If you feel like it, read it.' I don't advise anyone to do that. Jane always responds and when she reads the script, she gets back to you. I didn't hear from her so I just figured it's over. Then I got this email one morning in bed. She said, 'I'm in.'"
There was just one problem. Simms failed to tell Holderman or the other producers she had gone to Jane and the script was out to other talent. "I didn't know what I was going to do. It was great news but I was also scared. But then it sunk in with them: we got Jane Fonda. They were through the roof! Then Jane realised Bill was a first-time director and was like, 'Well, why don't we get someone more established who's done this a bunch. You guys wrote the script and you're producing the script. Let's bring on a director.''' But Simms held her ground and asked Fonda to meet with Holderman first. She did. "Once she met Bill, you've never seen anybody more committed, more supportive, more grateful, more awesome. Jane does her due diligence. You're not going to manipulate her but she's really fair. She saw that he could do it."
Once Keaton and Fonda were onboard, Academy Award nominee Candice Bergen and Academy Award winner Mary Steenburgen followed. So did the supporting cast of actors, Golden Globe nominee Craig T. Nelson, Academy Award nominee Andy Garcia, Golden Globe winner Don Johnson, Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss, Golden Globe nominee Ed Begley Jr. and Wallace Shawn. Shooting the film in Los Angeles made it easier for casting since all the actors could stay at home for the shoot.
While plenty of challenges were yet to come, Holderman was amazed and dazed by his good fortune with such a celebrated lineup of talent.
"They did it. I did nothing. I stood back and watched the magic happen and tried to make sure that we were pointing the camera in the right direction. I got lucky."
- Director Bill Holderman
"In my past I've been fortunate enough to play a lot of insecure women and I think that (Diane) is an insecure woman," muses Keaton. "She has just lost her husband and she has these two daughters who are raising her in a way. They're trying to change her. You see, she's kind of lost, doesn't know exactly what to do or how to manage it. She's supported by her friends. In a way, she's kind of giving up. It really is meeting this man that really changes everything for her. She falls in love with him right away." That man is Mitchell, played by Andy Garcia.
"He's really great in the movie. But their relationship becomes complicated and that's where I think for my character was shaped and helped by her friends," Keaton explains. "We've been friends for about 15 years. That's who you have left because many people have disappeared in your life. I'm 72 and I'm playing my age and it is really hard to lose your loved ones. Then to have your kids take over and tell you you're a kid. That's really unpleasant. So that was my part. I identified with that easily. You get insecure and you're afraid and you get worried."
"Now in the movie, I have my problems with Sharon (played by Candice Bergen). She's so bossy. She's a federal judge. I think that's good, because you're always going to have something in the way and your friends come in for you. They help you. This film is about that bond. It's a love. To find people that you can trust and you're happy to be with, that you have and share your struggles with and it is a family in a certain sense. You're older. You've lost a lot of your family, your initial family. My parents aren't alive and for me that was a huge loss. I think about it more as I get older and I really miss my mother and father a lot. I have my siblings and my siblings mean everything to me. But in this movie, its friends. I don't really have other friends, so we're united together."
Diane's friends are the ones who open her eyes to possibility. And that possibility includes Garcia's Mitchell. It is the second time the two actors have collaborated. Keaton and Garcia previously co-starred as aunt and nephew in The Godfather, Part III.
But Keaton, like Fonda, Bergen and Steenburgen, had never worked together on a film.
"I feel like we would never know each other if it weren't for the Book Club. And everybody's character is so entirely different. They have completely different lives. And so with that in mind, the thing that brought us together was reading. That's really moving to me. My character especially had the opportunity to get to know these three women. I love these three women (Fonda, Bergen and Steenburgen) in real life as much as I can love."
"Diane is everything you'd want. I'm going to share a great Diane moment," Holderman recalls. "We were shooting the scene where Diane was supposed to put on an ugly outfit and comes out and her friends are like, 'No, No, No! You can't wear that. We're gonna take that to Goodwill.' On the day of rehearsal, the jacket we had was too elegant, the joke didn't work. Diane is like, `okay, I'm gonna go home'. She races off and 10 minutes later, I go down to her trailer and she brought out all of these incredible pieces of clothing, one of which is in the film. The poncho that she comes out in, that beautiful thing that we make fun of… it's actually from some very famous designer who is probably going to be really upset that we put this in the movie. She solved the problem herself. She just goes and does it. What she's NOT is shy. And she's NOT careful about is sharing her opinions when she has one. She likes to make you know where she stands."
