Friends with Money is the third feature film written and directed by Nicole Holofcener. As in her previous films, Walking and Talking and Lovely and Amazing, she is interested in contemporary mores and relationships. This interview was provided by Sony Pictures Classics.

Friends with Money is a very direct and honest movie about grown women dealing with issues of intimacy, friendship and self-worth. What inspired you to explore these issues through this particular set of characters?

I was struck by how often money comes up in relationships, how many conversations and problems it creates. That’s the angle that inspired me first. But I don’t think the movie is just about money — it’s just that approaching it from that angle allowed me to ask myself questions I wouldn’t normally ask about these characters.

Everyone, regardless of background, has such powerful feelings about money and how it should be spent. I wanted to find a way to have that phenomenon placed against the backdrop of longtime friendships. When people have been friends for ages, they go through different stages of life together. And when you’re in your mid-forties, you’re supposed to be where you want to be, have the career you’ve worked for, the children you’ve wanted, and the money you’ve earned. But what if not everyone reaches these goals at the same time? What if someone has become really rich, and their best friend is broke? What if all of your friends are married, and you’re still having ridiculous, immature relationships? These kinds of questions made me want to explore the themes for this movie.

What is particularly striking is that you have four very well-regarded performers, and they are mostly in very unglamorous situations — they look like they aren’t wearing make-up, and the settings of the scenes, such as shopping, driving, having coffee — are deliberately ordinary. Why did you choose to render these women in such a realistic manner?

The characters are very real to me — some of them based somewhat — on very real people that I know. And frankly, the people I know don’t wear a lot of make-up, don’t run around in high heels and sexy clothes. We might put on a little make-up in the morning but by noon, it’s gone. That’s the look I wanted these women to have, a look I recognize and relate to. Thankfully, the actors were up for it, and generally even preferred it. As far as the locations were concerned, again, my friends and I don’t go to Shutters for lunch, so it didn’t even occur to me when I was writing the script that the locations should be glamorous.

Frances plays Jane, a successful fashion designer with a child, married to an effeminate but very loving man, Aaron (Simon McBurney). She stops washing her hair during the course of the film, and has some very public meltdowns, including a painfully hilarious tirade against someone who cuts in front of her in line at Old Navy. How much of Jane’s behavior do you think is a deliberate attempt to keep power in her life, and how much is her beginning to lose control?

I do believe that the more we confront our mortality (and realize we have no control over it), the more we try to control the ordinary, less crucial things in our lives. And when we realize we can’t control most of those things either, we start to surrender to the limitations of our lives. Jane is in the process of doing just that in a very messy, dirty hair, tantrum-throwing way. It’s so interesting how many people relate to Jane’s rage. So many of us are so pissed off at such stupid things. And when you reach your middle forties, I believe, you really start to realize that this is your life. It’s not a rehearsal and it’s probably not going to change enormously. You’ve possibly met your spouse, your children, your career. It’s a very "this is it," feeling, which can be thrilling and depressing at the same time.

Christine and David are a screenwriting team, but from the outset they seem to have problems communicating. They seem to represent the extreme downside of trying to work and live with the same person, and we find them going through both a literal and figurative domestic upheaval as their marriage falls apart while they are adding a second story to their house. What did you find interesting about their marriage in the context of the film?

They have nothing left between them. We’re finding them when their relationship is pretty much over. They try expanding their house, because they don’t know what else to do. If they build a better family room, maybe they’ll have a better family. Inside, they are saying, "Let’s make our view better, let’s make our rooms prettier and maybe the world will look like a happier place to us." I imagine they probably bonded over the design of the addition, that this was their last baby, the last thing they shared. They probably enjoyed writing together at one time, when they had more patience and respect for one another. But once those things go, it all falls apart — love, work, everything.

In contrast, Frannie and Matt, the couple played by Joan Cusack and Greg Germann, seem to have a vibrant, working marriage, and are probably the wealthiest of all of the characters. They quibble with each other about how to raise their kids, but for the most part they seem to have much less at stake than the other characters in the film. What part do they play?

I feel like Frannie and Matt are the fantasy couple in the movie — they’re happy, have no real worries, have great sex, lots of money, terrific children. I wanted to let that be okay. When people have it all, we’re always looking for a catch — like hoping they have lousy sex or never actually talk to each other. I decided Frannie and Matt shouldn’t have a catch. They’re just like they seem — happy and rich. Are they happy because they’re rich? I doubt it, but people sure like to wonder.

It’s Jane who points out that of the four friends, it is Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) who is the furthest behind, so to speak — "she’s unmarried, she’s a pothead, and she’s a maid," as she observes to her husband early on. And while Olivia might be a little younger than the other women, she serves as an interesting focal point both for her friends and for the audience. In what ways is she the center of the film, and how does her own perceived "immaturity" force the others to deal with their own issues?

