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If you like Nora Ephron's story, you might also like:
Carol Burnett,
Francis Ford Coppola,
Joan Didion,
Louise Glück,
Ron Howard,
Thomas Keller,
Peggy Noonan,
Carol Shields,
Tom Wolfe and
Robert Zemeckis

Nora Ephron can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Related Links:
Nora Ephron's Blog
Wellesley Address

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Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron
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Nora Ephron Interview (page: 7 / 8)

Humorist, Novelist, Screenwriter and Director

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  Nora Ephron

Could you tell us about Heartburn, where you did, in fact, rather publicly turn the downfall of a marriage into a somewhat comic novel and movie?

Nora Ephron: My second marriage ended in this very melodramatic way. Melodramatic if you weren't involved with it, and dramatic if you were. I was pregnant, and my husband had fallen in love with this extremely tall woman who was married to the British ambassador, and it was very painful and horrible at the time. But then a few months later, I found myself at a typewriter working on a screenplay, and instead I wrote the first eight pages of a novel, and it was a novel that I knew if I could -- you know, when I was going through the nightmare of the end of the marriage, I absolutely knew that there was -- if I could ever find the voice to write it in, that someday it would be a story, someday it would be copy. But at the time, I was way too distraught to ever feel that. But you know, time heals, especially if you had a mother like mine. So I started writing a novel that became Heartburn, and that was the thinly disguised version of the end of that marriage.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

That must have been rather cathartic.

Nora Ephron: Well, no. Actually, people think that.

People think that when you write something it's cathartic, and I had written a lot of personal articles at Esquire, and people always say, "Oh God, it must have been so great when you finally wrote about having small breasts." No. You get through that, and then you write it. It is not the writing that is the catharsis. The catharsis has happened, and it in some way has moved you from the boo-hoo aspect of things to the "Oh, and wait until I tell you this part of the story! Wait until you hear this, if you want to hear what..." where you really don't want people to feel sorry for you. I have such a strong sense of that, that I did not ever want people to think, "Oh, poor Nora!" You know?

[ Key to Success ] Courage

What was the reaction to Heartburn?

Nora Ephron: Well, it sold a lot of books. I think there were many men who were made very nervous by it.

I think that men were allowed to write about their marriages falling apart, but you weren't quite supposed to if you were a woman. You were just supposed to curl up into a ball and move to Connecticut. But you know, it didn't really matter because, as I said, I knew what the book was. It's a funny book, and I was very happy that it sold a lot of copies.

It became an amazing movie, with Mike Nichols involved again.

Nora Ephron: Yes, my second movie with Mike. And my second movie with Meryl Streep.

Tell us about the casting of Heartburn. Were you involved in that?

Nora Ephron Interview Photo
Nora Ephron: No. I got to see the auditions, but the main casting was done by Mike. Meryl wanted to do a comedy. She wanted to work with Mike again. Here it was, and it was great for all of us.

What was the reaction of your ex-husband to the book and movie?

Nora Ephron: He was very irritated by the book and the movie, by both things, and I think secretly thrilled, because he could now be the victim. He could now walk around saying, "Look what she did to me! Look what she did to our children! She wrote this book!" Our children couldn't read at that point, but nonetheless, he thrilled to be the "good" parent.

In your commencement speech at Wellesley, you gave some statistics that were pretty depressing about how few female directors there still were in Hollywood, even in the mid to late '90s. Has that improved much now?

Nora Ephron: Yes, it's improved. It is still not great, but it's improved, and it will continue to improve. Someday there will be more of them, but there still won't be enough.


Nora Ephron: I think there are a lot of reasons. One is the movie business, which is very much driven by the young male audience that goes to the movies. This is why you see a lot of women in television and not in movies. Television is a business that is very much driven by women viewers, so it's wide open for women. That's part of it. That's just a little Marxist explanation, but there are many, many, many more women in television now than there were in the movie business, and there are many more women running studios and working at studios. So all of that is evening out. The director thing, I don't think is going to even out, or the screenwriter thing is going to even out, until women drive the marketplace as much as men do. I'm not sure that's ever going to happen. In about 20 years, if not sooner, I don't even think people will go to the movies the way they do now. So that will be different.

If you were talking to a young female writer who is watching or reading your interview, what advice would you have for somebody who is looking at journalism or writing as a career?

Nora Ephron: What advice would I have? Do it.

My advice to everyone is: "Become a journalist." I think everyone should be a journalist, and that is totally narcissistic on my part, but I think it's the most amazing way to learn about how people live. I mean, to be able to dip into other people's lives at the unbelievably ludicrous points you get to when you're a journalist, either when they've just been killed, or they're just about to win the Oscar, or they've just written a really wonderful book, or they just demonstrated against something worth demonstrating against. It's truly a way of getting out of whatever narrow world we all grow up in. We all grow up in the most narrow worlds, and then we go to another narrow world, which is college, where no matter how different everyone is, they're all the same. Suddenly, they're all wearing the same thing suddenly, and reading the same books suddenly, and thinking about the same philosophical question suddenly. You know, if you have a chance to be a newspaper reporter for three or four years -- before you do whatever you want to do -- do it, because you will know so much.

When we were doing Silkwood, there's a scene that is a union meeting at this plutonium factory that Karen Silkwood worked at. Obviously, I've never worked at a plutonium factory, but I had worked at the New York Post.

We were shooting this scene in Texas, where we were shooting it, and I arrived at the set, and Mike Nichols -- who is a brilliant man, but doesn't know everything -- had put all the people in the scene -- the union people and the management people -- at a round table, because he wanted to shoot at a round table, and I said, "No, no, no, no, no. You can't do that. It's a union negotiation. It has got to be a rectangular table." Now, that's a very simple thing, but we would have looked foolish, and I was the only person on a set of 60 people who had ever been in a union negotiation, because I had been on the Newspaper Guild negotiating committee at the New York Post. That's the kind of stuff you have to know. If you want to go into the movie business, what are you going to write a movie about when you're 22 years old? I'll tell you what. You're going to write your coming-of-age movie, and then you're going to write your summer camp movie, and then you're going to be out of things, because nothing else will have happened to you. So, I think it's very good to become a journalist.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

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