Compiled by Jack Foley from an interview with Martyn Palmer
Q. Have you seen any of Love Actually?
A. Yes. I think it works fantastically well. As far as Im
aware, Richard as something like a 100 per cent strike rate with
everything he has done, and you just cant believe he has
pulled it off again with such an ambitious project.
Q. Although with Love Actually he had to step up a gear, directing
for the first time?
A. Yes, he did. I was first in on the schedule, it started
with three weeks of my stuff. And just before we left for France,
I had a panic attack on his behalf, and woke up in the middle
of the night. I actually thought how is he going to do this?
How will he cope? Hes 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
- limos, I was expecting bodyguards with ear pieces (laughs).
He could have taken any one of these stories and developed them
into a feature film on their own.
In fact, Im led to believe that they were all stories that
he had been toying with as full length stories. And its
as if he has put them all into one and left himself with a clean
Q. When did you first hear about it?
A. There were rumours about it before it became definite.
I remember, by January (2002), hearing about this thing because
there was a reading of the script which I had been invited to
participate in, but I wasnt able to be there.
There was quite a buzz about the existence of this thing for a
long time, and you know a lot of talk about it, who may or may
not be in it, and who may or may not play which part. I think
there was quite a lot of musical chairs in casting as there often
is. I knew they were umming and aahing about me, and
whether I was right for this, or right for that.
And I think it was well if Hugh is going to be the Prime
Minister, then perhaps Im not right for the Prime Ministers
brother in law, or something. And it wasnt until the Summer
sometime that they offered it to me.
Q. Did you talk it through with Richard at that point?
A. No, not very much I think it spoke for itself. I think
quite often, if you see something that needs a bit of work, then
you go into a period of debate. I just felt that its very
hard to question Richard really, when he has got it right so often.
You cant really bet against him.
Q. Why does he get it right so often?
A. I think he has done something which is very hard to do
in film and would have been deemed impossible had he not proved
otherwise, which is to write about middle class people.
Q. As the title suggests its a story about love, and
the English are often a little wary of that emotion too..
A. Yes. The story reflects different kinds of love. The dark
side of it is addressed, its not really a film about the
real guts of dysfunctional love and torture, its not that
sort of story. Its an optimistic film aimed, around Christmas
time, and it has that sort of leaning, but it doesnt ignore
the fact that love is painful. There is a scene between Liam Neeson
and his little boy, where the child has been locking himself in
his room and behaving strangely, and Liams character is
afraid that the boy is sick, or on drugs or something.
And it turns out that the boy says no; Im in love...
And the father says I thought it was something much worse
than that. And the boy says worse? What could be worse
than the total misery and agony of being in love? And you
cant really argue with that actually.
Q. Talk me through your character. He starts in a bad place...
A. He is a man who is rejected. That happens at the beginning
of the film; he is rejected by his lover and he has retreated
to the south of France. Hes gone away and my story feels
a bit to one side as a result of that, and, in fact, I had strong
suspicions that if they needed to cut anything, mine would be
the first to go (laughs). So Im in a cottage, in France,
writing my novel and licking my wounds and the cleaning lady,
who is Portuguese, and speaks no English, is my love interest.
A friendship develops and the comedy and pathos of the relationship
exists in the misunderstanding. Basically, you, the audience,
get to understand what I say, obviously, but she doesnt.
You get the subtitles of what she says, but, obviously, I dont
understand what she says. You understand everything but we dont
understand each other. And, actually, its a simple love
story within that convention.
Q. Your segment in France was the first to be filmed. What
was Richard like at that stage?
A. On a personal level, he was extremely upbeat, very cheerful
and he expressed enjoyment at the process, and he is far too intelligent
to pretend he knows things he doesnt, which is something
you do find with directors, quite understandably, when they are
They need to prove they have done their homework, and yet it is
very hard to have covered everything before you start.
Q. And its hard to admit that you havent..
A. Well quite. And you can probably do a multitude of films
and there is still a whole bunch of stuff you havent grasped.
I mean, you can say that from an acting point of view, its
the same thing - and Ive done 20, or so. Richard, on the
other hand, was very, very on top of it. I mean, he had clearly
done a massive, massive amount of homework. And, quite honestly,
a lot of what is required for the job he had down already.
He was already a formidable story teller. He has sat on film sets
and watched his work unfold and be adapted into another medium,
and I had worked with Richard, briefly. I had done a day on a
Blackadder film, and he was sat next to the camera and incredibly
hands on, in terms, of changing bits of dialogue cutting bits,
adding bits, and it would be very hard for anyone who has never
made a film before to have any more experience than that.
Q. I watched him on set and he is very relaxed and handles
people extremely well..
A. Yes, he does, I think that there was an awful lot he had
going for him. He is a very, very diplomatic man, and he has a
lot of qualities which help him just deal with people. Hes
had a lot of leadership experience.
For some people, the stresses of the job are terrible and however
much you are all mates, the director just cant smile anymore,
after a couple of weeks, because there is too much pressure. And
I never saw him get to that point. He was always buoyant, quick-witted,
approachable. Just like he always is.
Q. Its billed as a romantic comedy. But in a way there
is more to Love Actually than that. Would you agree?
A. Yes, I would. I think its a strange mixture this
one. Because I think a feel good movie implies escape, fairy tale
implies escape. 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, have jobs like ours.
And you know thats probably not every walk of society, he
is looking at urban, middle class people. I mean, he hasnt
crossed a lot of class barriers, or regional barriers, here, but
they are recognisable people and, I dont know, its
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
ones view of those problems. And theres nothing wrong