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‘Idea of You’ director Showalter can’t help but go for occasional laugh

By Mark Meszoros, The News-Herald
Published: May 4, 2024, 6:04am

Willoughby, Ohio — It’s a line that sticks with you, Anne Hathaway’s character in “The Idea of You” being told, only somewhat sarcastically, that people don’t like happy women.

“Women who live their lives out loud, who are proud of who they are, going for whatever it is they want, whether that’s career or romance or anything — I think society tends to react negatively to that,” says the film’s director and co-writer, Michael Showalter, during a phone interview less than a week before the film’s debut this week on Prime Video. “There’s something threatening about it — about a woman who is unapologetic about pursuing her own desire.”

Adapted from the novel by Robinne Lee and co-written by Jennifer Westfeldt (“Kissing Jessica Stein”), “The Idea of You” tells the story of Hathaway’s Solène Marchand, a divorced single mom and successful art gallery director who, having just turned 40, does her best not to fall for Nicholas Galitzine’s Hayes Campbell, a 24-year-old singer in a popular boy band who gives her the full-court press.

It is the latest film from Showalter, once a cast member of the cult-fave MTV sketch-comedy show “The State” who’s gone on to enjoy an increasingly varied filmmaking career. His directorial credits include 2015’s “Hello, My Name Is Doris”; 2017 critical darling “The Big Sick”; the hilarious 2020 romp “The Lovebirds,” which, like “The Big Sick,” co-starred Kumail Nanjiani; 2021’s “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” for which star Jessica Chastain won the Academy Award for best actress; and the well-received 2022 drama “Spoiler Alert.”

In a conversation edited for length and clarity, Showalter discusses the new movie and more.

In the spirit of “The Idea of You” being a romance, how did you and this movie get together?

(Laughs) That’s a very good question. I was sent a script — I had not heard of the book yet — and Anne Hathaway was attached. I loved the premise of the characters, and I love Anne and I was a lover of this genre, the romantic genre. I thought, “Wow, these are two characters and a story I haven’t really seen before, and I’d love to try to tell this story.”

That was a script by Jennifer Westfeldt, with whom you then collaborated?

Exactly. I had a little bit of a different idea about it, and so we kind of worked together from a draft that she started.

How much of the draw of the project was that, like other films you’ve made, it’s different from what you’ve already done?

Yeah, I mean, it’s a sexier movie.

You know, it’s not as quirky. It’s not really a quirky romantic comedy. … It is a drama.

Every movie I do is a little different, and so, in a sense, every movie has its own character. It’s like playing a character, whether it’s “The Big Sick” or “Tammy Faye” or this or “Doris,” what have you. Each movie has its own flavor, and I kind of try to take on that tone in my directing. I tend to change a little bit, I morph a little bit, for each project.

You have a comedy background, though. I assume you’re always leaning on that to a degree or perhaps sometimes fighting against it?

I definitely like trying to incorporate humor into (movies). What I like most is to find humor sometimes in situations that aren’t funny or (where) you’re dealing with characters who have very complicated inner lives, who like all of us are dealing with pain and just the general struggles of being a human being and living in the world. And to try to find ways to explore the human condition with humor rather than necessarily a straightforward comedy — although those are great. too. But, you know, these characters have a sense of humor, They are able to laugh at themselves, They’re able to laugh at the world around them. And I like that as an audience member, I like to mix it up, so something serious happens and then maybe you break that tension with a joke.

You said Anne Hathaway already had been cast when you came aboard the movie, so how did you land on Galitzine for Hayes?

We looked at a lot of auditions, and we saw guys from all over the world and whittled it down to a small group of about 10 guys who came to New York for a long weekend. We did a lot of chemistry reads in person with them and Anne — hearing them, seeing them reading scenes together, singing songs, improvising, just getting to know them, seeing how they were with notes and different tones and stuff. Nick just really stood out and combined all of the qualities in the Hayes character that we were looking for. He’s funny. He’s charming, He’s relatable. He’s incredibly talented as a musician. He’s a great-looking guy. He checked every box. And then, more than anything, when he and Anne worked together, there was a real charm there and a real spark.

As we’ve discussed, you’ve made some different types of movies. What’s still on the directorial wish list? Do you want to do a superhero movie? Are you trying to get a meeting with the “Star Wars” folks?

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(laughs) I mean, sure.

“I like character stories, so I’m not sure about the superhero movie, although if a great script came along, I would absolutely be excited about it. I’ll make a movie in any genre if I like the genre, so I’d love to do a horror movie or a science fiction movie or a Western. I love them all.