Tracy Letts on making August: Osage County and how the film enhances his Pulitzer-winning play
Tue Dec 10 2013
The warring Westons of August: Osage County battled it out onscreen at a preview showing last night. During a post-screening Q&A, Tracy Letts was asked what he thought the film adaptation added to his Pulitzer-winning play, which premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007.
The other members of the cast and crew present—actors Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson and producer Steve Traxler—looked over at Letts as the playwright thought for a moment. "Osage County," Letts said. "You can see it [in the film]. In the play, we could only suggest what was beyond the walls of that house."
Directed by John Wells, the film was shot on location and shows off the golden-hued countryside of rural Oklahoma—the vast acreage dotted with hay bales, the dusty roads, the oppressive heat and the endless horizon—and it stacks the Weston's dysfunctional dinner table with Oscar-baiting A-listers, including Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Some critics have said traveling outside the house takes away from the pressure-cooker intensity that made the play so extraordinary. For his part, Letts said he was pleased with the outdoor scenes, particularly one in which Streep's pill-popping Weston matriarch, Violet, gallops on wobbly legs through a field as her vexed daughter, Barbara (Roberts), attempts to corral her mother like some runaway cow.
Convincing producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein that filming in Oklahoma was the best decision wasn't an easy task, Traxler said. But while scouting locations in the Sooner State, the filmmakers found a house that was reminiscent of the set built for the play. Shooting on location also allowed the ensemble of August: Osage County to jell, to become "a real family," said Lewis, who is well cast as the ditzy Weston sister, Karen. During the shoot, Martindale recalled, the actors took most of their meals together and lived as neighbors. "You couldn't leave," Nicholson said of the Oklahoma production. "You couldn't go back to your real life."
The seats at the screening were occupied by some recognizable Chicago theater scenesters. Veteran actor Danny Goldring gave a mini review of the film as he headed out of the auditorium. "I liked it," he said. (It was clear he didn't love it.) How nice it would've been, Goldring mused, had the film featured the original Steppenwolf cast, a bunch of Chicago players working together on the big screen. But he understands—big names bode well for box-office numbers. "They want to sell tickets, put butts in the seats."
The grizzled Goldring—who might've made a fine Charlie Aiken or Beverly Weston—mentioned he isn't working right now. "You got something, I'll take it," he deadpanned. Then he dug into his pocket for a cigarette.