“Love Actually” and “Pirate Radio,” writer-director Richard Curtis, who also wrote the rom-coms “Notting Hill” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” among other movies, said Monday night at the New York Film Festival screening of his new film “About Time,” that this film was his swan song as a director.
“About Time” is a dramedy starring Rachel McAdams, Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy. The film is about an eccentric English family from Cornwall where father and son (Nighy and Gleeson) have the ability to time travel, although there are restrictions: for example, if you time travel after the birth of your child, you then risk having a different child when you return to the present. (This is too complicated to explain.)
“I do mean that,” Curtis told Kent Jones, the director of programming for the festival, during a Q&A following the screening when Jones asked if he was thinking of “maybe not directing anymore.”
“How many times has Steven Soderbergh retired? So we’ll have to see,” Curtis cracked.
On the red carpet, Curtis said he decided to quit directing after a walk on the beach with Bill Nighy, which later inspired a moment in the film. “There’s a big scene on the beach, and I was thinking how the next time we’re on the beach how much fun it would be to not have people watch us,” Curtis told me, “Where you’ve got five minutes and no one saying, ‘Bill your hair isn’t right.’ I’m actually trying to put into practice the message of the movie.”
Photos from the screening and after-party by Paula Schwartz. Click for larger views and sharing options.
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Curtis said he would probably keep on writing. Some other nuggets I learned on the red carpet were that he didn’t write “Notting Hill” with Julia Roberts or any other actress in mind, except for possibly Audrey Hepburn, who would have been too old and had already died by then anyway. Julia Roberts was eventually cast. Then he wanted to cast an unknown in the part that eventually went to Hugh Grant.
The affable director is a prolific writer, producing 30 pages a day. “Its just people talking to each other,” he told me. “And then I edit it a lot. ‘Notting Hill’ I wrote for 300 days and if I’d actually been more careful, it should have only taken me four.”
As to what inspired him to do a movie about time travel, he said the real inspiration for the film was that “we should relish every normal day of our lives. I thought in order to say something so simple, I’m going to have to create a guy who can go anywhere, who’s got the whole paraphernalia of time travel, and if that person concluded that the most wonderful thing was simply a normal day with your kids and your friends and the people you love, then that might be a story.”
Curtis praised Rachel McAdams, who he has never worked with before. (She was not at the screening,) “I have asked her to do things before, though,” he told me. “She’s one of my great heroes. I think she’s the most extraordinary actress. She makes me feel my lines are unnecessary because she so epitomizes the mood of a scene from the very beginning of the day,” he said. “The first time she does it, you know you’ve got it, whereas with many other actresses, I’ve thought, well until they say exactly what I want, I’m not sure we’re there, but with Rachel, you know you’ve got it straight away.”
Next up for Curtis is an adaptation of “Esio Trot,” based on the Roald Dahl book, for the BBC. It stars Dustin Hoffman as a retired bachelor who has a crush on his neighbor, played by Judi Dench. (The director is Dearbhla Walsh, who received an Emmy in 2008 for “Little Dorrit”). Curtis said he hoped it would begin production in the spring. So can we expect some love scenes between Hoffman and Dench? “They’re going to be wooing,” he told me.
Meanwhile, Bill Nighy, who played the aging but sexually languid rock star in the 2003 Curtis hit comedy “Love Actually,” told me that film “changed my working life.” It also made him into a sex symbol for women of a certain age. (During the Q&A, a woman asked him if he was married. “Wow! It’s been a while since anyone asked me that,” Nighy replied. “You’ve made an old man happy. Can you meet me in about an hour?” he joked.)
Back on the red carpet, he told me he relished playing a father role for a change. “It’s refreshing for me anyway that I get to play somebody who’s just a very nice man. He’s like everybody’s dad.” With one exception, I said, he can time travel. “I do have that small advantage maybe. I don’t know if it’s an advantage,” Nighy said.
“As Richard said, it’s a kind of anti-time travel movie because the suggestion really is that in the end, if you could time travel, don’t do it. Just make the most of what’s around you.”
As to whether that is anything in his past he’d like to change, he told me, “I wish I didn’t smoke ever in my life. There are a few hairstyles I probably would go back and do something about, a few pairs of trousers I might change. But I mean where would you start? There’s so much I would want to change. You can’t go back beyond the birth of your child so I wouldn’t want to go back any farther than that because you’d get a different child, so I don’t want to change my daughter,” who is 29 year-old actress Mary Nighy.
Next up for the much-in-demand actor is a starring role in “Turks & Caicos,” a trilogy of films written and directed by David Hare for the small screen. “And I worked with one of my American acting heroes, Christopher Walken, so I had a great time working with him and Winona Ryder who’s also incredibly good value,” Nighy said. “She’s wonderful, she’s absolutely wonderful. I’m a spy.”
The suddenly very hot Domhnall – pronounced dough-nell – Gleeson, son of great Irish actor Brendan, is going to be a big star. He usually plays nebbishy types on screen.
“I think true love is worth fighting for, and I think my guys normally have to fight pretty hard for it,” he laughed. His career has just taken off with an upcoming starring role in “Unbroken,” Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort, about Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who is a prisoner of war held by the Japanese during World War II.
The movie is based on the Laura Hillenbrand book. Gleeson plays Russell Allen Phillips, a respected pilot and hero. He told me the film begins shooting in two to three weeks.
“I’m playing a pretty outstanding man, and all I can do for my bit of the film is try and do a little bit of justice and try and keep it entertaining,” he said. “What an incredible crew and incredible pack working together, so I’m hoping it will be fun and I’m hoping that we tell a story well.”
As for what he would go back and change if he could time travel, he told me, “There’s always stuff you think about, but at the moment I’m more focused on the future than the past, so I’m at a place where I can look forward to the future so maybe it’s not worth changing the past.”
The afterparty for “About Time” was at the swanky Porter House Restaurant in Columbus Circle. Revelers dined on lamb chops, filet mignon and salmon, sipping champagne until well after midnight.