Down With Love
DOWN WITH LOVE is an old-fashioned romantic comedy with a twist, starring Chicago‘s OscarÂ®-nominated Renée Zellweger and Moulin Rouge‘s Ewan McGregor. Putting a hip spin on the golden age of the classic Rock Hudson-Doris Day comedies, the film is the story of a spark-filled collision between a woman who has sworn off love and a ladies’ man who thinks he doesn’t need love.
Set in the early 1960s, by way of the early 2000s, every frame pops with the super-saturated palette of sixties Technicolor. Process shots, stock shots, backlot New York City street scenes, snazzy apartments, and elegant supper clubs are the backdrop for DOWN WITH LOVE‘s characters, including Zellweger’s best-selling advice author and McGregor’s hotshot journalist/playboy.
Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks (Oscar winners for American Beauty) produce DOWN WITH LOVE, and Peyton Reed (Bring It On) directs the original screenplay written by Eve Ahlert & Dennis Drake.
The creative team also includes executive producer Paddy Cullen (Bring It On), executive producer Arnon Milchan, director of photography Jeff Cronenweth, ASC (Fight Club, K-19: The Widowmaker, One Hour Photo), production designer Andrew Laws (Tigerland, Phone Booth); costume designer Daniel Orlandi (Phone Booth, Meet the Parents), editor Larry Bock (Bring It On, The Santa Clause) and composer Marc Shaiman (GrammyÂ® winner for the Broadway hit Hairspray).
Barbara Novak (Renée Zellweger) hits New York City with her new book DOWN WITH LOVE, a pre-feminist manifesto on saying "no"Â to love and "yes"Â to career, empowerment "” and sex. As Barbara's revolutionary tome rockets to the top of best-seller charts, she becomes the target of ace journalist Catcher "Catch"Â Block (Ewan McGregor), ladies' man / man's man/ man about town, who is determined to take her down.
Catch's best friend and boss, the neurotic and lovesick Peter McMannus (David Hyde Pierce), tries to rein in his star writer, while haplessly pursuing the object of his affections, Vikki Hiller (Sarah Paulson), Barbara's brilliant and feisty editor. Vikki plays tough in a man's world, which includes her old-style chauvinist boss, Theodore Banner (Tony Randall).
On the heels of winning the Academy AwardÂ® for Best Picture for American Beauty, producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks were sent Eve Ahlert & Dennis Drake's script DOWN WITH LOVE. "It was a fresh, funny and original piece of writing, and it surprised us on every page,"Â remembers Cohen, who adds that he and Jinks were looking for a romantic comedy at the time.
"While reading the script, we laughed out loud many times,"Â says Jinks. "It took us to the wonderful world of those great 1960s Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies, but Eve and Dennis' script flipped the conventions that we see in those movies on their head."Â
"DOWN WITH LOVE celebrates not just those movies, but our memory of them, but with a 2003 spin on it all,"Â adds Cohen.
The popular Doris Day-Rock Hudson
collaborations "” "Pillow Talk,"Â "Lover Come Back"Â and "Send Me No Flowers"Â "” mixed glamour, gloss and old-fashioned values, with generous helpings of sexual innuendo and double entendres. "It was a world,"Â as film scholar Alan Vanneman points out, "in which anything could happen, except the loss of the heroine's virginity."Â
After Jinks and Cohen set up a deal to make the picture at Fox 2000 Pictures, they began working with Ahlert and Drake, whom they describe as a younger version of the famed comedy writing team of Betty Comden and Adolf Green (Singin' in the Rain, Auntie Mame). "Eve and Dennis are lively and funny people,"Â says Jinks, "and they knew the Doris Day-Rock Hudson romantic comedies inside out. They had a very specific idea of how they wanted to write a script that was both an updated send-up and something completely original."Â
"We both grew up with those movies on late night TV and always loved them,"Â says Dennis Drake. "They called these films sophisticated sex comedies, even though there really wasn't any sex and I don't know how sophisticated they were."Â
"I thought those comedies were very trippy and very crazy,"Â adds Ahlert. "They did not seem like real movies. They were so clean, Technicolor rich, and fresh with square lines. They almost looked like the walls could fall down. And the brand of acting that Rock Hudson and Doris Day delivered was a little way out. We thought all this was something we could have some fun with.
