'Last Chance Harvey' director talks about love

Overture Films
Q: In Last Chance Harvey, we see two characters who are sort of failures, who find love in each other. Can people have a successful relationship if they themselves are not successful?

JH: In the film, the characters are not unsuccessful, but I think they’re not happy with where they’re at. They rely on their jobs for too much, in a way, trying to get too much out of their jobs. They’re slightly stuck. They’ve got comfy with the status quo, and they’re not open to changing things. He’s a bit older and quite a difficult person in a way. These two very different people come together and slightly unwittingly connect. They’re not looking for each other, they stumble across each other, and somehow they help each other to dampen out all the noise around them. They make the rest of the world quiet around them.

Q: Emma Thompson’s character has a mother who intrudes on her love life. Can family and friends make romance more difficult to find?

JH: Emma’s character Kate has a mother who always calls her, asking how she’s doing in the dating world, and imposing on her to find someone. You almost feel that if Kate turned around and did find someone, it’d be the last thing her mother wanted! Kate needs her mother there to have someone to roll her eyes at. They rely on each other, again this sort of thing of being stuck in a rut.

Q: With the Dustin Hoffman character, Harvey, here’s a man who has been divorced and is finding his second chance at love. Do you have any advice for our readers who have been divorced or in long term relationships and are now looking for love again?

JH: Just that it will happen. I think in a way for Harvey, things haven’t quite worked out for him. He’s in his sixties and still running in the rat race of life and trying to work it all out. Meeting this person changes the way he looks at everything, rearranges what is important. He learns to stop worrying and takes a chance to breathe, to enjoy every little moment again. You lose sight of the tiny things.

You’ve said that the genre of romantic comedies needs to "hold its head up higher." Do you think romantic comedies have a better chance of revealing what it is to be human than, say, 'Saw III'?

JH: It’s unfair! It’s almost as if people are a bit embarrassed to say it’s a romantic comedy, as if it’s not serious. I’m the worst at it, “Oh, it’s a romantic dramedy!” Last Chance Harvey definitely has its funny moments, but it’s character driven. And hopefully you go on a journey in this film, and have moments where you’re genuinely affected, and we get a few tears, and moments where we have you laughing. When they’re done well, I think it’s what it’s all about.

In your last film, Jump Tomorrow, your protagonist is a very soft-spoken guy. Do you think that silence, or not talking sometimes, plays an important role in relationships?

JH: Yes, I think there’s a lot to be said for finding someone you feel comfortable not talking with. I always talk more when I’m not comfortable. There’s great comfort in silence, and finding someone with whom you don’t feel the need to fill the void with stuff, someone you don’t feel you have to impress all the time. It’s fun making people laugh, and there’s great pleasure in seeing the person you love smile. If you can make them laugh, that’s lovely.

Dustin Hoffman’s character in Last Chance Harvey is a musician. Do you think there’s something unique about a musical sensibility that can be a detriment when it comes to finding love?

I’m not a musician, but I assume you have to be internal at times, and quite focused on yourself and what you are thinking if you’re being creative in any field. And that can lead to being quite closed off. I can see that being detrimental.

In your own life as an artist and a director, has this created problems, or maybe successes in your love life?

JH: Yeah! My partner is also my producing partner, and so we’re keen — especially in film, where you can go off to the other side of the world to film for three months, and then you’re editing. There are long periods where you can be away from each other — we’re trying very hard to work together and to share our professional life, because we don’t see each other! But it’s tough. You’ve got to know when to switch off. You can easily bring it home and you can end up that it’s all you ever talk about. You’re worrying about something you’re filming the next day, and it’s really hard to know when to switch off.

That’s an interesting situation, where you work with the person that you also live with and love! Do you think that whether that’s the case or not, sometimes the opposite is true, that you need to have distance from a partner?

JH: Yeah, we try very hard to get the balance right. But sometimes it’s like a director and a producer. A director’s always whining. I’m always complaining about something. “Oh, we need this, we need that.” It’s really hard if you’re doing that to the person you love. By the time you get home, you’ve used up all your brownie points!

It is important to have your own space. Nicola, my life partner, as well as producing, she works with Scholastic children’s books, and has had a very full life there as well. I think it’s very important for her to have her own world. When I go off and write scripts, I’m very much on my own. I think as much as we enjoy working together, we like to make our own way -- in a way. It’s important to have that space.

Q: The characters in Last Chance Harvey are separated by a lot of space, since one is from the U.S. and one is from the U.K. Is there a difference between how love works in England, and how it works here?

JH: Ha -- I think it’s universal. I think there’s different nuances in dating procedures and all that. But the ultimate, what makes people tick, is pretty universal.

Q: Is there one universal rule about love that you’d like to give our readers?

Try and live in the moment. It’s incredible how quickly you can spend your time worrying about the future and worrying about the past. Try as much as possible with that person to live in the moment, and enjoy each day.

In both your films, you have characters just beginning to find love with each other. How can you tell good love from bad? How can you tell when it’s real?

There has to be mutual respect. And I think you can pretty quickly discover if someone is too possessed with themselves. I think you can tell when someone is too wrapped up in themselves, and doesn’t care for you, or cares more for themselves than you. I think you’ll get a sense pretty quickly…I’m being hopeless here, I’m not helping at all!

Q: No, you’ve given us some great advice!

JH: Really? I hope so! Very cool.

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