David Nicholls has adapted his international best seller One Day into a movie directed by Lone Scherfig. The story begins when Emma Morley (played by Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (dreamy Brit Jim Sturgess) hook up on the night of college graduation; it then checks in on them, together or apart, every July 15 for the next twenty years. We talked with the sweet, unassuming author about cinematizing his own work, writing endings that feel like a punch in the face, and Hathaway’s not-quite-British accent.
Have you seen the film yet?
Yes. I’d seen different cuts along the way, which are always painful since you’re watching in a critical way, to find things you don’t like; it’s quite grueling. I think the screenwriter’s ideal version of the film is longer than anyone else’s. My version of the movie would be nine hours.
Any scenes that were particularly hard to lose?
We lost some jokes. I missed the chats and their banter. The biggest challenge is: It’s fine if a book feels episodic, because you can put it down at the end of the night, whereas a film needs to flow and keep moving forward. There’s a part in the book after Emma and Dexter’s first night together where they write long letters to each other for a few years, and I had nightmares about scenes of them with a pen and eight-minute voice-overs.
Ha! The book and the film share a shocking ending. I won’t spoil it for people who haven’t read the book. But why shock people?
You need to do something shocking, or else it’s just a “will they or won’t they” story of best friends who could be something more, and that’s the oldest story there is.
Did you face any pressure along the way to make it more of a Hollywood ending?
No, not at any point. We got notes that there would be less smoking, fewer curse words, and less of Dexter’s drug use than in the book, but no one ever suggested changing the ending. I don’t think you could do it any other way.
The film spans from 1988 to today and the music is so perfect and embarrassing. Was that all in the screenplay?
I gave suggestions about songs to include. To me, the nineties is all about Blur and Oasis, but they didn’t actually make it in. Lone resisted going too far or letting the film feel like a nostalgia jukebox. When I was writing, I thought I would go back and read the newspapers and political events from each year, but it turns out the quickest way to recall 1992 is to play some Massive Attack or Portishead.
Let’s talk casting. Were you part of the process?
I had a point of view, but it ultimately had to be up to Lone because she’s the one who has to work with them every day and get the performances on the screen. But I made some suggestions for who should play Emma.
Who was on your short list?
I can’t say. I think it would be impolitic. But I was delighted with Anne. She’s terrific in the film and was instrumental in getting it made. She’s a terrific comedian and doesn’t always get the credit she deserves. I knew we’d get the “Brokeback Mountain, Rachel Getting Married” Anne, and that she could do that kind of petulance and sulkiness and awkwardness.
It’s interesting to cast an American actress for such a British role. You know she’s been getting some flack about her accent.
Really? I think it’s a very difficult accent to get right, and she did. But I think if you go in looking for flaws, you’re more likely to see flaws.