Paul Feig talks directing Last Christmas: “My goal was to never do a Christmas movie again”

“Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away…” 

Those are the heartbreaking words of George Michael and Wham’s “Last Christmas”, the classic festive jingle that has been transformed into a feature-length movie starring Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke and Crazy Rich Asians actor Henry Golding. If that’s not already the recipe for a wonderfully joyous Christmas movie, then you’ll be happy to learn that Bridesmaids mastermind Paul Feig is on directing duties and has set the movie on the beautiful streets of London. 

“Anybody who’s been to Britain just goes, ‘It’s so beautiful at this time of year.’ There’s just a magical quality to it,” he tells GamesRadar and Total Film. “Over the years, I’ve gone, ‘I want to make a movie about London,’ to show the city off in a way that someone not from here sees it. People who live in a place see it as their day to day grind. You never step back and really appreciate it. It’s fun for me as an outsider to show London off in a way that you might not see it anymore.”

Of course, there’s a lot more to the movie than its London-at-Christmas aesthetic. The plot centres on Clarke’s character Kate, a down-on-her-luck Christmas store employee who, by chance, bumps into Golding’s Tom. The two quickly strike up a relationship, but all may not be as it seems…Like Michael’s iconic song, there’s going to be heartbreak and lots (and lots) of tears. 

We sat down with Feig to discuss Last Christmas just as the new trailer, which you can watch below, launches online. Topics touched upon include the movie’s potential twist, whether the director would ever make Bridesmaids 2, and why feel-good movies are a rarity in Hollywood. Read our Q&A with the director below (edited for clarity).

After the first trailer launched online, a lot of people were theorising that there could be a dark twist, that perhaps Henry Golding’s character is a ghost… Without spoiling anything, can you confirm whether we’ll be crying happy tears or sad tear by the end of the movie?

[Laughs] Well, all my movies are good-natured and uplifting. Even when they’re dark, like A Simple Favour [a mystery thriller starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively], even that’s uplifting at the end. I never make a movie to upset people, so I think people will be very happy with how it pans out.

It’s interesting that people are talking about a dark twist. There aren’t many purely nice films at the moment.

That’s why it’s very difficult to do straight comedy these days. People are very hostile about something that exists to make you happy. Whenever I put out a trailer for one of my more comedy comedies, it’s met with as much hostility as people who are excited by it. People go, “Oh you’ve ruined it, all the best jokes are in the thing.” I feel like there’s a feeling of, “How dare you try to make us happy! How dare you just try and give us something light that doesn’t mean anything!” It’s a very weird thing. When people are looking for darkness, it is a sign of the times. But, for me as a filmmaker, I’m not going to spend a year of my life making something that’s not going to make people happy in some way. I want to take everyone through the fire, that’s my favourite thing to do, to get dark and very weird, but I’m never going to do something that doesn’t have a positive message at the end. So you can expect that from this.

It feels like those joyful movies are very old Hollywood.

That’s what I most loved about the response to Last Christmas online. Outside of people looking for a secret twist, the response from a lot of people was, “Oh thank God one of these movies is coming out!” But it’s also a sign of the times. This is a very pessimistic time we’re stuck in, politically, the way the world is working right now. I don’t want to pile on. But it was interesting that, when we made A Simple Favour last year, that was made in a spirit of everyone’s itching for a fight. With Brexit and Trump and all that. You felt people didn’t want to be diverted by escapism. Then you felt it turning. By the time this script showed up, I was thinking, “I’m ready for something like this.” It was just nice. The response that came from the internet made me feel good – that we’re not out of time.

They do say that these things come in stages – that when it’s a dark time we look to art for something light.

Totally. I thought it would be that people immediately wanted escapism, but it was like a year, year and a half of, “I just want dark, good verses evil.”

(Image credit: Getty)

Last Christmas is inspired by the music of George Michael, but you’ve said this isn’t a jukebox movie. How much of his music can we expect? Will there be a new song every five minutes?

It’s very organic to the movie. It’s a mix of some songs that are completely interactive with the characters, while some songs just go over the top of what they’re doing, but never in a montage way. This movie’s about a woman who wants to be a singer and her hero is George Michael. I wanted to capture how the music we listen to creates a soundtrack to our lives that we are never aware of until you hear a song and think, “That reminds me of this time in my life.” Or you put on a song and it becomes your current soundtrack. That’s what I wanted to play out because I love music so much. It’s such an unconscious thing in my life. 

