What’s It Like to Be Directed by Nancy Meyers?

Diane Keaton, Steve Martin, Robert De Niro and more explain what makes the NMCU tick.

It’s Nancy Meyers Week. Why? Because it’s The Holiday season, and It’s Complicated. Something’s Gotta Give. Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Meyers
It’s Nancy Meyers Week. Why? Because it’s The Holiday season, and It’s Complicated. Something’s Gotta Give. Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Meyers
It’s Nancy Meyers Week. Why? Because it’s The Holiday season, and It’s Complicated. Something’s Gotta Give. Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Meyers

Over the course of Nancy Meyers Week, I’ve been exploring the ineffable (and, of late, polarizing) qualities of Nancy Meyers’s filmography, and how she’s been able to remain so consistent as a storyteller over the past four decades and over a dozen movies. In this weeklong quest for a greater understanding of Nancy — the deeper truths about her cinematic universe (the NMCU) and the sorts of comforts her audience seeks onscreen — I decided to reach out to the people who know her best: her collaborators. For the past two months I’ve been chatting with everyone from Diane Keaton to Cameron Diaz to Steve Martin to Hans Zimmer to Robert De Niro to discuss their impressions and memories of Nancy — as an artist, as a writer, as a director, as a friend — and, in the process, help explain what, exactly, makes her movies tick.

Part I: The Meet-Cutes

On first impressions of Nancy Meyers, the director.

Nancy Meyers and Alec Baldwin on the set of It’s Complicated. Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Meyers

Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Annie Banks in Father of the Bride, Father of the Bride Part II, and Father of the Bride 3ish): I was 19 years old, and had just flown out from Chicago to L.A. for the screen test for Father of the Bride. I remember after I read with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton, Nancy asked me to come outside so she could test my basketball skills. When I was done dribbling and shooting some baskets, she said, “You’ll hear from us sooner rather than later.” I found out later that was her way of saying I’d gotten the part. Once it was official, Nancy got on the phone with my mother and told her that during filming she would look after me as if I were her daughter.

Elaine Hendrix (Meredith Blake in The Parent Trap): Nancy and [her ex-husband] Charles [Shyer] have this interesting dynamic in that they’re parents and they’re true artists, so they have this creative, nurturing quality. But then they’re also so successful and totally business-oriented. It’s sort of like, “Oh, yeah. I feel like you’re my mom, but yet I know you’re not my mom.”

Lake Bell (Agness in It’s Complicated): I remember meeting her and, immediately, I just felt like she was a family member of mine.

Cameron Diaz (Amanda Woods in The Holiday): You know when somebody just feels so self-possessed? She just knows who she is. And it’s very refreshing to see somebody who’s pointed in a direction and always [knows] who she is and what her art is. I’m trying to think of one word that could sum it up. She had gravitas.

Kieran Culkin (Matty in Father of the Bride, Father of the Bride Part II, and Father of the Bride 3ish): I remember she was very tall, because I was probably about four feet tall [at the time of Father of the Bride]. Three-foot-11, four-foot-two, somewhere in that area.

Martin Short (Frank in Father of the Bride, Father of the Bride Part II, and Father of the Bride 3ish): I just remember thinking that she and Charles were funny and loose. You get the impression of someone who’s very sharp and hip.

Diane Keaton (Nina Banks in Father of the Bride, Father of the Bride Part II, and Father of the Bride 3ish; Erica Barry in Something’s Gotta Give; JC Wiatt in Baby Boom): She’s smarter than everyone else. It’s so annoying for me, not [being] in that league at all

Charles Shyer (Meyers’s ex-husband and longtime co-writer and director): When we first met, she was working for Motown, and Motown had a movie company then. She was the person who developed all their scripts. My partner at the time and I were hired to take two scripts — one was called Senior Prom and the other High School and they wanted us to make those two scripts into one movie. Which is preposterous, right? It was a three-day weekend, and they assigned Nancy to sit with us at Universal. It was like a ghost town: the guard and me, and Nancy, and my partner. And we actually did it. And Nancy became our third partner. I realized at that time how smart she was and how great she was as a collaborator. And also we started to fall for each other. She was so cute and so smart. She was the full package.

