Movie Interview by Elaine Lipworth
Director Nigel Cole brings wit, humor and heart to A LOT LIKE LOVE, an engaging romantic comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet.
Infatuation, true love or just good friends? Amanda and Ashton take seven years to find out.
In the new movie from Buena Vista International, A LOT LIKE LOVE, Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet have a brief encounter on a plane trip between Los Angeles and New York. They go their separate ways but meet again and again – over the next few years – without ever committing to a real relationship. As in all the best romantic comedies, there are so many obstacles to overcome at every stage of the romance, that the path of true love does not run smooth. The two characters have sizzling chemistry. The question is: are they destined to be together?
British director Nigel Cole infuses A LOT LIKE LOVE with humor, drama and realism. The filmmaker, who previously directed SAVING GRACE with Brenda Blethyn and CALENDAR GIRLS with Helen Mirren, divides his time between London and Los Angeles.
Meeting the director, it is easy to understand why he has such a great gift for comedy. Cole is highly entertaining, constantly making jokes and having fun at the expense of everyone (including himself).
The following interview was conducted in Los Angeles.
What led you to make A LOT LIKE LOVE?
COLE: My previous films, CALENDAR GIRLS and SAVING GRACE were about middle aged women (Helen Mirren and Brenda Blethyn). That was great, but I wanted to do something different. I thought I needed to do something younger and sexier. I got offered a lot of scripts following the success of my first two films and I was very keen to do a romantic comedy because I love them. I love a mixture of comedy and drama and I enjoy making audiences laugh and then cry. And romantic comedies allow you to tell a strong dramatic story with good humor thrown in. But for a long time I couldn’t find a good one. I wanted one that was realistic and recognizable, that I could identify with from my own complicated life. And then I read Colin Patrick Lynch’s script and thought it was great. It reminded me of some of my favorite films, old fashioned romantic comedies which are witty with good dialogue, like SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and ANNIE HALL.
There is great chemistry between Ashton and Amanda, did that happen naturally with the two stars?
COLE: I take full credit for their sizzling chemistry. [Laughs]. No seriously, that is what romantic comedies are all about of course, the chemistry between two central characters. Ashton was a big fan of Amanda and kept talking about her and I was a big fan too. So we had a reading in a hotel in New York. Immediately they started to read together, you could tell they would be great, it is one of those indefinable things. They made each other laugh and started playing with the script. There was something good going on with each other.
Why did you pick Ashton as the male lead?
COLE: I thought that he was the best person for the job. I was aware of his popular reputation for being funny. I thought he was a very intelligent, sensitive young man and I wanted to meet him. He is a very good actor and I was delighted to have him in the film. I think he is going to be a huge star. I think he is as good or even better than Cary Grant. He has a charm and wit that are very rare and he is also impossibly good looking. We tried to make him look bad and we failed! (laughs) I would work with him again anytime.
What do you think is so special about Amanda?
COLE: Amanda Peet can make you cry and make you laugh, sometimes in the same moment. I think this is the first role in which she also shows her vulnerability. I was blessed with two really good actors and they got on with each other so well from the word ‘Go’.”
Do you think Ashton could branch out and do drama?
COLE: I think Ashton could do anything. He is sharp and talented. I never had to tell him anything twice and I think he is capable of doing great work. He has a wonderful charm so I think romantic comedies are natural for him but I think he could do serious drama too.”
Is it easy finding great stars to cast in a movie such as this one?
COLE: When you come to Hollywood from another country, you think that there are going to be huge movie stars on every street corner. And when you come to cast a film you think that you will be overwhelmed with stars. But you realize there are not that many, particularly when it comes to younger leading men, there is a world shortage. I am going to start a big campaign, because the world needs more movie stars. Never mind global warming, this is the great crisis facing the world. (laugh). When you need a handsome charismatic actor who can also be funny, it comes down to two or three actors. So I think why Ashton is going to do incredibly well in his career because there is not a lot of competition.
There is a memorable scene in the desert in which both stars are more or less naked. How did you persuade them to take their clothes off?
