The Influence Of ‘Once Upon A Time In America’ & More From Lone Scherfig & Jim Sturgess About The Film
There’s the average romantic comedy with the meet cute or initial hatred between the inevitable lovers, and then there’s “One Day.” Rather than featuring a traditional love story narrative, set over days, weeks, or even months, “One Day” visits Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) on July 15 every year, starting in the ‘80s. The audience gets a glimpse of where they are–and where they are in relation to each other–each year on that day, creating 23 mini-films in one. They’re friends who are constantly bordering on being much more, even as others enter their lives.
Other than its different narrative structure, what sets “One Day” apart is its pedigree. It’s based on the international bestseller by David Nicholls (who also adapted it into a screenplay), but it arrives from director Lone Scherfig, who previously wowed audiences with the lauded “An Education.” We caught up with Scherfig, Hathaway, and Sturgess to talk about “One Day,” as well as their future projects, at a recent set of interviews. Mild spoilers below.
1. Hathaway was the only American considered for the part of Emma, but a love of Dirty Projectors and Bon Iver helped her win the role.
“One Day” is quintessentially British, and for those who’ve read the book, it may be tough to see all-American girl Hathaway playing Emma. With that in mind, not many Americans were on the shortlist to read for the part. Though Scherfig says, “We did not have a proper plan B at all because we knew from the beginning that it was going to be her, Hathaway wasn’t so sure.” The actress explains, “When I got slipped the script, and I mean slipped the script, like, ‘You’re not supposed to read this. It’s a really great part, a really great script, but it’s set in England the director hasn’t decided if she wants to meet with any American girls.’ So, I read it and freaked out and found out that Lone [Scherfig] would meet with one American girl and it was me.”
“So, I flew to London and then proceeded to have, like, the worst meeting of my life where I was just inarticulate, couldn’t put two thoughts together and just was coming up with the most banal reasons why I should play Emma,” she said. “Lone walked me home and I was saying goodbye to her I got so terrified that I wasn’t going to get the part, and so I just grabbed a piece of paper and I wrote down a bunch of songs. I said, ‘Look, I clearly didn’t communicate to you what I hoped to today, but I feel like these songs can do it for me.’ So, she went home and gave a listen to it, and said, ‘Could I hear more songs?’ I started sending her music.” The list included “Knotty Pine” by Dirty Projectors and “Re: Stacks” and (of course) “For Emma” by Bon Iver as well.
2. Though she loved Emma as a character, Hathaway admits to frustration with her choices.
“I aspire to be like Emma,” she said. “I think that Emma is better than me. I think that she’s funnier and quicker and way more lovable.”
However, as much as she loves her character, she isn’t blind to her issues, particularly where Dexter is concerned. “I think when you’re friends with someone it’s a lot easier to forgive their flaws and it’s a lot easier to have hope for them and for their growth and for their potential,” she said of their connection.” I think when you’re in a relationship with someone it gets a little trickier. So, I think that they stay together in each other’s lives for so long, mainly because Emma sees so much potential in Dexter as a person. She loves him. That being said, I mean, I’m a fan of the novel and there were a few times that I wanted to shake her, and say, ‘Girl, get on your with your life. He’s not treating you right,’ and by the way, one of my favorite moments and one of my proudest moments for her, and I think one of the defining moments of her life, was when she stands up to him and says, ‘I’m not letting you treat me this way. Even you who I love, I’m not going to let you treat me like this.’ I think that’s the moment that her life changes.”
3. One of Sturgess’ next projects, “Upside Down,” will be an inventive romance where he plays the lower-class component in a story of forbidden love.
When asked what the film from Juan Solanas (“Nordeste”) — a sci-fi romance of sorts starring Kirsten Dunst — is all about, Sturgess did his best to describe the ambitious scope of “Upside Down.” “That’s a tough one. It’s a love story, but in a very different kind of way. It’s in a much more fantasy setting. It’s a classic [story] of forbidden love, people who are trying to get to each other but every obstacle is in their way, and in this film, it’s not family like in ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ or gang warfare like in ‘West Side Story,’ it’s gravity,” Sturgess said. “They’re from two different worlds. It’s kind of hard to explain or imagine, and I’ll do a really bad job of trying, but it’s basically about two worlds that are upside down from each other, and if you look up into the sky, you can see the other world, you see its cars, its people. Its tallest buildings almost touch the world below, or the tallest mountain peaks are the closest. It’s about two people who meet and they’re very young, and it’s forbidden for the two worlds to interact. And there’s an up-top world and a down-below world, and the down-below world is poverty stricken and run on oil. There’s a communism theme that runs through it, and the up-top world is capitalist and thriving and runs on electricity and of course they’re stealing all the oil from down below.”
