The play-turned-movie August: Osage County follows one family's moral and emotional smack-down in the American Heartland. No one wins, though a shrink could clean up handily. Whatever their faith, the Westons of Osage County, Oklahoma sure could use Jewish Family Services. And judging by the actors' comments at the film's New York press conference, they too may have some lingering traumas to be worked out from the ordeal of performing this Gothic melodrama.
Meryl Streep, who played the splenetic matriarch, and Julia Roberts, who stirred up her own share of bile as her eldest daughter, were both asked how tough it was to shake off their charged mother-daughter scenes.
"We ate a lot," cracked Streep.
"We hugged a lot," Roberts chimed in. "I always had to look her right in the eye before we parted ways to make sure we're all good...'We're kidding, right?' "
Streep's admission that playing Violet Weston "wasn't the most joyous experience" says something, especially considering the controversial characters she has taken up, from deadbeat mom Joanna Kramer in Kramer vs. Kramer and the Auschwitz survivor forced to make a tragic choice in Sophie's Choice to thorny fashion editor Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada and The Iron Lady's Margaret Thatcher. Yet it seems inhabiting the cancer-ridden, pill-addicted Medusa of August: Osage County was particularly "miserable" for the four-time Oscar winner/18-time Oscar nominee. "It was hard to feel that way about...everybody," sighed Streep. "Except you," she said as she pointed toward Margo Martindale, who played her sister Fannie Mae, the mother of Benedict Cumberbatch's much disparaged "Little Charles."
Martindale found "being so critical and painfully brutal to my son" to be the toughest part of the gig. "And also I could see a little bit of that in myself," she added. "It made me feel ashamed."
For Oscar winner Chris Cooper, who played the husband of Martindale's character, his role was especially loaded. "I had to particularly zero in on this idea of unconditional love for your child when people don't see that child as whole." "That was really visceral," he noted, reflecting on what it was like to bring "some life experience...to (my) work." Nearly a decade ago, Cooper lost his 17-year-old son to cerebral palsy.