Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicole Holofcener on the Absurdity of Everyday Life

The star and director share a sensibility that comes through in their new film, “You Hurt My Feelings,” about a small thing that rocks a marriage.

Nicole Holofcener, left, wrote her new film with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in mind.Credit…Chantal Anderson for The New York Times

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By Nicole Sperling

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Sisters from another mister. Cinematic alter egos. However you define it, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicole Holofcener have a connection that rivals the great movie partnerships of our time. New York transplants who are similar in height and in age, Louis-Dreyfus, 62, and Holofcener, 63, each have two grown sons, a healthy self-deprecating attitude and the ability to riff on any topic: cake (it’s their favorite dessert), Hollywood gossip (yes, Robert De Niro did just have a baby) and the indignities of aging.

Holofcener arrives at the restaurant at Shutters on the Beach first, takes glass cleaner out of her purse and cleans her brown-rimmed spectacles. Five minutes later, Louis-Dreyfus grabs a chair, pulls out the same glasses in green and her own bottle of glass cleaner, and wipes them clean. (Am I the only one who doesn’t carry glass cleaner in her purse?)

On the set of their new film “You Hurt My Feelings,” they were like two halves of the same person. Louis-Dreyfus was styled similarly to how Holofcener usually dresses: loosefitting pants, button-down blouses. With Covid protocols firmly in place at the time — those not in a scene were masked up — they were often mistaken for each other.

“You definitely feel like they are separated at birth,” said the producer Anthony Bregman. “They are both mothers before filmmakers. They have the same sense of humor, the same honesty, the same potty mouth. But I think what’s at the core is that they have the same disbelief, or wonder, at the narcissism of social interaction.”

Take Louis-Dreyfus’s new podcast, “Wiser Than Me,” which has ranked high on the charts since it debuted in April. In it Louis-Dreyfus interviews women who are older, and therefore wiser, than her.

“Maybe you’ll still be doing it when I’m old enough to be interviewed,” Holofcener told her.

“I won’t,” Louis-Dreyfus replied.

“And you’ll be like, she’s not that wise,” Holofcener said.

“I’ll do this for eight more years and the last episode will be me talking about me,” Louis-Dreyfus said, laughing at the thought.

The two first met a decade ago, when they partnered on “Enough Said,” the 2013 romantic comedy about a divorced woman grappling with sending her daughter off to college while contemplating a new love. They later collaborated on an Amy Schumer sketch that went viral but weren’t able to make another film together, until now. “You Hurt My Feelings” follows Beth (Louis-Dreyfus), a somewhat successful and happily married writer who overhears her husband, Don (Tobias Menzies), criticizing her new novel. The fallout proves devastating.

The premise is yet another example of Holofcener’s ability to mine the mundanity of life for the absurd. Below are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Was there an inciting incident that prompted this film?

NICOLE HOLOFCENER It started brewing as soon as I started screening my movies or having people read my scripts, wondering if they’re telling me the truth or not. And believing that I can tell. What a nightmare this situation would be, if somebody that close to me revealed to someone else that they didn’t like my work, or even just one of my movies. They have to love everything, in other words, for me to feel safe.

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS She’s very sensitive.

HOLOFCENER I just came up with a what-if. What would be the worst scenario of somebody telling me they love something and me not believing them? I do have friends that I don’t believe. And there’s one person in particular that I don’t believe. I’m actually OK with it. Because I know they love me and get me and clearly they’re wrong. I mean, it hurts a little. They didn’t admit it.

Since Nicole wrote this script with you in mind, did you connect to it immediately?

LOUIS-DREYFUS Yes. I think it’s interesting to consider the notion of worth and self-worth. Am I my work? And who am I without my work? That’s certainly something I like to think about. And that this is ostensibly a great relationship between a married couple, and then the wheels just totally fall off the bus. That was kind of terrifying to consider.

I told Frank Rich [the former New York Times columnist who was an executive producer of her series “Veep”] the premise of this before we shot it. He audibly gasped.

HOLOFCENER Oh good. That’s my audience. Not the people who would hear the premise and go, ‘Yeah, so what? Like, what planet are you from?’

Since you wrote this with Julia in mind, did that change your approach?

