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HANGING UP

Everyone's got one - a family. And everyone's got a phone, too. Hanging Up, based on Delia Ephron's novel, is a drawn-from-life comedy about how the latter is the tool of torture and information used by the former. Read all about it. . .

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD

In 1995, Delia Ephron's novel Hanging Up was published, getting rave reviews from The New York Times, Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times and Newsday, among others. A well known journalist and author of non-fiction books, Hanging Up was Ephron's first novel. "Because it was my first novel," says Ephron, "I wanted to be on safe ground, so I used my relationship with my father as the core of the book. And, I wanted to write about being the middle child and what a nightmare it is to feel constantly like you have to make everybody happy.

"the bitter and the sweet"

"The plot and characters are fictional," Ephron adds. "For starters, I am one of four sisters, not three, and my parents did not divorce. I just tried to capture an emotional truth about my relationship with my father." As is the case for most of us, that ‘emotional truth’ in her life encompassed both the bitter and the sweet. "The best movies are often the ones that are both funny and sad," says producer Laurence Mark, "and Hanging Up walks that line for me because it's so much what life is about—laughter with tears, joy with sorrow. There is also a strong theme of friendship in Hanging Up, which is a subject that always fascinates me. It comes into play here because these sisters function in one way or another as each other's best friend."

Delia Ephron explains that when her father got sick, she was the only one [of her family] in Los Angeles, "and I was on the phone constantly with my sisters about him. I was also on the phone constantly with my father, who was never off the phone. He said to me one time, 'I live half my life in the real world and half on the telephone.' That struck me so deeply. The book took shape around that statement.

"He loved to have all the sisters on the phone talking about him, discussing what we should do about him," remembers Ephron. "It was that thing of needing attention and knowing exactly how to get it. He would call at any hour of the day or night, so there was never going to be a book about my father without its being a book about the telephone."

"the phone gene"

Ephron claims it was her father who had "the phone gene" and passed it on to her and her sisters. "If I spoke with one of my sisters, and she said something that I thought was hysterical, I would hang up and call the other sister to tell her. So the phone, especially in our family, is just this mad thing." The transition from novel to screenplay became a familial one when Delia's sister, Nora Ephron, with whom she had written three previous screenplays, came aboard to collaborate on the script.

"One of the things that I think Delia captured so wonderfully in the book and the movie is the endless 'wait until you hear this' round-robin," says Nora Ephron. "There's a fascination with one's siblings and how often they react exactly the way you would expect them to. I loved the way Delia used the phone as this instrument of everything - of information, of torture - that you can't live without. People just cease to exist if they don't have one nearby."

As for the enormous amount of humor in the story, Nora Ephron explains, "there's no question that we grew up in a house where you were expected to take the small tragedies of your life and rise above them. Rising above them in our family meant turning them into a story—and the best kind of story, we learned, was one that made our parents laugh. So, Delia and I have a fairly quick transition between seeing something that is difficult and at the same time seeing that there are elements in it that will someday be amusing - if we can just get to that point. "

"Diane made it so her own"

With the script in hand, a reading with actors took place. Diane Keaton read the role of the older sister, Georgia, while Lisa Kudrow read the part of the youngest sister, Maddy. Says Laurence Mark, "Nora, Delia and I fell in love with Diane and Lisa based on that reading. We knew we had our Georgia and our Maddy."

It wasn’t long before Keaton was also being considered as a director for the film. "One of the most interesting things about that reading," remembers Nora Ephron, "was that Diane made it so her own. It was so not the Ephron sisters and their family in any way. It had none of anyone's mannerisms, it was just Diane taking this part and hitting it out of the ballpark. And it made me think that if Diane directed the movie, it would become more general, something other than the fictionalized version of something that had happened to us."

Keaton recalls that when Laurence Mark and Nora Ephron first approached her about directing, she wasn't sure about taking on the added task even though she had loved the script. "Because I'm the oldest of three sisters, it was too close for comfort for me," she says. "But I loved the script because it was really funny and touching and insightful about family.

"such bright, comic writers"

"There is nobody that you can talk to, that means as much to you, who shares the kind of humor that you share, like members of your family. In the same way that Nora and Delia do with their writing—nobody can write about bright women like they do," says Keaton. "There is something very familial about the way they work together and what they write about. They are such bright, comic writers with an amazing depth to what they write. As an actress, that was what interested me first. It was not only funny, but it also dealt with some very deep, underlying issues about family. It was never boring. You have to be grateful to have a script like this come your way."

Following the script reading, both Keaton and Kudrow committed to starring in the film. The last element of the trio was Meg Ryan, who signed on to play the middle sister, Eve.

"What I really liked about this movie," says Ryan of her attraction to the part, "is that it is essentially a story about communication and the value of and need for it in your family. In our script the scenes switch from being hilarious to being wrenching, which I think is the most accessible way to talk about some of these issues."

"It is a dream sister group, is it not?" Delia Ephron laughs. "I always felt that these sisters and their father had to share a slightly skewed brain. I felt that all the characters in the book had to be slightly nuts, but in a nice way. And Diane, Meg, Lisa and Walter all have slightly crazy brains. They are all comic geniuses."

THE PICTURES

When it came time to put together her behind-the-scenes crew, Keaton knew exactly what and who she wanted. "I loved Howard Atherton's work, particularly in Lolita and Fatal Attraction," Keaton recalls about her cinematographer. "His photography is absolutely beautiful and, most importantly, I think he makes people look wonderful."

Veteran production designer Waldemar Kalinowski was hired to design the sets for the film. "His work in Mike Figgis' film Leaving Las Vegas had a very special look that I really liked," Keaton says of her decision to have Kalinowski design her film.

"Personally, I'm interested in people's stories," the designer acknowledges. "Those are the movies I like to work on. Whatever the visual requirements might be, either based on the story itself or the directives of the people I am working with, it will also shape the story and the characters."

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Three sisters deal with life, love and lunacy on the phone, when their father is admitted to a Los Angeles Hospital. After years of wild living, intermittent affection and constant phoning, he is finally threatening to die. In Hanging Up, an exploration of family at its best, worst and funniest, director Diane Keaton introduces the Mozells: patriarch Lou (Walter Matthau) and daughters Georgia (Diane Keaton), vying for a spot on the Power List as editor in chief of her self-titled women’s magazine; Eve (Meg Ryan), the daddy’s girl-turned-responsible middle sister; and Maddy (Lisa Kudrow), a semi-successful soap actress.

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