His character (who speaks with an American accent) will be one of the down-below dwellers, making co-star Dunst one of the (literal) upper class. He explains, “The people down below are only used up top as slaves, but the idea of gravity is that if you go up into the other world, you have to walk on the ceiling, so your gravitational pull pulls you to your own world.”
4. The characters of Emma Morley in “One Day” and Selina Kyle in “The Dark Knight Rises” aren’t so different for Hathaway–at least not in the way fans would imagine.
“They seem like they would be very different, but Chris [Nolan]‘s Gotham City is so honest and so real,” she says, likely going into as much detail as she can for the notoriously secretive Nolan. “So, there’s a lot of layering that goes into the Selina character just as with Emma there’s a lot of layering.” For Hathaway, it isn’t so much about comic-book movie versus down-to-earth romance as it is the complexity of the characters. “But I mean, it couldn’t be more different,” she elaborates. “My diet is a lot different. I’ll tell you that much. With Emma it was all french fries and beer. With Selina it’s like dust and dreams.”
5. “Once Upon a Time in America” was more of an influence on Scherfig here than any traditional romantic comedy.
When Scherfig was looking for inspiration, she didn’t find it in places one might expect. “The ones that do have a little bit in common with this–’When Harry Met Sally’ or ‘Same Time, Next Year’–they didn’t answer my question on how to do this in an effortless way,” she said of the film’s early stages. “They almost make an issue out of, ‘Oh my gosh, look how much they’ve changed.’” However, she found inspiration in films from Sergio Leone and David Lean with “Once Upon a Time in America” and “Doctor Zhivago.” “‘Once Upon a Time in America’ is friends, and two men, but still it is a love story,” she explains. “But none of the ones that are the most obvious comparisons. I remember when I saw ‘The Way We Were’ and ‘Love Story,’ and those weepies when I was young. If this film can give someone that kind of sweet sorrow, that’s fine.”
6. Scherfig’s next project still remains untitled, but it will be shot in New York.
Though Scherfig’s next film with Jessica Biel about the life of mob girl Arlyne Brickman is moving forward, it still doesn’t have a title. As one would expect of the crime genre, it will be a serious film, but it will also feature Scherfig’s sense of humor. “But there aren’t humorous elements in the material, but I think you can just bring that in,” she says of the script’s tone. “It’s hard to leave it out.” Scherfig’s love of period settings will also come through, and Scherfig affirms that the film will be shot in New York: “It takes place here [in New York]: the Lower East Side, Manhattan. Early ‘60s. It’s just such a cool period.”
7. Doing an English accent was a challenge for Hathaway, even after playing literary legend Jane Austen.
When asked about shedding her native accent to play the title role in “Become Jane” she joked, “That was a challenge, too. Haven’t you seen that film?” But despite familiarity with a particular type of British accent from a particular era, she still felt that she had to work for Emma’s particular speaking style in “One Day.” “This one was more challenging because [‘Becoming Jane’] took place, I think it was roughly over a six month period,” she explained. “This movie takes place over twenty years and people’s voices change over twenty years, particularly people with regional dialects who leave the region where they’re from. Their accents have a tendency to change.”
Sturgess said that she continued with the accent even off set, though there were a few slips. “It was weird, she sort of stayed in the accent for most of the time,” he said. “So I got used to that as the way the way she spoke. But after a week of her doing that all the time…I didn’t even question it, I didn’t even think about it.” Where did she go back to her native accent? “We might be at a bar or she might have had a glass of wine too many, and the American accent would come flying out, and I’d be like, ‘Whoa.’” But the American accent coming out was rare. “She worked really hard on it,” Sturgess said.
8. After doing two films written by other people, Scherfig is looking forward to working more on her own screenplay.
Both “An Education” and “One Day” were based on other writers’ scripts, and Scherfig is currently working on a project of her own. “It’s because now I need a period to think and write,” she said. “And now I’m writing a comedy that takes places in Italy, which is just things that I love. I hope I finish the script before I start working on somebody’s else’s script, and then maybe find someone else to direct it because I think maybe I shouldn’t do comedy, I think I should do something darker. The film is full of sunshine and love and Italian, Florence luxury.”
9. Hathaway says her post-”Dark Knight Rises” project will be the Judy Garland biopic.
When the actress walked into the room and literally burst into song, Judy Garland-style, she was eager to answer questions about playing the legend, in a project that has been brewing for a couple of years now. “We actually have had wonderful steps forward,” Hathaway said. “We’ve had a writer. I don’t know if he’s signed yet, and so I don’t think that I can mention his name, but if things go well this could actually happen.”
Though she missed the recent Lincoln Center retrospective for Judy Garland, she couldn’t help but gush about her talent. “She was just the best, man,” she said. “There’s never been anyone like her. So, I’m going to take that on next.”
“One Day” opens Friday in theaters.