Warning! “Last Christmas” spoilers below! Don’t continue unless you’ve seen the movie.
The “Last Christmas” trailer gave you its heart, and the very next day, everyone said it gave the movie away.
To the untrained eye, “Last Christmas” comes off as a straightforward romantic comedy starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, but online sleuths almost immediately suspected subterfuge. With lines in the trailer about Clarke’s character going through a life-threatening trauma and the movie being based on the George Michael song “Last Christmas,” fans started guessing the film took the lyrics “Last Christmas / I gave you my heart” literally. The theory stated Golding’s character, Tom, was the ghost of the heart donor who saved the life of Clarke’s character, Kate.
The idea went viral on Twitter and was written up by various news outlets. The film’s director Paul Feig couldn’t ignore all the speculation. He tried to brush it off and explain it’s just a “lovely Christmas movie.”
Well, here’s another twist for you: It’s not. The theory everyone guessed was right. Golding’s Tom is an organ donor ghost. Last Christmas, he gave Clarke his heart. (It’s apparently the best way to win her over.)
In an interview with HuffPost, Feig opened up on his real feelings about the internet spreading around the movie’s twist.
“I was just so surprised that people would look at a trailer for a rom-com and try to dissect it like it was ‘The Matrix.’ And I couldn’t ... I couldn’t quite understand it,” Feig said. “It just really bummed me. It’d be one thing if we go, ‘What’s the mystery of this?’ Then you go, ‘OK ... ’ But, no, we were just showing two people falling in love and suddenly all these theories are coming out.”
“It was kind of frustrating,” he added, “just because I love people to experience things pure.”
Feig said he wants audiences to come in as fresh to a project as they can, which is why he says he likes doing test screenings and tweaking things when people don’t have preconceived notions of a film.
The director didn’t love media outlets spreading the theory around, either.
“I was really thrown by the fact that legitimate media outlets were reporting on these theories and putting them out there like pre-spoilers, whether they’re right or not,” he said. “I feel like that’s off-limits, like you’re not supposed to speculate on what you think is a secret in something. So I find it kind of frustrating.”
Despite all that, Feig told us he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“I’m not complaining about the fact that everybody was suddenly talking about the movie,” he said. “You celebrate that because that’s what you hope for. I have plenty of movies that I’ve done with the trailer comes out and you’re like, ‘Did anybody see that? I haven’t heard anything.’ You just never know what’s going to catch on. So I’ll take whatever happens that way and be very happy about it.”
During our chat, the director opened up about “Last Christmas” being the first big project for Clarke post-“Game of Thrones,” a cut scene from “Bridesmaids” and even what happened to his long-lost character on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
You played Mr. Pool on “Sabrina” in Season 1. He disappeared in Season 2. What happened to him?
[Laughs] He’s making movies. Yeah, I mean poor Mr. Pool got fired from his job back then, got written out because they said they didn’t know how to write for him anymore. I was like, “I could figure out how to write for him.” But it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened for me, because I would probably just still be a character actor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
This is Emilia Clarke’s first big thing after “Game of Thrones.” Was there any thought about how to approach that?
It was more about introducing the side of Emilia that people hadn’t seen because I’d had a meeting with her four years prior, just because I was a fan. You expect somebody to be one way, and I kind of expected she was going to be very serious and stolid and stayed and all that, you know, like her character. And she was funny and full of energy and so delightful and just charming. And I’m just leaning in the whole time and the laughing and all this, so I’m like, I want to show that. I want to see you do that on-screen.
So it was a relief that she wasn’t Daenerys Targaryen?
Yeah, yeah. When I met Jason Statham for the first time, I was like, he’s gonna be really tough and all that. I met him and he was like, “Hey, Paul!” I have to show this side of you to the world.
Emilia obviously had a traumatic health scare in her life. Did that play into this character who also has a life-threatening trauma?
It connected her to the script even more. I didn’t know until we had lunch right before she signed on officially to the movie, and she told me. She said that was one of the reasons why she really connected with this character. I was like, wow. First of all, it’s horrifying to know that she went through that, and so happy that she got through it so well, and the fact that she’s now parlayed it into a charity and an organization helping people, but that’s Emilia. She’s just this wonderful person. But I know it was hard for her to shoot the scene in the hospital that we had, just because it’s very evocative for somebody who’s been through it twice.
You’ve said how you love test screenings. What’s the most insightful thing you take from those?
It’s the process I do all the time. I start it very early. I start it like three or four weeks into my director’s cut, so that I can swap stuff in and out before I fall in love with everything, because once you fall in love with a cut of a movie then it’s like, oh, you don’t want to change anything. So yeah. Put it out going, “I don’t know if this works.” You don’t put it out if you think it’s shitty. But yeah, you go, “OK, let’s see.”
What’s one of the biggest changes you’ve made from a test screening?
Well, “Bridesmaids,” it was the opening scene with Kristen Wiig in bed with Jon Hamm. Not the sex scene. But the morning after. We shot all this funny stuff. It was scripted in there that he’s trying to get her out of the bed and out of his life, and she doesn’t want to go. Kristen Wiig’s so brilliant, and just all this stuff of like, “Oh, this bed’s so comfortable.” He’s like, “Yeah, really, I gotta go to this thing.” “Oh, well I’ll just stay here.” And then it even crescendos into him trying to pull her off the bed. And she’s pretending to be comfortable and hanging on. We cut a version of this. And we did a friends and family screening, which means we basically invited all of our comedy friends who are in the business, and it destroyed. This scene just destroyed. And I was just like, “Man, we got the strongest opening ever for a movie.” And so then we went into the test screening, which is a recruited audience off the street. You mix the demographics, and you get a swatch of everybody. And it got silence. Absolute silence. And I was like, “What the fuck happened?” And then I realized she comes off as pathetic. And people like Kristen Wiig, and they’re watching, going like, “I don’t like this person. I don’t want to see this person that I like being such a doormat.” That’s when we went back in, and it’s all everything’s like he’s loving and nice. And the minute he goes, “I really want you to leave, but I don’t know how to say it without sounding like a dick,” she stares at him, and you cut to her leaving. That gets a huge laugh, but it’s also, you’re like, “Oh, God.” But she got out before she was pathetic. That’s the kind of thing you learn, not from people that know you and for people who are aficionados of comedy, but just from the normal audience that is going to go see this movie.
So last question for “Last Christmas.” This movie has a ton of George Michael music. Why no “Careless Whisper”?
We could only use a few of the major hits. So we had to pick and choose, but also I’ve heard “Careless Whisper” in so many things that I didn’t feel like I needed it. That’s the one song I didn’t feel like I needed even him though I love it.
“Last Christmas” is in theaters Nov. 8.