The seemingly most successful people in all areas of life are those who are vivacious and relentless in pursuing their goals. But their continued prosperity can be challenged when the person they’ve become is unexpectedly challenged. That devastating question of how a person’s sudden change in identity ultimately influences their lives is emotionally chronicled in the new independent comedy-drama, ‘Miss You Already.’ Director Catherine Hardwicke’s latest film, which opens in theaters tomorrow, November 6, powerfully explores how a crisis not only affects the lives of the person directly involved, but also their families and friends. The movie also grippingly shows how having everyone involved help combat the problem with grace, humor and courage is often the best approach.
‘Miss You Already’ begins with an overview of the growing bond between Jess (Drew Barrymore) and her best friend, Milly (Toni Collette), who meet while attending elementary school together in London. While the two have both had a wild streak since they were teens, they have supported each other during every crucial moment in their lives. After entering adulthood, Jess moves onto a lifeboat with oil-rig worker Jago (Paddy Considine), who has long been supportive of her. Milly, meanwhile, marries a sensitive record producer, Kit (Dominic Cooper), and they have two kids, Scarlett and Ben (Honor Kneafsey and Ryan Baker), together.
But Milly, Jess and their families’ lives change forever when Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer. While she’s initially arrogant about her new-found illness, as she has always been egotistical and has taken her life for granted, Milly soon becomes increasingly upset over her prognosis. As she seeks reassurance that she’ll be fine, Milly starts having an affair with an American bartender, Ace (Tyson Ritter). While they find their lives to suddenly be in crisis, and relentlessly work to improve themselves, the two life-long friends determinedly take whatever means necessary to support each other.
Hardwicke generously took the time recently to sit down for an exclusive interview to talk about helming ‘Miss You Already’ at New York City’s The Essex House hotel. Among other things, the director discussed how she was drawn to helm Morwenna Banks’ script, as she felt the story relatably showcases how women can contend with the obstacles in their lives with the support of their friends and family, as well as with humor; how Collette had wanted to play the role of Milly even more Hardwicke received the script, and once they were both attached to the comedy-drama, they tirelessly worked to convince Barrymore to portray Jess; and how her experience working as a production designer earlier in her filmmaking career helped her determine what kind of locations she wanted to use as she was filming the movie throughout London.
ShockYa (SY): You directed the upcoming comedy-drama, ‘Miss You Already.’ What was it about the film’s screenplay, which was penned by British writer and actress Morwenna Banks, that attracted you to helm the film? How closely did you work with her on fully developing the screenplay?
Catherine Hardwicke (CH): Well, I had met one of the film’s producers, Christopher Simon, who’s really fun, at the London Film Festival about 12 years ago. I was (at the festival) with ‘Thirteen,’ and I guess he kept me in his brain after we met. As he got the script for this film ready to go, he called my agent and said, “Let’s try to get Catherine to direct it.”
He also traveled to my house in Venice from London. He heard that I have an organic garden, and planted a mango tree in it. (laughs) He came back and fertilized it the next week. So I thought, wow, this guy’s cool, and I really started to like him.
I also liked the script, but I also thought it could be challenging, because it could be considered a chick flick. But I thought it’s really about our messy lives. Everyone has to deal with their jobs, families and friends. So how do you balance all of this, and keep laughing through all the crazy stuff that happens? I started thinking that this could be a really good movie, and started getting excited about it.
SY: The film emotionally showcases what happens when someone finds out they have a life-threatening illness, and how it not only affects them, but also the people who are close to them. Why do you feel it’s important to showcase relatable issues in films, such as the fact that people can fight against their illness, even while also contending with the other aspects of their lives?
CH: We all do struggle with that question of how do you maintain your friendships, even though you friend can be a pain sometimes. Do you tell them that they’re being a pain in the ass, even if they have cancer, or do you try to fully support them? You are giving up some of your own life, like Jess’ husband feels that she’s giving too much to Milly. So I like showing that balance, as I think it’s very relatable, and everyone has to do that.
