Production Notes – “About Time”

Universal Pictures
Published: 2013

For more than three decades, filmmaker RICHARD CURTIS has crafted his signature voice in the world of movies and television, giving audiences unforgettable characters who have alternately allowed us to laugh at our ever-so-human foibles and to share a tear at the extraordinary journeys that accompany our ordinary lives.

Curtis began to hone that voice as the writer of classic television shows such as Not the Nine O’Clock News, Blackadder, Mr. Bean and The Vicar of Dibley. When he moved along to the screen, Curtis took worldwide audiences by welcome surprise with his writing in the tender, poignant comedy classics known as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary. This experience set the stage for his directorial debut, the global blockbuster Love Actually, followed by his love letter to’60s pop music, Pirate Radio, which he also helmed.

Now, with About Time, Curtis gives us his most personal film to date.

At the age of 21, Tim Lake (DOMHNALL GLEESON of Anna Karenina, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) discovers he can travel in time…

The night after another unsatisfactory New Year party, Tim’s father (BILL NIGHY of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Love Actually) tells his son that the men in his family have always had the ability to travel through time. Tim can’t change history, but he can change what happens and has happened in his own life—so he decides to make his world a better place… by getting a girlfriend. Sadly, that turns out not to be as easy as you might think.

Moving from the Cornwall coast to London to train as a lawyer, Tim finally meets the beautiful but insecure Mary (RACHEL McADAMS of Mean Girls, The Notebook, The Vow). They fall in love, then an unfortunate time-travel incident means he’s never met her at all. So they meet for the first time again—and again—but finally, after a lot of cunning time traveling, he wins her heart.

Tim then uses his power to create the perfect romantic proposal, to save his wedding from the worst best-man speeches and to save his best friend from professional disaster. But as his unusual life progresses, Tim finds out that his unique gift can’t save him from the sorrows and ups and downs that affect all families, everywhere. There are great limits to what time travel can achieve, and it can be dangerous, too.

About Time is a comedy about love and time travel, which discovers that, in the end, making the most of life may not need time travel at all.

The film co-stars TOM HOLLANDER (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Pride & Prejudice) as Harry, Tim’s tortured playwright landlord, and MARGOT ROBBIE (television’s Neighbours, upcoming The Wolf of Wall Street) as Charlotte, the previous love of Tim’s young life.

Curtis has assembled a behind-the-scenes team that includes director of photography JOHN GULESERIAN (Like Crazy, Breathe In), production designer JOHN PAUL KELLY (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Guard), editor MARK DAY (Harry Potter series, The Girl in the Café), costume designer VERITY HAWKES (Snatch., Inkheart) and composer NICK LAIRD-CLOWES (Fierce People, The Silent Army).

Collaborating with writer/director/executive producer Curtis are producers TIM BEVAN (Les Misérables, Rush) and ERIC FELLNER (Les Misérables, Love Actually), who have produced all of Curtis’ films, alongside NICKY KENTISH BARNES (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, About a Boy). They are joined by Curtis’ fellow executive producers, LIZA CHASIN (Contraband, Les Misérables) and AMELIA GRANGER (Anna Karenina, Les Misérables).

Love, Family and Time Travel: From Script to Screen

The genesis for About Time ignited from a conversation that Curtis had with a friend about what they would do if they were told that they had only 24 hours left to live. “We both decided that we’d want a very normal day at home with the family, doing the things you normally do,” recalls Curtis. “I thought it was an interesting observation, and the next step was how I would be able to incorporate this into a movie. It would have to be about someone who could manipulate their final day or manipulate their life in some way to enable them to come to that conclusion. That’s when I thought about time travel.”

Curtis says that About Time is an evolution for him, as his early work very much focuses upon the relationships among friends. He shares: “Four Weddings is, in many ways, as much a film about friendship as it is about love. There were a lot of friendships in Love Actually as well.” Naturally, Curtis’ interest in human dynamics evolved as he grew older. “With my mum and dad passing away within the last five years, and with my children all growing up, I am a family man most of all. This film has as much to do with a brother and sister, a father and mother as it has to do with love. And, of course, when two people fall in love, they are finally going to turn into a mother and a father, and you see that happening during the course of the film.”

The comedy reunites Curtis with Working Title producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, for the eleventh time in 25 years. Remembers Bevan: “We did our first film together in 1983 called The Tall Guy. All of Richard’s films have a lot of familiarities, but are always breaking new ground. The authenticity of a Richard film is that it will make you laugh, cry and think. About Time returns to the ‘Curtisian’ world in the same vein as Love Actually, Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral, but this feels more grown- up and more reflective. He set out to make a movie to reflect on the good and bad things in life and to make you appreciate what’s in front of you.”

