Finally, director Sharon Maguire had her say. During rehearsals for “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” she had the three main stars write their own diaries in character. “Hugh’s, as Daniel, was blatantly sexual,” she said. “Colin, as Mark, only wrote about work. Renee’s diary was ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ in reverse, because she was putting on weight.”
She also agreed that Grant
and Firth were a little bit harder to deal with than Zellweger. Everyone
on the set got a tantrum day where they could throw a fit. Everyone had
that day but Renee; she’s a very untantrumy person.”
|Bridget Jones’s Diary was
first read by millions of enthralled voyeurs in the provocative and hysterical
best-selling book by Helen Fielding. Bridget herself immediately became
more than just the novel’s perpetually in crisis heroine, as she became
a cultural phenomenon as audiences found that there is a little bit more
Bridget in all of us. As the London Evening Standard wrote: “Bridget Jones
is no mere fictional character, she is the Spirit of the Age.” With her
own vocabulary—including such newly coined phrases “smug-marrieds,” “singletons”
and “fuckwittage”—and style, Bridget seemed to provide an unnervingly accurate
mirror of the aspirations, confusions and desires (namely, to be thin,
on-time, sober, sexy and deeply loved) of single women across the world.
Now, Working Title Films brings Bridget Jones’s Diary to life on the screen in a contemporary comedy starring Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. Filmed in Bridget’s bustling London, Bridget Jones’s Diary turns Bridget’s well-known personal, professional and erotic adventures into a visceral and vivacious, modern quest for love.
From the first moments of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget boldly sets out to accomplish a “singleton’s” most ambitious resolution:
“Will find nice, sensible boyfriend to go out with and won’t continue to form romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitmentphobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits or perverts.”
But when Bridget finds herself trapped between two men—one who’s too good to be true and one so wrong he just might be right—she discovers something unexpected—her own irrepressible ability to survive the chaos she has made.
Bridget Jones’s Diary began life as a column by journalist Helen Fielding in London’s Independent newspaper, but from the beginning, the calorie-counting, e-mail-happy, self-help-book-addicted, vodka-drinking Bridget seemed destined to take on a life of her own.
By the time the novel came out, placing Bridget in the midst of a Jane Austen-like dilemma between suitors, Bridget was a household name. Fielding seemed to have hit an exquisitely raw nerve in a whole generation of women who felt—like the fictional Bridget—that despite powerful careers, financial independence, high-tech conveniences and more choices than ever, they still weren’t quite getting what they wanted...especially when it came to love. The phenomenon seemed almost universal.
Explains Helen Fielding: “If Bridget is popular it’s because she lives in a state of nameless dread, thinking everyone knows how to live their life except her. What she doesn’t seem to realize is that lots of other people feel the same way. There’s a little Bridget in almost eveyone.”
Before the book even hit the bestseller lists, maverick British production company Working Title had already snapped up the movie rights. Yet, because the whole world came to know and love Bridget, they soon became aware that making a motion picture of her diary was going to be a challenge. “The key was to remain true to the ‘Bridget Jones way’ throughout,” comments producer Eric Fellner. “We did everything to ensure that the integrity of the characters, the setting, and the very “Bridget-ness” of the movie remained our priority.”
To get it right, the producers invited Richard Curtis, who previously wrote about love and London in “Notting Hill” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” to collaborate with his long-time friend Helen Fielding on the screen adaptation. His reputation as one of Britain’s sharpest wits didn’t hurt. “No one is able to visualize a joke better in Britain than Richard Curtis,” notes producer Jonathan Cavendish. “He was perfect for taking the spirit of Bridget and translating that into comic situations that are cinematically dynamic.”
Curtis and Fielding faced the further challenge of turning Bridget’s intimately internal diary into an external world of parties, parental visits, office elevators and sexual encounters. Yet, no matter what happens to Bridget in the visual world, the script always keeps her inner dialogue a constant presence. “In the end the script had a real comic truth to it,” says Jonathan Cavendish. “Just as in the book, the movie presents people you recognize from your everyday life and it hits close to the bone.” Especially, Cavendish notes, the funny bone.
To bring Bridget Jones’s Diary fully to life, there was no doubt it would require a “very Bridget” director. Luckily, one of Helen Fielding’s close friends—and the real-life inspiration for Bridget’s man-seeking yet virulently feminist friend Shazza—was Sharon Maguire, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker ready to break out into feature films.
