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After directing the pilot episode of HBO’s Euphoria, Augustine Frizzell was in search of something different.
“It was a lot of heavy material and I felt a little emotionally drained after it,” Frizzell told The Hollywood Reporter.
Though it was unknown at the time what exact projects lay in store, Frizzell recalls yearning for something that “felt like love” and was “warm and cozy and beautiful.” Before she knew it, her producer introduced her to the script of The Last Letter From Your Lover.
“I sat down and read it and loved it. I just cried so hard,” she tells THR. Frizzell had made her feature directorial debut with the critically well-received indie comedy Never Goin’ Back in 2018, which she has been candid about its personal connections to her teenage years. But when reading the script of an industrialist’s wife and writer expressing their love for one another through handwritten letters, the story once again proved to mark an art imitating life moment for the director.
Frizzell tells THR that when she met her now-husband, director David Lowery, they briefly dated before reconnecting eight years later. With him residing in Los Angeles and her in Dallas, Texas, they embarked on a long-distance relationship: “We just started writing each other and it started with messages online and then it moved to sending care packages and mixtapes with our favorite songs [and] handwritten letters that went on for about five months.” During those five months, Frizzell says she fell “madly in love” but was nervous to admit feelings. “It was all kind of under the guise of friendship at that point. So I was so terrified!”
The two would eventually marry but Frizzell couldn’t help but think of their love story and find kindred spirits in The Last Letter From Your Lover‘s characters, Jennifer Stirling (played by Shailene Woodley) and Ellie Haworth (played by Felicity Jones.) Then after reading Jojo Moyes’ 2010 novel of the same name — the author’s Me Before You was also adapted for film starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin — Frizzell became even more intrigued with the story.
“I just fell in love with Jojo [Moyes] and it just kind of all worked out and slipped into place,” she says of boarding the film as helmer. Over a year, Frizzell worked on the script and made tweaks to create her vision for the adaptation but she notes she always kept the fans of the original book in mind.
“You always want to make sure that you’re servicing the fans and doing the most justice,” she explains, adding that she wanted to stay true to the evocative novel. “I didn’t want to make something that was laughy jokey. I wanted to make an earnest, ‘I want to cry at the end of this’ [film]. I just wanted the whole truth because the book was that.”
Though having the book as a reference, Frizzell admits it was a challenge to not include everything in the film adaptation and wished to offer more about the characters Laurence Stirling (portrayed by Joe Alwyn) or provide more of a backstory of Anthony O’Hare (played by Callum Turner). But the “heart and soul” of the characters and story remained. While on the surface the film details a time-spanning love story, beneath are the parallel journeys of two women having agency and learning how to live a life based on their choices rather than abide by what is expected of them.
For the Netflix film, Frizzell not only joined forces with Woodley and Jones onscreen but behind the scenes as well given both actresses served as executive producers. “It was amazing working with them,” Frizzell praises of the actresses. “This is my first time making a movie of this size and I don’t really have any other point of comparison with a movie of this scale. They were so committed to it being the thing that I wanted it to be…We were all completely on the same page.”
Of Woodley, who Frizzell says was the “first person” she had in mind for the film after meeting her prior to the film, they shared a connection over their passion for love and beliefs that there weren’t enough love stories and films that are “unabashedly romantic.” She found the same kinship with Jones who was also searching for something “cozy.”
In the film, Jones portrays Ellie Haworth, a journalist who stumbles upon old letters from the 1960s of a man pleading to his married lover. She soon becomes eager to solve the mystery of what happened to the forbidden love between them. Though a hopeless romantic at heart and fascinated with the letters, when it comes to her personal love life Ellie is rather cynical and hesitant to confront the obvious spark with Nabhaan Rizwan’s archivist Rory, who is helping her solve the mystery of Jennifer and Anthony. Meanwhile, Woodley’s Jennifer falls in love with Turner’s Anthony but struggles with leaving her broken marriage with Alwyn’s Laurence, especially when thinking of their child.
Frizzell describes bringing Woodley’s character to life onscreen as if they were painting a portrait to help people understand “how tricky it was back then” for women and still can be to this day. “No one’s condoning adultery, but there are circumstances where you’re in a situation that you just don’t know how to get out of it.” Meanwhile of Ellie’s journey of confronting her fear of vulnerability, Frizzell explains, “The three of us just wanted to show action even in the face of fear and even in the face of adversity and just finding that strength within you.”
Then when it comes to one of the film’s leading men, Frizzell says there were a lot of conversations behind the scenes that were centered on sorting out the “complicated” story of Alwyn’s Laurence, who audiences will see as charming one moment but, Frizzell says, could be “cutting you down and being passive-aggressive” the next. “She [Woodley’s Jennifer] had to have been with him for some reason and it’s clearly not just his money because this woman is the type of woman who probably came from money and didn’t actually need that. We talked a lot about when they first met, what was that like…There’s so much more underneath it. I think that’s so common for women and it’s really hard to sort out that complicated relationship.”
As audiences will now be able to stream what she describes as her “hot cup of tea movie,” Frizzell’s period romance can almost serve as a love letter to the romance genre itself and the director hopes be a reminder that it’s never too late to start living a life you want to live. In her THR cover story, Woodley expressed her hope that Last Letter is able to “join that brigade” of romance films and make people “feel a yearning and a lust and a desire for life and a desire for emotion even when they’re on their couch at home.”
Frizzell shares the same sentiments and argues that there should always be a need for love stories. “When we completely take away the natural human desire for partnership or a love story, we can miss out on something that makes us human and that we appreciate,” she says. “I think that stuff that makes you feel good and makes you believe in love and shows women independent, has the job, has their lives on track, but still is giving love a chance… I think that’s really important.”
As she looks ahead, Frizzell teases that her next project is adapting an old children’s book that she quips can actually be something that her nieces and nephews can watch. Frizzell looks back fondly at the making of the Netflix film and admits it taught her that you don’t have to “suffer in the making of art.” “We didn’t have any crazy catastrophes. It was all just like the movie: loving.”
The Last Letter From Your Lover is streaming now on Netflix.
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