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About The Production
This Christmas Eve, when the Coopers come together everything comes apart. "The Coopers want to get through the night without anybody in the family knowing what's really going on (in their individual lives), and hopefully buying the idealized version of themselves that they are all presenting," says Director Jessie Nelson. "What they do get is much better - truth, real connection and intimacy."

Nelson continues: "It's all those ghosts of Christmases past that visit us through memory. We bring so many memories to the holidays. We're either worrying about the past or projecting our fears of the future. We're often not in the moment. I think everyone will see the insanity of their own family in this film!"

Nothing sets up comedy and tension better than a story told in compressed time.

"This one is complicated and messy," says Nelson. "It's set around this one day that changes everything, Christmas Eve. Each member of the Cooper family is at a turning point in their lives on this day - it all felt real to me, not glossed over. They are all trying to present a version of themselves that has nothing to do with what's really going on inside them."

Producer Michael London (The Family Stone) says Nelson fell in love with the Coopers from the moment she read Steven Rogers' original script. "They became family to her and she brought them to life as if she were related to all of them," he says. "She wanted the humor to always come out of character. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but they always come from something emotionally real that's happening between the characters. It was especially important to Jessie that each has an inner life we can feel on screen. And there is an ongoing element having to do with memory-both memories of childhood and holiday memories. Working with Cinematographer Elliot Davis, Jessie wove flashbacks into the current story so that we feel what's happening in the moment and the weight of each character's past. It's beautifully done and a very distinctive element of the film."

London says he is drawn to projects like Love the Coopers and The Family Stone because "I love stories about families - the joys of being in a family, especially the way we all struggle to make our families fit the image in our minds of what they should be. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...when the pressure to have the perfect family is bigger than ever. That creates a lot of comedy when things go wrong, which they inevitably do under all that pressure. But it also leads to a lot of genuine emotion if people are able to get past their differences and find a way to connect."

Much of the movie really centers on "time," says Screenwriter Steven Rogers. "People spend a lot of time dwelling on the past or being upset about the past, whether it is something someone else did or something they did or worrying about the future, and they miss out on the present. It's very generational. When you're younger, you're trying so hard to make something of yourself. As you get older, you realize what's important is to be in the moment."

Example: Rogers loves the unrequited feelings the older widower Bucky (ALAN ARKIN) character has for the young waitress Ruby (AMANDA SEYFRIED), again because of time and memory - he misses his wife and Ruby reminds him of her in many ways, but he also cares for Ruby in her own right.

It is Arkin's character Bucky who, ironically, sums up the absurdity of our nature at the holidays:

It's time for comfort and joy and the whole world panics...

...As if you can schedule happiness.

Arkin loved the script because he felt it "was so literate, the characters so rich." With Nelson, he says he made a friend forever and says everyone thought of her as the mother of this family project.

Arkin describes Bucky as a former teacher who loved his work, his students and teaching. He's crazy about Ruby (AMANDA SEYFRIED) and enjoys mentoring her. "He likes to think of himself as a pater familias. I some vague way she reminds him of his wife who is gone. She's a beautiful thorn in his side until he finds out she's going to leave and that drives him bananas."

Of Ruby, Amanda Seyfried says her character has had a tough life. She befriends Bucky who, twice a day, comes to the diner where she works as a waitress. "They really hit it off, two souls that are a little bit lost," she says, adding that she and Arkin became close friends in real life. These two characters, she notes, are people "trying to find a piece of themselves that they feel they are missing."

Bucky is the father of Diane Keaton's character Charlotte Cooper and her sister Emma (played by Marisa Tomei).

London says Keaton became involved in the production "early, as both an actress and an executive producer. Diane is the linchpin of the Cooper family and the linchpin of our cast," he notes. "When you have an actress of Diane's caliber in the film, it's much easier to build a great cast. John Goodman was the next key piece. He brings an earthiness and humor to the role of Sam that complements Diane. He also has a wonderful paternal quality. Who wouldn't want John Goodman to be their dad? And in Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde and Ed Helms, we get actors who are adept at comedy but also at creating real people on screen. Amanda Seyfried and Anthony Mackie's characters are the outsiders who get swept into the Cooper clan's adventures during the course of Christmas Eve. They both brought a lot of heart to their performances. And Jake Lacy nearly steals the movie as the fake boyfriend Olivia Wilde's character drags home to meet the family."

So what drew Keaton to the project?

"I thought it was a sweet story," she says. "I am a big family person and I loved how the imperfection of this family is what today's families are all about. Including mine. Plus to work with Jessie Nelson again was a plus." (Nelson produced a prior film starring Keaton).

Indeed for Keaton it was the lure of how the holidays bring out the joy and chaos in most families:

"It is a time of togetherness," Keaton adds. "Growing up, my parents took us on road trips. We loved to gather in the kitchen and mom would sing songs and we would chime in. We weren't fancy and frankly neither are the Coopers."

And to have John Goodman play her husband of 40 years was truly a joy. "I had seen Inside Llewyn Davis and he BLEW MY MIND. He is deceptively brilliant. He is a consummate actor. He gives his all, such a diverse and wonderful actor. It was a privilege to work with him!"

