Double Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays Holly Kennedy in P.S. I Love You, adapted and directed by Richard LaGravenese. It tells of the loss of Holly’s beloved husband Gerry (Gerard Butler) and her slow recovery through a succession of letters he penned before he died.
Swank’s previous credits include Boys Don’t Cry, Insomnia, The Core, Million Dollar Baby and Freedom Writers. It was this last film, released in 2007, that saw her work with director Richard LaGravenese for the first time.
Best known as a screenwriter, his credits include The Fisher King, A Little Princess, The Bridges of Madison County and The Horse Whisperer.
Everyone can relate to some aspect of P.S. I Love You – what was your personal reaction when you read it for the first time?
LaGravenese: “I lost a dear friend of mine, Ted Demme, and I had gone through a similar experience after he died of feeling him around and dreaming about him, and feeling like I had been with him, and him guiding me. We had been working on a documentary on filmmakers when he died. So I saw the book and I saw that as a way of putting that in there. And there are a lot of little things of Teddy that I put into the story, that only people who knew Teddy will recognise. Like for instance, the urn is designed after his urn. There are lines, little bits of Teddy, and the spirit of Gerry’s character is very much like Teddy’s.”
Swank: “For me, reading this script, I was reminded of what life is about. It was a reminder that you just want to hold those ones that you love dear, because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. It’s such a great love story, and I think that we can all relate to that, finding love and losing love. If it’s not through death, even a break up can sometimes feel like a death. There were many things I could relate to, and a lot of laughter in between.”
There’s clearly a bond between the two of you, and this is your second film together in a short space of time. How did this come to happen?
LaGravenese: “Freedom Writers took six years to get made, and the reason it finally did was because of Hilary. In between that period I gave up at some point and decided to do something else, and I got offered P.S. I Love You, so I wrote that and Hilary had called in the mean time and said she would do Freedom Writers if I wanted it to be done. This was right before she had won her Oscar for Million Dollar Baby, so that made the project happen. So we had the script, and while we were doing Freedom Writers she said she had read another script of mine and like it…..
Swank: “Love it were my exact words.
LaGravenese: “But I had given it up. And then what happened was Molly Smith, one of our producers, she is the daughter of Fred Smith the man who created Federal Express. He had 10 or 11 children, and her eldest sister who was 36 years old, passed away. She had a congenital heart disease. Two weeks later she read P.S. I Love You and said she wanted to make this for her sister, not knowing a script had already been written. So she revived it right at the finish of Freedom Writers, so we got an opportunity to do it.”
Tell us about the accident with Gerry’s braces?
Swank: “He does this great striptease in the film, which was very funny and had me laughing in every take. During his off camera version he took his suspender [braces] clip – and you wouldn’t believe it if it happened in a movie by the way. He flicks it and the thing hooked onto the tv stand in my character’s department. He then jumped onto the bed and now this thing is stretched about 10 feet.”
LaGravenese: “Like a slingshot, and none of us can see it because it’s a low camera angle, she’s laughing because she’s supposed to.”
Swank: “Then this piece of furniture starts walking, and the second I think ‘that’s going to come off any second’ it flies across the room and hits me right in the forehead. I was kind of laughing and crying at the same time, because I didn’t know what had really happened. I knew I got hit in the head but was it bad or not bad, it was one of those things. And I remember sitting there, covering it and laughing, and everyone standing around the bed. Richard was at the very end of the bed, and there I am laughing and crying. My make up artist puts my hands down, she looks at it and then makes this face to Richard like ‘what are we gonna do?’.”
So what happened?
Swank: “I ended up getting stitches, and I had a perfect, perfect suspender clip mark in my forehead, with little teeth in it. The plastic surgeon said ‘what bit you?’.”
LaGravenese: “I couldn’t believe it, she’d played a plastic surgeon who gets paralysed, she played a boy-girl who gets raped and murdered, here’s a romance in New York and she almost got blinded. I felt so responsible, I was sick and Gerry felt so bad, he turned in a 9 year old boy who did the wrong thing and was really upset about it. A couple of hours later, after she went to the doctor, she called me because I’m walking the streets at that point not knowing what to do. She says ‘Richard please don’t worry about it, it’s fine, it was just an accident, I’ll be fine. I know you’re going to worry, I don’t want you to, I’ll be back on the set in five days. She totally took care of me. then I had to talk Gerry down, but I could only talk him down because she’d talked me. It was amazing, five days later she was on set, she had a little band-aid, I wrote a scene about it being a pimple and everything was fine.”
Your film career is pretty diverse Hilary, has that been consciously sought or is there just something in each story that appeals to you?
