Six things we learned about 'Last Christmas' from director Paul Feig

Tom Butler
Senior Editor

Christmas came early this week when the new trailer for Paul Feig’s Last Christmas landed online, getting us feeling freakishly festive while the temperature remains in the positively balmy mid-20s. Watch it above for a little Christingle in the baubles.

We caught up with the Bridesmaid’s director just two days after he locked the final edit of the film ahead of its release on 15 November, to find out what to expect from the George Michael-inspired rom-com that stars Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding as star-crossed lovers in London.

From the real-life person who inspired Michelle Yeoh’s character to Paul Feig’s favourite festive film and his take on the “is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” debate, here’s six new things we just learned about Last Christmas.

Last Christmas was originally only going to include a couple of George Michael songs

Paul Feig, director of the upcoming film "Last Christmas," 2019, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

The genesis for Last Christmas began eight years ago with the simple of idea of adapting Wham!’s 1984 hit into a movie. Acclaimed actor, screenwriter, and all-round national treasure Emma Thompson took on the challenge, with support from the song’s writer George Michael, whose only stipulation was that the film tackled homelessness, a cause very dear to the singer’s heart.

Read more: Andrew Ridgeley to cameo in Last Christmas

Paul Feig came on board after George Michael sadly passed in 2016, and a deep dive into the singer’s history and back catalogue convinced the filmmaker to expand the film’s soundtrack from just one of his hits, to a sackful of them.

“It started snowballing in prep,” explains Feig. “I was suddenly adding songs into the actual film that we would have the characters sing - but not in a musical way - just in a very organic way.

(From left) Kate (Emilia Clarke) and Petra (Emma Thompson) in Last Christmas, directed by Paul Feig.

“And then once we got into post, then I started going, ‘Oh, this song actually can work really well in this scene’. And so it just really built organically.

“It's not a jukebox movie, but it's not a musical either. I call it ‘a soundtrack to your life’ movie. We've all got songs that means so much to us, and this character in the movie [Kate, Emilia Clarke], she wants to be a singer and her favourite singer is George Michael. It’s this idea that one artist represents you and stays with you, as you're going through crises and going through the harder parts of your life.”

English singer, songwriter and musician, George Michael (1963-2016) performs live on stage at an Aids awareness charity concert at Wembley Arena in London in April 1987. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

“Originally [the soundtrack] was going to have the Last Christmas song and maybe something else. Then we made a deal for five or six songs. And then by the time I finished post, I’d put in like 15 songs. Because they all just work in such a great way.”

One of those songs is a brand new, previously unheard George Michael song that will play over the film’s final scene.

Emilia Clarke plays a singer but Paul Feig didn’t know she could sing

Kate (Emilia Clarke) in the romantic comedy Last Christmas, directed by Paul Feig.

Emilia Clarke’s character Kate works in an all-year-round Christmas shop called Yuletide Wonderful, but she dreams of becoming a singer, auditioning for West End roles in her spare time. However a life-threatening illness, suffered the year before, has knocked her confidence.

The Game of Thrones star can be heard singing the title song in the latest trailer, but Paul Feig says he cast her before even asking her is she could belt out a tune.

“I should have asked her if she can sing, because she's singing the movie” admits Feig. “But then right after that, I saw that Dolce and Gabbana advert that she did, and I was like, ‘Oh, that's you? It's okay. We're fine’. She has a beautiful voice.”

Read more: Emilia Clarke reveals life-threatening illness

Something else that didn’t come to light until much later were the parallel’s between Kate’s story and Emilia’s real-life brush with death. Earlier this year, Clarke revealed she suffered two life-threatening aneurysms in 2011 while shooting Game of Thrones, but Feig says it’s just a weird coincidence and didn’t influence the casting decision.

“That was part of the script from the very beginning,” he says. “She told me when we were having lunch about this history that she had. It's just an interesting coincidence.”

The success of Crazy Rich Asians landed Henry Golding the role

(From left) Tom (Henry Golding) and Kate (Emilia Clarke) in Last Christmas, directed by Paul Feig.

After giving Henry Golding his second film role in twisty thriller A Simple Favour, Feig hoped to cast the actor he calls his “own Cary Grant” in Last Christmas. Studio execs remained unconvinced and urged the director to look at other, more famous stars, until Golding’s feature debut Crazy Rich Asians became a record-breaking global smash.

