There’s a difference between acknowledging that life is a precious gift and making a conscious effort to relish each moment. Through the warm timbre of his voice and generous laughter that fills a room, filmmaker Richard Curtis emerges in conversation as a man who has as much love for living as his romantic leads do for one another. The maestro of romantic comedy started out as a writer, but his passion led him to also take up directing when he made Love Actually. After finishing his latest film, About Time, through which he hopes to share his message to slow down and enjoy life, Richard is heeding his own advice and plans to step away from directing to focus on his family and writing.
I was born in New Zealand … and lived in the Philippines and Sweden before my parents and I settled in the UK when I was 11. When I was in the Philippines, my childhood dream was to become president of the United States. I went to an American school, I had an American accent and I had a short haircut. I remember being desperately disappointed when I learned that I couldn’t be president of the United States at all because I hadn’t been born there. After that, I just wanted to be a friend of The Beatles.
I started writing films … because of Rowan Atkinson. I had tried to act at school and thought I was going to be a good actor, but then I got to university and no one was the slightest bit interested in my acting. So I started to write little bits of comedy and that’s when I bumped into Rowan. When I left university, I thought we’d give it a gamble together and then we got our first job working on the show, Not the Nine O’Clock News. I’m not sure whether I would have survived my first year or two in the wilderness if it hadn’t been for Rowan’s brilliance.
When I wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral … I didn’t know or think really that I was writing a romantic comedy – I didn’t quite know what that genre was. I just know that when I was a young man, I loved the films of Woody Allen and I loved films like Gregory’s Girl and Breaking Away and Diner – comedies about awkward young men. I was a bit over-interested when writing the film because when I was young I fell in love hard and I fell in love easily. I remember being so in love with a girl called Tracey Thompson when I was seven that I could hardly speak at school. From experiences like that I found that comedies about boys who make fools of themselves appealed to my own experience.
I was on holiday … when the first review for Four Weddings and a Funeral came in from America, and my girlfriend went and upgraded our room because she thought we could afford it now. It was all a delightful surprise, as we really hadn’t expected anything. We thought that it might make its money back or a little bit more, so it was a great shock that it seemed to ring bells even in Iceland.
When I was a writer … I was there every day of the shoot, I was there every day of the casting and I would always be very involved in the editing. I’ve never done that thing of handing over a film and just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best. I think, particularly in comedies, it’s good for the person who wrote it to be nearby.
I started directing … because I think that it became tough for directors to have me looking over their shoulders all the time. I realised as I grew a bit older that, when I was young, I used to think that what I thought was right. Now I realise that what I think is just my opinion of what is right. And so it’s better that, if I am going to make mistakes, I make my own mistakes rather than forcing somebody else to make them.
Pop music … really is such a huge love of mine, which is why I made The Boat That Rocked. When I am writing, I write in the company of music. At the beginning of the day when I am meant to be writing cheerful things, I put on a lot of cheerful music. And if I am trying to reach a certain sort of romantic pitch, I’ll often put on music that is what I am dreaming of and striving for.
I wrote about friends and laughter … when I was younger – Four Weddings and a Funeral is as much a movie about friends as it is about love. In About Time, I moved focus a little bit on to family and that’s a very important issue for me because I had a very happy childhood and now I am a dad of four, so I am really writing about what’s on my mind. I’ve also lost three members out of the six I had in my original family in the last five years, so it has been really good to look at the fact that the end of every romantic comedy is the start of a family film. I don’t think I had ever quite realised before that when you kiss and get married, what happens next is that you have kids, you start a family and that family takes care of your parents. I think it’s a film that catches up with where I am now emotionally.
If About Time has a message … it is just to look around and think. I remember going to see a very traumatic and sad film and coming out of it and thinking that I’ve got to do something to make up for all the bad things in the world. So it would be nice to think that, just for a moment, the film would give people a feeling that they know how to be a bit happier.
I decided that About Time would probably be the last film I direct … when Bill Nighy and I were walking along the beach while making the film. We were saying that maybe the next time we walk along the beach, we should just be on holiday together, instead of surrounded by 50 people with microphones and hairbrushes looking at their watches and saying we are running out of light. When I am thinking whether I want to spend the next two years worrying about a film, or if I should spend the next two years relishing my family and just being a writer and taking things a little bit easier, I think that the latter would be my choice.
The inspiration I take from my family … is laughter. One of the things about families is that you do have a lot of jokes at each other’s expense and that’s fun. It was only when I reached the age of 25 that I realised that it was slightly suspicious that my dad had always been just a little bit worse than me at table tennis. He was always just a little bit worse than me when I was seven and he was just a bit worse than me when I was 20 – so I think there’s a lot of fun and laughter in families.
When my own boys fall in love for the first time … the advice I’d give them is to have confidence. That’s life’s great gift. If you can just give people confidence – remind them that they are amusing and that people like them, and not to change personality every time they talk to a pretty girl.
Starting Red Nose Day … is my greatest achievement because it has gone on and it’s a bit like Easter or Christmas now in the United Kingdom. Once you have done charity work, it’s very hard to resist its charms. Last Red Nose Day in England, we made 100-million pounds and that’s more money than I could ever earn in my whole life.
My dad … had a brilliant phrase that he used to say: ‘You can’t be happier than happy.’ So if you are in a good situation and you are enjoying yourself, then that is good enough and that’s probably the best there is.