The A Plus Interview

Nancy Meyers Talks 'Home Again,' Being A Woman In Hollywood In The '80s Vs. Today, And The Future Of Rom-Coms

"But has [Hollywood] gotten better to the point where there is a parity between men and women filmmakers? No, not at all."

You might not know the name Nancy Meyers, but I can promise you that you've heard of — and probably seen — one or more of her movies. She is producer, screenwriter, and director who has been working in Hollywood for nearly four decades, creating classics such as 1980's Private Benjamin (her writing and producing debut) and 1998's The Parent Trap (her directing debut).

With her second directorial effort, 2000's What Women Want, Meyers cemented a spot in film history as it was, at that time, the most successful film directed by a woman, earning nearly $183 million in the U.S. alone. After that, she continued creating beloved rom-coms, from 2003's Something's Gotta Give, 2006's The Holiday, 2009's It's Complicated, and 2015's The Intern.

Now, with the latest film with the Meyers name stamped on it, she's back to producing. It's daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer's turn to make a splash in Hollywood, directing and writing the Reese Witherspoon-starring movie Home Again — which is in theaters nationwide today.

Home Again features Oscar-winning actress Witherspoon playing Alice Kinney, a woman who has moved back to Los Angeles from New York City with her two daughters (played by Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield) after separating from her music producer husband (played by Michael Sheen). While sorting out her new life, Alice ends up letting three young aspiring filmmakers (played by Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, and Nat Wolff) move in at the insistence of her mom (played by Candice Bergen). The result of this dynamic is a story about starting over later in life, finding oneself again, and redefining what it means to be a family.

A Plus caught up with Meyers to talk all things Home Again, discuss how Hollywood has changed — especially for women and women of a certain age — throughout her career, and to take a trip down memory lane to revisit some of the classic films she is best known for.

Photo Credit: Open Road Films
Photo Credit: Open Road Films

A PLUS: You made your writing debut in 1980’s "Private Benjamin" and your directorial debut with 1998’s "The Parent Trap." How, in your opinion, has Hollywood changed for women over the years?

Nancy Meyers: When I started in 1980, it was very unusual for women to be filmmakers — it just was. Mostly we became producers and writers. The idea of a woman directing a movie was far more unique than it is now, but obviously, it has not grown. Women are still directing what, 7 percent of movies? So it's still a pathetic percentage given how many talented women there are here that want to direct movies. Is it is it better? I don't know. You'd have you have to do some research and see if in 1980 was it more or less than 7 percent.

I think it's even the types of projects that are out there, right? There are plenty of big-budget films these days, but Hollywood doesn’t really put women behind them.

And generally not women in them, either. Not in really substantial roles. 

Absolutely. People look at "Wonder Woman," for example, and yes it's a great success and it's doing so many great things for women, but it's one of a kind. Are enough strides being made?

Well, it was great. [Patty Jenkins] did a fabulous job and it was exciting to see a woman direct a movie that did so well at the box office because that's the language everybody speaks here, that's what they look at. I think we can put to rest the argument that women — I'm making air quotations marks now — can't direct those kinds of movies. Of course they can. It's do they want to, honestly. She wanted to and she did an amazing job.

But is it going to change a lot for women? I don't know. I always think when there's a huge breakout movie written and directed or just directed by a woman you think, "OK, things are gonna change." But, honestly, at this point at my age, I can tell you I haven't seen enormous changes. I really haven't. There's some changes and it's a little better. But has it gotten better to the point where there is a parity between men and women filmmakers? No, not at all. Not at all.

Photo Credit: Open Road Films
Photo Credit: Open Road Films

You started writing and producing films but didn’t begin directing until later. Hallie, on the other hand, is doing both directing and writing with "Home Again." What’s it like seeing how she takes the reigns on her first movie?

I directed my first movie at 48 and she directed her first movie at 29, so, just generationally, that's so different. I was writing and producing all these movies and her dad directed a lot of them. Then, at 48, I said, "OK, I think I'm ready to direct," because my kids were 11 and 17. I guess I prioritized it — directing is more time-consuming than producing and writing, so I wasn't ready to do that. I felt my kids were old enough that I could take on even more work. 

Hallie, on the other hand, at 28 or 27 when she was writing the script said, "I want to write it and I want to direct it." She has more conviction and strength than I had at her age. Now, I made my first movie at her age — but I was the writer and producer, I wasn't also the director. It says something terrific about her generation. They're not going to wait to be invited to the table.