Although Fellner finds it difficult to believe that they’ve spent a quarter of a century creating work together, he’s similarly impressed by his longtime friend’s evolution as a filmmaker. He notes: “Richard never settles for good. He pushes himself as an artist to best his previous work, and audiences respect that drive. His stories are so deeply personal, so intimate that it’s impossible not to be drawn into them. I appreciate that he finds humor in the pathos of our everyday experiences and makes the humdrum extraordinary.”

While love and family were integral in the creation of Curtis’ vision, the time-travel aspect would make scripting a very calculated endeavour. Curtis was careful to make sure rules were in place for Tim and his Dad as they travel through time, so as to make the film’s concept less fantasy and more endearing. So, what exactly are those rules? The first is that time travel may not happen before a man in this family is 21. The second is that one must go into a small dark place—such as a cupboard, closet or wardrobe—clench his fists and think of the specific time, date, place and address of where he wants to go. The third is that he can only go to an event in his own past that he can remember; he can’t go into the future or way back into history. The fourth? Every decision he makes will have ramifications on his future.

Producer Nicky Kentish Barnes adds that she admired the unorthodox narrative put forth by the film’s writer/director. She says: “About Time is very autobiographical, in a sense; it’s bits of Richard’s life all put together in a beautiful and well-crafted story. The story is very emotional; we had grown men crying on reading the script. It is a slight, sort-of- magic realism with the time-travel aspect, but it adds to the emotional content, rather than feeling that it’s taking you out of the story.”

With the shooting script locked, Curtis and his producers set about the exciting task of finding a young couple who could give voice to his words, along with a set of family and friends to populate this unique world.

Feeling Loved Up: Casting About Time
From the start, the producers and casting director FIONA WEIR knew performer Domhnall Gleeson would be ideal for the role of the time-traveling Tim Lake. However, he did quite shock them upon introduction.

In the midst of filming Anna Karenina, Gleeson arrived at a meeting with Curtis, sporting a head of long hair and bushy beard. Laughs Curtis of the meeting: “At first, Domhnall was very difficult to cast. He turned up with this enormous orange beard, and he looked like a 35-year-old Russian autocrat. It was hard for me to imagine what he actually even looked like, but in the end it was an easy decision. He has a lot of the qualities I most love in an actor and actually has them as a human being. He has doubt, high spirits and optimism, and he is very funny.”

His rugged exterior aside, producers were keen on the Irish actor joining the production as their lead. Compliments Bevan: “Domhnall is a brilliant young actor and has the ability to be extremely dramatic and very funny, which is a very unusual combination.” The producer didn’t mind that his lead, heretofore best known for his pivotal role in the Harry Potter series, was an unorthodox choice. Bevan continues, “It’s refreshing to see a new face playing a lead in a Richard Curtis film—a different face and not a posh boy—he gives the film a whole different feel.”

The minute About Time begins, audiences see Tim as a normal guy. He’s a slightly confused, but very likeable hero, who is going through his life with the same level of confidence the majority of ordinary people can muster. “You love Tim’s character from the beginning,” reflects Kentish Barnes. “You want him to succeed when he meets the love of his life.”

When Gleeson first read the script, he laughed aloud, which he took as quite the promising sign. Reflects the performer: “It was sweet relief reading the script. It had so much to say about a way of living your life that I found valuable and beautiful. That was Richard’s introduction to the film for me, and that was what I tried to keep close to my heart while we filmed.”

With Gleeson on board the production, filmmakers moved forward in casting the role of Mary, the young American woman with whom Tim falls in love, marries and starts a family. Because of Rachel McAdams’ busy schedule, the filmmakers weren’t certain she would be able to join the production. Little did they know, however, that she adored the script.

Curtis was thrilled that an actress of McAdams’ caliber had signed onto the film. He muses: “Rachel is someone, who every time I’ve seen her in a film, I have melted with this sense of comfort and love. We were certainly lucky to get her.”

Bevan agrees that McAdams was absolutely perfect for the role, commending: “Rachel has that great girl- next-door quality. She has the beauty, the humor and the wit, but she also has the ability as an actress to make whomever she is playing against look equally as great.”

