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Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Enough Said, Playing a Masseuse, and Remembering James Gandolfini

Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Get ready to see the most wonderful onscreen coupling of the year, or perhaps the decade: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said. The pair are so aesthetically mismatched — Gandolfini’s head looks the same size as Louis-Dreyfus’s torso — but so completely in synch with banter and chemistry that it’s easy to get caught up in their romance and find yourself desperately rooting for these two crazy kids to work it out. Louis-Dreyfus’s Eva is a masseuse who meets Gandolfini’s Albert, a honcho at the Library of American Television with an encyclopedic knowledge of Saturday morning cartoons, at a party. They’ve both gone through bad divorces and both are dreading their daughters heading off to college. He asks her out; she’s not attracted, but she gives him a chance, and they’re off! Except that Eva has accidentally become friends with Albert’s ex-wife, Marianne (Catherine Keener), and finds herself plying Marianne for information about Albert’s faults as possible deal-breakers. Jada Yuan caught up with Louis-Dreyfus in Toronto after a screening in which the cast remembered Gandolfini and asked about her own memories of him on set, playing a masseuse, and more.

The screening was so touching.
Aw, thanks.

I guess I’ll start with the easier stuff. You play a masseuse. Did you study technique?
Yeah, I did. A massage therapist gave me a bunch of lessons.

What did you learn?
How hard it is to do. It’s not easy. It’s really hard. To be a good masseuse is not an easy task.

How do you feel you are proficiency-wise now?
Not great. There’s a kind of fluidity that it takes that I, you know, it’s not something that I’m great at. But I tried really hard to look as if I knew what I was doing.

Your character has terrible clients. There’s a guy with bad breath, a woman who won’t shut up. Are you now more self-conscious when you’re getting a massage yourself?
Not self-conscious but an even higher level of respect for people who are really good.

And they’re lugging that massage table around everywhere.
And all the accoutrement that goes with it. Because it’s not just that. There’s the stool and there’s the head piece and there are all the sheets and very often a heater. It’s an endless amount of shit that you have to carry around with you.

What was it about this story that drew you into it, or was it just that you wanted to work with Nicole?
Well, I certainly wanted to work with Nicole. I was a fan of her work and have been for many, many years. The script was just off the charts, I thought, and the role of this woman Eva who is going through an emotional sort of — she’s at a pivotal moment in her life and it’s wreaking havoc on her emotionally to the extent that she doesn’t even realize it.

You mean about her daughter leaving for college.
Yeah, exactly, but she doesn’t have an awareness of the hold that it has on her and it’s what sort of, I would say, fuels her very, very, very, bad decision-making. [Laughs.]

Did you relate to any of that bad decision-making?
Oh, sure. I mean, I understood why she did it. It doesn’t mean I condone it, but I totally get it and I can understand, and because she really, really, really means well and she really, really, really was just trying desperately to protect herself and in so doing she obliterates a lot of stuff.

Do you think she’ll ever talk to Catherine Keener’s character, the ex-wife of her boyfriend, again?
No, I think that ship sailed. [Laughs.]

Have you made some terrible choices with friends?
No, no. But having said that, I think obviously all people make — good people do really bad things sometimes and they don’t mean to. So, you know, people are flawed.

Did you come up with any sort of backstory for Eva in terms of whom she had dated in those ten years since her marriage? Was Albert the first guy in a while?
Yeah, this was the first guy who had great meaning for her, and that was terrifying, because I think up until then she was about sort of raising her daughter.

How did you first meet James Gandolfini?
I’d met him socially at a couple of events, but only to say “Hi” and la-la-la, not lengthy conversations or anything like that. And then on this movie we got together, to sort of work on it and talk about it and read scenes with Nicole. We immediately hit it off.

What scene did you shoot first?
The first scene that Jim and I shot together was the scene when we were at his work [the Library of American Television], when he was showing me what his work was like and the archives and so on. And that was a little bit tricky because we had to behave as if we had embarked on this love affair already, but then we backtracked and shot more in order.

I read that some people were taken aback when Eva is calling him “fat” behind his back.  
Oh sure, well, he knew the role he was playing and he was very in on the joke, and he was very self-deprecating in a — we weren’t making fun of him.

Was he self-conscious in the love scenes?
We both were. We didn’t have any clothes on, for the most part.

There’s a part where he wonders if you’re able to breathe when he’s on top. 
Yeah, that was improvised. [Laughs.] It’s hard to remember what lines you’re improvising and what was in the script, etc., etc. But that was for sure.

What was the experience of watching the movie here in Toronto like for you?
I’ve seen the film of course a number of times and I’ve seen it since his passing, but I will say the experience of watching it with an audience sort of took it to a new level, so that last scene with him was very poignant to me, particularly yesterday.

Just because you remember going through it?
On many levels. The work that we did on it was a great joy to me that day. It was a particularly great day of shooting; it was kind of a triumphant day, because we were struggling with how to end the film and then we, when we nailed it, and it was definitely, you know, a group effort with Nicole and Jim and me working, then I sort of improvised that last line of the movie, and Jim and I walked off and just hugged ‘cause we knew we’d nailed it, and it was a very, just, you know, a very loving, triumphant moment.

He’s practically the only man in the cast. Did he add a male perspective?
I mean, he does have the male perspective. He’s very much a man, so he brings that to his performance. Having said that, that kitchen scene, remember the kitchen scene when I come back? [Her character essentially begs for his forgiveness.]

Oh God, that’s so devastating.
I know. Devastating.

And he was completely right in his reaction.
Of course. And when he said, “You did that in front of my daughter, my daughter had to witness that,” that was his — it was very important for him to add that element. And of course that’s understandable and it was a perfect perspective to add to the scene. It made it that much richer.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Enough Said