It’s so common for older men to swoon younger women in movies — but films like "Home Again" flip that trope. Why is it, though, that the women in these movies have to feel bad for dating younger men when older men don’t feel that way for dating younger women?

What's true about what you're saying is when male movie stars have their love interest, he's 50 and she's 24, and the audiences just at this point accepts it. I mean, I think women are still rolling their eyes at it, but men really like it and the male movie stars seem to require it. What's interesting is when we reverse it with Reese at 40 [Witherspoon is now 41] dating a guy who's 27 [Alexander is 26], it's talked about constantly in the movie. I've never seen a movie where the male lead says, "I don't know, she's so young." It's not even a question mark, you know? It's just great and fun and that's the way it should be.

I think Hallie, as a writer, acknowledges that that's not the norm in movies, so it would be something that would bother the character. She couldn't just jump right into it and it was it was an issue for her. She really likes the Harry character — he's a terrific young guy — but the fact that he is so young does affect her and her decision-making about him. It's just a female brain, I think, to worry about things.

Photo Credit: Open Road Films
Photo Credit: Open Road Films

Will we ever see this destigmatized?

I have no idea. The world's changing very quickly. Who knows! It does seem to be something that still exists and has to be talked about. 

I was going to say I've made movies where the woman is younger, but not really. The women are all age-appropriate for the men. I guess in Something's Gotta Give, Diane [Keaton] was dating Keanu [Reeves], and he was definitely younger than her, but I don't think I made a big deal about it because I knew that her character was in love with Jack's [Nicholson] character. So as sweet as the Keanu character was and as much as he adored her, I don't think she was in love with him. That was really the problem — not that he was younger. She really liked him, but I don't think she was in love with him.

One of my favorite moments in "Home Again" was the focus on Reese at the end of the movie — it seriously gave me goosebumps. Can you talk a little about what your feelings were at the end of this movie?

I really loved it because it's not a lot of dialogue, everybody's embracing Isabel for having the success with her play at school, and everybody's able to be friends with one another. She's able to have her husband on one side of the table and a man that she dated on the other, her children love everybody at that table, and her mother is part of it. And I love that, before we go to black, she looks at her mom because family is family and your mom is forever. I think that's what the look to the mom was at the end and that's why we saved that look to be the last look.

Photo Credit: Open Road Films
Photo Credit: Open Road Films

It also tackles the idea that family is not always what you expect or this perfectly put together puzzle, right?

Oh, there's that aspect for sure. These people ... one of them beat one of them up, one was married to her and tried to get back with her, and one got heartbroken by her. They're all together and I don't think it's the last time they're together. You're right, it sounds cliché, but there are different definitions of family.

What is one of the most impactful things you’ve learned about yourself in the moviemaking business and which film did you come to realize this on?

Oh my gosh, that's interesting. I don't know if I've thought about that. I guess I've learned a lot about myself, but I don't really look at things that way. I certainly, making the movie with Hallie, realized how much I knew about making movies. I'm 67 and I started making movies when I was 29, so my entire adult life has been making films. Here I had an opportunity to not direct and not write but to be there as a producer, a support system, and an advisor to Hallie. 

You don't think about your job and how much you know when you're doing it, but [you do] when you're passing that on to somebody else. I really enjoyed sharing all that with her. For me, the thing I enjoyed most was being able to explain to her how things get done on a movie. And I don't just mean on the set, but how you prepare a movie, how you edit a movie, how you sell a movie, and how you talk to actors. There's a lot that goes into it that you'd never get taught, you just have to learn it, and it's taken me many, many years to learn. And, by the way, with each movie, I really learned a lot. I learned a lot on this movie because I never made a movie that cost so little, so we had to be economical every day in every way. So I learned a lot about how to do that. Not that I'm dying to do it again, but it was a real learning experience.

Photo Credit: Open Road Films
Photo Credit: Open Road Films

When people told you "Private Benjamin" wouldn’t work because it was female-focused with no male lead, what made you decide to move forward and really make that statement at the time? Were there any reservations?

No, I don't really think that way. Once I've committed to writing something, I'm all in and I'm devoted. I'm a really, really hard worker. I don't think anybody owes me anything or that it's gonna all happen. I think working really, really hard makes things happen. Really giving it everything you have all the time.

