A mix of veterans and newcomers gathered for a screening of writer-director Marc Lawrence’s latest film, “The Rewrite.” The jovial atmosphere of the event, hosted by The Cinema Society and Brooks Brothers, stemmed both from the heartfelt nature of the film — typical for the work of Lawrence (“Music and Lyrics”) — and the exceptional chemistry that formed on-set between the actors.
“The Rewrite” stars Hugh Grant as Keith Michaels, an acclaimed screenwriter past his prime. Divorced, nearly broke, estranged from his teenage son and holding onto not-so-vaguely sexist attitudes, he relocates to Binghamton University to take on a teaching job and get back in the swing of things. While there, he meets his match in single parent Holly (played by Marisa Tomei), who’s juggling two jobs whilst back at school to find her calling in a more creative field.
Characteristic for any Lawrence-Grant collaboration (this is their fourth film together), there’s a wistful, romantic core to “The Rewrite.” But this film digs a little deeper than one might expect: Grant works his comedic and dramatic chops with his best role in years, while Lawrence’s directorial style is assuredly naturalistic.
A lot of that has to do with the budget. Lawrence’s last film, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?,” was criticized for its stiffness and was made for a hefty $58 million. “The Rewrite,” conversely, was made for less than half of that — and Lawrence only had good things to say about that.
“A lot of good things come out of [a smaller budget],” he explained. “It creates a certain level of creativity, and I really learned how much you could cut back … it’s just that a lot less money was wasted.”
Lawrence’s typical timeframe for shooting a film was slashed in half with “The Rewrite,” an adjustment aided by the level of professionalism on set. Aside from veterans Grant and Tomei, Chris Elliot, J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney all co-starred in the film as colleagues at the university. Lawrence, who openly and repeatedly proclaimed his love for actors, was thrilled with what he had to work with. “If an actor says something’s not working, that’s one of my favorite moments … Everyone on these sets is a professional. Everyone is true, and they all know their jobs so well.”
Elliot said that Lawrence’s admiration for actors spills into the atmosphere of his sets. “You don’t feel like you’re going to work at all,” he explained. “It was fun to do the written lines in the script, but it was also great to just sit quietly next to each other and hang out.”
Grant, who in the past few years has indicated moving away from acting, jumped at the opportunity to work with Lawrence for a fourth time. “I love Marc’s stuff, and [‘The Rewrite’] made me laugh,” he said. “[I wasn’t interested] in the sort of marketed, Hallmark, ‘Valentine’s Day’ sense — I find that repugnant. Here, the romantic comedy part of it is only a small part; it’s about this broken guy who mends himself.”
Though his on-screen romantic partners have ranged from A-listers Sarah Jessica Parker to Drew Barrymore to Rachel Weisz, Grant joked about the challenges of working with Tomei: “It was a little bit scary, actually. She’s a hard-core New York method actress, and I’m not that kind of actor at all!”
Of course, not everyone on the set of “The Rewrite” had a collection of awards and nominations to their name. A pair of young actors, Steven Kaplan and Emily Morden, star in the film as students of Grant’s washed-up professor. And they were both rather stunned by the chance to work with such an established cast.
“It was very surreal, and also a dream,” Kaplan gushed. “I grew up watching these people work, and to be able to share the screen with them was just an honor. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”
Kaplan plays Clem Ronson, an aspiring screenwriter (and hypochondriac) who surprises Michaels with his immense talent. Kaplan explained that Lawrence gave him just the right amount of freedom to play the character: “[Lawrence] is very calm, incredibly organized and just knows when to be hands-on and when to let you do your work.”
After chatting, Lawrence and his cast settled into the screening before a party took place at Jimmy at the James Hotel. Other attendees included Kyle MacLachlan, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy and Abby Elliot.
“The Rewrite” team shared a warmth and familiarity throughout the evening. I asked Morden, making just her third film appearance in “The Rewrite,” if she was provided with any advice on set: “In my callback, I couldn’t remember my lines — I was so nervous. And Marc said to me, ‘Oh, don’t worry, Hugh never remembers his lines anyway!'”
“The Rewrite” is set for a New York release this Friday, February 13.