While romantic-comedy lovers may not know his name, Nick Moore has been an absolutely crucial cog in many films considered absolute classics of the genre. The editor, whose career in the cutting room dates back to the early 80s (his second credit is Empire of the Sun, followed by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), is best known in the industry for his work on the likes of Notting Hill, About a Boy and Love Actually, helping splice practically back-to-back hits for Working Title and make Hugh Grant the 1990s poster boy for foppishly charming Brits.
Moore has turned director for a handful of films already, but with This Time Next Year — screening at the American Film Market, where Protagonist are handling sales — he’s helming his first ever rom-com himself, asserting he was brought on board to “give it that Working Title touch”.
Starring Emily in Paris breakout Lucien Laviscount and Kingsman star Sophie Cookson, the film — of which the majority was shot in Italy (standing in for London) — has a classic rom-com premise: two people born in the same hospital a minute apart on New Year’s Day find themselves thrown together exactly 30 years later (who would have thought it?). But, according to Moore, it’s more than just meet-cutes and soppy LOLs, with the characters dealing with real-life struggles, something he says has been key to all rom-com successes.
Speaking to The Music news, he explains what is needed to be a rom-com lead and how Laviscount ticks the necessary boxes and considers why rom-coms have fallen out of favor since their heyday more than two decades ago.
After editing so many hugely successful rom-coms yourself, it must be a treat to now be directing one yourself.
It is. You know what these films smell like. Because not only have I cut a lot, but I’ve been brought on to fix a lot as well. And the advantage of coming from the cutting room is that, being on set, you know what it’s supposed to look like. A bit of advice Tim Bevan gave me on my first picture was “don’t cut it in your head,” but you can’t help it. And if you cut it in your head, you kind of know what you need. And once you’ve got what you need, then you can try and get more.
Is this film a return to the Working Title-style rom-coms with Richard Curtis that you edited?
I don’t know, I hope so. I think so. I was on the plane recently and watched Four Weddings and a Funeral for fun, and it is funny and it is moving but it is about people. And that’s the thing I find most interesting — people struggling or people managing is the thing that appeals to me the most. It’s trite, but a real superhero movie is a film about a person getting through life. And that I find fascinating. And that’s what this film is about. The world’s tricky right now. So if there’s something that is simple that people can identify with and go ‘oh, I struggle like that,’ I think it’s a good thing.
You’ve got Lucien as your romantic male lead. It’s not been long since he broke out in Emily in Paris. Was that the driver for his casting?
We wanted a diverse cast and it didn’t matter which way around. I only knew Lucien from Emily and that character is very different to this character. He’s so wonderful and fun and eager. And I gave him a reference, I don’t think he ever saw it, a Lubitsch film from the 1930s called Design for Living and Gary Cooper is wonderful and funny, but hardly does anything. So I said I wanted you to be like that. Less is more.
So that sounds kind of opposite of the classic Hugh Grant rom-com role where he’s slightly all over the place and nervously filling in the gaps.
But Hugh in About a Boy … he was better when he was doing less. There’s so much going on behind the eyes that registers. And that’s what I said to Lucien on set – “don’t move your hands so much.”
I don’t think anyone has seen him in anything since Emily, so there’s going to be some curiosity as to what else he can do
Well that character Alfie is extremely busy, extremely boisterous. But his character in this is interesting, because it’s not just a rom-com. Golda Rosheuvel plays his mum and she’s a shut-in and has mental health issues. And so you have this character who’s seemingly very successful financially, but actually has a lot he’s dealing with. So I wanted that to come through.
And you’ve also got Sophie Cookson. She’s possibly best known for Kingsman but I feel like she hasn’t had a chance to properly shine on screen yet.
She was really good as Christine Keeler in the TV series [The Trial of Christine Keeler], but she’s just great in this. In early conversations we had, she was anxious about the comedy, and I said to her that I love comedy, but also that dignity for the characters is deeply important. It’s not just about falling over a lot and being silly, it’s about sophistication. And she was great — she could be larky when she needed to. But also with anything like this, it’s all about who you surround yourself with. It’s like Hugh’s character in Notting Hill and Spike, they’re funny together. And that’s what we’ve tried to do here.
Since the days of Notting Hill and Love Actually, rom-coms have struggled. There have been some good ones on Netflix, but the genre has never hit the same heights. Do have any thoughts as to why?
I don’t know. But you’re right. Working Title seemed to really hit the groove with them and we did film after film and you knew they were going to do well. So that combination of folk knew what to do. Maybe they got too broad, maybe they were trying to push things and they became more comedy than rom-com. For me, my big anxiety about this is it’s not funny enough, because you get too close to it. And then people say ‘it is!’. But this is very emotional and it’s that balance between a smile and a tear that’s so important. It is good laugh, but a laugh is a little sweeter if you’ve just had a cry.
Are there any particularly qualities you think are needed to be a leading man or woman in a rom-com. Is comic timing important?
The thing about comic timing is that, being an editor, it’s down to me. But I think it’s about charm. The thing about Lucien is that he just lights up the screen. We do a meet-cute, unashamedly so, and that all goes back to Billy Wilder. The guy knew how to do that, so watch his films and you can do it too. It’s that simple.
I noticed you’re also lined up to direct another film, the comedy Missionary Position. Have you made a concerted effort by you to do more directing or is just what’s being offered to you?
Not really. When I was little and at film school, I wanted to be a director like everybody does and on my first job somebody gave me some sage advice: learn how to cut because it’s really useful. So I started cutting and I was very lucky, and Eric Fellner asked me to help out with the first Nanny McPhee. And at the end of that I asked if could direct my own movie, and they gave me a chance with Wildchild. And Wildchild didn’t get released in American, so the problem I had, as I live over there, was that people ask why did your first movie go straight to TV? So it made it difficult. And I got offered lots of interesting work to cut. But I love to do this. It’s the best.
Richard Curtis recently said that his own daughter considers Love Actually to be sexist, racist and fattist. Do you agree?
It was funny because I do remember when we looked at dailies and the Prime Minister’s assistant said “big arse” or something, and I was like, OK… But yeah, you probably wouldn’t do it now.