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The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of The Idea of You.

What made Michael the perfect director for this film?
I’ve been a longtime fan of Michael’s, and as a matter of fact, early on in the process I reached out to him in hopes that he might be able to get involved from the very beginning.

And when we finally sold the movie to Amazon, the script had been developed, and Anne Hathaway was already attached. And so it was after we got to Amazon that we started talking about directors. I just find that Michael’s movies are an incredible cornucopia of tones. He sort of fondly calls this movie a “rom-com-drom.” And there’s probably more “-oms” that could be attached, because one of the things that I love about his directing – I’m sorry I’m embarrassing him saying this in front of him – is that he takes each scene and treats it as its own thing. If this scene is a dramatic scene, or if that scene is a comedy scene, or if another scene is some combination of the two, or whatever it might be… he allows each to have whatever true integrity it needs to have, and I think it’s the combination of those tones that creates a certain grounded integrity that allows you to work within a genre, but also to be elevated.

And so we can’t even call this a rom-com because there’s so many reasons why it already breaks that model. And I think that’s really what Michael brought to it. I should also just say that from the beginning, one of the things that struck me about the book was that (unlike a typical romantic comedy, where the woman is choosing between two men), she wasn’t doing that here. She was choosing between which kind of happiness to have. And what intrigued me and made me want to do it was that I wasn’t sure which option I would have picked for myself: the “self-actualization in the yurt,” or, “going to go about trying to fall in love again.” And I was starting to think the yurt seemed just fine to me! And so, I thought it was really interesting to make the choice not about one man versus another man, but about how to live out your happiness, and probably any version could have been okay.

these movies teach me a little bit about the kind of person that I want to be

Michael, your filmography is a murderer’s row of incredible roles for women. Is that a conscious thing that you’ve tried to do throughout your career?
MS: No, not consciously. But I do think I oftentimes find women characters more interesting, for myself. I don’t know exactly what that’s about. I could come up with some theories, but, um, Yeah. Does that answer your question?

What’s one of those theories?
MS: Oh, okay. Well, I like characters that are misunderstood, maybe unseen, in some way. I feel like I can relate to those characters. I need to relate to them in order to tell their stories. And so I think I relate in this case to both characters, both Hayes and Solène, who feel like they’re more than what they seem to be to outside observers. And maybe it’s to themselves or to each other. Like, it’s not all conscious, but maybe both characters have more to them than what the world sees, or on some level, it’s like needing to be seen in some way. A lot of the women characters that I’ve directed tend to have that through-line, whether it’s Sally Fields’ character in Hello My Name is Doris, or certainly Anne’s character here, and they’re a character who isn’t being seen fully seen and wants to be seen more. I guess I relate to that.

It feels like we haven’t seen a genre movie like this – with a major star like Anne Hathaway in the lead – in quite a while. When did you start to see that maybe there was a gap in the market?
CS: I’m not sure I was aware of the gap! I do think it’s true that we all need a movie like this, though. We were developing this during the pandemic and I think the need for togetherness, happiness, love… like all of that was feeling really, really necessary. And we kind of kept having to wait to make this movie because we had these huge crowd scenes that are hard to manage during COVID… And we also had a lot of intimate scenes, which were also hard to manage during COVID. So I feel like it was kind of coming back around in some ways. And I’m very much like Michael in the sense that I love to work in genres, too. I just like to try to do a twist on them. Like I look at my own movies: The Illusionist is a whodunit, but it’s dressed up. Or, you know, The Edge of Seventeen is a YA, but it’s slightly different. Or, you know, Crash is a melodrama, but it’s different. I try to look at it kind of like, you know, “what can we do to twist it?” And I felt like there could be a twist on a rom-com that specifically dealt with an older woman as the protagonist. That was what was intriguing to me. You know, I had a kid at the same time we were shooting this, a teenager, while we were developing this and really questioning why Anne’s character keeps being compartmentalized. You can be this or you can be that, or you can be this, but you can’t be everything. And I just liked those ideas of sort of bringing that back into the conversation.

You’ve made send ups of rom-coms and you’ve made more earnest ones and everything in between. What brings you back to romance as a genre so often?
MS: Well, I love the genre. There’s so many things that the genre offers: it’s dramatic, it’s funny, there’s opportunities for incredible performances. I feel like it can be about something. There’s social commentary. There’s all the things: great music, great costumes, great production design. Like it has everything that I look for as a storyteller. And I’ve been talking a lot about romantic comedy as a genre, or rom-com-drom, or rom-dramedy, whatever you want to call it. And I also just like the genre. I like the tropes of the genre. They’re comforting to me. And something I like to talk about is the difference between tropes and clichés, because to me there’s a very big difference. Or “convention” could be another word. Tropes and conventions, if done correctly, are great to me.Cliché, I find, is when you do the trope or the convention, but you don’t know why you did it. So it’s in a movie, but you don’t get the sense that the filmmaker even knew what it was doing in the movie. But I love convention. I love tropes. So those earlier movies, even though they’re kind of poking fun at it, it’s coming from a place of love. Obviously, this movie is filled with references to other films that I love. Most, most notably, Notting Hill. I just feel like the genre has meant so much to me. All the movies that I grew up loving, whether it was When Harry met Sally, or Say Anything, or… or the list is really quite long.

Certainly, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral…  these movies teach me a little bit about the kind of person that I want to be. They teach me about what kind of an adult I want to be. They teach you about life, loss, love, career, family. All these things that I need, these tools that I need as an adult, these kinds of movies have the potential to address.