Whether you adore it for its endless commitment to the cheesy comfort of a romantic comedy or dislike it for its saccharine stories and characters, there's no denying that Love Actually has become one of the most important films in the Christmas movie canon in the last 15 years since its release in November of 2003. The film follows the lives of a large number of seemingly disparate people who live in England, and through stories of love, all of the characters come to be entwined with one another and prove that, yes, love actually is all around.
Even though the film is set in the month leading up to Christmas, and there's a Christmas pageant with the exchanging of presents, the universality of love stories allows for the film to extend beyond the Christmas genre, offering poignant commentary on romance, friendship, family, and more. It also helps that the film is absolutely stuffed to the point of overflowing with talent old and new, including Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Andrew Lincoln, Rowan Atkinson, and many, many more. In a film with as many characters and as many stories as this ambitious little rom-com has, it's only natural that there are also some pretty interesting stories regarding what went on behind the scenes, too.
Here are 20 Details Behind The Making Of Love Actually.
20 There were fourteen love stories included, originally
The intertwined story aspect of Love Actually is arguably one of the best parts of the film, as it shows just how connected even the most unlikely of people can be and reaffirms the importance of all forms of bonds. Richard Curtis, the writer and director of the film, set out with the deliberate intention of crafting a film with so many layered storylines.
But as it turns out, he may have been a tad overeager, at first: “This film is my Pulp Fiction. I love multiple storylines, but I soon realized how tricky they are,” he reflected in 2013, upon Love Actually's tenth anniversary. “At first, we had 14 different love stories, but the result was too long, so four ended up going, including two we'd actually shot.”
19 Certain roles were written specifically with the actors in mind
Just as it may be easy to picture certain actors in roles when you're reading a book, it turns out that big-name writers and directors have specific actors in mind when they're crafting characters from nothingness, too. Richard Curtis apparently had multiple of the film's key players in mind when he was creating these now beloved characters.
“I knew from the start I wanted Hugh Grant as the prime minister and Emma Thompson as his sister,” he acknowledged in 2013, before cheekily admitting, ”And I wrote Martine McCutcheon's part for her, too. I even called the character Martine, though I had to change it before the read-through so she didn't think she'd already got it.”
18 Bill Nighy wasn't the original choice for Billy Mack
Arguably the film's biggest character in terms of personality, Billy Mack has come to be known as one of the most immediately recognized parts of the movie, due in large part to Bill Nighy's master class performance as the jaded, aging rockstar. Yet, according to Richard Curtis, this casting very nearly never happened at all, which is almost unthinkable, really.
“Bill Nighy's was the strangest casting. I had two famous guys in mind to play the aging rocker Billy Mack, and I couldn't decide who to ask. But at the read-through, Bill did it so perfectly he became a definite yes,” Curtis recalled, before acknowledging that he's never admitted the identities of the individuals he'd originally wanted for the role.
17 Real Reunions at Heathrow Airport
The recurring motif of airport reunions and declarations of love runs through the entire film, bookending it with sequences including hidden camera footage of actual real-life reunions. The film's ending, in particular, lays it on quite thick, showing loving family and romantic moments with The Beach Boys' “God Only Knows” playing in the background, culminating in thumbnails of the dizzying number of reunions forming the shape of a heart.
As it turns out, these arrival gate reunions were caught on camera by members of the production team, who camped out at Heathrow Airport and hurriedly chased down the individuals to ensure their willingness to sign over the rights of their tender moments to make it into the finished film.
16 Laura Linney's role was written for a Brit
In a film so filled to the brim with almost nothing but UK talent, it's hard not to feel like Laura Linney's Sarah sticks out among the bunch. There's good reason for that, in fact. When casting for the role, Curtis had been hoping to find what he referred to as a “Laura Linney type” actress, but a Brit, of course.
It wasn't until fellow writer and partner Emma Freud suggested that he actually pursue Laura Linney that Curtis went ahead and did just that. Upon being asked, Linney couldn't have been happier, and the rest is history. Who else would have made Sarah's character anywhere near as adorable and heartrending at the same time?
15 Only one child actor handled all of Sam's emotional range
It's a difficult task to stick a young actor in a sea of accomplished, successful, well-known actors and expect him or her to handle some truly serious material, covering the full range of human emotions for a little kid. But, the adorable Thomas Brodie-Sangster manages to steal each and every scene he's in, portraying Sam's emotional journey into adolescence and first love with a winning balance of emotional weight and childlike wonder.
In fact, Richard Curtis was so thoroughly impressed by Sangster's work that he considers his casting to have been the best coup of them all: “I cannot tell you how much he was the only person who came in who could do it at all. We started thinking, 'Oh no… we just can’t have a ten-year-old who’ll be in love because it’s not ringing true at all, and he just came in and did it perfectly.”
