Richard Curtis talks Beatles rom-com Yesterday, Ed Sheeran and filming in Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 18:30 27 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:29 29 June 2019
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Richard Curtis, the writer who gave the world Blackadder and Four Weddings and a Funeral, has just finished work on Yesterday which celebrates the allure of pop stardom, the music of The Beatles and the beauty of the Suffolk coast. We spoke to him about assembling this heady cocktail
Suffolk-based writer Richard Curtis has had a long relationship with Suffolk, living on the coast just outside Southwold. Being a huge music fan, he enjoys having Latitude on his doorstep and now he has come up with a feelgood movie that combines his love of The Beatles, with romance, and the beauty of the Suffolk countryside.
He doesn't often give interviews, preferring to let his work do the talking but for Yesterday, something of a passion project, he's made an exception. This is what he had to say.
Suffolk plays a big part in the film - was it always an important part of the story?
"It's not just a landscape, although that's important, it's also the character of the people. There's lots of integrity there. These are people who are good and true, particularly the young people who we have got to know, and so we have made a film about two local kids who undergo a truly bizarre experience but because we have anchored it in the real world, it gives the film a really grounded feel.
How did you come up with the idea for Yesterday?
"I got given the idea by a guy called Jack Barth, who is a writer. I was given a sentence which was 'a guy is a moderately unsuccessful singer-songwriter who is the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles and then the thing that Danny and I were obsessed with was, having come up with such a high concept, we then wanted to make it as realistic as possible, you may think when he gets what he wants he's going to be the happiest person in the world but that's not way these things tend to go. I think we have managed to combine some hootenanny with some genuine feeling. It's a love story too and Lily James brings a lot of genuine feeling to the performance.
Ed Sheeran is not a classically trained actor, were you nervous about offering him such a key part?
He's not a classically trained musician either, but he's done all right. He came to rehearsals he enjoyed the script very much. He came along, took it very seriously picked up the rhythm from other actors. I think he liked being around other performers. He's such a solo act, I think its lovely for him to be in a group and I think he enjoyed the process of being a part of something bigger than just him.
He's funny and he's funny about himself and the movie is funny about him, so he had to put up with a certain amount of ribbing on set and he was merciless on us because foolishly we let it be known that we asked Chris Martin of Coldplay before him and he never let us forget that.
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Why ask Danny Boyle to direct the film?
Well, I had been very disappointed with the director of my last two films, a man by the name of Richard Curtis, and so I thought: 'This time I better get someone who can direct', and I know Danny, and although I wouldn't tell him to his face, he's a lovely man who knows his stuff, and I knew that he would bring the cinematic magic that the film needs. But, not only that he would make sure it had the proper humanity it needed for people to identify with the characters in the story.
Was Suffolk always a major character in the film. Did you ever think of setting it somewhere else?
I wouldn't have wanted to. From the very beginning it was going to be Suffolk, partly inspired by Ed's story which I have followed and have known him for a long time but I have always felt very insecure about writing places I don't know. I once started to write an American movie and I didn't like it at all. I didn't know what people ate. I didn't know what the weather was like and so I think it was really important to me that the movie was set here. The two places I really know are Suffolk and Notting Hill.
Did you point Danny in the right direction as far as locations are concerned?
Well what we did was have an epic week travelling all over Suffolk. He came up to stay and we just drove around a lot.
Between Walberswick and Halesworth and there is a pub with a huge field behind it and I had imagined staging the roof top concert there but I do remember turning the corner in Gorleston and seeing the Pier Hotel and the beach and knew that this was the spot for the roof top show.
Did you have specific locations in mind when you were writing it?
That's an interesting question, it's now so long ago, it's difficult to remember. I knew I wanted to shoot in Halesworth, as I said the Pier Hotel was a perfect surprise, but Latitude was the huge one. I knew we wanted to use Latitude because I have been there so many times and you meet your friends there, it's a wonderful landmark in the Suffolk musical landscape.
Do you have any other Suffolk projects?
Nothing at the moment. But, Suffolk is a wonderful place. It has so many interesting locations, visually it's stunning and the people are so friendly, the filming was so easy and I hope that other people come along and pick up the baton.