As for Goodman, he says of Keaton, "Diane's wonderful, funny, generous - a great actress. We had a wonderful time."

Of the rest of the cast, he adds: "Everybody's wonderful, the whole family. Ed, who plays my son, is great, funny and generous. Olivia Wilde who plays my daughter, again funny, totally great. Alex Borstein plays my daughter-in-law...she's hysterical...she kills me. It's a great cast."

Of his character Hank, Ed Helms says the father of three is out of work and going through a tough time. He is in the midst of adjusting to his divorce from his wife Angie (ALEX BORSTEIN). "Hank is someone passionate about doing the right thing and wanting to be strong and be there for his family and for his kids," Helms explains. "He became a father as a teenager. They had their first kid when they were in high school." Or, as Hank puts it:

I became a dad the same day I failed biology...

Describing Hank as a bit of a trainwreck, trying to get back on the right track, Helms adds, "I wanted to be part of this movie because the script was hilarious and also quite poignant."

Olivia Wilde, who plays Hank's sister Eleanor, loved the script as well. "I was really taken by how sentimental the script made me feel. I laughed, of course, but I got really weepy by the end," she says. "Eleanor is the wayward, messy, emotional sort of chaotic child who hasn't gotten married, and hasn't really achieved success. Eleanor has a kind of arrested development. She was left by her fiancé and she feels kind of worthless."

Wilde continues: "And the idea of playing the daughter of John and Diane was too irresistible. Plus, I met Jessie and we had such a lovely conversation - it was honestly Jessie who made me want to do the film (in the end)."

Eleanor meets Joe (JAKE LACY) at the airport and invites him to her parents' house to pose as her boyfriend for the night:

I know you don't know me, and you're not even sure if you like me, but be my boyfriend...just for tonight!

"I like Joe because he's kind of got this checkered past, something that he's trying to move beyond, doing everything he can to be the standup guy that he wants to be and hasn't always been," says Lacy. "Joe and Eleanor hit it off and part of that is sparring with each other. They're well-matched although they have different perspectives on things. There's a joy in that verbal word play, a chance to sound like a totally affected idiot!"

A relationship that is filled with a less playful banter is that of sisters Emma and Charlotte. Marisa Tomei, who plays Emma, sees her character as bringing a lot of emotional baggage to the holiday table: "She's just peeved, bitter, left out, sulky, fighting, lonely, and acutely aware of it at this time of year," says Tomei. "And she's jealous of her sister's family situation. She's appointed herself to call bullshit on everything."

While Emma and Charlotte pretty much argue about everything, Emma's perspective on their relationship is clarified in one remark:

It's like we're allergic to each other...

"You know every family has their Fredo from The Godfather," notes Nelson. "It's 'What is my sister gonna do this time?' Marisa represented that and did it so beautifully."

Also, of Marisa's storyline, Nelson says: "I do feel on the holiday that sometimes you encounter these strangers who, with a gesture or a word, kind of change your life in some way." Such an encounter happens when Emma tries to steal a brooch for Charlotte's Christmas present, and is caught and arrested by Officer Williams (ANTHONY MACKIE).

"I'm kind of like the angel of Christmas present," says Mackie of Officer Williams. "I come into the life of a specific person in this family and sweeten her pot with some knowledge and send her on her way."

Nelson notes that it's not one-sided, rather Emma and Officer Williams have a profound impact on each other: "This encounter changes her, and it changes him too."

Alex Borstein plays Angie, Hank's ex-wife. Their characters married very young, in high school, and barely knew each other when she became pregnant. Now, "it's almost like they're siblings. They grew up together," says Borstein of their relationship. "They experienced and became adults at the same time. These two people are so tied together - I think it's very sweet how the film handles that. With any split you never really leave each other if you have children, but particularly for Hank and Angie."

Last is Aunt Fishy (JUNE SQUIBB), Sam's aunt who marches to the beat of her own drum and never ceases to add a spark of laughter, and even a dance move, to the holiday gathering. "She is full of joy," notes Squibb. "She loves music. If she hears music, she starts dancing."

There is one additional member of the cast: Steve Martin, the Narrator of the film.

Martin says he signed on to the project because of Director Jessie Nelson, and because of the Narrator's backstory (not to be revealed here). What can be revealed is what Martin hopes audiences take away from the film:

"I think what audiences can take away is a feeling of tolerance for their family members, and a realization that the strange family members are also creating a wider life for every individual in that family."

In developing the script, it was most important for Nelson that even though there is a lot of tension in the family relationships that you could really feel sympathy for everyone's side of the story: "No one is wrong," notes Nelson. "Eleanor is right, her mother does worry too much about her. And Charlotte is right, her daughter is going through something that would make any mother worry. Sam is right, his marriage has gotten complacent and they need to shake it up and focus more on each other. And Charlotte is right, their kids are going through a hard time and might really need a little help right now." It's truly an exploration of families tolerating each other's differences.

Keaton agrees.

"Tolerance. Plenty of laughter and cheer...and," she adds, "that you can't regift family."