"Diane Keaton is definitely the most unique individual I have ever encountered in the best possible way," says Simms. "She's so ridiculously funny yet she doesn't even want to be funny. But she can't stop herself. I think the funniest thing Diane did on set was when she was getting into character. She talks out loud and she's such a good actress that I kept falling for it. I kept thinking that she was talking to me or people thought she was talking to them and she would throw off the whole crew, so there were a lot of really funny moments of people trying to talk to her but she was just getting into character. And when she was getting into character with her daughter she'd just get angry, and we'd all be like, 'Is she really mad at them?' And then we'd realize she's just getting everybody in the mood! She's a very in-the-moment actress."
"I don't need anyone. Secret to my success."
"It's weird to be directed by someone that could be your son. Maybe even your grandson," teases Fonda. "And yet! He commanded respect without even trying. Bill is a wonderful director. I mean we were all worried because he never directed before. There's four movie stars and it's a comedy and that's always harder so you know it's a complicated assignment. He was just fabulous, comfortable in the skin of being a director and we all enjoyed working with him and felt very confident in him. I totally gave myself over."
To work with a legend of a storied Hollywood family can be a bit intimidating for a first time director. That goes for his co-producer Simms and Production Designer Rachel O'Toole "Jane didn't feel her room reflected her character," he recalls. That room is in the luxury resort hotel Vivian owns. Those scenes were shot in the exquisite 5-star Montage in Beverly Hills. "She had a really strong vision for what that environment would be. It is a beautiful hotel but didn't have the furniture reflective of who she thought her character was. We were really hamstrung budget-wise. We knew full well we weren't delivering what we had talked about. When asked, she said it was not the room she thought Vivian would live in. "That hit me hard," he remembers. "I was like, 'oh God. that's the one thing I didn't want to do.' I have these incredible Oscar-winning actors showing up and we're disappointing them before we even start." That's when Simms proved the production did have a few superheroes onboard.
"What happened next was a testament to Erin's scrappiness and Rachel's desire to deliver on the promise of a vision," Holderman notes. Within 30 minutes of realising their star's disappointment, the two were headed down the street. "They go into Mitchell & Gold, which Rachel knew about and had looked at their furniture before. They talk the manager into letting them run production assistants down with dollies and literally move the furniture right off their showroom floor on a Tuesday when they're open for business. An hour later, that Montage room gets completely renovated and becomes representative of what Vivian, Jane's character would want. Jane was so happy. Erin and Rachel pulled off a little miracle. And it immediately made Jane feel we're going to be okay."
Holderman learned something valuable about Fonda's process. "Jane sent me one of the longest emails I got on the production. It was a breakdown of her character's backstory, and it was incredible and thorough and deep; It talked about who her character's parents were, how she ended up running and living in her hotel. The depth of her research and work on a character, she's been doing this for so long it's got to be automatic. She takes it so seriously, the level of detail, figuring out who her character was; it was shockingly special.
"Vivian is struggling with something that I think happens to people at all ages, which is vulnerability and building up walls around yourself to protect yourself from all potential disappointments that life can bring about. She's hidden behind her success. She's hidden her fear of intimacy by being so open with physical affection. Sex? Yes. Love? Never. She has to overcome that ability to be vulnerable with someone and believe they are worthy of that vulnerability." That someone is Arthur Riley played Don Johnson, a man Vivian fell in love with 40 years ago.
"This movie is about friendship, sex, aging and the importance of a woman being able to decide from a fully authentic place when she's ready to give up hope for a relationship, hope for sensuality, hope for a love affair," says Fonda. "It's not meant to make people who are older and not having sex feel bad about it. Nobody has to keep on being sexual later in life. It should be up to us to make the decision. Too often our culture assumes that at a certain point you stop having sex.
