Paul Feig On The 'Last Christmas' Twist, Playing With Genre, And How 'Freaks And Geeks' Is The Template For 'Dark Army' [Interview]

Paul Feig was not happy that the internet guessed the twist in Last Christmas. But sometimes, in the words of the great George Michael, you gotta have faith. Of course, there was a chance that someone would guess the premise of Last Christmas, which takes its inspiration from the Wham! song of the same name, but that Feig was "not pleased" that audiences wouldn't get the chance to be blown away as he was when he read Emma Thompson's script.

"I was just really emotional when I read it. It really came as a surprise," Feig told /Film in an interview in conjunction with the Last Christmas Blu-ray and Digital releases. "I couldn't even read the last five pages, I was so thrown and blown away by what happened."

/Film spoke with Feig about Last Christmas for the film's Blu-ray and Digital release, and the relative ease that he moves between genre, from the raunchy female-led comedy of Bridesmaids, to a spy comedy, to the soapy brilliance of A Simple Favor. "Sky's the limit, I just love genres," Feig said. We spoke with Feig about dabbling with genre, the legacy of George Michael, and how everything the director does all goes back to Freaks and Geeks.

Last Christmas trailerWhat was it that drew you to Emma Thompson's Last Christmas script?

Well, Emma and I were supposed to do the movie Late Night together and we became really good friends from the time we got together, when you got to work on the character and talk things over. We really hit it off. And then when I had to drop out of that movie for scheduling issues, we always kind of stayed in contact and said we gotta do something together, and were hell bent on figuring something out. Then one day, she just dropped the script in my inbox completely out of the blue and said to me, "Hey give this a read. I just finished [Late Night] and I think we would have a lot of fun doing this." So I read it completely cold. I didn't know what it was about. I saw Last Christmas in the title and thought, "Oh, it's a Christmas movie."

And it was this amazing script. By the time I got to the end, with the surprise at the end, I was like, "Oh my god, I'm so in." I was just really emotional when I read it. It really came as a surprise. I couldn't even read the last five pages, I was so thrown and blown away by what happened. I immediately gave the thing to my wife and I said, "Read this, am I crazy?" And she comes out in tears an hour later and said, "You have to do this." So it was never a question.

Did you have any interest in doing a holiday movie before you read the script?

No, I actually didn't ever want to do a holiday movie again. Because I made one back in 2006 called Unaccompanied Minors, it's a Christmas movie. It didn't do well, and I was just like, I'm never doing a Christmas movie again. So when I opened the script [for Last Christmas], part of me went just, "Oh no. A Christmas movie." So all the strikes were against it before I had read it. And the fact that it pushed through that... But I also like the fact that it's not really a Christmas movie. I mean the original draft was actually written to take place over the summer because part of the gag was just this woman working at this year-round Christmas store and how weird that is. But because of our timeline and everything, and nothing is more beautiful than London at Christmas. And I've always wanted to shoot a movie in London, and we sort of went, "Well this has to be a Christmas movie." We compressed the timeline so that it can take place in November/December so that we could have that beautiful, beautiful decorated London in there. So that's why I jumped at it.

When the trailer for Last Christmas hit and a lot of people on the internet had figured out the twist, did that worry you at all, or was that something that didn't concern you?

Well, I was not pleased. I didn't mind so much that people were guessing it, that's fine, that's up to them. What I didn't appreciate was that the media was then reprinting it all as if they suddenly had carte blanche to give something away. That really bothered me just because I never, seen that done to a movie before to be quite honest. With my previous film A Simple Favor, the whole ad campaign was "What happened to Emily?" There were not any articles written speculating what the twist might be. So I never quite figure out why the media just wholeheartedly kind of dove in and tried to spoil the movie. In the aftermath, online, some people were like, "I want to see the movie but I heard what the twist was." You know, the fact that it was treated like, "Well, everybody knows." Not everybody knows, it's just people who study trailers and movies and all that, they figure it out. But you know, the vast majority of people I talked to were just like, "Oh my god, I didn't see that coming, I was so surprised, I was so moved."

So there is a bit of a snarkiness that goes into some of the movie coverage and press that I find kind of sad because the last thing I want to do is ruin something for somebody else. But that's the world we live in now.