Swank: “I never am looking for the next thing to keep people on their toes and keep them guessing as to what I’m going to be doing next. I’m always just trying to find something that just pulls me and scares me and challenges me. To work with people like Richard, and the cast members in this movie, that just help you and collaborate with you. Ultimately I don’t ever know what my next thing is going to be, and I’m not out there searching for one thing in particular, I’m just looking for something that is new and different. It could be a drama or a comedy, I just want to challenge myself and work with people that inspire me.”
Do you get a wide range of scripts, or do they simply reflect what you’ve just done?
Swank: “It’s a good question, there aren’t a lot of girl boxing movies so I’ve never been given another one. And there aren’t actually a lot of stories about people with a sexual identity crisis. I don’t mean that in a funny way, there just aren’t, so it’s not like I get sent those a lot either. I’ve never been sent a script to play another boy either, that was really written a boy, although some people have. There are just very few scripts out there that are actually good. I would say maybe one in 20 scripts is good, and one in 50 are great. So finding those gems is the challenge.”
Are either of you a fan of writing or receiving letters?
Swank: “Of course, I find in this e-mail and texting age getting a handwritten letter is even more special. I think writing letters is a lost art, but nowadays it means even more because it’s so easy to communicate in so many different ways. But I find a love letter can even be a little Post-it note stuck in your pocket with a sentence or a few words.”
LaGravenese: “I love e-mail, I write a better e-mail than I talk on the phone. I don’t have stationery but if I should buy some I would write letters because I’m better.”
Swank: “It’s interesting, he will write me a great e-mail or a great letter, they’re so beautiful. Obviously he’s a writer so he can put his feelings on the page.”
Isn’t it a little perverse to cast Harry Connick Jr in your film and give Gerry Butler three songs to sing?
LaGravenese: “Everyone sings but Harry, I know. I was embarrassed to ask him because I didn’t want him to think that I gave him the part because I wanted him to sing so I never got around to asking him. I thought he was just great for the part, but the last day of shooting he came on set and sat for half an hour at the piano and he did a half hour of songs.”
Swank: “My character had a piano in her apartment, and we were sitting in there and he sat down and started playing. It was Richard and I there and the next thing you know, you turn round and there were a couple more people, and by the end the whole crew was there. He just kept playing and playing, it was amazing.”
How do you prepare yourself for the big, emotionally charged scenes you have in a film like this?
Swank: “The interesting thing about this movie was that there wasn’t a physical challenge really, where in Million Dollar Baby I put on 19 pounds of muscle, or in Boys Don’t Cry passing myself off as a boy. This was obviously more physically like myself of any movie I’ve ever played. But the challenge was in the emotional side of it. To really find the humour within that reality, and the aftermath of what’s happened, while at the same time being honest with the full range of emotions associated with grief. And I have to say it was all on the page, it was written and then through Richard’s direction just guiding it to make sure we were hitting all the colours and not playing something too funny in a moment that should be sadder. Just finding that balance was the challenge. And being honest to the script and the story, to really think of what she was going through.”
How important was the chemistry between Hilary and Gerry Butler?
LaGravenese: “It was vital. The one big thing I told Gerry in the beginning was that we were going to love him because of how much he loved her. And he did, Gerry took that note not only in his performance but even with Hilary, how he would take care of her on the set. And how he felt – he was in love with her by the end of this movie. So that when we lost him I wanted the audience to feel what Hilary’s character felt. So when he came back we were as excited as she was, whether it was in her memory or not.”
Available to rent and buy on DVD on 12 May 2008 courtesy of Momentum Pictures, this must-own DVD is an irresistibly charming romantic comedy about the enduring power of love, when sometimes the only thing left to say is PS I love you. A tear jerker that will, in equal measure, have you laughing out loud, you’d better start stocking up now on the tissues as your heart strings are tugged for all they’re worth. As the director states, “This is a love story, but it’s also a journey of self-discovery. It’s a story about friendship and family and about how love can be so strong that it stretches across life and death.”
“As heart-warming as it is heart-breaking – don’t forget tissues!***** Cosmopolitan
Sometimes there’s only one thing left to say ……
Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank) is beautiful, smart and married to the love of her life – a passionate, funny and impetuous Irishman named Gerry (Gerard Butler). So when Gerry’s life is taken by an illness, it takes the life out of Holly. Nobody knows Holly better than Gerry, so it’s a good thing he planned ahead.
Before he died, Gerry wrote Holly a series of letters that will guide her, not only through her grief but in rediscovering life. The first message arrives on Holly’s birthday in the form of a tape recording from Gerry ordering her to get out and celebrate! In the weeks and months that follow, more letters from Gerry are delivered in surprising ways, each sending her on a new adventure and each signing off in the same way: PS I Love You.
Holly’s protective mother (Kathy Bates) and best friends (Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon) worry that this link with the past is stopping her from moving on but with Gerry’s words as her guide Holly embarks on a touching, exciting and hilarious journey of rediscovery.