Sequel to ‘Love Actually’ is short and sweet
“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
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.”