Can you give me a snap shot of Kate and what personal connection you felt to her story?
When we first meet Kate she is in a little bit of a state. She is very confused as to what she should be doing with her life. She is working in a Christmas shop dressed as a Christmas elf, which is not something that she had dreamed of as a child. So she is a little bit frustrated and not where she wants to be. Also, what you see quite quickly is that she likes to ignore her incredibly abrasive and overbearing mother, played by the wonderful Emma Thompson. Kate is definitely trying not to go home. And with things like Tinder she is finding anyone that she can go home with in order to not go home to her mother’s, and that requires her to be more than a little bit inebriated. So she is not living a healthy lifestyle but then she meets someone. He starts to show her that maybe there is something that will bring her slightly more happiness than her current state of affairs.
And even though it is funny, the film also carries some serious themes…
Exactly, it is a Christmas movie in disguise rather than just being simply a Christmas movie. Actually, we are dealing with a number of different topics that are quite relevant right now. And Kate is a quite unusual heroine for a movie. She is unashamedly not doing the right thing and at no point do we make excuses for her. She is forced to own up to the way she is living her life through the different characters that she meets and lives alongside. And this slightly undone, unperfected, unfiltered woman that she is, that is someone I can relate to 100 per cent. We all do. We are all scrolling through Instagram thinking, ‘Everybody else is doing great. They are all looking beautiful, there in the Bahamas with their perfect life!’ And there was a freedom in that that I saw as an actor, to be able to play this young girl who is not nice. She is not doing the right thing and she is fully aware that she is doing the wrong thing. So that was kind of fun.
We see a broader range of your performing abilities in this film, with the singing and some physical comedy. How was that?
There are some different traits that I had to add to my CV before I got the job. ‘Can you sing?’ ‘Sure, I can!’ Actually, singing is something that I do love. When I was younger I had to decide whether I wanted to pursue being a singer or being an actor. It is something I love doing. If you walk past my house you would probably hear me singing. It is probably quite annoying for other people but I love getting to do it and it is something I can relate to with Kate. It is just as big a pipe dream as it is being an actor. And then the slapstick humour is something that I absolutely love. When I was at drama school I didn't get the ingénue roles. I was never Juliet or the beautiful young thing in Chekov. I was the granny or the farcical Restoration comedy mad woman, and I absolutely loved it. I love physical humour. And having Emma as the writer and giving her voice to that, and being able to speak to her and with Paul being such a comedy genius, it has just been a dream.
The movie is I nspired by a Wham! song. Are you a fan of Wham! and George Michael?
George Michael features heavily in our movie Last Christmas. It is about his song. That's it. ‘Last Christmas’ is our movie and George Michael’s music features throughout. It is just magical. I have loved George Michael forever. Back in the day I listened to Wham!. I loved all of it. Also, as a singer, George Michael's songs are just amazing. Name me one time at a karaoke where you haven't heard someone belt out George Michael. It is just too good to be true. It is just perfect story telling. It is beautiful. I love it. It was really nice to have that.
Do you feel that the film is also a love letter to London?
This movie is absolutely a love letter to London. We shot in almost every brilliant part of London - the bits you never knew were there as well as places like Covent Garden. As a Londoner that is amazing. We shot on places like Regent Street, although it was four in the morning and there were loads of drunken people there. There was one really funny morning when this car drove past us. I was sitting on a bench and the guy in the car couldn't see that the cameras were rolling. He rolled down his window and went, ‘Are you an influencer?’ There was a lot of that, and a lot of drunken people! But it was great getting to film in London at Christmas time, which already is very Christmassy, and then our DoP would add fairy lights on top of fairy lights on top of fairy lights.
What are the big Christmas traditions in your family?
There is one proper tradition and I do believe that when my brother and I have long-term partners, whatever, they still won't be invited to this part. My mother is quite specific about this. As a family, on Christmas morning we have our stockings and we will go into our parents’ room and we open them, and the dog is there and there is champagne and tea and all of that stuff. It is a really very sweet Christmassy tradition that we just have to do even though we are all getting a bit older.
And what makes a good romantic story?
It is the essential star-crossed lovers thing. You have to introduce the audience to two people who are perfect for each other, whether they know it or not, and then you have got to tear them apart. You have to separate them in some way, be it that they see one another across a crowded dance floor and they think the other one is hot but actually they are a nightmare. And then you put something in the way and the audience needs to be willing them to find each other and come back together. When you are watching that sort of movie you are thinking, ‘That could be me.’ That's the thing that gets you feeling all romantic - that hope is out there. A good romantic movie gives you that. The interesting thing about our romantic movie is whilst it is romantic it is also something a little bit more substantial as well.
Finally, can you pick out a really fond memory from the Last Christmas shoot?
There are so many memories. This is the best film experience that I have ever had. It was too much fun. I can't ice skate and I had to learn how to ice skate and it was getting to the point where the AD was like, ‘Emilia, I know that you are in every day and that we are working twelve midnight to twelve noon, but we need you to learn how to ice skate in that time and to do a dance.’ And I thought it would be fun and that I’d be absolutely fine. Come the day, however, it was a shambles. I was petrified, I was sweating. I didn't know what was going on. The only ice skating I had ever done was when I was about 11 years old and even then I was probably hanging onto the edge. So I had to do this dance and the way we had to shoot it, it was just embarrassing. I was terrible, really terrible at it. Then Henry comes on and he is a complete pro. For me, there was lots of falling over and lots of genuine slapstick. I remember telling Emma that when I was a toddler I had to go to this thing called Tumble Tots. And I did not enjoy Tumble Tots. I was not a very active child and it wasn’t for me. So ice skating is my Tumble Tots. When you watch it you will see all the way through that scene that I am not having a good time!