In a new chat with Entertainment Weekly ahead of the release of Let Them All Talk (complete with some exclusive new images), stars Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest reveal new details about the upcoming Steven Soderbergh film (his first for the Warner Media streaming service) – including that the movie was almost entirely improvised.
Let Them All Talk is, ostensibly, based on a screenplay by short-story writer Deborah Eisenberg (who the cast says was on set and extremely helpful) but the stars say that the movie, which is set on a cruise ship and follows what happens when a novelist (Streep) travels to England to accept an award and invites her two oldest friends (Bergen and Wiest) along for the ride, was largely improvised.
When Bergen let it slip that there was “no script,” Wiest demurred, “Well, I wasn’t gonna mention that.” “I mean, they would give us the outlines of a situation, and then we knew where we had to end up,” Streep explained. “But they didn’t tell us how to get there.” While Eisneberg was on hand with ideas and character biographies, it was up to the actresses to figure out what they were going to say and how they were going to say it. It was an experience both Bergen and Wiest described as “terrifying.”
“I think that [Soderbergh] liked all the ellipses, and he didn’t want to know everything. He wanted there to be mysteries surrounding everybody’s interior quest,” Streep said. “That’s the feeling I got. And so we didn’t even discuss it amongst ourselves. We kept our cards close, so that it would be something that would unfold over time. And maybe we’d figure out what was going on by the end, but it wasn’t laid out.”
And apparently this approach to dialogue was an extension of his generally stripped-down aesthetic. While Let Them All Talk wasn’t shot with an iPhone (like his earlier films Unsane and High Flying Bird), it didn’t sound like it was a full production either. The movie was shot in two weeks and Streep joked she was paid “25 cents” and that the movie didn’t cost much more than that. “The only equipment was sound equipment. Steven held the camera in a wheelchair and just rolled along,” Wiest said. “None of the lights, and the trucks, all that stuff that goes into making movies, there’s none of it. There was Steven and this new camera.”
This approach also applied to the actors’ wardrobe, which they provided themselves. Streep described the process: “You go to bed, and you’re just trying to remember what you did all day, because you’re going to build on it the next day, and we were exhausted. You know, we’d get up in the morning, shower, put on our costume, which was really our clothes, our own clothes — and not my jewelry, sadly.”
While there are some practical considerations to take into account, like the fact that they were actually shooting on the Queen Mary 2 (and probably couldn’t have a lot of cumbersome equipment alongside staff and guests). “If you go into the main room, you have to be formal. And it was wonderful,” Wiest said. “You never saw such a good-looking director and crew. The sound man was in tux, the boom man was in tux, Steven was in tux, the crew was all in tux.” “The boat is very much a character in the movie,” Bergen said.
Well, this approach definitely sounds fascinating and singularly Soderbergh and we can’t wait to see how it all unfolds, when Let Them All Talk (which also stars Lucas Hedges as Streep’s nephew) debuts in December on HBO Max. It comes just in the knick of time too; our Soderbergh levels have been dangerously low.