For those who might not know him best for writing the epic TV series, Blackadder, Richard Curtis is popular for having penned box-office hits like Bean (1997), Notting Hill (1999), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) and Love Actually (2003). In 2011, he co-wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. His most recent work is Mary And Martha — the TV film he wrote, had a special premiere on Star Movies in India on April 25. The film revolves around two mothers and their efforts to help those in malaria-ridden areas.
To say the least, the man’s been an inspiration to many film enthusiasts. In this interview, Curtis tells us what inspired Mary And Martha, why Love Actually is still popular and why we’ll never see more of Blackadder.
You mentioned that your recurrent trips to Ethiopia inspired Mary And Martha? But you’ve dealt with this subject in a comical manner somehow.
These issues have been very much in my mind for the last 25 years. I suddenly thought, ‘Why don’t I use the other half of what I can do, the film-writing half, and make a film that makes people care about the issue?’ That’s how I started writing it.
In order to talk about serious issues, at times, you have to be completely serious, but it is also possible to do something that’s entertaining and emotional.
That’s what I’ve tried. Love Actually was a massive success in India. Friends of mine still watch it every Christmas.
Isn’t that lucky?
I found my old notes for Love Actually, from when I started writing it; and it was only months into writing it that I decided to set it during Christmas. I’m very glad I did, I didn’t quite realise how that gives the movie such a long life. I’m thinking I should write a movie about birthdays because it’s someone’s birthday every year (laughs).
Rowan Atkinson revived Edmund Blackadder for a charity stage show in 2012. Is there a chance we’ll ever see another series?
It’s unlikely. We’re a bit older and more argumentative. And the truth is that Blackadder probably worked well because there were people in the room with very strong opinions. It was a very argumentative show. We kept changing the lines. These days, we’ve got too used to having our own way. It will be tough to bring everyone together. Hugh Laurie is now one of the biggest TV stars in the world. I’ve got used to directing my own things.
You’ll have to make do with what we’ve done already. Yet, you’ve directed films very selectively. Why?
I reached an age where I became so argumentative that it wasn’t a nice experience. So, for the peace of the world (smiles), I still consider myself a writer primarily. I think what writers do is make accurate directors. If I direct my own work, the lines will be said as they should be said, and it also means that in the edit, I can rewrite the movie; in some ways, I am more ruthless an editor than other people would be with my work. So writing directors direct with great accuracy, but not necessarily with great flair.
According to you, what is the present state of British cinema?
I think it’s in very good shape. There are at least 50 British films a year. In terms of numbers, British collectors are being able to make what they want to. It’s wonderful that directors like Sam Mendes, who started his career making movies about America (his debut film was American Beauty in 1999), has now made Skyfall (2012), which is the quintessential English movie.