Rapid Round: 'Bridget Jones' Baby' Director on Fortysomething Stories, Her "Inner Obama Voice" (Q&A)
Sharon Maguire tells THR of digitizing Bridget's diary, listening to her inner Obama voice and shutting out naysayers who critiqued Renee Zellweger’s appearance.
In Bridget Jones’s Baby, the beloved British heroine of the 2001 hit Bridget Jones’s Diary has experienced a few changes: she’s landed a big job in television, is typing her diary entries on an iPad, and, of course, suddenly gotten pregnant (by either her longtime love interest Colin Firth or new beau Patrick Dempsey).
But what’s remained the same in the Universal threequel, out today, is Renee Zellweger, who originated Helen Fielding’s single and self-deprecating character onscreen. “She was still gorgeous and beautiful and talented,” Sharon Maguire, who also directed Bridget Jones’s Diary, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “All I saw was an actress who had aged fifteen years, and I thought, ‘Fantastic, that’s exactly what we need for this.’”
Maguire chats with THR about digitizing Bridget’s diary, listening to her inner Obama voice and shutting out naysayers who critiqued Zellweger’s appearance: “We should photograph them naked and look at what they looked like fifteen years ago, and then see how different they look now. We can all sit around scrutinizing [their looks] rather than what they actually have to say or contribute to the world and culture.”
How did it feel to return to Bridget Jones after 15 years?
It was scary and exhilarating all at the same time, to be honest. But I was one of those mothers in my forties that didn’t actually get married until I was after fifty, so I felt I knew that there was a good story here, one with authenticity and humor. Then I thought, “Yes, I’ve missed them all so much, we need to continue the journey together.” And to bring in new characters too [played by Patrick Dempsey, Emma Thompson and Sarah Solemani] as new sources of humor.
Emma Thompson and Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Baby. Photo credit: Universal Pictures.
How important was incorporating today’s technology into the plot?
Yes! Bridget, I would imagine, was a bit resistant to it all, as I was for a while, but she’s had to get with the project because otherwise she’d fall off the face of the Earth. But that’s very much how we diarize our lives these days. There was a nice, interesting debate at one time about whether she would still keep a written diary. Myself and the writers, we all talked about it for ourselves, and it’s very much on a computer or an iPad. Then we came up with the idea of having her make mistakes — I always type my zeroes instead of o’s — to personalize the idea of the [digital] diary.
At the beginning of the movie, Bridget announces she’s reached her goal weight. Why?
It was a specific thing. We liked the idea that this character thinks she’s evolved in certain ways, but hasn’t really. In the first movie, she was depending on those like a religion in some ways: she counted her calories, she counted cigarettes, she liked to watch her weight, and all of that was really a substitute for finding some meaning in her life. So we liked the idea of pulling the rug from under her even more in this one: she’s got down to her ideal weight and she’s given up cigarettes, but she still hasn’t found meaning in her life.
Do you envision more Bridget Jones installments in the future?
Well, there’s a whole book that hasn’t been filmed yet, another story that hasn’t been made, that’s all I’m saying. But I don’t know. That’s a question for the studio and Helen [Fielding]. I guess maybe we’d have to see how this one does. Let’s hope so.
Bridget Jones’s Diary was your first feature. What advice would you give those getting behind the camera?
I would say all of movie-making is tough. I’m sorry; it’s probably what I shouldn’t be saying, but to bring something in on-time and on-budget — we had three-and-a-half hours worth of material to shoot in ten weeks — it’s really, really hard to do that. Every day I woke up feeling a bit sick; I’m thinking, “We’re never going to do it, oh my god.” And then I’d go, “Yes you can, come on.” Your little Obama voice: Yes you can. Listen to your inner Obama-voice. The truth is, I have that voice everyday — not just about filmmaking, which goes, “You’ll never do it, you’ll never pull it off, you can’t do it.” Then I just go, “Ah, f— it, yes you can.” And if you fail, you fail. Just fail good. But keep going and don’t listen to the naysayers, and don’t listen to your own naysaying voice. That is the most important thing. You are going to screw things up, and you are going to mess it up, but just be persistent. If you’ve got a story to tell, just keep going with it.
Colin Firth, Renee Zellweger, director Sharon Maguire and Patrick Dempsey at the Madrid premiere of Bridget Jones's Baby. Photo credit: Getty Images.
What was a particularly tough moment while making this movie?
We started filming a rom-com at the beginning of winter — which we really shouldn’t have done, because you need long, nice, sunny days. But nearly every time we took the camera outside, there was a storm with a name — Storm Howard or a Storm Clifford or some other bloody storm would turn up. We were filming against the elements, so that was all quite hard. It was all hard!
What’s one of your favorite moments while making this movie?
One image comes to my mind: We filmed a little scene with Mr. Darcy [Colin Firth] on her doorstep — that was a moment for me, because I’ve got that big poster on my wall of that scene with her [from Bridget Jones’s Diary]. I said I wanted to take a real moment with the actors, and they just laughed out loud at me because of my ridiculous sentimentality. They were, “Oh, shut up. Come on, get on with it.”
This third film zooms in on Bridget in her forties — an uncommon age for a heroine in Hollywood, unfortunately.
Yes! It was fantastic. It’s like we don’t go to the movies and want to see films about ourselves, no more than whatever else is in. It’s great to have loads of Marvel movies, but the movies that reflect our lives — that’s why I came to the movies, and that’s what I love. I want to see stories about my life being reflected back at me, and there’s not that many of those anymore. It’s a real shame. TV seems to have taken over in that department, the actors say. It is great and it is needed. And because there are so many amazing actresses in that age bracket. So hopefully there’s more. I hope this film does well, and that tells people that if you make movies like that, there’s money to be made as well.
Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Baby. Photo credit: Universal Pictures.
Bridget Jones was one of the original single female characters onscreen — a type of character that’s changed a lot over the past fifteen years. Is Bridget Jones still relevant?
Yeah. I loved Sex in the City — my god, I watched every one. And I love Girls because it’s so very different from Sex in the City; it just took a whole different slant and it’s brutally honest. And there’s another one here that’s just started on British TV called Fleabag — that’s totally dark, so politically incorrect and, as a result, very, very funny. But I think there’s room for them all. I do think the authenticity of Bridget is still there — there are still Bridgets in all of us — and then I partly see lots of my younger friends in Girls. I love them all. I think anything that tries to be honest about reflecting a part of our lives is great.
What was your reaction to the comments regarding Zellweger’s appearance when the film’s trailer debuted?
I was away shooting something in Malaysia when that all. When I think back at Renee, all I saw was an actress who had aged fifteen years, and I thought, “Fantastic, that’s exactly what we need for this.” She was still gorgeous and beautiful and talented. What she wrote was so eloquent and so honest; I don’t think there’s any more to be said about it. And I think the people that write about that stuff — I think we should photograph them naked and look at what they looked like fifteen years ago, and then see how different they look now. We can all sit around scrutinizing [their looks] rather than what they actually have to say or contribute to the world and culture.