Oftentimes you find love where you least expect it. Sometimes it takes you where you never expected to go…
Based on the critically acclaimed, bestselling novel by Jojo Moyes, Me Before You marks the feature film directorial debut of renowned theatre director Thea Sharrock, from a screenplay by Moyes.
“You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible,” says Will Traynor in “Me Before You.” His advice is directed at his effervescent yet seemingly settling caregiver Louisa “Lou” Clark, 26, who claims to be happy in the quaint English town in which they both grew up. But Will, only 31 himself, knows whereof he speaks…perhaps better than most.
“At its most basic, this is a story about the power of love and how it transforms you,” says director Thea Sharrock. “These are two characters who, but for their very different and difficult circumstances, should never have met…but here they are. And that’s where the fairytale begins.”
Lou and Will’s uniquely romantic tale was crafted for the screen by Jojo Moyes, based on her own bestselling novel. “It’s a simple and complicated story all at once,” Sharrock continues. “Both in the script and in her book, Jojo managed to find a way to make the most emotionally difficult situations incredibly accessible through the unfolding of these two characters’ getting to know each other along this transformative journey they take.”
“It’s a bit of a dream for me, the idea that this story is going beyond the book to the screen,” Moyes offers. “Having watched what it’s become through the actors’ performances and Thea’s wonderful direction, I can say that people who see the movie will get the same story and characters, but also get something quite different out of it. Audiences bring their own experiences, hopes and fears, and I think they will truly be taken out of themselves and into Lou and Will’s world.”
Sharrock adds, “Jojo has carried these characters, Lou in particular, with her for a long time, so it was especially important to me that we get it right.”
“Thea is a very respected theater director in the UK, and I had seen her television work—very traditionally British—so when I met her I expected a proper English woman to appear,” recalls producer Karen Rosenfelt, smiling. “Instead, she plopped down in an overstuffed armchair, swung her legs over the side, and over the next hour we had a wide-ranging general discussion about film, theatre, books. We then turned to this project, and it went from there. I loved her humanity, her accessible sophistication, and that she was instantly right at home with me and with the material.”
At one time, Will’s world was all-encompassing; he lived a “no limits” lifestyle. Now, two years on, we find him utterly confined. Betrayed by his own body due to a spinal cord injury, he resides—even he would not say he lives by any definition of the word—at his parents’ countryside home. Lou, on the other hand, has rarely stepped outside this little town, and even stepping into the grand Traynor estate—the “castle,” as it’s called by the locals—is foreign to her. Yet they meet, whether by chance or by fate.
Emilia Clarke, who stars as the wide-eyed, endearing Lou, says, “What drew me to this movie were the words of Jojo Moyes, the book first and then the script. I was hooked on page one and so excited to play a character with such charm and sincerity, who is so authentically and brilliantly British, and with such a lovely arc in her story.”
Sam Claflin, starring alongside her as Will, was equally pulled into the material. “The writing itself was so beautifully done, and the subject matter surrounding this very challenging character was handled so well, it really got me thinking. That was a big draw for me.”
“What resonated with me in Jojo’s novel was the original voice of the characters and the emotional truths,” says Rosenfelt. “I loved how she handled the most complicated and personal issues and how life-affirming the story was. I was absorbed—I read the book in one sitting and immediately visualized the film, and that rarely happens.”
Like Rosenfelt, producer Alison Owen’s interest in the property was longstanding. “I read the book when it came out and I loved it. Jojo creates such fantastic characters and has so much insight into people’s lives and minds, and she writes with incredible empathy,” she says. “So, when Karen called me up and asked me if I would join the production, I was thrilled to do it, because everything about the project appealed to me—the story, Thea, Emilia and Sam. It was very easy to step into.”
“To fall in love with somebody so much that it changes your life immeasurably, and your life will never be the same again, but to then have that moment of recognition that you might not be with that person…it’s intensely emotional,” Sharrock posits. “As a director, it’s a privilege to take actors who are willing to go to those extremes to that place. Our devoted cast and crew, we were all in this together, laughing and crying. It was an incredibly liberating experience.”
“Lou and Will…Me Before You…to me it basically means ‘who I was before I met you,’” Jojo Moyes reveals. “It refers to how each of them has changed the other. Lou is intimidated by the house, by the class of people she’s dealing with. She’s deeply out of her comfort zone. Will doesn’t want her there, so he’s going to do his best to be annoying and not give her an inch. They start off as two people who never should’ve met, but the more they get to know each other, the more they appreciate each other’s strengths. He realizes that in some ways she’s as trapped as he is—by her own expectations, her own history. Ultimately it’s Will who pushes Lou to look outward, to expect more from life, but he’s only able to do so after she opens his eyes, and his heart.”
Hoping that the film will strike a chord with moviegoers just as the novel did with readers, Emilia Clarke adds, “On a really fundamental level, I would love for people to take away from this movie the joy that life has to offer, the joy that love has to offer. It’s a story that touched people when they read it and all of us as we were making it, so I hope it would touch the people who watch it, as well.”
“The film poses a lot of questions, especially as regards my character,” Sam Claflin states, “and I hope people do talk about it and are willing to learn more. I think I can safely say there are many inspiring stories and many heartbreaking stories of people like Will and Lou, and I think this movie has both and, ultimately, is very uplifting.
Thea Sharrock concludes, “There’s a lightness to Lou, a lightness of touch and a level of humor that’s very easy to enjoy. And there’s some lovely, unexpected moments between Lou and Will where they really bring out the best in each other. If you go to the theatre to see a simple love story, you’re going to get it, and you’ll have laughs along the way and maybe a cry at the end. And hopefully, if we’ve done justice to Jojo’s story and her fans, the journey will stay with you.”