Writer-director Richard Curtis scored with his Love Actually, and his latest, About Time, is right up there in so many ways. We caught up with Curtis for an exclusive interview to talk about the movie that is a time travel film in concept only.
As seen in the About Time trailer, Domhnall Gleeson portrays the son of Bill Nighy and, on his birthday, gets the news from his father that the men in his family have the power to travel back in time. Gleeson decides he’s going to use his newfound gift to find love (that’s where Rachel McAdams comes in!). Cue the ahhhs…
Curtis tells us about how finding Gleeson was an utter and lucky gift, as well as how he managed to use the time travel aspect as a tool to tell the story, instead of it being the crux. He even lets us in on a little secret about About Time… certain scenes were autobiographical!
Movie Fanatic: About Time is such an original idea. Where did it come from?
Richard Curtis: It’s had kind of a twisted path. It kind of started with a conversation I had with a friend about how to be happy. We both decided that at our age, happiness doesn’t lie in jetting to Las Vegas or a phone call saying you’ve won a million pounds. We thought that happiness lies in a normal day, the day we were having. That’s such an important point to make, that I wanted to write a movie around it. It is a tough film to make [laughs] about someone getting up and making their kids breakfast. Then, I had this idea about being able to travel back to the beginning of a day and relish the day without the worries and nerves that put us off from enjoying ourselves. Then, I thought, how can I do that cinematically? Then, I came up with this whole big paraphernalia of time traveling. That will be an interesting film. It can be about someone who travels back to the beginning of the day. He could go anywhere and change everything, but he realizes that the best thing to do with that talent was to relish the ordinary. Everything came from there. Then, I thought about the jokes, the romance and the complications. It still ends where I wanted it to end -- that completely normal day.
Movie Fanatic: What I love too is the time travel is not the vehicle in About Time, it is merely the tool. Was that a conscious decision to make it about the emotions and not the technical aspect of time travel?
Richard Curtis: It just turned out the way that I write that I never got distracted by the device of time travel. It’s interesting because at the end, I’d always assumed that we would do some fancy stuff on the time travel. We went to special effects houses and wondered if they could three-dimensionalize these or slow them down, or speed them up. Then, we saw what they had done. It was admirable work, but completely wrong for the film. The whole point of the film was to make the time travel seem really normal. The people who are watching the movie need to not think that they are watching a time travel movie.
Movie Fanatic: One of the reasons it works so well is the casting of the father and son who have this power. Bill Nighy is a great father, and you’ve worked with him before on Love Actually and Pirate Radio. But, the casting of Domhnall Gleeson as his son is an unusual choice, but impeccable. How did that come to be?
Richard Curtis: Bill and Rachel were set, and people you love, and we hoped for the best. Domhnall fit the bill. I was looking for a guy who we had never seen before. I had always had Bill in mind, but once we cast Domhnall, that turned out to be a lucky thing that he was quite skinny, quite angular… just like Bill. They really got on well. Domhnall is a son of an actor, Brendan Gleeson, and I think we managed to create a real family atmosphere. We did a lot, just with the family. I would have them around my house and we’d have lunch, tea and dinner together and talk about all the things that link their real lives with family. We got a really strong atmosphere and I think Domhnall and Bill bonded as human beings, beyond just for the part.
Movie Fanatic: What is it about Bill for you as a director, and especially as a writer creating characters for him, that he gives you?
Richard Curtis: He gives you different things. The rock and roll character (in Pirate Radio) took me by surprise. He just came along for a read-through and stole it. It was so different from what he did before and since. This one, we had a funny meeting. He said he wanted to talk to me about it. He said, “I’ll do it, but I don’t want to do any acting.” [Laughs] But, he really knew what he meant. He didn’t want it to be a twirly mustache Englishman. He wanted him to be an eccentric, kind of like he is in life. That’s what made it so lovely for him and Domhnall, because Bill was doing it so naturally.
Movie Fanatic: And I loved Domhnall and Bill in those table tennis scenes…
Richard Curtis: That’s a real autobiographical part of the movie. My dad and I used to play table tennis every time we saw each other.