‘Love Actually’ is all around: EW’s oral history of the rom-com classic

I think you can see it in the scene after I do my Snoopy dance in   the doorway: two injured people finding each other. Obviously, this is the only movie in history where he’d have to walk past a picture of Benjamin Disraili. Universal
Time After Time
CURTIS: Love Actually   was a relative joy to make but an unbelievably difficult edit. I had an accessible kind of fame. In a normal movie, someone comes into the bank, robs it, and then they go away. NEESON: Someone recently said to me that Emma and I should have gotten together at the end of the film. I was beside-myself happy. And he’s got a huge, big heart. I had worked with Liam before. I said to Hugh, “Please bend your knees and brace yourself when I jump on you. I didn’t have facial hair or wrinkles back then — and I wasn’t starring on a zombie TV show. And   there was this very pregnant, beautiful woman pushing a pram. I really need to take a look. He was one of the great guys in our industry and just a wonderful man. And she did it perfectly all nine times. But the day I was sitting there and watching all these people walk into the room, all my heroes and idols and reference points for me in my life, that’s when I realized it was real. But I said, “Wouldn’t it be great to have only the best scenes, instead of having to trudge through the other stuff?” So this was a chance to do the 30 best scenes from ten   movies instead of one movie with three good scenes. “I don’t think any of us expected it to become a phenomenon,” says Keira Knightley, one of several actors, along with Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who became stars in the film’s wake. I already knew after reading the script who the cast was. But then I got older and   I loved shaking a leg and being a rock idiot because it was so ironic. But I kept saying to Richard, “Are you sure I’m not going to come off as a creepy stalker?”
CURTIS: Retrospectively, I’m aware that Andrew’s role was on the edge. LINNEY:   They were originally looking for a full British cast and Richard   kept telling his partner Emma [Freud], “To play Sarah, I’m looking for someone like Laura Linney.” And Emma   finally said, “Why don’t you just f—ing ask her?”
LINCOLN: I’ve joked that it was really lazy casting by Richard Curtis, because [he and Love Actually‘s   producers]   all came to see Bill Nighy, Chiwetel, and myself onstage in an incredible play by Joe Penhall called Blue/Orange. CURTIS: It was my first directing go. Colin and I did a movie last year. Just at the point where they might be convinced that I knew what I was doing, then a   week later I was gone. They are   extremely excited to meet me   and ask questions. Some have gotten divorced. And you hear Hugh Grant’s voice saying that on Sept. We shot the scene with Emma weeping in the bedroom nine times, three times at each size: three close-ups, three middle shots, three wide. Is that Colin Firth?”
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY [Juliet]: I remember doing the read-through, with everyone sitting around the table. Billy Mack was familiar to me. NEESON: It’s 14 years ago now and we’ve all lived lives. A class act. It was traumatic. Ah, he’s so f—ing great in it. In fact, mixed reviews and ho-hum box office in the U.S. But then we did a read-though and he got a laugh from every single line. meant it took a couple of years (thanks to DVD sales and holiday TV airings) before the film acquired modern   rom-com   classic status. CURTIS:   See, this is the reason why you hire a brilliant, serious actress for a lighter-tone movie. I defy anyone to switch off. “Oh, hello, Hugh Grant. You can see the mini-sequel   Red Nose Day Actually on May 25 on NBC.)
Mitch Jenkins for EW
At First Sight  
RICHARD CURTIS [writer-director]:   Two of the stories, the Hugh Grant story and the Colin Firth story, I had started to work on as whole films. I just had to hold cards and be in love with Keira Knightley. McCUTCHEON: Hugh has a really naughty sense of humor. I had so many opinions about absolutely everything, so I decided at a certain age it would just be safer for me to direct it myself. LINNEY:   But I’ve loved the relationships I made thanks to Love Actually. 11, “all the messages were messages of love.” You’re grabbed immediately by that. CURTIS:   For the Billy Mack role I had two people in mind, one a famous comedian and the other a famous rock star. Show Full Article Every single line. [The “y” in Nighy is silent.]

McCUTCHEON:   I remember Emma Thompson invited me into her trailer to have lunch and she said, “You do know that not all films are like this?” So I kept pinching myself. That is all, all, all Emma. And it’s not even mine. LINCOLN: I was screen-tested a lot, and I think it was decided that I looked quite innocent. Some of us have died. But we   both got to make each other feel better all day long. Rodrigo Santoro is   on Westworld. “But it took on this wonderful following and now it’s almost bigger in America than anywhere else.”
EW caught up with Curtis and many in his cast for a lovely, lively look back at a movie that its fans know by heart. NIGHY: It turned out that all those years of reading New Musical Express, Rolling Stone, and Melody Maker counted for something. And now it doesn’t work so well. I think the house burned down shortly afterwards. Hi, Alan Rickman. It was like one of those Merrie Melodies cartoons featuring all the famous characters. [Natasha Richardson died after a skiing accident in 2009.] And, oh, sure, plenty of times I’ve thought about this film and my own life. CURTIS:   Hugh and I had many arguments about him being prime ministerial. Hi, Liam Neeson. You’re Richard.”