Move over fruitcake - Dump Salad has arrived...

To say preparing Christmas Eve dinner at the Coopers was a Herculean feat would be a gross understatement.

Just ask the filmmakers and Melissa McSorley, the film's food stylist who cut her expertise on the sumptuous cuisine of the hit Chef - an effort so enticing that Director Jessie Nelson knew she had to have her onboard.

"We worked hard with Melissa to have the film have the sense that this food wasn't like something that you'd get in a restaurant, but something someone had labored over for Christmas dinner - beautiful food and recipes that have been handed down in this family for generations and served on platters that had been there for years and years," explains Nelson. "Poor Melissa. We would have to do take after take. She would have to bring out another Christmas dinner and another new plate of food. I would look up and realize `Oh my God, they've eaten all the stuffing!' By take 12 of eating an entire Christmas dinner, I would be looking at the actors thinking 'Where's the energy in this scene?' They were in a carb coma! People particularly loved (Melissa's) stuffing."

McSorley, Nelson adds, was able to "capture the beauty of the holiday in the home. She did an extraordinary job of pulling that off, especially (Charlotte Cooper's) absolutely beautiful holiday spread."

Part of that spread includes a peculiar dish called dump salad - a dish that inadvertently has become a signature entree of the film ("Diane's character is obsessed with making her great aunt's recipe of dump salad," notes Nelson). Nelson and McSorley weren't familiar with it before reading the script. It is a dish, Nelson says, that meant something to Screenwriter Steven Rogers.

While the name leaves something to be desired and by the sound of it, it likely ranks on the "I'll pass" list next to fruitcake when it comes to seasonal desserts, Nelson says the concoction of lime Jell-O, crushed pineapple, cottage cheese and Cool Whip "actually tastes pretty damn good."

Producer Janice Williams has a somewhat different take on the "specialness" of dump salad. "I tasted it once. It didn't taste any better than it looked," quips Williams. "It's all a mystery to me... bright lime green cheesy looking stuff... maybe that's where the 'dump' comes from. I didn't really see that dish going down a lot."

All joking aside, Williams called the dinner feast overall "one of the biggest scenes in our movie. We spent four days shooting that one scene and it really came home to me what a fantastic job Melissa had done when I kept seeing the cast eating the Christmas dinner even when we weren't shooting. We we're saying, `NO! Wait! Wait until we actually start rolling before you eat it!' Amanda (Seyfried) was saying 'it's just that this is delicious... I'm going to eat it the whole way through!' So for four days everybody was eating Christmas dinner, whether we were shooting or not shooting. It's a Herculean task for 12 hours a day to keep food that looks hot, delicious, glossy, that makes the audience's mouth water when they look at it. It was just constant cooking. And Melissa cooked it all in this nasty, small office with no real cooking equipment. She pulled it off, and never once looked stressed or upset or mad. Just happy."

McSorley says Nelson told her the food should be "Martha Stewart-ish with a homemade feel and relatable to everyone. Say, like a green bean casserole at the holidays, but not the one your grandma made with cream of mushroom soup." Dishes ranged from stuffing, to turkey and ham, to mashed potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, green beans, an enticing bread basket, apple chutney, and pear struesselhuessen. "It was to impress upon the viewer that Diane Keaton's character's relationship to food was about her personality and how making this great food was a way of taking care of her family and bringing them all together."

In preparing the food, she says she did have to be concerned about food allergies, food likes and dislikes, and what the dog that played Rags could eat. "Everything put on the table was eaten," she notes, "and some in larger quantities than others."

McSorley says she had "a cook or two with (her) every day in the kitchen that was just off stage to keep everything fresh."

As for those who enjoyed her cooking the most, she says, "it's more like who ate the most of what. Timothy, who played Charlie, ate the most ham. June Squibb seemed to go for the cranberry sauce and the dump salad. And, surprisingly, Amanda Seyfried has a great appetite for that beautiful figure - she ate more stuffing probably than any of the others!" Chefs do tell all.

Although the menu was pulled together in advance, only the dump salad was scripted, she says.

One particular favorite was the mashed potatoes. And the actor who loved that dish the most? Bolt (RAGS). His trainer says he had no problem scarfing down the mashed potatoes...over multiple takes.

"We had to be very careful," recalls McSorley of when Bolt (RAGS) entered the room. "Rags was around a lot when the family meal was out, so we had to be very careful about not keeping plates too close to the edge of the table. Unfortunately he got a few more helpings than I think they would have liked him to have had. The dog could get to that table quicker than anybody could possibly catch him. He did get to eat some turkey. He ate the dump salad, and the mashed potatoes." As for the sweets, Christmas cookies were made of dog biscuits so Rags could safely consume.

For Keaton's Charlotte, the character most aligned with importance and attachment to the meal as the family centerpiece, there was more to the food than just a character's arc. Let's just say some food went airborne in the dinner scene.

"A food fight? Let me in! I didn't mind the cold mashed potatoes getting stuck in my hair," Keaton says. "It was lots of fun! And watching Rags eat all the dump salad was hilarious."

"Comedy is king!"


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