McAdams recalls what drew her to the part: “I enjoyed the script immensely and loved what it was about. It was quite moving with a very simple, but so meaningful moral of the story, and I loved all the characters. I knew that signing onto a Richard Curtis film was just a good package deal; he does these things so well. He is very generous with his spirit and brings so much of himself to the project.”

The performer appreciated that the expatriate was as complex as her on-screen love, sharing, “Mary’s got this funny mix of confidence and total insecurity. But then she meets Tim, and she just blossoms. He ushers her in the direction she was meant to go in, and the puzzle pieces fit, finally.”

For the seasoned young performer, working with Gleeson was a surprising joy. She enthuses: “It’s been wonderful to watch Domhnall transform from the younger Tim to the older Tim. He has this endless energy for physical comedy, and his comedic timing is impeccable. He always seems to find humor. Domhnall is so grounded, so rooted in the character, and he makes everything matter.”

Her leading man, Gleeson, returns the kind words: “Rachel brings this gorgeous honesty to her character. She’s very funny, and she brings something that is pure and uncomplicated in the best possible sense. It was joyous being on set with her all the time.”

In casting the role of Tim’s Dad, filmmakers turned to a veteran of Curtis’ films: much-feted performer Bill Nighy, first introduced in a Curtis role as a washed-up rocker in Love Actually. “Tim’s Dad is a strange synthesis of a lot of people I’ve met,” explains Curtis. “There’s a lot of my feeling about my father in the role, and it was a fun idea to have Bill play the part. To cast a friend you actually love in that part was a great pleasure.”

About Time marks Nighy’s fourth project with Curtis, as the men have also partnered on Pirate Radio and The Girl in the Café. “I love working with Richard,” states Nighy, who offers a bit of perspective on Tim’s Dad. “My character can travel through time, and the lesson he has learned in his life is to keep things simple and treasure the normal things. What counts is tenderness, love and respect between yourself and other human beings. All those things sustain him.”

While he is the most studied actor in the cast, Nighy gives credit where credit is due. He states: “Rachel and Domhnall complement each other in their spirit and their general tone of their performances. They are very impressive people and actors.”

Opposite Nighy’s character, LINDSAY DUNCAN took the role of Tim’s Mum, the matriarch of the family— a woman who curiously styles herself on the Queen. “Apart from her dress scenes, she’s great,” muses Duncan. “She is the anchor of the family and very centered. The way she goes about life is rather refreshing and admirable. She has made her choices, and she gets on with it.”

Duncan echoes her cast through her commending of Curtis’ style: “Richard gets to your heart. You do cry when you read his scripts; you cry about falling in love, and you cry about people’s pain as well. This film is all about everyday things that people deal with: living their lives, loving people, wanting people and suffering from the loss of loved ones.”

Her on-screen son has words for her work. “Bill and Lindsay were just ideal parents,” recalls Gleeson. “They are so wonderful and genuine, and as actors it made it a nice environment to be with them all the time. I had seen them in films and knew they were brilliant, but I was not prepared for just how easy it would be to be surrounded by them. Richard was very clever in the way that he assembled the cast. It made the family feel very real, and I was very happy in their company and felt really loved up.”

To join the company as Harry, Tim’s easily angered landlord in London, the filmmakers asked Tom Hollander—so remarkable as the arrogant rector, Mr. Collins, in 2005’s Pride & Prejudice. “When you first leave home, you always end up living with people you least want to live with,” notes Curtis. “So I thought it would be fun that, when Tim leaves home, he should end up with the least pleasant man in the world. The great joy about Tom is that he’s very good at being very bad and nasty, but underneath the swear box that he’s playing is a wonderful man.”

Hollander reciprocates Curtis’ words: “Richard is a sweet-natured man with boundless energy and always has time for people individually. He is a very special chap who has his own idealism about the world. That is what informs the good-hearted, loving nature of his romantic comedies. At least, that’s what he told me to say.”

Young actress LYDIA WILSON was brought aboard to play Tim’s beloved sister, Kit Kat, who has a very intricate role in Tim’s life. She turns out to be the only person, outside of his father, with whom Tim shares his time-traveling abilities. Wilson, who previously had a part in Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go and had appeared in the television series South Riding, brilliantly infuses chaos into Tim’s sometimes-futile attempts at an orderly existence. His efforts to try and rescue her from her myriad bad decisions influence the course of his life with Mary and their children.

