The preproduction drama that went down on the set of Can You Ever Forgive Me? is turning out to be almost as juicy as the stranger-than-fiction story upon which it is based. Years before Melissa McCarthy received her Best Actress Oscar nomination for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Julianne Moore was scheduled to star as Lee Israel, the infamous celebrity biographer who inadvertently scammed her way to the attention of the FBI after forging letters by brilliant literary figures, such as Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward.
“I didn’t leave that movie. Nicole fired me,” Moore revealed during a candid Watch What Happens Live interview as part of her Gloria Bell press tour in early March. Six days before production on Can You Ever Forgive Me? was scheduled, the film’s star was given a pink slip by the director, who at the time was Nicole Holofcener (also a cowriter of the screenplay). Moore exited the film “due to creative differences,” McCarthy was hired to replace her, and Marielle Heller was given the director’s chair.
At the time of her Gloria Bell press tour, Moore remained somewhat coy about the specifics of those creative differences, careful not to trash talk Holofcener or Can You Ever Forgive Me? “I think that her idea of where the character was was different from my idea of where the character was, and so she fired me,” Moore admitted. (She also told Watch What Happens Live host Andy Cohen, “I love Melissa McCarthy. I worship her; I think she’s fantastic,” but admitted that she still has not seen the film.)
Now there’s another update to the saga, as The Hollywood Reporter has learned exactly what constituted those “creative differences” that caused Holofcener to give Moore the boot at the last minute: The actress was fired from the film was because she took a page from the Nicole Kidman book of biopics—which is to say she wanted to wear a prosthetic nose.
Kidman once donned a prosthetic proboscis to play Virginia Woolf in The Hours (a film in which Moore costarred) and gave a performance worthy of a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination. While the prosthetic was quite conspicuous—and caused a bit of a furor in the academic community, with scholars of Woolf questioning the accuracy of the cinematic portrayal of the 20th-century literary icon)—Kidman was rendered almost unrecognizable as herself in the role, and even won her first and only Oscar to date for portraying the suicidal novelist in 2003.
It makes sense then that Moore might have picked up a little lesson from Kidman’s award-winning performance, adding that extra element to make her portrayal of Israel as precise as possible. Holofcener, however, reportedly thought a fake nose would be too much of a distraction, although it is said that at the time of Israel’s death, in 2014, her nose was actually quite large.
If you’re an Oscar-winning actress gunning to portray a literary figure onscreen, your approach to the material would naturally include wearing period specific garb and absorbing the affect and gait of the character in question. You could also alter your face, but apparently that was a step too far.