By Michele Yeo
Since its release nearly two decades ago, Love Actually has become a Christmas classic. Written and directed by British screenwriter Richard Curtis, the movie tells the interconnected stories of several Brits, all chasing, finding, struggling to maintain, or coping with the loss of love in the lead up to Christmas. Sure, the film has received its fair share of (frankly, well-deserved) criticism in the subsequent years, like the body shaming of the totally regular-sized Natalie, and of course there’s that storyline of Colin Firth’s character falling in love with a Portuguese woman who doesn’t speak English and with whom he’s never had conversation because, apparently a silent woman is an ideal one? And let’s not forget the storyline involving the man creepily filming his best friend’s wife at their wedding and then later showing up at their home with a bunch of signs declaring his unrequited love for her which is passed off as some sort of grand, romantic gesture instead of the totally douchebag move that it is. But love it or loathe it, there’s no denying the enduring appeal of the movie and its cemented status as a movie fans revisit every year with other classics like Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, Scrooged, and many others. Last night, Diane Sawyer and ABC caught up with several members of the cast in honour of its 20th anniversary to revisit the film. Here are 10 revelations from the anniversary special.
Alan Rickman’s frustration with Rowan Atkinson was real
In a pivotal scene, the late great Alan Rickman’s character Harry is at the mall purchasing a necklace for a woman who is not his wife Karen played by Emma Thompson. He is eager to have the present gift-wrapped before his wife meets back up with him. A salesperson, played by Rowan Atkinson, takes an excruciatingly long time, putting Harry at risk of getting caught. Turns out, there wasn’t much acting going on in that scene, by Alan Rickman, anyway. Writer/director Richard Curtis says Alan’s frustration was very real. “It was 3am and Rowan was just taking his time,” he explains in the anniversary special, “he would do 11-minute takes,” something Alan, at that hour of the day, did not appreciate.
One of the weakest storylines was originally a fave for Richard Curtis
The story of Colin, a British bachelor who decides to move to the United States after continuously striking out with women on his side of the pond can easily be viewed as one of the movie’s weakest storylines. The goofy Colin arrives in a snowy Wisconsin in the cold dead of winter and, eyerollingly, is immediately welcomed by a bevy of hot babes. Surprisingly, this plot was actually an early favourite of Richard Curtis. He later had a change of heart admitting, “that’s a terrible story I don’t know what I was doing there.”
Hugh Grant hated that famous dance scene. Like, REALLY hated it
One of the most famous scenes in Love Actually features the newly-elected British Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, dancing around 10 Downing Street bolstered with newfound confidence after having stood up to the American President, creepily played by Billy Bob Thornton. Hugh sashays his way around the residence to Jump (For My Love) by The Pointer Sisters. It’s one of the scenes most associated with the movie and has been copied countlessly on social media. But, for Hugh Grant, as he recalled in the anniversary special, it was his own personal nightmare come to life. “I saw it in the script and I thought, well, I’ll hate doing that,” he revealed. And Hugh did his best to get out of doing the scene. “Oh he was grumpy,” recalled Richard Curtis. “He was grumpy but he knew it was a contractual obligation.” And if you’re wondering if Hugh Grant’s reputation as a curmudgeon is exaggerated, Richard, Emma Thompson and Hugh himself confirmed it to be true during the special. “Hugh finds everyone annoying,” revealed Emma, “literally there’s no one who hasn’t annoyed him.” Hugh affirmed the accusation saying, “I’m not just miserable myself. I like to make everyone around me equally miserable if I can.” If you think time and the benefit of hindsight has softened Hugh’s opinion of the dancing scene? The answer is no . “To this day, there are many people who think it’s the most excruciating scene ever committed to celluloid,” he told the special.
Richard Curtis credits Hugh Grant with his career
Despite Hugh being “grumpy” about the dancing scene, there are no hard feelings between him and Richard. In fact, the filmmaker credits the actor with his career. The pair had previously worked together on Richard’s breakout, 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral and again in 1999’s Notting Hill, both films Richard Curtis wrote. He called upon Hugh again when it was time to cast his directorial debut, Love Actually. “He’s my luckiest break,” he told the special. “I don’t even know if I’d have a film career without Hugh so I’m very grateful he came along.”
