Rene Russo Explains the Perfectionism of Nancy Meyers

“I’ve never seen a director go in and fuck up, fuck around with the set like she did. I thought, ‘Wow! She is involved in everything!’” Photo: YouTube

Rene Russo, whose manager I’d emailed earlier this year to ask if she might participate in Vulture’s Nancy Meyers Week to speak about the actress’s role as Fiona, the in-office masseuse (and Robert De Niro’s love interest) in The Intern, called me out of the blue on a Thursday afternoon in November and left me an incredible voice-mail: “Hey Rachel, this is Rene Russo calling. Sorry, the election — I almost had a heart attack. I want to do this when it’s convenient for you and I have no idea when your deadline is. So here’s my cell.” The subsequent phone conversation was just as spontaneous and surprising, with Russo being as open, straightforward, and laugh-out-loud funny as anyone I’ve ever interviewed. We’ve published her words in full below, just as we did with Diane Keaton’s and Cameron Diaz’s previously delightful conversations.

That was a delightful voice-mail to get, I have to say.
Look man, we’re all women that have our jobs to do. When [my manager] called me, I went, “Fuck me!” I said, “Shit! I did not call her!” I literally was so freaked out. Listen, do you know what I might do, is call you on a hard line.

So I don’t drop out. [Russo calls from another line.] Okay, hi.

Hi! What was your first impression of Nancy Meyers? What do you remember about the first time you guys met?
I really don’t love working. My first thing was, “What the fuck, you want me to read for [a part]?” So I went in to meet her and I was like, “Can we just, like, do this [audition] now? Can you just read this with me? Because I really don’t want to come back.” Not because of her. It’s just that, working for me is like, “Oh God, I can’t work again.” So she went, “You want me to read it right now?” I said, “Yeah, just read it with me.” She called in her assistant and we read it together, which was fun. But I just thought, If I have to go back home and dress up for this thing and then come in again …

This is how incredibly thorough she is. I understood right off the bat that she does not hire anyone without reading them, except for I’m sure she didn’t read Meryl Streep. I actually said to my agent, “Hold on, she wants me to read for this part? She must’ve seen me in other movies!” Then when I went in there and talked to her, she’s great. She’s an easy laugh. So we read and it was fun in the room. Because I’m a reluctant actor a little bit, I think she was like, “Who is this crackpot?”

My daughter was like, “Mom, out of all the people that you have to work with, you have to work with her!” Not that I wouldn’t, of course — she’s amazing. But [my daughter] said, “Mom, you have to come out of retirement. You have to. I want to live in a Nancy Meyers movie.” I said, “Okay. All right. All right. All right.” I don’t know if she called me the next day. Honestly, I don’t remember. She was probably reading a lot of different people, knowing her.

I love that.
I think it speaks to her — oh my God, she’s a perfectionist! Now, look, I have to say that I am that way too, in my own home. There is no fricking question. I will stand there ad nauseam to go, “That pillow color is just slightly off. This is gray, but that one has more green.” So I got her. I got it. So when she would stand there like, “I don’t like that color pillow, move it an inch to the right.” I was like, “Yeah, I get that. I understand it. I’m that way.” When you walked onto one of her sets, you would see her messing around. I’ve never seen a director go in and like, fuck up, fuck around, mess around with the set like she did. “This here, this little pencil thing should go in back and this little tchotchke should go in front.” I thought, “Wow! That’s crazy, she is involved in everything!”

I mean, even wardrobe. Most of the time you work with the director and you’ve got your costumer and, honestly, they take a photo of you in front of the camera and you never hear from them again. Nancy was like, “No, the sleeve is too long on that,” and “I don’t know if I love that shoe.” She’s like that with everything! Including my hair and makeup. “No, it shouldn’t be so much. It should be this. I don’t want anything, take off the lashes.” “I don’t have lashes, Nancy.” “Well, it looks like you have lashes.” I had never experienced that before. But you know, it was nothing that was annoying. It was like, you got why her films look the way they do. Her eyes go around like a scan, she doesn’t miss anything.

Including your performance. She’s got a bullshit meter. So if you’re skating — not that I would be skating — but she would just push for every single thing, which is good. But I mean, you did a lot of fucking takes. You did a lot of takes. But I never minded that. It’s good. Because half the time you get three takes and you’re out, so that was okay. Anyway, do you have a second question or did I answer all ten?

I have heard about the takes a lot. How did she create camaraderie and chemistry among the cast?
The cast is great. Look, I don’t ever have a problem with a cast, ever! It’s a relaxed set. I’d worked with Robert De Niro before and I really love him. So I thought we were fun together. And what’s her face? Oh my God, please help me.