COLE: I had just finished a film (CALENDAR GIRLS) in which I had to persuade eleven women all aged over 50 to take their clothes off, so I am one of the world’s leading experts on that, people come to me for advice about how to get actors to take their clothes off. [Laughs] Ashton has the kind of body I would give ten years of my life for, but he was nervous about showing it. It is always the really attractive people who say ‘Oh I am not sure about showing my butt’. But seriously, being naked always makes people nervous. I did offer to go naked as well as them, in the hope that it might help if I did it too, but they both begged me to keep my clothes on. It was fine though in the end. We did the scene in the desert in a studio so that we would be away from the prying lenses of the paparazzi.
You say romantic comedy is your favorite genre. Do you play with the audience’s expectations? For example, there is an assumption in romantic comedies that the couple will end up together. Is it important to have traditional endings?
COLE: Ashton was always very keen for his character to die at the end! He was always saying ‘couldn’t I get run over by a bus? How about having a scene where a truck suddenly comes around the corner and I just get flattened, wouldn’t that be fun?’ I kept saying ‘no I don’t think that is going to work, Ashton’. But of course you always know what the ending will be in a lot of movies. For instance, we know that James Bond will always blow up the baddies hideout, we can be pretty sure of that. James Bond is not going to say ‘You got me’. You win’. In crime films, the detective will always find the murderer. The hero is always going to triumph over evil. But I think that is why we enjoy movies; we want to know how we are going to get to that ending point. So I do not think that is a problem.
So it is the journey that counts and the telling of the story?
COLE: Yes, what we work with as filmmakers is how we get there, how the couple, in this case Ashton and Amanda, find each other and how they find true love and happiness in the end and not ‘if’ they find it. But to spice things up, we throw a few little misdirections.
How important is it to have realistic dialogue and situations?
COLE: Things have to be authentic. I will not allow anything to be there just for effect. I insist that everything has to feel real so audiences believe that these characters really would behave in a certain way. I just go on instinct I guess.
How much rehearsing did you for this movie?
COLE: I am a big believer in rehearsal which is a rather ugly word in the film industry. So Ashton and Amanda and I got together quite early on for two weeks and did a lot of rehearsing.
You are very funny, what is your approach to filmmaking?
COLE: If you are making what is ultimately a light-hearted film, there is no point in being miserable, there really isn’t. y philosophy is that I am simply there to facilitate the actors. The audience should fall in love with the actors. I am there to help that process. This is not a Nigel Cole film; it is an Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet film. That is the way I see it and actors seem to like that. I try to make them believe that this is their film and they better be good at what they do.
Do you think it is important to have stars in your films rather than unknown actors who may also be very talented?
COLE: It is important to have stars. The first thing anyone ever says when you decide to go to see a movie is ‘who is in it?’ I say that, my mother says that, everybody says that. So I did want to make a film with a movie star. I want to makes movies that lots of people go to see. I like movie stars.
What are the big differences between making movies in America or anywhere else such as Britain, where you come from?
COLE: Several years ago I asked a very famous English director, Alexander Mackendrick (who produced most of the great English comedies in the late 1950s and 60s) his advice for working in Hollywood. He thought about it very seriously and deeply and said: ‘stay away from craft services’ and I think that is the best advice I have had. I put on about 20 pounds making this movie because the food is just fantastic on film sets in America. I could not believe that there is a catering department who produce four hot meals a day with several different choices and desserts. Then, if that were not enough, there is another department which is just there for snacks. I couldn’t believe it and if you are not careful you spend your whole day snacking. Then you get indigestion. But actually there’s a big difference between English crews and American crews. When you say ‘can you do this?’ to an English crew they’ll say ‘No’. American crews will say ‘Sure’. In my experience they both achieve about exactly the same results. American crews give you the best possible spin and British crews give you the worst and I am not sure which approach I prefer. But really I have shot in just about every country in the world from the Ukraine to Mongolia and the great thing about filmmaking is that film crews operate the same way everywhere.
What are you planning next?
COLE: I am looking forward to having a bit of a rest. I’ve made two films and had a baby – obviously not me but my girlfriend has had a baby, so we are pretty tired. I am having a rest. I am taking off the summer and living in my house in England and then in the Fall I will come back to America and decide what to do next.
Question & answer Text Copyright Buena Vista International