If you think that way in this business you can you can get stuck and a little bit paralyzed. I always think, "This is great and people are gonna love it." Foolishly, maybe, but I'm very convinced it's all gonna be good. I don't go into things with enormous apprehensions all the time, I go into it very excited and can't wait to do it — and I'm very excited when people join me in the process. 

So there’s nothing anyone could have said to get you to give up on "Private Benjamin"?

When everybody was turning down Private Benjamin — and I mean everybody did — I never lost faith in it. What are you gonna do — listen to them or listen to yourself?

I wrote it with Hallie's dad and a friend of ours, Harvey Miller, and we all believed in it. We all believed in what the movie had to say. It was important to me that a movie gets made where a woman who is at that age already had two husbands and walks away from the third. It sounds a tad cliché now, but you have to remember that long ago nobody was making a movie [like that]. We described her to ourselves when we'd be writing that she was a marriage junkie, that she had to be married. That was a unique concept back then, that a character walks away from that.

Photo Credit: Open Road Films
Photo Credit: Open Road Films

Of all the characters you have created throughout the years, is there a specific one you feel you most identify with or see yourself the most in them?

I would say the Diane Keaton character in Something's Gotta Give is the closest to me. She was a writer and a mother of a daughter — I have two daughters, she had one daughter — so our lifestyles are similar. We wrote at home, we had some success, and late in life she got into a relationship with somebody and that happened to me after my divorce. All of the circumstances were different, but the emotional core is very close to me.

You’ve come to be known as someone who creates well-crafted roles for people of a certain age. These people, especially women, don’t get a lot of focus in Hollywood these days. What drew you to focus on these people and why do you think they are so often ignored?

It's hard to get movies made, so writers tend to write what they believe in and hope it has a shot. I just sort of had tunnel vision about those movies and I just put my nose to the grindstone, and just forged ahead and wrote movies with characters like that. Had I probably been a tad more practical I might have scared myself off of it, but I thought I was telling really good stories. I mean it's just very hard getting these kinds of movies made even with a gorgeous 30-year-old woman, so to write one with an older woman [it's even harder]. Someone else will do it, it'll happen. And I do it because I've grown up with the age of the characters in my movies. I was Judy Benjamin's age so as I age my characters went with me. There have been a few exceptions, like The Holiday and The Intern.

Photo Credit: Open Road Films
Photo Credit: Open Road Films

But we’re talking about great actors and actresses who were once young but are now old — why is it that we say when they reach a certain age it’s harder to tell their stories? Like, will Meryl Streep get to an age where that happens?

She's always gonna work because she's very brave and she'll tackle all kinds of parts. Diane [Keaton] works a lot, too. Diane does a lot of movies.

There was a hugely successful movie when I was young called On Golden Pond with Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda that won Best Picture. That's next for me, I gotta get to the On Golden Pond-age actors next. [Katharine Hepburn was 74 and Henry Fonda was 76 at the release of On Golden Pond.]

We’re coming up on the 20-year anniversary of "The Parent Trap" next year. What is the fondest memory of working on that film?

I have a ton of fond memories. I love Lindsay [Lohan]. Lindsay was a really good find, a wonderful actress. She was really fun and darling to work with. Hallie was in the movie because I was making a movie with girls her age, spending an awful lot of time at that camp. We had all these great locations and I wanted her to be with me, so I put her in the movie. She plays one of the girls in the bunk — I forget which bunk she was in, I think she was in Hallie's bunk. I named her character Lindsay since Lindsay was playing Hallie [one of the twins, the other being Annie].

As someone who has made their living with them, what do you think is the future of romantic comedies?

I think Hallie's movie is a really good modern romantic comedy and I'm hoping, if it does well, that someone will take a chance on someone else and give them a chance to make one. I think romantic comedies have to evolve with the times, which I think her's does as you know it doesn't end in a typical romantic comedy fashion. There's something wonderfully traditional about them.

Even with The Parent Trap, we had a modernize it, we couldn't make it feel like the movie made in the '60s, but the heart and the essence of what was so great about the original, I hope and think it was in my version too. The same with the romantic comedy — some of the greatest movies ever made are romantic comedies. If you can if you can learn from those and contemporize them so they seem current to the audience going to them but have the values, the structure, and even the substance that you find in all the great ones we'll be in great shape.

Home Again is in theaters nationwide.

The A Plus Interview reimagines the celebrity interview by inviting artists to answer a short series of brief, poignant questions that strive to be more meaningful than those asked by others. Visit on the last Thursday of each month for the latest installment.

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