Se­quel to ‘Love Ac­tu­ally’ is short and sweet

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Roslyn Sul­cas

“Look!” squealed a cy­clist, al­most crash­ing into a dense crowd be­hind a roped-off area along the Thames walk­way. “It’s, you know, the cute boy who was in love with the Amer­i­can girl!” Her cy­cling part­ner came to an an­noyed halt, then grasped the enor­mity of the sit­u­a­tion. “OMG!” she ex­claimed. “What are they do­ing?” All no­tions of a bi­cy­cle ride were aban­doned as the crowd filled them in. “They’re grown up now.” “Look, the fa­ther is there, too.” “It looks like they’re to­gether.” The com­mu­nal bond­ing seemed ap­pro­pri­ate, since the crowd was watch­ing the film­ing of a short se­quel to the feel-good, love-con­quer­sall 2003 Richard Cur­tis film, “Love Ac­tu­ally,” the multi­nar­ra­tive box-of­fice smash that has es­tab­lished a firm place on De­cem­ber tele­vi­sion sched­ules and in the hearts and minds of fans around the world. (Caveat: The film was not, and is not, loved by all.)

The much-an­tic­i­pated 15-minute se­quel, writ­ten by Cur­tis and di­rected by Mat White­cross, was broad­cast in Bri­tain on March 24 as part of Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day, and ar­rives — with a spe­cial ad­di­tion — in the United States on NBC on Thurs­day as part of a longer fundrais­ing telethon.

Al­though Cur­tis had done Red Nose Day spe­cials of some of his tele­vi­sion shows — in­clud­ing “Mr. Bean” and “Black­ad­der” — he had never thought about draw­ing on his film

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oeu­vre, which in­cludes the scripts for “Four Wed­dings and a Fu­neral” (1994) and “Not­ting Hill” (1999). Long ago, “I was asked to write a se­quel to ‘Love Ac­tu­ally,’ which I never wanted to do,” he said. “The edit of the film was un­be­liev­ably hard, mov­ing all those sto­ries to­ward a con­clu­sion. It was like play­ing 3-D chess, and I wouldn’t want to hope for light­ning to strike twice.”

The idea of a cus­tom­ized short film for Red Nose Day cropped up af­ter he and his part­ner, Emma Freud (the script edi­tor on the movie), de­cided it would be fun to at­tend a mid­night screen­ing of the orig­i­nal film in Man­hat­tan, where the cou­ple lived for a year.

He started to sketch some ideas. “I tried to think about what was the most mem­o­rable thing in each story,” he said. “I was sure that Bill Nighy’s Billy Mack would still be punt­ing dodgy records in out­ra­geous in­ter­views; I most re­mem­bered Colin Firth and Lu­cia Moniz in the car, nei­ther able to speak the other’s lan­guage; Hugh Grant as the prime min­is­ter do­ing a dodgy dance and giv­ing a speech; Rowan Atkin­son wrap­ping some­thing. The one thing I couldn’t crack was why An­drew Lin­coln would be out­side Keira Knight­ley’s door, hold­ing cards, again. So I made it a rather meta be­gin­ning. That took a while.”

With­out Alan Rick­man, who died in Jan­uary 2016, it was com­pli­cated, Cur­tis said, to cre­ate a scene for Emma Thomp­son, who had played his be­trayed wife in the movie. “I’m not sure I could have done it in a two-minute slot,” he said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “But I couldn’t do every­one any­way, or it would have been too long; Martin Free­man and Joanna Page, and Kris Mar­shall, aren’t there ei­ther, so I didn’t feel it was too glar­ing an omis­sion.”

When he ap­proached the ac­tors, every­one im­me­di­ately agreed. “My first thought was, What a re­ally good idea,” Nighy said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “The two great el­e­ments of

Richard’s life are mak­ing movies and try­ing to stop chil­dren, or any­one, dy­ing in the mod­ern world, and this dove­tails so sweetly. You also think, Blimey, can I still get into those trousers?” (He could.) Nighy echoed some of the other ac­tors when he added that the film had given him an un­ex­pected fame. “It changed ev­ery­thing for me,” he said. Liam Nee­son, repris­ing his role as step­fa­ther to Thomas Brodie-Sang­ster’s Sam (still in love with Olivia Ol­son’s Joanna), said, be­tween takes, that he had “a tear in my eye” when he read his por­tion of the new script. “It’s to­tally ro­man­tic, of course,” he said. “I said yes right away.”

Only Laura Lin­ney, who was ap­pear­ing in “Lit­tle Foxes” on Broad­way in New York, was un­able to fit into the sched­ule timed for the Bri­tish re­lease. So Cur­tis de­cided to add a new sec­tion for the Amer­i­can broad­cast. “I think Amer­i­can au­di­ences will par­tic­u­larly en­joy this bit,” he said.

“What was so sweet was that peo­ple’s fun­da­men­tal char­ac­ters haven’t changed much over 15 years,” Cur­tis said. “Keira was cast for the youth­ful­ness and cheer­ful­ness of her spirit, and she is still like that; Bill is ev­er­last­ingly young and ir­re­spon­si­ble; Liam, ter­ri­bly pa­ter­nal. Hugh Grant be­haved well for one week of the orig­i­nal shoot, very badly for the rest, and did ex­actly the same thing over one day now. It’s rather re­as­sur­ing.”

The “Love Ac­tu­ally” se­quel re­ceived mixed re­views in Bri­tain, but Cur­tis said he was glad to have done it. “It’s a very un­usual thing, to make a 15-minute ver­sion of a se­quel — ob­vi­ously, it was in the back of my mind that it would be a weird bunch of in­gre­di­ents that don’t add up,” he said. “But I think they do.” Asked whether he now felt tempted to do a longer “Love Ac­tu­ally” se­quel, he laughed. “No,” he said. “But I loved the op­por­tu­nity to have the next glimpse. I’m hop­ing we get 15-minute se­quels to lots of films.”

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