Joel Hopkins, the man behind “Last Chance Harvey” is back with an all-new feature, once again starring the ridiculously talented Emma Thompson, but this time with Pierce Brosnan joining her at the helm. For the unfamiliar, “The Love Punch” is a rom-com caper that finds Thompson and Brosnan, a divorced couple thrown back together by circumstance, plotting––with the help of a couple of friends, brought to life by Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie––to steal a diamond from the man who ripped off all of their retirement money.
Hopkins, caught in a rainstorm that caused him to caution “Things might get a bit loud,” nonetheless, jumped on a phone interview to discuss working with the two mega stars, his process as writer and director, the influence classic cinema had on “The Love Punch” and the advice he has to offer viewers who venture out to see the film, which lands in select theaters on May 23.
Creating ‘The Love Punch’
If, as a screenwriter and director, you get to be palsy with Emma Thompson and have the chance to create a project specifically with her in mind, you would be crazy not to do it. Following their work together on “Last Chance Harvey”, Hopkins had just such an opportunity, in fact, their desire to work together again was the starting point for “The Love Punch.”
“I made a film with Emma Thompson called ‘Last Chance Harvey’ and we really enjoyed doing that and we kind of wanted to do something else and wanted to do something a bit more playful. So really the starting point was to try and find something fun for her to do,” Hopkins said of the origin of the project.
“I think we had a cup of tea and I think we were talking about people for her to play off of and she mentioned Pierce. I thought that sounded like a really fun, fun, fun couple. It’s not the most obvious, but the more I thought about it, the more it made me smile. His charm, her smarts...so that really was the starting point and then I had to think of a story. You know the small thing of a story,” he said, laughing.
In the end, the global economic situation ended up inspiring the story once Hopkins had his stars in mind.
“I wrote it probably about three years ago now, and we were kind of in the middle of the financial crisis, so it’s quite topical,” he explained. “As a screenwriter, I think the key for me was...they were a divorced couple who were brought together when something went wrong and they had to team up to set it right.”
The final ingredient for the picture turned out to be finding the supporting cast to play off of Brosnan and Thompson.
“This won’t make any sense in the States, but there was a sitcom here when I was a kid called ‘The Good Life,’ which was about two sets of neighbors who were very different––one was very posh and one was quite the alternative––but they were actually really good friends, and when I was pitching this movie I said, it’s sort of like ‘The Good Life’ does a heist,” Hopkins said of the dynamic that inspired the foursome at the film’s center.
“I got really lucky. I got Tim Spall, who is a bit of a legend here in England, and then the lovely Celia Imrie, who people might know from things like ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.’ So I had a really lucky foursome. When you see the four of them together, for me, it completely works, you can feel their friendship.”
Classic cinematic influences
Much of the action in the film takes place in the south of France, as it has in so many other movies, the setting feels almost like a character.
”There’s no better place than the south of France to steal a diamond. Obviously, there’s the great movie, ‘To Catch A Thief’ [which also takes place there],” Hopkins said. “When I talk about Pierce and Emma in this movie, the idea with them was to recreate a classic screen couple. Their chemistry has a really classy feel to it. I think they do slightly remind you of, dare I say, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, there’s a lovely pull between them.”
Hopkins also pointed to the Golden Age classics, “His Girl Friday” and “Bringing Up Baby” as films he looked to for clues and insight to the tone he was looking to instill into his film. Another classic also informed the mood of this caper, which at one point has his leads sporting flippers and wetsuits on land. A feat that Hopkins said is so naturally awkward that much of the physical comedy came to the fore naturally.
“[The wetsuits] were bloody tight and they could hardly move in them, so all of the silly walks and stuff were real and natural. it’s very hard to be graceful in those things,” Hopkins said.
And speaking of the somewhat slapstick nature of the film, Hopkins added, “I hope people get it and go with it...in England we call them romps, it’s a romantic caper film that sort of hearkens back to things like ‘The Pink Panther’. I think it’s the kind of film where you have to sort of hang your cynical hat at the door and kind of go with it. If you do, I think you have a great ride with four great actors, but if you start saying three quarters of the way through the movie, ‘How did they climb up that cliff?’ then it’s missing the point a bit.”
On writing and the future
It may not be the most common practice in the film industry, but for his part Hopkins said that writing is often easier with a specific person in mind for the role, especially if he knows them.
“I’m getting to the point where I’ll write a line and I can imagine Emma saying that. I think you have to be quite careful that you don’t write something that’s just...an amalgam of Emma-speak. There’s a danger there of just writing good Emma lines and not [serving the story], “ he said.
“I think actors can be a bit put off by that idea. In my last film ‘Last Chance Harvey’ it was Dustin Hoffman and when he heard I had written it for him, he was like ‘Well, you don’t know me, how can you write for me?’ He found it a bit odd, but he still did it, so I must have done something right,” Hopkins recalled.
Though it’s still in quite early stages, Hopkins did reveal that he is working on writing his next project, and he once again is doing so with the hope of working with specific people.
“I’ve got something going. Which again, is for Emma. My hope is to find a good reason to put Emma and Meryl Streep in a movie together. That’s my goal. That’s sort of my starting point, but I’m sort of working on something ideally,” he explained.
“Meryl doesn’t know this yet,” Hopkins added, laughing, “but I’ve mentioned it to Emma and I’m just starting to get into that. I want to try to find a way for them to have a go at each other...just have to find a plot somewhere. I joke, but you’ve got to start somewhere...and I find that quite interesting thinking of actors I would like to see together.”