SY: ‘Miss You Already’ was originally written as a more straight-forward drama, but you suggested to Morwenna that adding more humor. Why do you feel it was important to infuse the story with some comedy, and not just focus on the sentimentality?
CH: That’s what was cool about Morwenna as a screenwriter. She’s a comedian, so she writes funny material. She wrote these funny characters.
My dad had cancer, and he got even funnier (after he was diagnosed). He was always funny, but he got funnier after he had gotten sick. We thought when we went to talk to him, we were supposed to be serious. But he would make us laugh as he cracked these crazy jokes.
That’s what I loved about the script-these two girls could make each other laugh, and call each other’s bluffs, when one would get low. That’s what you want in a friend; when you’re having a tough time, the other person will lift you back up.
SY: What was the process of working with Morwenna on the script and story? Was the screenplay already finished when you signed on to direct the film?
CH: There was a nice initial draft of the script. But every director-not just me-has to get their hands in there and get our fingerprints on the story. We have to make sure we feel every scene. So I wanted to make the story as funny as we could.
I wanted the male characters, especially Milly’s husband, to be a bit richer, detailed and dimensional. I wanted to give him a cool job-he’s a roadie who turned into a sound system salesman. That was kind of different, so I liked that idea.
I also wanted Ace, the guy she has an affair with, to be more developed. He has a dog and a grandma, and I liked that. I wanted to give him some layers, and Morwenna liked that.
I also wanted them to go on a road trip. I had done that a few years before, and wanted them to have this crazy bucket list. That would really annoy Jess more.
SY: Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore star as Milly and Jess, respectively, in ‘Miss You Already.’ How did decide to cast them both in the lead roles of the film?
CH: Toni had actually already read the script before I even got it. So when I got it, I heard that Toni Collette liked it. I thought, Toni Collette? She’s a bad-ass actress who’s also totally brave. She’ll do everything this character has to go through, from being glamorous to not so glamorous. I thought, if anyone would have their head shaved for the role, it would be Toni; she’s brave. So I loved the idea of Toni playing Milly.
Then we were trying to figure out who would be a good counter-part to her. Somehow Drew just came up. She’s so cool, and you’ve loved her since she was in ‘E.T.’ She has so much heart, so we just reached out to her. Toni and I both wrote her a letter.
We tried every way we could to get her to sign on, even though she just had her baby (her second daughter, Frankie, who’s now a year-and-a-half). She also has her businesses, and is pretty busy. But we were like, “Drew, pay attention to us! This is a cool project!” (laughs)
SY: Did you have Drew and Toni rehearse before you began filming, or did you let their working relationship form naturally once you began filming?
CH: I love to rehearse. I was the production designer on two films that Richard Linklater directed (‘SubUrbia’ and ‘The Newton Boys’). He really impressed upon me the importance of rehearsal, and how it can help you form a natural connection between people.
Jess and Milly are supposed to have know each other since they were eight-years-old. So you have to find a way to build that friendship.
All I got was one week of rehearsal, so I really tried to take advantage of that time. I thought, ‘Let’s do these cool scenes.’ We also went on adventures and made food together. We tried to find ways that they could bond. Luckily for me, they bonded very quickly.
SY: Like you just mentioned, you began your career as a production designer before you began writing, directing and producing films and television shows, and you’re also an architect. How does having that experience influence the way you want the locations in the films you helm to look?
CH: I think that experience really is beneficial. I have structural visualization, which is the process of creating ideas in your head. (When I was the production designer on) ‘Three Kings,’ there was nothing there (where we were filming). So I told (the film’s director,) David O. Russell, “I’m going to build this whole town here.” Even though there was nothing there, I could see everything in my mind. I also had the tools to draw it and show it to everyone else.
On this film, I didn’t want it to look like Notting Hill. I didn’t want to be in one of those town house walk-ups that’s the normal house we see in London all of the time. The houseboat was already in the script, and I thought that was awesome.
We then found the cool place where Milly lives, which is an old forge. I liked it, because it has all these different levels. You could see the upstairs, downstairs and staircases. So you could have someone in the foreground and background. As a director, you’re always looking to stage scenes in the most interesting and organic way possible.
