Throughout his career, filmmaker Paul Feig has made immeasurable contributions to the comedy world with the ways in which he takes seemingly familiar premises and injects them with fresh perspectives to entirely reinvent what can be accomplished within a genre. Dating back to his coming-of-age TV series Freaks and Geeks and up through films like Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy, and A Simple Favor, Feig refuses to limit his ambitions to only one arena, regularly putting his own unique spin on familiar formulas to create wholly original experiences. With his latest film, Last Christmas, Feig offers a reinvention of expectations of his work by delivering an authentic romantic comedy that delivers everything fans of the genre want from such a film, and more.
Kate (Emilia Clarke) harumphs around London, a bundle of bad decisions accompanied by the jangle of bells on her shoes, another irritating consequence from her job as an elf in a year-round Christmas shop. Tom (Henry Golding) seems too good to be true when he walks into her life and starts to see through so many of Kate's barriers. As London transforms into the most wonderful time of the year, nothing should work for these two. But sometimes, you gotta let the snow fall where it may, you gotta listen to your heart... and you gotta have faith.
ComicBook.com caught up with Feig to discuss developing the film, the casting process, and his reaction to the film's unexpected finale.
Header photo courtesy of Samir Hussein/WireImage/GettyImages
ComicBook.com: With many of the films in your career, you've taken a familiar genre, like action with Spy or the murder-mystery with A Simple Favor, and put your own spin on them to create unexpected comedic adventures, while Last Christmas is a much more straightforward entry into the romantic comedy genre. Were there specific influences of quintessential romantic comedies you kept in mind when developing the film?
Paul Feig: Well, it's a good question. Thank you for all that. This was such a unique story, when I read the script that Emma [Thompson] sent me for the first time, it didn't hit a lot of the things [other romantic comedies do]. Like, my favorite romantic comedies are everything from Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday, these screwball comedies, What's Up, Doc?, and When Harry Met Sally and Annie Hall and all those ones, which all have a very unique voices to them. Some are very big and raw and physical, with the screwball ones in particular, like What's Up, Doc?. And then others are a little more character-based. Everything's character-based, obviously, because that's really all you have in any movie.
For me, I'm not one of these people that, when I'm making a movie, goes and watches all the movies from that genre to get ideas. It's almost like the minute I find something, I cut myself off from everything out there. Obviously what I've seen in the past is in my head, and so you can't erase that, but at the same time, I never want to come and try to copy anything that's been done and I just let the script and the characters and the story guide me along.
And so this one, what I loved, it was a very emotional script. I also loved that the character of Kate that Emilia played was very challenging. It was not a standard lovable character right out of the gate. She was somebody who was really lashing out and making mistakes and not behaving the way that audiences might want their leading person to behave. But I liked that. That was what I really responded to with it.
I saw that there's definitely room for comedy in there to have fun with it, but at the same time, it's such an emotional story with so many heavy themes underneath it, that it wasn't going to be like Spy or Bridesmaids where it's just so much hard comedy in it. It felt like that would step on the emotion and the journey of these characters. But, that said, we were able to find so much comedy just in some of the situations, and then with Emma's character of the mother, and with Michelle Yeoh and her relationship with Kate at the store, with Santa and Kate.
It was really just letting this story, this great story and great script that Emma Thompson came up with, be the most effective on the screen and just feeling it out. I always come into everything on the set, no matter how big the comedy is, and just saying, "What feels real or what feels like it would happen?" Even if it might be coming from a very extreme character making extreme choices, but do I believe that that extreme person would really be doing this, whatever they're doing, in that moment on the screen?
That's more my judge when I'm making a movie than an overarching rule, because, also, when I'm shooting I like to get different tones and different levels of performance for each scene because when I string it together, sometimes I'll find I might need a much more energetic scene, or I'll find I need a much less energetic scene. And what I never want to do is go into the editing room not having something I need. That's why, more than anything, I don't even really rehearse. I just start shooting, and whatever the actor's first instinct is, I've got that. Then I move them through, take after take, slowly towards what I think I want, and when I get to the editing room I've got this whole myriad of performance that I usually end up going closer to what the actor's original instincts were than what I thought I wanted. Because they take it and make it their own and make it real.prevnext
Late in the film, Kate has a revelation that seemingly comes out of nowhere and fundamentally changes everything about the movie. What was your first reaction to reading this twist in the script?
Emma sent it to me, it was just literally like, "Hey, I wrote this script. I think we'd have a lot of fun doing it together. Give it a read." I knew nothing about it at all. So when I hit the twist, I was loving the script anyway. The minute I hit that, first of all, I couldn't even see straight. I was just so emotional about it. All the pages after it were just like a blur, because I was going, "Oh, my God." But that put me over the top. That's when I went, "This is special. This is something I want to tell."
