My interview for the movie Book Club, with director Bill Holderman and screenplay writer Erin Simms was held in a suite at the beautiful Park Hyatt Hotel in Chicago, May 11, 2018. It’s always easier to interview talent when you truly love a film, and that is the case here. Bill’s a Chicagoland native, and Erin is his longtime friend and former colleague. What I found intriguing about our meeting was learning about how, the screenplay idea came to light. Let me just say that Bill sent all three books of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy to his mom, yes his mom as a gift. Erin’s reaction is priceless…please read on.
Sarah Knight Adamson: Can you tell me about your Chicago roots? I’m not sure where you grew up.
Bill Holderman: Yeah, so, born and raised here, I went to high school out in LaGrange at Lyons Township. My mom lives right downtown [Chicago], my dad lives out in LaGrange still, but I… Even in high school I would commute from downtown [Chicago] a couple days a week, and Chicago is the greatest city in the world. I’m biased.
SKA: LT? You went to LT?
Bill H: Yeah.
SKA: So did my husband, Bill Adamson.
Bill H: Really? That’s amazing!
SKA: He’s a fanatic, yes. Still has friends with his kindergarten class.
Bill H: That’s so cool. I flew in yesterday and my best friend from high school, I saw her last night and she came to the screening yesterday. And then I went to Northwestern, so I have the city covered from all sides.
SKA: What’d you study at Northwestern?
Bill H: Economics and communications.
SKA: Oh, I love it. Yep, that explains your producing jobs.
Bill H: Yeah, a very natural route–
Bill H: To writing and directing and producing, yeah.
Erin S: Yeah, he’s a great producer.
SKA: That is just great. Erin, you’re from Montreal?
Erin S: Montreal. Born and raised. Also, big fan of the Chicago. So, we have a lot of competition. We do a lot of hockey competition, so it’s just great. We have a much more storied history, let’s be honest. But yeah, Montreal is a great place to grow up…
SKA: Where did you go to school?
Erin S: I went to school at St. George’s high school, and then I went actually out to Western University. Which is in London, Ontario. But that was a brief stint for me I was–
Bill H: Can we embarrass Erin?
Bill H: So Erin was an actress, she’s recovering, Erin was a Power Ranger.
Erin S: Yellow Ranger.
SKA: Oh, yellow! My favorite color. I don’t have it on today, but…
Erin S: Yellow is my favorite color too! We’re a small community of people.
SKA: So, the script. I know there’s a story behind it.
Bill H: Yeah, for sure! There’s certainly a story behind it. Go for it.
Erin S: We didn’t realize how key that moment was until we started talking about it, but Bill and I worked together and so it was 2012 when the books came out [Fifty Shades of Grey] and he was sending the trilogy to his mother via FedEx for Mother’s Day.
SKA: I love that! Oh my gosh, that is crazy!
Bill H: I mean, here’s the thing. I had heard about what these books were about and they started to catch the zeitgeist and it was like “You know who’s going to like these? My mother!” And then Erin was the one who pointed out what an inappropriate gift it was for a son to give.
Erin S: Well I was like “The idea of sex and his mother and this was a topic or something that would even be… I was completely shocked.”
Bill H: But the fact that she then a few minutes later sent them to her mom and her stepmom.
Erin S: Yeah, so then I was like “Oh my god, I’m going to send this to my mother” and then to my stepmother too. But it started a conversation because his mom is super open.
SKA: You’re so lucky, that’s so fortunate.
Bill H: Thanks, she is… She’s awesome.
Erin S: And my mother. No. First of all, we would never talk about sex. She’s like “I’ve closed up shop,” so, that led to a conversation which led to this idea. We’d talked about it all day and I was blown away more than anything. He was used to this idea that an older woman would totally be free and open and confident and so I went home and the next morning I came in and I said, “What about a book club with women in their sixties that are reading Fifty Shades of Grey?” That was it! Instantly he was like “Yes, yes!”
Bill H: I mean I loved it. And haven’t looked back. I mean, because it touches on so many themes that were sort of circulating in other stories that we wanted to tell but this way we could kind of combine them all.
SKA: Oh, yes, you tell so many other stories that were so great in the film!
Bill H: Thank you
SKA: I believe Diane Keaton’s character is the center of the film and she struggles with what it means to be the parent of adult children, which, I sometimes struggle with myself. And Andy Garcia, what I loved about what you said, “He helps bring her out of her shell but she ultimately pulls herself out.” Can you speak to that?