"We wanted DOWN WITH LOVE to be more than just a representation or spoof of those films. Instead we wanted to comment on how men and women deal with each other, in terms of sex and gender and power."Â
While the script was being refined, Jinks and Cohen began to search for a director who could embrace the stylized elements of the screenplay while still retaining its base in reality. After seeing director Peyton Reed's Bring It On, the producers immediately offered DOWN WITH LOVE to the young filmmaker.
"Eve and Dennis' script was aggressively comedic, smartly written, rich with great verbal humor and broad, physical comedy,"Â says Reed. "I loved that it was so crazily specific in the details, like in its pop culture references of the early sixties and in the way it described specific action."Â
The filmmakers knew that the magic between Rock Hudson and Doris Day was the key ingredient of the actors' collaborations. "They had a very easy chemistry,"Â comments Reed. "There is a breeziness and lightness between Rock and Doris. They seem to really enjoy each other's company, even though their characters have conflict and tension with each other."Â
Since DOWN WITH LOVE is an affectionate homage to those romantic comedies "” with a twist "” the filmmakers were determined to find
modern-day equivalents to the famed stars. "The role of DOWN WITH LOVE
's Barbara Novak was inspired by Doris Day, an enormous movie star who was so hilariously funny and charming, yet also so real and down to earth,"Â says Jinks. "We asked, 'Who epitomizes that today?' and we all agreed it was Renée Zellweger."Â
Zellweger embraced DOWN WITH LOVE's humor, characters and style. "I loved it. I laughed out loud when I first read the script,"Â says Zellweger. "I was surprised by how smart it was. The script was quick and streamlined, with not a wasted moment. It was a treat to be able to go back and play everything in the film old-school, in the original style of filmmaking. I just wanted to be Barbara and walk through those crazy Day-Glo Technicolor sets in my fabulous costumes.
"I also loved that DOWN WITH LOVE is filled with double entendres and sexual undertones. Yet you care about these characters. You watch closely because you want to experience the visual candy "” the colors, the backdrops, the light and the clothing. It's a world you don't want to leave."Â
While inspired by the characters played by Doris Day in the early-sixties romantic comedies, DOWN WITH LOVE's Barbara Novak turns them on their head. In her teamings with Rock Hudson, Day played the original pre-feminist working woman, who butted heads with Hudson while protecting her virginity at all costs. Zellweger's Barbara Novak is in some ways the polar opposite of Day's virtuous on-screen incarnations. Barbara has written a book, Down With Love, which tells women to be more like men "” that it's okay to enjoy sex without ties and have a career as well. Barbara takes Day's successful girl-next-door to another level of glamour and fun.
With Zellweger in place as Barbara, the filmmakers were ready to cast Catcher Block. After viewing Moulin Rouge, they knew they had found their man. "What the character of Catcher Block needed, besides incredible good looks, was that crazy charisma that Ewan has,"Â says director Peyton Reed. "You can feel the eyes of every woman in sight on him. Ewan also has a strong 'edge' "” a real sense of danger "” that was perfect for Catcher, who is a player and playboy "Â¦ a kind of James Bond without the espionage."Â
McGregor, too, was a fan of the Hudson-Day comedies. "In Britain we'd watch television airings of their movies,"Â the actor recalls. "So I knew the genre and recognized its particular brand of humor and style. With DOWN WITH LOVE, we had the luxury of recreating these films with twists of plot and the gender reversals that have taken place over the years.
