'Love Actually' Director Richard Curtis on Characters' "Less Lovely" Life, Montclair Film Festival Tribute

Richard Curtis - Getty - H 2016
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The filmmaker also will participate in a conversation with Stephen Colbert, where he says he plans to challenge the 'Late Show' host.

In its fifth year, the Montclair Film Festival is presenting its first filmmaker tribute, to Richard Curtis, and the New Jersey fest, which counts Stephen Colbert among its most enthusiastic entertainment industry supporters, is devoting an entire day to the Love Actually director. Curtis is participating in three high-profile events, co-presented by BAFTA New York: providing a director's commentary to accompany a screening of Love Actually (2003), talking to Colbert about his career and receiving the filmmaker tribute. 

Colbert's wife, Evelyn, who has been involved with the festival since its early days and serves as president of its board of trustees, says that since the fest has expanded to a 10-day gathering, which was the case last year and this year, they've had more time to add the event honoring someone in the industry.

"As the festival got longer — last year was our first year of 10 days — we had a little bit more breathing room in terms of programming," Evelyn Colbert tells The Hollywood Reporter. "When we first started, the first four years, we were really squeezed into five, six days. So because we had two weekends, we really wanted to be able to devote a day to someone we really wanted to honor. I think it's a way to forge our relationships within the industry as well. And Richard Curtis was a wonderful, natural fit. We have on our board both Daniel Battsek and Luke Parker Bowles, who are both heavily involved in BAFTA and so they know Richard personally and were able to make the introductions for us. We're really honored and looking forward to having him. He's going to be here almost all day on Saturday, so it's really exciting for us to have that kind of talent in Montclair."

Evelyn Colbert said she was particularly looking forward to the Love Actually screening, revealing that the ensemble rom-com is a favorite in the her household.

"My family, we love that film and sort of have a tradition of making up our own stories when we watch it," she says. "So it's going to be really fun to find out what went down backstage or behind the camera. This is a really interesting opportunity to hear backstage stories that we might not otherwise know. It's like when you have a favorite aunt and you find out something racy about her, it makes you like her even more. It just adds to the flavor and love of the film. So I personally am very thrilled about it."

Stephen Colbert's conversation with Curtis is just one event he's set to participate in over the course of the festival, as he also will talk to Rob Reiner on Sunday. Evelyn Colbert says that much like the Spoleto arts festival, which both she and Stephen have said greatly influenced them, the Montclair Film Festival seems to have the same potential, which is why they're both so devoted to it, despite the Late Show host's busy schedule.

"We both love being in a strong vibrant community, and Montclair is now our home where we're raising our kids. When we got involved with this festival, the reason it resonated to both Stephen and to me is that we grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, with the Spoleto festival, and when we were in high school we saw that festival grow into an important part of the community of Charleston. It really had an impact on our lives," she explains. "I feel that same energy and that same excitement in Montclair. People are excited that the film festival is starting again. They know that this is something that comes every year. They all support it and come out to be a part of it and to me that's the joy of being part of a community that comes together and supports things. Because Stephen's and my background's in the arts this is a natural fit. We're excited to be part of a community that can have Richard Curtis come out for a day and can have Rob Reiner talk about his career. Our children and other people's children have listened to filmmakers talking about their craft and maybe it will influence them in terms of what they decide to do with their lives."

Curtis is particularly excited about his conversation with Stephen Colbert, telling THR he's a huge fan of the comedian and teasing that he hopes to use his time onstage with Colbert to get him to do something for Curtis' Red Nose Day charitable event, which is returning to the U.S. for the second year on May 26. Indeed, a portion of the proceeds from all of Saturday's events will go toward Red Nose Day, which raises money to help children living in poverty.

Curtis talked to THR about his charitable endeavor, receiving the Montclair Film Festival's first filmmaker tribute and what he planned to say about Love Actually. He also elaborated on what his girlfriend and Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed in December, that Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson) do stay together, even though this is left ambiguous in the film.

How did you get involved with the Montclair Film Festival and why did you want to have the festival be a part of Red Nose Day?

Red Nose Day is what I'm working on all the time at the moment. It was Luke who came to me and [Montclair Film Festival executive director] Tom [Hall], who runs the festival, and they said, 'Look, this is right in the middle of your period. If we could fix anything that would be fun that would also help Red Nose Day, they would love to do it.' So it came from their side and [Red Nose Day] is my baby, so I was thrilled if money could go to that. I think I'm going to have some fun with Stephen Colbert. I'm going to challenge him to do something nasty on Red Nose Day. What I think I might do is challenge him in the room in front of the crowd to do something on Red Nose Day and then see if we can raise some sponsorship money to encourage him.

