Writing For Diane Keaton + Discussing Book Club: A Conversation with Erin Simms
Four lifelong friends have their lives turned upside down to hilarious ends when their book club tackles the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey.
Diane (Diane Keaton) is recently widowed after 40 years of marriage. Vivian (Jane Fonda) enjoys her men with no strings attached. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is still working through a decades-old divorce. Carol’s (Mary Steenburgen) marriage is in a slump after 35 years.
From discovering new romance to rekindling old flames, they inspire each other to make their next chapter the best chapter.
In this interview, co-writer Erin Simms talks about the defining moment of the script, writing for Diane Keaton and working with Bill Holderman…
How did you get involved in the movie, what’s it like working with Bill… give us the story behind this story.
Uh, story behind the story. So, Bill and I worked together for a bunch of years. We worked for Robert Redford at his production company, so we were always producing and doing… well I was doing development, actually to be specific, and Bill was running the company and was a producer. And… the 50 Shades books came out. And Bill was sending 50 Shades of Grey to his mom, kind of in a funny way for Valentine’s Day.
And I found out, and I was like, what?! That’s just wrong on every level. And I thought it was hilarious. So then I decided that I should send 50 Shades of Grey to my mother. And then I said I’ll also send it to my stepmother and just make this like a whole family affair. And, I guess we both, I don’t know, I went home that night and came back the next morning and said, what about a movie about, you know, four women in their 60s, because our mothers are in their, I won’t say their exact age.
What about a book club about women in their 60s reading 50 Shades of Grey and it was like instant… that’s what we’re doing! And so, I remember the time we immediately bought 50, 60sahdesofgrey.com, 70shadesofgrey.com, 80grades, cause we just decided that there was gonna be many sequels. We were very… ambitious as a duo. But, yeah, so that’s where the idea came from. So it’s all Bill’s fault. [OVERLAPPING] All Bill’s mother’s fault.
Did you see the four ladies that we have? Did you see them as you were writing?
Oh, yeah, yeah, I will… it matches my vision and exceeds my vision. But, we 100% wrote… originally the first character that we were writing was Diane, and it was for Diane Keaton, and we called her Diane because it was Diane Keaton and it was the only person that we ever thought of. So that’s pretty crazy as two people who are just randomly writing a script to actually end up getting the person that they wrote the movie for, that’s, that’s a pretty incredible feeling, I must say.
Jane was Jane, and it was Jane Fonda and we got Jane Fonda. The characters of Carol and Sharon changed a bunch, so I don’t even remember what we were thinking, but I’m not sure we ever… what, I, I’ve asked Bill a few times of what the path was of when we thought of Candice, but when we thought of Candice, it was like… cause so many ideas are thrown… it was over. We just knew it had to be Candice Bergen. So, and I can’t tell you why her, just, as soon as I, as soon as we thought of her name, it was like we found our Sharon. And it had to be Candice. And she said yes, so that was pretty sick.
And then Carol… to me, was always Mary. I can’t speak for Bill, but if you re-, you know, you see the movie, it’s, I don’t know who else you can picture to play that part. And so each character is a little bit inspired by someone in our life. And I mean, Mary kind of embodies all of the qualities of the character as written. But, as I said, that, that, that character got rewritten a few times, so once we finally landed on the version that we loved, it was like Mary Steenburgen.
What is Book Club about?
Well, Book Club, I mean the, the log line is it’s four women in their 60s reading 50 Shades of Grey, and it sort of leads them to question where they are in their lives, and it just opens up a conversation between them that leads to some changes, significant changes. But, the movie, I mean it, the movie was really borne out of a conversation of knowing different women in that age range and how different they could be. Because we knew some women that were just… operating as if they were as vibrant and amazing as they’ve always been. And then knowing some women who sort of reaching an age and just shutting down and, and kind off allowing that to be their reality.
And I just didn’t really understand… well first off I, I just don’t think that’s the way that it should be. And I get that life can be hard and things happen when we all are a product off the things that happen to us. But I just… I think getting older is beautiful and we shouldn’t be looking back and trying to be younger. It’s like, you know, you look at younger people now, it’s like, you’re gonna be old one day, we’re all going in the same direction. Why not be your best self all the time?
