TORONTO — There's a scene near the end of Enough Said, a loose, sweet tale of love found, lost and perhaps found again that sums up the messy, festering finale of a relationship.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Eva and James Gandolfini's Albert are in the final throes of what was once a promising, lively romance. She's disgusted when he separates the avocados from the onions in guacamole, and fed up with his inability to lose weight. And he's quietly furious when he learns that she has befriended his ex-wife.
In one of his most poignant, and final, moments on film, Gandolfini, who died of a heart attack in June, pointedly, resignedly and oh-so-quietly tells Louis-Dreyfus how much she has wounded him.
"The line about the worst part of this being that she made him look like an idiot in front of his daughter? That was very important to him that he said that, because that's how a man would feel — and I didn't write that," says writer/director Nicole Holofcener. "That was his line. That wasn't in the script. The only time Jim loosened up was in that kitchen scene, when she comes to apologize, and he says that to her. That was really hard for him. That was a real gift, how free he let himself be."
Louis-Dreyfus, who plays a divorced single mom facing dreaded empty-nest syndrome, still can't comprehend that Gandolfini isn't here in Canada promoting the film with her and toasting their performances, as she and Holofcener are doing together with glasses of wine (red for the actress, white for the director) after a full day of press.
"It's the most bizarre thing, because to be honest with you, I still think he's going to walk through the door. The movie feels as if we just made it. He was just doing (redubbing) before he passed away. He's really not here? I was cleaning out e-mails and there were a bunch of e-mails from him," says Louis-Dreyfus, 52.
"Selfishly, I'm so happy I had the chance to work for him. For his legacy, I'm so happy he made this film. First of all, it shows his versatility as an actor. It shows what Jim was. Jim was very much Albert. He was a tender, dear, thoughtful, self-effacing man. Don't you agree with that?"
"Yeah, I do," says Holofcener, 53. "His family said something that made me really happy. They were really nervous to see the movie, but they found themselves enjoying it because they got to be with him a little bit longer — the him that they know."
Holofcener says her two leads had an authentic connection after they first met.
"From my point of view, they were kind of awkward and shy with each other at first, but there was chemistry. I think he was instantly attracted to her and felt unworthy, and that's OK. I hoped I helped him feel worthy, just as the character does," Holofcener says. "It was difficult for him to see himself as a leading man. He just needed some reassurance and he really needed to trust me, which in the beginning was hard for him. He's never been in a movie with so many women and playing this kind of role, someone really vulnerable and sweet and desired. He took his role very seriously."
As did Louis-Dreyfus, a whip-smart and kind three-time Emmy winner who's now the often-abhorrent vice president on HBO's Veep. She and Holofcener, known for such left-of-center slices of life as Friends with Money and Please Give, were aware of each other when Louis-Dreyfus got the Enough Said script, through her agent.
"It grabbed my heart," Louis-Dreyfus says. "I loved it. I had been a fan of Nicole's work for years and we'd never met, inexplicably. We're roughly the same age. We have kids roughly the same age. We live in the same town."
Says Holofcener: "I'd seen her. But she told me to (expletive) off; 'I'm a huge star, get off of me.' "
Louis-Dreyfus cracks up before getting back to business. "I love the idea of this woman who's anxiously waiting the impending departure of her daughter and set against this landscape meets a man she thinks she might love," she says. "She means so well. She's not a bad person. But she's done a horrible thing. It's so raw and awkward and I love awkward."
For all her confidence, Louis-Dreyfus says she saw a lot of herself in Eva, who's awkward without ever being adorable. Like Eva, her kids, with husband Brad Hall, are nearly grown: Henry is 21, and Charles, is16. So she understands viscerally what it means when your kids leave home.
"Eva is very frightened of loneliness, as I am personally, to be honest. I see her fear of loneliness and that's a part of who I am. And a fear of separation — I live in that place. I really understand her intentions. She's brimming over with love for her daughter and I get that. It's blinding to her," says Louis-Dreyfus. "I understand (messing up) so tremendously, like she does. I don't know if that's who I am, but I feel like I am on the precipice."
Holofcener, the divorced mother of 16-year-old twin boys, throws her arms up in the air and lurches toward the actress. "Don't leave me! We're going to get a house together," she quips to Louis-Dreyfus.
Her own experience in the dating world inspired the script, which is her most linear and commercial to date.
"I guess I was thinking about my ex-husband and his new girlfriend and I'm wondering, 'Does she know yet what I knew?' And my ex-husband is probably wondering if my boyfriend knows what he's in for. It's the mystery of what makes a relationship work, as opposed to the facts about a person. I'm still the same person, but I'm one man's heaven and another man's hell. And the idea that I'm still trying to learn how to love. It takes maturity to learn how to love. What are dealbreakers? What are annoyances? Those were just thoughts in my head."
Plus, motherhood was omnipresent in her mind. "The idea that my kids will leave one day, that's really prominent in my mind. I have three years but every time they walk out the door — I'm trying to imagine my life without them in this way, and it makes me want to die," she says with a resigned sigh. "That's not going to come across well in print."
Perhaps most notable is that in wrinkle-resistant Hollywood, Holofcener's film centers on a demographic you generally don't see on screen: the imperfect middle-aged couple, bequeathed with plenty of laugh lines and, in Gandolfini's case, an ample girth that he addresses on screen. It's a reality not lost on Louis-Dreyfus.
"These opportunities have come along abundantly in the past year and a half, but they don't come along like this, particularly for a woman my age. But it's good. It's really good," she says.
Before shooting this one, she sat down with Holofcener and Gandolfini to hash out their characters. "We talked a lot too about the emotional journey of this person, and I don't know, it felt private," Louis-Dreyfus says. "Don't you think? You have to go to a private, personal place to get to an honest performance. I felt simpatico with you, and I told you stuff I wouldn't ordinarily tell people."
Holofcener punctures what could be a heavy moment with her deadpan humor. "I don't remember it," Holofcener says. "Do you remember things? I have the worst memory. You have to tell me what you remember (of the shoot)."
"I remember the deep laughter. You brought a fart machine in. There was a looseness on the set that really helped set a tone of authenticity," Louis-Dreyfus says. "I don't even know where to begin? What about the dinner party scene. The whispering! You set the tone. You have your dog there and the kids come and you burp between takes."
"That was a mistake, that burp," Holofcener says. "When I'm home, I have no reason to keep the burp in. But on set, it just flew out."
So what's next for both women? Louis-Dreyfus is headed back in Baltimore, playing her dodgy politician in Veep. And Holofcener, who has no film deal in place, will get back to writing. But for now, their minds are on Gandolfini, whose absence fills every screening of their film.
"He would have come to Toronto, right?" wonders Holofcener. "He was uncomfortable with his fame. He didn't feel that he deserved fame but she" — she turns to Louis-Dreyfus accusingly — "is entitled to her fame. She worked for it."
"I wish I had more," retorts Louis-Dreyfus.
Holofcener says, "She's the most normal famous person I ever met."