With Father of the Bride, It’s Complicated, The Holiday and a dozen other movies under her belt, Nancy Meyers is one of Hollywood’s most powerful female writer-director-producers. Her first film in six years, The Intern, follows a senior citizen intern, Robert De Niro, as he befriends his boss, played by Anne Hathaway. Nancy Meyers sat down with TIME to discuss prejudice against female bosses, Hathaway’s talents and how she (may have) inspired Amy Schumer’s signature skit.
TIME: Anne Hathaway plays a startup CEO in your new film. What characteristics would you say she shares with your many other female protagonists?
Nancy Meyers: They’re all somewhat entrepreneurial, except that in 2015 there is more of a call to action. There is an easier road to get there than say J.C. Wiatt in Baby Boom, who was an employee at a management consulting firm. I think if J.C. was Annie Hathaway’s age, she probably would have been doing this job.
Why did you write about a friendship between a young female boss (Anne Hathaway) and her older male intern (Robert De Niro)?
I sent the script to my niece who works at a startup when I was finished, and I said, “What do you think?” And she wrote me back in an email, “I need a Ben!”
I wish as a young woman I had had someone who was not my shrink, not my parent, but a wonderful person watching my back. Ben (De Niro) is not damaged, and a lot of the men I’ve written have been. It made me think about men I knew when I was a little girl—my dad, my grandfather—and how that kind of man seems to be disappearing.
In The Intern you posit that today’s young women grew up with girl power, but men did not receive the same encouragement. Are young men stunted?
In the movie I talk about “take your daughter to work day” as a broad umbrella over how you girls were raised. When my daughters were growing up, Oprah was on TV every day at three o’clock pushing girl forward. Meanwhile, boys fell in love with video games. These boys turned into men who wear hoodies and don’t shave. I think there is a reluctance to embrace adulthood.
Do you think that’s been problematic for young men and women’s relationships?
Well, you have to tell me! You’re young. Do you think it is?
I do have friends who say they only want to date older guys—not that much older but 5 or 10 years older—because they say, “I can’t date guys our age. They’re too immature.” I don’t know if that’s something true of every generation.
No. I don’t think it is. It wasn’t of mine. I don’t remember ever thinking I couldn’t date a man my age because he was too immature. Obviously that’s a generalization. I’m not talking about my son-in-law!
You’re very active on Instagram. Do you ever get FOMO or Fear of Missing Out while looking at other people’s Instagrams?
Constantly. All summer while I was working, everybody else was on a boat in Italy. I clearly felt left out. I’m sure everyone looks at each other’s Instagrams and we’re all envious of people’s gardens and the meal their eating, and that long table. Everybody is always at a long table with beautiful floral arrangements—at least the people I follow! But I still like it.
I read that your mother was an interior designer. Is that where your famed interest in design came from?
I did grow up with a mother and grandmother who were the original DIY ladies. They were always refinishing something in the garage or putting me and my sister in the back seat and driving to a flea market somewhere. My mom, my grandmother, my aunt, they all loved their homes, and we weren’t wealthy, so it wasn’t like there were decorators around. These women really did all the heavy lifting on their own. It was their hobby, and I rolled my eyes at it as a child. But now here I am as a grownup, and I seem to have it as my hobby as well.
You have done a lot of rom-coms in your career. This is more a platonic bud-com, but there are always headlines, “The rom-com is dead.”
The rom-com has been in a bit of a coma. Perhaps not dead.
I’ve noticed all my life if I ask, “How did you two meet?” the whole table will turn and listen. Everyone’s interested in relationships. There’s a ceiling to how much money rom-coms can make, but Trainwreck was a hit.
Does the rom-com have a place in modern cinema?
Listen, I’ve been doing this a long time. There’s a pendulum that swings. I think it’s going to come back. For awhile, they put romantic comedies aside because there was a period where I think some of them got made that weren’t as good as others.
I get emotional talking about this. People who run studios have their own agendas about what earnings have to be. So I think they’re going for bigger, bigger, bigger. Bigger effects, bigger comic book movies. But I think Trainwreck is a terrific example of how the audience showed up opening weekend. So maybe the doors will open again.