"Obviously, comedy and acting have changed since the sixties,"Â McGregor adds,
"so it was a real challenge to nail that specific acting style, which really isn't seen anymore."Â
In the Hudson-Day romantic comedies, the third lead was played by Tony Randall. DOWN WITH LOVE's version of the Randall characters is Peter McMannus, played by David Hyde Pierce. Just as Tony Randall's comedic talents were critical to the success of the Day-Hudson films, Pierce makes an invaluable contribution to DOWN WITH LOVE. "We hit the jackpot with David,"Â says Jinks. "There's nobody better on the planet for the role of Peter McMannus. David can do a slightly stylized comedy in a way that is so committed to reality."Â
Peter McMannus always seems to be playing catch-up with Catcher. "He can never say the right thing and he's always lagging a bit behind,"Â explains Reed. "But it's not for lack of trying. He's a fastidious character, constantly in the shadow of Catcher. Catcher is a self-made man as opposed to Peter who is the son of a self-made man; Peter has inherited everything, but could never live up to his father's expectations."Â
To prepare for the role, Pierce studied several of Randall's films. "I was not trying to copy Tony, but instead wanted to capture some of his essence. I had seen 'Pillow Talk' a few years ago and was surprised at how good it was. It was really funny, sometimes cheesy, but kind of an art form unto itself.
"It's a tricky style of film to do because there's a heightened aspect to the way those parts are played,"Â explains Pierce. "But if it's just heightened, you lose interest after five minutes, so there has to be a reality to it as well. What's fun for me is treading that line between the heightened style of the piece and the reality of acting one on one."Â
Rounding out the starring cast is Sarah Paulson, who portrays Vikki Hiller, Barbara's best friend and editor, and the object of Peter's ardor.
This character was uncharted territory for the filmmakers, because Doris Day never had a "best friend"Â in her movies with Hudson.
Indeed, a woman like Vikki was unique in the early sixties. "She's somehow managed to become a senior editor at a very male dominated publishing firm,"Â says Cohen. "She's very smart, but barely holding together every hour of the day. And you can hardly blame her because it's a tough time to be a woman in a male bastion of power. Vikki has been sacrificing her personal life for her professional life, and she's trying to break out of that and have a personal life too."Â
"Vikki Hiller is a woman in a man's world in 1962,"Â says Sarah Paulson. "She is desperately trying to be recognized for her intellect and her abilities in businesses,
which quite frankly, surpass many of the men who are also senior editors at her publishing house. She's not given nearly the same power, authority or money as her male counterparts. She's smart enough to use her femininity to get what she wants, but not dumb enough to actually give it up. She's going to play the game just like a man would."Â
Bringing the movie full circle is Tony Randall, who makes a cameo appearance as the authoritarian publishing mogul Theodore Banner. "It was a thrill for us that he agreed to be in this movie,"Â says Drake. "We were happy to make sure there was a nice juicy character for him to play. Randall, now 82, enjoyed his special one-day appearance, his first film in 25 years. "I used to play roles acting as my father,"Â laughs Randall. "Now I AM my father."Â
In the three films he made with Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Randall reminds, he never got the girl. "But I always felt I got the best part."Â
Randall was pleased that the DOWN WITH LOVE team captured the spirit of the classic Day-Hudson romantic comedies. "The comedies of the sixties had a certain innocence and a great deal of flair,"Â he says. Beautiful clothes and lovely interiors. Looking around on the set of DOWN WITH LOVE, I feel I've never left."Â
To fully realize the stylistic vision of the script, the DOWN WITH LOVE sets, costumes, cinematography, choreography, music, make-up and hairstyles had to maintain a cohesive tone throughout the filming.
"What's distinctive about the script is that it keeps an emotional reality along with its stylized look and performances,"Â says Peyton Reed. "The script is almost like a musical without the music. There's a distinct rhythm to the dialogue, and I felt there should also be a visual rhythm for the way the movie plays out."Â
Not only does DOWN WITH LOVE take place in 1962, it was written and designed specifically to look like it was made in 1962. Split screens, enormous sets, stock footage and sixties-style music all evoke the period. "Audiences will feel as if they're watching a movie made in the sixties,"Â says Reed.
The script abides by the rules and mores of 1962. "We don't show or say anything in DOWN WITH LOVE that wouldn't have worked in an early-sixties romantic comedy,"Â says Ahlert.. "There's no sex or nudity, but there is sexy dialogue and lots of crazy jazz."Â
In the early sixties, New York City had a vibrancy and optimism under which the arts thrived. It was no wonder the Doris Day – Rock Hudson movies were set in New York, albeit an idealized version, where everyone had a fabulously furnished apartment with a spectacular view, the weather was perfect, and one could
always hail an immaculate yellow cab. On the Hollywood sound stages and back lots of the period, anything was possible.
