Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding were shooting a scene for the romantic comedy Last Christmas as director Paul Feig consulted with the cinematographer, and writer and actress Emma Thompson watched from the sidelines with fellow producer David Livingstone.
Missing was the man who inspired the picture that’s filming on locations from Bond Street to Brick Lane.
George Michael, who died on Christmas Day 2016, met with Thompson after Livingstone had the idea of creating a story inspired by Last Christmas, the track Michael wrote in 1984 and originally performed with fellow Wham! star Andrew Ridgeley.
‘I’d met with George Michael,’ Thompson explained on a fake snow-covered set in Bond Street. ‘He was concerned about the homeless, which is a large part of this story. We spoke a lot about life and death, and there’s a lot of that in this film as well.’
Thompson stressed that ‘this is not a George Michael-Mamma Mia movie. It’s inspired by the songs, and inspired by him. It’s a dramatic romantic comedy,’ she told me emphatically.
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding in romantic comedy Last Christmas. Producer David Livingstone had the idea of creating a story inspired by the George Michael track
She came up with the storyline, but got writer Bryony Kimmings to flesh out the drafts. Thompson then spent two years finessing it before emailing it to director Feig under the heading ‘Here’s A Script What I Wrote’.
Feig, who’d been wanting to work with Thompson, jumped at the opportunity. He also realised there was a main role in it for Emilia Clarke, whom he’d met two years previously.
And he knew the male lead would be perfect for Henry Golding, after working with him on the black comedy A Simple Favor. Golding’s red hot thanks to the phenomenal success of the film Crazy Rich Asians.
‘It’s first and foremost a love story set in 2016, against a backdrop of Brexit and Trump, and a chance to go against so much intolerance and see what a melting pot London, and the world, is,’ Feig told me.
In the film, which is being backed by Universal Pictures, Clarke plays Kate. Thompson plays her mother. ‘She had to leave the former Yugoslavia to come to Britain and now feels unwelcome because of Brexit,’ Thompson said.
Clarke described her character as ‘not quite fully formed as an adult’. The actress explained that Kate is working as an elf in a naff Christmas shop. ‘She hasn’t got her act together, she’s just lost . . . this hopeless young lady carrying her belongings in a wheelie bag.’
Serendipitously, Kate meets Golding’s Tom. They’re the complete antithesis of each other.
Broadway and film actor Matthew Broderick will make his West End stage debut alongside Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern this spring
‘She’s always on her phone, always on Tinder, always getting drunk,’ Clarke explained when we came in from the cold night air and sat with Golding in a hotel lobby. Meanwhile, Tom doesn’t even have a phone. He’s a night-time courier who volunteers at a homeless shelter.
‘He’s out of sync with the modern world,’ Golding told me. ‘I think he sees her as a bit of a lost soul and tries to bring her out of herself.’
Filming continues in some of the coolest parts of London into next month. Various stars such as Michelle Yeoh, who played Golding’s mother in Crazy Rich Asians, and Patti LuPone, from the hit show Company, have small roles in the picture, which opens here on November 15.
Once filming has been completed, Clarke will concentrate on the final season of Game Of Thrones. ‘It’s the grand finale.
This is it. It’s over and I cried like a baby on the last day. I felt completely lost. It was very strange and wonderful to get this [Last Christmas]. This part couldn’t be more opposite, because dragons ain’t funny.
‘Ten years is a long time. It’s like losing an actual limb. I was 22 — a child — when I first walked on the Game Of Thrones set. I grew up with her,’ Clarke told me of her character Daenerys Targaryen. She said the last chapter of the epic show is ‘a real whopper, especially for Daenerys’.
Matthew is all starry eyed for Downton’s Cora
The Broadway and film actor Matthew Broderick will make his West End stage debut alongside Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern this spring.
They will lead the UK premiere of Kenneth Lonergan’s 2009 play The Starry Messenger, about an astronomy lecturer called Mark Williams at the Hayden Planetarium in New York.
Broderick told me he and Lonergan, who have been friends since early school days, once took a class at the planetarium. ‘There was a teacher, and Kenny says the character was loosely based on that guy. We didn’t know anything about him, so it’s really a made-up person.’
He said the play’s ‘a study of a guy in middle age, in a mid‑life crisis’.
McGovern, who told me that she’s ‘addicted to the stage’, will play Anne, Williams’s schoolteacher wife.
Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern will star alongside Matthew Broderick in Kenneth Lonergan’s 2009 play The Starry Messenger
She said the couple have been married for a long time but the marriage ‘has become about logistics . . . they’re stranded in a rut’.
Broderick made his name in the movies, with films such as WarGames and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But he has long been a force in New York theatre, starring in Torch Song Trilogy and The Producers.
He’s also had a long professional association with Lonergan, appearing in several of his films — including You Can Count On Me and Manchester By The Sea — and in the original Off-Broadway production of The Starry Messenger, which Lonergan directed himself.
The London version, which will run at the jewel that’s Wyndham’s Theatre from May 16, will be directed by Sam Yates, although producer Simon Friend told me Lonergan would be in town to collaborate on the production.
Broderick said he’d had a couple of ‘almost coming to London times’, particularly with The Producers. He said he’s excited to be making his London stage debut, but ‘if I thought about it, I’d be petrified’.