14 The airport montage took one day, with the entire cast present
As stuffed as the movie is with talented actors and lovable characters, it's impossible to find a moment in the entire film when all of the characters are in one place; except, in a sort of way, for the very ending of the film, which finds all of them inexplicably reuniting at Heathrow Airport in one way or another in the groupings they've assumed for the entire film and with a few new faces mixed in along the way.
Even though not all of the characters interact with one another, this scene was a group effort from the very beginning: the entire scene was impressively filmed by the whole cast, in one location, all in one day.
13 Hugh Grant was extremely opposed to David's iconic dance scene
As much as Love Actually may be a Christmas movie, and may be a romantic movie on top of all that, at its core, the film is a comedy, and as such, some of the best remembered (and most GIF'd) scenes of them all are entirely comedic in nature. Arguably the most well-known scene of them all in this category is the moment when Hugh Grant's Prime Minister totally lets loose and dances around the residence.
Apparently, Hugh Grant wasn't on board with this scene from the very beginning, as he felt it would be too unrealistic for a Prime Minister to behave in such a way, even in private: “He kept on putting it off, and he didn’t like the song – it was originally a Jackson 5 song, but we couldn’t get it — so he was hugely unhappy about it. We didn’t shoot it until the final day and it went so well that when we edited it, it had gone too well, and he was singing along with the words.”
12 “To me, you are perfect” almost never happened
Speaking of iconic moments from the film, perhaps the best known and most discussed scene of them all is the moment in which Andrew Lincoln's character professes his love to Keira Knightley's character via poster board messages in the style of Bob Dylan's “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Whether you find the moment romantic or offensive, it may come as a surprise to you that the scene very nearly never existed.
Curtis explains that he had drafted “five romantic ideas for a man and a woman, and I went out to the four girls who were in my office. I told them, 'There's this guy, he's never told you he loved you. Which of these ideas are romantic and which are off-putting?' [I had ideas like] filling the courtyard outside her house with roses, and they went 'yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck,' for the first four. Then I had the idea of the Bob Dylan signs.”
11 Richard Curtis considers the film's editing to have been a “catastrophe”
As glowing as much of Richard Curtis's recollections about the film may be, there is apparently one aspect of the film that he finds himself unable to speak highly of, even after all these years: the intense period of post-production work and editing.
“Although all the strands come together in the airport at the end, it still felt like making 10 separate films,” he recalls, before lamenting the difficulties of all the work that such an elaborately cast and filmed movie took after everything was shot. “It was a massively difficult edit. The order I originally wrote it in didn't work at all, so we had to reorder it completely. It was a bizarre four-month game of 3D chess.”
10 Emma Thompson wore a fat suit for her role
There's certainly something to be said for the way in which Love Actually fixates on women's appearances, whether in the form of the overweight offenses Natalie endures on the job, from her family, or the perceptions of beauty pushed by the media industries. But, the matter is made all the more complicated by the revelation that Emma Thompson was forced to wear some sort of suit for her role as harried housewife and mother, Karen.
“I wore a fat suit for Love Actually - and I knew just how to play that part [of a wife who has stumbled across evidence of what might be her husband's infidelity], I've had so much practice at crying in a bedroom and then having to go out and be cheerful, gathering up the pieces of my heart and putting them in a drawer,” Thompson recalled in 2005; and it's not hard to read into her tone there.
9 A couple was cut from the film in post-production
As we've previously discussed, the original version of the film's script included fourteen love stories, four of which were ultimately scrapped. Two of the stories were filmed, but didn't make it into the final product despite having that extra edge. One of these stories surfaced online a few years ago, and caused considerable emotion and discussion as it was revealed to have been a same-gendered love story.
Furthermore, the story would have followed the headmistress of the school that the film's children attend and her return to home life with an ailing wife, which she will ultimately lose over the course of the film's events. Love Actually doesn't shy away from difficult human emotions, but this one remained back in the editing room all the same.
8 Alan Rickman's character did go through with the involvement
In one of the film's most aggravating storylines, Alan Rickman's dissatisfied husband character finds himself the object of a woman at work's affection. He gets himself into quite a few embarrassing and bad situations as a result of his inability to resist her charms, including one that culminates in his wife falling to pieces.
Yet all the while, the film leaves it ambiguous as to whether anything is actually ever acted upon in this extramarital situation. But in 2015, Emma Freud took to Twitter to confirm that, despite her begging Richard Curtis to limit the interaction to merely coquetry, a full involvement did indeed take place.
7 The film was meant to be comprised of stars and newcomers
In 2003, the biggest names who took part in Love Actually were already incredibly well-known actors such as Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, and Emma Thompson. The gravitas of having such big names attached to such a warm and cozy project would have made it more appealing to potential investors and viewers alike. But, it was also the intentions of the casting team behind the film to find some up and comers, too, in order to round things out.
