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Actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michaela Watkins talk new movie 'You Hurt My Feelings'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The new movie "You Hurt My Feelings" has a simple premise. A novelist discovers her husband doesn't like her book, despite telling her over and over how much he does.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "YOU HURT MY FEELINGS")

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) How could he possibly respect me?

MICHAELA WATKINS: (As Sarah) Of course he respects you.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) No, not if he doesn't like my work. You know that. He's probably been lying to me this whole time.

WATKINS: (As Sarah) No. There's just no way.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Beth) He's a liar.

RASCOE: But that simple premise leads to a movie about love and art and the lies we tell each other to keep going. The film stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the novelist and Michaela Watkins as her sister. They join us now. Thank you so much for being with us.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Thank you for having us.

WATKINS: Yeah. We'll have fun. My favorite station.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Exactly.

RASCOE: Oh, I'm glad to hear that. So, Julia, your character, as we mentioned, gets upset that her husband has been telling her he likes her book while saying something else behind her back. But then at the same time, in the movie, she gets a little bit in trouble because she's telling her son that his play will be wonderful, even though she hasn't read a word of it. What do you think about that conflict of the way that we talk to our loved ones about the work that they do?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, I think the movie certainly examines the idea of, are you your work? Is your worth connected to your work? This is an interesting thing to think about.

WATKINS: And for artists, it is.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: And for artists, particularly. Yes, totally. And I think it also examines, what does it mean to be supportive in a relationship? Does that include truth-telling? Does that include complete honesty? And it really is sort of a meditation on all of that. Doesn't provide answers, necessarily, but it explores those ideas.

RASCOE: Really, in relationships, it can seem like honesty is a very mushy thing. Obviously, you want to be honest about, like, who you're sleeping with and stuff like that, but, like, does this look good on me? Am I gaining weight?

WATKINS: Yeah. You say it's not - you know, it's not that you look bad in the dress. It's that that dress looks bad on you. Like, that's a - it's not that you look bad in it. It's just a bad dress. That's what, you know, we say to people.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: Michaela, your character in the movie kind of falls on the other side of this divide because she's always telling her husband that he's doing great - and he's an actor - even if she doesn't like the performance. In a situation like that, do you think it's good to just tell the person that you like their performance even if you didn't? Or do you just say, I'm proud of you, and I'm proud that you did it and then leave?

WATKINS: If you're an actor and someone comes up and says, I'm proud of you, you know they hated it and your performance. If someone...

(LAUGHTER)

LOUIS-DREYFUS: That's a tell. That's an absolute tell.

(LAUGHTER)

WATKINS: You know, I've seen people do things where I love their performance and don't love the play or something like that, so I usually find something that I can love about them and tell them that. So I'm not lying. You know, because I'm not a great liar, but I will find something, something that I have fallen in love with about them. And if it's your partner, if it's a romantic partner, you better work real hard and find it if you can't.

RASCOE: We've kind of gotten into this because, obviously, many of the characters in the film are artists - you know, a novelist, a designer, an actor - and all the characters grapple with the quality of their work and how it's perceived. And so it sounds like I can safely say that artists are particularly vulnerable to criticism of their work. Do you agree with that?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, I mean, I agree with it. But I would also add that the character of my husband, played by the wonderful Tobias Menzies - he plays a therapist, and he's also questioning the quality of his work in the film. And so there's a lot of self-doubt that threads throughout the whole piece. But in terms of artists, yes, of course, because if you're an artist, shall we say, your art is an expression of yourself. And so that is something that's sometimes a difficult thing to reconcile when you're sort of selling a piece of yourself, as it were. That's something you have to come to terms with as an artist, I think.

WATKINS: Especially in an arena that is so subjective.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes, exactly. Yeah, totally.

RASCOE: This movie is written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, who you've both worked with before. What drew you to working with her again?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: We couldn't help it. We are drawn to her, both Michaela and I. And the movies that she makes are movies that if we weren't in them, I think we'd be going opening weekend because these are the movies that we like to see - musings on human interaction, thoughtful stories about people who are trying to live their life, making mistakes, warts and all.

WATKINS: I honestly couldn't say it better. This part was written for Julia. When she told me about this and how they were getting back together, I can't express the level of gratitude and joy that I feel that I got, you know, invited into this party, because it's just my favorite artists.

RASCOE: Julia you have a new podcast called "Wiser Than Me," where you talk with older women, including Jane Fonda, Isabel Allende and Fran Lebowitz. What did you learn from talking to these women about what it means to get older in your career and to find meaning in that?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: In our culture, I really do believe - I think it's a fact that as women age, they become less visible. They become less heard. Their value seems to, in our society, go down, to a certain extent, which doesn't make any sense because after all, they've lived for so many decades. They've got all this experience. They can give us tidbits. They can give us sort of the CliffsNotes so that perhaps we who are also aging - we're all getting older - but as we go through life, we can take their wisdom and apply it to ours. I mean, there's huge value there. There's a lot. That's a resource that needs to be tapped.

RASCOE: You know, your characters in this are sisters, and you guys really seem like sisters, like, I have to say. Do you think as relationships go on, the nature of honesty changes?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes. How could it not? I mean, I think the more history and experience you have with a friend or a partner, maybe there's a more open, honest relationship sort of evolves out of that. I think, too, by the way, I also want to point out that, you know, originally the role that Michaela plays in this film was the role of my character's best friend. And Michaela suggested to Nicole that she make us sisters. And it really was a brilliant idea on her part because it elevated what the movie's about. There is something about the sister dynamic and a sister partnership that is different than a friend partnership, even best of friends.

WATKINS: Yeah, because we even have to lie to our sisters.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, of course.

WATKINS: You think that's the one person you don't have to. And even then, my character still has to somehow make my sister not feel like what just happened was the worst thing that could have happened just now, even though we all agree it was.

RASCOE: That's Michaela Watkins and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Their new movie, "You Hurt My Feelings," is out now. Thank you both so much.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Thank you for having us.

WATKINS: Thank you.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: What a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SILVER LINING (RECORDIST MIX)")

RILO KILEY: (Singing) Hooray, hooray. I'm your silver lining. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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