Holiday, The: Nancy Meyers Romantic Comedy, Starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz

In Nancy Meyers The Holiday, a romantic comedy from the director of Somethings Gotta Give and What Women Want, two women trade homes only to find that a change of address can change their lives.

Iris (Kate Winslet) is in love with a man who is about to marry another woman. Across the globe, Amanda (Cameron Diaz), realizes the man she lives with has been unfaithful. Two women who have never met and live 6000 miles apart, find themselves in the exact same place. They meet online at a home exchange website and impulsively switch homes for the holiday. Iris moves into Amandas L.A. house in sunny California as Amanda arrives in the snow covered English countryside. Shortly after arriving at their destinations, both women find the last thing either wants or expects: a new romance. Amanda is charmed by Iris handsome brother Graham (Jude Law) and Iris, with inspiration provided by legendary screenwriter, Arthur (Eli Wallach), mends her heart when she meets film composer Miles (Jack Black).

Origins

The initial spark for The Holiday, was ignited a few years ago when screenwriter-director Meyers was planning a vacation and serendipitously happened upon an internet site that arranges house swapping across cities, across countries, across continents. I had no idea this kind of thing ever existed, she confesses. On the website, I read about all these fantastic houses. Eventually, I realized I would have to trade mine to get one.

House Swapping

But the idea of house swapping continued to intrigue her. I thought it would be a wonderful starting point for two women who are both running away from something, says Meyers. Amanda and Iris are both down in the dumps and realize they must do something about it. Swapping houses becomes the first step in taking their lives back.

Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz) runs a thriving L.A. marketing business, but is less successful when it comes to romance. Her most recent break-up has caught her totally off-guard, says Diaz. She decides she has to get away and that getting some distance may help her cope better.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet) has just learned that the man she loves is about to marry someone else. Its like a colossal smack in the mouth, says the four-time Oscar nominee. Iris is vulnerable and nave when it comes to love and she needs to find a way to get over this man.

Deep down, both women realize that the problem theyre facing is larger than just their most recent disappointment. I think Amanda and Iris are secretly hoping that the change will help them fix something about themselves, help them address issues theyve been dealing with for a long time. Leaving their environments helps them do that.

The Characters

The Holiday is about leaving your baggage behind and opening your eyes to whats in front of you and what youre really feeling, observes Jude Law, who plays Graham, Iris brother, in the movie.
When Amanda meets Graham she is attempting to relax and refocus her life, says Diaz. And suddenly, she finds herself falling in love, something she truly didnt expect to happen again so quickly.

At Amandas house in Brentwood, Iris befriends one of her neighbors, Arthur (Eli Wallach), a screenwriter from Hollywoods Golden Era. It is just the kind of friendship she needs at the moment someone who is genuinely interested in her. Hes very good company and his stories about his life, as a screenwriter in Hollywood, fascinate Iris, says Winslet.

When Iris hosts a Chanukah party for Arthur and his closest friends (played by Bill Macy and Shelley Berman), I crash the party, says Jack Black, who plays Miles, a music composer.
Miles is having romantic problems of his own with his girlfriend Maggie, played by Shannyn Sossamon. Miles is sort of Maggies lapdog, observes Black. Hes always falling for the heartbreaking hottie. He wants to share his passion for music with her, but shes not really engaged in his world. Its Iris who becomes interested in everything Maggies been ignoring.

Using Music

Music becomes the vehicle through which Miles expresses his growing affection for Iris. He walks up and down the aisles of the video store singing the themes of all his favorite movies to her, says Meyers. Later, when Iris is at his house, Miles plays a piece of music that he wrote for her, telling Iris that it sounds like her. That was probably my favorite scene, recalls Black. I was just sitting at the piano, playing her songs, and we started singing. It was a very romantic idea and a lot of fun.

Meyers usually puts on music when she writes, and she often creates a mood on set by playing the songs she was listening to when she created a particular scene. On The Holiday, she treated the cast and crew to a wide variety of music.