And you look at Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen and these people are living, of course they’re, they’re stars, they’re super successful, but they, they’re… they’re living their lives to the fullest, so it seems to me. And just really accepting of who they are in the world and their, what they’ve accomplished. And it’s just, I don’t know, I think it’d be nice to have more regular people feel that way too.
For you, what is the defining moment in the script?
Uh… I mean, I just really love with each four women the point at which they realise, I gotta let go. I think all of us as people are holding onto nine million things, and it’s very rare, like that cathartic moment where you just are like, no. I’m done with this story that I’ve been telling for a thousand years, it’s been holding me back. I, and so they each have their own moment where they decide, the only way to have a better life, the only way to, to change is to actually say, fuck this. I’m not telling this story any more. I’m starting a new one.
And it doesn’t matter how old I am, I can always start a new story, and I can always get better. So, yeah, I mean…
Well, I think one off my, uh, personally one of my favourite scenes, and I have them for all the characters, but, with Sharon, with Candice Bergen, I love the idea that she’s at that anniversary party for her son and for her husband, and she’s standing there. First off all, the guts to even go to that is, and I’ve seen it. My parents are divorced and they’ve gone to each other’s events. And it’s… a lot of stress, and then you get to that moment where you’re like, I love that Sharon’s character sees Tom and realises that he’s happy, and realises that she was not the right person for him, and he was not the right person for her, and that people are allowed to actually move on.
And she doesn’t have to continue being angry or, or worrying about what his… I just love the idea that she is happy for him. And she realises she’s ready to sort off… live her own experience and let go. So, that’s my favourite moment.
How do you think the audience is going to react to the subject?
Um, I think first they’re gonna think that they’re going into some kind of like raunchy movie, and they’re not. So, uh… I think… well let me think about that question.
How do you think the audience is going to react to the subject that the movie is addressing?
Sex within, sex and love and the… well I think the whole point is, is that people, for some reason, have this idea that at a certain age, having sex is not appealing any more, or people don’t want… I, I say, forget all that. And actually make it something that’s not…
I wanted to bring, I actually what I, ultimately what I want is that for it to give people like a feeling off courage or a feeling off… just accepting that no, we don’t look like we did, you know, 20, 30, 40 years ago. No, things aren’t the same. But, you’re, you, it’s not about that, it’s about still being viable and interesting and interested and… I think like the most attractive thing is to still be engaged in your life. And that’s what these, I think these women realise.
And I hope that it just makes people want to kinda get back in the game… in whatever way they want to. You don’t have to go out and have sex, but like get, get out there. Have fun.
What’s the first rule of Book Club?
You don’t talk about Book Club.
How was your experience with these fabulous women?
Uh, yeah, well Jane Fonda is truly like whoa. She’s amazing. Uh, she’s inspiring on a million levels, obviously beautiful, talented, blah, blah, blah. She’s just so… strong and, in her convictions, and so committed, and it’s really a pleasure to see someone work, probably as hard as she ever did and, and there’s no waning in her dedication. She’s still… I don’t know, it’s just really, it’s kind of remarkable. She’s really, really amazing.
Um, Candice Bergen is like sharp like a tack. The way she comes and she’s like a precision comedian. I’ve never seen anything like it. So she’s blowing our mind also. It’s just, I mean, it makes sense, she was on Murphy Brown and she was incredible and everybody loves her. But, she’s, her comedic skills are brilliant. She’s also extremely warm and nice, and she came onto the set on the first day and she said, congratulations on your first day.
And I, my favourite thing is she says, “I don’t know how you guys pulled this off.” On day one. I was like, I don’t know either, but we did. So she’s really great.
Mary, we met Mary on another movie. Mary’s this, well I’m sure everybody says this about Mary, she’s the sweetest person in the world. She’s, she’s just, I don’t know, it’s so cool to see these women so excited. This is not a job that they’re just walking in doing their job and, and, you know, see ya, see ya when I see ya. She’s, Mary specifically and the others, so committed on their back stories and the characters and how they all knew each other, and thinking about every little detail.
