‘Book Club: The Next Chapter’ – Interview with Bill Holderman and Erin Simms

Book Club: The Next Chapter is finally here. The highly anticipated sequel to the 2018 comedy Book Club stars Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen as four friends who take their book club to Italy. Directed by Bill Holderman and written by Holderman and Erin Simms, the film promises to be a hilarious and heartwarming look at the lives of these four women as they navigate the joys and challenges of aging.

Oscars Central had the chance to sit down with Holderman and Simms over Zoom to discuss the new movie. We chatted about the duo’s change in perspective from the first movie to this one, how the pandemic influenced the film, the real-life friendships between the lead actresses, and believing in yourself as a writer. We also discussed the impact that Holderman and Simms hope their film will have on audiences.

[Please note – this interview contains mild spoilers. It has also been lightly edited for clarity and to remove filler words.]

Ayla Ruby: I’m Ayla Ruby with Oscars Central, and I’m really excited to be here to talk about Book Club: The Next Chapter.
Bill Holderman: Us too.

Ayla Ruby: So, can you guys talk about the journey to the green light for this, the second movie? When did you guys know that this was going to happen?
Bill Holderman: We’ll back up to the idea of the sequel and then when it actually became more of a real thing. So the idea for the sequel, even before the first movie came out, Erin, Candice, Jane, and Mary were traveling to CinemaCon in 2018 before the release of the first movie, and on that plane, they were having such a good time, and they said, “Oh my gosh, we have to make a sequel, and it has to be in Italy.” And then Candice at some point said, “Yeah, there should be a scene where at some point, like we say run, but we can’t really run, so then we just…”. And literally, those were the foundational elements. So the sequel was born before the first movie came out, but the sequel became a reality because, luckily, the first movie performed better than anyone ever imagined.
So that was really fun. Shortly after the first movie came out, the idea of… a real idea of this sequel happened. I would say, resistance-wise, we were the most resistant because we didn’t want… The first movie wrapped up all the characters in such a neat and what felt like a final way that we were hesitant to open that back up, and we certainly didn’t want to just make a derivative sort of diluted version of the first movie. If we were going to do a sequel, we wanted to go against the norm and try to make it expand the world, expand the characters, and really give it depth and meaning, and that took us a while to pull off.
Erin Simms: Yeah. At the time, it was the pandemic and us who really, really wanted the sequel to stand on its own, to be something that we loved as much as we loved the first one, not just taking a job because it’s a job that came to you from the first one. It was really important that it meant something more to us and that we were saying something again, and that we weren’t just slapping something together. We don’t even know how to do that. But I think there’s people who could slap things together. They became best friends. They wanted it; the studio wanted it. But to answer your question specifically, the movie came out in May 2018, and by Fall 2019, we were scouting in Italy.
Ayla Ruby: Oh wow.
Erin Simms: And, of course, the pandemic happened. So I always say we got a free trip to Italy before the pandemic. And so then it just stalled, and we almost made it in LA during COVID, which would’ve been…
Bill Holderman: Thank God it didn’t.
Erin Simms: And we thought it was so upsetting when the movie didn’t happen in LA, can you imagine? It was the best thing that ever happened to us…
Bill Holderman: To be able to go…
Erin Simms:… that we got to go to Italy.

Ayla Ruby: Oh, that’s awesome. Did the pandemic kind of change the movie at all?
Bill Holderman: It did. It changed a couple things. Initially, when the pandemic started, it felt like we all thought it was going to only last a little while. But when what happened happened, it felt like something that we couldn’t ignore, and it also felt like something that it was so impactful on some of the foundational themes of this movie. It isolated people; it challenged people’s friendships; it challenged people’s relationships; it changed people’s relationships. So we started to think about the movie through the prism of the reality that we’d all lived through. That’s why the movie starts the way it does, with the Zoom sequence, because our new normal was this. It was interactions with our friends in remote, isolated places. And I think-
Erin Simms: The script completely was impacted by it. Because I felt it myself, I remember when we thought we were going to go make the movie, and then I heard that it was pushed for a year, and I remember the panic of like, “Holy shit. We’re going to be in this house for another year.” And so travel and being with people became so much more heightened. I don’t think that the movie could feel the way that it is now had we never had a pandemic because you appreciate things so much more now. So that happened for our characters.

Ayla Ruby: Now, so obviously, I think the first movie was your first go at directing, and it was, I guess, your first screenwriting credit. Am I correct on that for both of you, together as a screenwriting team, or…
Bill Holderman: Yeah, it was our first as a team.
Erin Simms: Bill had been doing rewrites and all kinds of things. But this was our first original.

Ayla Ruby: How have your perspectives changed between then and this one?
Bill Holderman: Man.
Erin Simms: Naivete versus… We were so naive.
Bill Holderman: I mean, I think, yeah, on one hand, there was an innocence that we were on the first one, but I think we… Somehow, we’ve maintained that a little bit. You have to. I think writing is incredibly hard and torturous and can feel isolating and can be challenging, and I think it requires a certain amount of optimism to every day open your laptop and be like, “Okay, we’re going to take another step. We’re going to take another step towards it.” So I think we’ve maintained that. I think that there was a lot of knowledge gained through the process of making the first movie in terms of what we could accomplish within any given day and scope and how to pull certain things off.
The other thing that we gained, really, the women became really good friends through the making of the first movie, and they maintained that in between the two movies, and then that even accelerated more when we all got to Italy. So I think taking advantage of those natural elements, taking advantage of the things that… the gifts, I think we were really open to that and really open to making sure that it’s something that they were really excited about. Because you can feel that authenticity of performance when it’s real, it’s even that much clearer.
Erin Simms: I would say the thing that I noticed didn’t change. In the first one, no matter what anybody said to us, we were like, “We’re making this movie. I don’t care what you think. It’s going to happen, and it’s going to be great.” It was sort of an unshakeable kind of ambition or whatever you want to call it, a belief in it. On the second one, what we realized now after when we’ve had a couple of writing jobs, and we’ve had different movies that we’ve worked on, if we don’t have that if I can’t tell you in the face of all kinds of facts you could give me that I don’t care, this movie’s happening and you’re going to love it, then we have to stop working on that project. That’s all it comes down to is your gut. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes it’s wrong, but it’s your gut, and that’s the only way that we can work on something.

