Interview with Nancy Meyers

30 September 2015

Find out more about the gifted writer of top Hollywood comedies such as the recently released The Intern

Saga: In The Intern, Ben [Robert De Niro] makes an impression on Jules [Anne Hathaway] because he’s observant and listens, which seems to be a theme in your films.  Do you think that quality is getting harder to find in men?  

Nancy Meyers: When I wrote What Women Want, I think the copy line was ‘Finally…a man is listening.’  And when I made that movie, I was thinking that the bottom line is that when he listens, he learns and becomes a better man.  It’s not ideal that men are from Mars and women are from Venus!  Ben doesn’t suffer from that problem.  He’s open and nonjudgmental. He’s the friend I think we all wish we had.

Saga:  Ben represents an era when gentlemen wore suits, and you celebrate that in the movie.  Like Jules, do you love how a man looks in a suit? 

Looking stylish in suits 

Nancy Meyers:  I do.  I think men look wonderful in suits.  You don’t see men in suits that much in Hollywood anymore – almost never during the day.  There used to be casual Fridays, but now every day is casual, right?   In The Intern, I’m acknowledging that perhaps this kind of thoughtful, decent man, who wears a suit out of respect to his employer is disappearing from of our landscape.  And, of course, the suit represents so much more than a suit!  It’s a symbol, really.

Saga:  And to then throw Ben into a space which is all about youth and fast internet and these – 

Nancy Meyers:  – really schlubbly kids!  [Laughs]  Yes, that part of The Intern was so fun to write and direct – so many differences in the Millennials and Ben’s generation.  And Ben is even a bit of a throwback to the great generation before him.  I don’t think Ben Whittaker was ever a hippie in the ‘70s.  Definitely old school.

Saga:  When you researching these online start-ups, what kinds of things did you take away from being in those environments?

Start-up jobs  

Nancy Meyers:  Well, we designed the set to reflect what I saw in my research – which is that all the start ups I visited were in one large space, no private offices, and all of the founders sat right in the middle of all of this activity.  They didn’t isolate themselves in a private office.  I saw that time and again.  I would have a hard time with that because, being a writer, I need a quiet workspace, so found that so interesting.  It’s definitely a new kind of workspace for a new generation. What’s great about these start-ups is that there’s this kind of ‘We are all in this together’ thing that permeates, and the comfort and needs of their employees seem paramount.

All the start ups I visited had comfortable seating areas which seemed to encourage their employees to work in a relaxed setting.  A laptop is a portable desk, right, so they know that and want their employees to sit where they want.  They also all had very cool coffee bars and dining areas.  Lots of free food.  So that’s what we did in the film.  We tried to make it all feel honest and real.  And there’s always perks at start-ups.  In ours, we have an in-house masseuse, played by Rene Russo.

Saga:  Do you recall the image or idea that first planted the seed for you to write The Intern?  

A female boss

Nancy Meyers:  I guess the initial thought was an older man choosing to work as an intern as a fun learning experience, and then that grew into thinking about what impact he would have on those he worked with who were so much younger.  And, of course, a women boss felt like the right choice and an authentic one.Once I had the idea of an older guy in a younger workplace, I knew there would be a lot I could do with that… I could see the seeds of a story beginning to grow. 

Saga:  In the movie, Jules’s start-up is gaining some success and there’s talk about bringing someone in to help with the management.  Can you talk about that?  

Nancy Meyers:  This is what I read they told [Facebook’s] Mark Zuckerberg in the beginning:  They told him they needed to bring in another CEO and obviously he said no.  In our movie, Jules came up with this idea but then very quickly she had 200 people working for her.  Her investors wondered if she was the person to scale this company or did she need help?  From the research I did, I learned this is an ongoing discussion at start-ups.  Is the person with the initial idea the same person who can turn this into a huge business?  Is it the same skill set? In a way, it is similar to what a writer/director experiences:  ‘I know you wrote the movie, but are you the person to direct it?’  I think the answer is yes.  As a writer who became a director, I didn’t really know about the camera and lenses, but as Orson Welles said, you can learn all of that on your first day.  But what you can’t learn is how to come up with the big idea and how to execute it, and I think once you take the creator out of the company, you lose the beating heart…and the passion.

A heart beating fast 

Saga:  Jules also finds herself getting shamed from her fellow mothers as a working woman who doesn’t always have time to bring her daughter to school.  

Nancy Meyers:  Well, that happens… I think there’s a subtle and sometimes not so subtle friction between the working mom and the non-working mom.  Everybody knows how hard it is to raise children but I am not sure everyone understands how hard it is to do that and hold down a job. 

Saga:  Have you ever experienced something like that in your own life?

Working mothers

Nancy Meyers:  Yes.  The scene in the film where they’re having a fiesta at school and suggest that Jules can actually buy the Guacamole and not make it at home, because she obviously doesn’t have the time—well, that really happened to me, in 1983.  And I checked to see if the same subtle shaming happens in 2015.  I had a dinner in LA with all kinds of working mothers, and they all said, ‘Oh, yeah.  We get that all the time.’ 

Saga:  This is your first film with Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro.  What was the experience like for you?

Nancy Meyers:    Wonderful.  Anne is full of energy, resourceful, very clever and extremely skilled.  It’s fun to direct her because that acting well is very deep and that’s a great advantage for a director.  And she’s so sweet, and great with the crew and all of the other actors.  She’s a pleasure, really. And, De Niro is simply one of the best there’s ever been.  That’s all there is to it.  The way he embraced the part of Ben was remarkable…  You don’t really know what someone is going to do with a part until day one.  

The first time I saw him in character as Ben, I knew what kind of movie we had.  We were in the coffee shop where he is getting take-out coffee and Jules says, ‘Come back to work for me.’  There’s a little piece at the head of that scene where he’s standing alone, waiting for the coffee, no one is noticing him, and I was watching Bob’s body language, how he stood and waited so patiently, with his hands folded in front of him.  I was standing there thinking, ‘Oh my God, there’s Ben,’ this humble man, feeling quite diminished in this scene but doesn’t show it… It was as if the Ben in my head has transferred over to Bob and he was now real. I didn’t tell him what that moment was like for me until the last day of shooting.  Bob’s been in comedies before, but he sort of trades on being somewhat threatening, like in Meet The Fockers, but there’s just no sign of that at all in Ben. 

What did you think?  Have you seen this side of Robert De Niro before?

Good friend qualities 

Saga:  No.  And it’s amazing.

Nancy Meyers:  I think he has smiled more in my movie than all his smiles in all his movies put together.  [Laughs]  He’s really so wonderful and authentic in this and the way he played Ben day after day while we made the movie… such great consistency in his choices… he was the glue we all needed and the glue the film needed.

Saga:  There’s an eight-minute scene in the film between Ben and Jules that is at once funny and moving but continues after the dialogue is over, with just De Niro having a personal moment.  Can you talk about that?  

Nancy Meyers:  Sure. There’s a very emotional scene in the film where Jules reveals something very personal to Ben and openly weeps in front of him.  He’s the friend we all wish we had in those moments.  But once she falls asleep, and he’s no longer concerned about being strong for her, we truly see how moved and emotional this moment was for him.

Read our review on The Intern here 

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