People who have previously experienced such joy and a sense of personal and professional accomplishments in their past often dwell in their past glories, and are unable to truly accept that they’re incapable of easily reclaiming that good fortune and status in their present lives. Often times it takes what they perceive will be a harrowing and dreadful experience that they unwillingly must embark on to achieve their last opportunity for redemption. In the process, they finally realize how meaningful their lives, including their relationships and careers, truly are, and they should happily embrace the way their situations have turned out.
This is certainly the case with the main character, a formerly acclaimed screenwriter who has also lost his most important personal relationships, in the new romantic comedy, ‘The Rewrite.’ The film, which is now playing in theaters and on VOD and iTunes, reunites Hugh Grant with writer-director Marc Lawrence for their fourth collaboration together, after ‘Two Weeks Notice,’ ‘Music and Lyrics’ and ‘Did You Hear About the Morgans?’ The actor and filmmaker’s reunion enthralling emphasizes that no matter how many chances people are offered in life, they must be willing to make the necessary changes to fully embrace the endlessly powerful opportunities they’re offered.
‘The Rewrite’ follows Hollywood screenwriter Keith Michaels (Grant), who finally realizes that after winning an Academy Award for his first script, ‘Paradise Lost,’ 15 years ago, he has reached the point in his career that he can no longer hold onto the fame for his only hit film. Nearly broke and unable to find work with a studio, he’s willing to take any work he can find. So his agent convinces him to accept a writer-in-residency position at SUNY Binghamton’s creative writing program in Upstate New York. While the scribe is initially hesitant to move across the country to what he perceives to be an isolated town, he decides that the position will provide him the time and opportunity to finally pen his Oscar-winning movie’s long-anticipated sequel.
Once he arrives in Binghamton, Keith meets several of his fellow professors, including the sentimental department chair, Dr. Lerner (J.K. Simmons), who’s also a former Navy Seal; his next door neighbor, Jim (Chris Elliott), who’s a Shakespeare-reciting professor; and a sensitive women’s studies professor, Mary Weldon (Allison Janney), who’s easily insulted by the screenwriter’s approach to both his professional and personal lives. Dr. Lerner soon informs Keith that he must read the 30-page scripts submitted by the students who are interested in taking his class and pick the 10 most promising stories. However, he barely reads through the screenplays and picks the students he’s most interested in meeting after looking at their social networking profiles. After the class begins, Keith begins a personal relationship with one of the students, Karen (Bella Heathcote), who he met on the first day he arrived in New York.
But Keith’s approach to his class, and life in general, is unexpectedly changed when he meets single mother Holly Carpenter (Marisa Tomei), who’s working two jobs so that she can go back to school and try a creative career. After seeing that she’s undaunted by any obstacle she faces in life, he realizes that he, too, can finally distance himself from his self-destructive tendencies. He sets out to not only move past having trouble getting his projects greenlit, but also the fact that he hasn’t spoken to his college-age son in over a year after his divorce, to find the courage to pursue what he really wants in life.
Grant, Elliott and Lawrence generously took the time recently to participate in a press conference at The London NYC Hotel in New York City, to talk about filming ‘The Rewrite.’ Among other things, the actors and writer-director discussed how Grant’s character learns that there are other metrics besides money that people should judge themselves by, including how much they’re valued as a person by the people around them; and how people often times rely too much on inspiration to achieve their goals, but they can also obtain their dreams through hard work and application.
Question (Q): Chris, you’ve been thought of as a more of a comic personality. Hugh, you’re known for your comic and serious roles. How do you both decide when a role works for you, and what kind of balance do you like to see between the two genres?
Chris Elliott (CE): I honestly feel like I’ve spent the last 10 years of my career trying to get smaller and smaller with what I do comedically. I think that’s been noticed a little bit, so I’ve been able to move from doing the crazy and goofy stuff that I was known for doing in the 1980s and early ‘90s, into doing something where I’m a little more believable. I never thought I was a believable actor; I always thought I was a bit of this goofy guy.
There are comedians that I believe (when they’re) on camera-I believe Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Bill Murray. I never believed myself when I was actually trying to act, so it’s taken me a while to find that balance. I think I did that in this movie, and it’s because of working with Hugh and Marc, who kept the reins pulled in pretty tight.
Hugh Grant (HG): Well, I can only vaguely perform in a live comedy tone. When I try other tones, it’s a disaster. So I’m more stuck here; having said that, I have attempted to render some emotions in this film, and at least I tried.
Q: What was it like working with this younger generation of technology obsessed individuals?
Marc Lawrence (ML): I actually learned by watching my kids. My son Clyde is a 21-year-old senior in college, and he also wrote the score to the film. My daughter Gracie is a senior in high school, and I also have an 11-year-old. Watching them was the best education for me.