The effect of a piece of music was especially palpable when she was shooting an exterior sequence with Amanda and Graham in a formal garden in the English countryside. Im a big Claude Lelouch fan (the French director whose most famous film was 1966s A Man and a Woman with its memorable score by Francis Lai), says Meyers, and I shot a 60s style montage with Jude and Cameron. We just improvised all day. It was raining on and off, so as soon as the rain would stop, wed run out and shoot and then huddle back into the tent until it stopped again. It was a really memorable day.

Indirectly, the effect of music was even felt in the Chanukah party scene in Los Angeles, which Meyers imbued with a realistically celebratory feel. That was a wild day of shooting, she recalls. I decided that in addition to doing coverage for each person, I would just run the camera around the table and let the scene play out in live time. It was very freeing for the actors and turned out to be very effective.

In The Holiday, Meyers has fashioned a true ensemble, pairing two of todays most appealing actresses, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, with two equally charismatic leading men, Jude Law and Jack Black, and a strong supporting cast that includes Eli Wallach, Edward Burns, Rufus Sewell and Shannyn Sossamon.

Cameron Diaz

Diaz brings a rich history of comedic and dramatic work to her portrayal of Amanda Woods, with credits ranging from her star-making turn in My Best Friends Wedding, to Theres Something About Mary, Being John Malkovich, Gangs of New York, In Her Shoes and many other successful films over the past decade. Cameron is a real comedienne and one of the great rewards of working with her is how much she makes me laugh, says Meyers. She is great with dialogue and is really adept at physical humor. She sometimes reminded me of Goldie Hawn, whom I love. She has very similar comedic instincts. (Hawn notably starred in one of Meyers earlier successes Private Benjamin).

Jude Law

For her co-star, Law, working with Diaz was pure delight. Cameron is like having the sun on set every day, he beams. She understands the world of this kind of film so well. I learned a great deal just by watching her.

Law and Winslet were new to the genre of romantic comedy. The way Nancy breaks down the beats of a scene, the timing of a joke or a reveal, is kind of a science, says Law, who has earned Oscar nominations in the past for his performances in Cold Mountain and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Its hard work, but she makes it look easy.

Kate Winslet

Winslet heartily concurs: Oh yes. The flow and rhythm of Nancys writing is incredibly precise. The Holiday marked a welcome change of pace for Winslet, who earned her first Academy Award nomination for Sense and Sensibility. Her 1997 performance in Titanic made her, at age 22, the youngest actress ever to be twice nominated. She was nominated again for Iris, and then again for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ive spent a lot of time in my career wearing corsets, she says, and am proud to be part of a contemporary comedy playing an English person.

Being asked to be funny was another new experience. The biggest reward for me on this film was to be in the middle of a scene and hear ten people at the video monitor burst out laughing, she smiles. But the character of Iris has several facets, all of which Winslet exploited to the fullest. There were times when Kate brought me to tears, says Meyers. She can reveal herself in so many ways, and all of them are honest.

To complement her two sterling leading ladies, Meyers took great care in choosing their romantic interests. I wanted Graham to be complicated, but not in the normal way. Hopefully, his issues are unexpected, she says. Jude is very right for this part. He is also wonderful with Cameron, and the work he does in this film is quite different from anything Ive seen him do before.

Jack Black

The choice of Jack Black to play Miles was more than just a stroke of bold casting on Meyers part, she admits. When I saw Jack in School of Rock, I fell in love with him, she says. I wrote this part for him because I adored him so much from that movie. But I never thought he would say yes because its a very different role for him its a love story.

Black was surprised when he was approached. When I first heard that Nancy had written a part with me in mind, I thought, really Have you heard my band Tenacious D he laughs, because Ive got a lot of raunchy humor in my film history. But Nancy said, I know what you do and I like it. So I was like, all right, good, lets do it. I cant believe I actually got paid to stare at Kate Winslet from really close up and watch her kick-ass acting.

Meyers cast Amanda and Iris ex-boyfriends with similar care, honing in on Edward Burns for Ethan and Rufus Sewell for Jasper. Interestingly, Burns had previously directed and starred opposite Diaz in the romantic comedy Shes the One. In The Holiday, their relationship is far less cordial, however, Cameron gets to punch me twice, Burns laughs. I guess you have to be in really good shape to do a romantic comedy.

