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HOGAN, P.J.: My Best Friend's Wedding

P.J. Hogan talks to PAUL FISCHER about making his second ‘wedding’ film, and how he refused to accept ‘bullshit’ acting from its star Julia Roberts - and the crucial casting of Rupert Everett.

When P.J. Hogan was first offered My Best Friend’s Wedding, it was presented to him as a star vehicle for Julia Roberts, who was already attached to the project. Hogan concedes that a tussle between star and director ensued to turn it from simply being a Julia Roberts film into a P.J. Hogan film. "Julia wanted to make a Julia Roberts movie starring herself, but of course I wanted to make a P.J. Hogan movie, because I wasn't actually a big fan of Julia Roberts movies as such. So I really wanted to make a movie that I could look back on and say: yes, that was mine. Therefore we did battle about the tone of the film, but I always left the interpretation of her character to her. I had my own ideas about the character, so what I did was push her to be truthful. I would always say to her: you know this character better than I do; you told me yourself how close you are to her, so I don't want any bullshit from you."

Suffice to say, director and star both won ground, and the result is a mainstream Hollywood film that breaks classic romantic comedy conventions. One of those conventions broken is that the film's central character is not your traditional heroine, but someone who is much darker and unsympathetic than you would normally find in this genre, yet despite this, the film has been a huge hit.

"I think, when it comes to matters of love, we're capable of anything,"

In My Best Friend's Wedding, Julia Roberts plays indecisive restaurant critic Julianne Potter. As her twenty-eighth birthday draws near, Julianne eagerly anticipates a proposal from her handsome former college buddy Michael O'Neal (Dermot Mulroney). The best of friends during those years (though Julianne has always secretly loved him), they vowed that if both were still single at age 28, they would marry each other. She is justifiably excited when the phone rings and it is Michael, but her joy quickly turns to shock when he invites her to Chicago to attend his wedding to innocent, sweet-natured heiress Kimmy Wallace (Cameron Diaz). Enraged, the jealous and hurt Julianne visits her editor - and gay buddy - George (Rupert Everett) vowing to stop at nothing to win back Michael. After several failed attempts, Julianne becomes desperate and begins doing things that are less cute than awful to her romantic rival. Meanwhile, George remains the one voice of sanity, sort of a Greek chorus, for Julianne.

"I was excited by the concept of this character, but at the same time I was worried, because I thought this is a character who does some TERRIBLE things. To achieve her own dreams for the future, she has to break up somebody else's relationship. She has to destroy somebody else's life to realise her own. So I asked myself: why is she doing that? For me, the answer is fear. She's afraid of being alone, that she blew her one chance of happiness years ago and now she has a second chance, and is willing to do anything to do that." Hogan is sympathetic. "I think, when it comes to matters of love, we're capable of anything, and that's what I thought would buy the audience to her. Even when the audience was thinking what a real bitch she was, they might also be saying to themselves: there but for the grace of God go I. What would I do in that situation and will she ultimately redeem herself?"

"He didn't play gay, he didn't have to, because he IS gay." on Rupert Everett

Part of that redemption process has to do with the development of Julianne's gay editor and confidant, George, played by the scene-stealing Rupert Everett. Even before Everett was cast in the film, Hogan says that the character was always written as a gay character, an unusual offering in a mainstream Hollywood comedy. "When I first read it, I thought that character was on the periphery. He was very much the conscience of the piece, devised as Julianne's Jimminy Cricket, and he happened to be gay." Initially, Hogan adds, he was a bit colourless, so I talked with the writer about strengthening the relationship between the two, because so many women have best friends who are gay. So that was one of the things that really surprised me about the film, the importance of that relationship to illuminate the point of the story." Casting that part proved to be a considerable challenge for Hogan, and he recalls the difficulties straight actors had in credibly interpreting the part. "They did it very straight down the line, as if being gay conferred nobility upon them. They were doing it very straightforward and almost without humour."

Then along came Britain's Rupert Everett. "He didn't play gay, he didn't have to, because he IS gay. He just played the part, and I think the fact that the character WAS gay, freed him up. He didn't have to feign any interest in Julianne, apart from the fact that he loved her as a friend. Rupert admitted that for the first time in a role he felt the ground under his feet."

"She's very much the heart and soul of the film." on Julia Roberts

Much has been written about the level of improvisation in My Best Friend's Wedding, a fact that bemuses Hogan. "Rupert keeps on saying that he improvised the whole role, but in fact he only improvised a few choice lines. But then I've always believed in controlled improvisation on the set; it just livens up a scene." Everett has received considerable attention as a result of the movie, and Hogan refers to his performance "as a revelation", but doesn't take anything away from Roberts. "She's very much the heart and soul of the film. She's also a very generous actor, because Rupert comes on, and they had SUCH a good relationship, that she worked WITH HIM. He wouldn't have been able to give a performance like that without her support."

Following international success with Muriel's Wedding, it seems just a tad ironic that for his first Hollywood outing, P.J. Hogan would choose another cinematic wedding. Pondering this question in a Potts Point, Sydney, hotel, Hogan agrees that it was a tough call.

"the only non-action film to top the US$100 million mark at the US box office,"

"There's no way I ever thought I'd make two wedding films in a row", Hogan explains. "But when I researched Muriel's Wedding, I realised that, because weddings are declarations of passion and commitment, they also upset a lot of people. I've NEVER been to a wedding where there wasn't some HUGE drama that ruptured a family or a relationship; people behave very badly at weddings. So they remain such a fabulous environment for a story, and that's what My Best Friend's Wedding had in spades, and it was a story that took place over a FOUR-DAY wedding."

My Best Friend's Wedding has already become a popular and profitable hit, the only non-action film to top the US$100 million mark at the US box office, opening on the same day as Batman and Robin. "Clearly audiences were after something different from what was being offered at that time. I mean there was talk about us opening later, but I'm glad we didn't."

"I was unemployed for most of the eighties, but never quite gave up hope,"

It's hard to believe that despite his recent spate of successes, Hogan has worked in the Australian television and movie industry as a writer and director of note for more than a decade, graduating from the Australian Film and Television School some 15 years ago. It was a tough time for the young film maker. "I was unemployed for most of the eighties, but never quite gave up hope", he recalls. He first received attention in 1984 for the short Getting Wet, which he wrote, directed and edited. It won two Australian Film Institute awards, including Best Short Fiction. In 1986, he directed and co-wrote the odd little film The Humpty Dumpty Man.

In 1991, he was second unit director and script editor on the acclaimed feature film, Proof, directed by his wife, Jocelyn Moorhouse, who later directed HER first Hollywood film, How to Make an American Quilt. In 1993, Hogan directed the "Sloth" episode of Seven Deadly Sins for the ABC, then wrote and directed Muriel's Wedding "for virtually nothing." The film launched the careers of Hogan and its two young stars, Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths. With the world now at his feet, one wonders whether Hogan intends making another film in Australia sooner than later. "Because I'm known here as a writer/director, I'm expected to write my own stuff, and its damn hard work. Muriel's took a lot out of me, while working with another writer on Best Friend's Wedding was so much easier." So it appears that Hollywood has gained another Australian director, one whose unique slant on the world has made millions of movie goers enjoy weddings - on screen, at least.

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On the set of My Best Friend's Wedding

"Julia wanted to make a Julia Roberts movie starring herself, but of course I wanted to make a P.J. Hogan movie, because I wasn't actually a big fan of Julia Roberts movies as such.

With stars Cameron Diaz & Delmot Mulroney

Images from the film

Aussie Rachel Griffiths with Carrie Preston

On the set of Muriel's Wedding


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