Richard Curtis, the screenwriter who shaped the modern romantic comedy with hits “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” has directed only three movies, but the filmmaker is already prepared to call it quits. He said he will stop making movies after his latest offering, “About Time,” opens this week.
“That’s my intention at the moment,” Curtis said on a recent morning in New York, adding that he’d “probably” continue writing. “The message of this movie is enjoy every ordinary day of your life. I should listen to that message.”
“About Time,” like all Curtis’ stories, tells the tale of a young lad (Domhnall Gleeson) enamored with a fair lady (Rachel McAdams). But there’s a twist. Our hero can travel back in time to fix his awkward romantic foibles, a trick he learned from his dad (Bill Nighy).
Curtis’ directorial debut, 2003’s “Love Actually,” starring Hugh Grant, grossed nearly $250 million worldwide. Six years later, his “Pirate Radio,” about a seafaring band of rogue rock ’n’ roll deejays, sank at the box office.
He describes the director’s process as one that is unendingly stressful: “A thousand days of pain! It’s a very ungrateful thing of me to say, because it’s such a privilege to be in a position where I’m allowed to direct anything. I’ve had a long go at it.”
Or maybe it just feels that way. Curtis wrote the first page of “About Time” eight years ago, and spent two and a half years on the script. Even as a screenwriter early in his career, he was intensely involved in casting, shooting and editing.
He said Grant was discovered for “Four Weddings” after 70 other actors auditioned. “He had been working for 10 years, (and) was at the point of giving up.”
It’s a little strange to be interviewing Curtis, who wrote the ultimate press junket scene in “Notting Hill,” at a press junket. It was a movie for which he wrote two different scripts. In the early draft, Julia Roberts and Grant break up, and he falls in love with a girl who works at a record store.
“But then I realized I’m not really interested in pain,” Curtis says. “The record store girl turned into his sister, and it turned into the movie it is, which I think is notable for its lack of subplot.”
Curtis said he has a mean eye in the editing room — “I’m immensely critical and uninterested in what I wrote in the first place” — which proved to be a blessing in “Love Actually.”
“It read really well, seemed to go well when we shot, then we watched it — catastrophe!” he said. The filmmakers had to rejigger the vignettes so viewers would care about the characters. Curtis still calls the finished movie tonally inconsistent. “I’m not sure all the stories are from the same universe,” he cracked.
In recent years, he’s tried his hand at darker fare, such as “War Horse” and Stephen Daldry’s upcoming “Trash,” about street kids. He’s also finished the screenplay for “Esio Trot” by Roald Dahl, the author he religiously read to his four children growing up in England.
It might not be a bad time to take a break from Hollywood, given the diminished state of the romantic comedy, though he doesn’t categorize “About Time” as such.
“There is a romantic comedy in there somewhere, but it stops halfway through. Now that I got older, you have a family. The moment you have a child, you start another family. Romantic comedies are only half the story.”
Dating Curtis at Global B.O.
$36m: *”Pirate Radio” (2009)
$247m: *”Love Actually” (2003)
$282m: “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (2001)
$364m: “Notting Hill” (1999)
$246m: “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994)