No skeleton is left in the closet—and no scenery is left unchewed—in this dish-smashing drama about a dysfunctional family, the Westons, in rural Oklahoma.
When the Weston patriarch (Sam Shepard) goes missing, his three daughters reunite at their childhood home to attend to their cancer-stricken mother, Violet (Meryl Streep).
Hardly a shrinking Violet, the vitriolic matriarch launches verbal assaults as frequently as she pops Percocet and Xanax. Violet's most contentious battles are with eldest daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts), who has her own issues with hubby Bill (Ewan McGregor) and daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin)—and worries she'll turn into a monster like her mother.
Before hanging with mommy dearest and the whacked-out Weston clan, check out these five facts:
Letts Make a Movie: The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts. August is the third Letts play to be adapted for the big screen, following Killer Joe (with Matthew McConaughey as a contract killer) and Bug (with Ashley Judd dating a psycho drifter). Both were directed by The Exorcist's William Friedkin, but August is helmed by former West Wing and ER exec producer John Wells, whose only other feature directorial effort was The Company Men with Ben Affleck.
Stage and Screen: August made its Broadway debut in December 2007 after premiering at Chicago's legendary Steppenwolf Theatre earlier that year. Tracy Letts' late father, Dennis Letts, originated the Weston patriarch role in both productions, and now Shepard (Steppenwolf's most produced playwright) plays the part in the film. Letts is an actor as well — he won a Tony for his portrayal of George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and recently appeared as Andrew Lockhart in Showtime's Homeland.
Old and New Family: Wells reteams with ER alum George Clooney, who serves as one of the film's producers. Wells had also worked with some of his cast before, including Julianne Nicholson (who plays Violet's daughter Ivy) and Chris Cooper (who plays Violet's brother-in-law, Charlie). He wasn't terribly familiar with Benedict Cumberbatch's work, so the actor submitted a videotaped audition that looked like it had been recorded on a cell phone. Wells thought Cumberbatch's reading was moving and funny and cast him—without a meeting—as Charlie's son, Little Charles.
A Hollywood Makeover in the Midwest: Much of August was filmed in Pawhuska, Oklahoma (in the real Osage County), at a five-bedroom Victorian house the production purchased. Designers redecorated and refurnished everything from the wallpaper to the rugs to every piece of cutlery in the drawers and every spice bottle in the cabinets. During the rehearsal process, cast members spent a lot of time in the house and even stayed in their characters' rooms, which—according to Wells—affected the way the actors interacted with their surroundings on film.
The Family That Eats Together… Streep suggested the actors live together during the shoot, so they took up residence at a condo complex in Bartlesville, about 40 minutes east of Pawhuska. Streep and Margo Martindale, who plays Violet's sister, frequently hosted evening potlucks for their costars. (Perhaps Streep prepared some of Julia Child's dishes?) Coincidentally, one of the centerpieces of the August script is a 19-page dinner table scene in which Violet verbally shreds everyone with glee, an act she calls "truth telling." Bon appétit!