The director of Please Give talks to Jeremy Kay about writing real characters and ad-libbing.

Nicole Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing, Friends With Money) returns with the comedy Please Give. After debuting in Sundance, it opens in the US this weekend (April 30) through Sony Pictures Classics. Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt star as a couple who wait for their elderly tenant to die before they can knock through the wall and extend their living space.

How did you get the idea?

“I had a friend who had an apartment in New York and had to wait for an old lady to die and another friend had the same situation. I thought that would be a really good opportunity to tell a story.”

The characters always seem so real in your films. How do you write them?

“The characters become who they are as I start writing. I start without an outline and write pretty quickly, and I don’t have a very clear picture before I start. Sometimes I think I’m going to write a character who cannot stop talking and then he comes into the room and that’s not his problem; maybe he cannot stop moving. I don’t project on to them. I hate reading scripts where the characters are described in a sentence and you’re supposed to know who there are.”

The banter is very fresh, particularly between the old woman’s grand-daughters played by Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet. Do you encourage ad-libbing?

“I do like ad-libbing but it’s helpful if they do it in rehearsal because the shoot is too short to allow for much messing around. I don’t care if they stick to the script word-for-word and of course if an actor wants to change a line in the next take and I’m fine with it, it’s OK. But it’s not like comedians on set going crazy on their own. I would believe [Rebecca and Amanda] as sisters. They are physically so different and they got into a good banter right away.”

The urge for Keener’s character be a Good Samaritan was irritating at times, like when she constantly gives money to homeless people in the street.

“I am making fun of her. I don’t mean for her to be irritating. I am pointing out how ineffectual and buffoonish she is in an attempt to be a good person.”

What’s it like for you to get films made?

“It’s never a guarantee that your movie will get made, even if one has made movies before and I am grateful Sony Pictures Classics did it. I don’t know who would have done it if they didn’t. People loved the script but they said they wouldn’t know how to market it, but that’s because they didn’t see the humour in it. It’s not good out there.”

What’s next?

“I’ve adapted a booked called Every Secret Thing. It’s about two 11-year-old girls who kill a baby. It’s a dark mystery whodunit. It’s a complete challenge to me stylistically, but I feel I would come to it from the same place that I have approached my previous movies.”