Steve Martin (George Banks in Father of the Bride, Father of the Bride Part II, and Father of the Bride 3ish; Adam in It’s Complicated): I had signed up [to do], or was interested in doing, Father of the Bride. And the script, [Nancy and Charles] had not written it. It was a previously written draft. The writers, whose names I can’t remember, made it very contemporary, in the sense that the boyfriend rode a motorcycle and had tattoos and was crude, and the daughter was a rebel. Nancy and Charles came over and explained their vision of it, which couldn’t be more opposite of what the script was. But they have such confidence in their vision that you just go, “Sure.”

Alec Baldwin (Jake Adler in It’s Complicated): When Nancy asked me to play Meryl [Streep]’s ex-husband [in It’s Complicated], one of my first observations was that Meryl is nine years older than me; therefore, was I the right person for the part? And in this meeting, Nancy told me that male stars cast women far younger than them all the time and no one bats an eye. What difference did it make in this case? And I realized how right she was.

Rene Russo (Fiona in The Intern): 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.

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?”

Hans Zimmer (composer for Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday, and It’s Complicated): I’ve met Nancy quite a few times before I started working with her because we had mutual friends in college. She always wanted me to work with her, and I kept thinking that there’s only so much comedy I can look at. I’m a German, how much comedy language do we have? And then she got very stuck one day. I’m not going to tell you which movie it was, but I’m writing this tune [for her]. The phone rings, and [Nancy] is already on her way. The tune is half finished, but they come in, so I have to play it. I hate playing in front of people. I’m really nervous. I play the thing much too fast, but she’s sitting at the side of the piano, so I can’t actually see her when I’m playing her this tune. I stop and I look at her and she’s crying. I’m going, That’s not good. She goes, “That’s not at all what I imagined for my movie.” I’m going, That’s double not good. And then she goes, “It’s really beautiful.”

Caitlin FitzGerald (Lauren Adler in It’s Complicated): I don’t remember my first impression of her exactly because I was blind with fear, but I suspect that even through the nerves I was aware that she was wearing something very chic.

Andrew Rannells (Cameron in The Intern): I was very nervous to meet Nancy. I figured getting cast was a long shot. But at my first callback, she was so welcoming. She also smelled really good. I hope that’s not a creepy thing to say.

Anders Holm (Matt in The Intern): I technically met Nancy over a Zoom audition. I was then in New Orleans, visiting Adam DeVine, who was coincidentally in the same movie, The Intern. I was like, Oh, I’m probably not going to get this movie because they’re not going to want two guys from Workaholics in one movie. It’ll be weird.

Adam DeVine (Jason in The Intern): She didn’t know that when she cast us. She cast us each completely separately, and then it wasn’t until later that someone’s like, “Oh, yeah, you hired the Workaholics guys.” She’s like, “What?” I remember her being like, “I’ve got to watch your show. I think you guys are so cute and funny. I have to tune in.” I remember just thinking, like, Oh, please, God, don’t watch Workaholics.

Part II: The Work Begins

On Nancy Meyers’s particular traditions as a filmmaker — namely, all those takes.

Jude Law and Nancy Meyers on the set of The Holiday. Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Meyers

Baldwin: Nancy likes to do a lot of takes. And by that, I mean a LOT of takes. I’m told the only person who does more takes than Nancy is Warren Beatty.

Diaz: Nancy likes to do a lot of takes. She’s kind of known for that. That’s all day long. Her coming over and being, “I like that. Just a little bit more like this, and let me see it again.” So you go in there, and you try to do it exactly the same, up to the moment that she wants it different. And then you try to give her that difference, and then she’ll come back like, “That was great. So do it exactly that way again.”

Keaton: Oh, yeah. Lots of takes. Good. That’s what I say: Give me more. I need help.

Anne Hathaway (Jules Ostin in The Intern): [I love] how she genuinely means it when she says it’s the last take, and how it’s always, always followed by her asking for one more.

Russo: She’s got a bullshit meter. So if you’re skating — not that I would be skating — she would just push for every single thing, which is good.

Short: [Nancy and Charles] used to have a little sign, “gut,” G-U-T, hanging by the monitor. Go with your gut. A “If you don’t feel you have it, don’t feel pressured to move on” kind of approach. I loved that because I’d still be shooting Three Amigos if [John Landis] let me.

