Good Luck To You, Leo Grande – How a brilliant idea evolved into an irresistible film

Two years ago, when British playwright and novelist Katy Brand first sat down to write a draft of the script Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, she didn’t quite know what she was going to do with it, or what was going to come out. “I had had the idea for quite a long time,” says Brand, recalling a vision of the opening scene. “A woman of around 60 is waiting in a hotel room for a young man that she has booked to have sex with. A sex worker. I saw the image of this scene, this woman waiting, and the guy coming up and you’re just hearing this soft knock on the door and she opens the door and then we begin.” Once the two characters meet, the dialogue began to flow.”

Brand kept writing and found she loved the back and forth between Nancy and Leo. “I really started to enjoy hearing them talk to each other. What would actually happen in this situation, how would it play out? And so I wrote it quite freely, that first draft, but I was excited by it. I felt a thrill of writing that dialogue and hearing them talk.”

The first draft of the script poured out of Brand. Months later, in the summer of 2020, she realized that she had this screenplay that was essentially just two people in a hotel room.

“I had written that without any knowledge of what was coming, obviously,” says Brand, “but I just thought if people are really wanting to make stuff safely, I have this script in my drawer that could be made safely.”

Brand passed the script along to Debbie Gray of Genesius Pictures, who Brand knew was looking for projects that could be done on a small scale. “I said, well, look, I’ve actually got this script that I’ve already written, and I don’t really know what to do with. It’s just a first draft, but why don’t you have a read of it and see what you think?”

Gray responded to the script instantly. “I was working with Katy during the first lockdown and it was an immediate yes when I read it. It was very funny and original.” Struck by the complexity of the script, Gray says, “Beneath the humour Katy was dealing with sexuality, intimacy, and the connection between strangers. Power and intimacy and the interplay – I loved it.”

When Gray asked Brand who she envisioned in the lead role, she was quick to share she’d always pictured Emma Thompson, a friend with whom she had worked with before on Nanny McPhee. “I wrote the script for Emma and with her tone of voice in mind,” Brand says. “I knew that she would have a certain cadence and a way of delivering lines, a way of being funny, but also true at the same time.” Brand sent the script to Thompson and she came back quickly.

“I read it and I had a kind of visceral reaction to it and I wrote back to Katy immediately saying it had to be made and that I really wanted to be in it,” explains Emma Thompson. “It was like nothing I’d ever read before – it was so funny and so moving. I laughed so hard, I was in tears at the end, and then it quickly took off from there.”

The Art of Collaboration – Crafting the screenplay of Good Luck To You, Leo Grande

Director’s Statement By Sophie Hyde

In the film, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, Nancy Stokes, a retired school teacher and widow (Emma Thompson), is yearning for some adventure, some human connection, and some sex. Good sex. Whilst her husband Robert provided a home, a family, and something resembling a life, good sex was never on offer. But he’s gone now, and Nancy has a plan: she will find adventure with a sex worker named Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack). In an anonymous hotel room, Nancy greets Leo. He looks every bit as good as his picture, but what Nancy wasn’t expecting was conversation as well as fornication. Leo has a view on everything, and though he may not always tell the truth, Nancy finds she likes him. And he likes her. With growing sexual confidence, Nancy starts to relax. Over the course of their rendezvous, the power dynamics shift and their well-worn masks begin to slip.

With Emma committed to the role of Nancy, Gray found early partners in Cornerstone who fell in love with an early outline of the script.

Having recently worked together on Animals, the Cornerstone team instantly thought of Sophie Hyde, believing her visual style, emotional intelligence and raw honesty would be a great match for the material.

At the time the draft came across her desk, Hyde was reading scripts but hadn’t found the next perfect project. “I got the message that this was Emma Thompson in a story in which she hired a sex worker, and it was all set in one space. And I just thought well, I want to do that, that sounds amazing.” Both the concept of the story and Emma’s involvement were exciting for Hyde. “There are times where there’s an idea that’s great, or there’s an actor attached that’s exciting, but when those two things meet like this you just know that it’s going to be something really interesting and there’s so much room in there to create something.”

With Hyde on board to direct and financing in place, finding the perfect Leo came about quickly before shooting. It was important to find someone who could go toe to toe with Thompson. “Emma Thompson is a legend, and we were fortunate that she agreed to attach herself to the project very early on,” says Gray. “It enabled Emma to develop her journey through the development phase and also assist in the casting of Leo Grande. The chemistry of the two lead characters was vital – it is a two-hander and it had to feel authentic.”

About a month before shooting was set to begin, Daryl McCormack was sent the script by his agent and was immediately interested after finding out Thompson was attached. “Before I’d even read the script or understood it was a two-hander, I was excited by the idea of working with her,” explains McCormack. “Once I started reading, I couldn’t believe this was something I might be considered for. I fell in love with the character of Leo and what he represented, what seeing a young man like him on screen could mean and the chance to embody that. And then to see how these two people in one room can really change each other’s lives through intimacy, which is essentially something we all have access to.”

McCormack read the script twice and came in to audition and filmmakers liked him immediately.

