chat room

Dermot Mulroney on August: Osage County, My Best Friend’s Divorce, and Making Salad for Julia Roberts

Dermot Mulroney. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

In August: Osage County, Juliette Lewis brings a guest to the family crisis, in the form of a fiancé played by Dermot Mulroney. At first, he seems like one of the most calm and put-together people, considering how everyone else is falling apart. But Mulroney’s character, Steve, has some issues as well, which start to come to the surface when he takes an interest in his girlfriend’s teenage niece (played by Abigail Breslin) and asks to smoke pot with her. What he actually does with her — and how inappropriate or not that is — is left up to the audience to decide, a key departure in the translation from the play to the screen. Mulroney chatted with Vulture about his penchant for crazy family dinners with Roberts and how he’d feel about a sequel to My Best Friend’s Wedding.

Did you go to the potluck dinners at Meryl’s house to rehearse for the big dinner scene?
I was in charge of the salad. My wife [Tharita Catulle] said, “Why don’t you find out what Julia’s favorite salad is?” [Julia] texted back, “Waldorf.” One word. I thought, I’ve heard of that. So I go to the grocery store and I make my first and only Waldorf salad, and Julia was thrilled. But I must admit, I took most of it home. You know when you go to a potluck and you bring your bowl home, and it’s full? That’s what happened to my Waldorf salad.

During the dinner scene, Juliette Lewis’s character tries to introduce you to her family …
And invite her mother to her wedding. “I don’t really see that happening,” her mother says. And to see Juliette fall in that scene is crushing. No wonder she lives up on the surface, in the superficial, because underneath, it would be too painful. That’s why she makes her life choices that way, ill-advised as they are.

Your character, Steve Heidebrecht, wait, no …
It’s Heidebrecht in the play, but we had to change it a little bit, for legal reasons, believe it or not. I think that maybe there’s a Steve Heidebrecht out there, who wasn’t going to sign off on it. They do that from time to time. They have to vet the whole script, the names of every place, every sign, every can — they have to be cleared legally. And for whatever reason, the precise name didn’t clear, so we fumble it and say, like, Hubabrecht in the film, which causes a little kerfuffle around the table, because everyone expected the other name. But [director] John [Wells] told me on the day, “We didn’t get it. You have to say it another way.” And the rest of the cast weren’t expecting that! [Laughs.] That name was famous from the play, even, because he says his own name and it’s kind of a ridiculous name. And I can say this, because the guy didn’t clear it for us, so I can make fun of his name. The real Steve Heidebrecht.

You never saw the original play.

But you knew what Gary Cole did in the play.
Only because I cornered [playwright] Tracy Letts for the few minutes that I had him, and said, “What did those other guys know from playing that part repeatedly, hundreds of times? What gags did they have?” And Tracy said, “Oh, there is one thing — when they’re fighting, and she jumps over the table to take her down, Steve always ran over and got the wine and poured himself a new glass. Just to be the spectator enjoying a cocktail during the cockfight.” So that not only made the movie, it made the poster!

You got to have some things that Gary Cole never got to do, like with the Ferrari, blasting music.
Which I didn’t know about, of course. It didn’t occur to me that the radio would be on. I had to drive, obviously, because I was carrying. I wasn’t going to go to Oklahoma for a funeral without my weed. But the first time I saw the film, I laughed really hard when I realized what they were doing, putting cheesy mid-nineties dance hits on the car radio. I’m driving to a funeral, and I’m playing “Livin’ la Vida Loca”?!

How else do you put the fun in funeral?
This is what Julia wanted the tagline to be: “We put the fun in dysfunctional.”

You have had at least two crazy family dinners onscreen with Julia.
Yeah! I hadn’t really even thought of that. In the crab joint, right? Amazing. We’d done that twice. Well, we’ll have to make it to round three, won’t we?

At one point, they were talking about making a sequel to My Best Friend’s Wedding, called My Best Friend’s Divorce
It doesn’t quite have the same ring in the title. But I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of sequel-ing up My Best Friend’s Wedding. This could fly. If I knew anyone in the upper chairs of Hollywood executive offices, I would call them. But I don’t. That would be a monumental movie. I say let’s put that into motion immediately! Let’s pop out a script and call [writer and producer] Ron Bass. I’m sure he’d be happy to fling it together.

Dermot Mulroney on Dinners With Julia Roberts