“When I was putting this together, Crazy Rich Asians hadn't come out yet. So nobody, including the studio really knew who he was. So we're looking at other people. I was biding my time. So then when that came out, and it went through the roof I was like, ‘Hey, you remember, I was talking about Henry Golding, he's available now’.

“He's so talented and likeable. And handsome, obviously. And he's just got that charisma that draws you to him. That's the undeniable characteristic that a successful actor has to have. And you can't define it. You can't create it, it’s just something that you go: There it is.”

Paul Feig loves the fan theories

(From left) Kate (Emilia Clarke) and Tom (Henry Golding) in Last Christmas, directed by Paul Feig.

Adapting a film from a song makes it easy for fans to transpose the lyrics into a potential plot synopsis. The release of the first trailer prompted a lot of speculation online about Golding’s character Tom - is he angel? Is he a ghost? Maybe he literally gave Kate his heart in a transplant operation...

Feig has heard all the theories and although he’s unwilling to confirm or deny if any are true, he’s thrilled that people are speculating.

“I just have to laugh,” he chuckles. “Why would people watch a trailer for a Christmas movie and suddenly think it's The Matrix or something? I was like, ‘wow, you guys are working really hard to make this into something.’

“But hey, if people are engaged... You know, I've had trailers come out and people just go ‘meh’. Ergh, what?! So the minute they're talking about all this stuff, I'm like, ‘Awesome, they're talking about it.’”

Michelle Yeoh’s character was inspired by Paul Feig’s father

Michelle Yeoh as Santa in Last Christmas, directed by Paul Feig.

Feig says he’s been desperate to cast Michelle Yeoh in a comedy role for years and only ever saw her playing the role of Santa, the uptight owner of Yuletide Wonderful. The role is a dear one to the director, as she’s inspired by someone very close to the filmmaker.

“When I was talking to Michelle about the character, I said, ‘This will sound weird, but take it in the great spirit that it’s meant, but you're basically playing my father’.

“Because my dad owned an army surplus store when I was growing up. And he always said, ‘When you come into a store and everybody's laughing, there's one guy was not laughing, And the guy who’s not laughing is the boss’.

Read more: Child stars who went on to have normal careers

“[Santa] is just this tough boss who owns a store, it’s her own store. She's got one employee who's who's Emilia Clarke's character, who is not the most engaged employee that you would ever have.

“It's such a great role for Michelle. When I read the script, that was the one role I was like, ‘I'm not doing this movie, if Michelle Yeoh does not take this part.’

There's nobody else. It has to be Michelle Yeoh. And she fortunately did it, and she kills the movie.

Paul Feig’s favourite Christmas film is...

American actors James Stewart (1908 - 1997) as George Bailey, and Donna Reed (1921 - 1986) as Mary Hatch Bailey in a promotional still from 'It's A Wonderful Life', directed by Frank Capra, 1946. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Last Christmas is Feig’s second Christmas film following 2006’s largely forgotten Unaccompanied Minors. He clearly loves the genre and even counts a festive film as one his all-time favourite films ever, not just his favourite Christmas film.

“For me, the touchstone [Christmas film] of all time is It's a Wonderful Life. That's always been my favourite movie just across the board. Because it does everything I think a movie should do. It's entertaining. It's emotional. It takes you on a lovely ride. You're invested in these characters, you just care about them so much. You root for them, and you feel so happy at the end.

(From left) Tom (Henry Golding) and Kate (Emilia Clarke) in Last Christmas, directed by Paul Feig.

“I'm not a cynical filmmaker. I'm a very good natured filmmaker. Even though I like to make movies that are kind of dark. They don't end dark. You know, the message is never dark.

“I never want to make a movie that's like ‘people are terrible, and you can't win, life is awful.’ I like uplifting the thing, even if the victory is a small victory. I still want that kind of optimism at the end of a film.”

Read more: Die Hard not a Christmas film, say most people

“You don't want a cynical Christmas movie, like Black Christmas or whatever, or one of those old slasher movies where Santa’s a killer or whatever. I just want that feel that you get when you watch Love Actually, or when you watch Die Hard, one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. I'm in the camp that it's a Christmas movie.”

Last Christmas is in cinemas from 15 November.