“It was finding that energy we wanted Leo to have. That openness and charisma and a sort of gentleness, but also a naughty sense of humour. We thought Daryl brings that energy to it that could make Leo come to life,” says Brand. Hyde says of McCormack, “Daryl is empathetic and he relaxes everybody, it’s a really lovely quality. This role was a huge thing – imagine being opposite somebody who has such a name in the world as Emma Thompson and needing to stand your ground in the two-hander. And Daryl absolutely did that. He rose to the challenge in every

McCorrmack met with Thompson the day following for a walk to discuss the role and the story together, and she called him the very next day to tell him she wanted him to play Leo. “I couldn’t believe it, I thought maybe she’d saved my number incorrectly or that they really wanted someone else.” But there was no confusion, and in under a week McCormack had the role and rehearsals were set to begin.

Empowerment Through Intimacy

Ultimately, the filmmakers hope that audiences enjoy themselves watching this film. Says Brand, “I guess like anyone who writes a film you want people to, to laugh, to feel a bit moved, to have something to think about and then to leave uplifted.” McCormack echoes Brand’s sentiments about bringing joy to the audience. He says, “I hope that they’ll have a laugh. I hope that they really enjoy what we can bring to each other as humans, just humour and kindness and an endeavour to understand one another.”

Filmmakers also would like the audience to walk away feeling empowered, particularly about sexual desire and human intimacy. “I would like them to go out feeling so released, so much freer and braver, brave enough to say, finally, you know, ‘What do you want, really?’”

Thompson says. “How do you experience pleasure? Do you allow yourself to experience pleasure, and if you don’t then why not? Where do you carry your shame and why are you ashamed? Why are pain and pleasure and shame so inextricably linked? These are conversations that live with everyone, in all cultures, across all borders.”

As a director, Hyde was most interested in saying with this film that there is a certain kind of freedom that can be found in pleasure and connection. “It’s something that takes a while to open up for some of us but is really worth something.”

When writing the script, Brand wanted to explore the power of knowing your body, enjoying sex and being free with it. “I think that’s something that’s always interested me about people. And so, you know, I want to bring that into the conversation and have people think about that.”

Gray adds, “The physical joy that you can derive from having confidence in yourself, your self-worth, it’s never too late to find that. As a woman of a certain age it’s never too late to find that pleasure.”

Nancy and Leo derive more from their relationship than sex, however. Another important element to their relationship that filmmakers hope audiences will take away is our ability to connect on a deeper level with each other, and how powerful that can be. “I think that you can make a connection with anyone anywhere, and it doesn’t mean it has to last a lifetime. Just be open to having little connections with people, even when you least expect it.” McCormack says he hopes that viewers come away understanding the bravery it takes to overcome what society has projected upon us about intimacy. “To get past that is a lot of freedom.”

Lastly, Emma Thompson notes a final takeaway on behalf of her costar, “I hope that lots of people will be talking about Mr. McCormack, because, you know, it’s a massive great role. It’s a two-hander and you know I’m a war horse that’s done a lot of stuff, and Daryl’s done loads, but you know he’s still young and it’s a remarkable, remarkable performance and I’m really excited to see people reacting to that.”

Writer Katy Brand

Katy Brand wrote her first comic monologue in 2004 and began performing live original comedy in pubs around the U.K. She later joined a group of sketch comedians to write and perform a weekly live sketch show at the Ealing Film Studios, called Ealing Live!

In 2005 Katy took her debut Edinburgh show “Celebrities Are Gods” to the Fringe, which was immediately picked up for a Comedy Lab for Channel 4 (‘Slap’). This later became the award-winning ITV sketch show, “Katy Brand’s Big Ass Show”, which Katy devised, wrote and starred in. It ran for three series and later became a nationwide live tour. She won a British Comedy Award for the show in 2008, and was also nominated for an RTS Award.

During this period she also wrote and performed “Mouthtrap” with Katherine Parkinson which ran for two series on BBC Radio 4.

Since then Katy has written for and appeared in numerous radio and tv shows, from Radio 4’s “News Quiz” to Channel 4’s “Peep Show”. Most recently she presented “The Origin of Stuff” on BBC Radio 4, a show which looks at the history of everyday objects. She has also scripted “Katy Brand’s Christmas Cracker” for Sky and “Common People: Eleanor” for Baby Cow and Sky.

Acting jobs cover a wide array of TV, Film and Radio shows, alongside regular live work. These include “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang”, “Peep Show”, “Grandpa’s Great Escape”, “Annually Retentive”, “Mongrels” and “Psychobitches”.

In 2016, Katy took a new stand-up comedy show “I Was A Teenage Christian” to the Edinburgh Fringe (‘intelligent story-telling…she makes us hang on her every word’ – The Times; ‘The church’s loss is comedy’s gain’ – Evening Standard) and later toured with it nationwide. She returned to the Fringe in 2017 with the follow-up show, “I Could’ve Been An Astronaut” (‘Laugh out loud funny’ The Skinny).

Her debut play “3Women”, starring Anita Dobson, opened at Trafalgar Studios 2 in May 2018 (‘it has heart and lots of laughs’ The Daily Mail, ‘sharp and convincing’ The Guardian, ‘witty and insightful – I really recommend this’ Woman’s Hour BBC Radio 4), and is published by Samuel French.

Her debut novel “Brenda Monk Is Funny” (‘…essential reading’ – Irvine Welsh) was published in 2014, this was followed by “I Carried A Watermelon”, part memoir-part homage to “Dirty Dancing” which was published in 2019. Her next book “Practically Perfect: Life Lessons from Mary Poppins” was published in 2020.