Maguire had an obvious passion for the prospect. “I know this world because it’s mine,” she says. “I understand first-hand who Bridget is and what it’s like to be in your 30s, successful in your career, and yet wondering why you’re still alone.”
Maguire was also familiar with the Bridget Jones Lifestyle. “When Helen began writing about Bridget, it was a time when we were all still partying, having a really good time, all still cracking clever jokes constantly,” Maguire recalls. “But underlying it all was this secret anxiety about why we hadn’t settled down yet, about why we couldn’t get male approval. We wanted to be independent and strong—but we also wanted to be in love. And that’s the contradiction that makes Bridget so brilliant as a character. That’s what I wanted to get across in the movie: the issues about women and love that are relevant, universal and side-splittingly funny.”
In addition to a very Bridget director, the production needed something else: a Bridget. Working Title’s announcement that award-winning American actress Renée Zellweger had been cast as the consummately British Bridget Jones caused controversy in the UK. But it was not a decision taken lightly by the filmmakers, who were obsessively committed—in a very Bridget way—to keeping the production authentically British in every aspect.
Casting Zellweger was in fact the culmination of a two year search during which the filmmakers met all the obvious candidates and many unknown hopefuls, and still weren’t satisfied.
Yet, says Eric Fellner, when Renée Zellweger walked through the door, “She was Bridget.” True, she was Bridget with a strong Texas accent. But she had the most important—and elusive—Bridget qualities required: Irrepressible charm and generosity of spirit in the midst of high emotion and comic obsession. “She has an inner goodness that shines through everything,” remarks Sharon Maguire. “And like her goodness, her vulnerability shows too. You can believe she has a belief in fairy tales, but—like Bridget—she has an acute bullshit-o-meter. She really makes me laugh.”
Adds Eric Fellner: “She was so great, we were confident all along that she could make the transition from being an American to becoming a full-fledged English girl. That’s just part and parcel of what actors are her caliber do.”
Zellweger journey to London in March 2000 to work with dialogue guru Barbara Berkery, who had previously turned Gwyneth Paltrow into an Englishwoman for “Sliding Doors” and “Shakespeare in Love.” Berkery put Zellweger on a daily regimen of tongue-twister exercises covering the sounds and rhythms of the language. The two women also spent a lot of time going out together—shopping in Harvey Nichols, having tea at Fortnum’s, sightseeing in London—as Renée became accustomed to using her new voice...and believing in it. The process resulted in what natives declare a flawless English accent. As Barbara Berkery proudly says, “I defy anyone to doubt her.”
To assist in the transformation of Renée into Bridget, the filmmakers even found the actress a job at the London book publisher, Picador, where she worked “undercover” as a trainee in the publicity department, immersing herself in Bridget’s world. Over a couple of weeks, Renée answered phones, made photocopies and served up cups of coffee, completely unbeknownst to anyone. Says Jonathan Cavendish: “It was incredibly valuable on two levels. Firstly, Renée learnt about the life of working in a publishing company, about the language and the social mores. But secondly, it proved something very important: If this girl could fool people she was working with that she was English, she could fool everyone.”
To complete the transformation Renée even gained Bridget’s seemingly undefeatable 20 extra pounds to play the role. In essence, Zellweger had to count calories in reverse; the entire seven months she was in London the usually health-conscious actress dined on pizza, peanut butter sandwiches, cheese omelettes, bagels with butter and chocolate milkshakes. She further relied on the skills of make-up and hair designer Graham Johnstone and costume designer Rachel Fleming to create a natural but slightly chaotic look that speak to Bridget’s reliance on eye shadow and blow dryers to overcome her insecurities.
But truly becoming Bridget required much, much more: it required that Zellweger take on every extreme of Bridget’s personality—including her moments of bluntness, envy, gossiping and neediness.
When it comes to her future, Bridget Jones sees it in terms of a battle between two very different outcomes for love life. It’s a question of will she:
a) end up tragic, barren spinster?As she begins to devote herself single-mindedly to the search for said hunk she finds herself in the midst of an even more confusing battle. Is she more interested in:
a) an exquisitely, charming, hopelessly sexy crush she knows is bad for her?At the center of this battle are two men played by equally beloved British heart-throbs Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, both of whom are mentioned in the novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, not least of all because Helen Fielding had her own crushes on them. “I must admit to having had violently jealous thoughts towards Bridget after hearing that she’d be canoodling with both of them,” says Fielding.
