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‘Last Christmas’: It is, and isn’t, a wonderful London

“Last Christmas,” the upcoming big romantic comedy release, is all about big names.

It’s led by Emilia Clarke, of “Game of Thrones,” who plays Kate, a musician from an eastern European immigrant family in London trying to find her purpose after an illness.

She’s supported by Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh, two stars of last year’s rom-com smash, “Crazy Rich Asians.”

The film was co-written by Emma Thompson, who also plays Clarke’s mother. She based the story on the Wham! hit “Last Christmas,” and the film features an almost all-George Michael soundtrack.

At the helm is director Paul Feig, whose comedy credits include “Bridesmaids,” “Spy,” and the 2016 reboot of “Ghostbusters.”


In a recent telephone interview, Feig spoke to the Globe about the movie and the pleasure of making a widely released rom-com.

He also talked about the meaning of Michael’s music, the trouble with spoilers, and his favorite film, which happens to be set at Christmastime.

Q. These days, many romantic comedies are released on streaming services like Netflix. It’s sort of remarkable to see “Last Christmas” in a theater.

A. I’m with you; I love movies for the big screen. The nice thing was that Netflix was able to make people realize, “Oh, people actually still want [romantic comedies]. . . .” But all my favorite rom-coms I saw in a theater with an audience. “When Harry Met Sally” and those movies. There’s nothing like it. It becomes even more magical watching people you are invested in fall in love on this giant screen. It takes you back to the golden days. You know, the glory days of movies, back in the ’30s and ’40s.

Q. There’s so much George Michael music in the film, and not just his biggest hits. There are some great B-sides. Did you have access to his entire music catalog?


A. When Emma sent me the script . . . there would be places where she would say, “They’re walking around London, that’d be a nice place to play a little George.” But then the George Michael estate showed us this two-hour-long documentary that George directed about his career. And it was so amazing, because I was always a fan, but I was kind of a casual fan of the hits. And also because of his problems with [his record label] Sony, all these albums didn’t get pushed here. Then I started going through the whole catalog, listening to these songs . . . that voice. That was when I went, like, the voice of this movie has to be George’s music.

Q. The big song in the film isn’t “Last Christmas,” it’s “Heal the Pain.” What drew you to that song?

A. I was just going through these albums, listening to the songs, and when “Heal the Pain” came on, I was just like — I kind of burst into tears, actually. Because it’s such an amazing song. But then lyrically, it’s so spot on for what our movie is about. So that’s the one that really became the touchstone song for me. And then “Praying for Time”. . . I knew we were going to have this montage of [the characters] falling in love while they’re skating, and you know, you go, “Oh we should get something like ‘Careless Whisper,’ a romantic song.” But then later, when I heard [“Praying for Time”] I was like, no, we need this kind of darker song. It was the feeling that these songs are going to make standard rom-com moments so much deeper.


Q. Some might be surprised that this is rom-com that addresses homelessness in London and families affected by Brexit.

A. When Emma had talked to George about this a few years before he passed away, she told him what she wanted to do with the movie, and he really loved it, but he had asked about the homeless issue because it was a big issue — a big cause — for him. That was put in in honor of him. But also Emma is just a really brilliant writer. She doesn’t want things to just be surface, and I don’t either. It was important to make sure that these characters have these third and fourth layers. This is about a woman who’s let her life fall apart. She’s had this catastrophic illness and has had a hard time recovering mentally from it. But also there’s this an immigrant story about this family that doesn’t fit in.

Q. There’s a beautiful scene in a hidden park in the film, where the two characters hide away together — and kiss. Where is that park in real life, for those who might want to visit?

A. You can find it right in the heart of London. Most Londoners don’t know it exists. It’s called Phoenix Garden. Anybody can go into the Phoenix Garden. It’s right behind the Phoenix Theatre.


Q. People have long speculated that there is a twist in this movie. When the trailer came out, there was a social media frenzy with people trying to guess the twist. Is it hard to keep a movie secret these days? How are you responding to people who think they’ve guessed the big reveal of this film?

A. I was so surprised that everybody was trying to figure something out — from an ad for a rom-com! It’s not like we were doing “The Matrix”; there was no challenge whatsoever in the trailer. And then the press started picking up on it and printing these speculations, and I was like “Why are you all doing this?” . . . It’s been nice once people see it, then they suddenly want to guard any spoilers.

Q. Do you have a favorite Christmas movie?

A. Oh, yeah, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. That’s my favorite movie of all time. It’s always been, ever since I saw it for the first time when I was in film school. All my film school compatriots wanted to be Godard, all these heavy films, and I was like, if I can make one “It’s a Wonderful Life” I will be so happy.

Interview was edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at meredith.goldstein