Martin: There’s the feeling of perfectionism. When we did Father of the Bride 3ish, she had worked with De Niro before, and I thought, De Niro is probably not going to tolerate a lot of takes. But he was like, “Yes, ma’am.”

Robert De Niro (Ben Whittaker in The Intern): She’s very particular about how she does her things and very meticulous. But she has a way of making what she does pay off. She’s a stickler for her stuff, and sometimes I thought it was okay. I’ll keep going. It’s up to her to make that final decision. I’ll do the 55 takes with her.

Hendrix: I remember her using a bullhorn a lot to give directions. I think Nancy has supreme confidence. I think she’s aware of her mastery, and she doesn’t apologize for it. She’s at the top for a reason, and she didn’t get there by apologizing for it. She didn’t get there by shrinking who she is.

Shannyn Sossamon (Maggie in The Holiday): I remember Jack [Black] was so stressed out [on the set of The Holiday] that at one point he just blurted out, in between setups, “I think I’m going to get fired.” It was really funny. Because she’s very particular. I’m sure she loved him, and he’s great in the movie, but that’s how it can feel.

Hallie Meyers-Shyer (Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer’s daughter, director, and occasional extra): She’s extremely competent. She can take on a lot. I went to go visit her in New York her first week of making The Intern. I drove with her on her first day to set, and I just remember she was so calm. I was just like, “Why aren’t you more nervous? Why don’t you have, like, first-day-of-school feelings?” It was like driving with Willie Mays to the first day of practice.

FitzGerald: I remember Nancy telling me once that on her first film she asked for every single thing she wanted, and, to her surprise, the studio acquiesced. Since that moment, she said, she asks for what she wants, even if it seems impossible. I think about this all the time, and about how I, and so many women I know, don’t ask for things because we don’t want to be perceived as “difficult” or overly demanding.

Part III: Getting the Look Just Right

On Nancy Meyers’s extreme attention to detail on set, which, according to her peers, often begins with choosing the correct outfits.

Anne Hathaway, Robert De Niro and Adam DevVne on the set of The Intern. Photo: Courtesy of Adam Devine

Martin: She takes very detailed care of her actors when it comes to costumes. We made jokes on Father of the Bride 3ish. My daughter, who was 7, said, “How long did you try on sweatshirts for?” I said, “An hour.” The costume sessions for Father of the Bride were lengthy. It’d be a day. Jeans on, jeans off. “What about those jeans? What about these jeans? What about that T-shirt with these jeans?” So it’s exacting. And you know what? I appreciate that, because I kind of dress like Father of the Bride now. It’s kind of my look. Learned that from her.

Alexandra Shipp (Rachel in Father of the Bride 3ish): She had some pj’s that were sent over from a designer [for Father of the Bride Part 3ish] that she really loved. And she and I were on FaceTime. I had my closet open, and I was trying on this, trying on that. I don’t want to brag, but I got to play dress-up with Nancy Meyers in my closet. It was one of the most psychotic things I feel like I’ve ever done.

DeVine: Nancy was fully there during the whole wardrobe fitting, and I just felt like it was like that scene in Pretty Woman where she was just trying on clothes for Richard Gere, except that it’s me and Nancy Meyers, and I’m just trying on very comfortable sweaters.

De Niro: She’s very particular. We’ll put on stuff; we’ll try the shirt, the this. You could feel that that’s tedious. I don’t. I think it’s necessary.

Russo: 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.

Holm: I know how particular she can be about things looking good. Maybe even symmetrical. I don’t really grow as much facial hair on one side of my face as I do on the other. Nancy wasn’t super thrilled about that. So we had to glue matching fake-beard hair to one side of my face to make it look like a Hollywood beard. It paid off, because I looked great. And because of Nancy now, I just glue beard hair on myself all the time.

Shyer: In Baby Boom, Nancy and Susan Becker really worked out that whole Diane Keaton look, with the belts. The style of Diane in that movie was a big deal; there is a lot of writing about it. Maybe she dresses a little like Diane, but Diane is so eccentric in the way she dresses. I think in real life, Diane does not dress like Nancy. In the movies, it’s based on Nancy a bit, yeah.

Meyers-Shyer: Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give dresses almost freakishly like my mom. It’s funny, my mom rented a house in the Hamptons one summer and a friend of mine came to visit, and she had never seen Something’s Gotta Give. Like a week later, she decided to watch it, and she wrote me: “I’m having an out-of-body experience having just visited you and your mom, and now I’m watching this movie where this woman looks just like your mom.”