Do you think that in today's world of constant internet chatter and speculation, it was at all possible for this movie to come out without revealing the twist?

It's so funny. There are those of us who are in the business and those of us who are like obsessed with movies. You know, we can't help but kind of do that kind of thing. But then there's an assumption that that's how everybody else in the world consumes stuff. And what I've learned over the course of my career is the vast majority of people, they just go like, "Oh, that looks fun," or, "Oh, that looks like a nice night out," or "That looks like something I can relax and watch and not think about my other problems." And so for a vast majority of people, entertainment is sort of like a casual friend that pops in and is like, "Let's watch a movie."

So the internet really concentrates those of us who are obsessed about the same thing, and that it makes it seem like the entire world is obsessed witht hat. I love the internet, but I think that's one of the downsides of the internet is that it concentrates so many people you know who are not a majority in all. But the media is in this 24-hour news cycle and thinks, "Everybody's talking about this" — well not everybody is. I mean, a few thousand people are talking about this, that's nothing. I've experienced this throughout my career, that it's very hard for people to compute numbers. Like, "Oh people are talking about this because my feed got bombarded by hundreds of people obsessed about one thing." No, it's those few hundred people and nobody else knows. It's all about putting things in perspective.

It's not just the twist that makes Last Christmas so appealing. You spoke before about how this movie really moved you. So what was the element specifically that moved you to want to sign on to Last Christmas?

A female lead character who — when we meet her — is not behaving the way we would want her to. She's lashing out, she's really not doing things that your standard female lead character would do. She can be frustrating in the first act of the movie. I love that because I always want to I want to portray complicated women on the screen, I don't want "strong" female characters. I want them to be three dimensional and strong, and weak, and neurotic, and cool, and everything that all of us are in the world. So I love that it was a story ultimately about a woman feeling herself. Emma and I just love the fact that the last shot of the movie is a woman by herself looking very content. She's not dependent on anybody. She's ready to go out into the world much more realized that she was and better able to do anything. I think that's the most emotional thing you can do and that's the best message you could put out for an audience, especially for a female audience. And for a male audience too! To go: look, the other side and whatever preconceptions you have about them, are just as strong and able to do everything you're able to do. Sometimes that message gets lost in movies these days, especially in movies geared toward women.

Emilia Clarke's own battle with illness became public knowledge a little before the movie's release – did her personal experiences have anything to do with her choosing this film or you casting her?

It had nothing to do with my casting her, because I had no idea that she had been through that until I had already decided I wanted to cast her. We had lunch together, and I met her about three or four years prior, I just loved her so much — she was so funny and unexpected. You see Khaleesi [on Game of Thrones] and you think she'll be very dour and serious, but she was just a breath of fresh air when she came in and made me laugh. I was just looking for a role for her. But then she told me, "I went through something similar," and she told me [about her brain aneurisms]. I went, "Oh my gosh," and was just so affected by that. So I can't speak for her, if that's one of the things that drew her to the role, but I know that it was part of what she drew on for that character. It was difficult for her to have to do those hospital scenes because it was very fresh in her mind. But she's such a trooper and got through it.

Speaking of issues that this movie draws on, with the timing of this movie and its story about immigrants and Kate struggling with that homeland vs. current home dynamic — did the topic of Brexit ever broach your mind while you were making Last Christmas?

This movie, if you look at it, one of the many things it is, is an immigrant story. That's really appealed to me in reading it, and obviously when Emma was writing it, it was a very big inspiration for her. She'd been working on the script for seven years before I came on board. So, you know, if you're going to do a story about immigrants and immigrant families in modern day Britain, to not mention Brexit as a part of what is affecting them would be so disingenuous and not real, that we couldn't not touch on it. You know, the goal was to not hit it so hard that it'd be divisive and to not be political about it. But like it or not, this is how this is affecting some people who are insecure in their [living] situation. It hangs over them in a way that people...who don't have that history don't understand. I love that it's in there, and it's done pretty lightly, but the minute you see it at all, it suddenly becomes a big deal. I'm very proud that that's in there.

Last Christmas TrailerAnother thing that's looming over this movie is, of course, George Michael. But is there a reason that Kate has such an affection for George Michael songs in the context of the movie, aside from the quirky premise of it being structured around George Michael and Wham songs?