Ayla Ruby: I love that. That’s wonderful. So since the first movie’s been out, has there been a big reaction for you guys? There’s like lots of conversations in Hollywood about ageism and all of that, and just from talking to people, just having stories with older women is so meaningful. Have you guys felt that or heard feedback saying that?
Bill Holderman: Yeah. I think a lot of people were surprised at how well the first movie did, and I think it’s a testament to, there’s a huge audience out there that continues to be underserved. I think we’ve seen a lot of movies recently that are trafficking in the same sort of space and demographic. And I think that feels, for us, that feels… it’s great. It’s like we love these types of stories, and we think that more need to be told. I think what’s tricky is when you’re making a comedy, and you’re making something that feels like it’s for cineplexes and it’s for a mass audience within the business; it’s sometimes looks not as highly as some of the movies that only three people see.
So it’s finding that balance. So yes, there’s conversations, and we’re really excited to make something for an audience that felt underserved. But I think within the business, you’re still challenged. You still have to go convince people. And even on the sequel, it’s like everyone was excited, but you still have to convince people that it wasn’t a fluke; there is this audience, these themes do matter. People do want uplifting, feel-good, exciting movies that…
Erin Simms: And they want to see themselves reflected and not in the way where they can’t get up the stairs, they can’t operate a cell phone. That’s not what it is. Maybe this is a terrible thing to say, but on this one, I… Because what he’s saying is that when you make these kinds of movies, people just love to trash you. That’s what they do.

Ayla Ruby: Okay, so the first movie, obviously it, was based on… Not based on, but surrounded the book Fifty Shades of Grey. And I think I saw it in the teaser trailer, or maybe not the actual trailer that this installment featured The Alchemist. Can you talk about why that book, what it means for the women and just anything you can share?
Bill Holderman: Yeah. Obviously, the first one being built around Fifty Shades was… There’s a cheeky fun element to that, which was really… we really enjoyed. I think because of the sophistication of who they are, we wanted to expand what the book club was. I think we didn’t want it to just be sort of whatever sexy pop book was out again. And I think we were trying to.
Erin Simms: And we can’t recreate Fifty Shades of Grey.
Bill Holderman: Yeah. It was lightning in a bottle. For us, it started sort of thematically. We were just trying to find something that for us resonated and felt like it had meaning. The Alchemist was… It was the first book that we got excited about the sequel in terms of the themes, and the treatment that we wrote initially was based around and built around that as part of the engine.
Erin Simms: The quote that we say you’ll see in the movie is, “At a certain point in your life, at a certain age, you believe that your life is controlled by fate, and that’s the world’s greatest lie.” And that just got us talking about; it’s so true. You reach a certain age, and sometimes it’s younger than we all want to admit, where you’re like, “Well, this happened, that happened, it’s too late. And I really wanted to do this, but now I’m this age, and so it’s over.” I think that that spoke to… that was a message that we wanted to break out of for people. So that’s what drives us.
Bill Holderman: And I think The Alchemist for us too, it’s like I read it, I loved it. I think it has a lot of resonance for everybody. I mean, I think it’s, from a thematic standpoint, I think there’s a lot of inspiration to be had there. People don’t realize it; it’s been around now, I think, for 30 years. But it’s like; it’s one of the most… It’s been translated into more languages than almost any other book. It’s sold, it’s a wildly popular-
Erin Simms: It has the same sales as Fifty Shades of Grey.
Bill Holderman: It’s not why we chose it, but it is something that I think does permeate in a different way, but it also… there’s a slight increase in sophistication from Fifty Shades to The Alchemist.
Erin Simms: Well, listen, if people walk out of the movie… It’s a comedy, but if people walk out of the movie and they feel like I want to look at my life and see if there’s things that I can change and can I do better, and can I break out of patterns, thinking patterns, which is really what holds us all back, that will be really exciting for us.

Ayla Ruby: Oh, that’s wonderful. Is there anything you want guys want to share about the movie or anything before I say goodbye?
Bill Holderman: The only thing to share is that the actual the experience of getting this cast back together and after a pandemic to be able to go to a foreign country. I keep saying it’s a little camp because we were all in it together, end up spending more time together and feel the world, feel a different sort of place, and then be able to take everything that you’re feeling offscreen and be able to apply it onscreen for both the actors, but for us as well. It was such a treat, and so much fun. I hope it inspires people to get out of their bubbles and go travel and go open their eyes and go with their friends because it makes a rich life.
Ayla Ruby: Thank you so much. This has been wonderful. And yeah, thank you.
Erin Simms: Thank you so much. Nice to meet you.

Book Club: The Next Chapter is exclusively in theaters this weekend, just in time for Mother’s Day.
So grab your mom or friends, head to the movies, and check it out. 

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