Why Book Club's Canadian co-writer resisted when told to go 'younger'

The Canadian co-writer and co-producer of Book Club, a new comedy starring Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton, says the all-star cast was willing to sacrifice "creature comforts" in exchange for fully realized characters in a Hollywood film.

Montreal-born Erin Simms says cast gave up creature comforts to accept well-rounded roles

Candice Bergen, left, and Diane Keaton, right, are among the stars of Book Club, co-written and co-produced by Canadian Erin Simms. (Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures/The Associated Press)

It started as a gag gift and turned into a movie script.

Canadian Erin Simms sent a copy of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey to her mother and stepmom in 2012 when the erotic romance trilogy was gaining popularity. The idea came from Bill Holderman, a co-worker who would soon become her co-writer and director for the script of the film Book Club.

The gift that keeps on giving

"It really was born from a conversation about our mothers and how different they all are in their attitudes toward sex and aging and dating," Simms told CBC News over the phone in Los Angeles.

The new movie, which stars Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenbergen, is about lifelong friends whose worlds are turned upside down after reading the infamous bestseller. It exceeded box office expectations this opening weekend, bringing in an estimated $12.5 million US.

Simms says some studio executives suggested she go 'younger' with the characters after reading the first draft of the script. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

The film is among a crop of recent movies, including The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) starring Judy Dench, Quartet (2012), starring Maggie Smith, and Going in Style (2017), starring Morgan Freeman, with older leads. However, the demographic is still under-represented in the entertainment industry.

No compromise on age

Simms said it wasn't easy at first to sell the idea — and the demographic — to studio executives, some of whom suggested going "a little bit younger."

"For us, that was a non-starter," she said. 

"Funny doesn't end at any age ... They want to see themselves reflected on the screen and they want to be entertained just as much as anybody does at any age."

And since her real-life stepmom discovered she's the loose inspiration behind Steenbergen's character, Simms says she's been excitedly posting about it online.

Simms says the all-star cast was willing to give up "creature comforts" to take a role in the lower-budget movie in exchange for "fully realized" characters in a rare Hollywood film about older women.

Low budget, high expectations

"The excitement started to build, but our budget still remained very independent," she said. The shoot was really fast. We had 33 days and not a lot of the creature comforts that I'm sure they're all used to."

In a 2016 interview with CBC News in Los Angeles, Fonda talked about the rarity of good film roles for women her age.

Jane Fonda, who plays a confident hotel mogul, told CBC News that it's difficult to find quality movies for older women. (Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures/The Associated Press)

"It's so expensive to make a movie these days," she said. "If a movie costs a $100 million, it'll cost almost that much just to promote it."

"International box office is very, very important which means you have to make a certain kind of movie that will work in all kinds of countries which often means — not comedy, not character-driven — a lot of explosions and things like that. There's not a lot of room for older people in those movies, especially older women."

With files from the Associated Press