HOLOFCENER [To Louis-Dreyfus] Just don’t listen, because it’s going to sound stupid.

[Louis-Dreyfus throws her cappuccino-stained napkin over her head to avoid eye contact.]

HOLOFCENER When you have Julia in your head, it’s bliss, because it just makes me funnier, knowing that she’ll do it. She just sparks my imagination.

Is there a scene that you wouldn’t have written if Julia wasn’t your lead actress?


HOLOFCENER Certainly, I can see other actors doing the scenes differently, and I’m so glad they’re not in it and she is.

What scene specifically?

HOLOFCENER The scene where she’s sitting on the couch with her sister, she’s smoking pot. This is after she’s heard the bad news; she’s crying. It’s tragic. And you really feel for her, but you’re laughing because of that face.

LOUIS-DREYFUS Oh gee, thanks.

HOLOFCENER Julia walks a very fine line between comedy and drama. And that’s what I like to do with my writing. I didn’t have to do much, or anything, for her to get what I mean. We know this movie is about something fairly minor in the world of things.

LOUIS-DREYFUS But also very major.

HOLOFCENER But in the big picture, we’re not going to be crying for her. We hope she’ll get over it. But I think that scene works because she seems like she’s about 16. I think all of us are sometimes still 16. Especially when it comes to getting approval or not getting approval. I still think of myself that way. So that’s funny to see a grown-up person behave like they’re 16, in an honest way. Not in a movie way. Or a histrionic or a silly way.

How difficult was it to shoot the scene in the street right after she’s overheard her husband trash her novel?

LOUIS-DREYFUS That was very nerve-racking because we had paparazzi issues that day.

HOLOFCENER It was our first day.

LOUIS-DREYFUS Which sucked, by the way. We didn’t own the street. It was just brutal trying to shepherd people and get them out of the shot or into the shot or whatever. And then we have paparazzi across the street, as I’m trying to legitimately look as if I’m going to vomit. You know, that’s not a good look.

HOLOFCENER And they want to take your picture.

LOUIS-DREYFUS I’m trying to stay in the scene. But that look of when you’re actually heaving. I defy the most beautiful woman in the world, Isabella Rossellini is not going to look good, doing that.

HOLOFCENER She did it so well that someone walked by and asked her if she was all right.

We don’t often see a longtime happily married couple depicted onscreen.

LOUIS-DREYFUS Normally, if you see a couple married a long time, you’re going to see them butting heads.

HOLOFCENER Or having an affair

LOUIS-DREYFUS Or somebody gets a heart attack. In this case, it’s much more fresh and interesting.

HOLOFCENER I think there are hardly any movies about people our age. And they generally tend to be, in my humble opinion, too silly or too broad.

LOUIS-DREYFUS And not real.

The majority of the characters in this film are experiencing doubt over their careers and if they can or should pivot to doing something else. Clearly, that topic was on your mind, Nicole.

HOLOFCENER I feel that way. Sometimes. I wonder how much time I have left, and do I want to be doing the same thing. Is it too late and what would I do? I think a lot of my friends feel the same way. Or they’re retiring early and making pottery and are very happy. I can imagine retiring.


HOLOFCENER Yeah, just like, leave me alone already. I have no more ideas.

Do you really feel that you’re out of ideas?

HOLOFCENER Well, at the moment I’m out of ideas.

Do you usually feel this way right after you’ve finished making a film?

HOLOFCENER I’m usually out of ideas every day. That’s why I make so few movies. So it’s really true. I don’t know if I’ll make another movie. I hope that’s not the case. I did think that before this movie, so, you know, I’m assuming I’ll keep going for a while.


HOLOFCENER And my characters will grow old with me.

LOUIS-DREYFUS I wasn’t thinking about this character as an age thing. Maybe that was wrong of me.

HOLOFCENER She’s afraid she has an old voice. We’re all afraid of that.

LOUIS-DREYFUS To tell you the truth, I feel like this age, there’s just so much more to do. There’s a huge freedom. It’s like who cares. Try it all. Risk it all. The benefit of being this age is that you have so much experience under your belt, if you’re lucky. Which you do. And I do. And you can apply it. I want to make another movie with this one. You’ve got to get an idea in your head.

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