Colin Firth plays Mark Darcy, an intriguing casting, since he won fans around the world for playing Mark Darcy’s smouldering namesake, Mr. Darcy, in the internationally acclaimed mini-series of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Indeed, Helen Fielding always had Colin Firth in mind for the part, even as she was writing the novel, since Mark Darcy is modeled on Austen’s prideful romancer. “Helen and the rest of us had no doubts,” recalls Eric Fellner. “Colin had to be Mark Darcy.”
Bridget’s Darcy is rich, marvelous and annoys the hell out of her. He starts off as a seemingly snobby, emotionless intellectual but slowly melts in Bridget’s presence into a man who can not only kiss but make dinner to boot. He soon proves himself to have a well-spring of suppressed emotion and raw passion. “Colin has the quality of somebody who is a tiny bit aloof from life but seems to understand things,” explains Cavendish. “That, combined with his tremendous power as an actor, make him the perfect Mark Darcy.”
Firth found himself drawn to Darcy’s more delicious hidden side. “I think Darcy’s actually extremely emotional and passionate,” he explains. “He has all the qualities that make a person dynamic yet they’re all closed inside this very formal English strait-jacket. What appeals to me is that fact that he’s revealed so slowly. I love it when you’re proved wrong about a character.”
Hugh Grant, meanwhile, plays Darcy’s polar opposite: the caddish, charismatic Daniel Cleaver. From the first moments Cleaver is seen on screen—emerging from a work elevator to survey his mostly female staff—his predatory nature is slyly revealed.
Grant had a very visceral reaction to the book: “I genuinely laughed like a hyena,” he notes. As a personal friend of Helen Fielding’s, he was also thrilled to be a part of the Bridget phenomenon. “Helen’s an incredibly funny writer but she’s also got an amazingly sharp eye for observation,” Grant comments. “She took a taboo subject—the conundrum of woman today feeling that they’ve reached some mythical sell-by date—and made it mainstream comic literature. She really hit the spot.”
For Grant, the role of Daniel Cleaver gave him a chance to play a very different type of character from the sweet-natured romantic heroes for which he has become famous. “I’ve definitely done too many nice guys in the last few years,” he says. “It’s always made Richard Curtis laugh, that people associate Hugh Grant with the characters in his films, which are really much more like him since he really is nice. So I think he relished creating a character that was nearer to the real me.”
Says Eric Fellner, “We were particularly excited to see Hugh play the ‘bad’ guy. At the same time he could play to his strengths in terms of the charming, wonderful side of Daniel.”
“Hugh is perceived as this bumbling, good-hearted Englishman, he doesn’t play baddies,” says Sharon Maguire, “All the more reason why you would fall for someone if you thought they were basically decent—which Daniel is really, despite having a terrible time showing it, commitmentphobe that he is.
As Bridget broods over Cleaver and Darcy, she is just barely held together by the support of her three closest friends: Shazza, Jude and Tom. They offer her well-intentioned, but often hopeless, advice, since they are equally flummoxed by their own anxieties and relationship dilemmas.
To play the trio, Sharon Maguire searched for an ensemble who would not only be comically colorful individuals, but could come off as a group of long-established friends, willing to say absolutely anything to one another. She found that chemistry with Sally Phillips, Shirley Henderson and James Callis.
“When we put them on tape together, we felt quite excited,” recalls Maguire. “Shirley’s so tiny and so fantastically vulnerable, yet so sharp. As Jude, you could believe she is a complete jelly in her private life but a real ball-breaker in the office. Sally—a great comedienne—conveyed the ranting feminist beliefs of Shazza but with an underlying vulnerability. Tom is a very quick-witted, funny character and James has that natural ability to make everyone laugh.”
To play the principal roles of Mother and Dad, the filmmakers cast renowned British actors Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent. “Mother is such an extreme character,” says Maguire, “and Gemma conveys the contradiction that inside this 60 year old woman beats the heart of a young girl.” She continues: “Jim has this fantastic face which just makes you want to hug him, and a fantastic deadpan way of delivering words which just make everyone laugh. Bottom line, both of this actors are incredibly good at comic truth.”