That's why children are so shocked when they find out that their parents are, in fact, continuing to be sexually active. One of my favorite things in the movie is how Diane Keaton's character's children treat her, like this old person who needs to be in a retirement situation when, in fact, she's head over heels in lust with this pilot. It's that schism between what's really happening and what society and children think is probably going on because you're not 40 anymore. Look, I'm 80 and I know from my own personal life that it's only over when you decide it's going to be over. What that 'it' is, can be anything.
It doesn't necessarily have to be relationships with a man. It can be staying curious, staying inspired, staying involved with life and trying to make a difference. It should all be up to us.
"In the movie, my character is concerned because I'm afraid that my friends have given up when they're not really ready to give up," she explains. "So my role is to kind of get them thinking about things that they haven't thought about in a long time. The irony is my character is damaged goods, for various reasons that are not part of the movie. It is what went on in her early life, which is what affects all of us and makes us do the things we do when we get older. She is still sexually active but only in the afternoon and never with someone she cares about. If somebody actually engages her on an emotional level, she freaks out and flees. My girlfriends do what girlfriends are supposed to do: they nail me, they call me on my weaknesses."
Fonda describes Vivian as a troublemaker, the one always stirring the pot. "She's bold but not totally honest with herself. The rule of our book club is to bring in a bestseller that's been made into a movie. I want to get my girlfriends thinking about sex which none of them have thought about in a long time, so I bring in Fifty Shades of Grey to titillate them. She knows they are going to start reading and get turned on. The book isn't a big eye opener for her – I mean she has a lot of sex at her hotel, very restricted, only in the afternoon and especially with men in uniform. But she knows what reading that book will be for the other women. It's just fun for her to scandalize them a little bit. To get them thinking."
But there's far more to the subject than the emotionally detached Vivian cares to confront. "Vivian is very afraid of being out of control," says Fonda. "She lives in the hotel she owns. When you do that, it's like everything you want from the food you eat to the people who carry your luggage, everything is pre-decided. No surprises. Then this man shows up who she was once in love with and turned down because of an early experience in life – if you love someone, they will leave you and then you'll really be hurt and vulnerable." When Arthur shows up at the hotel "it totally throws her and she pushes him away."
It is Vivian's friends who turn her head around. "In the last act of my life, I really don't think there's anything as important as my female friends," notes Fonda. "They put starch in my backbone. They inspire me. They make me better. They make me laugh."
That includes her newfound friends – her co-stars on Book Club.
"We're all older. I'm the oldest, the mama bear. None of us are ingénues anymore and we're all cognizant of that, aware of the importance of friendship now. In our younger days, speaking for myself, I would make a movie with someone and we'd be friends. Then the movie would be over and they would move on. But with this film, all of us are intentional about staying in touch. We want to foster a relationship between the four of us. I have never worked with any of these women before. I've known Candy superficially since she was 17-years-old. My boyfriend at the time said, 'I want you to meet the most beautiful girl I have ever seen,' and he took me to her house. And she was on a ladder and it concerned me that he wanted me to see her. But maybe he wanted to date her and he thought that if she saw him with me, it would kind of cement the deal. I sort of passed out when I saw her because she was so beautiful and smart and funny. Diane, I've only watched from afar with tremendous admiration and interest. She's such an unusual person. You can tell by the way she dresses, that's just the outward manifestation. I've made a point of reading all her books to my great joy and pleasure and enlightenment. Mary, to me, is like the perfect human being. Her heart is as big as a soundstage, so generous and multifaceted. She's a singer, a songwriter, she works with musicians in Nashville. Just a very interesting beautiful soul."
Life for the four was reflecting art and Fonda for one hopes the audience can share in their discovery – "for young people to be less afraid of getting old, that it's never too late and you always have a second chance. None of us are perfect but we're all good enough. We all come to that understanding by the end of the movie. So join a book club."
"The Cave of Forgotten Dreams…"
"For me, Candice Bergen has the best sense of humor on the planet," says Holderman. "I'm not kidding. She's so sharp and quick. Her wit is so, so great. I mean, she's Murphy Brown. It is not just the character. It is who she is as a person. Charming. Funny."
But as for her character, Sharon, the divorced federal judge, she faces "a different challenge. Sharon has lost her belief in herself. Her obstacle is her own self-worth. She's a victim of what society says: Women at her age are no longer relevant, no longer have sex appeal, should no longer be in physical relationships. She's shut that off and focused on her career, being a very successful, powerful federal judge. She has to overcome the obstacles in her belief that she is worthy, can put herself back out there, that someone will fall in love with her and enjoy her company and she'll enjoy his. It's a real challenge for people of all ages to believe they are worth someone else's time and love."
