Having won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play, Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County" was a logical candidate for adaptation to the big screen. But even with an all-star cast — in this case including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch — and a script adapted by the playwright himself, making the movie version is never as simple as just filming the play.
At the Envelope Screening Series, Letts talked about the process and challenges of adapting "August: Osage County."
"It's not a natural translation, transition, to take something from stage to screen," Letts said. "Onstage your action is communicated through the spoken word primarily, and on screen it's communicated through pictures. So it's always been kind of unnatural to take something that lives on the stage and turn it into moving pictures."
On the other hand, there are advantages to adapting an existing work, Letts said: "The other side of the coin is that this material has been worked on and worked on and worked on. It's been put through its paces for literally hundreds of performances, so it's been meticulously worked out line for line. So you do go into it knowing, OK, the material is solid. The thing we have to work on here is solid. It's just a matter of how can we tell this story without everybody talking all the time."
Asked if he had trouble relinquishing his characters to someone else, Letts said he did not. Theater and filmmaking, he said, "are both collaborative forms, and if I didn't want the participation of others, I'd write novels. The truth is, I like that we're all making a pot of stew together and everybody's throwing in their own ingredients. It's never exactly what I see in my head, but it's always better. The contributions of others, the humanity that other people bring to it, always makes it better."
But, he added, "That's not to say that I don't fight for stuff that I believe in that I think will make the piece better. I'm a tough fighter, in fact, but ultimately the best idea wins."
For more from the cast and crew of "August: Osage County," watch the full video above, and check back for daily highlights.
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