PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Tony Winner Tracy Letts, Who Brings Osage County to the Big Screen

By Michael Gioia
16 Dec 2013

Meryl Streep
The Weinstein Company

There were great cinematic elements. I love that moviegoers are taken into this Southern world and will have a much different experience than they would seeing it in the theatre.
TL: That's another big point… The [piece] is called August: Osage County, and in the movie, we get to show Osage County. In the play, we only get to hear it described, and we can sort of imagine it outside the walls of the set. But, here, it's the first image of the film. This is Osage County, and I find that really satisfying and really, really moving. There's a reason I set it there, and [the fact] that we are able to show it is great.

Talk to me about casting. Meryl Streep was fantastic, but she wasn't the first actress I thought of to play Violet because she is so glamorous. Although Violet is very smart, she is completely broken down. Were you thinking "Meryl Streep" from the beginning?
TL: No! I didn't. I mean… I don't know. I don't tend to think of these things. I'm not sitting there thinking of the people you would cast to make the movie go. Once I heard Meryl Streep, I thought, "Well, that's great. She's a great actress, and if she wants to tackle that… Violet is not a fun person to be inside, but if she wants to tackle that, that's good for all of us." And, the rest of the casting… It's not as if I cast the film, but John and I were always very collaborative — not only in the writing of the screenplay, but in all of the preproduction phases: The design decisions, the location decisions as well as casting decisions. I never, for instance, sat in on a single audition — John did all of the auditions — but we were always talking about who was appropriate.

Tell me more about your collaboration with John Wells.
TL: He's a real gentleman and a lovely fellow. We had a great time together, and his approach was very thoughtful. You know, when he first showed up at my house — which is where we first met — he came to the house to start work, and I don't think he even took his play out of his bag at that first meeting. He was just choosing to use the time to get to know me. And, we got to know each other — our backgrounds, our histories. He wanted to know where the play came from and my own experiences… He had a lot of questions about how we put the play together originally — the discussions we were having in the rehearsal room, the design decisions we made. It was a very patient process over several meetings before we started to get into the nitty-gritty of the script.

When was the moment that it was decided to turn August: Osage County into a film?
TL: Almost immediately. The way these things work on Broadway is that one of the reasons you produce a Broadway show — because you're almost assuredly going to lose money on it — is that you share in the subsidiary rights, so there was talk of the movie as we were in previews, before we even opened the show. The Weinstein Company were investors on the play, so they had a stake in it from the very beginning. So, the talk was immediate after we got to New York.

Were you able to envision it as film from the beginning?
TL: I guess I wasn't thinking about it until it was time to work. When we were working on the play, we were working on the play. There came a point later on when I had to start thinking of it as a film.