Paul Feig’s last Christmas movie, “Unaccompanied Minors,” wasn’t quite the success the director had hoped. In fact, he didn’t think he’d ever do another holiday movie — but when Emma Thompson sent him the script for “Last Christmas,” he knew he had to give it a shot.
“I did a Christmas movie 13 years ago for Warner Bros., which did not do well,” Feig told TheWrap laughing. “I was like, ‘I don’t need to do another one of those.’ But then Emma Thompson sent him the script out of the blue, and everyone knows whenever Emma sends you a script, you open it up.”
His heart sank when it was called “Last Christmas,”– he rightly feared a visit from the Ghost of Horrible Holiday Movies Past. But the minute he started reading the script, cowritten by Bryony Kimmings, he quickly realized it was much more than a cliché Christmas flick. “It’s really a story of people healing pain and redemption and finding your place,” he said. “By the time I hit the end of it, I was in tears.”
“Last Christmas” stars Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, and follows Clarke’s Kate through London as she tries to clean up the mess she’s made with her life. When she meets Golding’s Tom, she thinks she’s finally found the man who can stitch her back together. Of course, this takes place during the happiest time of the year, in one of the busiest places in the world. Which, Feig said, caused some logistical issues.
“The logistics were hard to shoot right in the central of London,” Feig explained. “I love London, it’s really one of my favorite places in the world — you know, Regent street and Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus, those are very busy places, so we had a very inconvenient schedule of needing to shoot in the middle of the night.”
The first week of shooting was in Covent Garden, with most days beginning as early as 2 a.m. “So you’d kind of show up and be like, ‘Wait, what am I doing here? Where am I?'” he said, adding, “I kind of rushed us into production because I wanted to be able to shoot for at least three weeks before Christmas, so you get all the natural Christmas lights that were up.” As a result the winter cold became one of the main obstacles of shooting. Emilia Clarke discovered a clever way to endure the weather, strategically placing those “hot packs” all over her costume — perhaps from her chilly “Game of Thrones” days.
Thankfully, the cold-weather sacrifices were worth it. The film is packed to the brim with said Christmas lights and decorations, mostly given that Kate’s work place is a year-round Christmas store, run by Christmas-fanatic Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Though the surroundings on set were breathtaking, that wasn’t even Feig’s favorite part about doing “Last Christmas.”
“Every day was just so much fun, but we really enjoyed shooting in the skating rink,” Feig said. “That was just so beautiful to have this famous skating rink all to yourself and we were just all skating between takes and we had skate parties after we wrapped. The holiday spirit wasn’t lost on the crew who helped created a warm atmosphere off the set. “I assemble a really nice crew of people behind the scenes because I just can’t work if there is any unhappiness or fighting around,” the director said. “That’s the one rule in my company is just no drama — leave the drama on the screen behind it.”
For Feig, the movie wasn’t just a romantic Christmas movie, though. For the filmmaker, it was important to talk about issues like immigration, homelessness and mental health.
“This is an immigrant story,” Feig said. “And you can’t have that in a modern day movie and not mention Brexit. We’re not doing it for political reasons, other than us saying ‘Look, this is how this affects people’s lives.'”
Homelessness was a big cause for George Michael, whose songs were featured in the film’s soundtrack. The music lends itself to the film’s spirit of generosity and the charity that comes with the Christmas season.
“And then somebody being traumatized by a very traumatic illness and how that can tear their life apart. That’s another very, very heavy emotional topic that we just tried to handle through the characters and how they deal with things,” Feig said. “So none of us ever wanted to do a fluffy movie because then there are no stakes in it.”
“Last Christmas” hits theaters this Friday.