As Hugh Grant said in Love Actually‘s opening scene, “Love actually is all around.” That’s surely true for EW’s special Untold Stories issue, in which we reunited writer-director Richard Curtis and a fair percentage of the cast from the 2003 Christmas movie. In the photo above, you’ll see (from left) Bill Nighy (Billy Mack), Olivia Olson (Joanna), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Sam), Liam Neeson (Daniel), Colin Firth (Jamie), Lucia Moniz (Aurelia), Chiwetel Ejiofor, (Peter), Keira Knightley (Juliet), Andrew Lincoln (Mark), Hugh Grant (the Prime Minister), and Martine McCutcheon (Natalie).
The movie has its roots in large-cast classics like Robert Altman’s Nashville and Short Cuts and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. “I was such a great fan of Pulp Fiction, Robert Altman’s films, Woody Allen’s films, those movies with multiple story lines that crisscross each other,” says Curtis, whose script for Four Weddings and a Funeral competed against Pulp Fiction for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1995.
That template hadn’t really been applied to the romantic-comedy genre. Nowadays it’s commonplace, with underwhelming examples such as Valentine’s Day. But Love Actually, in fact, was not a populist slam dunk. Mixed reviews and ho-hum box office in the U.S. meant it took a couple of years (thanks to DVD sales and holiday TV airings) before the film acquired modern rom-com classic status.
“I don’t think any of us expected it to become a phenomenon,” says Knightley, one of several actors, along with Nighy and Ejiofor, who became stars in the film’s wake. “But it took on this wonderful following and now it’s almost bigger in America than anywhere else.”
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EW’s Love Actually reunion also coincides with Curtis’ own. As you’ve probably heard, he regrouped some of the movie’s cast for Red Nose Day Actually, a mini-sequel which aired as part of the U.K. biennial Comic Relief jamboree. Curtis, who cofounded the charity as a 28-year-old in 1985, has helped raise more than a billion dollars to help fight poverty and address social issues around the world. Red Nose Day Actually bowed in the U.K. in March; on May 25 it will air on NBC, with a cameo by Laura Linney that’s exclusive to the U.S. version.
“It was extremely lovely shooting it, and rather encouraging about human character,” Curtis says. “You assume that people are going to become grumpier with age, but everyone involved was so delightfully sweet.”
For more revelations from the past four decades of entertainment, visit ew.com/untoldstories.
Neeson, who appears in the short film alongside his movie stepson, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, now 26, says the charity underscores the goodness in individuals: “We hear about all the s— in the world and then the generosity of people is just mind-blowing. Jesus, one billion dollars! Come on, that’s extraordinary.”
For even more Love Actually, check out the Untold Stories double issue of EW for an oral history with Curtis and many in his cast, who all take a lovely, lively look back at a movie that its fans know by heart.