The brother/sister storyline was based on real life
Throughout the beginning portion of Love Actually, we see Laura Linney’s character Sarah pining for her coworker Karl played by Rodrigo Santoro. The two come close to pairing up, but Sarah keeps getting interrupted by calls from her brother Michael who suffers from a mental illness. It quickly becomes evident to Karl that Sarah probably doesn’t have the capacity or the bandwidth for him in her life. Richard Curtis borrowed a bit from his own real life for that storyline, having a sister who suffers from mental illness. He told the special, “one of my daily experiences is dealing with mental illness in the family so it was kind of a duty but also it’s such a profound version of love.”
That iconic Emma Thompson scene amazed Richard Curtis, too
One of the most enduring scenes from Love Actually features Emma Thompson’s character Karen, having previously found the aforementioned necklace in her husband’s Harry’s coat pocket, opening her Christmas gift expecting the necklace. But instead, inside the box is a Joni Mitchell CD at which point Karen comes to the heartbreaking realization the piece of jewelry was not, in fact, intended for her. Karen excuses herself from her husband and young children to silently weep in her bedroom before quickly collecting herself, putting on a brave face, and rushing everyone out the door to the kids’ Christmas concert. Emma’s acting in the scene is a masterclass, a punch to the gut, made even more emotional when you realize she channeled her own real-life heartbreak for the scene, having previously revealed she reminded herself of what it was like when her first marriage to Kenneth Branagh fell apart in 1995 due to his infidelity. Audiences weren’t the only ones captivated by Emma’s acting in that scene. Richard Curtis was equally blown away. “I handed it over to two of my two of my favourite women in history, Joni Mitchell and Emma Thompson and let them do their work,” he told the special. “It is one of the few times in my life where I’ve been in the company of genius.”
Two cast members were dealing with real life heartbreak on set
Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro were also able to tap into their real lives while filming Love Actually. Laura revealed in the anniversary special that both she and Rodrigo were “broken-hearted when we made this movie,” each having recently undergone a painful breakup. “There was real, legitimate heartache in that movie,” she said. The pair tried to ease each other’s sorrow on set with Laura saying, “Guess what we get to do all day long, we get to make each other feel better.”
The Christmas concert crowd was made up of real people
Many characters and their interlinked but separate stories come together at a school Christmas concert which culminates in a curtain falling revealing the Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, in an embrace with Natalie, an employee with whom he has fallen in love. The reveal is met with many stunned and shocked looks from the audience and turns out, many of those were genuine. Martine McCutcheon, who played Natalie, revealed in the special that the audience was full of regular people who hadn’t been warned about what to expect. “The shock when they opened the curtain for the first time and saw us kissing, their reactions were amazing and it just felt magical.”
The cast wasn’t confident the movie would be a hit
While there’s no denying Love Actually went on to become a hit and a movie its fans revisit and rewatch every Christmas, some members of the cast weren’t always so certain of its success. Emma Thompson recalled her reaction seeing the movie for the first time at its London premiere “I sat there watching and thinking ‘wow, this is kind of out there isn’t it?'” She recalled Hugh Grant being even more pessimistic that night saying to her, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this not the most psychotic thing we’ve ever been in?”
Richard Curtis is aware parts of the movie haven’t aged well
Love Actually, as outlined in the intro to this list, isn’t without its problems. Several pieces have been written about how this problematic fave isn’t the heartwarming romcom it thinks it is. And writer/director Richard Curtis doesn’t disagree that certain parts of his film haven’t aged particularly well, telling the special, “there are things you’d change but thank God society is changing,” adding, “my film is bound, in some moments, to feel out of date.” Pointing specifically to storylines where men in positions of power had relationships with their employees or inferiors as well as the heteronormative nature of the movie, the filmmaker admitted there are parts of the movie that make him “wince” adding “there’s things about the film, the lack of diversity that make me feel uncomfortable and a bit stupid.”