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BOOK CLUB

Production Information (Cont'd)
"I don't need anyone. Secret to my success." --Vivian

"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 realizing 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 ingenues 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..." - Carol

"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 make-out 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 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!" - Bruce

"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 recognize my old ways of discrimination in that regard. Amazing what you find out after you have lived a few years."

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?"

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