Nancy Meyers’ The Intern opened this weekend to a respectable estimated $18.2 million, and the multi-hyphenate director chose to celebrate with a trip across the pond. Delivering one of BAFTA’s Screenwriters’ Lectures at its London HQ (past participants have included James Schamus and Emma Thompson), Meyers took part in a wide-ranging audience Q&A that covered her 35-year career from her first tentative steps into screenwriting.
But it was in the final moments of the event that Meyers chose to deliver her verdict on the state of the industry, responding to a question about her 28-year-old daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s interest in screenwriting. “What worries me about her, and about all of you, is that it’s such a different time,” Meyers told the screenwriter-heavy BAFTA crowd. “The movie business is not embracing the kind of work she wants to do.”
She continued: “Over the last 35 years you could make movies about people. The Intern was very hard to get made even for me, and I’ve had successes. I worry about the climate of the movie business.”
Meyers said she hoped the eventual decision by Warner Bros. to make The Intern signalled “that the pendulum is finally swinging back from the superhero movies or whatever. Maybe then, people can start telling stories about human beings and movies for adults.”
Meyers had lost a committed collaborator on The Intern in Hans Zimmer, who had composed the score for It’s Complicated and The Holiday, Meyers’ previous two releases. “He said, ‘I’m doing Batman v. Superman,’ ” she recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah, so?’ ‘ Well, I can’t do it.’ I called him a week later and I said, ‘Are you still doing Batman?’”
But if Meyers has little time for comic book movies, her particular brand of comedy still seems to be winning, at least with mature audiences. Summing up her body of work, she laughed, “I think with some of my movies, if I just described them to you they’d sound like tragedies.”
The audience saw clips from Private Benjamin, Father of the Bride, The Parent Trap and Something’s Gotta Give. Asked if Private Benjamin in particular felt revolutionary, as a story led by women, Meyers replied in the negative. She’d written the script with Charles Shyer and Harvey Miller in 1979, at a time in which anything felt possible in the movie business. “But it was a hard film to get made. Every studio read it and passed on it – we didn’t even get a meeting. One studio even called Goldie [Hawn] and said, ‘If you make this, your career is over.’ But she was still committed to do it.”
Meyers was Oscar-nominated for the script for Benjamin, and recalled the “sad night” she sat in the front row as Peter Ustinov came out with the envelope. “There was a giant light on him and I could read the name through the envelope. I saw there weren’t three names in it. It was a horrible night.” It remains her only dalliance with the Academy Awards.
It wasn’t quite true, she revealed, that What Women Want was the first movie she had directed but not written. “I wasn’t credited, but I wrote the script,” she announced. “It was a very difficult situation.”
Reflecting on her career afforded Meyers an opportunity to consider her defining trademark, and she said she thought she often favoured casting actors against type. “Robert De Niro plays the nicest guy [in The Intern]. It’s totally against type because in every comedy he’s done he’s trading on the threatening stuff people know him from. Just like Mel Gibson in What Women Want – a very macho guy who becomes a feminist..”
To laughter from the crowd, she finished: “And Jack Nicholson, in Something’s Gotta Give, who falls in love with a woman his own age… hello! I’d say this was my trademark.”