Watching it has become a beloved Christmas tradition, but there was one megastar in hit movie Love Actually – who had only just got their big break at the time – who was convinced her career was about to flop.
It’s one revelation on The Laughter and Secrets of Love Actually: 20 Years Later, a TV special celebrating two decades since the movie was released in 2003.
On the US ABC TV retrospective, which aired in the US on Tuesday night, stars of the film including Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Martine McCutcheon, Laura Linney and Bill Nighy spoke to American news anchor legend Diane Sawyer.
Grant also revealed the scene that he desperately tried not to shoot while director Richard Curtis said he still “winced” about the film’s mistakes.
Love Actually hit cinemas in the US and UK in November 2003.
At the time, it received mixed reviews with some critics – and audiences – unused to its format of parallel, mostly separate storylines. It was a technique rarely used in rom-coms.
Produced for around $A60 million, the British-American-French film was a hit, grossing $A20m in Australia alone and $A370m worldwide.
Since its release it’s become a modern cultural Christmas classic, loved by many but avoided by plenty of yuletide grinches not won over by its sheer tsunami of sweetness.
Talking to Swayer, however, director Richard Curtis was unapologetic about his film and its multiple love stories.
He said he wanted to make a movie about the surprising way we’re good to one another.
“We have hundreds of films about serial killers and there’s only ever been about nine of them.
“And yet there’s millions of people falling in love.”
‘Agonising’ scene Hugh Grant hates
But the film’s biggest star, Hugh Grant, was not in love with one particular scene.
He played a newly installed British Prime Minister whose plot line saw him falling for his catering manager Natalie (McCutcheon) who is leered over by the US President, played by Billy Bob Thornton.
One of the scenes that saw audiences fall in love with Grant’s PM was his impromptu dance through Downing Street. Yet for Grant, the whole episode was painful.
“I saw it in the script and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll hate doing that.’ I didn’t fancy doing the dance at all, let alone rehearsing it,” Grant told Sawyer.
“To this day, there’s many people, and I agree with them, who think it’s the most excruciating scene ever committed to celluloid.
“Then some people like it.
“I’m out of rhythm, by the way,” Grant added. “Especially at the beginning when I’m wiggling my a*se.”
Richard Curtis who wrote and directed Love Actually – along with Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary – said it was quite clear Grant did not want to boogie.
“I think he was hoping I’d get ill or something and we’d say, ‘Oh, well, what a shame, we’ll have to lose that dancing sequence.’”
But there was nothing for it – Grant had signed on the dotted line and had to go through with it. Curtis told the program that it was “agonisingly embarrassing” to watch Grant dance on set.
Nonetheless, he said, “He’s just perfect.”
Keira Knightley thought she’d made huge mistake
The film was overflowing with stars including Liam Neeson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Colin Firth and Alan Rickman.
Keira Knightley played Juliet who in the film was notably wooed by Andrew Lincoln’s Mark by way of a series of cue cards.
But she was a movie newbie and had only just stared in her breakout role, the soccer drama Bend it Like Beckham. Scores of the Love Actually cast were more secure in their careers than her.
And, said Curtis, she was concerned that after Love Actually, he career might take a nose dive because of her mistake in taking on a new role.
“I remember sitting down with Keira while we were shooting and I said, ‘What are you doing next,’ Curtis said. “And she said, ‘Oh I don’t think it’s going to work out. It’s a pirate film and they always fail’.”
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl saw Knightly star alongside Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush and Orlando Bloom. It would end up being released prior to Love Actually and would become the fourth highest grossing film of 2003, cementing Knightley’s star status, and leading to multiple sequels.
Love Actually mistake that made director ‘wince’
Understandably, Curtis has a soft spot for one of his biggest hits. But he says he is also aware that it’s shown its age since it was released 20 years ago.
Sawyer asked him if anything made him “wince” about the film.
“Thank God, society is changing so my film was bound to feel out of date,” Curtis said.
“The lack of diversity make me feel uncomfortable and a bit stupid.”
And it wasn’t just that. He said there were at least three plots in the film which involved bosses making moves on their staff – something which many frown upon today.
Emma Thompson, who played Karen and had perhaps the film’s most moving scene where she quietly cries in her marital bedroom to a background of Joni Mitchell when she discovers her husband’s affair, said it was above all a film that’s “funny about love”.
“And it all its messiness, and, and its unexpectedness, and that you will find love in the weirdest places, and ambivalent love – which is still love – and unrequited love which is the most painful thing on the planet but it’s love.”