- “Last Christmas” director Paul Feig talked to Business Insider about all those online theories of what the movie’s twist is.
- Feig also revealed that when he cast Emilia Clarke for the lead role, he never asked her if she could sing, which her character does a lot of in the movie (thankfully she can).
- The veteran comedy director also addressed “Joker” director Todd Phillips’ comments that he can’t do comedies anymore because of “woke culture.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Whether it’s a comedy like “Bridesmaids” or a twisted thriller like “A Simple Favor” (hey, some of us even liked his all-female cast “Ghostbusters” movie), Paul Feig has a knack for getting an audience sucked into a story through great writing and entertaining – and often flawed – characters.
That continues with his holiday rom-com, “Last Christmas” (in theaters Friday), which was brought to him by actor/screenwriter Emma Thompson a year after another project the two were working on fell through. Inspired by the classic George Michael (back when he was with Wham!) song, “Last Christmas,” Thompson pens a heartwarming relationship story about a struggling singer named Katie (Emilia Clarke) who while working at a year-round Christmas store in London meets the happy-go-lucky Tom (Henry Golding). Thanks to Tom, she realizes her life isn’t all that bad, but what’s the deal with him magically showing up whenever she needs him? (That last part has led to loads of speculation online of who Tom actually is in the movie.)
Business Insider chatted with Feig about those online theories of the movie’s twist, his delight when he realized Clarke could sing (after casting her), being able to get 15 George Michael songs in the movie, and his thoughts about “Joker” director Todd Phillips saying he can no longer do comedies because of “woke culture.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jason Guerrasio: Were you shocked when the trailer came out and the internet went crazy realizing there could be a twist in the movie?
Paul Feig: I was very shocked by it. I didn’t expect putting a trailer out for a rom-com would result in this “Matrix”-like speculation.
Guerrasio: Lots of people tried to connect the dots.
Feig: Yeah, it would be one thing if we were saying, “Try to guess the secret of…,” but no, it’s just about two people falling in love. It was very interesting. But look, I have had the opposite where you put out a trailer and you wonder if anyone saw it, so I’m happy.
Guerrasio: I feel you should have gone a step further after it went viral and done something Hitchcockian with it. Have an ad where you address the camera and say, “Do not reveal the ending of this movie.”
Feig: But I don’t want people showing up to this movie trying to figure something out. I want them to lean into it and feel good. This is a movie where you are like ahhh, not hmm. Because you get caught up in these two people and their lives.
Guerrasio: George Michael’s music is so prevalent in the movie. Was it hard to license all the songs?
Feig: Emma had met with George Michael a few years before he passed away and pitched him the story and let him read the treatment. He was excited about it and he told her, “When you get further along I’d love to be involved in selecting the music.”
Guerrasio: So she had greased the rails.
Feig: Totally. The estate was very open to it. They are very guarded by what they let be used of his stuff, especially after his death. But it had kind of been blessed by him so it was just working out the deal of what we could use. And they definitely did not expect that I was going to come at them for 15 songs. I didn’t expect I would either; it just started to grow organically.
Guerrasio: Did you know Emilia could sing before casting her?
Feig: I did not. You would think I would have checked. I had met Emilia four years prior, just a general meeting, and I discovered how funny she is on top of being a great actress. I wanted to put her in something and when I read this part I said, “This is the perfect role for her, she gets to show everything.” But I was so excited that she wanted to do it, I kind of forgot to ask if she could sing. So we literally closed the deal and then somebody asked me, “Can she sing?” And I was like, “I actually don’t know. I guess we could dub her.”
Guerrasio: Oh man!
Feig: But then I found out that she sang for this Dolce & Gabbana ad. I saw that and I was like, “Is that you?” And she was like, “Yeah, I can sing.” And I was like, “Thank god!” I really lucked out. It was probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever done was not check.
Guerrasio: Did you write more stuff when you realized she could sing?
Feig: It was always in the script that she wanted to be a singer and she was having these bad auditions. But when I found “Heal the Pain,” it just blew my mind, so I put that in the opening scene and Emilia sings it later in the movie. Her singing “Last Christmas” at the end wasn’t scripted originally. She was supposed to make her speech to the crowd and then they went on with the show. But it was like we have to have something at the end and have her sing and be fully healed. Doing what she loves. Guerrasio: I have to get your take on this. Todd Phillips recently said he can’t make comedies anymore because of “woke culture.” As someone who has been doing different kinds of comedies for years, what are your thoughts when you hear a statement like that?
Feig: I have an issue with this. I always say, “What jokes are you trying to make? Who’s getting offended and why are they getting offended?” And to me if the meaning is, “Well, I can’t make fun of who people are and I can’t be offensive in a way that is going to hurt someone’s feelings, then I can’t make a joke,” I don’t understand that. My movies are filled with jokes that hopefully don’t offend people, and I’ve have had a couple of things that we’ve done that have offended people, and I’ve felt really terrible about it.
In “The Heat,” we had our albino character and the joke was supposed to be making fun of the fact that movies use albinos as bad guys, so we were making fun of that. I got a letter from this woman whose child was albino and she said, “This is really bad for him.” And I felt awful. I didn’t go, “F–k this, we can’t make jokes about anything.”
I think Todd’s a brilliant director. He changed the face of comedy. I just think jokes can be made without offending people. When I hear guys complaining about PC, to me, you want to have the freedom to offend people, and I’m not drawn to offending people. I don’t want to get a laugh by offending something that somebody can’t change. I don’t mind taking a shot at somebody for something that they have chosen to do, or chosen to take on. That’s fine. Then they are kind of open territory. But if it’s something they can’t change about their gender, about their race, about their core beliefs, then I respect that. Why would I want to make fun of that? I can make a million jokes that are going to make people laugh that won’t offend them.
I like woke culture because woke culture means we’re advancing and we’re actually caring about people’s feelings and I know in certain parts of the internet it’s like, “People’s feelings, who cares?” Well, that’s all we have are people’s feelings because we’re humans. So I just don’t want to step on that.