Adding insult to injury her 67-year-old ex-husband Tom (Ed Begley, Jr.) is engaged to a younger woman less than half her age who he met on a dating website.
"I was thrilled that they offered that character (Sharon) to me," says Bergen. "I mean she's a federal judge, intelligent, this voice of authority, has a sense of humor, the soul of discipline and truthfulness. So she does everything by the book. She's just a standup broad. Granted she's lived alone for hundreds of years! She was married for a long time to this nebbish-y guy. She divorced him and now he's with a 12-year-old. She starts to think 'Maybe I should see men. Maybe I shouldn't be living in this tiny desert of an apartment. She feels her life is complete. She has a cat. She's at the top of her career and doesn't feel her life is wanting.
"Fifty Shades of Grey opens Sharon's life with a big flash. She ventures into the world of online dating. She gets caught by her assistant because she goes online in her chambers. It doesn't go well at first. Richard Dreyfus (George) sort of washes up. He's fun, honest, has a sense of humor, intelligent and he's a tax attorney. Okay, so she's more realistic this time around.
"For me personally – online dating? I cannot imagine such a thing. It is sort of the currency today – what people in all walks of life, all incomes, all backgrounds do so who am I to say?" When she ventures into that world she is also introduced to Spanx and re-introduced to makeout sessions in the backseat of a car. "Richard Dreyfuss is a fantastic actor," says Bergen. "He has that kind of feral presence, an insane confidence, full of life and humor. Let's just say he's not afraid to go anywhere!"
When Bergen was given the script and found out Fonda and Keaton were onboard, "I said, 'Hey, I'm in.' Jane's character and my character went to Stanford together, so we were longtime friends. But I think the book club gives a real foundation for a friendship – the meetings, reading and sharing. You know each of us worked two weeks on this movie and one of those two weeks was the four of us working together. It was a privilege, truly a joy and really fast! For Bill Holderman, our director, this was his first movie and he really pulled it off. Who knew? So good for him.
"What I loved is that this film had an honesty to it, the caring in their friendship. For a woman, really, women friends are key to a life well-lived and a life of support. Its touching and its funny. Its saying it doesn't matter if your 50 or 60 or 70 or older, life isn't over. New things start. It's about renewal.
"They all find connections with men and through it all the women are there for each other and that gets you through the night," she says. "It's a sexy movie if you don't mind all those people! It's also inspiring because these are women who have navigated their way through what most women have had to deal with in their lives. And they've found a way through it. They've reinvented themselves. They've reinvented their marriage. It's not over until its really over. That's the takeaway."
"You put Viagra… in my beer!"
"Carol (Mary Steenburgen) and Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) are at a crossroads," says Holderman. "Of the four women, Carol is the only one who is in a successful marriage. For Carol, the issue is about expressing her own desires. Whatever you think of the Fifty Shades series, it hit on the zeitgeist of a certain sort of desire and rawness to peoples' sexuality. Part of what the book does and part of what Carol learns is to ask for what she wants.
"I had worked with Mary before on A Walk in the Woods. She is so lovely and sweet that you question it. So genuine," he describes. "She's from Arkansas and she has this relentless kindness and you can feel it. This is what humanity should be. The thing I loved most about Mary in this process was her working on the dance" – it would prove a critical juncture for her character Carol in the film. Steenburgen had previously done a movie where she tapped dance and sent Holderman a clip. She worked with a choreographer creating the dance and invited Holderman to rehearsals. "For the movie [that number] is super important," Holderman notes. "This woman Carol is going to go on stage, lay her fears aside and do this dance alone. She does it with a smile and grace. It is beautiful… one of my favorite moments in the film."
The dance proves a turning point in her marriage. Then again, so does the Viagra.