DOWN WITH LOVE also plays on our current fascination with early-sixties designs. "What's interesting is how much we embrace the early sixties today,"Â comments Cohen. "You would kill to have those early-sixties-style apartments and those clothes. You want that music on your stereo. There's a synergy that's allowing us to make a movie that's simultaneously a period piece and also completely modern and contemporary, because everyone is so in love with that aesthetic right now."Â
Like the Day-Hudson collaborations "Pillow Talk"Â and "Lover Come Back,"Â DOWN WITH LOVE was filmed entirely on four stages at Hollywood Center Studios, with a few days of exterior work done on the Universal Studios back lot.
"We have painted backdrops, not translights, so we're not hiding the fact that our setting is not real,"Â says director of photography Jeff Cronenweth. "The sixties films were classically beautiful and color saturated, but were shot fairly simply, and I wanted to pay tribute to that style. I added a little more contemporary camera framing and movement, and I used the anamorphic (widescreen) aspect ratio to force interesting compositions."Â
Production designer Andrew Laws, yet another admirer of early-sixties movies, relished the challenge of designing DOWN WITH LOVE's 55 sets.
"Working on DOWN WITH LOVE allowed me to take my favorite pieces of mid-century modern architecture and my favorite architect-heroes, like MiÃƒÂ«s Van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Richard Neutra and Alvar Aalto, and create a slightly more whimsical world with pieces and samplings of the period,"Â says Laws. "At the same time, we played with the architecture, and weren't bound by conventions of how somebody moves through space, or by logic."Â
The panoramic view from Barbara Novak's 120-degree, eighteen-foot-high glass walls includes a painted backdrop of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler Building. For Barbara, Laws created a light, open and vertical environment. Catch's apartment, in contrast, is a horizontal and dark lair "” a state-of-the-art bachelor pad equipped with every gadget imaginable to aid in sexual seduction.
Complementing the production design's stylistic tonal line are the costumes created by Daniel Orlandi. "The sixties was a time when clothes were really modern, when movies were really designed and tailored to accentuate the stars,"Â says Orlandi. "The costume design was done like a musical; everything is color coordinated around the star."Â
Orlandi designed the film's over-100 costumes, including hats, shirts and ties, many made with beautiful vintage fabrics. Inspired by fashion designers Jean-Louis, Ray Aghayian, Oleg Cassini, Givenchy and Balenciaga, Orlandi's designs are sophisticated, colorful and sexy. Taking his cue from his early mentor, Bob Mackie, Orlandi did numerous fittings for the entire cast, as well as conducting extensive research and drawing
"The costumes are of the period "” fresh, fun and colorful, sometimes soft, sometimes structured,"Â says Orlandi. "We made a color chart that followed Barbara's scenes so that no color was ever repeated. As her character changes in the movie and she becomes more of a mogul, we added a little more shoulder. She never repeats a glove, a hat, a pair of shoes or a color. This is very much in keeping with the movies of the early sixties."Â
Barbara and Vikki make "fashion show"Â entrances throughout DOWN WITH LOVE. Dressed in ultra-glamorous color-coordinated ensembles, they strut their stuff runway-style into scene after scene.
Always the ladies' man / man's man / man-about town, Catch is urbane and modern, looking like Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, Bobby Darin and Dean Martin all rolled into one. Ewan McGregor's extensive wardrobe features suits that are slim and narrow, sexy in Italian sharkskin, mohair, and silk. David Hyde Pierce's Peter is dressed much like Tony Randall was in Randall's films with Day and Hudson, in English tweeds and colorful vests.
Composer Marc Shaiman's score also plays a key role in recreating the flavor of the era. Says Peyton Reed: "The score takes the sounds and feelings of the late-fifties and early-sixties and puts them in a blender, mixes them up "Â¦ and when you hear the score, it feels like you're back in time."Â
Also adding to the period feel is a song composed by Shaiman and Scott Whitman, and performed by Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. The Sinatra-esque, jazzy number "Here's to Love"Â is a kind of mini-musical number like those seen on variety shows of the period.