Rounding out the cast is Margot Robbie who plays Tim’s first love, Charlotte, a young woman who enters Tim’s life when he’s discovered he can time travel. Explains Curtis: “When Charlotte stays with the Lakes over that summer, Tim utilizes his time- traveling abilities to redo every situation and make it perfect with Charlotte. But it never eventuates that way, despite his efforts.”

RICHARD CORDERY was chosen to play Tim’s simple-minded but well-meaning uncle, while JOSHUA McGUIRE and WILL MERRICK play Tim’s best friends. VANESSA KIRBY was brought on as Mary’s best friend, and TOM HUGHES as Kit Kat’s ne’er-do-well boyfriend.

Brilliant character actors RICHARD E. GRANT and the late RICHARD GRIFFITHS also make appearances in the film, playing leads in Harry’s play. This scene proved one of Curtis’ most challenging and fun days. Says Curtis: “It was tricky having three Richards on the set, as when anyone said ‘Richard’ we never knew which Richard it referred to.”

Of the cast, Kentish Barnes sings their praises: “There is not a crack in our cast. They’re all absolutely brilliant, and they’re exceptionally great people as well, so we’ve achieved over 100 percent on that one.”

Making the World a Better Place: Locations and Design
About Time began its nine-week shoot in June 2012, filming for three weeks in Cornwall, five weeks on location in London and a week at Ealing Studios.

Originally, when Curtis penned the script, he had Scotland in mind for the location of the Lake family home. However, filmmakers did not have luck securing a suitable house in that country, so they moved along to Cornwall. Curtis and the producers began to assemble a stellar below-the-line team to bring their vision to life.

Production designer John Paul “JP” Kelly had never worked with the writer/director before and was pleased to find out the similarities between Curtis and his films. Shares Kelly: “Richard believes the world should be a better place, and this film is very much about that. It’s close to his mantra: If you look at the day the right way, you can make it a good day or one as tough as you want. He has got an incredible positivity, and he’s very inclusive with his family and his work, which is quite unusual.”

Similarly, Kelly had a specific vision when searching for the location, desiring a house that had to be believable and complement the charm and magic of the story. Curtis also had expectations. He explains: “I wanted to be able to see the sea from the window; this was very important. I had it in my mind that when the dad was talking to his son you were able to see the sea through the window.”

About Time begins in the house in Cornwall where Tim and his family have always lived. Reflects Curtis: “Then it keeps returning there, as life does when you’re engaged, when you have a child, when people get sick. The home symbolizes growing up, losing people and gaining people.”

The Lake home that the team discovered was a privately owned 1850s house in Porthpean, with a garden overlooking the sea and its own path down to the beach. Truly, it could not have been a more perfect location in which to incorporate Kelly and Curtis’ vision. The majority of the scenes including the family were filmed at this home.

Other locations used by the production in Cornwall were the fishing village of Portloe—for the exterior wedding scene and the sequence in which the congregation travels up the country path in the storm; St Michael Penkevil church, for the wedding scene; and Vault Beach in Gorran Haven, for the simple moments in which the family has its afternoon tea on the beach.

“Cornwall is the most wonderfully idiosyncratic, welcoming place,” enthuses the writer/director. “What was great was that Cornwall turned out to have all the qualities, both socially and visually, that I wanted from the house, as well as the surrounding areas. It has its own unique character and is a beautiful part of the country.”

Prior to filming, Curtis took Gleeson and McAdams to the restaurant Dans Le Noir in London, which is where their characters meet for the very first time. The restaurant is completely in the dark, and customers are guided and served by blind staff. While an experience for the senses, not all the patrons were thrilled. “I found it terrifying,” recalls McAdams. “You don’t know where the exit is. You don’t know what people are doing around you, and you have no idea what’s on your plate. I brought that experience into the scene for my character. Mary is not very comfortable and not secure about the whole scenario. When she meets Tim, he is a kind of rock, a beacon for her. She is grateful to hit it off with another person and be able to rely on someone in the dark.”

Time’s Dress Code: Costumes of the Comedy
For About Time, costume designer Verity Hawkes was given the unlikely task of dressing time travelers. Recalls Hawkes: “For Tim, we had to show the progression from young and unconfident to older and more confident. You see the progression in his choice of clothing, that it’s less thrown together. We didn’t want to lose any of his character as he got older. He had to keep the charm he always had.”

Dressing McAdams as Mary was a collaborative experience for Hawkes and the performer. Notes Hawkes: “I didn’t want Mary’s wardrobe to be a series of fashion plates. Mary’s much more of a real character, so we worked together at finding the balance of showing her kooky side and originality. Rachel cared about what Mary should wear, as well as when she should wear it and why. She was totally onboard and supportive.”