"Carol is the nurturer of the group, the truth teller, brave unafraid to do things that should frighten her," characterizes Steenburgen. "She's had a really good marriage and a really good family but her marriage is in a place where it feels as though her husband is rejecting her, going through his own dark night of the soul. It's the second time Craig, who I love, has been my film husband. Carol is needing her friends. It's a moment in time where each of us need other. One of the messages in the film is that there isn't this moment where you're cooked as if you're waiting to be wise at a certain age, or you're above it all in some way, or there's nothing left to learn, or you're not able to get your heart broken, or whatever it is you think it is that makes you cooked at a certain age. We're here to prove that's not true. We're still hungry.
"That's a really good message for young people because if we treat people as though they're insignificant or it's over or there's nothing left to say or there's no surprises left, why should anyone live another day? Let's be honest. What you hope for is that you'll be this age and then what you really hope for is that when you are this age, you have love and you have friendship and you have the full range of crazy that is within your being."
The book club, she concedes, "is just this thinly veiled excuse to drink wine and talk… a lot of talk about men, life and a lot of truth telling and things that are told that only a friend can tell you. It's not a bitchy friendship. Jane's character brings the book, Fifty Shades of Grey to our club.
We've probably read much more 'highbrow books' but it causes each of us to ask, 'Where's that part of me that's sexual? Where's that part of me that wants love? Where's that part of me that wants romance? What's happening with that part of me?' It creates havoc in all of our lives. In mine, it illuminates the fact that my husband and I are just two ships in the night – and definitely that in the bedroom."
And that's when Vivian pays forward her version of support: Viagra. "I'm not advocating this. I don't think Carol meant for it to be quite as extreme," notes Steenburgen. "Don't take two. I apologize for Carol."
Like Holderman, Steenburgen loves that her character fights her fear, gets up on stage and dances. "She knows she's not the best one or even the 10th best one at the talent show. It's a part of her that loves to dance and nothing and no one is going to stop her from doing it." Steenburgen had never worked with Keaton or Fonda before and only a bit with Bergen. "I came into it with a great deal of excitement about working with these women. I'm 65. I made my first movie when I was 24. So, I've done this for a long time. And I still have tons to learn. The fact that we had four women over the age of 65, that's lightning in a bottle. That never happens. It was not just any four women, it was these four women that truly cared and came to play and came to appreciate it and knew how lucky we were. I'm pretty sure you can see me falling in love with all three of them," she says. "They are funny and brilliant and honest. We all sat in a garage of the house that's supposed to be my house in the film, which by the way is also supposed to be Candice's house. That was our green room. Those conversations were precious because when we went back in and did scenes together, something had happened to us. You could feel the friendship. Maybe it wasn't decades old, but it was real. Since the movie wrapped, there's texts exchanged, dinners, sending each other little gifts and of course books. I felt like I stumbled into a gold mine."
Apparently so did Nelson. He's been romantically hitched to three of the four stars in the film – with Steenburgen in The Proposal, Keaton in The Family Stone and Fonda in Grace and Frankie.
While he loved the role of Bruce, Nelson says "I think the film will make audiences think about ageism. Ageism is a huge, a huge problem. And now that I'm older, I recognise my old ways of discrimination in that regard. Amazing what you find out after you have lived a few years."
"The only rule of Book Club?
There are no rules."
- Producer Alex Saks
Taking a crazy chance by a first time director and first time writer to make a movie about women played by legends – determined to say yes to life renewed when society screams no – eclipsed that "What if" Mother's Day idea Simms posed to Holderman years ago to a joyful climax neither could have anticipated.
"The log line of this film is four women in their 60s reading Fifty Shades of Grey. It leads them to question where they are in their lives. It opens up a conversation between them that leads to significant changes," reflects Simms. "The movie was really borne out of a conversation of knowing different women in that age range and how different they could be. Bill and I knew some women that were operating as if they were as vibrant and amazing as they've always been and we knew some women who were sort of reaching an age and just shutting down, allowing that to be their reality. I just don't think that's the way that it should be. I get that life can be hard. We all are a product of the things that happen to us.
"I think getting older is beautiful. We shouldn't be looking back, trying to be younger. You look at younger people now and you think 'You're going to be old one day. We are all going in the same direction.' Why not be your best self all the time?
"You look at Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen. Of course they are stars and super successful. But they are also living their lives to the fullest, accepting of who they are in the world. Wouldn't it be nice to have more regular people – the rest of us – feel that way too?"
Release Date: August 23rd, 2018