‘Love Actually’s’ 10th Anniversary: The Cast and Crew Reminisce About the Christmas Classic
To celebrate the film’s tenth anniversary, we spoke to director Richard Curtis and several cast members about the making of the Christmas classic.
Exactly ten years ago today, filmmaker Richard Curtis’s Love Actually opened in theaters. And the feel-good romantic comedy, with its ten intersecting storylines exploring different aspects of love, and one of the finest acting ensembles ever assembled, has only grown in popularity since.
The primarily London-set film begins five weeks before Christmas and opens on a scene of couples greeting one another in Heathrow Airport. The Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, says in voiceover:
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there—fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge—they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
Love Actually was shot one year after 9/11 and was, with its relentless cheer and good will, a big ol’ cinematic pick-me-up.
The ten love stories include aging rocker Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) and his longtime manager (Gregor Fisher), who records an absurd Christmas cover of The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” with the hope that it will become Christmas' No. 1 single; newlyweds Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Juliet (Keira Knightley), and the best man, Mark (Andrew Lincoln), who pines for Juliet; writer Jamie (Colin Firth), who, after catching his wife sleeping with his brother, escapes to a French cottage and falls for his Portuguese housekeeper, Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz); Harry (Alan Rickman), the head of a design agency, who lusts for his secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch)—unbeknownst to his hopelessly devoted wife, Karen (Emma Thompson); Harry’s employee, Sarah (Laura Linney), who has a huge crush on her coworker, Karl (Rodrigo Santoro); David (Hugh Grant), the recently elected Prime Minister, who develops a crush on Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a member of his household staff; widower Daniel (Liam Neeson) who helps his stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster), win over his schoolmate, Joanna (Olivia Olson); Colin (Kris Marshall), who believes his Britishness will help him win over American girls, and is proved correct when he catches the eye of a bevy of beauties, played by Elisha Cuthbert, January Jones, Shannon Elizabeth, and Denise Richards; and John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page), who work as body doubles for movie sex scenes, and eventually fall for one another.
We reached out to the entire cast of Love Actually, and many of them were gracious enough to participate and share their favorite memories from the making of the modern classic.
ON HOW TIME FLIES
Richard Curtis (Writer/Director): It keeps taking me by surprise! It’s quite helpful to know it’s been ten years because it’s an easy way for me to keep track of how old my son was, who appears in the film. There’s a scene where they’re up onstage performing the Nativity play, and he’s got a Spider-Man mask on, and there’s a big close-up of a very perplexed-looking five-year-old. And my daughter is one of the lobsters!
Laura Linney: My god! I can’t believe it’s been ten years! I love the film so much.
Craig Armstrong (Music Supervisor): It’s funny with this film because people really kind of…love it.
Rodrigo Santoro: Oh god, man! Don’t tell me it’s been that long! I feel old.
Richard Curtis: The film has grown in popularity. I don’t remember feeling it was that beloved when it came out! There was a muddle of motivations. I certainly knew what I was doing in the romance department by the time I did the Bridget Jones films and Notting Hill. Because I was so well versed in those, I started to think of other stories—the Colin Firth one and the Hugh Grant one, which I conceived as two separate whole films I could write. Then I decided I didn’t want to do that, and realized that a huge number of films I loved were multi-story films, like Short Cuts, Nashville, Smoke, and a lot of Woody Allen’s movies during his middle-period that have a lot of different storylines. So, I figured I’d do a film with lots of stories, because I love that, and then figured I’d do a bunch of romantic stories that feature only the best bits.
ASSEMBLING THE AMAZING CAST
Bill Nighy: I did a rehearsal reading of the script as a favor to the great casting director, Mary Selway, who had been trying to get me into a film for a long time. I thought it was simply to help her out to hear the script aloud and to my genuine surprise I was given the job.
Richard Curtis: The Bill Nighy story is a very interesting one. This was my attempt at a truth-telling "bad" rock star. I always love people who just tell the truth—John McEnroe, John Lennon, Bob Dylan… Russell Brand does it now. They just do it. So it was a conglomeration of all those. I had two people in my mind for the part, and those two people were big, showy bits of slightly gimmicky casting, but I couldn’t decide whom to go to. I cant say who they are. I told the casting lady, Mary Selway, “Find me someone who’d do the part well but who I’d never think to cast.” And she told me about Bill Nighy. Bill came in and was so perfect from the first word, and it became so clear that he was the funniest part in the film that we cast him three minutes after his audition.