Have you seen the Amy Schumer “Last F—able Day” sketch?
I bumped into Julia Louis-Dreyfus at the farmer’s market after I saw it. I asked, “Were you all talking about my movies?”
And she said, “What do you mean?” very quickly and kind of guilty.
And I said, “You know, you talked about Jack Nicholson and turtlenecks.” I told her it was so great. It’s hilarious.
It reminded me of you because you are one of the few directors who wouldn’t send a woman off on a boat after she reaches the age of 40.
The boat to oblivion! Yes, I’ve been able to make movies with women over 40 years old and over 50 and over 60. And in this case, a man over 70.
Which is also rare.
And he doesn’t die. Men that age in these movies always die. He’s very much alive throughout.
Do you think things have gotten better for women over the age of 40 in Hollywood since you started your career?
I don’t think there’s a ton of parts for them, honestly. Most movies studios make, they’re the mom if they’re in it. In indie movies, there’s more opportunities. And if you’re Meryl there’s always going to be a great part.
I was recently reading about how a few actresses like Sandra Bullock have started asking to be sent men’s roles.
That’s amazing, but it’s also sad. I mean, it’s smart of these actresses to ask to read those parts. But there are differences, and it’s nice to celebrate the differences and write about what it’s like to be a woman, and not just read lines written for a man.
Do you feel a responsibility to portray women in a certain way?
Absolutely. I have two daughters, but beyond that, I feel there aren’t enough filmmakers who show “this girl is a super-functioning person.” Often in movies the female boss is the villain—a sexual predator or a tight-ass nobody likes.
I talked to Anne about how there’s a built-in prejudice towards the female boss, and we have to counter it. That stereotype, that’s not the story we’re telling, but that’s what people are going to assume it’s going to be no matter what we do.
I even have a joke in the movie when [Robert De Niro] finds out he’s assigned to [Anne Hathaway], and somebody says, “Unfortunate.” I really went back and forth on that because I thought, “Am I doing that now?” But I wanted to show that she was facing discrimination. And then very quickly in the movie you find out she’s a good person. She’s trying to live her life and build a business and be a mom and a wife. And she comes home and reads to her daughter and gives her a bath. She’s not an absent mother. She’s a working mother.
I’m very aware of how I portray these women so that the audience’s takeaway is a positive one. It’s my goal to be optimistic about our opportunities and roles.
Hathaway has faced similar labeling issues, being called “too perfect” or “unlikable.” Why?
She became very successful at a very young age. I’m not sure a guy with that kind of success and looks and ability—she’s unbelievably talented—would have encountered that criticism. She’s a fantastic young woman.
I call her the A-student because she comes into the movie and knows those speeches backwards and forwards. She does her homework. She wants to get it right. I’m crazy about her. I feel so badly that she had to go through that, but I think she’s come out the other side.
She looks like she’s having a lot of fun riding around on a bicycle in the office. How did you come up with that?
I saw Mickey Drexler in a photo at J. Crew on a bike. That’s all I needed to see. I thought, Okay, if Mickey Drexler can be on a bike, Jules Ostin (Hathaway) can be on a bike. She has to save time!
Were there any women who inspired her character?
Not a real CEO. She is in a long line of working women that I’ve written. She’s the youngest, newest version.
Anders Holm plays a stay-at-home dad in the movie, and the character has conflicted feelings about that role and his masculinity. Why did you want to write about stay-at-home dad?
I know some. And I know a fair number of women are able to have these very busy and important jobs because their husbands are stay-at-home dads or work from home. They’re not appreciated the way stay-at-home moms are. And they’re fighting an awful lot of expectations about what a dad and a husband is supposed to be, when they are of so much value to their family. These are the guys that are helping so many women succeed.
You’ve worked with all-stars: Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson. Who is on your wish list?
Ryan Gosling has it all. Leonardo DiCaprio is as good as they get. And I know he’s funny, and we know he’s romantic. I have no idea if he’d be interested in doing anything other than the movies he makes.
But De Niro made those kind of movies.
That’s true. If I’m around when Leo turns 70, maybe it will work out.
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