Seeing Olivia struggle makes them smug. She allows them to think, "Thank God I’m married, thank God I have a career," even though no one is truly safe from pain or change. I think everyone in life compares themselves to other people, and they each bounce off Olivia to compare themselves and measure themselves. Olivia is one of those people who isn’t driven and doesn’t know what they’re good at. Personally, I’ve always felt really lucky that I knew what I wanted to do. Even if I was destined to fail, it was going to be at something I knew I wanted to do. Olivia doesn’t know her value, at least in terms of society and its expectations. And her low self-esteem allows her to pursue these awful, humiliating relationships. Compared to her successful friends, she sees herself as a loser (as do they) when in fact, she’s just a woman figuring it all out at her own speed. She doesn’t have to become a doctor or a lawyer. She doesn’t have to get married. And maybe if she was in a different crowd, she would feel better about herself, who knows. The fact that she is a bit younger than the rest helps her seem less pathetic, I think. We feel more hopeful for her, since she has a little more time to figure it out.

And her romantic possibilities by the end of the film certainly seem optimistic — even if the object of her attention is somewhat surprising.

I think Olivia learns that she needs to look a little sideways at people in order to discover what might be beneath the surface. And that once you’ve hit bottom, you’ve got nothing left to lose.

This is your third feature film, and you’ve certainly cast some heavy hitters in the lead roles. What was it like to work with four such accomplished actresses in what is essentially an ensemble picture?

Anxious. SO anxious. The first time we all sat down at the table together to read the script, I could feel the stress, as if everyone was nervously thinking "Oh my God, look who’s across the table." I felt like I was the host of the party (I was) and that I needed to perform, show everyone they made the right decision when they said "yes" to the film. I was probably nervous the first time I gave anyone direction, but they were so responsive and open, I wasn’t nervous after that.

The actors really seemed to get their characters right away. They added so much, while remaining very true to what I had written. And they could stay in character even in the most difficult of circumstances. We had to shoot a scene with Jennifer and Fran at the Farmer’s Market in Santa Monica and it was at the height of the media interest in Jen’s personal life. We were absolutely surrounded by paparazzi and I was shocked at how well both she and Fran could tune them out and give a terrific performance. You wouldn’t believe what was going on right outside the frame, particularly given the casual intimacy between the two friends.

Catherine Keener has starred in all three of your films, so you clearly have a good working relationship with her. How has it evolved over the years?

I was certainly more nervous the first time I worked with her ten years ago. Back then, I would try really hard to sound smart, as if to remind her that I’d done my homework. I would come up with elaborate, emotional movitations, backstories, all that. Now if I want her to do something, I just ask her to — like walk to the door and look sad. We have a mutual respect and trust that makes everything safe and fun.

Although the four women are the focus of the film, the men in the film have a very significant and unique presence. What were you looking for when you cast the male roles?

Aaron was the hardest part to cast, because I didn’t want a straight man to act gay, I didn’t want a gay man to play gay, it was a very difficult balance. When I met Simon, he was Aaron. He has an effeminate quality that is not gay, but ethereal, and he worked beautifully.

The film takes place in Los Angeles, and Christine and Jane, at least, are somewhat involved in the "Hollywood" scene through their work, but it’s not exactly a film that dwells specifically in the "California" lifestyle.

Yes, it takes place in Los Angeles, but I think it could take place anywhere. The issues that the characters themselves have could be anywhere. Self- loathing, narcissism, and pain is not limited to Los Angeles.

What about your influences as a filmmaker? When did you decide you were interested in such realistic and complex characters?

As a kid I was moved by certain movies — Conrack, Walkabout, Popi. These broke my heart and showed me how strongly I could be affected by a movie. As an adult I was influenced by Woody Allen and Fellini; their movies were about crazy people that I recognize. Realistic insanity with warmth and humor. I was obsessed with The Heartbreak Kid, directed by Elaine May. Other influences: Albert Brooks, Jane Campion, Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmush, Steven Soderbergh. When I saw Stranger Than Paradise and then Sex, Lies and Videotape, I pretty much knew what I wanted to do.

I really do appreciate a movie that can create characters honestly and be as entertaining as those that are too fabulous for real life. I get mad watching movies about women who are so artificial — "losers" who are actually beauties, poor girls who wear expensive clothes. But there are always exceptions. I loved Sex and the City, despite the clothes and the fabulousness, because at its heart, it was true to the experience of women. It ultimately transcended it’s own sheen.

I remember as a kid reading Judy Blume books, and I thought "If I can’t put this book down, and it’s about nothing but real people going through real life, then maybe my nothing will be just as entertaining as her’s."