'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' Almost Had a Different Ending

Courtesy of Mary Cybulski/Twentieth Century Fox
Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant in 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?'

Director Marielle Heller wanted to use the conclusion to set the film in the context of the AIDS crisis in the early '90s in New York.

[The following story contains spoilers from the movie Can You Ever Forgive Me?]

Whether or not Can You Ever Forgive Me? has a happy ending is up for debate, but what could’ve happened at the film’s conclusion is certainly more grim.

At the Producers Guild of America’s Produced By: New York conference Saturday, producer Anne Carey and director Marielle Heller revealed that the final meeting between the film’s two main characters, Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) and Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), almost never happened.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? chronicles the story of Israel, a real-life writer and literary forger, and her accomplice and friend Hock, who was also real.

According to Carey, it was Heller who made the film’s “pointed goodbye” between the two happen.

"[Hock] didn’t really have an ending, it was only about [Israel’s] ending," Carey said. "One of the beautiful things that Mari did was give them a weighted moment. It was in the book actually — that line in the book, it says, 'I saw you and I felt like I wanted to fucking trip you.' That was a line in the book that hadn’t been in the script and Mari read the book and brought that line right back and gave them that scene."

In the film, Hock and Israel quickly go from being partners in crime to estranged. When they meet up after not seeing each other for a while, Hock — who once told Israel all of his friends were dead — appears to be on the verge of death himself.

“I wanted to set it in the context of the AIDS crisis in New York, because the truth of the matter was that wasn’t part of the story so much when I came on board, but it was the truth of what these characters were living in,” Heller said. “It was 1991 in New York. He was a gay man. The real Jack Hock died of AIDS. So it was important for me that that wasn’t something we were softening or skating over for the sake of telling an entertaining story.”

Heller said she made sure of that as early as her first meeting with Fox Searchlight. “I was like, this is the most important thing to me that we bring in — the reality of the context of who these people are and where they’re living.”