PS I Love You - Richard LaGravenese
Interview by Rob Carnevale
RICHARD LaGravenese about the inspiration for writing and directing P.S. I Love You, working with Hilary Swank for a second time and an on-set accident involving Gerard Butler’s suspender clip and Hilary Swank’s face!
Q. P.S. I Love You is the type of film that can provoke a different personal response from everyone that sees it. What was yours when you first came across the material?
Richard LaGravenese: I had lost a dear friend of mine, Ted Demme, and had gone through a similar experience to Holly [Hilary Swank’s character in the movie], of feeling him around and dreaming about him. So, there are a lot of little things of Ted that I put in there that only people who knew Ted will recognise. Gerry’s urn, for instance, is Ted’s urn and Gerry’s spirit is very much like Ted’s.
Q. This is your second film with Hilary Swank after Freedom Writers – does the relationship develop further each time? And which of the two films came first?
Richard LaGravenese: Well, Freedom Writers took six years to get made and the reason it did was Hilary. In between that I gave up at some point and got offered P.S. I Love You, so I wrote that, but then Hilary called and said she’d do Freedom Writers. That came right after she’d won her Oscar for Million Dollar Baby and it helped to make it happen. Then what happened, Molly Smith, one of the producers of P.S. I Love You – who is the daughter of Frederick W Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx – her eldest sister, who was 36-years-old, passed away. She read the novel and said she wanted to make the movie for her sister not knowing that a script had already been written, so she revived it right after we’d finished Freedom Writers.
Q. How did you respond to Hilary Swank’s injury from Gerard Butler’s flying suspender clip?
Richard LaGravenese: I couldn’t believe it. She’s played a boxer who gets paralysed, she’s played a boy-girl who gets raped and murdered, and she does this romance in New York and almost gets blinded! I felt so responsible. I was sick and Gerard felt so bad. He turned into this nine-year-old boy who did the wrong thing and was really upset about it. A couple of hours later, though, she called me and said: “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine. It was just an accident. I’ll be fine. I know you’re going to worry but I don’t want you to!” She totally took care of me, which meant that I was able to talk Gerard down. And amazingly, five days later she was back on set and she had a little Band-Aid which we worked into the shoot.
Q. What was it about Gerard Butler that appealed to you? Did you get him before 300?
Richard LaGravenese: I met him in September and 300 came out the following March. I’d seen him in Dear Frankie, which was such a lovely movie, and within the first five minutes of meeting him I knew he was Gerry [the character in the film] because he’s this totally masculine and very handsome Spartan, but he’s also this Peter Pan-ish, mischievous, devil-may-care little boy. So, he has this perfect combination that makes him so charming and I think that the character he plays in this film is more who Gerard Butler really is.
Q. Do you like writing letters?
Richard LaGravenese: I love email. I actually write a better email than I talk on the phone. But I don’t have stationary at home. If I did, I’d write letters because I’d be better at that.
Q. Was there ever a temptation to have an alternative ending?
Richard LaGravenese: Well, I didn’t want it to end like: “Now she finds another man and everything is set….” The point was to find herself and then maybe there’ll be many men – or just one. I never had an alternative ending. But the book ends that way as well – in a different setting and a different way – but the spirit of it remains the same.
Q. Was it a little remiss to have Harry Connick Jr in a film and give Gerard Butler three songs?
Richard LaGravenese: [Laughs] I know everybody sings but Harry! To be honest, I was a little embarrassed to ask him because I didn’t want him to think I’d given him the part because I wanted him to sing. I thought he was just great for the part. But on the last day of shooting he came on set and sat for half an hour at the piano and did a little set.
Q. Where would you take a true love for a trip yourself?
Richard LaGravenese: Oh boy, I love Ireland and Italy. We go every year. I’ve never been to Vienna or the Orient, though, if you’re talking about some place new.
Q. Will you be working with Hilary Swank again?
Richard LaGravenese: Absolutely, this type of a partnership is rare. We’re both doing something next during which time we’ll be apart and taking a break. But after that we have other ideas that we’re keen to develop… if she’ll have me!