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If you like Nora Ephron's story, you might also like:
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Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron
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Nora Ephron Interview (page: 2 / 8)

Humorist, Novelist, Screenwriter and Director

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  Nora Ephron

The next year came Sleepless in Seattle. That was a great success. How did you come to write Sleepless in Seattle?

Nora Ephron: Sleepless was a script that had been written by three or four other writers before me, and it never really worked, but it had this amazing ending on the top of the Empire State Building that just worked, no matter what came before it. It's kind of amazing, because the characters were sort of gloopy and unfunny, and yet you got to the end and you went, "Wow, this is amazing!" And I needed the money.

I had done my first movie, This is My Life, which I had done for scale, which is not very much money, and I was completely out of dough, and my agent said, "Oh gee, here's a rewrite," and it's supposed to happen. It had a director. It had casting attached to it, and not Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and so I read it, and I thought, "Oh, I can fix this. I can make this better." So I did a rewrite on it, and basically made it into a comedy, or made it into -- not a comedy, but a movie that had laughs in it, which it didn't at all. And suddenly, it was a "go" picture, and the director who had been attached to it -- who had no interest in making a comedy, I guess -- bowed out of it. He was gone, and the actors were gone, because they weren't really funny, and it was suddenly a script that a lot of people wanted to be in.

It wasn't like I thought, "I have to direct this." In fact, I thought, "Well, this isn't really good enough yet," and they kept saying, "Don't you want to direct this?" and I kept saying, "But it's not ready to be directed. I've got to do another rewrite on it." I only worked on it three weeks. "No, no. It's fine. Do anything you want to." I said, "Well, I've got to bring Delia, my sister, in on it, because I need a lot of help if I'm going to direct it." "Bring Delia in. That's great!" Delia brought a huge number of hilarious things to it, and suddenly -- I have never had anything like it happen. It was instant. It was like, I think I gave them the script -- the first pass in March -- and we were scouting in Seattle in early June, and we were shooting in August. It was unbelievable.

Looking back, it seems like an effortless vehicle. What was it like to direct it?

Nora Ephron: I have no idea what it was like to direct it, because all of my experiences as a director are filtered through food, and the food was great in Seattle. That's all I can tell you, and the sun was shining all the time, because it was summertime in Seattle. We had to -- actually, of course -- have some rain in the movie, and we had to bring in water trucks, and everyone got really angry at us because there was a drought, and we were wasting water, making rain in the movie. It was this movie where you just thought, "I wonder if this is going to work? Who knows?" You know, I had no idea.

Nora Ephron Interview Photo
Tom wasn't quite Tom Hanks at that moment. Tom and Meg had already done a movie together, and it had been a big flop, Joe Versus the Volcano. So basically, I thought, "Well this is great." We had this fantastic apartment, my husband and I, a block from the Seattle Pike Place Market, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World as far as I'm concerned. Unbelievable crab and cherries and peaches. It was great. It was an unbelievable experience, and the actors were fantastic. Rosie O'Donnell, who has been a friend of mine ever since, was just starting out. She'd just been in A League of Their Own, and is one of the funniest people that ever lived. Every time we would shoot, she is so shockingly brilliant, she would say -- you would say your name, and she would sing a song about you, rhyming everything, using your name, using whatever she knew about you. She was a rapper in some way that was so brilliant. I couldn't believe it. She's great at everything she does. It was an amazing experience. David Hyde Pierce, we had such an extraordinary cast, looking back on it.

You talked about balancing career and family while making This is My Life. It doesn't seem, from what you've said, that it was a source of great agony to you as a mother. It sounds like you were always able to do that, but for some of those years, you were a single mom.

Nora Ephron: Well, you're always a single mother if you're divorced from the father of your children, even if you've married a great guy, which I did.

Being a writer is easier than having a full-time job. You can make your own hours. So by the time my kids got home from school, I was probably pretty well burned out as a writer for the day. So it wasn't like, "I'm busy. I'm working. Get out of here." I think that when I went off to direct This is My Life, when the kids were ten and eleven -- or eleven and twelve, I can't remember exactly which -- I think they were slightly shocked, because they hadn't really had the experience of having a working mother. I was home. I was always available. I did bake cookies. I did do all that stuff at the school. I went on class trips. So even though they knew I worked, and they knew that I was a writer, it hadn't cost them in any way. When I went off to do that first movie, I think they were really surprised that their mother actually worked. That was the first true knowledge they had of what that meant.

Movie hours can be pretty exhausting.

Nora Ephron Interview Photo
Nora Ephron: Looking back on it, I thought, "Well, they're old enough to handle this," and by the way, they did handle it. But the truth is, it was harder for them than I thought it was going to be. But I didn't care. I'm sorry, but I didn't. It was time for me to do this, and I thought, "We have a good support system in place. They have a stepfather. They have a father. They have a great nanny, and they'll come visit me every other weekend. We'll all get through this." But it interested me later, when they complained about it, that I hadn't quite been sensitive to it, because it was time for me to do this. I had to do it, and it was only ten weeks.

That's refreshing to hear. You're not agonizing like a lot of women do about these questions.

Nora Ephron: I was very lucky because I was a writer, but if you're a lawyer or a doctor or you work in a factory, you have hours, you don't have freedom. They don't care that there's a school meeting in a lot of places. So I was very lucky. Had I had a full-time job, I might not have had anything near the ability to be the kind of mother I was for the first ten or eleven years of their lives.

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