Culkin: Something that [Nancy] talks about, in terms of the clothes and hair for her movies: She wants it to seem timeless. She doesn’t want anyone to watch her movies and think, Oh, this movie was made in blank. So everyone dresses like Nancy.

Bell: [Nancy] was always wearing a uniform of creams and taupes, of plush fabrics with important textures, and her hair blown dry just so. There’s a rotating collection of very sumptuous, wealthy fabrics. Draping an oatmeal and a cream and a white — crisp white. Button-down, cashmere, oatmeal, draping.

FitzGerald: I remember one white shirt in particular that Nancy wore while shooting that impressed me so much, not only because of how well it was cut but also because of how white and crisp it stayed throughout the whole day. Anyone else would have wilted. Never Nancy.

Simon Kunz (Martin in The Parent Trap): She always looked well turned out. She never slouched it. She didn’t just turn up looking like she’d been dragged through the hedge backward — unlike Stanley Kubrick types, hair’s all over. Or Coppola.

Martin: She’s always looking … Well, she looks like she’s in a Nancy Meyers movie. And she wants you to look the best possible. I remember when I was doing It’s Complicated, she came back to me after about three or four days and said, “I want you to see the dailies.” So I came in, and she said, “Don’t you think you look a little pale?” And I said, “No, I don’t.” And she kind of struggled and said, “Okay.” And then when I saw the movie, I thought I looked a little pale.

Reese Witherspoon (Alice Kinney in Home Again): She knows every actor’s strengths, and she plays to them. Every piece of advice about my wardrobe, my comedic timing, my reactions, and when to push for deeper meaning in scenes was a gift.

Diaz: She walks to the beat of her own drum. I think she’s picked her lane, and she stays in it. That’s what I really love about her. She’s not trying to reinvent anything. She’s like, “I created this wheel; I created this. I made this path. This is my lane. I’m in it, I own it, and that’s just what I do. And everybody can get onboard or not. But this is the train going this way. It’s already left the station, and it’s on its way to its destination.”

Part IV: Finding the Comedy in Crying

On Nancy Meyers’s particular brand of humor, one that involves an equal (and healthy) amount of laughter and tears.

Nancy Meyers, Jack Nicholson, and Diane Keaton on the set of Something’s Gotta Give. Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Meyers

Zimmer: Comedies are really hard, especially at the Nancy Meyers level. Somebody once said, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” The soufflé has to rise and it has to be light.

Keaton: Let me tell you something about Nancy. When a scene is going well, and she sees something and something makes her laugh, she’ll laugh. It’s really sweet, you know? She loves her work.

Witherspoon: She knows exactly how much crying in a scene is funny and how much is just downright sad. She loves physical comedy, but only when performed by a masterful physical comedian.

Culkin: Directors tend to be very stressed out. And there can be a lot of tension on set. [Nancy and Charles], I remember them having a lot of fun. There’s a scene [in Father of the Bride Part II] where Steve Martin’s character takes sleeping pills and passes out, and then Franck drags him across the house. And I had wrapped [shooting], but I wanted to stick around and watch this. I remember being behind the monitor and [Nancy and Charles] were having so much fun, laughing really hard at Martin [Short] for dragging Steve Martin to the point where he [almost] just laid flat on the floor, with Steve Martin on top of his back. The whole point of it, it seemed, was just to have fun and make each other laugh. And meanwhile, we’ll film it.

In the [Father of the Bride] scene where [the kids] had to drive the cars and park them — I remember on the day, [Nancy and Charles] were figuring out how to do that. They had all these different methods. And the thing they ended up doing was, they put a driver in the car, and dressed him as a car seat. I’m not even fucking kidding. They hollowed out a car seat and put it over him. He could barely see where he was going. And then I sat on his lap and put my hand on the steering wheel. He was looking over my shoulder through these tiny holes, barely able to see me, and driving and parking the car. And I remember [Nancy and Charles] laughing their asses off.