Diaz admits that she was in rare fighting form for her scenes with Burns. I dont think Ive ever had as much fun playing a break-up, she says. Eddie was perfect as Ethan dry and deadpan. I didnt want our scene to end. But Ethan deserved to be punched in the face. His actions were beyond questionable. They needed to be called out. And, believe me, I called him out.

Diaz enjoyed the opportunity to work with Law in a change of pace role for him. Were used to seeing Judes more dramatic side and, even here, he brings a certain weight to Graham. But he also brings great humor. He is so funny and completely charming.

Though Winslet and Sewell have been friends for a decade, they had never worked together before Meyers cast Sewell as Jasper. Acting opposite his longtime friend was all he had hoped for. One of the best things about getting to play Jasper is the fact that all my scenes are with Kate, says Sewell. All you have to do is look at her and you have the scene.

Winslet and Law recently co-starred in the drama All the Kings Men, and she was thrilled that he would be playing her brother in The Holiday. Our relationship is a bit like that anyway, she said. So it was perfect casting.

Eli Wallach

One of the plum supporting roles in The Holiday is Arthur, a wise and winsome screenwriter from Hollywoods Golden Age. Everyone Arthur encounters in the film regards him with respect and that extended to the actor who played him, an equally seasoned professional with a prolific resume of great films including Tennessee Williams Baby Doll, Arthur Millers The Misfits, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and The Magnificent Seven, as well as stage dramas including Williams The Rose Tattoo and Camino Real. Elis autobiography came out about the time that I was casting the movie, and I saw him being interviewed, recalls Meyers. That was it. He is in many ways exactly the character I wrote. Hes had a phenomenal career. Hes worked with many of the great legends. Hes 90 years old and a true Hollywood person. He understood perfectly the kind of man I was writing about.

Nancy has given me rich things to do and say in this movie, said Wallach. In an early scene, Iris says to me, If youre not busy, would you like to have dinner with me And I say, Busy Honey, I havent been busy since 1978. You know how painful it is for an old screenwriter to say that Nancy put her finger right on the essence of my character. Shes devoted to the craft, shes challenging, and she doesnt let you get away with anything.

Besides being ideal casting for the role of Arthur Abbott, Wallachs personal anecdotes, encompassing over six decades of colorful professional experiences, were an inspiration to the cast and crew. Law especially appreciated the legendary actors generosity when he was preparing for a drunk scene in The Holiday. Wallach shared with him several tips John Huston had given him for playing drunk when they were working together on The Misfits.

Wallach also bonded with Jack Black. I had a lot of fun with Jack, says Wallach. We teased one another with our own little endings to scenes, because whenever theyd say Cut, Jack would just keep on talking.

Observing the 90-year-old actor was particularly rewarding for Black, who explains that, watching Eli reminds you that, to be good at acting, you have to let yourself be a little kid in a way.

In The Holiday, the veteran screenwriter Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach) recalls writing for leading ladies during a period when headstrong heroines were a Hollywood trademark. To school Iris in the ways of these admirable women, he sends her to the video store to rent some classic Hollywood films. After studying actresses like Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, she starts to get the picture.

Great Dialogue

Winslet and her co-stars recognized a similar classic instinct in their writer and director. The great dialogue in The Holiday harkens back to an old Tracy/Hepburn film, according to Burns. The situations may be exaggerated, but you feel like youre seeing real people deal with real issues. Nancy is especially good at finding the humor in that drama.

And like those halcyon-days comedies, Meyers protagonists revel in the ageless battle of the sexes. Nancy asked me to watch a lot of Cary Grant movies, because he was a master at enjoying his leading ladies, says Law. He was able to draw humor and vulnerability from them by being a very solid male presence, but with his own vulnerability.

Even more satisfying, says Law, is the fact that The Holiday embodies all the virtues of those classic films while still being completely contemporary. Nancy strives for a timeless feeling in a cutting-edge, modern film, he added. Theres no hiding the fact that were making it today.

Shooting in London and L.A.

Production on The Holiday began in Los Angeles, then moved to England for a month before completing filming back in L.A. The California portion of the film is green and lush. In contrast, the English exteriors are very white cold winter weather with snow and bare trees. The interiors, however, are the exact opposite. Iris cottage is warm with color, while Amandas house is sleek and modern darks and lights without many colors in between.