Anne Hathaway.
Yes, yes! I loved her, she’s a sweetheart. She’s such a good actress, too. But she’s a real sweetheart, you know? It was a great set. I don’t have any complaints. It was a really good set. I love working with De Niro. I guess one of the funny moments [from The Intern] is when I had to massage Robert De Niro’s fucking legs and feet. Look, I don’t mind that, it was fun, kind of. But Nancy kept saying “Deeper, deeper!” I’m like, “I’m going to fucking kill this guy!” And my hands are strong! And she goes, “No, I want to feel like you’re really into it!” I was like, “Jesus Christ,” and De Niro’s like, “Go deeper.” I’m like, “Okay.” So that was kind of a funny thing, because literally it took a lot of effort. I’m like, “Jesus Christ, you’ve got to come and powder my face. This is like exhausting.” This is like a day of, I don’t know how many, 12 takes. It’s like I was giving a leg massage to 12 people.

I met De Niro last year at a lunch for the Tribeca Film Festival and immediately he started ranting about Trump. It was so incredible.
Oh my God, I know! I love him every time he gets on television, he just says it like it is. You’re waiting for him to say, “Put a hit on him.” You’re just waiting for those words. I really, really love working with him. He’s one of my faves. He’s so complicated and interesting. And talk about deep. There’s so much going on in there that’s kind of mysterious. If it’s Robert De Niro, you get out of fucking bed and you do it, right? And Nancy Meyers, you just can’t say no. So as much as I moan and groan and complain, I had a really nice time.

What’s the coziest part of being on a Nancy Meyer set?
The whole thing. You walk onto it, you’re cozy. You instantly want to go to sleep. “Oh, there’s a sofa and a little throw at the end of it. Oh my God! I just want to get in there and go to sleep.” So that’s not helpful when you’re trying to stay up 12 hours. I would just say the whole damn thing is cozy. Everything. The kitchen’s cozy. Who has a cozy kitchen? I don’t do cozy kitchens.

What’s the best direction that she gave you?
I had to play somebody to the point and serious. A woman who had a job to do and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But she had some humor, so there were humorous moments in it. So it’s just that line between going out there like Lucille Ball, or pulling it back and getting to some kind of a place of being somewhat funny, but not too funny. [Nancy] would have very specific ideas, and of course I can’t remember them exactly. But she was good at building my relationship with De Niro. How she wanted to see it at first and then how it ended up, which was very sweet. She has a real sense of romance, you know?

What’s the best line of dialogue that she wrote for you or that you remember saying in the film that you really enjoyed?
I don’t even remember my name in the film! God, I feel bad saying that. I remember taking a walk with someone a while ago, and he goes, “What was your name in that film?” I said, “You think I know my name?” I’ve had people come up to me and say “Hi, [character name].” And I’d be like, “What is he talking about? My name’s Rene.” “Well, you know in Tin Cup.” I’m like, “Okay … ” Lorna is one I can name, for Lethal Weapon. I have no idea what my name was in The Intern.

Your name was Fiona.
[Laughs.] A line of dialogue? I have no idea! I barely remember the lines when I have to deliver them. Never mind remember it, seriously.

You’re definitely my most fun of all these interviews so far.
I’ve got the worst memory! I had a bad memory at 22. I don’t remember a line. What I do is I remember overall, the dialogue was great. It was fun. Do you have a line?

I don’t have a line, but I do love the movie and I love you in it.
Well, if you got a line, just let me know.

What was the best thing that you ate on set? Whether it was onscreen or via catering?
Again! I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night. Probably I ate what I had in my trailer because I’m a food snob. So I don’t think I did eat — did I eat in that movie? I didn’t eat in that movie. In terms of the food, I’m sure it was delicious. Look, lunchtime, I just fell asleep. All I wanted to do was sleep. I never eat at lunchtime. Because I sleep.

I really envy your relationship to sleep.
Oh my God! But I’m one of those people that if I don’t get eight hours and a nap, or maybe nine hours even — I really have to sleep. It’s unfortunate, but you know, some people just, their constitution is they need sleep. That’s the thing I hate about this particular [job], is getting up so early. If I were a guy, I’d just go in and that would be the end of it. I’d just go in and sit in the [makeup] chair for two minutes. But you know, we [women] got to sit there and dick around with our hair and our makeup for fucking hours. It’s just like, damn! So honestly, I’m so tired that I do just sleep. I have no memory of eating.

