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“It’s a sad topic, but it’s life,” Naomie Harris told The Hollywood Reporter of the bittersweet premise at Monday’s premiere. “So often, we try to forget that death is a part of life, but death teaches us to cherish the time that we have and the loved ones we have. There’s something beautiful about that.”
Helen Mirren echoed of the Warner Bros. and New Line film’s exploration of loss. “It’s something we all have to do, and experience through our family and friends. There’s no escaping it. It’s part of human life, as much as birth, love, success, sex and catching the bus.” David Frankel added, “When you’re grieving, it’s really easy to withdraw from the world. I hope this movie shows that maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day, hopefully, you can reconnect.”
For Smith, the drama hit close to home, as his father was only given weeks to live before production began. It led the two to speak openly about death and grief, rather than hide from it, before his father passed away a month ago.
“This film was a huge uproot and dismantling of a lot of my beliefs,” Smith told THR before the screening, held at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. “One thing I’ve learned is perspective — it’s established what’s truly important. It got a whole lot of the bullshit out of the way, and I can see clearly where I’m supposed to be focusing. Now I just have to work on my addictive elements that keep pulling me back into the old patterns.”
The ensemble film — which screenwriter Allan Loeb categorizes as “a holiday fable” akin to A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life — sees a grieving Smith penning letters to the entities of love, time and death and receiving in-person responses.
If the cast — also featuring Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Michael Pena and Jacob Latimore — were to write their own letters, Mirren would send one to love. “I’d say, where do you come from? I know what death and time are, but love — it’s intangible, but you know when you feel it. That’s the mystery to me.” Harris would follow: “I’d want to ask how to stay in a loving state for as long as possible, because I think that’s why we’re here, to give and receive love.”
Producer Anthony Bregman would confront death, “not because I’m morbid but because I’m curious about what happens.” Ryan Tedder, whose song appears in the film, would speak with time — “I’d ask, how can I spend you better in what I have left? But don’t tell me how much I have left!” — as would Frankel: “I’m a dad with two teenagers who are gonna be out of the house soon, and I’m terrified. It’s shocking how quickly the time has gone.”
Collateral Beauty hits theaters Dec. 16.
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