Both Iris and Amanda are taken aback by their new surroundings. Amandas Brentwood home conveys confidence with a stylish and contemporary decor, which immediately lifts Iris low spirits. Iris lives on a much smaller scale in Shere, a quaint village in the English countryside that dates back to the 11th century.

Principal photography began on a quiet street of graceful homes in the Brentwood area on the Westside of Los Angeles. Real Santa Ana winds gave Meyers and her team a winter day as balmy as the one she had conjured up for her story. Nearby front lawns still displayed Santas, elves and reindeer, reminding anyone who might have forgotten that it really was January in Southern California.

Although Amandas home is supposed to be in Brentwood, the exterior of the gated property the production used for the film is actually in San Marino, an exclusive suburb adjacent to Pasadena. Visionary Southern California architect Wallace Neff, whose commissions included Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks legendary Pickfair mansion in Beverly Hills, built the Mission Revival house for his own family in 1928. The interiors of Amandas house were filmed at Sony Studios in Culver City. We wanted to make it look like a young woman in her 30s lived here, so we built a very updated interior onstage, relates production designer Jon Hutman.

Hutman and U.K. locations manager Benjamin Greenacre searched long and hard for Iris cottage. We came upon Shere in Surrey (which is in the south of England) almost by chance, says Hutman. Once we found the perfect site, production began just up the hill from St. James Church and down the road from the 16th century White Horse Tavern. The cottage interior was then built at Sony Studios in Culver City.

The production also filmed on a medieval street less than an hour away in Godalming, the first town in the world to give its citizens electric streetlights. The Holiday brought Christmas lights to Godalmings Church Street. Combining the square in Shere with Godalmings Church Street made for the perfect village, Hutman says.

Other Los Angeles locations included Arthur Abbotts house, which is in Brentwood and reflected the glamour of old Hollywood, according to Hutman. Miles house was designed by Richard Neutra, the Vienna-born master of Southern California modernism and is situated on Neutra Place in L.A.s Silverlake area, near downtown.

Winter Weather

The majestic dining room where Amanda and Graham linger over lunch on a gloomy English afternoon was actually the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, though the exteriors for this montage sequence were filmed in England at the Georgian country house, Cornwell Manor. For Meyers, that montage was actually enhanced by the damp winter weather. Lelouch said that A Man and a Woman had to take place in winter because its the lovers who provide the warmth, she says, and that is one of the reasons I wanted to set The Holiday in winter. Of course, I didnt realize that to make the movie, I would have to wear two coats, two pairs of paints and two hats for an entire month.

But director of photography Dean Cundey took it all in stride. The English crews have a great sense of humor when youre struggling with weather, he says. Its part of what we do in the film business. With authentic locations and environments, it is always a compromise between ease of working and what really is most interesting and best for the picture.

Costumes

Meyers has always savored the process of building character through costume. The fittings are a great time to talk about character with the actor, she observes. As you go through each scene and put on the clothes, you get to discuss what the scene is about. Through that give and take you start to build your collaboration and the movie begins to take shape. I remember the first costume fitting with Jack Nicholson on Somethings Gotta Give took six hours and he only tried on one pair of pants.

Costume designer Marlene Stewart had long admired the directors commitment to what her characters wear. Nancy uses clothes to tell the story, and the attention she gives the costumes shows on the screen, says Stewart. Her films have a classic feeling that gives them visual staying power.

Stewart found an excellent collaborator in Diaz. Cameron loves to experiment with clothes and try a lot of things on, says Stewart. Her character typifies the confident working woman of today, so her look is feminine, self-assured, sexy. Clothing in contemporary movies set in L.A. can be very youth-oriented, but we went with a more classic feeling. We used quite a few fabulous pieces Dior, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Narciso Rodriguez and Dolce & Gabbana.

The simplest character to dress was Ethan, played by Edward Burns, who spends most of his screen time in a pair of blue boxers and a t-shirt. It was role reversal at its best, laughs Stewart. The guy was in his underwear instead of the girl.

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  1. Mitchell Johnson says:

    Nice BLOG! FYI – many of the paintings in both The Holiday and It's Complictaed are by Mitchell Johnson…www.mitchelljohnson.com

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