This week on The Awardist podcast, EW’s Piya Sinha-Roy talks to Can You Ever Forgive Me? director Marielle Heller and actor Richard E. Grant about their new biopic, which stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, a struggling writer who forges letters from literary icons. Grant plays Jack Hock, a grifter who becomes Israel’s accomplice and sometime best friend.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and say, ‘I can’t believe anyone let you make this movie,’” Heller says. “It’s a movie about real characters. We thought about Midnight Cowboy when we were making it.”
Speaking about the barbed relationship between Israel and Hock, the filmmaker says, “We were conscious of never wanting to be overly sentimental or trying to soften who these people are, that kind of wickedness between them was so inherent to who they are. It’s almost even more touching.”
“These are scenes between two people talking,” Grant adds, comparing Can You Ever Forgive Me? in particular to his last film, Marvel’s X-Men action drama Logan. “It’s the equivalent of a road movie that goes through the byways of Manhattan in the early ’90s. You go on a journey with these two characters and really understand how and why they do what they do, and you have compassion for these people.”
Heller, who made a buzzy debut in 2015 with The Diary of a Teenage Girl, also gets candid about the challenge of being a female director determined to quickly land a second feature, especially when compared to men: “I’ve been at film festivals where I see people talking about a female filmmaker who just had a beautiful debut of some incredibly amazing movie that was edgy and well-told and well-directed, and they said, ‘Well, let’s see what she does next — and then we’ll decide if we want to work with her.’
“I also benefited from the time we’re in,” Heller says. “I just had to get over my own brain and my own neuroses and be able to say yes to something wonderful, and then I was able to make another wonderful movie. I’m aware that I’m very, very lucky in that regard.” Heller’s next film stars Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers.
The Awardist podcast is part of our comprehensive awards coverage, hosted by EW digital director Shana Naomi Krochmal. This week, we also go over the nominees for the Independent Spirit Awards, announced Friday. (Grant is among the supporting actor nominees.)
There’s a key qualification to be eligible for a Spirit Award: The film has to be made for $20 million or less. (For reference, last year’s Indie Spirit for best feature went to Get Out, which was made for about $5 million.) That doesn’t, however, include the marketing budget — either for the film’s theatrical run or its awards campaign. The nominations come early in the awards season cycle, but the ceremony itself won’t be held until the day before the Oscars, Feb. 23.
Plus: If we’re going to talk about awards in November, we feel like we should be willing to make some bold predictions for what happens in January and February. We asked Grant and Heller to name which of their peers they’d be most passionate about campaigning to get a nomination too — listen to Grant gush about Timothée Chalamet and Heller praise Ryan Coogler’s work on Black Panther.