Creating the look for Wilson’s whimsical Kit Kat, Verity took the scripted direction that Tim’s sister should always wear some item that was purple. “It was quite a joyous process finding every single purple item that you could,” the designer laughs. “Kit Kat is kind of thrown together, so each outfit was quite fun to put together. She’d wear the quirky combinations of things.”

One character Hawkes didn’t imagine she’d be dressing over the course of About Time was the Queen herself. However, that was required when it came time for Tim’s Mum’s outfits. As she fancies the Queen as the perfection fashion icon, that’s the way she would be dressed. Ends Hawkes: “Lindsay is very beautiful, but she doesn’t look anything like the Queen…so we came to quite a good compromise on her costumes.”

Sounds of Love: Building the Soundtrack
Nothing is more important in a romantic comedy about love, time travel and making the most of life than the music that brings it all together. Curtis wanted to convey the emotions experienced by Tim as he fell in love and as his relationship with his parents deepened as he grew up. The filmmaker managed to encapsulate those emotions into one incredible soundtrack.

The chart-topping music of Ben Folds, who first came to fame with the band Ben Folds Five and later segued into a solo act, was the perfect addition to the film’s music roster. In addition to recording and releasing 16 studio albums, Folds’ work has been featured in several films and television series. Folds was an easy pick for the filmmakers, as all were fans of his work.

Curtis enthuses: “Ben Folds is one of my favorite artists, and ‘The Luckiest’ has always been one of my favorite songs. I knew the film was always going to end with that song. The pure simplicity of ‘I am, I am, I am the luckiest,’ is what I wanted to say during the completely simple final sequence—where Tim is waking up, eating breakfast and taking his kids to school—to illustrate that, even in his day-to-day, Tim feels that sentiment.”

After choosing “The Luckiest” to close About Time, the filmmakers tortured themselves trying to select what piece of music to open the film. Recalls Curtis: “After searching for the perfect song to go with the opening monologue, we tried Ben’s ‘The Luckiest,’ without the lyrics, just the piano. We knew at once that we’d found the answer: Ben at the beginning, Ben at the end.”

Folds shares what drew him to the project: “As a big fan of Richard’s films, I was honored that he asked me to be a part of About Time’s musical storytelling. I recorded a new version of ‘The Luckiest’ especially for the film, and I feel it brings us along Tim’s journey quite nicely.”

Little did Folds know, but Curtis had drawn double inspiration from him—not only bookending the film with “The Luckiest,” but also drawing inspiration from one of Folds’ music videos. Curtis shares: “In searching for the film’s music, I watched one of Ben’s music videos called ‘Still Fighting It,’ which is a beautiful home-shot video of Ben playing with his son on the beach. At the end of About Time, there’s a scene on the beach between Tim and his Dad, which is absolutely the most central moment of the movie and is, in fact, inspired by Ben’s video.”

Indeed, nothing ties the sounds of a film together more than a great theme. Curtis took this task seriously and brought on The Dream Academy’s Nick Laird-Clowes to score the film. Laird-Clowes shares: “When Richard asked me to compose the music for About Time, the challenge was to try to encapsulate all the emotions that the film evoked into a single theme. I’m very pleased with how it turned out.”

In addition to the musical stylings of Folds and Laird- Clowes, the film’s soundtrack features BRIT winner and multiplatinum-selling artist Ellie Goulding with her take on The Waterboys’ beautiful love song “How Long Will I Love You.” The About Time soundtrack is rounded out with classic and contemporary love songs, including Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms,” Ron Sexsmith’s “Gold in Them Hills” and The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love,” bringing key scenes in the film to life.

Curtis sums it up: “Sometimes, I actually start with a song, and then write the scene. In this film more than any other, the songs that inspired me have actually found their way into the finished film.”
**** Universal Pictures presents—in association

with Relativity Media—a Working Title production: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy in About Time, starring Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie. The casting is by Fiona Weir, and the music is by Nick Laird-Clowes. The comedy’s costume designer is Verity Hawkes, and the editor is Mark Day. About Time’s production designer is John Paul Kelly, and its director of photography is John Guleserian. The associate producer is Emma Freud, and the executive producers are Richard Curtis, Liza Chasin, Amelia Granger. The film is produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Nicky Kentish Barnes. About Time is written and directed by Richard Curtis. ©2013 Universal Pictures.

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