Even some of the things that Bella (Heathcote), who plays the student that Hugh’s character has a relationship with, was saying was some of the same stuff I found Clyde and his friend saying. They’d use terms of slang like “word,” or was it “word up?” I think that was the old way. It was honestly through observing them and how they talk that kept me writing.
Q: Hugh, you have spoken about not confusing celebrity and self-work in the past. Is that something that appealed to you about ‘The Rewrite?’
HG: Well, I suppose it did. I like the way my character learns that there are other metrics by which to judge yourself from other than money, including how much you’re wanted in one particular trait. My character realizes that he’s wanted by his students; he’s valued by them and by the university, and I think that’s rather touching.
As for my children, it’s been a huge surprise that they value me and still like me, despite the fact I don’t make many films anymore. That’s what happened to Keith in the movie.
Q: You and Marisa had really nice chemistry in the film. How was it working with her?
HG: Well, actually, I was frightened of her. I still am, because she’s so good at what she does. She’s much the opposite of me, in terms of how she comes at me in a role–she’s a proper New York method actress, so she knew exactly why she said every line she said.
I had never thought of it, but she’s really into all that stuff. One does sometime rolls their eyes when it’s four in the morning and you’re very cold, and she’s wondering, “Why do say this line?” I say, “Oh, because then we can all go home.” But it does pay off for her; she’s brilliant.
Q: One of the funniest parts of the movie was Marisa’s character showing up in different places with various odd jobs and commitments. Was there any time in your careers where you had to do crazy jobs just to survive?
CE: I was a tour guide at Rockefeller center, and a PA (production assistant) and a runner on couple TV shows. The times have changed in this business, as the numbers have gone down, especially for people like me. So I still certainly try to be choosy and the idea of working with these two guys was too much to turn down-I really did it for below what I usually get paid. (laughs)
HG: Well, I’ve cleaned a lot of lavatories, and I was rather good at it, but I did hate it. I remember I was cleaning lavatories at IBM in London and was on my way to work one day. I thought: I really can’t stand this another day; I wish the place would just burn down. As I turned the corner, it was burning down. I didn’t know I had that power, and I have tried not to use it too much since. (laughs)
I then delivered new cars, and i those days, we had to run them in slowly. S we were told to drive them at 20 mph, but we really drove them at 120 mph. I crashed one and was fired from that job. I was a waiter in a gay restaurant at Kings Road. I got a lot of tips there because I was very flirty.
Q: Marc, you collaborate with a lot of the same people. What is it about that narrative that makes you want to work with them again?
ML: I don’t like meeting new people. I almost never leave the apartment. I live a kind of hermit-like existence. I actually do get very comfortable around certain people. Chris and I had done something a while back, and we always wanted to work together again. I’m a creature of habit in every aspect of my life. It just so happens in this situation that the people you’re doing stuff with are the absolute best at what they do, so it all works out.
HG: Marc has had the same lunch every day for, what is it, 30 years.
ML: Sandy (Bullock) always used to say, “Everything you eat is white.” But I do like working with the same people again. Also, for the kind of stuff I write, which is way too many words, there aren’t many people who really do it all that well.
Q: What do you think of the idea of being able to rewrite your life if you just commit to it and believe in yourself?
ML: I think we’ve had more questions on that than whether or not we believe what the movie says about it. I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. What I like about the aspects of the movie is that it raises that question, and I don’t think it can ever definitively answer them. If you don’t have an ear for music, I don’t think any amount of time, focus or practice is ever going to compensate for that; if you do have an ear for music then I absolutely think you can get better, and that focus and hard work will do something.
Back when I started, which was writing for ‘Family Ties,’ people would send scripts in for us to read, because they wanted to write for the show. Obviously if they were from writers you knew, you would read the script to reevaluate the story. But when you got scripts from people you didn’t know, we all felt like we might have been wrong that within two pages, you knew whether or not they were writing on the level that we at least perceived or hoped that we were at. I think that’s still true, and I get caught up in debate, too.
CE: Well, I’d like to think that you can. I think to a degree as a performer, I’m trying to recreate, restart and change in that parameter. I’ve always wanted to paint and draw, but I couldn’t start right now and be a painter. I could do it for the fun of it, but I don’t think I could go in and commit to a lifetime of focus towards it, at least not at my age. I think age does have a little something to do with it.
HG: I don’t know the answer to that, but we did have a crazy art teacher at my school who thought that art died in 1900. But he swore that he could teach anyone in the world to draw perfectly. He used all of the academic techniques. I think there’s actually something in that. The flip-side of his argument is that maybe we all rely too much on inspiration. But it actually takes an unbelievable hard work and application to learn a trade.
Written by: Karen Benardello