Based on the best selling novel by Jojo Moyes, ‘The Last Letter From Your Lover’ is an ambitious film that intertwines two stories, over two different time periods. When a journalist finds a trove of love letters from the 1960s, she finds herself trying to solve the mystery of a secret affair. We caught up with director Augustine Frizzell to talk about the challenges of filming two different love stories set over two different decades.
What made you decide to take on the adaption of Last Letter from your Lover?
I was looking for something that was romantic, or not even romantic, but I was looking for something that just felt cozy and comfortable and reminiscent of some of my favorite comfort movies. Pete Czernin, he is my producer at Blueprint, knew what I wanted to do. He sent me the script, I immediately read it, I was in tears. It was so beautiful and so heartbreaking. I learned who Jojo Moyes was, I had never read any of her books before and I read this book, and it was just so beautiful. I love it so much. I had a personal connection, my husband and I courted via letters. We started writing online as friends. That grew into sending handwritten letters and care packages and on CDs. His way with words drew me to him, and he is so poetic. I fell in love like that, so I thought it was like a version of our love story.
This is essentially two films in one – we have the past with Shailene’s character and the present with Felicity’s. What where the logistics of filming?
We shot all Shailene’s stuff in Morocco, which doubles for the French Riviera. We shot all that first, and then we came back to London where we did all Felicity’s stuff, and then we did the last of Shailene’s work also in London. We had one or two days of overlap because, for instance for the newsroom, we reuse the same location. We shot the modern stuff there first and then my production designer, James Merifield, did a complete overhaul and turned it into 1965, a newsroom with smoke and the old typewriters and everything, it was brilliant. It was an interesting way of going about a film shoot but I loved it because I always like making movies and making two movies in one was such a bonus.
The 1960s look is gorgeous! How did you create that gorgeous aesthetic, was it through research and did you collaborate with your design team?
It was both. It was a lot of research and very collaborative with my production designer, James Merifield. He came in and interviewed, and all his pictures were like what I had in my look book, we had one of the same photographers. He instantly got what I was going for and understood what I wanted, and it was same with Anna, the costume designer. She came in and had a lot of great thoughts about how to approach it and the style of dress that Jennifer would have. For Jennifer’s costumes, I was very specific. I have a lot of movie references that I loved. There’s the one movie called Last Year at Marienbad where all the costumes are designed by Chanel, and I really want to do something like that. Jennifer has so many looks so it was a lot to build new pieces, but Anna built a ton of them. For Felicity we wanted something for her that was reminiscent of the 1960s. It almost felt like bit of a male tailoring element to it, but then we had nods to what Jennifer had been wearing. They both have an overcoat and various repeating elements that mesh together to create this whole look.
The soundtrack is a fabulous mix of recognizable 1960s and lesser-known songs, did you curate the songs?
They were all my picks. When I read the scripts, the first thing I ever do is put together a playlist. A lot of the songs that were on that playlist ended up making it into the movie. I just spent countless hours combing through and finding the songs that just felt right for the scenes. It’s so specific, you can go through 100 songs and any one of them might work, but might not feel exactly right. It was a lot of work digging on Spotify and getting into these deep holes searching, listening, and trying to discover something new. I did have this amazing music supervisor who tracked down these crazy obscure recording artists. There is a bit of music that plays just after Anthony reads a letter from Jennifer, and I really wanted it. It’s not a song, just music. Finding that musician was super hard, and my music supervisor was reaching out on Facebook and writing these crazy emails. It was quite a collaborative effort.
You are an actor as well as a director. Did your two sides ever argue about what was best for a scene?
I’m not a good actor. I love doing that because it was so terrifying and thrilling. I have horrific stage fright. I took acting classes to try and get over my stage fright and found this love for the thrill of it. I utilize things that I learned in acting class to better approach actors, and hope that all my training and all the years that I spend watching my teachers critique actors help them find the scene. I can help them find their way into the material. I know to talk and work with actors.
JoJo Moyes last book to film adaptation, Me Before You, was a huge success. Do you feel the weight of that success, and did it push you when you were making this?
I think it is good to have that pushing you and making sure that you’re doing your best job. I feel like I have that anyway, like anytime you’re approaching any material you want it to be the best it can be because, credits roll, and my name is the first one that pops up. I needed to do everything I can to make sure that this turns out well, but I think everyone on board, Felicity, Shailene, all the guys, we all had the same goal of making something that we were passionate about and really loved. Going at it with that pure heart I think made it easier. We weren’t trying to satisfy people, but we just wanted to make the best work that we all could.
INTERVIEW BY CARA O’DOHERTY
THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER is at Irish cinemas from August 6th