Bill H: Yeah, well I think ultimately no one can pull another person out of their shell, just like no one can make another person happy. You kind of have to find that for yourself. And I think in this situation, Andy and that relationship and that promise of this whole other world, and the ability to just sort of explore new territory for Diane was the thing that was so appealing and obviously Andy Garcia is appealing in his own right. But I think that’s something that you really do find from the inside and it reawakened that for her.
Erin S: Also, I think that meeting the Andy character, for me, what it really does is it makes her question her decisions. It’s not so much that she’s going to go ride off into the sunset with him, she’s like “Okay, so this is what I’m choosing,” and she knows now what is possible, because I don’t think that she believed that she could ever have feelings for a man again because she kind of was a little bit dead inside from her marriage that went on too long.
SKA: Yes, yes, and he’s awakening these feelings and she hasn’t felt these before…
Erin S: Yes, But actually her journey is that she has to get honest. She has to actually tell her kids things weren’t exactly the way they seem.
SKA: Right, and I loved that part of it too. No more hiding, being open like your mother Bill.
Erin S: Yeah. So that’s the freedom and Andy’s the prize.
SKA: Yeah, so, Andy Garcia. Yes, I have interviewed him in person he is so cool.
Erin S: He’s quite a prize.
SKA: He is! He’s so great to see on screen. And they had worked together, in The Godfather Part Three. Is that the last time they’ve been together onscreen?
Bill H: I think so. I mean, they’ve been friends’ ever since.
Erin S: They wanted to work together, that’s how this happened.
SKA: Alright, Jane Fonda. I’ve got to talk about her. I’ve been following her career since I was in high school, and that’s a long time! She’s kind of my role model. That’s why I had my third child. In an interview she was asked if she had any regrets and she said, “That I didn’t have more children,” so I had one more.
Erin S: Thank you, Jane Fonda!
SKA: Yes, thank you, Jane! And I had a girl! I had two boys, then I had a girl. So, how did she help? She’s such a force of nature. How did she help you as a first time director?
Bill H: For sure, well, number one, Jane is so respectful of the script, of the story we were trying to tell. And immediately, at the point that she was in the movie she wanted… I mean, I think it made us feel sort of validated in a way, because she’s so professional and she never questioned us.
Erin S: She was so committed!
Bill H: So, for me, it was like… Jane Fonda. If you walk on set and Jane Fonda is giving you respect and treating you the way you would think that dynamic works, even though it’s mind blowing because she’s Jane Fonda, everyone else is on board. And I think that validation and that collaboration with someone at that level was really special.
Erin S: She was the one writing out back stories, she wanted to have slumber parties with the women, she wanted the camaraderie. She takes her job really seriously.
Bill H: Yeah, she goes all in. This is not casual. I mean, she’s been doing it for so long and every role she takes on she takes on with such depth.
Erin S: She cares about her career probably just as much as she ever did. That’s what I got. She’s so thankful for the opportunities. And there was certainly the option to walk on set and be like “Well, I’ve been doing this for 60 years so I’m going to tell you…” And she is just not that person.
SKA: Oh, I love to hear that!
Erin S: We loved her.
Bill H: I mean, all four of them. It’s pretty cool as a director to walk up to Candice Bergen and be like “Okay, so can we…” I’d give her a note and she would just sit there, “Okay!” And she would just nail it. I mean, this woman is like a comedian ninja.
SKA: Mary Steenburgen, I’m so happy that her talents were brought into it. She’s such an amazing singer and dancer and that was so great, was that written into the script for her?
Bill H: It was in the script but she’s so musical in her own right, and she’s such a brilliant comedian as well but she also has this, just, light to her soul. I mean, she just so effervescent and so kind and I think that dance scene really showcased her and all her brilliance.
Erin S: And her Carol character, to me, only few people could play that role because no matter what she was doing to Bruce, you have to know that she’s still innocent and adorable.
Bill H: And you have to sympathize, you always are on her side
SKA: It felt like a very different role for her, because she’s more the comedic roles and that type of thing. But she handled it with such finesse! I mean she’d teeter between “Oh, I’m in the book club now I can be my real self,” and then she’d go back to her husband which, had huge communication issues. Which was so brilliant, because that’s what could happen later in life.
Erin S: That’s what their story is about. Maintaining that communication.
SKA: And then Candice Bergen. Oh, I know we’ve touched on her just a little bit, but tell me about her character. Because I thought it was so strong, I just loved her.