CURTIS: Me? Huge. I gave all the random   footage to Emma [Freud, Curtis’ partner]   and asked,   “Will you just knock that into some kind of shape?” We never changed her editing. He used to play acidic, left-wing characters and there was something vinegary about him that wouldn’t be right for the film. In the film’s most heartbreaking scene, Karen (Emma Thompson) discovers on Christmas Eve that a necklace bought by her husband (Alan Rickman) has been given to another woman. This story originally appeared in Entertainment Weekly’s Untold Stories issue, available to buy right here. I don’t want to kill you on my first day.”
FIRTH: It was a bit tricky filming in the pond because I think it was only about three   feet deep. People are so affectionate   about old rockers — and me doing lively gyrations in front of beautiful women was so ironic and so stupid that it was enjoyable. The water was pretty foul and I emerged with a mysterious and immense swelling on my elbow. Martin Freeman is on Sherlock. I was driven to the nearest doctor but no one ever figured out what it was. It was so delightful to see her. I’ve done several films with children and I just love acting with them. Chiwetel, of course, my God, did you see him in   12 Years a Slave? “I was such a great fan of Pulp Fiction, Robert Altman’s films, Woody Allen’s films,” he tells EW. All   because of Love Actually. NEESON: In the first minute of the film, you see real people in the airport, these lovely anonymous faces, all happy to see each other. I didn’t look as, well, creepy as I do now. That was the effect that the film had. It was so powerful. We’d both recently been through terrible relationships and were bemoaning that moment in our lives. I don’t know about that. But afterwards, I noticed people felt more trepidation about approaching me. [Laughs]
LINCOLN: In one of the most romantic movies of all time, I got to play the only guy who doesn’t get the girl. I was so terrifically moved by that song, especially by the fact that it was written   by a 23-year-old yet is so suitable for a woman who’s had the whole of life’s experience. “Those movies with multiple storylines that crisscross each other.” That template hadn’t really been applied to the romantic-comedy genre — until Love Actually. So since I’d   shown interest they ended up letting me play Daniel. She was just a pedestrian on the bridge, she wasn’t an extra. The usual sensitivity and delicacy, which I obviously didn’t agree with. Billy Bob Thornton [who played the U.S. But in this movie, anything could come after anything. The producer Duncan Kenworthy kept yelling, “Down with the guitar!”
NEESON:   We were doing our little scene, walking and   talking, on the Millennium Bridge. Richard’s girlfriend [script editor Emma Freud] came up to me and said, “You realize who you’re playing? I’ve cast him in everything I’ve directed since. Hi, Emma Thompson. I used to be able to tell you the bass player in every band on earth. NEESON:   Thomas [Brodie-Sangster] and I felt like we were the stars of the film. But then Richard left us and made another whole movie with Hugh, with Emma, with Bill Nighy. I’d seen Bill Nighy   a few times onstage and found him not really to my taste. I’ve lost my wife. CURTIS:   It was a bit nerve-wracking for me as a first-time director because no actor could get used to me. And look at how Emma touches her palms to her face and how she taps the bed. In 1995, Four Weddings and a Funeral lost the Best Original Screenplay Oscar to Pulp Fiction. president had Angelina Jolie’s name carved on his arm. I’d go to interviews and I couldn’t work out the vibe because suddenly they were persuading me to be things, rather than me pretending not to beg. And Billy Bob was going [in his Southern accent], “Oh my Gahd, Hugh, I dun’t laake this.”
CURTIS:   I quite enjoyed knowing that the U.S. We’re just acting like we’re not.”
LÚCIA   MONIZ [Aurélia]: There was a   feeling of you have to see this to believe this. She receives a Joni Mitchell CD instead. It was a huge moment in my career, doing the play with those guys. NEESON: Richard did a lot of research by watching his favorite movies. You mean, obsessively in love and unable to express it so well? The movie, with eight intertwined stories, was not a populist slam dunk. The first scene we ever filmed was actually the airport scene at the end. Andrew Lincoln is on The Walking Dead. president] hates antiques, and Hugh was constantly pointing at pieces that were 500 years old. I recall the whole area where we filmed was a fire risk and we were surrounded by firefighters throughout. And the wonderful Alan Rickman said to me, “We all are, darling. Wow. But yeah, I don’t know, maybe we should have. KNIGHTLEY: Oh, Saturday Night Live did a parody of that? (For much more on the film’s Red Nose Day reunion,   click here. Nick Briggs
For more revelations from the past four decades of entertainment, visit   ew.com/untoldstories. As she passed me she said, “Liam, don’t you remember me?” And I’m thinking, “Was this some   night of passion that I’ve forgotten all about?” Anyway, it was Katrine Boorman, who was in my first film Excalibur. But my bum kept floating up. I went out in the street and called my mum and said, “This is unbelievable.”
