Acting opposite the late James Gandolfini in the subtle new romantic comedy Enough Said, Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a once-burned divorcee who spends a good portion of the film trying to decide whether she actually likes the guy.
In doing so, the Seinfeld and Veep comedian is blunt in that hilarious manner she's perfected over the years. But some of the barbs have surprised audiences, writer-director Nicole Holofcener admits, especially a phone conversation with a friend during which Louis-Dreyfus's character tactlessly declares that her suitor is "kind of fat."
"People sometimes gasp when they see that – like, 'Huh! That's so rude!' " says Holofcener, who also helmed films including Please Give and Friends With Money.
"Especially because (Gandolfini) is dead, people feel like it's against God to say anything about him like that. But he'd be the first person to say 'I'm fat.' "
The film, which is screening this week at the Toronto International Film Festival before opening in select Canadian cities on Sept. 27, shows a different side of the Sopranos star, who died in June of a heart attack at age 51.
He plays a somewhat guileless TV archivist who enters into a sweet and tentative romance with Louis-Dreyfus's Eva, while – unbeknownst to him – Eva forms a friendship with his elegant ex-wife (Catherine Keener), who gleefully and near-endlessly shines a light on his myriad faults to her new friend.
Holofcener said Gandolfini, who also has a posthumous role in the crime drama Animal Rescue, invested himself heavily in the role, even helping to modify the script on the fly.
"I don't write that many male leads, and I think that he, being a man, really helped add layers to the character," she said.
"He added lines and changed things that were definitely from the perspective of a man, which I am not."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the actor most famous for portraying a sometimes-terrifying New Jersey mob boss occasionally questioned whether his Enough Said character was too much of a wimp.
"He would say, 'I'm not her bitch!' It was like, yeah, actually, you are."
Not that there was any friction between the director and her late lead, whom she praises extensively.
"He was just great. He took the part very seriously," she said. "Sometimes he would push back and say, 'I don't think this is right.' I would say, 'Well, let's try this or that.' He would always come around eventually.
"He didn't trust me as much in the beginning as he did after we started working."