Laura Linney: For me, it was a magical experience from beginning to end. I got a letter in the mail from Richard Curtis saying that he’d been trying to cast this part, and he’d kept saying to his partner, Emma Freud, that he’d been looking for a ‘Laura Linney-type,’ and she said, “Why don’t you ask Laura Linney?” My part was originally written for another Brit, but he asked me to do it, and I was so excited to be asked.
Denise Richards: Oh, I thought it was special that I got a letter! But Richard wrote me a letter asking me to be in the movie. It was a very nice letter and he joked that the next movie he was going to write was going to be The Denise Richards Movie.
Rodrigo Santoro: I went to the Venice Film Festival and we were in competition there with a Brazilian film directed by Walter Salles called Behind the Sun. Right after the screening, a very gentle lady came out of the screening and invited me to lunch. Her name was Mary Selway, and she was a UK casting director. She said she’d contact me with whatever opportunities she had in the future. So one day, I got an email from her while I was in New York. My character, Karl, was supposed to be British—the cast was supposed to be all-British—but apparently they couldn’t find the right actor. She asked me to put myself on tape, so I got a friend of mine to help me and sent it to London.
Andrew Lincoln: I think probably every actor in England was seen, or at least trying to be seen, for a role. I was fortunate to be in a play [Blue/Orange] with Bill Nighy and Chiwetel Ejiofor around the same time that I knew Richard had seen, so perhaps that helped get me the audition. I remember reading for the role and it being a very gentle and enjoyable experience, largely down to the wonderful casting director and Richard Curtis. There are certain roles in my career that I have jumped with joy when I found out I had been cast—this was definitely one of those.
Richard Curtis: I think the best bit of casting is Thomas Sangster. I cannot tell you how much he was the only person who came in who could do it at all. We started thinking, “Oh no… we just can’t have a ten-year-old who’ll be in love because it’s not ringing true at all,” and he just came in and did it perfectly.
Lúcia Moniz: I got the first call from a Portuguese casting director, Patricia Vasconcelos who asked me to send over a tape with ten Portuguese actresses to audition for the part of Aurelia. After the first audition I was brought in for a second call directly from England for Working Title, Richard Curtis, and Duncan Kenworthy. I auditioned for them and after two weeks I got the phone call telling me I was cast for the movie.
Richard Curtis: Liam Neeson’s only recently become the oldest action hero in history. I remembered how terribly tender he was in Husbands and Wives, and I’d met him in real life and he’s very modest, gentle, and sweet. One of the things that’s funny about the film is that it’s been changed by outside circumstances kind of wonderfully. The sweetness and softness and damage of Liam is probably more interesting now that you’ve seen him in Taken, and with Keira, it was only her second film and I remember talking to her while we were shooting and asking her what she was doing next and she said, “Oh, it’s going to be terrible and I’ve probably made a terrible mistake but I’m doing this pirates movie, but it will at least be a few fun months in the sun.” And Martin Freeman turns up as the hobbit, and Andrew Lincoln is in The Walking Dead, and Chiwetel is in 12 Years A Slave. It’s a different movie now! So it’s kind of peculiar. Obviously, the woman who cast it, Mary Selway, is a genius.
CHERISHED MEMORIES FROM FILMING
Lúcia Moniz: My best memories are of the day we shot the scene when I say goodbye to Jamie (Colin Firth). I was celebrating my 26th birthday and will never ever forget that day!
Laura Linney: There was one day where a lot of the schedules collided together, and there were all these trailers lined up on the set! I’ve never seen so many trailers in a parking lot. It was like a town; it was like "Actorville." Liam Neeson was next door to me, Emma Thompson was around the corner, Alan Rickman was two doors down, Hugh Grant was across the way, as was Colin Firth. It was surreal! And sweet, wonderful Rodrigo! We were both brokenhearted at the time and had gotten out of rough relationships, so it was just very sweet.
