At the end of June, I was lucky enough to share a cup of tea with One Day director Lone Scherfig and talk about her process of bringing David Nicholls’ best-selling novel to life on the big screen. I was supposed to interview Lone with a small group of other film critics, but it worked out that I was able to chat with her one-on-one, which is probably a good thing since I’m such a big, nerdy fan of the book and had some very specific questions!
The following is a reprint of Redblog’s interview with Lone Scherfig about One Day, which is now at Redbox.
I will forewarn those who have not read the book or seen the film that I have tried my best to remain vague about critical plot points, but you will definitely be able to get a general sense of what happens if you read this interview. So if you want to remain 100% unspoiled, go rent the movie and then come back to read how Lone responded to my questions about the book-to-film conversion.
Redblog: When reading the book, I truly didn’t see the big twist coming. When the film starts, however, it kicks off with the year in which the twist occurs, and I was freaking out that you were going to spoil everything from the very beginning! Then, of course, the action quickly rewinds back to 1988, when Emma and Dexter first meet. Did you choose to show a few moments of that later year on purpose, to foreshadow something big happening?
LS: It was done to sort of protect the audience a little bit. To make the shock a little less unfair. So at least when you see them again in that year, you are prepared that something might go wrong. It does soften it a little bit. And you can argue that it’s better not to, but it was a decision to try and make the shock a little less violent.
Redblog: I thought both Emma and Dexter were “nicer” versions of themselves in the film. Subplots from the book where they each made some especially bad choices were absent from the movie. It would have made it easy for the audience to not like Em and Dex if they’d seen these other parts, especially since we only get a few minutes with them each year. Did you and (screenwriter) David Nicholls discuss this?
LS: There simply wasn’t space for everything. Emma does do something that is not right, and not right for her, but we had under two hours. There’s so much nuance and so much detail to fit in, and some of it had to go. Some of it was never in the script, while some of it was but had to be cut out. It was also a decision about how much you can layer the characters without having a portrait where it’s no longer one person. It’s a balance. I don’t even know if we’ve hit the right balance. We didn’t finish that long ago! I’m not able to sit back yet and say, “What did I learn?”
Redblog: There was one scene in particular that was I glad made the film. It’s where Dexter is having a cup of soup with his father near the end and they finally have something in common, a connection—they have a brief, heartbreaking talk. To me that scene summed up many of One Day‘s themes. Were there any scenes like that for you that stood out as being vital to capturing the message of the book?
LS: Well, that one you mention is the turning point. It is the moment when things start going forward for Dexter. It’s when it makes sense that [big twist] had to happen for Dexter to become a good father, and a good son, and a good person—a much better person. To me, it is a turning point. It’s funny to me when people say that [big twist] happens at “the end,” because to me that’s really the beginning of the story. So that’s important. And I think the scenes with Dexter’s mum are important. They also layer and nuance the portrait of Dexter.
Then I also liked that we got to see Emma happy for a little while. Often in romantic films, it’s like once they’re together, from then on you’re not attracted anymore. But you’re a little more than halfway through this film at that point. In a way, the earlier scenes where they are insecure and the timing is wrong, all of that is more provincial. The film becomes more and more interesting as it moves on.
And then I thought there was a key thing for me, and an obligation to the writer as well, to turn all of these time jumps into something that was cinematic. To make the music work, and to make the graphics work and the years passing in an effortless way. So that it never overpowered the characters or the humor or the emotion, but still made it more than just “filming a script.” That was just a good challenge, a good technical challenge, to all different departments. Sometimes it’s the sound or the editing or the way it’s shot or detail or a graphic effect—a lot of different tools from the toolbox were used, and that was fun.
Redblog: I did enjoy how the years were reflected. And one thing I thought was particularly interesting, which I never really thought of when I read the book, was that although Emma and Dexter are the same age, as time goes on, he looks older than she does. It makes sense because he partied hard! So I thought that spoke to a lot of details that we didn’t necessarily see in the movie because, as you said, not everything could fit in. It helped convey how they were each affected by the passage of time.
LS: We had to do everything so discreetly. To do costume changes… there’s a lot going on, and you don’t want the audience to necessarily notice any of it.
Redblog: How did you advise Jim and Anne to change over the course of the film? Because in anyone’s life, nothing’s too drastic from year to year, but over the course of twenty years…
LS: I think it’s good that they’re a little older than their characters. They walk differently over the time period, they react differently to things, and the costumes are helpful, too. And since we had a new different location for almost every day, they had time to think about it, sitting in makeup, listening to some of the music, or their own music, going back to the book and the script. Even if we shot out of sequence, they had time every morning. And they’ve been really good at collaborating. They like and respect each other a lot. No one has had to do anything by themselves.
Some of Jim’s scenes are bigger and tougher because Dexter has more private moments, and his journey is much more dramatic than hers. And I think he’s done a phenomenal job. He doesn’t always defend Dexter. Jim is so much more modest and humble than the person he plays!
Dexter is much more connected to his time—he’s a fashion addict, and he’s addicted to a lot of other things. Emma is more consistent and together, and her development is a much more straight journey than his.
LS: I always felt with An Education that because of the people the film portrayed, there was a completely different loyalty issue there. But this film has strong autobiographical elements too, so for that reason it’s a really good thing that David himself wrote the script. But of course while we were working on the film and shooting it, the book became increasingly popular. The more successful the book became, the more you felt obliged to the readers. But the best thing I could do, the most faithful thing, would be to just do my best, turn it into cinema, and then live with the fact that there will always be people who have imagined everything differently.
But if I’d been completely loyal to the book—you can’t win. There could be millions of Emma Morleys out there, she’s very easy to identify with. I’m not sure it would’ve been a better film if I’d been more accurate.
Redblog: What’s next for you?
LS: After such a big love story I would love to do something dark and violent!
One Day is now at Redbox.
Read Redblog’s review of One Day here.