The behind-the-scenes ambiance during the making of Paramount Pictures over-60 comedy Book Club was just as clubby as the onscreen proceedings, thanks to a long, shared Hollywood history among an A-list ensemble comprising Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and the men playing their suitors.
To play a close-knit group of women whose regular book club is spiced up by a foray into the Fifty Shades of Grey series of novels, with their sex lives following suit, the actresses found it easy to settle into gal-pal familiarity. For Fonda and Bergen in particular, both of whom had celebrity parents (Oscar-winning actor Henry and ventriloquist and radio star Edgar, respectively) and were raised within the industry, the connection goes way back.
“Jane and I grew up in this town — Diane and Mary both had sort of more normal upbringing,” Bergen told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s premiere at the Regency Village Theatre in Westwood on Sunday, recalling a first encounter with Fonda when she was just 17 years old. “Jane’s boyfriend at that time, who was an actor and a drama coach, came to visit my parents, and I met her at my parents’ house — I think I was a senior in high school.” Fonda’s film career was already off to a rousing start, and meeting her, said Bergen, “was very cool.”
“Candy is so hysterical,” said Fonda, who remembers the early encounter well. “It was just fun hearing her stories of growing up in Hollywood. Then I could tell my stories, which were very different.” Story-swapping became the routine for the stars in between takes on Book Club, the actress added. “It was a lot of fun. I can’t say that it was better than the actual movie, because the movie is really good and really funny, but we enjoyed getting to know each other.”
“We never shut up,” laughed Steenburgen. “Our green room was the garage of the house we were shooting in, and then as soon as [director] Bill Holderman said cut, we dashed to our chairs and just talked about life. Everyone but Candice has been married to Craig T. Nelson at some point in the movies, and there were so many overlaps and so many directors we both worked with and so many important people in our lives that we have in common, but we didn’t know each other.”
Steenburgen, “the baby of the group, at 65,” admitted that despite a career that launched and skyrocketed close in trajectory to, if just a few years behind, her now-legendary co-stars, she found herself “not really intimidated but curious if they could live up to my dreams of them, because they’ve all been in films that I adored and they’ve been important to me as an actor. And so to work with them, it’s like I think my biggest fear was that I might be disappointed, and they were beyond my wildest dreams.”
The leading ladies’ long impact and many enduring Hollywood relationships also aided in luring and landing the film’s other casting coups, including their screen paramours and exes like Nelson, Andy Garcia, Ed Begley Jr. and Don Johnson.
“I’ve known Candice since I was like 20 years old or something like that, and I met Jane at an anti-war committee meeting — I was there to meet Jane, Jane says I was there to meet other girls… but that’s just because Jane wasn’t available,” chuckled Johnson. “I’ve known all these people for so long it’s just joyous for all of us to be in the game and to be in the game together.”
Bergen noted that while she attended last summer’s AFI Lifetime Achievement Award tribute to Keaton, the film was still casting one of her character’s online dating matches. “That’s where I saw Richard Dreyfuss, and I said to the director, ‘You know, Richard would be great in this movie!’ And here he is.”
Still, a shared history in the business doesn’t always mean your orbits have been crossing for decades, Dreyfuss pointed out. “There’s a story about Katharine Hepburn meeting Henry Fonda for the first time, and they were both in their 60s or 70s, and he had been one of Spencer Tracy’s best friends — but they’d never met in all those years,” said Dreyfuss. “So most of the people in film, I don’t know! I mean, I know Diane and I know Candice, and I really don’t know Mary or Jane. I don’t even think it’s right to call them ‘Mary’ and ‘Jane.’”
Although Keaton customarily bypassed press ops at the premiere, she spent plenty of time mixing and mingling on the red carpet with her fellow headliners as well as their co-stars of a subsequent generation — including Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton and Mircea Monroe — and other guests, including Steenburgen’s husband, Ted Danson.
Fonda said that she was thrilled that she’d had — and continues to have — the opportunity to play so many different kinds of women at so many different places in their lives throughout her storied career. “If you had told me 10 years ago, or 20 years ago that I would still be doing this at 80, I would’ve said you were out of your mind!” she admitted. “So it’s an honor. I feel blessed. I really do, but of course I’ve worked hard — I’ve earned it! Yeah, I think I have.”