The movie never set out to have 15 George Michael songs in it. It was loosely based on Last Christmas, and we knew loosely where others would play because Emma [Thompson, who wrote the script and stars as Clarke’s character’s mother] had written, “This would be a good place to play a George song.” That was it.

With this, plus the huge dance sequence during the credits of your Ghostbusters reboot, surely you should be directing a musical some time soon?

That’s happening as soon as I can make it! Everyone in my company [Feigco Entertainment] knows, I’m like, “Find me a musical!” But I’m not drawn to doing a musical that exists already. I’m drawn to making an original one. There’s one we’ve been working on for a while, but I don’t know if it’s the right one. I’m a big Bollywood fan, and there’s something about those dance numbers, the way they’re worked in. I’m trying to figure out how to do that.

Something striking about Last Christmas is that, before the events of the movie, Emilia Clarke’s character is in hospital. In real life, Clarke has a stroke eight years ago. Was that something you were aware of and did it impact the script at all?

That was always in the script, back before Emilia was attached or anything like that. That was part of the storytelling. I met with Emilia three or four years before and fell in love with her because she’s so funny and effervescent in that sort of way, but it was only once she was attached on that she told me about that. Beyond that, it was an organic thing that happened to the character.

It feels like a very brave thing to take on a part that could hit so close to home. And then she also sings! Did you know she was a singer before casting her?

Absolutely. And no, I didn’t know she could sing! I cast her knowing she had to sing a few times in the movie. I think she knew. Wait, did she? Yes, I think so. It wasn’t as hard-wired into the script as it ended up being. But you knew she wanted to be a singer and had a couple of audition scenes. But, I kind of hired her and thought, “Oh gosh, I didn’t ask if she could sing.” But then I saw some Dolce and Gabbana commercial where she sings in Italian, and then I knew that was not a problem. And she has this lovely voice. Sometimes I stumble into stuff and I then I realise I didn’t even think about that.

(Image credit: Universal)

You’ve directed a Christmas movie before. the more children centred Unaccompanied Minors. What Christmas faux-pas did you know to avoid this time around? What lessons did you learn?

It was more about the stakes and the characters. Unaccompanied Minors began as Grounded and was very much about children of divorce and creating new families. We were a week into production and the studio head got nervous that we were being mean towards divorced parents. He shut us down and made us cut a lot of that stuff out. What we ended up with… I’m proud of all my babies, even the ugly ones, but a kids romp which they could watch on Nickelodeon. Here we have deep emotional stakes where characters are going through important things. At Christmas, there’s all the eating and fun and all of that, but it brings out heavy emotions. That’s what people want out of a Christmas movie, instead of people running around and there just happen to be Christmas trees in the background. So when I read this – and my goal was to never do a Christmas movie again – but I loved this script so much and it just happened to be set at Christmas time.

You’ve never done a sequel to one of your films. Is that something you would like to do?

I try to avoid it because – everyone thinks they want a sequel to Bridesmaids. Whereas that could be really fun, one of the reasons the first movie works is not because of the wedding or all the shitting in the sinks – which is a good scene, I’ve got to say – but because Kristen Wiig’s character is this mess who goes through the fire and has to repair herself at the end. To take a movie like that and do a sequel… We could take [Melissa McCarthy’s character] Megan and get her married, which is a really funny idea, but how do I invest the audience in that? You can’t just have Kristen’s life fall apart again and put back together. It always sounds so easy, like a  done thing, but it’s that spirit of discovery you have in that first movie that really pulls you along, whether you notice that or not. You watch the character become something else. 

That said, when you watch Spy, I felt like we could definitely do more of these. But we haven’t so far because there hasn’t been interest from the studio in it. That would be one I would think about. Even then, I know I have the greatest setup for Spy 2 ever, I’m so excited about it, but then you get the nitty gritty. Again, that was a movie about a woman overcoming her non-confidence to become strong. If you meet someone and they’re a badass at the beginning and a badass at the end, is that going to be enough?

Last Christmas reaches UK cinemas 15 November.

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