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Bill Holderman & Erin Simms – Hosting an All-Star Book Club

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Erin Simms and Bill Holderman

Bill Holderman & Erin Simms

Hosting an All-Star Book Club

By Jay S. Jacobs

Imagine this. You have finished your first screenplay together and are about to direct your first film ever, and some of the most iconic names in Hollywood history sign on the dotted line to be in your film.

This is where Bill Holderman and Erin Simms found themselves. They had written a cute little comedy script together. It was Simms’ first screenwriting attempt. Holderman had one official writing credit to his name (A Walk in the Woods, which starred Robert Redford and Nick Nolte), though he had worked on doctoring other scripts in the past. This was also his first opportunity to direct a film.

In writing the film, they had set their casting sights high, and shockingly most of the big names they had hoped for were coming on board: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss… It was a cast like they couldn’t even imagine.

That script was Book Club, about four women of a certain age who were long-time friends in modern day Los Angeles. They had a book club which they used as an excuse to get together, talk, drink and have fun. Then one day, one of the ladies decided to spice things up by adding Fifty Shades of Grey to the reading list.

Book Club was released to theaters earlier this year and became a surprise hit. Just in time for the release on Digital platforms on August 14th and on Blu-ray and DVD August 28th, we sat down with Holderman and Simms to discuss the movie and the experience of working with some of the biggest stars in the business.

Diane Keaton, Candace Bergen, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen in “Book Club.”

Thirty years ago, a film with the cast of Book Club would be considered one of the blockbuster releases of the year. What was it like to work with so many iconic actresses – and actors, for that matter?

Bill Holderman: It was a gift that kept giving. It was a dream come true.

Erin Simms: Painful! Very hard. (laughs)

Bill Holderman: No, it was really incredible. For us, it was like: Wow, will we ever reach this level again?

Erin Simms: It probably felt exactly like you would think it would feel, which is: What the hell is happening right now? This is insane. And amazing.

How did you get your cast together?

Bill Holderman: We wrote the script specifically for Diane and for Jane. You do that in a naïve writer’s bubble, not knowing if you’ll ever be able to submit it to them. The fact that they read it, and responded, was one of those shocking moments in the development of the movie.

What did you learn as filmmakers from working with these great old pros?

Bill Holderman: What was really thrilling was just how collaborative they were. How giving they were. Sometimes we think about actors who have had the careers that they have had, and have been in the public eye for as many years as they have been in. [After] decades, the fact that they are still eager and excited and engaged in the process…

Bill Holderman on the set of “Book Club” with Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen and Candace Bergen.

Erin Simms: Not jaded by it…

Bill Holderman: Yeah. And not jaded by it. [They] really want to deliver. There was not a single moment of phoning it in, or any of that. It was as if they were as inspired and excited as they were on their first movie. To me, that is such a lesson to not get jaded. This business can make people cynical and make people jaded, but to really have the longevity that they’ve had, the group, you have to stay excited about what you’re doing. Stay passionate about it.

Erin Simms: They are the message of the movie. The kind of women that they are; Diane, Candice. They keep striving. They keep trying to learn new things. They keep trying to get better at their craft. And they keep trying to keep their life interesting and exciting. It was cool to actually see that close up.

Everyone was great, but I must admit that Candice Bergen was really a revelation, she stole many of the scenes she was in with her famous co-stars. Were you surprised by how much she brought to the table?

Bill Holderman: We’re huge, huge fans of hers. I don’t think there’s a better deadpan comedienne out there. Surprised? No, because she’s so brilliant, but yes because you…

Erin Simms: You felt it on set. I’ll say, yes, I was surprised. Not because I didn’t know she was talented, but (laughs) she blew you away on the day. I remember I said to Bill, “Oh my God, I think she’s going to win a Golden Globe or something.” You could feel it.

Bill Holderman: Yeah. She was awesome.

Mary (Steenburgen) was also in A Walk in the Woods. Was it that performance that made you think she’d fit in well? Or, is she like a good luck charm for you?

Bill Holderman: Yeah. That was one of those situations where she was so lovely and great to work with. We only had her for a couple of days in Walk in the Woods. But, she is one of the nicest, kindest souls walking the Earth. She inspired that character in a lot of ways. To be able to cast her and work with her again… from the moment we worked with her in A Walk in the Woods, we said to each other we really want to work with her again. This was the perfect opportunity.

Richard Dreyfuss and Candace Bergen in “Book Club.”

It was great to see Richard Dreyfuss again, too, even though he had a relatively small role. Did you ever feel the urge to bulk up his role a bit, just because – well, that’s Richard Dreyfuss…!?

Bill Holderman: Yeah. It’s interesting, at the point that we were casting that role, when you get Richard Dreyfuss, you definitely think: How do we take advantage of this? The truth is, he came in and there was such great chemistry between he and Candice. Our thinking is, if ever there’s a sequel, there will probably be a return of the George character.

With films like yours and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Something’s Gotta Give and series like Grace & Frankie doing so well, there is obviously an audience for films about mature characters. Why do you think Hollywood doesn’t make more movies for that demographic?