Short: The first day I shot on Father of the Bride was the big scene where you meet Franck, and no one was 100 percent sure how big or how small he should be. I was less concerned because I’d done characters, and I had found that in life, the world is populated with them. They just don’t know they’re comedic or that they’re characters. In other words, if Franck’s trying to be funny, then it will not be funny. So I remember the first thing that we tried, we started off larger than life. Then we kept turning down the dial, like a faucet, trying to get the right temperature in a bath.

Baldwin: The obvious example of the strangest and silliest moment [on the set of It’s Complicated] was when we smoked pot in the bathroom, and I turned the joint around in my mouth to blow the smoke, shotgun style, at John Krasinski. And Nancy said, “What on earth are you doing?” I took that to mean Nancy did not smoke very much pot, if any. And some people questioned whether that might hurt our rating if we were so “dedicated” in our pot-smoking. But I recall that Nancy really laughed when we did that.

Russo: 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.”

Hendrix: She takes her time. We didn’t have to rush through things. We got to rehearse. We got to play things out, to get it until she felt that it was right and beautiful and from all angles, and that you felt good. On that swing-set scene [in The Parent Trap], I remember we were rehearsing and she had an idea: “Lindsay [Lohan], I want you to mirror everything that Elaine does.” Lindsay leans back and then I lean forward, and then Lindsay leans forward on that swing-set scene. That was Nancy’s idea.

De Niro: She’s very exacting with the way she writes [her comedies], the words, the rhythm, this and that. If it has a joke, there has to be a certain way that it’s done, or underplayed, or downplayed.

Martin: The writing is the source of everything. When we were doing Father of the Bride 3ish, I couldn’t believe how well-structured the script was. Especially because it’s essentially a Zoom movie. How she delayed characters’ entrances, so they’d have their own moment, just like you would in a movie. Nancy is what you call a perfectionist, and she has the line in her head the way it should sound. One time, Nancy came to me, and she said, “You read the lines exactly the way I hear them.” And I think that’s what she likes about my performance with her. The one person I’ve seen have permission to stray from that, or not have the conflict, is Diane Keaton, who reads every line differently every time.

Meyers-Shyer: My mom values comedy so much, and I think Diane’s ability to deliver my mom’s dialogue, it just makes her so happy. And that’s the thing I see my mom comment on most when we’ll watch a movie together or we’ll just talk about The Crown: her appreciation of somebody who can deliver comedy. She just values it more than anything.

Bell: I was improvising a little bit in a scene that was written, and Meryl improvised something back. And I was like, Okay, I’m feeling like I’m part of the team here. It was the most exciting thing in my life. But I was so nervous. So I rehearsed with the script supervisor, and I said, “Hey, I just have a question. What’s the feeling on set here? If I improvise something, are we good with that?” And she said, “No, you shouldn’t be improvising at all. You need to say them all as written.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. Well, if Meryl improvises something to me, am I allowed to then improvise back?” And she was like, “Meryl was improvising? I will go and tell her her lines.” I was like, “No, no, no. I’m not telling on Meryl!” I found out very quickly: That is not how Nancy rolls when it’s time to shoot. Nancy likes a firm respect and love of the words that she has penned, and I understand. She has more of a playwright mentality when it comes to her screenplays. She likes everything word-perfect.

Shyer: In my opinion, Nancy has the best lines. She’s up there with Neil Simon. It’s on the level of Nora Ephron.

Part V: Realizing the Fantasy

On the aspirational production design for which Nancy Meyers has become known.

Eli Wallach, Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Nancy Meyers on the set of The Holiday. Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Meyers

Holm: Everyone jokes about how the set design is immaculate in a Nancy Meyers movie. It’s become its own thing. She’s like the new Chuck Norris: “He doesn’t use firewood. He uses his beard shavings.” I feel Nancy has her own mythology now. The reality of Nancy is not as heightened as people are making it, but when we were filming The Intern, and Anne and I were in a bed together, just having a scene where we’re talking about the next day or something like that, Nancy would always come in and tuck us in and set the sheets.

Mark Feuerstein (Morgan in What Women Want): It’s no accident that many fantasize about living inside a Nancy Meyers movie.

Russo: [Before The Intern], my daughter was like, “Mom, you have to come out of retirement. You have to. I want to live in a Nancy Meyers movie.”

Lisa Ann Walter (Chessie in The Parent Trap): The kitchens, obviously, everybody talks about them. It’s the heart of these movies. I think that when you think of her, you think of the word heart, and I think that’s why people respond to her kitchens. Not just because they’re pretty, because they feel like someplace in your house. Everybody hangs out in the kitchen, right?