Penelope Wilton (above) will star in Richard Eyre’s ‘dream duo’ in a rarely performed work by David Hare
‘We did The Starry Messenger for a pretty short time and we always wanted to try it again,’ he said, adding that part of the run will coincide with school holidays for his three children, who will travel over with his actress and writer wife Sarah Jessica Parker.
When we spoke in New York, he admitted that he’d seen ‘every Downton Abbey show’ and was looking forward to discussing the big screen version with the Countess of Grantham, aka McGovern.
The actor was about to head to Mexico City to film Daybreak, a ten-part post-apocalyptic drama for Netflix.
Dream team uncover hidden gem
Richard Eyre has assembled a ‘dream duo’ of Penelope Wilton and Ophelia Lovibond to play a mother and daughter in a rarely performed work by David Hare.
The playwright’s 1986 drama The Bay At Nice was originally staged at the National Theatre, with Irene Worth and Zoe Wanamaker taking the parts Wilton and Lovibond (right) will play at the Menier Chocolate Factory from March 14.
Penelope Wilton and Ophelia Lovibond (above) to play a mother and daughter in a rarely performed work by David Hare
Wilton plays Valentina Nrovka, who was once a young student of Henri Matisse. ‘It’s suggested she had a liaison with him, too,’ said Eyre of the fictional tale, set in 1956.
Lovibond plays Valentina’s daughter Sophia Yepileva. The pair visit a room in the Hermitage in Leningrad, so Valentina can assist in the verification of a work believed to be by Matisse.
The daughter has left her husband to have an affair with a man to be played by David Rintoul; the mother is belittling the daughter’s romantic view of the world.
Director Eyre, who made a film of Ian McEwan’s novel The Children Act starring Emma Thompson (an under-appreciated gem, in my view) hopes to film his own adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House late this autumn for the producer Colin Callender.
Simply the best a little longer
Adrienne Warren, whose portrait of Tina Turner in the musical Tina has turned the production into one of the must-see shows in the West End, has extended her run at the Aldwych Theatre.
Warren (above), along with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who portrays Ike Turner, will stay with Tina until April 13 — several weeks longer than their original 12-month contracts. They will also join the current company on the cast album.
In an email to me, Tina Turner herself noted it had been ten months since opening night ‘and I have been deeply touched by the love our show has received. Our journey on the musical has meant so much to me and we are so excited to start work on the cast album.’
Adrienne Warren portrayed Tina Turner in the musical Tina extended her run at the Aldwych Theatre
Director Phyllida Lloyd, producer Tali Pelman and casting director Pippa Ailion are busy assembling a new cast.
And a new batch of 200,000 tickets will go on sale at noon next Friday (January 25), taking the run through till December 2019.
A Broadway production is being put together, too, and it’s almost certain that Warren will repeat her tour de force performance in New York.
Choir Boy, making its long awaited move to Broadway
Watching the youthful company of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play Choir Boy, making its long awaited move to Broadway after playing off-Broadway (it ran at the Royal Court several years ago with a different cast), I had a clear notion that every one of those young thespians at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman venue will have a sparkling career.
McCraney, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Moonlight, wrote this play about students in the choir of an elite black school, and how they deal with masculinity and sexual identity. It’s a magnificent production, directed by Trip Cullman, with stand-out performances by Jeremy Pope and J. Quinton Johnson, whose characters clash over their beliefs.
The show is one of the hits of the Broadway season, along with the unforgettable new version of To Kill A Mockingbird, the transfer of The Ferryman from London; and an excellent drama called The Lifespan Of A Fact, which starred Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale, and was that rare thing: a play that made a profit!
Mr Pope will be seen later in the season as Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks in the musical Ain’t Too Proud.
(Left to right) J. Quinton Johnson and Jeremy Pope in Choir Boy, written by Academy Award Winner Tarell Alvin McCraney
Original National Theatre cast of musical Follies
Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee, Peter Forbes, Philip Quast and Tracie Bennett, who are among the original National Theatre cast of the Stephen Sondheim and William Goldman musical Follies.
They can be heard on the long-awaited cast album, which can be downloaded via Apple iTunes and Spotify from today (Friday).
The news comes as director Dominic Cooke started rehearsing a revival of the revival, which will run on the National’s Olivier stage from February 12.
Cooke’s heart-piercing production about a troupe of former showgirls who return, years later, with their beaus to the site of the old theatre where they performed between the wars, has become one of those landmark shows that audiences will talk about for years.
Cooke said in a statement that the company ‘gave detailed, powerful performances’ and he expressed delight that he and his associates had managed to capture them for listeners to appreciate.
The physical Warner Classics-National Theatre CD will be available at a later date.
Star of A Very English Scandal in new play
Jonathan Hyde, so good in the BBC mini series A Very English Scandal, will star in Martin Sherman’s play Gently Down The Stream.
Producer Robert Fox told me that it’s about a man in his 60s who was born in New Orleans and played piano for the vibrant vocalist Mabel Mercer, and has now moved to London.
Hyde will star with Ben Allen and Harry Lawtey in the play, which will run at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, North London, from February 13.