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October 31, 2013
“About Time,” Richard Curtis’s New Film About Love, Life and Time Travel
— Posted by Paula Schwartz
In a way, all of the films you’ve written and directed deal with the central idea of regret and what people do with regret and how they act as a result of regret. “About Time” is kind of the culmination of that theme because whenever the central character regrets something, he’s able to go back and make it right. Many of the characters in your films have made mistakes and have done things they regret and they want to somehow make it right, fix that thing or capture that opportunity that they missed. Can you talk about that idea in your films?
RC: I think the strange thing about having done this new movie is that it’s kind of half a romantic-comedy, and I wouldn’t talk about whether romantic-comedy is an apt term, but the second half is a kind of family drama. And I used to think or used to make out that if you sorted out your romantic mistakes you would then find happiness and this film, because the wedding’s half way through, goes on to show that you’ve got to as it where, pay the full price so life will continue, and I’m increasingly convinced now that life is just a pile of good things and a pile of not so good things and you’ve got to try and face the not so good things and not let the fact that things can be hard spoil all the things that are wonderful, so in a way I think about “About Time” as being about reconciliation more than about regret. It’s about the fact of him (Domhnall Gleeson) accepting that there are tough things and then trying to do positive things and still view your life positively.
You came along in the late 80’s and 90’s and made films that make a strong case for expressing feelings, which was contrary to the stereotypical idea that the English were emotionally repressed. Was that the idea?
RC: I love you saying that. Part of it is I’m not English. My Mom and Dad were Australian. There’s a quiz in this magazine, “The Guardian,” which they do in the U.K., they ask you a question and one of the questions they ask every week is have you ever said I love you to anyone and not meant it. And it’s shocking how many people say no because I do that like ten times a day. And my Mum told everyone she met that she loved them, so maybe I am contrary to the swing of things.
In the beginning of your career you were writing for television by the time you were 23 for a series that was very popular called “Not The 9 O’Clock News” and then you continued to write all through the 80’s. What was it like to write material that would be in front of a national audience at such an early age?
I was extremely lucky because my best friend at university was Rowan Atkinson, who was a blinding genius. He was absolutely extraordinary. I remember the first time he appeared on stage when we were at university and you could see all the guys who worked in the theater there and were doing bland, boring productions of “The Duchess of Malfi” and “Richard II” and Howard Brenton plays, and just weep and shrink in the knowledge that they’d seen someone who would be famous and was already brilliant, and so I got this job on this terrible show really writing for Rowan and because of Rowan.
How hard was the transition from writing for television to writing your first feature, “The Tall Guy”?
There are two things. I was never allowed any emotion in any of the TV work that I did. I worked with slightly cold people only being funny… I had a huge amount of soppy stuff to get out of me by the time I was their age.
After “The Tall Guy” you wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and you have a producing credit on the film. Everything you’ve written since then you’ve been an executive producer. How much more involved were you in those films rather than just being the writer? Were you involved in casting decisions and present during shooting? How did that evolve?
I am the luckiest person in the history of the movies. And my experience is not very representative but I went with a group of people called Working Title, two producers, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner… And they seemed to agree with me that there was no point in anyone making these very personal films if I wasn’t allowed to express my opinion in every point of the process.
Was there a precedent for a film like “Four Weddings and a Funeral” in English cinema? It seems to me like it was the first of its kind.
I don’t know. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” is meant to be a romantic comedy. I’m sure it’s a romantic comedy but I didn’t know that. The films that were in my mind when I was writing it were “Diner,” a movie called “Breaking Away,” which is a cycling movie – you should see it, it’s a fantastic film – “Gregory’s Girl,” (1981), little, intimate, fun, Scottish movie about love at school, and then “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan,” so there weren’t many from the English side. But I thought I was writing a sort of semi-autobiographical comedy film with love as the plot center.
Which was the autobiographical bit?
So much of it is. Emma (Freud) over there (he pointed to a woman sitting on a couch) is the mother of my four children and we made the decision not to get married and then changed the ending of the movie so as to justify our decision to my mother. And she never liked the film but that also had to do with the swearing.
Which brings us to your new movie “About Time.” The movie is a time machine where you go back and fix it.
He only fixes a few things. One of the things I like about the film is that every time the two lovers meet they really like each other.
When you co-wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” was that a learning experience for you?
It didn’t break my rule because it was set in England but if it had been set on Mars I would still have said yes.
Is there a particularly striking example of an actor who took what you wrote and created something that far exceeded your dream of what that character would be?
Oh there are lots of examples. Bill Nighy’s performance in “Love Actually” was much better than I had in mind. And it was hilarious because I was trying to decide between two bits of stunt casting for that part. I had an idea of two actors I thought might be quite funny, both of them sort of famous in different areas. I never even told Bill… And I said to Mary Selway (the casting director) find me someone for the read through who I will definitely not cast in the part. And she said Bill and I said, “Oh yeah, I don’t want him, but I think he could be good but at least I won’t be tempted to cast him.” And then Bill came in and it was just perfect and we never auditioned anyone.
This post was written by :
Paula Schwartz is a veteran journalist who worked at the New York Times for three decades. For five years she was the Baguette for the New York Times movie awards blog Carpetbaggers. Before that she worked on the New York Times night life column, Boldface, where she covered the celebrity beat. She endured a poke in the ribs by Elijah Wood's publicist, was ejected from a party by Michael Douglas's flak after he didn't appreciate what she wrote, and endured numerous other indignities to get a story. More happily she interviewed major actors and directors - all of whom were good company and extremely kind- including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood, Christopher Plummer, Dustin Hoffman and the hammy pooch "Uggie" from "The Artist." Her idea of heaven is watching at least three movies in a row with an appreciative audience that's not texting. Her work has appeared in Moviemaker, more.com, showbiz411 and reelifewithjane.com.
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