LOVE THE COOPERS
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
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
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 think...in 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
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
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 fiancĂ© 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
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
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
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.
"Tolerance. Plenty of laughter and cheer...and," she adds, "that you can't regift
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
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
"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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