Rodrigo Santoro: I broke up a couple of months before we met, and Laura and me were both in the same zone. Laura is a special human being—so sweet, humble, and down to earth. They flew me to London for the table read with the whole cast, so I arrive there and it’s Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson—all these people I grew up admiring and respecting. Liam Neeson was across from me, Rowan Atkinson was seated next to me, and on the other side was Laura Linney. I was this young Brazilian guy just going, “Wow!”
Richard Curtis: It was very lovely in France—the Colin/Lúcia story. I was very confident about that one, and it was in a lovely place, and the Portuguese actors were all delightful. We shot this one first, since it was towards the end of the summer, and shot the rest of the film back in England. Also, the extraordinary scene where Emma [Thompson] cries in the bedroom. That was her only job that day. We decided to do it like how Mike Newell did it in Four Weddings—I shot in medium-wide, and didn’t move the camera. We just let it happen, and Emma walked into the room 12 times in a row and sobbed. It was an amazing feat of acting.
Lúcia Moniz: That scene still gets me every time. No words, just her stunning performance.
Craig Armstrong (Music Supervisor): We used that Joni Mitchell song, “Both Sides Now,” which is such a beautiful, beautiful track. Pop music, for Richard, is his classical music.
Laura Linney: Bill Nighy just cracks me up. He’s so, so good. And that video of him [performing naked], I think it’s my favorite part of the movie. It’s sooooo funny!
Bill Nighy: I suppose it’s a fond memory, of being naked with nothing but an electric guitar and a pair of cowboy boots, trying to mime playing the instrument while the producer, Duncan Kenworthy, shouted “Down with the guitar! Down with the guitar!” every time I fully exposed myself when I got too enthusiastic about the song.
Craig Armstrong: Bill Nighy, in a way, isn’t that far off from his Love Actually character. He has a fantastic sense of humor.
Laura Linney: Shooting the wedding scene in the chapel was a memory I won’t forget. It was the year after 9/11, and the entire crew had a moment of silence because that chapel was very close to the American Embassy, and 9/11 was very much in the air.
Andrew Lincoln: I did enjoy being at Pinewood studios for the final Heathrow sequence. If only because it was the most ridiculously glamorous queue for the make-up chair I have ever seen.
MEMORIES OF HUGH GRANT
Richard Curtis: I thought of that prime minister story years earlier! We had a Prime Minister named Ted Heath who was a bachelor, and I always thought, “What would have happened had he fallen in love with someone? It would be so weird that this person would be meant to be running the country, but he’d actually spent it falling in love.” That’s not time well spent!
Shannon Elizabeth: We just shot the final airport scene in one day and the entire cast was there, so it was a very well organized zoo filled with so many amazing actors in one place. Denise [Richards] and I were wandering around looking at the breakfast food and Hugh [Grant] was there, so we said hello and introduced ourselves. I said, “I’m so embarrassed that I’m dressed this way… I feel like a hooker!” and Hugh replied, “My favorite."
Denise Richards: Hugh is very funny and has a great sense of humor. He just takes the piss. I remember Hugh saying to me that he had a lot in common with my ex-husband [Charlie Sheen]. And he’s so damn cute—even cuter in person!
Richard Curtis: A not nice memory is mainly Hugh and the dancing. He was HUGELY grumpy about it. He was so wanting his bit not to be fake; he wanted to feel as though he could be prime minister. Whenever I said, “Do it a bit sweeter” or “do it a bit more charming,” he thought he was being tricked. I told him, “I’m going to mainly be giving you a very magisterial point of view, but I just want to make you a bit sweeter once in a while.” The fault line was the dance, because there was no way he could do that in a prime ministerial manner. He kept on putting it off, and he didn’t like the song—it was originally a Jackson 5 song, but we couldn’t get it—so he was hugely unhappy about it. We didn’t shoot it until the final day and it went so well that when we edited it, it had gone too well, and he was singing along with the words. When you edit a dance sequence like that, it’s going to be a third of the length, and the bit he’s singing the words to isn’t going to be the bit of that moment, so it was incredibly hard to edit.
Laura Linney: Any scene with Hugh is one of my favorites. He is so great.
THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR
Richard Curtis: There were more storylines. The secret behind the whole storyline thing is I had a back operation and had to do a lot of walking, so I figured I couldn’t write dialogue while I was so frail, so I’d just write a lot of stories. I’d go out for a two-hour walk and then come back and write storylines. The first 170-page draft that I gave to my girlfriend had about four extra stories in it. There was a story which we shot and cut that had to do with Emma Thompson’s son’s ferocious head mistress who is very unfair to him, and then it cuts to her living with a woman who’s very un-well; there was a story about a girl in a wheelchair; there was a story about two schoolgirls in love that we didn’t do; and there was a dreadful story based on a friend of mine who wrote an entire pop album about a girl he liked at school, and then they actually let him make the album. He brought her in on the day he was recording the song named after her so she could see it, and she came in and they recorded it for two hours, and she went off, and he later found out that during the time he was recording it, she’d had sex with the drummer. She’d just got bored, went off, and had sex with the drummer. And he’d written this whole album about dreaming of kissing her once!
Bill Nighy: For me, we filmed everything that was in the script and it’s all on the screen as far as I remember. Richard may know better. There were no other naked scenes. I think even I would remember.
LOVE ACTUALLY’S LEGACY
Laura Linney: Another great memory I had was promoting the movie afterwards. They got the entire cast together in London and we did this multi-city tour where they rented a compartment on the EuroStar, and we were all on this train to Paris! And then we arrived in Paris, and all of us walked through the train station together and piled into the hotel. Then, we went to Germany, Switzerland, and all these other places as a group! It felt like this wonderful ensemble of actors. Consequently, there’s a part of us where, whether we filmed together or not, there’s a connection between all of us. There are people who I filmed with hardly at all, but when I run into them, there’s this connection of, “Oh, we belong to the same fellowship!” We all just really enjoyed each other’s company! Maybe because it’s such serialized filming no one got sick of each other, but there’s a warmth to Richard Curtis and a warmth and sweetness to that movie that really sort of permeated the whole atmosphere.
Rodrigo Santoro: I’m shooting in New Orleans now and just flew back to L.A. a few days ago. I’m sitting in the airport lounge and this old lady comes up to me and goes, “I don’t want to bother you but I just need to say one thing: I would never, ever pick up the phone.” I was like, “What?” And she said, “If I was Laura Linney, I’d have never picked up the phone in that scene in Love Actually!” I find it funny that people get so frustrated that our story doesn’t end up with a happy ending. As Richard would say, “That’s life.”
Andrew Lincoln: It's always helpful to have sleigh bells on any soundtrack but it does seem to have entered the language as a Christmas classic. I always hoped that people would have the same reaction to it as I did on first reading the script, but you can never guarantee that will be the case.
Denise Richards: I get comments about the movie on Twitter all the time. It’s such an honor to be a part of such a wonderful film!
Richard Curtis: I kind of attribute it’s legacy to luck, in a certain way. I only tried to have it be Christmas-themed when I got about 30 pages into writing it. I’ve always loved Christmas. I think it’s aged quite well because the viewer never really knows what’s coming next. I think you’re always slightly a little surprised, like, “Oh! We’re back in Portugal,” so it’s slightly less monotonous on a re-watch. And because it’s set at Christmas, because there are so many stories, and because the cast has turned out to be even more lovely than we thought, it’s had many extra winds, so to speak.
Craig Armstrong: Some people find that the film wears it’s heart too firmly on it’s sleeve, but I think Richard, at the end of the day, is a romantic, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Craig Armstrong: I’m surprised they haven’t done Love Actually 2! Maybe there’s a way to go there…It would certainly be popular, wouldn’t it? Tell Richard it’s about time we do another one!
Rodrigo Santoro: I’m going to propose a big reunion! I’m going to propose it! It’s such a special movie.
Richard Curtis: Can you imagine anything less likely than a reunion? It’s so interesting with people who are famous and busy. You sort of know we’d all enjoy it, but when the call came in, they’d probably think it was duty. What I might try and do is see some of them and get in touch with some of them when it gets to this Christmas. Andrew is away now a lot but I used to see him a bunch, and I’m sure I’ll send Liam a Christmas card. I may just politely remind everyone that it’s been ten years!