Michaela Watkins suggested she play Julia Louis-Dreyfus' sister in You Hurt My Feelings
Michaela Watkins always wanted to play Julia Louis-Dreyfus' sister — and she saw her chance when reading Nicole Holofcener's script for You Hurt My Feelings, now in theaters.
"Nicole told me that she was making a movie with Julia, and I joked and said, 'Does she have a sister?'" Watkins tells EW. "And Nicole said, 'No, but she's got a best friend.' And I was like, 'Oh, wouldn't that be fun?' I tried to be cool and then assumed if she wanted me, she would've said something. But then a few months later, it did happen and she'd made it her sister!"
Louis-Dreyfus was looking for an opportunity to partner with Holofcener again after 2013's Enough Said, which Holofcener also wrote and directed. Holofcener wrote the role of Beth — a novelist grappling with discovering that her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies) lied about liking her latest book — for Louis-Dreyfus. Watkins plays her sister Sarah, an interior designer who is married to a struggling actor, Mark (Arian Moayed).
Jeong Park/A24 Owen Teague, Julia Louis- Dreyfus, and Michaela Watkins in 'You Hurt My Feelings'
"Working with Nicole Holofcener is an utter delight and really an actor's dream," adds Louis-Dreyfus. "Because the material is so thoughtful and elevated and fresh and absolutely not derivative of anything else. We had tried to work together a couple times in between Enough Said and this film, but for various reasons, it didn't work out. So I'm really happy that this came together."
We sat down with Watkins and Louis-Dreyfus to discuss building their sibling bond, the movies themes of white lies and supportive partners, and how much they improvised together.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You two have worked together several times, and it's kind of wild you've never played siblings before because of the resemblance. But how did you build that sibling bond?
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: We've worked together now in multiple projects and have always bonded during those various projects. She and I both come from families of multiple sisters, so we know what that sister bond is about. But we understand the dynamic between sisters and I think that the addition of a sister relationship into this story is a particularly smart choice. Because there's an intimacy there that is specific to a sister bond.
MICHAELA WATKINS: Sometimes best friend storylines can feel like a device more than a real thing. And I know a lot of sisters who they're almost primary partners for each other. And then they just have husbands.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: As like trinkets.
WATKINS: Obviously our relationships are our primaries in this, but there is something to be said for sister bonds.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I was thinking about the scene with Jeannie Berlin [who plays our mom] at lunch. I was thinking, if we had been best friends in that scene, of how that dynamic would've changed. Because you couldn't have been as dismissive of Jeannie. But because we were sisters, we have this shared sort of alliance almost against our mother. Or with our mother, depending on the moment. It really does shift it completely.
WATKINS: We're watching the same character in front of us.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: The same car wreck.
Jeong Park/A24 Arian Moayed and Michaela Watkins in 'You Hurt My Feelings'
The primary conflict here is these spouses telling a partner that they like their work as a white lie to be supportive. Should a partner always be truthful or is being supportive more important?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Both for sure.
WATKINS: As long as I know you're not lying to me, I'm okay with a compliment. But I can usually smell out bulls--- and that's insulting. That's worse than just being brutally honest. So, I like both personally.
Have you ever had to wrestle with that on the flip side? Like whether you should tell someone whether you like something or not?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Of course. I mean we're in the arts. They're not all winners.
WATKINS: There's people who you love their work and something might not be their greatest thing. My friend sat through a play of Beowulf where I was a tree and a typewriter and a Thane, and it was epically long in a black box theater and it was 400 degrees. And I've never seen a person more angry at me at the end of a show.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, I heard you were wonderful in that show. [Laughs] It was a magnificent performance. I'm certain of it.
WATKINS: It was an awful production. And she really let me know how miserable she was. I've obviously never forgotten it.
Michaela, your character never admits to her husband Mark that sometimes she tells him he's good when he's not. Were you hoping there would be a scene in there where she had to fess up?
WATKINS: I wanted to believe that he is sometimes a good actor. I don't know how anybody dates somebody if they don't genuinely like their performance or what they've chosen to do for a living. That happens, I'm sure. But I couldn't and I wouldn't know how to make this character I was playing get on board with that. So I had to believe that sometimes he was great and sometimes he wasn't just like my sister. Like the way that Tobias's character feels about her book is like "Your last one was great and this one, not so much."
We get this play that Mark is in at the end. Something I appreciated was that it's hard to read on both of your accounts whether you actually think it's good. Did you make a decision for yourselves though?
WATKINS: I genuinely thought like, "Thank God it's good."
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And I thought it was good, but then I was really more interested in seeing if you thought it was good. I was watching your face to see if you were truly enjoying it or not.
Julia, you are married to a writer and you've worked with a lot of wonderful writers over the years. Did playing a novelist make you want to potentially dive into that at all?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Good God no. [Laughs]
WATKINS: Your next chapter is to be a novelist. You've got a podcast now.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, that's not a skillset of mine. I write rough drafts to thank you notes. I obsess over what words go onto a page and so on and so forth. So I can't. No thank you.
Michaela, the lamp that you find for your client is so absurd. Was that something production design made or is it real?
WATKINS: No, Nicole found it, and it just dazzled her. It made her so happy. It was so absurd and so expensive. I was not allowed to drop it. It was probably the whole budget of our film.
Bryan Bedder/Variety via Getty Michaela Watkins, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Nicole Holofcener
Michaela, when you did an impression of Julia on SNL, was that the first time you thought you should play sisters?
WATKINS: I didn't know I could do an impression of Julia until that moment. I don't even know if it was any good to honest with you.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don't even remember it. Can you do it right now?
WATKINS: [Imitating Louis-Dreyfus] "Can I do it right now?" Can you do me?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: [Imitating Watkins, mutters gibberish] She's a mumbler. "Oh that would be so fun." [Mumbles] That's pretty good!
WATKINS: [Laughs] No one ever does impressions of me!
LOUIS-DREYFUS: [Imitating Watkins] "No one ever does impressions of me." I have to show Nicole.
WATKINS: Oh God, you do. She'll love it. I thought about us being siblings forever. Whenever you were in the zeitgeist is when I was like, "Oh, I should play your sister."
I'm gathering from your rapport that you two are eager to work together again.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, I really can't work with her ever again.
WATKINS [At the same time]: Yes, very much.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It's not gonna happen.
WATKINS: Well, she says that until she eats.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: [Imitating Watkins] "Wellllll, she says that...until she eats."
[They begin to talk concurrently imitating each other word for word.]
LOUIS-DREYFUS: We're goofy today, sorry. This is an article, is it not? This is gonna be madness. You can't print any of this s---.
I'll figure it out. Nicole is such a precise writer, but I know she also leaves room for improvisation. Was that something that the two of you did a lot of together?
WATKINS: We did, but I don't know how much ended up in the thing. God, now I'm doing an impression of you doing an impression of me.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I know, I'm enjoying it. Yes, we did improvise, out on the street, and playing around with the language and stuff. We got to set every day with an A-plus script. It didn't any zhuzhing or help. It was all there. But Nicole is incredibly collaborative. She's not egocentric about her work in a crazy way. She has pride about it of course, but she's very willing to collaborate and we have certain skills as improvisers that she's ready to take advantage of. And if we came up with a joke that worked, she would put it in and she did.
WATKINS: We like to play. Especially if we get caught up. Because the writing is very good, so we didn't have to work hard to get where we needed to go emotionally in the scene. So sometimes it just inspired us to keep going.
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