By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - What would you do if you found yourself in the middle of a dinner table fight with Oscar-winning actresses Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts?
For actress Julianne Nicholson, it was a "dream come true" as she joined an all-star cast of Hollywood heavy-weights for the dark family drama "August: Osage County," which has earned both Streep and Roberts Oscar nods this year.
"I still don't really believe it, even though the proof is out there," Nicholson told Reuters with a laugh.
Nicholson, 42, has carved out a career on television, with long-running roles on "Ally McBeal," "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" and more recently, on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" and Showtime's "Masters of Sex."
She has also starred in independent films including 2009's "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" and 2012's "Keep The Lights On."
The actress will next be seen playing a schizophrenic mother on the Sundance Channel's new series "The Red Road", a gritty crime thriller exploring tensions between a small town community and a Native American tribe, premiering February 27.
At the Sundance Film Festival earlier this month, the actress spoke to Reuters in between parties for "The Red Road" about exploring drama on screen and who she really bonded with on "August: Osage County."
Q: You teamed up with a formidable cast on "August: Osage County" - who surprised you the most?
A: I totally fell in love with Julia. She just took me under her wing, literally from the read-through, and she is so unbelievably gorgeous and generous and supportive. I didn't expect she wouldn't do that, but I just was taken with her.
And Ewan McGregor, oh man. He is the nicest man on earth, such a good person, loving father, devoted husband, humble. Everyone was hilarious - Margo Martindale, Ewan, Dermot (Mulroney), they're a quirky bunch, and everyone just fit perfectly.
Q: How did you want to play your character Ivy, especially when some of the other characters such as the ones played by Julia and Meryl, are so explosive?
A: I felt like she was the watcher, especially when everybody comes back ... because she has that reveal at the end, it felt like it would be good to save the drama. There is so much going on in that movie. There's a lot of drama. I guess I'm wanting to live out all the drama in my work so that I can live out a calm, nice life for real at home.
Q: The film was adapted from a stage play and a lot of the scenes are filmed in close quarters. Seeing it on the big screen, how do you think the issues came across cinematically?
A: It is a movie and it's entertainment, so what they're going through is more exaggerated than what you and I might go through day-to-day with families, but even within that, it made me feel for my family and people I love. Also, everyone in that movie is over 40, except Abigail (Breslin, 17) - people who have lived lives and have history and experience and the heartbreak of a life; the joy and the heartbreak of just being alive and making it through the days. I hope that doesn't sound too depressing!
Q: Your character Jean in "Red Road" has a multitude of issues to tackle. What drew you to her?
A: I just thought Jean was amazing. She's got so much stuff going on. She's an undiagnosed schizophrenic, which she has been trying to keep on top of for 17 years. She's been able to and now the pot boils over and it's time to deal with that.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in the role?
A: I found this job to be very hard, mostly just the character and trying to be true to her experience but also living in that place for nine weeks. I don't bring it home with me but it's still - I don't want to give anything away - but some of the things you go through, obviously it's fake, but your body is going through the actions of these things. So it was very exhausting and I just was trying to do it right.
Q: What types of roles are you finding yourself drawn to?
A: The last couple of years, I think they've all been quite serious, strong, maybe a little tough. I want to play something a little lighter next. The next new job I get ... I'd like to do something funny again. I did "Ally McBeal," which I loved and a comedy film "Seeing Other People," and I feel I'd like to exercise that muscle again. And also let people know that I can smile, I'm not always so flipping unhappy! It's not because I'm unhappy in my life.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by Patricia Reaney and Stephen Powell)