Rounding out the cast of eccentric characters are a well-known group of character actors including Celie Imrie (Una Alconbury), Honor Blackman (Penny Bosworth-Husbands), Paul Brooke (Mr Fitzherbert) and Felicity Montague (Perpetua).
Also making cameos are some of London’s leading literary lights, including Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Sebastian Faulkes and Alain de Boiton—among whose cool intelligence and languid wit a mortified Bridget is struck hysterically dumb. Fans of the book won’t be surprised to see Rushdie, himself a fan, involved in the move. After all, he was quoted on the back of the original printing saying “Even men will laugh.”
Once the cast was assembled, the filmmakers set about bringing to life the rest of Bridget’s disaster-prone world, all set against the posh, young professionals of the Notting Hill area. A first priority was to highlight Bridget’s London—a hip, happening metropolis that holds out the promise of a perfect life—but has many obstacles as well. Sharon Maguire brought in director of photography Stuart Dryburgh to take a fresh look at London’s most chic neighborhood.
Dryburgh’s atmospheric work on such films as “The Piano” and “An Angel At My Table”—in which his camerawork reflected strong dramatic themes—alongside big American comedies like “Analyze This” and “Runaway Bride” made him the filmmakers’ choice from the beginning. “We wanted London to be shot with a very contemporary vitality, a constant sense of energy and movement and Stuart gave us an exciting vision,” says Jonathan Cavendish. “You might think a film of a diary would be a closed-in, domestic affair but we wanted to go against expectation and open it up to the world.”
First, Bridget needed a home. London’s Globe Tavern in Borough—where the Great Train Robbery was planned—provided the exterior. For the neighborhood, production designer Gemma Jackson and locations manager Adam Richard found a street with a vibrant, bustling character—replete with busy fruit market—reflecting Bridget’s personality. Jackson then adapted existing shop facades into a trendy Fragipani, a minicab office and Mr. Ramadas’ newsstand. The Greek restaurant into which Mark and Daniel’s fight erupts was created from scratch. Jackson’s creations were so realistic, that several times during filming, members of the public attempted to buy a newspaper from Mr. Ramadas’ shop or book a table in the Greek restaurant.
Inside, Jackson gave Bridget’s flat a ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ appeal, with a slightly retro 50s feel conveyed through the soft colors and choice of furniture. Filling the bookshelves, of course, are a multitude of self-help books, while the walls are adorned with old holiday souvenirs and photographs of friends. The flat is scattered with assorted mementos Bridget clearly couldn’t bear to part with—a Paddington Bear, a Rubik’s cube, a troll. Most tellingly, the bedroom and bathroom are as wildly messy as their owner’s life. There are clothes hanging over rails, an unmade bed, a bathroom sink filled with make-up, ashtrays brimming over with cigarette butts. It is, as Gemma Jackson says, “chaotic but incredibly true to life as single women know it.”
Other recognizable London locations in Bridget Jones’s Diary include the Cantina, Shad Thames where Bridget enjoys her first date with Daniel, The Tate Modern which provides a spectacular view of London and the setting for an evening Bridget spends with her friends; The R oyal Courts of Justice for the scene in which Bridget attempts to get a news interview; a magnificent loft apartment overlooking the Thames and Tower Bridge in Clink Wharf which provides Daniel with a home; and St. Pancras Station and Tower Bridge, famous London landmarks through which Bridget makes her way. Outside London, the production filmed in Stoke Park Club, Stoke Poges, where Bridget and Daniel enjoy their minibreak; and in Wrotham Park, Barnet, which provided a home for the Darcy family.
The film, like the book, tells Bridget’s story from one Christmas to the next. To convey the seasonal changes many locations had to covered in snow—at the height of summer. So, just as most people in Britain were gearing up for Wimbledon, Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant were bundled up against the machine-manufactured “snow.”
But switching seasons was a small feat in a production that was filled with boundary-crossing material. Summarizes Eric Fellner: “Bridget Jones crosses geographical boundaries because it’s about things people experience the world over; it crosses sexual boundaries because men and women can relate to the insecurities, fears and joys that Bridget Jones has. And it crosses story-telling boundaries—because it’s an uproarious comedy that uses humor to look at some very relevant issues about life and romantic reality.”
Special thanks to Marianne and Evelyn.