Nancy Meyers, rom-com queen, has abandoned her perch -- sort of. Her new movie, "The Intern," is a different type of romance, one that's centered on the friendship that develops between a 70-year-old widower (Robert De Niro) who accepts a senior-citizen internship at an online fashion startup. His boss (Anne Hathaway) is a career woman who, as we find out later in the film, happens to have a stay-at-home husband, a daughter and a handsome Brooklyn brownstone that lives up to the luscious interiors for which Meyers' movies are known. On a Saturday in August, The Huffington Post sat down with the 65-year-old Meyers, whose recent projects include "Something's Gotta Give" and "It's Complicated," and the 72-year-old De Niro for a conversation about aging in Hollywood, depicting male-female friendships onscreen and how De Niro should play Superman next.
"The Intern" is a change of pace for you, even though it's still very much in the Nancy Meyers mode.
Meyers: That’s true.
Did it start with the desire to tell a story about age?
Meyers: I wish I could articulate how ideas form. It’s pretty much a mystical and magical experience, how an idea becomes what it is. Yes, it started with his character, for sure. That’s how it began, and from there it grew into, “Then where does he go?” and “Who runs that?” and "What’s their relationship?" In the beginning, it could have been a love story. But it takes me. It just takes me.
The adage is that Hollywood is a tough place for women after 40, but “The Intern” subverts that by making the male protagonist’s age the crux of the plot. Robert, are you at a place where you can embrace that?
De Niro: I don’t have a choice.
Meyers: I think age is a good thing. As long as your health is good, it’s a good thing. You really are smarter, I find. Calmer, smarter. I think things start to level out as you get older. Look at how calm he is [points to De Niro].
De Niro: I have a few more killer parts left in me, though.
A lot of the movies you’ve made over the last couple of decades seem to teeter on one of two things -- age, as in “Last Vegas,” “The Big Wedding," or the novelty of starring opposite a trendy actress like Jennifer Lawrence or Anne Hathaway. Are you inspired by those stories, or are they just what’s being handed to you?
De Niro: Well, it’s both. I’m lucky that Nancy wants me to do a movie and David O. Russell wants me to do a movie – they’re great parts and great experiences. I’m lucky, what can I say? It’s that simple.
Meyers: It’s an amazing thing to hear him say that he’s lucky. I mean!
You could be bitter that you've aged out of traditional leading-man parts.
De Niro: That’s impossible, there’s no such thing. Life goes on. I’m lucky that I was part of “The Godfather: Part II.”
I like the implicit feminism in "The Intern." Anne Hathaway gives a pretty insightful speech in a bar about the shift to the "you go, girl" era and how we forgot to nurture our boys along the way. That's a fresh look at gender.
Meyers: Do you find that to be true, being that age?
Yeah, 100 percent. And I walked away thinking I hadn’t heard it articulated quite that way.
Meyers: There’s an awful lot of emphasis on girls in your generation. Children’s books were being rewritten and everything. With Take Your Daughter to Work Day, it never occurred to me: Where are everybody’s sons? They just assumed you’d be okay.
So in depicting a May-December friendship …
De Niro: Am I at that month? December?
Fair enough, let’s call it May-November. Or October. Hell, let’s do August.
Meyers [to De Niro]: You know January comes after December, right?
That’s right, everything starts anew. But you’ve addressed gender disparities before, particularly in “What Women Want.” Did that just weave its way in here, or was it an intentional button you wanted to hit?
Meyers: It did weave itself in. As you develop the characters and what kinds of people you should be involved with on the movie, you begin to give [Anne Hathaway's character] a life outside of their office relationship. So I create situations that will not only serve her story, but their story.
Is there anything you want to say now that’s different than what you wanted to say in previous movies?
Meyers: Well, I think the fact that it’s a friendship and not a romance. It’s a love story, I think -- it’s just not a romantic love story, so I don’t know how many times he’s had to play that, but I haven’t been able to do that relationship ever. I’ve never written it or directed it. It was interesting and it was fun to sort of figure out how to play all the moments between them because you can’t rely on “Oh, there’s a look in her eye and there’s a look in his eye” -- you can’t do that. You can’t fall back on any of that stuff.
“What Women Want” was heralded as the highest-grossing movie by a female director by the time it left theaters, and …
De Niro: What was “What Women Want”?
Meyers: Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.
De Niro: You directed that? [laughs]
Meyers: That was me!
De Niro: Oh, sorry.
That superlative is a nice accomplishment, but it's a bummer that we need a distinction for the highest-grossing female-directed movie. How do you guys see it?