Martin: Certain things, like kitchens — she pays special attention to that. I always thought, Well, is that the real kitchen that these people would have? And when you see the movie, you just enter this world of comfort, that’s like, Yeah, that’s exactly the right kitchen. That’s exactly the right set. It kind of lies between realism and what you want a movie to be.

Jon Hutman (production designer for What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday, and It’s Complicated): There is something about the aesthetic [of her films], which she connects with, which is ultimately comfortable, and you want to be in it. The world in which Nancy’s stories unfold has a warmth and a reality that people connect with. Yes, in a slightly aspirational way, but ultimately, familiar and relatable. We often get accused of being the “fancy house” guys. But specifically when we talk about Something’s Gotta Give, people remember the house in that movie because they connect emotionally with the story, period. Houses way more beautiful and perfect than that have been published a gazillion times, and the reason people remember that house in that movie is because they get swept away in the story.

Russo: The kitchens are cozy. I would just say the whole damn thing is cozy. Everything. 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!

Short: I do remember being stunned in Father of the Bride Part II at the beauty of the nursery. Nancy is very specific with aesthetics, whether it’s the set or the costumes or wardrobe. And I remember just literally taking photos so that if anyone was having a baby, I could say, “This is what your nursery should look like.”

Zimmer: A lot of what she does is, she writes with architecture; she writes with interior design; she writes with a light. She writes with not just the words, but with everything around it that has to make sense. The music is part of that.

Witherspoon: [Nancy] taught me how to look at everything from a design perspective and be very discerning about precision. Little details such as how a jacket hung on me or how an upholstered chair worked better than a wooden chair or how you can make a perfect-looking lasagna … who knew?!

We were shooting my close-up in the kitchen in Home Again, during a scene with me and Candice Bergen, and Nancy shouted, “CUT! Just give me a minute; something is off.” She spoke with director Hallie [Meyers-Shyer] for a few minutes in quiet tones, and then she walked directly behind me to a vase of the bright blue hydrangeas and gently rearranged them. Then she returned to the video monitors and said, “Okay, now we can go again.” The flowers were perfect for the next take. And I have to say, it made a huge difference.

Bell: [Nancy] had a florist — you’d come to set and there’d be these beautiful arrangements that she had overseen of the flowers that would be in the background. There would be a very well curated collection of the correct and right flowers that she envisioned to be in that shot. It’s just a different level.

DeVine: I remember we were shooting a scene and there were some plants in the background, and she was like, “Wait, these flowers wouldn’t be in bloom this time of year.” We’re like, “What?”

Meyers-Shyer: Her home is one of her interests. She reads things and finds things. We’re sending each other DMs of amazing houses in England. I think design and film go hand in hand. They always have.

Part VI: The Gourmet of It All

On the famously thought-out feasts in her films, which her collaborators corroborated are as delicious onscreen as they are off it.

Meryl Streep and Rita Wilson in It’s Complicated. Photo: Universal/Courtesy of Everett Collection

FitzGerald: I suspect food is always an important part of a Nancy Meyers movie, both on and offscreen, but in It’s Complicated, Meryl owns a bakery, so the eating was particularly good. I distinctly remember a dinner-party scene that we shot for three or four days. Usually if that happens on a set, you can’t wait to get away from the food by the last day. But in this case I was a little heartbroken to walk away from that table.

Bell: Meryl’s character is a baker, so you would walk onto the soundstages and you would be sort of impaled by the rich, buttery smell of fresh croissants. It wasn’t like, “Let’s get some croissants and put them on a tray. Just get them from Trader Joe’s.” No. She had a chef making fresh pastries and croissants — not to eat, but for the camera.

Martin: It’s funny to me — when I read the scene about making croissants in the script for It’s Complicated, I was like, Okay. Fine. But people cite that as some kind of cherished moment that they want to do or want to be part of. Food on a movie set is not like food. You end up not eating the food, because you have so many takes and spit buckets and all that stuff. But I have to say, the smell of the croissant …

Kunz: Great craft service [on The Parent Trap]. Best food I’ve ever had on any film ever. I remember when we were shooting in the Napa Valley region, we met up at the Francis Ford Coppola estate. They had this thing, which I’d never heard of, which was “surf and turf.” They said, “No, have both.” I said, “What? This is extraordinary.” It was just so evolved from being on an English film set or British film set, where you get your coffee, maybe a biscuit, a bit of sandwich maybe.

