What’s Love Got to Do with It? is the latest effort of director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth). I recently spoke to him about the project…
Matt: Elizabeth: The Golden Age came out back in 2007 and was your last movie. I’ve got to ask – what have you been up to over the past 15 years?
Shekhar: I’ve done a lot of stage musicals all over the world. I’ve also been doing television such as a series about the young William Shakespeare. I’ve been busy but I haven’t done a feature film in a while.
Matt: How did this script from Jemima Khan first come across your radar?
Shekhar: I worked with Working Title before who produced Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. They reached out to me, I read the script, and I said I’d do it. It sounded really interesting.
Matt: What was it about the script that made you want to get involved?
Shekhar: I was fascinated by Zoe, the lead character played by Lily James. I’m fascinated by the idea of intimacy and where it’s going in society. Where are apps like Tinder leading us? I’m not taking a moral view but I’m trying to show there’s a fundamental human need for intimacy… but is casual sex the way to get it? I remember doing the same thing in London as an 18-year-old. I can’t remember forming any meaningful relationships out of casual sex but maybe that’s just me.
I found it interesting that a girl of Zoe’s age is looking for that online and then explores other ways to find intimacy. Just when you think that her old friend knows exactly what to do, you realise she doesn’t. What I like about the script is that everyone is in the same boat and everybody is yearning for that mysterious thing called love. Life is a mystery and that’s really why I wanted to make the film – to reinforce that.
Ultimately, I wanted to explore love from different angles – a mother’s love for her son, a girl’s love for a boy, a father’s love for his son. The moment the family comes into the story, everyone in the world will respond. We like to think different nationalities have different family dynamics but that’s often not the case. When I had the first screening of the film for the cast and crew, three different came up to me and said the grandmother character was exactly like their own.
Matt: This is your first romantic comedy – a genre which puts a smile on people’s faces but which can also be very formulaic and predictable. Are there rom-coms from other directors which you look up to and use as a benchmark for what you want to achieve here?
Shekhar: For me, other rom-coms seems to come to a conclusion. This film doesn’t do that. It’s forgiveness, and being honest with each other, and being close with each other. There’s no ribbon on the top, and it doesn’t provide all the answers, and it doesn’t have a scene where they run after each other at the railway station. It’s a more “searching” rom-com. They’re not fairy tale characters. These are real, every day character.
Matt: A more traditional rom-com would have just had the two protagonists chatting back and forth but there’s an extra layer here with Zoe (Lily James) being a documentary filmmaker and making a movie within the movie. Do you approach those scenes any differently?
Shekhar: A lot of those things were already there in Jemima’s script. It wasn’t an easy film to make but I said let’s go for it. Those scenes are designed to make audiences reflect. It’s like the characters are narrating their own story to you… and yet they don’t know.
Matt: The film makes several references to the way in which white British people are perceived differently from non-whites. Sometimes this is done dramatically and sometimes through comedy – like the joke about having to get to the airport earlier. It’s obviously a topic you wanted to highlight?
Shekhar: Yes, absolutely. Emma Thompson is great as Cath. Of all the characters, she’s the one who aspires to do the right thing but gets it wrong all time. She’s say a line like “Kaz is so good looking… he almost doesn’t look Muslim.” You can’t say that. She’s both appreciating him and also being caught in the dilemma of what used to be. Yet, she’s the one who aspires most to be Asian because of the way she dresses.
Matt: Emma Thompson is having a sensational year after Good Luck to You, Leo Grande and Matilda: The Musical. She gets so many great one-liners here as the nosy, pushy, inquisitive mum. How did she come on board the project?
Shekhar: She read the script and we spoke. Jemima was very persuasive also. It’s hard to get great actors attached to your script. It’s their job to examine and try to find out if they can “be” that part. Once she realized the script had something deeper than the words, she went for it.
Matt: And I have to ask how you settled on Lily James and Shazad Latif in the two lead roles?
Shekhar: I didn’t know they were friends before and it was only after I cast them that I realized. I hadn’t met Lily previously but we had long conversations during the pandemic about what life and love is about. That’s how she came on board. With Shazad, I did an audition and I realized he could be the perfect person to come across as dependable and solid. He knows what he’s doing with his life whereas she’s all over the place. In then flips, when he falls in love and everyone is in the same place.
Matt: I believe this was produced during the COVID-19 pandemic so I’m curious to know if it was all shot in a single location or the cast and crew travel between the UK and Pakistan?
Shekhar: It was tough to do. Most of the film was shot in London but we did go to Pakistan.
Matt: Anything you’re working on at the moment? I hope it won’t be another 15 years before we see another movie from you.
Shekhar: I’m doing another big stage show but I’m also in prep for a movie on water and a city has to come to grips with a water shortage. When people in power have the water, they use it as a tool to economically oppress other people.