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A Director's Take On 'One Day' (And 20 Years)

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A Director's Take On 'One Day' (And 20 Years)

Movie Interviews

A Director's Take On 'One Day' (And 20 Years)

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JACKI LYDEN, host: Danish director Lone Scherfig is making an international name for herself. Not only is she that rare artist, the international female director, but her movies on twists on human relationships and human irony include last year's "An Education." Now she's out with "One Day," a romance based on the bestselling novel by British author David Nicholls. In fact, my colleague, Scott Simon, who usually sits in this chair on Saturday, interviewed David Nicholls a year ago when the novel was just coming out in the U.S.

DAVID NICHOLLS: I myself turned 40 while I was - when I was about to start the book, and I was interested in the difference between my 20-year-old self and my 40-year-old self. Yet to cover 20 years seemed sort of exhausting. So I hit upon this idea of just taking a day, seemingly at random, and showing that day 20 times. So some of the days are very eventful and very significant, and some of the days are just very ordinary.

LYDEN: Director Lone Scherfig joined us now from Copenhagen. Welcome to the show, Lone Scherfig.

LONE SCHERFIG: Thank you.

LYDEN: What drew you to this story? You even worked on the screenplay with the author, David Nicholls.

SCHERFIG: He did most of the adaptation himself or all of it. But the script that I then read was moving and very funny and with this extraordinary structure that was a great challenge for a film director.

LYDEN: When you talk about the structure, we're talking about the fact that "One Day" refers to the day July 15th, where your main characters Emma and Dexter, meet out. It starts with 1988 when they're graduating from graduating from university.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ONE DAY")

JIM STURGESS: (as Dexter) You know, we never actually met.

ANNE HATHAWAY: (as Emma) Actually we have, several times.

STURGESS: (as Dexter) Ah, have we?

HATHAWAY: You gate crashed my birthday party, called me Julie and spilled red wine down my top.

STURGESS: Ouch. I'm sorry about that.

HATHAWAY: No, not at all. You're delightful.

STURGESS: Well, was I?

HATHAWAY: No. No you weren't.

STURGESS: Look, I'll walk you home.

LYDEN: It's St. Swithin's Day. Is there a special significance for that?

SCHERFIG: It's just a day that we check in on the characters every year whether they are together or not. And it's deliberately a random day, but it let's you see the characters sometimes on days where you normally wouldn't see them on film and at other times at bigger events or crucial turning points.

LYDEN: A lot happens over the 20-year arch of this film. Tell me about these two characters. They've got great chemistry. Emma and Dexter, of course, played by played by Anne Hathaway and the British actor Jim Sturgess.

SCHERFIG: Emma is an A student, insecure, overcompensating with a huge appetite for literature and a secret dream of if not saving the world, at least becoming a writer. Dexter is much more privileged, lazy. And I really admire that Jim Sturgess did not try to defend Dexter all the time, because Dexter does have a heart of gold, but we want to see him find out how to use it.

Over the years it turns out that he has to fight really hard to find out what it is he can do with his life and what love is.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ONE DAY")

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STURGESS: (as Dexter) I think about you, you and me.

HATHAWAY: (as Emma) Really?

STURGESS: Yes.

HATHAWAY: Okay. But?

STURGESS: The problem is I've had pretty much everyone.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: Lone Scherfig, looking at some of your other films, it seems like you like to play with this idea of unlikely people attracting, opposites attracting. Is that the case? I'm thinking of "Italian for Beginners," for example.

SCHERFIG: Yes. It is an ongoing theme, odd couples or people who are not very good at expressing themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SCHERFIG: I do like insecure people. I like to see losers win, and so I do get attracted to scripts that have some sort of unpredictability built in.

LYDEN: You age these two people. They age over 20 years - early 20s to early 40s. And you use music to take us through these decades in a really great way. It starts with college graduation day. They're in Scotland graduating from university. There's this fumble towards sex and Emma puts on this - Anne Hathaway - this really earnest Tracy Chapman folk song "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution." I mean I was thinking, talk about a mood killer. It was a great choice.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SCHERFIG: Thank you. Well, we tried to find songs that would have been played by those characters, but would also add to the atmosphere, the humor or the emotion of whichever scene where we used original tracks.

LYDEN: I want to talk a little bit about the way you've worked twice from books so that these scripts are, you know, adaptations. Is there any particular challenge? Do the writers add? Do they get in the way? Are you worried that the film should be as good as the books, special challenges?

SCHERFIG: It is a big responsibility both to the writer and the readers. This book is so loved and became extremely popular while we were shooting. My feeling was that the most loyal thing I could do was to just do my best and get the best possible film out of it. And I also remember that a lot of people have not read the book and you have obligations to those as well.

LYDEN: It had to be difficult to decide what to leave in and what to leave out, and how to bring us back into that and not be confused.

SCHERFIG: It's demanding to try and always to put such a big and loved book into a two-hour experience. But how time passes and the way the costumes change and the cars and props and everything, that is very effective on film. You can just do it effortlessly and film has a completely different toolbox when it comes to showing time passing and specifying things that have to do with whatever people wore or listened to or how they lived.

LYDEN: Lone, I know that you're beloved in Denmark for this little film "Just Like Home," about a crisis in a little town because of an anonymous streaker. It's weird and it's surrealistic and funny. Do you have affection for your movies after you've moved on to the next one?

SCHERFIG: Yes. I don't really watch them until it's been a year or something. It's very strange. But with "One Day" the moment is like the feeling you had when you saw your child walking to school for the first time that I have to just to get used to it. It's not my film anymore. It belongs to the audience and that I can't keep fixing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: Lone Scherfig, it's really been fun speaking with you. Good luck with this and thank you for speaking with us.

SCHERFIG: Thank you so much.

LYDEN: Lone Scherfig's new film"One Day" is in theaters this weekend. And you can watch clips on our website, npr.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon returns next week. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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