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
"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
"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
"Diane made it so her
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
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
"such bright, comic
"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."
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.
See THE STARS