Indie Favorite Catherine Keener On 'Please Give' Melissa Block talks to indie actor Catherine Keener about her latest movie Please Give, a comedy about a couple planning to expand their Manhattan apartment into the one next door as soon as their elderly neighbor dies.
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Indie Favorite Catherine Keener On 'Please Give'

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Indie Favorite Catherine Keener On 'Please Give'

Indie Favorite Catherine Keener On 'Please Give'

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

You might remember actress Catherine Keener as Trish who romances Steve Carell in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" or maybe as the brutally sarcastic Maxine in "Being John Malkovich." She played writer Harper Lee in "Capote" and supporting characters in lots of small indie movies over the past 25 years.

Her latest is called "Please Give." It's the fourth movie she's done with writer and director Nicole Holofcener. Keener plays a New Yorker riddled with guilt about her upper middle-class life. In this scene, she offers her restaurant leftovers to a man she assumes is homeless.

(Soundbite of movie, "Please Give")

Ms. CATHERINE KEENER (Actress): (as Kate) Excuse me, sir. Are you hungry? Would you like that?

Unidentified Man #1: I'm waiting for a table.

Ms. KEENER: (as Kate) I'm sorry, I really am. I'm so sorry.

Unidentified Man #2: I'm so sorry. Really, we're very sorry.

Ms. KEENER: Please forgive me.

Unidentified Man #2: Are you out of your mind?

Ms. KEENER: (as Kate) He looked homeless.

Unidentified Man #2: He looked like a black man waiting for a table.

BLOCK: Catherine Keener joins me in the studio. Let's just say right off the bat that you buried your head in your hands and you were cracking up at your own lines here.

Ms. KEENER: Well, I'm cracking up at Nicole Holofcener's lines. Yeah, that actually happened to someone she knew.

BLOCK: Somebody tried to give a doggie bag to somebody they thought was homeless?

Ms. KEENER: Exactly. And it turned out to be someone waiting for a table.

BLOCK: Well, that's kind of the nature of your character in this movie, right? Lots of...

Ms. KEENER: Yeah.

BLOCK: ...good impulses that just sort of go wildly awry.

Ms. KEENER: Exactly. Yeah, she's trying to do good. Sometimes you overreach, you know, and it's like a, well, a learning process. I think Kate, my character, is in the process of how to balance that. She spends a lot of time feeling guilty about it.

BLOCK: And your character, Kate, feels guilty in large part because of what she does for a living. She and her husband run a vintage furniture store, mid-century...

Ms. KEENER: Mid-century modern.

BLOCK:, yeah.

Ms. KEENER: Yeah, so it's kind of popular...

BLOCK: Right.

Ms. KEENER: ...and in vogue.

BLOCK: But they're getting the furniture from...

Ms. KEENER: Dead people.

BLOCK: ...dead people.

Ms. KEENER: Right.

BLOCK: Let's take a listen to a scene. This is you and Oliver Platt, who plays your husband, talking about your business that you run together.

(Soundbite of movie, "Please Give")

Ms. KEENER: (as Kate) People have been coming in asking questions.

Mr. OLIVER PLATT (Actor): (as Alex) Like what?

Ms. KEENER: (as Kate) Like where does your stuff come from and how do you get it?

Mr. PLATT: (as Alex) You know, people are like that. They're just curious. They're curious about where the stuff comes from.

Ms. KEENER: (as Kate) No, this is different. People who we bought stuff from are sending in friends or lawyers to find out how much we're selling these things for.

Mr. PLATT: (as Alex) Hon, your guilt is warping you.

Ms. KEENER: (as Kate) Why isn't it warping you?

Mr. PLATT: (as Alex) It is. Your guilt is warping me.

BLOCK: You love this movie. I can tell by your reaction.

Ms. KEENER: Well, I just keep thinking, man, she's good, Nicole. She's just so good. This is the fourth movie I've done with her, and it just never ceases to amaze me how she just captures things so beautifully and with such economy. And they just - her words just resonate without - in a surprising way, even for me.

BLOCK: I'm guessing - just a wild guess - that the experience of working on a Nicole Holofcener movie, an intimate thing like this, is just a little different than, say, working on the Judd Apatow movie, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," where you are Trish, the woman who sold your stuff on eBay, right?

Ms. KEENER: Well, that's - I'm glad you described - usually I'm the person who took Steve Carell's virginity away. Yeah.

BLOCK: This is NPR. We seek a higher ground.

Ms. KEENER: What higher ground, really, than losing your virginity? That's about as sacred as it gets.

Yes. It's a different experience, mostly because Nicole doesn't have the film that Judd Apatow has to burn. Nicole is, like I said, she's one for economy. Judd, he never really would even say cut. He would just say reload. I mean, we just burn right through a whole - they call them mags, magazines, film, because everyone was just wildly improvising. It was hysterically funny. Also, you had to kind of lose sense of being self-conscious on that movie because it was sort of an all-in in terms of throwing a joke out or even the writer would sit behind the monitors behind the curtain (unintelligible).

I would hear this bellowing laugh and I knew that, oh my God, it was Seth Rogen. And at that time I thought, oh my God, I made Seth laugh. That was, like, you know...

BLOCK: That's a good day.

Ms. KEENER: That was a good day.

BLOCK: Are you at a point where you don't have to audition anymore?

Ms. KEENER: Most of the time I don't, but if there is something I want to do and it's required or it's asked if I'll audition, I'll do it in a heartbeat. I don't care. I think that you do what's necessary if you want to do it.

BLOCK: And what's that process like for you?

Ms. KEENER: It's still very embarrassing and I get beet red. But then I'm more accepting of my nerves, so it's kind of - now it's just sort of part of it and sometimes it's funny to me that I'm nervous or they don't really freak me out as much. I'm always nervous first day at work, just always nervous.

BLOCK: So, the auditioning is more threatening than the actual performance, than the acting?

Ms. KEENER: No. And, you know, to be honest, I haven't auditioned in a long time, so this is sort of (bleep) but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KEENER: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. But this is true that I would if I had to.

BLOCK: If you did audition, you would be beet red.

Ms. KEENER: I would be - I would be very hot and then I think that you would see that it is red from the heat. But...

BLOCK: You just lied to me.

Ms. KEENER: I didn't lie. I kind of stretched the truth by a couple of times.

BLOCK: But you would have been beet red if you did that.

Ms. KEENER: I would've been - I feel like I'm auditioning right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Do you...

Ms. KEENER: I want the part of the guest on your show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Done, done. Will you go back and watch your older movies or do you avoid them?

Ms. KEENER: I honestly do not avoid them. I think that's too active of a word. But I don't - I think it feels like it's for other people, but when you're on a set shooting a movie and it all adds up to whatever is happening, I am experiencing that with other people and we are feeling all of that, so I just feel like it's already happened and I don't really - it's not that I don't like to, but I don't - I'm not compelled to revisit it, I guess. It's not thrilling the way it is when you're doing it.

BLOCK: It sounds like there's something sort of precious about that experience of making the film that maybe you want to preserve a little bit.

Ms. KEENER: Maybe. Precious is a weird word but okay. Your word.

BLOCK: Yeah, sorry.

Ms. KEENER: No, it's okay. I'm just going to go ahead with it.

BLOCK: Okay. So, not precious.

Ms. KEENER: No, but I mean that it is. There is something good, something good about it.

BLOCK: Catherine Keener, thanks so much for coming in.

Ms. KEENER: Oh, you're welcome.

BLOCK: Catherine Keener, who chooses her words carefully. Her new movie is titled "Please Give."

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