Magazine article Variety

Summer of Love

Magazine article Variety

Summer of Love

Article excerpt

Warner Bros. was counting on two powerful men to storm the box office this year with "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," but the studio just might find a bigger profit with a much smaller film - one that was written, directed, and produced by women and has a female lead. "Me Before You," the romantic drama that hits theaters June 3, is an intimate tearjerker strategically placed into a summer schedule full of blockbusters.

The film stars Emilia Clarke - best known as Daenerys Targaryen on "Game of Thrones"- as Louisa Clark, a working-class Brit who takes a job caring for the paralyzed Will Traynor (Sam Claflin, from the "Hunger Games" movies). Despite his initial resistance and their class differences, the two forge a unique bond and end up making signifcant changes in each other's lives.

The gambit may sound familiar. Such counterprogramming took off two years ago when "The Fault in Our Stars" opened during the first weekend in June and went on to gross more than $300 million worldwide for Fox 2000.

Like "Fault," which cost $13 million to make, "Me Before You," produced by MGM and New Line and released by Warner Bros., is rumored to have kept production costs low, at less than $20 million.

"I think if we can get enough people to see it initially, it will have great word-of-mouth and play for a long time, like 'The Notebook,' " says Jonathan Glickman, president of the motion picture group at MGM, citing another wildly successful romance. "It has breakout and sleeper potential."

But unlike "The Notebook" and "The Fault in Our Stars," "Me Before You" was led by women, with screenwriter Jojo Moyes adapting her 2012 novel, and noted theater director Thea Sharrock calling the shots. In fact, the strong women behind the movie resemble those in Moyes' bestselling novels.

"It's really important to me to have female characters who do stuff, rather than buy stuff," says the British author of more than a dozen books. "I have an 18-year-old daughter, and I always ask: 'What message would she take away from this character?' I'm not interested in stories where everything is all right because you get the guy or the handbag or the designer shoes."

"Me Before You" comes with no guarantees for success. Though they tell the story with care and heart, the women who are the film's driving force are movie-business newcomers. "To be honest, I assumed it would be the studio's worst nightmare to have the writer attached," admits Moyes. "But it's such a fine balance of humor and tragedy, and the moral and ethical issues are quite delicate, and it has a very particular voice."

Moyes gave herself a crash course in screenwriting, which she says involved reading and deconstructing the screenplays of every film she loves. "Not just of the genre - I read everything from 'Alien' to 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.' "

Producers met with countless directors for the project, including "a lot of the usual suspects in the genre," according to Glickman. "But there was never the perfect fit."

Sharrock had made a name for herself in 2001 when, at 24, she took the job of artistic director at London's Southwark Playhouse. A few years later, she directed Daniel Radcliffe in an acclaimed West End production of"Equus"that transferred to Broadway, then Benedict Cumberbatch in the Olivier-winning revival of "After the Dance." Her "Henry V" chapter of the BBC miniseries "The Hollow Crown," starring Tom Hiddleston, earned her rave reviews, and an agent at CAA. She had circled other projects, most notably "Legacy" (now known as "The Book of Henry? directed by Colin Trevorrow of "Jurassic World"), but that wasn't quite ready to go when she became aware of "Me Before You."

"I absolutely campaigned for the job," Sharrock says. "I showed my passion for it and my understanding for the world and its characters. It sounds throwaway or glib, but I really felt it was Louisa Clark's story, and you need a British woman to be behind the telling of the story. …

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