And just… just a really cool experience. Mary sends us emails saying how excited she is, and how happy she is. It’s just… it’s kind of a dream scenario. And obviously an amazing actress, amazing comedian, everybody loves Mary. So, there’s that.
Diane is a force. First time I met Diane, I was definitely nervous to meet her. Diane Keaton. So, she walks into a room, she’s just got so much life. She’s, you really have to meet these people to, to, to feel it. It’s pretty exceptional. Her whole look, her whole style, her vibe. Everything about her is so cool, so cool.
And… obviously an amazing actress and comedian. So… I don’t know, it’s all really a dream come true. Genuinely a dream come true. So, and I will add that we did a read-thru with the four women. And they said, well who’s gonna read all the other parts? And Bill said, well Erin’s gonna do it. So I ended up having to read the entire script with all four off them. So I actually got to “fake act” with all off them and that was probably the highlight of my life so far.
Give me a comment about working with Bill.
Bill. Uh, working with Bill. Working with Bill is the best. Uh… we’ve been working together so long [LAUGHS]. So, I mean, I just always kind, I’m gonna take credit for this, I always knew that he should direct. I don’t know, I think I knew before he did, cause Bill is the co-, he’s just, he’s there for everyone, he’s the greatest producer, he’s so supportive off everyone, he’s so talented, but he was always sort off behind the scenes.
And I don’t think he ever, I don’t know if he would’ve stepped forward without someone being, pointing out, hey, it seems like you actually know what you’re talking about. Why don’t you, why don’t you actually, why don’t you try this yourself. Um… Bill’s the greatest guy, ever. I don’t know what to say. He’s the, the, he’s the, he’s the everything. He’s the, brilliant writer… such a nice person… so talented, I don’t know. Working with him is awesome.
Tell me about his skills as a director.
Uh, I think his greatest… first of all, he’s a fantastic director because he’s been in the editing room for so long, he’s, and he’s worked so closely with directors that he’s really good at knowing what he needs to get or a movie to actually work once the shooting portion is done. And that’s a really key element, which maybe sometimes first-time directors don’t know. So he comes with a lot of experience of what happens next and how the whole piece of the, you know, how the whole pie gets made.
But that aside, he’s so sensitive to actors. I mean, we both worked with an actor, he worked with Bob a lot longer than I did. And he understands the way an actor thinks and what they respond to and what kind of dialogue works for them. And he’s just so sensitive that, you know, sensitive like in a really sort of disturbing intuitive way.
So what I see of him on set is that he’s able to connect with each one of them individually and differently to make them feel comfortable to do what is necessary to have, give their best performance. So, I just don’t think that everybody is able to do that.
Why do you think society has allowed us to believe that 60+year-old women cannot have sex or fulfilling lives?
Uh, I… I think it’s, it’s less society, but more we all, in our lives, there’s so many opinions and so many things being said, and so much happening that you internalise and you kind of… it, I think it’s us doing it to ourselves. And it’s very hard, you know, it’s not just about sex or aging or everything, anything in life, it is so hard to ignore the chatter and the sort of what you hear, what you read or what you… It takes a lot to, to live your own life. So I think it’s not just about age.
I think it’s a joke that’s made that’s, that’s grown and grown and grown. And like to be able to ignore these types of things is just really hard. As human beings, I think it’s really hard. But, uh, it’s bullshit, it’s not true. It’s, it’s the listening that’s the problem. You have to not listen and live your own life.
I don’t know why though, no. I don’t know why, because we get fat, what do you want? I’m just kidding.
What do you want to talk about?
Well… I guess the only thing I really want to say is getting to this point was, I’m sure there’s harder things in life, but this was definitely one of them for me, uh, the process and how crazy it was. And, it’s, it’s the same thing, the same question about age or anything, it’s like if I had listened to anyone along the way, of the insanity. If I’d listened to anybody, I would’ve quit. And if you want, if you want to do something like this and really get to eh finish line, you have to be crazy. [LAUGHS] You have to be crazy.
You have to just keep going. And I hope that, I don’t know, that’s the message that… not that you have to be crazy, but that you, these things don’t happen easily. You really have to go like the extra 450 miles, maybe 4,500 miles. But it’s worth it.
BOOK CLUB COMES TO DVD ON OCTOBER 8