Actors, director praise the late James Gandolfini


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TORONTO -- "Enough Said" always will be known as one of the last movies James Gandolfini made before his fatal heart attack in Rome last June.

But writer-director Nicole Holofcener resists a reporter's suggestion that the romantic comedy can double as an epitaph and reflection of just what "The Sopranos" star could do. That's too grandiose, she said.

"I was honored and blessed to work with him and, yes, he hadn't played a part like this before but -- I don't know -- I don't feel comfortable with that kind of burden on the movie," she said during the Toronto International Film Festival.

"His kids lost their dad. This is just a movie," she said, stopping so she wouldn't cry.

But she and actresses Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and Toni Collette talked about Gandolfini as a "gentle giant" who, for instance, helped everyone navigate the delirium and giddiness of a dinner party scene filmed through the night.

"There was this one bit I kept stumbling on," said Ms. Collette, the real-life mother of young children who is not accustomed to staying up till sunrise. "He really extended himself and was so generous and encouraging and present, you know, even at 4 a.m."

Ms. Keener, starring in her fifth Holofcener film, could have been speaking for fans when she said, "Somebody who's super talented, who turns out to be a nice guy -- male or female -- is always a thrill."

Gandolfini was far closer to his character of Albert, a kind, thoughtful, earnest and self-effacing TV historian, than Tony Soprano, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus said. "He was no Mafia boss, James Gandolfini. He was a dear, dear man."

In "Enough Said," Ms. Louis-Dreyfus plays Eva, a divorced masseuse who discovers she's dating the ex-husband (Gandolfini) of a friend.

Eva and Albert, who live in Los Angeles, are bracing for the departures of their respective daughters to East Coast colleges.

Ms. Louis-Dreyfus, facing the first of a series of roundtable interviews at the Fairmont Royal York, sees Eva as having been "hijacked emotionally, almost without even knowing it, by herself."

"The dread and the fear of the impending departure of her daughter fuels this horrible thing she does in the story, and she's not in control. ... It intrigues me, the idea of somebody who does mean so well doing something so terrible."

That led to some excruciating scenes to watch and to shoot, not a problem for the onetime Elaine Benes from "Seinfeld" who danced as if no one was watching (but they were, horrified), tried to ditch a neighbor's yapping dog, traveled to India to spite a bride and the list could go on.

"I love scenes like that. Awkward, wince-y, shame-filled moments of entertainment. I love to live there for as long as possible," said the actress, who just won her fourth Emmy for three comedy series, "Seinfeld," "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and "Veep" (twice).

She already knew how to knit, as the character does, but trained with a massage therapist and loved the symbolism of that job. She's physically massaging and nurturing others, but who's nurturing her, she wonders.

Ms. Louis-Dreyfus and Ms. Holofcener couldn't believe they had never met before "Enough Said," given how much they have in common.

"Not only do we live in the same city with children the same age, but we're simpatico from a comedic point of view and a dramatic point of view," said Ms. Louis-Dreyfus, the mother of sons ages 21 and 16. The filmmaker, meanwhile, has 16-year-old twin boys.

"We both had this feeling like, where have you been all my life?" the leading lady said.

Ms. Louis-Dreyfus calls the departure of her elder child for college "brutal" and added, "That's another reason why I just leapt on this script because I know this moment. Too well."

Watching the comedy during its world premiere at the festival, she realized, "My God, I've got to go through this again in a couple of years. And I went through it on the film. What am I doing to myself here?"

Although she portrays a woman who, half-jokingly, calls herself "old" in the story, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus said, "I don't think of myself as middle-aged. Does anyone middle-aged think of themselves that way? I feel like I'm 28 in my head."

And she looks younger than her 52 years, slender in dark jeans, navy and white striped top and short fitted black leather jacket, her hair in soft waves past her shoulders, her bursts of laughter the same as on "Seinfeld."

Ms. Holofcener, who is divorced like many of the characters in the movie, says, "I'm 53 and I want to get it right, and I'm trying very hard to do that. I think the subject of what really matters in a relationship and what doesn't and what you let wreck a relationship is in there somewhere.

"But basically the idea that one man's heaven is another man's hell is what interested me. Because I'm someone's hell -- I'm an ex-wife, right -- and I'm also my boyfriend's heaven. How can that be? I'm sure that's what my ex-husband says."

Although a budget of $8 million might pale next to, say, Robert Downey Jr.'s salary for "Iron Man 3," it's the most Ms. Holofcener has ever enjoyed.

As for how she landed Gandolfini, she said she met him a couple of years earlier to talk about another, unspecified part, but he wasn't quite right for it.

"He was a fan of mine, which just killed me. He'd seen 'Lovely & Amazing' and 'Friends With Money.' What?" she said with surprise and delight. A huge "Seinfeld" fan, she jumped at the chance to meet Ms. Louis-Dreyfus.

But casting the TV icons meant some lines about the culture of television and its impact on society had to go. However, the eventual DVD should include an exchange where the pair walk off camera and Eva asks, "You ever see 'Seinfeld'?" and he says, "Yeah, it sucked."

Moviegoers of a certain age will appreciate a restaurant scene where the music suddenly gets louder and makes conversation difficult. Drawn from real life?

"I walk into Urban Outfitters and I feel like I should have a cane," Ms. Holofcener joked. "Don't you want me to buy things? They're playing music that all the young people are listening to these days.

"It's just so loud and when you're in a restaurant and you ask for them to lower the volume, they're looking at you like, 'Listen, Grandma, go to IHOP.' It's all me and my friends, absolutely."

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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