Meyers: Oh, that it's talked about as a woman’s movie? I try to avoid those things, like if I’m asked to be photographed with all the other women directors. As a matter of fact, Vanity Fair wanted to do one a couple of years ago in their Hollywood spread, and we women all emailed each other and none of us wanted to do it.
Who were the other women?
Meyers: Nora Ephron, and I think Kathryn Bigelow. There was another interesting person in there. Oh, Sofia Coppola. And we all said, “Let’s not.” We’d be happy to be in a director’s spread anytime, but we don’t think we’re a sub-genre.
Robert, do you feel like you’ve starred in enough movies throughout your career that were directed by women?
De Niro: No, I haven’t. There’s Nancy, and who else?
Meyers: Penny’s movie, with Robin Williams. [They're referring to 1990's "Awakenings."]
De Niro: Penny Marshall. I’ve worked with a couple of women DP’s, but that’s it, I think. And not for any reason. It’s just who was there.
Over the past several years, articles have resurfaced about the decline of the romantic comedy. I want to hear your take, Nancy. What role do the studios play in that? I’m thinking about the comments Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is 37, made recently about being too old play a romantic lead opposite a 55-year-old actor.
De Niro: Wow, really?
Meyers: Not a great feeling.
De Niro: I’ll take her. [laughs]
If you were making another romantic comedy, would you be subjected by the studio to what Maggie Gyllenhaal is talking about regarding casting?
Meyers: No, I’ve never done it. In “What Woman Want,” Helen and Mel were age-appropriate. Rene Russo and Bob are age-appropriate in "The Intern." It wouldn’t occur to me not to hire a 60-year-old woman. I wasn’t going to match him up with a 40-year-old. For me, I just don’t want to tell that story. I want him to be happy with an age-appropriate person and to have that kind of life. Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton were the same age, Steve Martin and Meryl Streep were the same age. So I’ve never been asked to change that. It wouldn’t work for me.
Robert, you’re in an interesting place in your career because the movies you’re making aren’t quite what we now think of as blockbusters, because they don’t have superheroes, robots or dinosaurs in them, yet they aren’t quite indies either. You're making studio movies that fall somewhere in between, yet “The Godfather” was considered a blockbuster in its day. What do you think of that evolution?
De Niro: It’s just different. In those days, I remember “Godfather I” was the first blockbuster movie in my generation. Maybe “Gone with the Wind” was 25 years earlier. But as I remember it, then it was “Godfather II" and then "Jaws."
Meyers: These were also really good movies, too.
And they weren’t affiliated with franchises.
Meyers: “Godfather” sort of became a franchise. But you know, box-office results didn’t used to be on the news. Now it’s on the news. It’s part of Monday morning’s “Today” show. That wasn’t what people were interested in. How well something does doesn’t have to do with how good it is.
De Niro: It’s just different.
Meyers: I think we’ve both been around long enough that you kind of assume things will come back around.
There was a controversy recently with Colin Trevorrow, who directed “Jurassic World,” saying that women don’t want to make blockbusters.
Meyers: We don’t want to make Marvel kind of movies, I think is what he was saying.
Yes. When I say “blockbusters,” I mean superheroes, dinosaurs and robots.
Meyers: [laughs] Wait a minute. Superheroes, dinosaurs …
Meyers: No people in any of those.
Precisely. So I’m curious, do you think he was onto something in saying women don’t want to make those types of movies, or is it that the studios don’t approach women with the offers? You’ve set yourself apart from that genre, but surely you’re been around long enough to observe the trends.
Meyers: Yes, I’ve never been interested. I used to think, and I used to say when I would be asked stuff like this, “No, women want to make movies about people and relationships.” I’ve actually changed what I think over time. I think there’s plenty of women that would love to get their hands on some of those movies. I think they’d do a great job, and they keep asking Colin because he was picked from a little movie. People are saying if a woman had directed that little movie, would they have said, “That women is the one to direct ‘Jurassic World,’ or whatever it’s called”? And people are saying it’s unlikely. He got that chance, but would a woman have gotten the chance? Because he came off a festival movie, which is where women directors often show their work. But I’m beginning to think it’s not so much -- I think they’re not given the opportunity. But you know what? The great thing that’s happening is that everybody is talking about it and when they make up the list for the next movie, then let her decide.
De Niro: I’ll play Superman directed by a woman. I don’t care!
Meyers: I think he is a superhero, in my opinion. So there you go.
"The Intern" opens Sept. 25.
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