That’s okay. How would you characterize Nancy’s sense of style?
She’s got really good taste. The only thing I’ve ever seen her in is [the brand] The Row, that’s it. I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything else. Because I know she wanted me in [The Row]. So I checked her out and I thought, “Wow!” That’s what she wears. That’s her thing: super pulled together. Not colorful, loud, flamboyant. It’s like really grays, navys, blacks, white. Really pulled together. She’s great, and really knows how to dress. Real simple. A little more contemporary than her rooms are. I think just super, super simple, clean.

What is the most Nancy Meyers memory that you have? Whether it’s on set or off set or something related to the movie or not. Just something that crystallizes the experience of working with her, being friends with her.
I would really have to say [it was that day] I first went into read for the part. It was a real childlike moment for me. I really saw her as — how can I say it? It sort of threw her in a way, and a childlike thing came out of her, and it was fun and it was a little out of control. It was fun in her office that day. I really enjoyed her in the office. She wasn’t on a set, she didn’t have a zillion people to look after. It was just the two of us. I had a good time.

How would you characterize your friendship with her after working together? Have you seen each other over the years?
No. You know what? Her life is so busy. The thing about this business, it’s really like the circus. You go, you have this amazing time, and then you move on to the next event. There’s so many people you don’t stay in touch with, even though it’s [people] you’ve had lunch in your trailer with every day. That’s kind of the way the business is. She’s off with her kids and her family and writing. I think she did say, although I’m not sure — I think she mentioned that she really didn’t want to [make movies] anymore. If I remember she was like, “Eh, I don’t know. I might do it again. I might not.” Has she done it again?

She has not.
I think I do remember her saying that she really wanted to spend more time with her family. I thought, Well, that’s cool. It’s a woman who’s worked so hard for so long and done it so well. Brought so many people amazing films, and we’ve all enjoyed them. I totally got it, because I get it for myself. After a while, it’s like, this business can just grind you down. Not to be complaining, I’m thankful for it and it’s great. But there’s 12- to 14-hour days. I’ve got a daughter, so that was, especially when she was younger, it was tough. I think Nancy wants to really spend more time with her family. She’s on that set from beginning to end. She could not possibly have a life when she’s doing that movie. She puts everything into it! Everything into it!

What’s your favorite Nancy Meyers movie? It can be your own, or not.
I have never seen mine. My favorite I would have to say is the one with Meryl Streep and uh, what’s the name of that one? And what’s his face? Trump, you know.

Alec Baldwin. It’s Complicated.
Yes! I really love that movie. I think it’s really great. I just love that movie, love it! It’s my favorite and then there’s that other one, shit, there’s that one with Cameron Diaz that I remember. What is it, Holiday something?

The Holiday.
Look, they’re all great! I mean, they’re all … Come on, Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep, how can you go wrong with that?

You never watched The Intern?
No, I never watch my movies. Oh my God. If I watched a movie of mine, I’d never act again. No, I never have seen one. I did see one, because Ron Howard made me go. Oh my God, it was torture! Made me go in and sit there through a fricking movie [Ransom]. It was horrifying. People say, “Well, don’t you want to see what you did?” No. I did it. I know what I did. I did it. I was there. I don’t really need to see it.

The truth is, as an actress, it’s not like theater, where you get a chance to really work it out and think, I know I want to do it this way or that way. You’ve never worked with these people. And you don’t know what they’re going to throw you. It’s a tennis match. You have no idea what they’re going to bring to the table. Sometimes you go home at night, you go, “Oh fuck, that was the wrong way. Why didn’t I do this?” I haven’t even seen my husband [Dan Gilroy]’s movies. I think that’s kind of depressing for him. I keep saying, “If you cut my scenes out, I’ll look.” Which is ridiculous. I probably need to go to therapy.

I totally understand. I hate transcribing my interviews for that reason.
So imagine now having to look at yourself. I don’t know, maybe you’re okay with looking at yourself and thinking, Ew, God, is that what I do? Is that how I act? That’s so weird. It’s like looking at a different human. So that’s the answer there.

But you know, overall it was a really good experience and you know, as movies go, I got to be in New York and that was cool. Look man, I can say I did a Nancy Meyers film.

Well thank you so much for your time. This was delightful.
You’re welcome and thank you so much. It’s Rachelle, right? Not Rachel. What is it?

It’s Rachel, but if you want to call me Rachelle, that would be great.
That’s so cute. Okay, good. Okay. I’ll call you whatever.

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Rene Russo Explains the Perfectionism of Nancy Meyers