Because, again, you don't want to give anything away, but I just liked that it's about a woman taking the power back in her life and having this twist. You go, "Oh gosh, she's done this herself." And that was more important to me and definitely important to Emma than any kind of like "they ride happily off into the sunset" type of ending, because she rides happily off into the sunset in a much better place than she was, and ready to move on with her life and then start making better decisions. I'm always looking for the stories that empower my lead character utmost.prevnext
As a Game of Thrones fan, I was angry to see that Emilia was not only a strong dramatic performer, but in this, she's just as talented as a quirky physical comedian, with all of her talents just feeling unfair. Did you always have her in mind for the role? What was the casting process like?
Well, I mean I had in a way that same kind of discovery that you had, but it happened much earlier. It was about four years ago now. We had a general meeting with Emilia 'cause she was in town, and I was told, "You know it should be Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones, because you know her from Broadway in this place, she's getting amazing reviews, and you know her from that." And I was just a fan of hers from Game of Thrones.
She came in and I kind of expected her to be Khaleesi, weirdly, which was such a weird thing for somebody who's been in the business and knows that actors act, I just thought, "Oh, she's going to be very stoic and serious." She comes in, and she was just so much fun and we were just laughing the whole time. And I was completely enchanted with just how funny she was. When she left, I remember saying to my producing partner, just going like, "You got to get her in a comedy."
There was a script I was writing at the time and I was switching one of the characters so she could play one of the roles, but then I was never really happy with the script itself. I never really finished it or pursued it, but she always just stuck in my head, so when I read the script, she was really the first person that popped into my head. And then, fortunately, when we got a list of actresses from the studio who they said they would approve to be the lead in the movie, Emilia was on the list. So I was just like, "Oh my God, it's got to be Emilia."
I immediately set up a lunch with her and it just reinforced everything that I had already thought. And fortunately, I had heard that she'd read it and wanted to do it. A great discovery for me with her. But then Henry and Michelle are friends, and Emma too. And so I had just done Simple Favor with Henry and, really, when I read this, I was like, "Oh, this is the Henry I know in real life." I really wanted to get him the role, but Crazy Rich Asians hadn't opened yet, and so I had to bide my time with the studio until it did open just so I could go like, "Oh yeah, you know that guy who was the star of that big mega-hit movie? Well, you know I can get him for this movie." And so that worked out great.
Then Michelle Yeoh I met because of Henry, because when we were doing Simple Favor, she was shooting Star Trek in Toronto, and he called me one night and said, "Hey, you want to have dinner with Michelle Yeoh?" And I was like, "What? Michelle Yeoh exists?" I just thought, I've been such a fan for so long that you just assume somebody from these amazing Hong Kong films, just you'd never get to meet them in a million years, and suddenly I'm having dinner with her. And we had so much fun from the get-go and she was another person you go like, "Oh my God, you're so funny." I really got to get a dream cast for this, of all of these people that I knew could kill it, and even if some of them didn't know they could.
Michelle kept going, "I'm not funny. I'm not funny." It's like, "Well, I hate to tell you, but you are." And so she just came on and then crushed it, so it was great. I really got my dream cast, and then we got to discover people that I didn't know for a lot of the supporting roles.prevnext
George Michael Backbone
Obviously the title of the film is a reference to the popular Wham! song, though there are many other ways in which George Michael was woven into the plot. Can you talk about using incorporating those musical influences? Are there other artists or musical groups you could see crafting a film around?
I don't know. Every once in a while, you go, "Oh my God, that'd be so cool to do something about them." Like, it'd be cool to do like an AC/DC biopic, just because I loved their music and their lives are so crazy. But at the same time, I don't know. For this one, it just seemed like the perfect thing to do. All my movies tend to have a theme to them musically. If you look at Simple Favor with the '60s French pop, I just like something to unify things. But then, that said, I don't know how much I'd want to do something again where I have to stay so much on one artist. It was just that George Michael's music was just too perfect for this, and his DNA seemed so hardwired into the story itself just because it was so loosely based on "Last Christmas."
Really, it was the moment I found the song "Heal the Pain." Honestly, the movie could be called "Heal the Pain," because that was the song that put me over the top where I was like, "Holy sh-t, this is the movie." The lyrics of this song are the movie. That's why it creeps up three times in the film, twice with our main characters singing it, and then once playing it on the soundtrack, then it just grew from there.
We went into production with five songs already hardwired into the movie that they're either going to be singing or I knew, for the ice skating, I knew I wanted them having that skating date to "Praying for Time" just because I liked how much of a second layer that had. Everybody assumes you're just going to put some kind of romantic song in there, but I liked that that's a very dark song that is talking about how everybody's running out of time, which fits the story. I let the movie, either the script or as I'm shooting the movie, start to dictate to me what it wants as a sound, and George was just too perfect for this one.
And since this film has literal interpretations of lyrics to "Last Christmas," I hope a sequel leans into the "once bitten and twice shy" lyric and we get some vampires.
That's really good. "Tom's Revenge."
Last Christmas is currently available Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD.prev