SY: Speaking of filming the movie on location in London, what was that experience like for you?
CH: I loved it-I thought I died and went to heaven. (laughs) London is gorgeous, and has the most interesting, radical and old buildings. It has the Walkie-Talkie building (the nickname for the financial skyscraper, 20 Fenchurch Street), and we were able to sneak it and all the other great buildings into the film. It has an interesting mix of old and new buildings.
There’s a lot of energy in the city. There’s all the street art, and we added some of the graffiti and murals in the movie. So I was privileged to be able to shoot the movie in London.
SY: What was the experience of filming ‘Miss You Already’ independently? Since the plot is driven by Milly and Jess’ medical and personal struggles, did shooting independently aid the filming process?
CH: I love the experience. About half the movies I’ve made have been shot independently, and the other half have been bigger studio films. So I’m used to, and like, making both types of films.
Since this movie had a tight budget, we did some guerrilla-style filmmaking-let’s admit it. (laughs) There are some fun things I shot with my iPhone for two scenes. I also shot scenes with an Indiecam, which allowed me to be very intimate with the actors, as well as a 5D and an Alexa camera.
I drove to work one day and passed the wall that says, ‘Before I Die.’ I said, “I want that in the movie!” So at lunch, I just grabbed the 5D, and Toni, Dominic and I just went over there. We didn’t even have the crew when we filmed that scene. So filming independently gives you the spirit that we can do it! (laughs)
SY: Besides directing the movie, you also served as one of the executive producers. Why did you also decide to produce the movie? Was serving as one of the producers helpful in the way you approached helming the movie?
CH: Yes, it was helpful, because I’m very budget-oriented. A lot of directors are also producers. Any decision the producers make really impacts the film. You have to figure out where you’re going to spend your money. As a director, you have to get in there and do some decision-making.
Like with this film, I had to decide, do I want a big, beautiful, sweeping helicopter shot? We decided to instead get those shots with a drone, which is much cheaper than a helicopter.
SY: There has been a lot of discussion recently about the importance of having more movies made by women filmmakers. With you having directed ‘Miss You Already,’ and the script, which was also written by a woman, focusing on women’s struggles with female lead characters, do you feel than more films should be driven by women?
CH: Yes, I think it’s super important. There have been a lot of people recently who are shining a light on the fact that it isn’t fair that only four percent of the big studio movies are directed by women. We have stories to tell, too. Diversity makes watching movies more interesting and exciting.
I love the fact that Meryl Streep was brave enough to speak out recently and say, “How come there are 760 male critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and only 180 women? That’s not right.” We’re told to only see certain types of movies because men like them, and that’s not right.
Not only did Meryl speak out about that, Jennifer Lawrence and Selma Hayek also spoke about equal pay. All these people are brave enough to say, let’s change the game. Let’s make a more even playing field.
Whose favorite show isn’t ‘Orange Is the New Black?’ There are all kinds of different women on that show. So it’s fun that all of these different voices are coming out on that show.
SY: Speaking of ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ besides helming films, you have also directed several episodes of such television series as ‘Hell on Wheels’ and ‘Reckless.’ What is it about television that you also enjoy working on?
CH: Well, television is fun and action-packed. You have a shorter amount of time to shoot shows, so you have to follow your impulse decisions, and make them work. I like that technical process.
On the creative side, there are some interesting TV shows right now that are actually more intriguing than most features. People are looking for things that are out of the box. There are a lot of interesting and complex female characters on TV. So for me, it’s a super-fun area to play in.
SY: Besides ‘Miss You Already,’ do you have any other projects lined up that you can discuss?
CH: Yes, I do. I actually have another TV show that I’m writing with a wonderful writer. It’s set in the world of architecture, which is my first love. It’s like ‘House of Cards,’ but about architecture. We hope that moves forward, and we keep pushing it.
I also just wrote a script for a film called ‘One Track Mind’ that’s based on a true story. It’s also really inspiring and funny. I hope that one also gets made. There are two or three other projects that the financiers are putting the missing pieces of the puzzle together for before we can make them, but hopefully they all get made!
Written by: Karen Benardello