Nancy Meyers wrote and directed “The Intern,” a comedy opening Sept. 25 in which Anne Hathaway plays Jules, the young founder of a thriving Internet startup who hires a 70-year-old intern, played by Robert De Niro. Meyers, who also wrote and directed the movies “It’s Complicated” and “Something’s Gotta Give,” and Hathaway spoke with The Times about Hollywood, feminism and the proper use of the term “on fleek.”
Nancy, how do you see Anne’s character in “The Intern” in relation to another working mom character you wrote, Diane Keaton’s in “Baby Boom”?
Nancy Meyers: They’re a little bit like companion pieces. How we’ve grown is that one woman is the founder and CEO of her company and the other is an employee who had a sit-down chat with her boss who said, “Are you going to have kids or aren’t you? ‘Cause if you are that’s going to be a problem.” In “The Intern,” she’s a mother and a CEO. But underneath all that there’s some problem that still exists. So they’re bookends in a way.
Anne Hathaway: There’s no Jules without J.C. [Keaton’s character]. You and I, we’re standing on the shoulders of women who had to have conversations with their bosses like, “Are you having kids or not ‘cause if you’re having kids you’re no good to me?” Things like that may still be thought, but they’re not spoken in the workplace anymore. I’m happy that the story is improving.
Normally when you have a movie with a young actress and much older actor, it’s either a romantic relationship or he’s her father. This is neither.
Meyers: It came from something that was missing in my life but I never thought of. When somebody’s in a stressful situation, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone with some wisdom to watch your back, remind you who you are and what you’re doing well? Wouldn’t we all like that? Most movies are about the flaws, the problems, the difficulties we have in life. But I think it’s OK and also necessary to be an optimistic voice. I’m saying, older people have wisdom. Older people have value.
Hathaway: One of the things I think is so cool about this relationship is that Ben’s not trying to change Jules. He’s not trying to fix her. What he’s saying is, you’re great. Everything you need you have inside you. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that relationship on-screen.
Meyers: And I don’t change him. I change every man I’ve ever written. I’m always working them into getting it. I don’t change this man.
What’s it like to act inside one of the beautiful worlds Nancy creates?
Hathaway: Your character’s environment is so revealing about who they are. I loved Jules’ apartment, but I also loved the offices. It was hip and cool and understated. Everything was beautiful but functional. Seeing the office started to inform the costume decisions. Her wardrobe is on fleek but practical.
Meyers: On fleek. Now this is a completely made-up word.
Hathaway: No, no, there’s an origin for “on fleek.” It’s from an eyebrow tutorial. It went viral, and now we all say it.
Meyers: I posted a photo on Instagram of the TV in my kitchen with “The Bachelorette” on and in front of it was a rack of cookies I had just made and Mindy Kaling wrote “On Fleek” in the comments. I emailed my kids and asked, “Is this a typo?”
[“On fleek” means “perfect” or “on point.”]
Why are the numbers of women directors of studio films so persistently low?
Meyers: I can’t point to an enemy except the culture and the way movies have changed. For a long time everybody knew about it, but for some reason nobody was talking about it the way they are now. I think it’s a combination of all these fabulous young women who are saying the stuff that we’ve been thinking for years. Like Maggie Gyllenhaal saying, “I’m 37 and they’re telling me I’m too old to be the love interest of a 50-year-old man.” It’s really exciting to watch... I think the fact that people are talking about it means next time they make a list of who would be good to direct a movie they’re going to feel, “We need to put some women on this list.”
Did you ever feel like it wasn’t OK for you to talk about this topic publicly?
Meyers: Not at all. I thought the fact that I kept working meant I was doing my part. I thought being visible was a good thing. But I didn’t censor myself.
Hathaway: There’s a very big problem when you look at the list of the highest-earning men and the highest-earning women in the global film community, and there’s a $660-million pay gap between the two of them. When you look at the reason why that is, that there aren’t a lot of franchises starring women.... And there’s that thing about how a male actor or director can have a series of failures and still get hired. It’s not true for women.
Nancy, it’s been six years since your last movie. Why so long?
Meyers: The movie business changed. This movie was a little harder to get made. It wasn’t an automatic. It got really close multiple times and then didn’t happen. Then there were personal things — my daughter got married and it was at my house and that was a fun production. My mom got sick. Life happened. But when I finished the script and sent it around everybody was trying to make “Spider-Man.” I got to the point where I was going to bury the script in my backyard. But at the last minute, Warner Bros. stepped in and said they wanted to make the movie.
Anne, do you ever think you’d want to be the boss, either as a director or the boss of something else?
Hathaway: I’ve produced. I just got to a place of enjoyment with where I’m at and it was hard fought, so I’d like to enjoy that. The director bug hasn’t caught me yet.... Also, I think I’m intimidated. Most of the directors I admire have been directing since they were little kids.
Meyers: I started when I was 48.
Hathaway: OK, well, then there’s that.