Emma Thompson was a friend of director Paul Feig before they worked on Last Christmas, but now he’s a super fan of the British star.
Feig has become something of a master at helming funny female-lead films. Since the smash hit Bridesmaids in 2011 he has delivered Melissa McCarthy romps The Heat and Spy, the darkly comedic gem A Simple Favour and the Ghostbusters remake.
On an early November day, the debonair American director is in Melbourne spruiking his latest offering, Last Christmas. The film stars Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke as Kate, a young woman hell bent on derailing her life with booze and ill-advised sexual encounters.
While working as an elf in a kooky Christmas store she meets a handsome stranger (played by Crazy Rich Asians heart-throb Henry Golding) who changes her outlook on life.
The film was co-written by Thompson, who also plays the role of Kate’s neurotic mother to absolute perfection.
“She is everything you want her to be and then times it by ten,” Feig tells The New Daily.
“She is sincerely down to earth. She lives in this great house, but by the same token it’s a very normal house and she dresses very normal.
“Above all, she’s very caring. Every day on set she would show up with these big bags filled with chocolate. She’d go around to the whole crew and all the extras passing out chocolate.
“I’d be getting ready to do a shot and I’d ask where she was and she’d be over talking to the extras. She’d come over and say ‘Hey, did you know that Bill over there is a musician?’”
It was Thompson who persuaded Feig to take on the sparkly London-based film, sending him the script “out of the blue” after they became friends working on a movie that fell over because of schedules.
“She dropped this bombshell of a script into my mailbox and I jettisoned the other movie I was working on and jumped on this,” he says.
As with so many yuletide films, music is an integral part of Last Christmas.
The lyrics of the classic Wham! song provided the impetus. Thompson met with George Michael several times while working on the script, and he gave the project his blessing before he passed away on Christmas Day 2016.
“This never started out as ‘the George Michael movie’”, Feig says.
“It was based on the song Last Christmas – that was hard-baked in there, and that’s George’s words and thoughts – but then the movie just started demanding more George.
“We thought originally we were going to have five songs and we ended up having 15 songs from George Michael, including one that’s never been heard before.”
The previously-unreleased song This Is How (We Want You To Get High) is Michael’s first posthumous single.
The role of clumsy, funny, messy Kate provides the perfect departure for Clarke from Daenarys Targaryen. The character couldn’t be further from the steely powerhouse mother of dragons.
“Emilia Clarke is someone I was a fan of. I had a meeting with her four years prior,” Feig says.
“I was expecting this very serious actress to come in and she was very, very funny. I walked out of that meeting and I was like ‘I’ve got to get her in a comedy’.
So when I read the script for Last Christmas I thought, ‘This is the one. This will showcase how good of an actress she is and show she can do physical comedy.”
When asked which film he would remake if he could have a crack at any title, Feig, whose all-female Ghostbusters reboot became the target of an alt-right smear campaign in 2016, pauses.
“Oh God, that’s such a dangerous proposition these days,” he says, eventually settling for a 1976 sci-fi hit.
“I always thought Logan’s Run was dying for a remake. I always loved that movie, but I think you could bring that more into the modern day.”
And as for his ultimate casting choices for that remake?
“That I don’t know exactly … but it would be ladies in the leads”.