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Love Actually - It’s absolutely incredible how you can sit through all of his films with a stupid grin on your face



Feature by: Jack Foley

FEW writers have displayed as big a flare for writing romantic comedy/drama in the past few years as Richard Curtis, so it is little wonder to find that stars were queuing up to appear in his latest, which also marks his first time as a director.

Love Actually is the romantic ‘event’ movie of the year, a star-studded, contemporary look at life and love in London, which is, by turns, funny, poignant, and downright fairytale.

A veritable who’s who of British stage, screen and TV stars contribute in some way, as do a couple of Hollywood’s bigger names, making it a must-see for any love-struck couple, or hopeless romantic, in the run-up to the Christmas festivities.

For starters, there’s Hugh Grant’s bachelor Prime Minister, who falls for his Cockney tea-lady (Martine McCutcheon), as well as Colin Firth’s jilted writer, who travels to the south of France in search of a break, only to fall for his Portuguese-speaking cleaner. And then there’s Keira Knightley’s blushing new bride, who finds herself in a bit of a love triangle, when it emerges that her husband’s best man (played by ex-Teachers star, Andrew Lincoln) is also in love with her.

All stories converge, in some way, to prove that, whatever else is happening in the world, and however bad the news seems, love, actually, is all around…

And it is tribute to Curtis’ skill as both writer and director that what could so easily have become a manipulative slush-fest emerges as a triumphantly feel good movie (with only the odd ‘pass the sickbag’ moment!).

It was this, as much as anything, which helped to attract two of Britain’s brightest stars - Colin Firth and Keira Knightley - to the project in the first place.

Knightley, especially, is full of praise for Curtis, stating that, ‘the thing about Richard, is that he makes feel good movies and makes them well - and that’s very difficult to do’.

"Because the thing about the feel good movie, is that it’s something they all try and do, and there is nothing more disgusting than a patronising feel good, smarmy movie, because you just think ‘my brain has been turned to mush and that was a disgusting experience...’," she continued.

"So, to be able to do it well is an amazing talent. There are very few who can do it, and Richard is at the top of that list, no question. It’s absolutely incredible how you can sit through all of his films with a stupid grin on your face, and you do - no matter if you come out and say ‘oh no its not my sort of thing, I’m very art house...’ you still smile at those films."

The same sentiment can be applied to Firth, who had previously appeared in Bridget Jones’ Diary, which Curtis had provided the screenplay for.

"This one, I think, takes a look at the kind of lives a lot of us lead. I mean, these are people who look like us, dress like us, and have jobs like ours…

"He hasn’t crossed a lot of class barriers, or regional barriers, here, but they are recognisable people and it’s as if he has sprinkled magic dust over it all, or something. Just to give it all a lift, and give an optimistic take on some of the more stressful and distressing aspects of our lives.

"He is not solving the problems of the entire world, but the kind of general love difficulties which a lot of people have; the kind of things, in real life, we lose our sense of humour about.

"This film rekindles the humour, and it can kind of help to lighten one’s view of those problems. And there’s nothing wrong with that."

Yet given the writer’s track record for getting romance right, did Firth notice any additional pressures being placed upon Curtis, as he went behind the camera for the first time?

"Well, actually, just before we left for France, to shoot my segment, I had a panic attack on his behalf, and woke up in the middle of the night," he confessed. "I actually thought, ‘how is he going to do this? How will he cope?’ He’s got ten or 15 stories, some very famous actors, and he is going to jump in for the first time in his life and orchestrate all of that.

"It seemed to be an absolutely overwhelming task and the read through seemed like a premier, or a night at the Groucho Club, or something... He could have taken any one of these stories and developed them into a feature film on their own.

"In fact, I’m led to believe that they were all stories that he had been toying with as full length stories. And it’s as if he has put them all into one, and left himself with a clean slate."

Curtis, it seems, continues to possess the Midas touch, or even the accuracy of Eros, when it comes to translating love to film.

And for Knightley, the experience is one of her most memorable to date, despite being one of Hollywood’s hottest prospects, off the back of her star-making turn alongside Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, in this Summer’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

"It was really exciting to get the chance to work with two people [Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andrew Lincoln] I admired so much… It was lovely costumes, lovely hair and lovely make up - and no corsets, which was nice!"

Yet even she confessed to becoming very nervous for the read-through, which was conducted at a hall, in Notting Hill, with all of the cast sometime before shooting commenced.

"I’ve done read throughs before, with Johnny Depp, and that wasn’t terrifying. But there were, like, 50 people sitting around this huge table. It was astonishing," she recalled.

"You looked up and there was Hugh Grant, over there is Alan Rickman. Oh there’s Liam Neeson, there’s Emma Thompson. I mean, come on, can you blame me for being nervous?

"I mean, just the fact that all of those people turned up for this read through shows how much respect they have for Richard. It was huge, and, at the end of it, I was like ‘ah! I can’t handle this!’ And I ran away, I got out of there as fast as I could."

Love Actually opens on November 21 and looks set to become another huge hit for Curtis and co...

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