Walter: End-of-the-week dinners were always kind of a big deal. It’s that lovely Jewish mother in her that needs to feed. I remember one specific Friday night dinner, Simon and I walk into the tent, and he’s like, “What’s for dinner?” And I’m like, “Oh, let me look … Oh, lobster. We’re having lobster and filet mignon.” And he was floored. He was like, “Are you kidding? Back home, they throw you a bag of chips and ‘Good luck.’” And I’m like, “Well, not on a Nancy movie.”

Hendrix: They had everything: They had a seafood bar. They had a meat bar. They had a salad bar. They had a dessert bar.

Culkin: I remember for some reason, there was always mahimahi on the [set’s food] truck. I don’t know why, and I feel like that became a running joke: “It’s always mahimahi.”

Shyer: We just tried to make it not boring.

Holm: I think the best thing [on the set of The Intern] was Bob’s birthday — Robert De Niro. And they had this giant tray of … not fresh mozzarella, but the more whipped-style cheese. Burrata. But it wasn’t even on bread. It was just a giant tray of spoons of burrata, and it was coming around, and I was like, That’s pretty gross, that you just eat a spoon of burrata. Who does that? But then people would make weird noises of happiness after they would take their bite. So I’m like, “I gotta try this.” And then I think I had seven spoons of burrata with a little dollop of olive oil on top of it.

Hathaway: Well, it was a guy Bob brought in. So I don’t know if Nancy gets credit.

DeVine: De Niro brought in a cheese guy.

De Niro: We were somewhere up in the Bronx or near it or something. And there was a place in the Bronx that I got all that stuff from. It was nice. Mozzarella.

Part VII: The Lasting Impressions

On the Nancy Meyers legacy — how, after the auditions and the takes and the costume changes and the décor tweaks and the Friday dinners, Nancy’s collaborators walk away feeling like they were part of something bigger: an entire cinematic universe that has enraptured so many fans for decades.

Jack Nicholson and Nancy Meyers on the set of Something’s Gotta Give. Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Meyers

Hendrix: I get comments on The Parent Trap every single day. I mean every single day. Everything about it was special from beginning to end, still 22 years later. It’s still special. And that’s the magic of Nancy Meyers. There’s an eternal hope in her movies — that life is going to be okay. I could cry right now. People, I think now more than ever, need to feel that everyone’s going to be okay.

Kunz: I still occasionally get tweaked for being in The Parent Trap, and it’s often now by women who are probably in their 30s or are nearing menopause now. Those who remember it just glow with a love for it. If you think about it, the story’s kind of almost like a Greek tragedy. Your parents splitting up and taking a twin each and not telling them. I mean, think about it that way — it’s like, Jesus. But you kind of suspend your disbelief because of the kind of panache and chutzpah of the whole thing.

DeVine: Every time I’m on a flight, I see people watching The Intern, and it makes me so happy. A few years ago, someone right next to me was watching The Intern, and when I’m onscreen, I lean over and go, “I love this scene.” The person looked at me like I was a lunatic. They did not put it together that I was the guy on the TV and just thought I was interrupting their movie.

Diaz: People love The Holiday. I can’t even tell you. People come up to me all the time since the first time they’d seen it, and they’re like, “This is my movie; I watch it every holiday season. It’s the first thing I put on at the beginning of December. I watch it every single day.”

Culkin: Sometimes I’m asked if I ever get nostalgic for [Father of the Bride]. I’m like, “Yeah, because it actually was a part of my childhood.” People feel like it was part of their childhood, but it was a huge chunk of mine.

Martin: Father of the Bride kind of changed my life. And people really respond for some reason. It’s a middle-of-the-road comedy in terms of not being too extreme, being emotional. But it genuinely affects people, it seems to me.

FitzGerald: Especially this year, I think Nancy’s movies have been the soothing balm we all need. It’s the best feeling in the world to know that something you helped make brings continual comfort and happiness to people. I feel so, so lucky to be a part of the Nancy Meyers club.