Erin Simms: I think Hollywood likes to believe in a sure thing. I mean, there is no sure thing in our business, but I guess that there are certain predictable outcomes that you can go by. For a lot of people, it is business and it’s a hard business, so they feel more comfortable going down a road that is a little safer. But, I think we’ve woken people up with this movie. I really do. We’ve heard it enough now. Everyone is sort of surprised that it did so well. Now, suddenly, everyone wants something in this demographic. (laughs) So, if we were some small part of making that happen, then that’s just like icing on the cake.

You wrote for some very iconic actors in A Walk in the Woods as well. Do you find writing about characters of a certain age intriguing personally, or has that just sort of been the way things have shaken out so far?

Bill Holderman: No, it’s never been the intention. The themes of A Walk in the Woods and of Book Club has been some shared territory about looking forward and not looking back. The idea that we think at a certain age you have it all figured out, and from the people that I know, this is not the case. They continue to strive and try to figure out relationships and try to figure out life. Stay relevant and stay engaged. All of that is inspiring to me, personally. So, it finds its way into the work.

Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candace Bergen and Mary Steenburgen in “Book Club.”

Erin Simms: Yeah. All writers have their own way. I think Bill and I, just in general, are always trying to look forward. What’s next? What can we do? Maybe that just determines what we choose.

Bill Holderman: We don’t really view them as old characters. We just view them as characters. A lot of people, sadly, when they are writing for older people, they view it as that: as just caricatures of older people. That’s just not my existence. The people that I’ve come in contact with, they’re not old, regardless of their age. You know what I mean? So, we try to write from a pretty real place.

You both came up in the business working for Robert Redford’s production company Wildwood Enterprises. What was that like and what did you learn from him as filmmakers?

Bill Holderman: Some of this is probably inspired by the way that he views life, which is he doesn’t look back at all. He doesn’t apologize for anything. It’s all about moving forward and continuing to strive. Some of that has seeped into our mentality. I was there for almost 14 years. And I think Erin, you were there for six?

Erin Simms: Six years.

Bill Holderman: Six. It’s great. It’s a great building ground. Both of us got to be exposed to some of the biggest movie stars in the business.

Erin Simms: It helped with not being intimidated by a certain level of the business. Because, you know, you’re working for Redford. You’re operating on a very high level. (laughs) That was great for me, because otherwise I would have found this extremely intimidating.

Bill Holderman: But, at the end of the day, they’re all human. They all have the same human values that we all do. That humanizing of the industry is really important in terms of the creative process.

Bill Holderman with Andy Garcia and Diane Keaton in “Book Club.”

Bill, as someone with a background in production and writing, this was your first opportunity to direct. What was that jump like?

Bill Holderman: On one level it was terrifying. On another level it felt really natural. As a producer, I was very hands-on….

Erin Simms: It was a shorter jump than he expected.

Bill Holderman: A little bit. At the same time, I give such credit to the cast of this movie. They were so incredibly collaborative and giving and respectful of me. It made it really easy. I also had an incredible, incredible crew. We got to shoot in Los Angeles. We had a cinematographer – Andrew Dunn – who is just such an inspiring and wonderful and brilliant guy, with such a great eye. That relationship was really valuable. Then to have Erin producing, and have that support, was invaluable. It was a great experience.

It was interesting, the lead characters pretty much covered the spectrum of relationship possibilities – happily married, bitterly divorced, widowed and defiantly single. Was it important to you to show all these different lifestyles in your characters?

Bill Holderman: We definitely in breaking down the stories wanted to tell four fully arcing individual storylines. In doing that, we tried to not have too much retreading of ideas. We tried to set them all up as individuals and give them idiosyncrasies and specifics of their own challenges and journeys.

Candace Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda in “Book Club.”

The Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon is a few years old at this point. I recognize that it took a while to get the film off the ground, but were you at all concerned about making something topical like that such a big part of the storyline?

Erin Simms: We wrote the movie in 2012. So, there was only the books. We didn’t know that they were going to be turned into movies at the time that we wrote it. We were not pre-meditated at all in our process, as we were writing the movie and excited about it and loved the idea. The first time we sold the movie was in 2014. I think one of the movies had come out, so we were a little bit stressed out by that. But we figured, fine, it’s okay. Then nothing happened, and we got the movie back in 2016. And a lot of things… we certainly were thinking, “Oh God, there’s already been two movies and the third one is its way.” We were scared about that. Then, it turned out to be fate, because we made the movie and we trailered on the last movie. It still was part of the culture. It was still a part of the zeitgeist. It still made $100 million at the box office. I don’t know, it worked out. We got lucky. But it certainly was a nail biter.

Bill Holderman: It’s a testament to Paramount, too. When they came on, they really hit the gas to make sure that we could take advantage of that marketing angle. They saw the benefit to that, which was great.

Erin Simms: But, yes, it’s tricky to do something like that in a movie, for sure. It worked out though. (laughs)

How did the Fifty Shades connection originally come into play?

Bill Holderman: Erin will tell that.

Erin Simms: Oh, Bill and I were working together. Bill decided to FedEx Fifty Shades of Grey to his mom for Mother’s Day.

Bill Holderman: Pretty good gift.

Erin Simms: I thought that was insane. I also thought it was really funny, so I sent it to my mother and to my step-mother. Then the next day we had the idea for the movie.

Bill Holderman: An inappropriate couple of gifts and an inappropriate conversation and then a movie was…

Erin Simms: A movie was born.

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: August 6, 2018.

Photos ©2018. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.


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