Are you a fan of Stephen Colbert?

Hugely, actually. I think he's such an interesting figure and such a clever man. I just met him at the Global Citizens Festival in Central Park this year, which I worked on. I was so impressed by what he did there and how he did manage to do that great thing, which is take a serious event and make it serious but also make it funny, which I think is one of his great skills.

You brought Red Nose Day into the U.S. for the first time last year and are bringing it back this year. What did you learn from that first year that you're applying to this year?

Reassuringly, what was fantastic was that the red noses, which are on sale at Walgreen's, my girlfriend bet me we'd sell 50,000 of them and we sold 5 million in 10 days. What's great to know is that initial thing, that it's a lovely fun object that kids enjoy and it's a really easy purchase. That was great. Secondly, I was kind of startled and thrilled at how many famous people, if you give them something fun or funny to do, are really happy to do that. I'm always really startled by the willingness of people who are famous to go the extra mile. We always want to give them something they want to do, rather than something they feel they ought to do.

You're receiving the Montclair Film Festival's inaugural filmmaker tribute. How does that feel?

Obviously I'm embarrassed and mortified. But it's a lovely thing. If I had any vaguely serious thought about it, it's that it's lovely for me that I'm a comedy filmmaker because every year you sit through the Oscars and think, 'What about those great comedies and what about all those great comedy performances?' I'm kind of biased towards the idea that maybe comedy films may have as much value eventually. Not that my films are in the same league, but I'm sure that everybody thinks that films like The Apartment and Breakfast at Tiffany's are just as important in the history of the movies as some of the serious films.

In terms of the director's commentary on Love Actually, do you know what you're going to say about it or are you planning to reveal any big secrets about the movie?

I'm terrified, because I think my girlfriend who was the script editor on the movie may join me onstage to keep it flowing, and I don't trust her to blurt out some secrets. I think anyone that watches it will know a lot more about the background of the film. The strange thing about when you make films, when you watch them — and I only just saw Love Actually for the first time in about a decade around Christmas — they are like an incredibly expensive diary of a very tricky 12 weeks. So I'm mainly just going to be talking about what happened that day, when I forgot to shoot this scene and which part is played by my son and my mother-in-law. The scene where they changed Hugh [Grant]'s tie at lunchtime, so there are actually 17 cuts where it keeps changing things. I'm hoping [the director's commentary] will just be full of funny details that show what it's like behind the gloss of the finished film.

What do you think about how Love Actually is still so popular and is a movie that people are still talking about?

It's a great puzzle and delight to me. You often look back at things in your career and say that's pretty nearly luck. I'm not saying we deserved it. But I think there are probably two factors. One is the Christmas thing that it has sort of got a time of year. And I think the other thing is, and I felt this when I watched it the other day, in a normal movie you know what's going to happen. You know once the guy's been shot, the police officer's going to come ... once the police officer comes along, they interview the suspect. I think no one can ever remember what order everything comes in in Love Actually. It's kind of got a bit of an element of surprise. I think it's a bit of a puzzle every time people watch it. I think that maybe means that people re-watch it more than they would re-watch a film that has a much more logical narrative. One of the funny things about Love Actually is what happened to the cast. We thought we'd cast about a 50 percent famous cast. But then suddenly Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, and suddenly the little boy is in Game of Thrones and Liam Neeson is the world's greatest action hero. January Jones, who appears at the bar, is in Mad Men, and Andy Lincoln is in The Walking Dead. It's like a much higher cast movie now. In some ways, it's much more expensive now than when we made it. Keira Knightley, I remember talking to her when we were making it and she said, 'I'm making this pirate film next.' And that was Pirates of the Caribbean.

You and your girlfriend went to a screening of Love Actually this past winter and she tweeted about it. One of the things that she tweeted was that Harry and Karen stay together, even though that was left sort of ambiguous in the film. Do you have anything more to say about why that's the case or if that's what you were thinking as you were filming the movie?

I think it was. It's actually one of my favorite moments: the moment when Emma [Thompson] says 'home.' Because the kids and Alan [Rickman] have already gone past and she says it with such a sense of resignation. And she says that thing about my life will never be the same again. And we see her in such domestic perkiness in the first scene, with the kid in the kitchen, so in my mind it was just that they did stay together but everything was always less lovely than it had been before.

The Montclair Film Festival runs through May 8. More information about the fest is available here.