Shipp: I grew up watching her movies, and those movies were the movies that made me go, Oh my God, I could be an actor, and I could do these really cool, fun things. I was just like, Man, I want to be Nancy Meyers when I grow up. Come on.

Walter: I had never had a female director before. What was immediately obvious to me in the work, when we were shooting and on set, was that there was a loving energy. Not to say that she wasn’t a leader, because she was. Mothers have to be leaders. But she took an interest in you as a human. “What’s your dating situation?” Once I called her because [I] had broken up with [someone] and I was heartbroken, and I was in tears. And she said, “Here’s what I want you to do. Go get a bottle of Champagne and pop it, because that guy was a loser.”

Zimmer: The thing is, Nancy comes into the room and you know it’s going to be excellent, whatever she does is going to be excellent, and you better live up to that. I love her style. I love that she tells grown-up stories. I always get the sense that at the end of the day, Nancy Meyers believes in true love, and puts that on the screen. People are cynical, and people are ironic, and people are good at doing all those things. Well, Nancy actually wants to make a movie about something noble and honest and wonderful, and that thing called true love, and at the same time, let us celebrate it by having a laugh. I think Nancy would be really lousy at doing The Dark Knight or something.

Witherspoon: She continues to be an incredible resource to me. I’m always asking her questions about scripts, books, and adaptations, and she always obliges. I always turn to her first because no one understands what makes a character magical more than Nancy Meyers.

More From This Series

See All
Both Shyer and Meyers worked with screenwriter Harvey Miller. Another one of Nancy’s ideas: setting Elaine Hendrix up with Steve Martin. “I might regret saying this, but I think she was trying to set me up with Steve Martin,” Hendrix said. “She was like, ‘He would like you,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re trying to set me up with him,’ and she’d be like, ‘No.’ I would be like, ‘Yes, you are.’ I did meet Steve. I did. I did meet him. He’s now married, happily, to someone else. So we see how that turned out. Well, it’s a longer version, but it’s … Oh Lord.” Lake Bell on her relationship to Nancy Meyers: “She called me and asked me to be in Home Again, and told me that the character that I was playing was ‘like a bitchy, sort of wealthy, bitchy wife.’ And I was like, “You’re the only person in the world that ever casts me as just a colossal bitch.’ She sees me as this sexy, sex bitch. I kind of love that.” “The guy has a guy for everything,” Adam Devine said. “I remember asking him one day — he had a watch on and I like watches, and I was like, ‘Oh, I really like your watch.’ He goes, ‘Are you looking for a watch? I got a watch guy, I’ll send you to him.’ I’m like, I’m not going to go to De Niro’s watch guy. I can’t afford any watch that De Niro’s watch guy’s going to try to sell me.” Robert De Niro confirmed that he does have a watch guy: “A watch guy? Yeah, I might have. I might have told him of somebody I knew, yeah.” “When we started the Zoom [Father of the Bride 3ish], Nancy reached out and she was telling me what it was going to be about,” Culkin added. “I remember her saying, ‘Oh, you’re such a sweetheart.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, you still think I’m 9.’ And I tried to make that joke. I was like, ‘You have no idea what I’m like.’ She goes, ‘Oh no, I know you. You’re a sweetheart.’ I think she does watch Succession. A lot of people watch that show and go, ‘This guy is not a sweetheart.’ But she still sees a nine-year-old Matty.’” For the record, Steve Martin’s favorite Nancy Meyers movie is Baby Boom. “Diane Keaton has a scene by a wishing well — I can’t even remember its topic, but it was just so fabulous. Nancy and Charles, I have to say, took advantage of Diane’s eccentricity and just turned it into gold in that scene. It was fabulous.” Speaking of the Nancy Meyers club, Robert De Niro noted that he and Nancy still text to this day: “Absolutely. Simple stuff. Even with Trump or some thing or, ‘Did you read this or hear this?’ I’d enjoy working with her again if we can find something. If she found something, you know.” Fun fact: Hans Zimmer played at one of Nancy Meyers’s daughters weddings. “I found out she didn’t have somebody to play for her daughter’s wedding,” the composer recalled. “She came to ask me what music to play, and I was fishing through things and it was all ghastly, so I just went, ‘I’ll do it.’ I suddenly became the entertainment.”
What’s It Like to Be Directed by Nancy Meyers?