You show a much softer side of Leighton than I’ve seen from her onscreen before.
Hey, thanks. I really thought there was the possibility of doing so. I knew Leighton, I directed her in the first season of Entourage, so I knew her off-screen, I know she’s not that siren. She’s not very self-aware in that ‘I’m a Hollywood star’ way at all. She’s just takes everything as it comes, has a bizarre coterie of friends, this, that and the other and I like her in a natural way. And I thought, 'Oh this is a good chance to reveal Leighton in a way that audiences don’t think of her.'
I was thinking it was quite brave casting, in a way, because obviously the main perception of her is from Gossip Girl, where she plays a very cold, bitchy character which could have potentially killed that element of the story, but I thought she did a really great job.
Thanks, these questions are great because I think they hit all the things I think were key to the movie, funnily. And Leighton has to be likeable in the movie, even though she needs to be good looking and attractive, all of that. And I liked the look we gave Leighton in the movie, it was like she’s very natural, she’s still beautiful, obviously, but she’s not done up like people always see her. She’s not even got much make-up on half the time but she’s still incredibly attractive. I thought it was a great performance for her and I really wanted people to see her differently.
I hope that happens. What are you like as a director on set? Are you like, ‘This is the script, bloody well stick to it’, or do you let them improvise?
No, I’m very much like, 'Let’s do a version of the script, let’s have that'. I’m open to ideas from anyone and given that I had quite a lot of comic talent on set, I’d have been a fool if I hadn’t said, ‘Guys, let rip, feel free to improvise’. Usually at the end I’d have a free one or a free two that might take us somewhere a little bit different. Comedy’s different that way, a lot of comedy does happen on set. I’ve directed Steve Carell and he’s a great comedic actor and some of it he doesn’t know until he’s there and then he finds the funny or he plays the funny, you know, there is a journey for that, but this wasn’t that, this had to be a story that needed its emotional roots and its sincerity, to be a little bit looser.
My general approach on set is I always like to be happy on set, I like a comfortable atmosphere, because I think actors express themselves better. My job is to get it out the way before we get on set, I think, so that you’re freed up. If you’re well prepped, you’re freed up to have exactly that kind of freedom to know when to let loose and allow people to go. And so I always try and be, even if I’m dying inside, I always try to be positive and create a good energy on set. I think actors flourish in a happy environment.
Do you have a favourite scene in the film?
Wow, no one’s ever asked me that. I do, actually. My favourite scene in the film is when Hugh and Oliver meet car-to-car, and it’s about two-thirds into the movie and I just find it the most touching scene in the movie. I really love that scene, and I think it’s really beautifully cut, actually, and that wasn’t me, it was the editor found a beautiful rhythm to that scene. That’s my favourite scene in the movie because, as I shot it, I found that Hugh and Oliver’s relationship is actually the greatest love story of the movie! And the structure of the film – I’m not going to give too much away – but, we ended up structuring it a bit that way, because it’s a very touching and unexpected romance.
What was the hardest thing to get right? I’m assuming the chemistry and balance between the two?
Definitely the David-Nina relationship. I have to say, the cutting of this movie was important – I hope people never give it a second thought. It was very delicate what scenes you had in, what you didn’t. You could nudge a character one different way and completely fall away from the story, it was interesting. It was much harder than it looked. My manager, who’s Mark Wahlberg’s manager and a big producer in Hollywood, always said to me, the film’s a small target, he says you’re walking down that tightrope. And it was, actually, and it was the rhythm of the cutting, as it’s an ensemble movie, which is always hard anyway because you’re managing a lot of stories. The rhythm of the cutting, I think, was the hardest thing.
In terms of the going on set and doing it, it wasn’t that hard. I had a lovely cast and there was a good energy between them and you know, usually you have one thing, something, that goes wrong, one actor isn’t what you thought they would be or if you have two lovers that have no chemistry, then you’re really in trouble. But I didn’t have those kind of things. I felt while we were doing it that I was blessed, a little bit.
Did you cut anything out you were sorry to see go?
There were one or two scenes, the more character scenes, that I loved in themselves, but you have to keep the thing moving and I think the story does move along quite quickly and it’s not dark and introspective or it’s not edgy, the movie, despite the premise. So I thought, God, it’s got to keep ticking along, so there are scenes like that cut. Editorially, interestingly, and this came from the first time I ever saw it with a real audience, we had a love scene between Hugh and Leighton, which was great. But after showing, though they were great, we cut it as the audience don’t need it. It’s delicate enough already, and that was sort of a step too far. I felt the audience kind of wince a bit when I saw it and I was like, ‘That has to go’.