One Day directed by Lone Scherfig tells the story of Emma and Dex played by Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. Two people who become friends and who stick it out even though there are times when they cannot stand each other. Emma is the grounded one. She’s a poor would be writer who takes a long time to find her passion. Dex is a spoiled brat, who doesn’t figure out how to get his act together until he realizes that he loves Emma. They become partners and extremely happy later in their relationship which is played out on a single day — July 15th — over 20 years. It is a story of friendship and love told through Anne Hathaway’s different hairstyles.
I recently met Lone Scherfig in NYC for a chat about the film. It was an interesting moment for me because I realized that I have doing this long enough to be conducting a second interview with a director about her new film. I spoke with Lone when An Education was released. That interview will be included in the e-book In Her Own Voice: Women Directors Talk Directing which will be completed this fall (Finally!)
The film opens today on about 1,700 screens.
Women and Hollywood: Tell us a little bit about what drew you to the story.
Lone Scherfig: I read the script and in the beginning its very entertaining and there is good dialogue and then at some point the story takes a different direction and becomes very moving. I liked the characters a lot and there are so many time jumps that are a great challenge for me as a director, so it only took me about 2 hours to make the decision to call up and say yes.
WaH: I read in the notes that you were the first person they asked to direct the film. How does that feel?
LS: it’s very nice to know that you are the first person they call because it means that what they want out of me is something that they really feel I have to contribute. That gives me more space and it makes people listen to me more. There is just a basic respect, and you don’t have to fight for things that way you would have to do you are plan H and not plan A.
WaH: This is a hybrid US/international production and in our last conversation you talked about how women directors on an international level have a different respect but you had an American producer involved in this. I was wondering what it was like to have an American producer and shoot in Europe because the film has a very European feel to it.
LS: It was a decision from Nina Jacobson (the producer) to keep the film in England even if she is American. It could have been obvious to move the story to NYC for instance instead of London, but Nina felt that it had an atmosphere and a specificity that she thought was worth fighting for. It was great that Nina has a studio background and a knowledge about the audience and about how I was expected to operate in this world, but also she is a very sensitive person who is good on the detailed level of making small decisions and helping solve small problems sometimes even before they arise and be enthusiastic not just day to day but hour to hour. She’s a force of nature and her moving into film production and not being an executive allows her to be much more creative and I think she really enjoys the life on the floor. It’s definitely been fantastic to have someone like her to guide me into this world.
WaH: Was it helpful that the novelist also wrote the screenplay?
LS: Yes. David (Nicholls) knows his concept really really well. This idea of checking in on the characters on the same day every year. Sometimes you see both of them, sometimes only one of them and it turns out there is a reason for that. That device is the story itself. It means that you don’t always see the obvious high points. You see other turning points that are emotional or funny in a different way if it had happened in a more traditional romantic comedy. So David knew how important it was to stick to that concept. He knows that world very well too, it is a world he has lived in so there is a lot of his life and his information that is in the book and that was helpful to everyone that worked on the film. But you have to trust as a director you are the person who has to turn it into cinema.
WaH: I remember that An Education was based on a short piece first which became a longer piece and this is based on a best-selling book. What were the challenges you felt taking a best-seller and putting it on screen? I see people everywhere on the subway reading the book.
LS: I know we saw it in London too. It was in the bookshop windows. It didn’t become a best-seller in the US until we had shot for a while which was a good thing. There would have been more pressure and probably you would have felt an even stronger loyalty to the readers, to film what you thought was in the readers mind when they read the book. And that’s hard.
And so for instance casting Anne Hathaway is an interpretation and a decision that is controversial because she is not an obvious Emma Morley. But you do the best thing you can do for everybody and try to make the best possible film and use that craft and instinct and not be too worried about the book. It is hard and it was even harder in a way with An Education because it was about a real person.
WaH: I don’t understand the controversy over casting Anne as an Englishwoman when all we do here is cast Brits and Aussies as Americans especially on TV. I think that is an inflated controversy.
LS: I’m glad that you look at it that way. They are actors. I totally agree.
WaH: I guess we have to have something to talk about with Anne but I’m not buying that. But why did you feel that she was right? And it’s interesting that Patricia Clarkson is also American and your male leads are all British.
LS: It’s like Batman – all the men are English. Anne’s version of Emma is a very warm blooded Emma. It’s a darker more sensual Emma than she is depicted in the book. Maybe it’s a darker film than the book is. It’s a decision that I am really glad we made because it gives the film some gravitas that I like. And Anne is a wonderful actress and it’s not an easy part. A lot of actresses could cover it and do something that was lovely and unforgettable, but she is in a league of her own, and now I can hardly think of or imagine anyone else. She was our first choice, so I haven’t thought about the film with other people in mind.
WaH: You directed Carey Mulligan at the beginning or her career and she has exploded, and Anne is already a large star, so as a woman and seeing these women on the set do you have any thoughts how the Hollywood machine treats women?
LS: I do think there is a lot of respect around Anne, and part of Carey Mulligan’s secret is that she is very dignified and she does not sell out and she is a poised powerful woman who walks into the room even if she is very young. They both have very good taste not just in fashion but they make interesting choices. Anne can have many nude scenes in the film and still not sell out and still be a proper actress who knows her craft very well.
I don’t know if I treat them more respectfully because I am a woman director. There is an affection that I can give them. Both Anne and Carey are easy to like and to care for and maybe I can have access to that because I am not a man. There is also a kind of admiration that they would get from a male director that I don’t do. But I have a daughter, and I don’t mother them. I am not that intimate with them. Well, actually I am intimate with Anne and that surprised me a lot. I’ve told Anne things I’ve never told anybody else but that’s her personality and that has nothing to do with directing.
WaH: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
LS: The script was challenging because the structure is the way it is. To turn that structure into something that feels dramatic and has an emotional arc. It already has it in the script but because of that structure it was an advantage but it is also the biggest challenge of the film because time itself is the plot. It’s much easier to lean on a strong plot as a director. It’s easier to do something that is more genre oriented.
WaH: You are one of the few women who has a a film nominated for best picture. What does that mean for you as a director? How have things changed?
LS: Because I am Scandinavian I do see things form a different point of view and the whole situation with women directors is different particularly in Sweden. It’s much more equal than probably anywhere else in the western world.
WaH: Do you want to do more American movies?
LS: It depends on the scripts. I wish I could answer your question better. I can tell you how extremely proud and happy I was when Kathryn Bigelow won (best director) but that’s also because I liked her film the most and how much I respect that she does genre and that she goes for it and that she’s fearless and strong and not compromising and not doing things you might expect that a female director would do.
WaH: It’s as hard to make a good romantic comedy as it is to make a good war movie, so women get pigeon holed directing movies women make vs movies men make.
LS: Maybe. If this film is successful all I can hope is that I get even more scripts that wouldn’t be obvious to send to me.
WaH: Do you have your next project?
LS: No, not yet.