A picture set in London, based on a novel by British writer Nick Hornby and starring Hugh Grant might seem a strange project for the fraternal writing-directing team best-known for “American Pie,” but Chris and Paul Weitz didn’t see their participation in “About A Boy” as being at all a mismatch. “It was British, “but we identified with it, so we hoped other people would,” Paul said during a recent Dallas interview. Chris explained: “We concentrated on the bits of it which weren’t necessarily quintessentially British, although we didn’t translate anything from the British vernacular to the American vernacular. I think that the themes of isolation and addiction to pop culture as a sort of anesthesia against being involved in the world were quite universal. We’re going on the theory that if people think it’s funny, they’re not going to care what accent it’s done in.”
Actually, before the Weitzes became attached to the project, a script had been written transforming the protagonist, a supremely self-absorbed and shallow fellow whose indolent, relationship-averse life is changed by his friendship with a troubled twelve-year old boy, into an American (as the central figure in Hornby’s earlier novel, “High Fidelity,” had been when that book was made into the 2000 John Cusack film). But the brothers would have none of it, especially since, as Chris explained, “Hugh Grant was the only person we could see performing this role in the way we wanted it to be done.” Still, it was a job persuading those involved in the production that they were the right choices to make the picture. “I think three years of not getting the movie made softened them up a little bit,” Paul quipped about Hornby’s and Grant’s uncertainty. “We had Hugh fly to L.A. to work on the script with us, because we felt that if he didn’t want to make the same kind of movie [we did], and if he didn’t want to move his character away from the ‘Notting Hill,’ ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ sort of bumbling guy, we shouldn’t make the movie.” But the Weitzes and Grant saw that they were eye-to-eye on the project, and things went forward.
Shooting the film on location posed some special problems. One involved working with a British crew. An American director, Paul recalled, had advised them, “Don’t show any weakness,” because the Brits would consider them idiots. “It’s true that they do think you’re an idiot,” Paul said, “which is great, because whenever you do anything remotely intelligent, they think you’re fantastic.” The greater problem, he added, was keeping up with the crew during lunches at the pub. Sharing directing duties also had its moments. “It really depends on how late in the day it is,” Paul explained, “because we hate to go over. If it’s late in the day, one or the other of us would beat the other into the ground and get their way. If it’s early in the day, then we’ll take a couple of cracks at it from each angle.” He went on to describe their different helming techniques: “I’m much more touchy-feely with actors–I try to give them all sorts of character motivation. Chris just comes up and says, ‘Go faster.'”
But an even greater challenge came after filming was completed, because much of the picture involves a stream of narration by Grant, which had to be perfectly in tone with the material. “Voiceover is really important in this film,” Chris emphasized. “Not in the usual way that it’s important in a film–I think usually someone says, ‘Oh my God, this film doesn’t make any sense, let’s have a voiceover to explain what the hell’s going on.’ But for us it was always going to be an integral part of it…. We’re trying to rescue some of the great interior stuff that Nick Hornby does. It’s very difficult to get that stuff out in dialogue.” And, he added, Grant nailed it perfectly.
The Weitzes are understandably pleased with the result. “I think it expands our portfolio significantly,” Chris noted. And viewers shouldn’t expect the eventual DVD release to add scenes to the ones now on theatre screens; the brothers agreed that longer “director’s cuts” of pictures are something they don’t want to engage in. “It’s like watching a basketball game and replaying it with the other side winning,” Paul said. Chris continued the metaphor: “When it’s in the theatre, that’s it. Game over.”
And so was the interview.