However, these up and comers just so happened to include the likes of Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Martin Freeman, and January Jones. Watching Love Actually in 2018 is much different than watching it in 2003, but in some way, it only adds to the film's boundless charm to know that there was so much talent all in one place, even if the levels of experience were different at the time.
6 Andrew Lincoln believes his character is a Stalker
One of the biggest debates to surface in recent years revolves entirely around Andrew Lincoln's arguably minor role in the film. As an unlucky-in-love best man and photographer, Lincoln's character finds himself in the unenviable position of being in love with his best friend's bride-to-be. But, it's the way he goes about showing his affection that has begun to rub some people the wrong way, even all these years later.
The fact that almost the entirety of the wedding footage he filmed seems to fixate on Keira Knightley's character, and nothing else, is uncomfortable, to say the least. And as it turns out, Andrew Lincoln has thought the same from the very beginning: “He is a stalker. That was my question to Richard Curtis, ‘Do you not think we’re sort of borderline stalker territory here?’ And he said, ‘No, no. Not with you playing it, darling. You’ll be alright.'”
5 Emma Thompson filmed her crying scene to “Both Sides Now” 12 times in one day
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who watches Love Actually and doesn't think that Emma Thompson's Karen deserves so much better than what she's been given. But as it turns out, the moment that makes viewers cry all over the world was truly a master class performance on Thompson's part.
The moment in which Karen finally breaks down and weeps in the privacy of her bedroom, while Joni Mitchell's “Both Sides Now” plays softly in the background, was filmed not once, not twice, but twelve times by Thompson, and all in the course of one day. Curtis himself considers the scene to be “the most deeply-striking thing in the movie,” and one he can take no real credit for himself, due to the mastery of Thompson's work.
4 Billy Mack's music video is meant to parody Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love"
Billy Mack is made out, from the very beginning of the film, to be a man who thinks of himself as more of a ladies man than he very likely is at this point in his career. So, it's only fitting, really, that his music video performance for his sublimely over-the-top Christmas cheese fest, “Christmas Is All Around,“ finds him surrounded by a group of young, seasonally attired dancers, all half his age, and all entirely too model-esque to fit anything remotely close to the tone of the song.
This, as it turns out, was entirely intentional, as the snippets shown of the music video were meant to be a parody and tribute of Robert Palmer's “Addicted to Love” music video, which also featured similarly stoic backup dancers.
3 Emma Thompson refused to appear in the Red Nose Day sequel
A Love Actually sequel has been discussed essentially since the first film was released to such acclaim and success, but in recent years, the discussions really intensified to the point that a short film sequel, Red Nose Day Actually, aired as part of the 2017 Red Nose Day fundraiser event in the United Kingdom and United States. The short film checked in on the characters we had come to know after all these years: David was once again Prime Minister, with Natalie still at his side; Sam and Joanna were getting engaged; Sarah had found love at last; and Jamie and Aurelia had started a family, with more on the way.
But one storyline was conspicuously absent, and for truly understandable, albeit tragic, reasons. Emma Thompson refused to partake in the reunion effort following Alan Rickman's passing in 2016.
2 Bill Nighy Didn't Have Clothes in that Scene
It's one of the scenes that the movie is building to all along: Billy Mack is forced to live up to his end of the bargain after his schmaltzy cover song, “Christmas Is All Around,” becomes a bona fide hit and he had earlier wagered that he would sing the song live on television, with nothing on. Through the magic of cinema, viewers are only left with the mild suggestion that Billy really is tossing his garments during his performance, but nothing overt is ever shown.
Yet all these years later, it's been confirmed for all curious minds that Bill Nighy did indeed wear absolutely nothing during that portion of the sequence. Nighy reflects fondly on the entire ordeal of filming the scene: “I suppose it’s a fond memory, of being [undressed] with nothing but an electric guitar and a pair of cowboy boots, trying to mime playing the instrument while the producer, Duncan Kenworthy, shouted 'Down with the guitar! Down with the guitar!'... when I got too enthusiastic about the song.”
1 Rowan Atkinson's role was meant to be much more supernatural
As the globally beloved character Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson has become something of a cultural icon, so there was absolutely no way that casting him in Love Actually, no matter how small his role may have been, was going to allow for his character to be something overlooked or forgotten about. Atkinson only appears in a pair of scenes: one at a department store, giving Rickman's character a deserved hard time, and later in the airport, serving as a last-minute guardian angel for Neeson and Sangster's characters as he allows Sam to have a goodbye moment with his childhood sweetheart.
But, if Richard Curtis had gone with his original plans for the character, Atkinson wouldn't have merely seemed like a guardian angel, he would have truly been an actual angel, with all seasonal and religious connotations applying.
What's your favorite story behind the making of Love Actually? Let us know in the comments!