Julia Louis-Dreyfus On ‘Enough Said,’ James Gandolfini’s Last Leading Role

Julia Louis-Dreyfus sat down with Marlow Stern at TIFF to discuss her turn as a massage therapist who falls for a sweet single father, played by James Gandolfini, in ‘Enough Said,’ opening Sept. 18, and her favorite memories on set with the late actor in his final leading role.

09.09.13 8:45 AM ET

Enough Said, a charming romantic comedy from filmmaker Nicole Holofcener, is a big screen monument to two small screen icons.

The first, of course, is James Gandolfini. It’s impossible to view the film without mourning the late Sopranos star, who passed away recently from a heart attack at the age of 51. He plays Albert, the divorced father of an insufferable fashionista who’s about to ship off to college. Albert is a sweet man with no friends, choosing to divide his time between his job as a librarian of sorts, converting old TV programs to digital, and worrying about his teenage daughter. And we’ve never seen Gandolfini play a role like this before: a tender, lovable man with a set of bizarre quirks, from separating the onions in a bowl of guacamole to collecting bottles of mouthwash, and a dry sense of humor. The performance is a testament to the onscreen tough guy’s versatility as an actor, and hints at the diverse array of performances we’re all missing out on.

“He plays this thoughtful, kind, self-effacing gentle giant, Albert, and I have to say that that’s really who he was,” says Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “Obviously he’s playing a character, but you really are seeing something true to the real Jim Gandolfini onscreen.” She pauses, choking up a bit. “He was that guy.”

As for Louis-Dreyfus, the Seinfeld actress, who won an Emmy last year for her turn as overwrought Vice President Selina Meyer on HBO’s Veep—and is up for another this year—is back in her first film role in 16 years. And, at 52, it’s her richest one yet. She plays Eva, the divorced mother of another moody teenage girl who’s about to go to college. Eva is an awkward, foot-in-mouth sorta gal and, when she’s not struggling to communicate with her daughter, spends her days toiling away as a massage therapist. Louis-Dreyfus appears in every scene of the film and her comic timing is impeccable whether she’s the tipsy guest torpedoing a dinner party or cracking wise with her best pal Sarah, played by Toni Collette.

One night at a party that they both really didn’t want to attend, Eva and Albert meet, and immediately click. The two go out on a first date to a hip restaurant with blaring music. Despite the terrible atmosphere, the two relish one another’s company. When he drops her off, Albert leans in to kiss her, but she turns him down. As she leaves, he says, “You’ve got a nice ass.”

“He improvised that!” says Louis-Dreyfus with a chuckle. “And I was shocked and embarrassed, but it really works.”

Soon, the two fall for one another but, unbeknownst to Albert, Eva befriended a woman named Marianne (Catherine Keener) at the same party. During their weekly massage sessions, Marianne constantly rips into her ex-husband—whom Eva discovers is none other than Albert. So, she’s caught between a rock and a hard place.

In Enough Said, there’s a running gag aimed at Gandolfini’s character that is sure to raise some eyebrows: his character’s weight. After their first meeting, Sarah tells Eva that Albert asked for her number, and she reluctantly gives it away, noting that he’s “kind of fat.” There are many other references to his sizeable “belly,” courtesy of Eva and Marianne and, in the aforementioned tipsy dinner scene, she cruelly jokes that she’s planning on purchasing Albert a “calorie-counter book.” In the bedroom, he’s very self-conscious about his weight, asking Eva, “Can you breathe when I’m on top of you?” And later, when the two are lying in bed, he says, “I’m planning on losing some weight… I really need to.” It’s strange to hear in light of the late actor’s cause of death, but Louis-Dreyfus says that if anyone would poke fun at his own weight, it was Gandolfini, who had a very “self-deprecating sense of humor.”

“Oh he was in on the joke, for sure,” she says.

Louis-Dreyfus found herself particularly moved after attending the film’s premiere screening on Saturday afternoon at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

“I’ve seen the movie a number of times, but at the screening yesterday, and hearing the reaction to it, it was like seeing it anew,” she says. “I found that the last scene in the film was especially poignant.”

She pauses. “I have many fond memories of working on this film, and particularly with Jim, but that day we were really struggling with the end moment, and had lengthy conversations about what that end moment was without sewing it up perfectly, because we didn’t want to do that. When we did the scene that’s in the final cut of the film, part of that was improvised, and when Jim and I walked off the set we just fell into each other’s arms because we knew we had nailed it. It was really gratifying and sweet.”

As the film credits rolled at the premiere, the words “FOR JIM” appeared in big white letters against the black background. The crowd went wild.