I first discovered screenwriter Richard Curtis in 1989 with “The Tall Guy,” an hilarious British comedy starring Emma Thompson and Jeff Goldblum. Curtis is one of those writers (like, say, Charlie Kaufman) who has a voice so powerful and distinctive that it shines through every one of his movies, no matter who directs them. Warm, charming, witty and moving, his films involve the pursuit of love and happiness.
Think “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Notting Hill,” starring Hugh Grant as Curtis’s alterego, or the “Mr. Bean” movies, starring Curtis’s early “Black Adder” collaborator Rowan Atkinson, who garbled more than one wedding service in “Four Weddings” with such lines as “in the name of the the Father, the Son and the Holy Spigot.” (See our flip cam interview and an “About Time” trailer below.)
Curtis has enjoyed a long and rewarding relationship with Brit production company Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, who also produced the “Bridget Jones’s Diary” films, starring Renee Zellweger, Grant and Colin Firth, which were co-written with novelist Helen Fielding, who recently wrote her own rogue sequel. (We will see no more Bridget Jones movie sequels, says Curtis.) Despite various Hollywood lures, Curtis has kept his head on and stayed in England to do his own thing in cahoots with Working Title, whose films are released through Universal. He enjoys writing from the heart: “It’s good to just write what makes you laugh and what feels right.”
Inevitably, Curtis decided to direct, and his first film, the multi-strand “Love Actually,” stars an amazing ensemble more famous now than they were in 2003, including Grant, Thompson, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”), Martin “The Hobbit” Freeman and “Walking Dead” star Andrew Lincoln. The film has gone on to become a popular Christmas perennial (my family watches it every year). His second film, the ill-fated “Pirate Radio,” was too personal and British to catch on anywhere, and so he and Working Title kept their costs down on his third outing as a writer-director, “About Time” (November 8), which I saw at the New York Film Festival.
A romantic comedy, time travel movie and family drama all in one, “About Time” stars Bill Nighy and up-and-comer Domhnall Gleeson as a father and son who time travel, and Rachel McAdams as the object of Gleeson’s affections. (Yes, he’s the son of Brendan Gleeson.) Nighy agreed to play the role only if he could keep it simple. “I’ll do it but I don’t want to any acting,” Nighy said to Curtis. This allows moviegoers to “project their own father into the space he created, which represents love,” says Curtis, who in the film celebrates family and “the treasuring of the banal ordinary days.” “About Time” may be Curtis’s last directing gig, as he plans to take his own advice and learn to enjoy walks on the beach –without hundreds of crew members waiting for the next shot.
Meanwhile he’s writing up a storm. In the works are Rio De Janeiro film “Trash,” that Curtis adapted for Stephen Daldry from Andy Mulligan’s novel about three Portuguese street kids. “It’s a ‘Bourne’ movie for Portuguese garbage workers,” Curtis says. He’s also written TV film “Esio Trot,” to star Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman next year, a romantic comedy adapted from the Roald Dahl novel: “It’s a cute romance about a guy who lives above the woman he loves, and the only way of winning the woman he loves is changing the size of her tortoise.”