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If 2020 was the year of Zoom calls, could 2021 be time to return to traditional letter writing? Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley‘s upcoming Netflix romance may have you feeling inspired to put pen to paper.
Adapted from The Last Letter From Your Lover, a novel by Jojo Moyes (also known for penning Me Before You), the upcoming dual-narrative drama takes places in two different eras, following the lives and loves of Jennifer Stirling (Woodley, Big Little Lies), an American woman living in 1960’s London and contemporary London journalist, Ellie Haworth (Jones, The Theory Of Everything). Though decades apart in age, the two women’s lives are intertwined when Ellie stumbles across some heartbreakingly beautiful love letters addressed to Jennifer in the archives at the newspaper where she works.
Lost love letters coming to light decades later might sound like the stuff of overly-sentimental viewing, but Jones — who had been eager to work on a project with novelist Moyes for some time — found herself charmed by the story’s romance yet lack of “schmaltz.” “The moment I was sent the script, the stars just aligned,” she tells EW. “I liked how human it was; it was just an immediate response. It had such fun to it, as well as being quite emotional.”
When Woodley came on board later, it was the chance to work with director Augustine Frizzell (Never Goin’ Back, Euphoria) that had her ready to sign on, no questions asked. “Before I even read the script I was inclined to say yes,” she says. “I had been really wanting to work with Augustine and just loved her as a human being… Then I read the script and it was really beautifully executed — I don’t feel like there’s a lot of movies that are told this way and are also executed in a way that’s thoroughly entertaining and intelligent.”
Beyond the source material and director, both Jones and Woodley found themselves drawn to a story of women discovering their identities and reckoning with the romantic, life decisions they’ve made. “You witness a woman’s journey in how she chooses to live her life,” says Woodley, whose character Jennifer finds herself falling in love with troubled journalist Anthony O’Hare (Callum Turner, Fantastic Beasts) while married to the frightfully well-to-do, yet cold Laurence Stirling (Joe Alwyn, The Favourite). “You recognize the struggles that come with being a woman, specifically in that time era, making decisions for herself and choosing a path that perhaps isn’t the most well-worn, yet is the most fulfilling. There aren’t a lot of stories about women who do make decisions for themselves even though there are serious consequences and repercussions.”
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Similarly, Jones enjoyed the “investigation of women in love” and seeing the juxtaposition of the contemporary story with a story in the ’60s. “With Ellie, she’s someone who’s had a rough time in a previous relationship and has lost hope in love even existing,” says Jones of her character. “When she stumbles across these letters about a completely unabashed and passionate love, it really starts to make her feel that maybe there is hope and a possibility of true connection, but it’s done in a way that is very simply and truthfully told.” Something else she liked about her character? “I loved the idea that she’s always a bit hungover,” she says with a laugh. Relatable.
Though the women’s journeys are the focus of the story, the surrounding men also have their own uneven paths to navigate, and when it came to casting it was avoiding the obvious choice that enlivened the characters and added dimension. “Joe is such a naturally kind and warm and welcoming human being,” says Woodley of Alwyn, who plays her unfeeling, chauvinistic, and dismissive husband. “I always like when casting surprises me a little bit and puts actors in roles that you wouldn’t necessarily assume they would fill.” While each of Jennifer’s relationships with the two men is very different, Woodley found she naturally had chemistry with each. “Working with both Joe and Calum [Turner] was incredible,” she says. “The beautiful thing about what we do is when you have those rare moments in time where you have natural kinetic energy with someone. There’s not a whole lot for you to have to do as an actor, because you can lean and rely heavily on whatever electricity is happening between the two of you. I felt like that with both of them. I was very, very fortunate to settle into the natural energy that existed and then let the characters unfold within the essence of that.”
While Jennifer is busy in the ’60s with a husband and lover, in the present day, Ellie grows closer to the newspaper archivist helping her dig through the library, played by Nabhaan Rizwan (1917). Just like Woodley, Jones found she had a natural rapport with her costar. “Nabhaan is just a joy,” says Jones. “He is very, very funny in real life and brings such ease to his performances. I remember thinking immediately that he was incredibly naturalistic and had a simplicity to his performance.”
Love letters and entanglements aside, fans of the book will be eager to get a glimpse of Jennifer’s wardrobe. As the novel tells it, she has a Narnia-esque closet of lavish gowns, hats, and heels. Production brought in period-clothing expert, costume designer Anna Robbins (Downton Abbey) to lift those looks from the page to the screen. “There was a lot of collaboration when it came to Jennifer’s wardrobe and she expresses herself when it comes to fashion,” says Woodley. “Her clothes reflect the trajectory and change you see in her throughout the storyline, as she becomes more comfortable in herself, so we really leaned on that aspect of it. And just from a personal standpoint, after the film was done, I was like, ‘So I get to keep all of this, right? The hats, the gloves, all of it?’ It was just a dream. In the end, I got to keep one of the ballgowns and a couple of the hats.”
Both actresses — who also serve as executive producers on the movie — hope that despite the current, isolating state of the world, the movie can remind people of how fulfilling any form of communication can be. “I think it’s going to a very uplifting and enjoyable film to watch that’ll take minds off a pretty difficult time,” says Jones.
So will the stars be saying goodbye to Zoom and instead writing letters to achieve that sense of human connection? “I actually fell in love with one of my ex-boyfriends through letters,” says Woodley. “They’re such a huge part of my world. I write one or two a week. So when I read this script, it felt like an ode to the hopeless romantic within me.” Jones isn’t quite as committed a correspondent. “I have that endless pressure of thank you letters that I’m sometimes about two years late writing — I eventually get around to them!” she says, though agrees, “there’s nothing nicer than seeing a letter come through the door. I think the film will be a nice little antidote to everything becoming so virtual during the pandemic and if more people end up putting pen to paper this year, that’s lovely.”
Last Letter From Your Lover arrives in the Netflix mailbox later this year.