MARTINE McCUTCHEON [Natalie]: I was so nervous at the first read-through. LINCOLN:   The one great sadness is obviously Alan not being around. I’ve always described it as three-dimensional chess. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and die. I’d be having lunch with my mother and daughter and someone   comes up to us to say hello. Alan Rickman and I became really good friends and he was as much of a mentor in my career as anyone. For [screenwriting projects] Bridget Jones’s Diary and Notting Hill, I’d been on set and I thought I’d be killed by the next director because I was so annoying. Now, of course, I can’t imagine anyone else   other than Alan. McCUTCHEON: Before Love Actually, my fans felt like I was their friend. My experience of an airport is normally putting my head down and running out of it as fast as I can. I think they’d cast my old friend James Nesbitt in the part   but   he had a conflict of dates. Everett Collection
COLIN FIRTH [Jamie]: I seem to remember Richard Curtis wondering whether mine and Hugh’s roles should be switched. And some audiences have almost been able to pronounce my name. You’re supposed to stop reading NME when you’re 42. FIRTH: We were on location in the South of France and it was like doing an entirely separate film. I just wanted him not to be a bore. What are you implying?” Then I realized, “Oh, no, she was Hugh Grant’s sister.” It’s been so many years. No sensible person would have gone in that water. He said to me, “I was just looking at some Woody Allen films and I forgot you were in Husbands and Wives.” I was telling him stories about that. Which counted me out. LAURA LINNEY [Sarah]: Before filming began, there was a huge table read. KNIGHTLEY:   It’s so beautiful, the idea of loved ones waiting to reconnect. Looking back at Robert Altman’s work, I did watch the first five minutes of Short Cuts and realized how he introduced   everybody at the beginning. Bill Nighy is everywhere. But it’s set up like a prism looking at all the different qualities of love. McCUTCHEON:   I was in love with Hugh Grant ever since I was a teenager when   I saw him in Four Weddings. But I read it and thought I’d be more suited for the scenes with the kid. And so Richard   just came to National Theatre to watch the play and then cast all three of us. I’m not sure how Lúcia dived in. LINNEY: Rodrigo [Santoro] and I were both heartbroken at the time we made the film. ANDREW LINCOLN [Mark]:   My big scene with the cards in the doorway felt so easy. But that setback only fueled Four Weddings’ writer, British maestro Richard Curtis, to pursue his dream movie. He always thought I was making him too sweet, with the dancing and all. Keira is so famous. I just loved it. CURTIS:   The movie was meant to be a mixture of the not famous and the famous. NIGHY: After the film’s release, I didn’t have to audition anymore. The audience for Love Actually was big enough for me to play other principal roles in big movies. My favorite stuff in the whole film, actually, is the airport stuff. That was why I totally got it, even on the script level. Oh, my dear old friend Alan Rickman, God rest him. And I said, “But she’s my sister! Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW. I wasn’t aware. It’s like a silent film. Mine was unrequited. Any actor will tell you, that was like all my Christmases rolled into one. NIGHY: For one of the music videos, I was naked with nothing except for a guitar and cowboy boots. It’s why cinema is so pure. MONIZ: It happened to me in London and Toronto. I hadn’t seen her since the ’80s but she just happened to be passing. We realized we were all sharing it. It might all have gone downhill from there, for all I know. So I told him, “Bad news, Billy Bob.”
BILL NIGHY   [Billy Mack]:   When I was young I used to be in a band and I got terribly self-conscious because I thought I   had to throw shapes that might suggest I   was   good in bed or something. Whenever I’m flicking the channels, I have to watch. And the second drummer. CURTIS: I had quite a lot of pushback on the 9/11 mention. I carried on until I was in my late 50s. We definitely played Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” as we were filming the scene. But I think because Andrew was so openhearted and guileless, we knew we’d get away with it. To make it seem deep I had to try and sit on the bottom. And while pretending to play the guitar, I would lift it up, exposing a part of me that was not destined for the movie, if you see what I’m saying. Liam Neeson has become the greatest action hero in the world. I was in awe. The most fun thing was that one of Billy Bob’s oddest   phobias was towards [British prime minister]   Benjamin Disraeli’s facial hair. It has a beautiful arc running through it. LIAM NEESON [Daniel]:   I was originally asked to do the Alan Rickman part. I   learn so much from them. Both Sides Now
Several of the film’s scenes have since become pop culture touchstones, none more so than when Mark (Andrew Lincoln) declares his unrequited love to his best friend’s wife (Keira Knightley) by   silently holding up handwritten cards that proclaim his true feelings to her.