Erin S: Candice Bergen’s character is the one that is loosely based on my mom. Loosely! Very loosely. My mom is not a Federal judge. But, my dad is a Federal judge, which is why Candice is a Federal judge. A Federal judge in Chicago!
Bill H: One of the things we really wanted to do was have each of them differentiated and have their own sort of journey. And for Candice it’s really a journey of understanding and believing in her own self worth. She’s kind of shut off to the outside world and she has this powerful career and she’s been focused so much on that. But to kind of validate that there’s people out there that would be interested in her and she’s interested in other people and to tell that story.
It was really fun to have her, A. Candice is absolutely brilliant, no one has better comic timing than Candice. In the world. She is so dry-witted and funny. And B. we loved to have that and then put her online dating, I mean…She’s fearless
Erin S: But the other layer of her story for me, and for Bill, is that she has to let go of her past. And I think that a lot of people are stuck in their past, it doesn’t matter what age you are, and so, my favorite thing is that she… No spoilers, but that she eventually is like, “You know what? I’m happy for these people and I’ve got to actually live my own life now and move on.”
SKA: Yes, yes. And the screening that I attended, when Richard Dreyfuss showed up, oh my gosh, everybody yells, “Yay!” Clapping. I guess it was because we haven’t seen him in a while?
Erin S: Everyone’s like… yeah.
Bill H: You just get happy because it’s Richard Dreyfuss.
Erin S: Each of these actors comes with this massive history that we all have, that’s what I said to Bill, it’s like, “You’re just reading people talking to the screen because it’s like our whole lives we’ve been with these people so when you see them it’s like…”
SKA: Oh I know! And Goodbye Girl! It was just so amazing.
Erin S: That’s one of my favorite books.
Bill H: What’s interesting is, his character. We only shot with him for one day. But his character has such a significance in Candice’s character’s roll. He permeates beyond just those couple scenes. You feel his presence because he is just this idea of… There is a whole world out there and there are these, like, fun, great people that you could go meet that you wouldn’t meet otherwise. And I think he represents that.
Erin S: He also comes in and you realize, Candice realizes, she’s not alone in her journey. He tried on six shirts and was nervous too.
SKA: That part of the script I love, because there’s another side to this coin, the male side, they agonize just as much, and he looked like he did. He was all spiffed up in that suit and all.
Bill H: He is brilliant! But, here’s the power of the actresses we had, you could cast and get people like Richard Dreyfuss to show up for a day.
Erin S: To show up for a day!
Bill H: To play opposite them because they literally… You send a script and you say, “Hey, you’re going to play opposite Candice Bergen,” and you just get a yes.
Erin S: He did pull me aside, though and he said “I said yes because… Candice Bergen is why, I will show up anywhere for Candice Bergen, but I just want you to also know that I loved the script and I think that maybe my character should come back in The Book Club 2.”
SKA: Oh, I love it!
Erin S: I was like, “Noted, Mr. Deyfuss!”
SKA: Oh, my goodness. The last question about your directing… The process for you, it was such a different role, and you improvised too, you let the ladies improvise, which is so big because sometimes the directors don’t do that.
Bill H: Well, one of the things for me that was really important, because I had actors of this caliber, is to sort of do all your preparation and make sure you’re ready. Partly because what the movie is, you want that to be really natural and be free flowing and create an energy on set where they feel comfortable and really sort of own their characters. So, for me it was really a no-brainer. It was like, “Look, we know what the story points we need to tell. I mean, they’re going to understand the characters more than we ever will even though we wrote the script,” And so it was important to let them have that freedom.
Erin S: They stuck to the script more than people realized and that’s part of their brilliance is that it looks super natural.
SKA: Oh, that’s fantastic.
Bill H: Diane Keaton and Andy Garcia want to just improvise, you’re going to let them do whatever they want, within reason. But, they’re so present in those scenes that it’s like; it just feels organic and natural. Because that’s who they are as actors, I mean they’re that good.
Bill H: Having this cast… I pinch myself every day.
SKA: Oh my goodness, well, I want to thank you so much for chatting with me today and best of luck with the movie.
Erin S: Thank you
Bill H: Of course, thank you!
SKA: Oh my gosh, thank you. It was so nice to meet you.
Erin S: Nice to meet you too!
Bill H: Oh, the pleasure is ours, thank you so much.
Sarah Knight Adamson© May 11, 2018