Before portraying a dysfunctional Oklahoma family on screen in “August: Osage County,” the movie’s actors learned to be a family first by sharing stories, meals and, sometimes, the same living quarters.
At least that’s how actress Margo Martindale explained it Sunday during a screening of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play-turned-film, directed by John Wells, which is up for two Golden Globe nominations and three Screen Actors Guild Awards.
“You live in this toxic environment enough, it’s not hard to sort of feel poisoned by it,” costar Meryl Streep said of the story and her portrayal of the family’s pill-addicted, truth-spewing matriarch, Violet Weston. “That’s why we really did make an effort to get us all together [and] eat something together.”
“And have a little red wine,” Streep said, laughing before enthusiastic applause from a capacity crowd inside the Directors Guild of America theater in Los Angeles.
“August” centers on three sisters (played by Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson) returning to their Oklahoma home in the wake of a tragedy that reveals secrets, severs ties but leaves many with an outlook on family, relationships and life. The cast also includes Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch.
The dark comedy, made for $25 million and slated for a wide release Jan. 10, has received mixed reviews since its limited Christmas Day release, but during the question-and answer session Sunday, the actresses had a lighthearted discussion about their time in Oklahoma.
Martindale joked about whose home was bigger (Streep’s), Dermot Mulroney’s funny antics and the actresses’ rendition of Ado Annie’s “I Cain’t Say No!” in the musical “Oklahoma!”
Between scenes of quarreling and harsh conversations, Streep and Martindale said, came some lessons. Streep reflected on the Oklahoma landscape, which she described as “ridiculously beautiful” but also noted could usher in hardships and isolation for people who called the state home. In the film, Streep’s character talks about the harsh, and sometimes violent, childhood she endured at the hands of her own mother. (Violet Weston is based on Letts’ mother.)
“When Tracy’s mom read the script, she said, ‘You’ve been very kind to my mother,’” Streep recalled, noting that the heart-wrenching scenes in the film only told a fraction of the difficult childhood endured by Lett’s mother.
Martindale talked about truth, an integral part in the family’s demise throughout the film.
“When you suppress it for so long, it can only become poisonous,” Martindale said. “If you let some of that truth out along the way, it may not be so violent when it does come out.”