Midlife at the oasis: Talking to Rachel McAdams and Richard Curtis about “About Time”

Midlife at the oasis
Published: November 1, 2013

Every once in a very rare while, a movie comes along that touches me so deeply, I know it will become one of those go-to favorites that I will happily watch over and over again throughout the years.

About Time, which opens today, is one of those movies. I’ve already seen it twice.

I don’t want to tell you much about it so let me just say it’s about time travel (but not in a science fiction-y way), it stars Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy, and it’s directed by Richard Curtis, who’s responsible for some of my – and probably your – favorite movies like Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Love Actually. (Leave a comment below for a chance to win the 10th anniversary edition Blu-Ray Combo Pack.)

What else could you possibly need to know?

I got to interview Rachel and Richard (yes, we’re on a first name basis now) last weekend, at a small press event with a few other bloggers. Rachel is tiny and sweet and I now have a total girl crush on her. Richard is warm and thoughtful and funny and I now have a real crush on him. Kidding, honey!

The day before the interview, I got a text from my good friend who I had taken to the first screening and who loved the movie as much as I did. It read: “Had an About Time kind of dream where I got to go back and say goodbye to my mom. Woke up crying.”

That made me cry, too.

So I showed her text to Rachel and Richard, and told them that she hadn’t even known I was going to be meeting them.

Lois: This is how the movie is affecting people. Is that what you were hoping for?

Rachel: Oh, that’s beautiful.

Richard: That’s really lovely if it reaches people on that level. We’re both quite family people, and that means a lot.

Q: Your movies always find that right balance between comedy and drama so they’re able to really touch audiences and get them invested in the characters and what happens to them. How do you know when it’s right?

Richard: I think you end up trusting your instincts. I remember the first time I went to the BBC when I started writing comedy, and they gave me a list of what was funny. It said, “British sandwiches, trade unions, the Queen.” And I didn’t think of any of those things were funny. So I tried to believe that if something made me laugh when I typed it, that it would end up being funny. Often, they were much smaller, non-satirical things. I found tiny bits of personal behavior funnier. The same goes for the more serious stuff, as well. The scene on the beach with the father and the son was just a thought I’d had but every time I thought of it, it struck me as being very emotional that you’d go back to such a tiny moment rather than some grand event.

Lois: Although you do make a reference to the way the Queen dresses …

Richard: I do find the Queen funny now. I actually met her the other day.

Rachel: The other day?!

Richard: Yes, and she was funny.

Q: The movie really works because the audience totally buys into the fantasy. How do you set the right tone? It seems like that would be so difficult.

Richard: Rachel is the right tone. Do you know what I mean by that? I’ve always loved her work, and I thought it was quite complicated in this film having someone who was there on the first date and a mother of three by the end. And Domhnall is a very sweet man, and you could see that. He’s also silly. And the Bill thing actually came from him. We had a meeting and he said, “I’ll do it as long as I don’t have to do any acting.” And because he did his role so gently meant everyone could put their own dad or mom into the character. It was such a warm and friendly set, wasn’t it?

Rachel: Yes. I loved it. It was a beautiful movie to work on because the whole crew was so affected what was happening in the story. And we were all appreciating things just a little bit more than you would, and sort of taking stock because that was such a key part of it.

About Time movie posterLois: Is there a moment in your own lives you would want to go back in time to in order to change something?

Richard: With me, it’s mainly not seeing The Exorcist. That was a bad mistake.

Lois: It was that traumatic?

Richard: Yes, I had my eyes shut from the very beginning and then I realized if I stuck my fingers in my ears, I wouldn’t have to have any contact with the film at all. A woman behind me put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, darling, the Lord will protect you.” I didn’t believe her, really. And I slept with the light on for a year. I was terrified by that film.

Lois: Well, if you hadn’t seen it, maybe you would be making horror movies now instead.

Richard: Maybe!

Rachel: If I could change a moment, I wouldn’t have gone paragliding. I was thinking about that the other day – those mistakes you wouldn’t make again. That one, I really wouldn’t do again. It was terrifying.

Lois: Is there a moment you would want to relive?

Richard: Having lost members of my family, I’d go back to any Christmas when they were all there. It’s very hard to remember the texture of people you’ve lost. I think, actually, the next generation’s going to be luckier because they take so many pictures and so many videos. The moment my mother died – literally, I remember the moment she died – I thought, “Oh, no, we’ve got no film.” I should simply have filmed her talking about tea or what had happened that day.

Rachel: My dad had to go away for work sometimes and we would record on our little Fisher Price tape recorder a tape for him to listen to in his truck while he was driving. We sang jingles. My brother and sister had little – well, big – spaces between their teeth and my brother would sing, “Thunder cats, Thunder, Thunder, Thunder cats,” and it was so cute. My sister – I wonder if she’s here right now – (whispering) She taped over it!

Richard: No!

Rachel: With Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling!” So we don’t have it any more. I would kill for that!

Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy

Lois: Rachel, how did it feel to play a time traveler’s wife again?

Rachel (laughing): Well, I didn’t know anything about the time travel in this one but, hmm, it’s funny. I don’t know what that’s about. Subconsciously, I’m going towards time travel all the time but I’m never the actual time traveler.

Richard: I feel so bad about that. My daughter had this idea that, at the very end of the movie, the women should be walking along the beach and one of them should look at her watch and say, “Oh, we’re late for lunch,” and they all fly home, so it turns out that the men could time travel and the women could fly!

Rachel: That’s great!

Q: Whose idea was “the fringe” for your character, which sounds so much cooler than “bangs?”

Rachel (to Richard): Did we overcut it? And we decided, hey, that’s a great idea?

Richard: I think the moment I saw Rachel, my initial reaction was, “You’re too pretty. We’re going to have to mess you up.” She was stubborn. I mean, she wears a clumping great red cardigan.

Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson

Rachel: I would twirl in front of him and be like, “No, that’s not convincing?” and he would say, “I’m not seeing it.”

Richard: The pressure of trying to normalize her came from Rachel – even that blue dress you wore. You were very keen that she should not be a movie heroine in that movie heroine way, and that we should try and make her as –

Rachel: Like Julie Andrews –

Richard: As normal a girl as possible –

Rachel: In The Sound of Music.

Richard: No, that’s completely wrong. I love Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.

Lois: I love the scene where you’re trying to find the right dress to wear. There is not a woman in the world who won’t relate to that.

Rachel McAdams

Richard: That was almost done in real time, wasn’t it?

Rachel: Yes, and we had a lot of dresses.

Richard: I still don’t think there’s any credibility in the science fiction one, do you? It’s cut down to there, and it looks like it’s out of Star Trek or something. I don’t think her character would ever have bought that dress.

Lois: Trust me, we’ve all made those mistakes. Audiences are going to totally relate, and will absolutely love this movie.

© 2013 Midlife at the oasis | Written by Lois Alter Mark | No copyright infringment intended.

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