The original script was inspired by the song "Last Christmas," that was the idea for the movie. [Producer] David Livingstone years ago, had said, "Maybe you should do a movie about "Last Christmas." So by the time it was written — Emma had written in there, a few places where it'd be nice to hear some George. But that was kind of it. But at the same time, when I was coming on board, his estate was reaching out to us because we had to get the rights to the song and they were aware of it. One of the first things they did is say, "We want you guys to come out to London and see the George Michael documentary that aired on BBC." But there was a two-hour long version, a theatrical version that was never seen. So we came out saw that. And watching that I was just like, this has to be the sound for the movie. Because I'm always doing that with my movies — like the French songs in A Simple Favor — something that unifies the movies musically. And seeing George's story, what he'd been through, hearing his music — a lot of which I hadn't heard before, not the big hits but the deeper tracks — that made me think, "This is sound for the movie." The movie's based on their music anyway.

So we found the song "Heal the Pain," and that's the one where I thought, George's songs are speaking to these characters and telling the stories of the characters. And I said, this has to be the song for the skating scene. Everyone thinks it's going to be a romantic song, but actually I like that it's a kind of dark song about running out of time. And, we find out that there were songs that had never been released before and they were going to give us the rights to use one of them. The song that we used at the end of the movie was so perfect. And so, when we went into production, we had songs hardwired in there. [At the beginning, it was the joke of] a girl who was singing a hymn in church and then it just became a George Michael song. So it just grew and then by the time we got the post, we already had five or six songs hardwired in, but then it's like, well, let's keep it going because certain songs belong there. But it grew very organically.

Did you hope that "Last Christmas" would achieve through this movie the same Christmas notoriety as "All I Want For Christmas" did with Love, Actually?

Yeah, you always hope that what you put in a movie has a second life. It was so funny after Bridesmaids, the Wilson Phillips song had this resurgence. You know, that just means that you've done something that struck a chord with people. I'm in London a lot over the course of my life, and especially the last 30 years with my wife because we're both Anglophiles. If you're ever in London, anytime around Christmas, all you ever hear is "Last Christmas." I think it's the most-heard Christmas song there, at least. So from my point of view, it's already a song that's as famous as "All I Want For Christmas." But now, it'll go beyond Britain, I hope. I hope it takes off, I love that song. It's very evocative, it takes you right to a scene.

For your past few movies you've played with different genres for each — for this one, specifically the rom-com and the holiday movie. What do you find appealing about the rom-com, and what do you think of the genre's resurgence lately?

I love a great rom-com. I'm friends with Nancy Myers and she would say to me, "Nobody is not interested in how somebody else fell in love." But, you know, there was a spate of them for a long time that I felt weren't as much fun. They got very formulaic. My favorite rom-coms are like Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. One of my favorite movies of all time is a movie called What's Up Doc which is with Ryan O'Neal and Barbra Streisand. There's a big muscular chase scene and crash in it, but it's a romantic comedy that at the end of the day is about two people falling in love. When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall, I love those movies when they're great. And I am very happy that they're coming back, I just hope they don't end up becoming formulaic like they did with genre sort of petered out for a while. But that's the great thing about genres: they come on strong, you fall in love with them, only for them to peter out. But then they come back.

Speaking of genres, what other genres are you hoping to tackle in the future?

I'm dying to do a musical. I just did a musical with our show Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, airing this Sunday.

And you've got Dark Army coming up so you'll be doing a little spin on classic movie monsters as well.

[I wanted to tell a story] about a monster, and about creatures or misunderstood creatures. It all goes back to Freaks and Geeks for me. That's a monster story, just about burnouts and nerds who are considered monsters. They're the weirdos and outsiders. Any stories about outsiders I love, and so the monster genre to me is just an extension of that. But I'm very excited about doing that. Hopefully that will be one of my next couple of films. I'm in the middle of a rewrite on it right now. I wrote my original draft that I was very happy about, but now we're being very hard on it.

But yeah, that's a genre I'd like to do. I'd love to make a sci-fi epic, I'd love to do a western. Sky's the limit, I just love genres.


Last Christmas is available for purchase on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital now.