TORONTO—Cancer isn’t the usual starting point when you’re looking for laughs, but it was the spark for Danish director Susanne Bier’s new romantic comedy, Love Is All You Need (opening Friday [May 24]).
The bilingual feature (English and Danish, depending on who’s doing the talking) stars Pierce Brosnan and Denmark’s Trine Dyrholm as a pair of wounded souls who seem destined to dislike each other after they end up at the same wedding in Italy. Dyrholm’s character is recovering from cancer; Brosnan’s character is recovering from life.
“Everybody knows someone or has someone in his or her environment who is suffering [from cancer] or had been suffering from it, and so we thought maybe we should do something lighter, like make a romantic comedy or something where you feel there’s a lot of hope in it,” Bier told the Georgia Straight. The “we” in the equation is Bier and screenwriting partner Anders Thomas Jensen.
Sitting in a downtown Toronto hotel room the day after the movie’s North American premiere at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, Bier described their collaborative process (which led to the creation of 2011 Oscar winner In a Better World and five other films to date) as “seamless”. Said Bier: “We’re pretty good at kind of getting into the other’s ideas and discussing them and kind of moving on; it’s a very playful, very natural collaboration.…It’s a bit like a brother and sister.”
One of the people with cancer in Bier’s world is her mother, who has survived two bouts of breast cancer. “The character of Ida [the movie’s leading lady] is slightly inspired by my mother, because my mother is a very positive, hopeful human being and at all times would see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.” Bier said her mom is a fan of the film and clearly liked that a character based on her gets to romance Brosnan.
As for how Bier landed Brosnan, she said that with each draft of the screenplay, it became more essential to her that they convince him to make the movie. “We had the script and we had this character who, by the third version of the script, was not Danish. He was this angry man who was alienated from the world, and being a foreigner in a strange place—and understanding the language but not mastering it—is very alienating. So he’s a very lonesome guy.
“By the third draft of the script, it has to be Pierce Brosnan. The female main character has lost everything in the beginning of the film. So if you want to redeem her, what is better than starting out with James Bond?…Because it’s Pierce Brosnan, and he’s such a great actor, he becomes this passionate man who is also vulnerable underneath, who is covering up his pain by being angry. That doesn’t get any more right. And he’s been wonderful.”
Then she laughed and added: “He quite enjoyed being around those beautiful blond Danish actresses.”
Brosnan also helped Bier bring the tone she was looking for: to create a comedy that never lost track of the real-life stakes and the costs of cancer. “For this movie, the special challenge is finding the balance between sadness and comedy,” she said. “That’s what kind of challenged and excited and made me terrified before I started. And that balance is still something that I’ve kind of… It’s very, very delicate. And difficult to get right. And the challenge of making movies in Denmark is that it’s a very small country, so, I mean, fundamentally, it’s quite hard making a healthy movie industry on the basis of five million people.”
Despite being one of Denmark’s most acclaimed filmmakers, Bier didn’t originally set out to make movies. “I studied architecture,” she said. “I got into movies quite late. I guess I always knew I wanted to do something creative; I just couldn’t quite figure it out. If you don’t have a distinct talent—if you can’t sing or if you’re not really great at drawing or things like that—it’s not a clear choice, and I have no one in my family making movies, so it’s not like there was an obvious path.
“I started in architecture and then I started reading scripts, and I started kind of doing set designs and I actually applied for film school in London to be a set designer. And when I was interviewed, I kind of went: ‘Maybe I want to be a director instead.’ And they kind of went, ‘Okay, go home. Figure that out and then come back to us.’…You could apply for Danish film school. I just applied and got in.
“And that was it.…I got a bit bored with walls and got more intrigued by people who moved around within the walls. There was a kind of natural development.”