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

By Michael Gioia
16 Dec 2013

Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep
The Weinstein Company

How close were you in working with the cast and creative team of the movie during filming?
TL: Not at all! I was there for the very first day, which was the meet and greet and the table read, which is a nervous day — it always is, regardless of the circumstances. People are showing up, and they don't know each other, and they're going to have to make a family, and they're going to have to kiss or slap each other… [Laughs.] They're going to have to get into it! [The cast was] also meeting me for the first time, and I have this long history with the play. Everybody wants to please everybody else and set everybody else at ease. Nobody wants to humiliate themselves… Not to mention [that] there were a lot of really, Goddamn famous people walking through the door! You couldn't help but notice that there's Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and [producer] George Clooney. I was able to sort of remind myself that it was "the first day of rehearsal," and this is what it's always like. I was a little intimidated by Sam Shepard because he's [also] a playwright. We read [through the script], and I spent a day answering their questions and getting to know them a little bit. They tried to get to know me… It was a lovely day, but then once shooting started — I mean, John was in consultation with me a little bit during the shooting — he would call me on occasion or email me a question, but for the most part, I was rehearsing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, so I couldn't be there while they were filming.

During the dinner-table scene, when the character of Barbara says, "I'm running things now!" it is such an iconic moment in August: Osage County. Were you afraid something like that wouldn't translate to the screen?
TL: You know, some things are going to translate better than others, and everybody is trying to make it work. I mean, there were certain things — for instance, in the play around the midway point, when there's the three columns of dialogue, and everybody is talking in the house at the same time… There was no way to make that work in the film. I mean, on stage, we have this picture — this canvas — that you're looking at as an audience member, and you can choose where your eyes go. In the film, of course, we're directing the eye at every moment to show you what it is you're looking at, which was one of the great things, too, about the dinner scene. The dinner scene we had always staged around that table, as opposed to try to open everybody up so the audience could see everybody. The audience was seeing backs, which was great. It was a great way to stage the [scene] and made the audience feel as though they were trying to look in and get a sense of what was going on at the table. Of course, in the film, we can put the camera right in the center of the table and spin it around and look at everybody's face, which is great. [The line] "I'm running things now," in particular, has a potency on the stage because it's the end of that act of theatre and hence worth [an] explosive end followed by that blackout. It's a little different in the film, but Julia still delivers it with the appropriate ferocity. Sometimes you sit there and [think], "This is going to work a certain way on stage, [but] it's going to work a little differently on film… C'est la vie!"