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Playwright Letts’ demands: No Brits in ‘Osage County'!

Before production began, Pulitzer Prize-winning Tracy Letts sat down with Harvey Weinstein and asked that the movie version of Letts’ play, set in Oklahoma, about an Oklahoma family, be cast with American actors, not stealth Brits, or Aussies, or Irish folk. The result: an almost all-American ‘August: Osage County.’

Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, opening in Philadelphia January 10 -- and already playing in a few theaters in New York and Los Angeles – is set in the American heartland, exactly where its title says: Osage County, Oklahoma. So when it became time, a year or so back, to consider casting the film adaptation of the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning dysfunctional family free-for-all, Letts met with the famously hands-on film mogul, Harvey Weinstein, to discuss the matter. And one thing Letts made perfectly clear: No Brits, please.

"All these English men and these Irish men, I think they're great," says Letts, "but I do think American actors are getting short shrift.  There's a kind of loose-limbed quality to American acting, and I think we're starting to lose it a little bit."

At his first meeting with Weinstein, Letts said as much.

"I said, 'Please don't put a bunch of Englishmen and Irish men and Australians in this,'" Letts recalls. "I told him that I thought one of the reasons the play was celebrated was that we were so accustomed to seeing British drama come over here and play on Broadway, and it was so nice to see an American drama, with American actors, onstage…. And I said, 'What, you're going to have Judi Dench playing Violet and Nicole Kidman's play Barbara?' And I said, 'I think that would be a mistake. I think we would be sending the wrong message with that.'"

To a large extent, Letts won his argument. Meryl Streep accepted the role of the pill-popping, cancer-consumed matriarch, Violet, Julia Roberts plays the eldest of her three thoroughly messed-up daughters, Barbara, and American-as-they-get actors Chris Cooper and Sam Shepard have pivotal roles. But along with the two Golden Globe-nominated actresses -- and Abigail Breslin and Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson and Misty Upham and Dermot Mulroney and Margo Martindale – a pair of across-the-ponders did sneak in and take their seats around the Weston family table: Ewan McGregor and Bendedict Cumberbatch.

"Yes, well,  Ewan and Benedict, of course," says Letts. "I guess I lost the fight, in terms of that, though I am quite pleased to lose the fight… the truth is they're lovely fellows and they do a great job."