When Disney decided it was time to start working on Miley Cyrus' post-Hannah Montana career, they took a bold route: first, they signed the actress, then they hired Miley's first pick, novelist Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember) to write her star vehicle-Sparks' first foray into screenwriting. Next, enter Julie Anne Andrews, the Golden Globe and BAFTA-nominated director whose work on shows like Weeds, Grey's Anatomy, Big Love and Pushing Daisies got Disney's attention and Andrews a job directing The Last Song, a resonant weepie starring Cyrus and Greg Kinnear as an estranged daughter and regretful dad struggling to bond during a beach house summer. With the eyes of the studio-not to mention the eyes of millions of teens-on the Brit director's first multimillion dollar project, Andrews is cheerful and enthusiastic, dishing to BOXOFFICE about being a female director in Hollywood, the great chemistry between Cyrus and her co-star (and real-life boyfriend) Liam Hemsworth, and how, when thousands of teens surround your set, you don't need a walkie talkie to know the whereabouts of your leading lady.
This is a busy moment for you-your first big feature is about to be released.
And I'm prepping for pilot season. Mine is called Scoundrels-ABC has already picked it up as a series. It's about a family of petty criminals. It's a bit gritty, a bit of a different flavor. Goodfellas-ian, I would say. Virginia Madsen is in the lead. I love her-I'm so happy. It's really good material. I always think pilot season can't get crazier, and then it does. It's so busy.
Is TV your first love?
Oh, no. This is sort of my first movie, though I did a movie back home in the UK called Coming Down the Mountain. It was a made-for-TV movie, but in the UK, the relationship between TV and movies is much more fluid. I worked with all feature people. It was written by Mark Hadden. Do you know him? He's a novelist who wrote the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. He's critically well-acclaimed in the UK and this was his first screenplay. We worked together on the script for two years and then the BBC made it.
I've read that book-it was huge in my circle of friends, everyone passed it around.
It was so wonderful working with him because he has a completely unique mind. It was such a challenge to communicate and get his mind on the screen! I consider that my first feature film, but this is really cool because it's my first American studio feature.
And Disney has thrown so much of their weight behind it.
Disney's been so supportive all the way through. I've loved working with them. It was very gratifying that they were onboard from the time the dailies started coming back. They were really nice, and we were so far away. We were doing something really, really important to them in Savannah and I knew they were screening dailies back here and all talking and watching it on a huge screen. But really, the number of notes we got was very limited. They were just generally, genuinely, very very supportive of what we were doing with this movie. You hear the horror stories, obviously, but I can say nothing but good things in my experience.
Since The Last Song was penned by Nicholas Sparks, are you keeping tabs on the success of his one that just opened, Dear John?
It's funny. We were originally due to come out first and I was so happy. I was like, "Oh, we're going to come out in January!" And then Disney decided to move the date forward-which was a big vote of confidence in the movie, actually, to give it a bigger release-and then I thought, "Oh no." I went to see Dear John and that was a brave thing for me to do because, for me, Lasse Hallström is kind of a guru. I was very nervous when I went to see it and I just thought it was absolutely beautiful. It was an exquisite movie-and very, very different than ours. I was quite relieved.
Nicholas Sparks has had amazing luck with his screen adapations-they've always cast actors with a truly great chemistry. Dear John, too.
It definitely shows on the screen. I felt very happy from our first day of dailies that we had good chemistry between our leads. I was elated, in fact. You can just feel the chemistry between Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth.
And it doesn't hurt that they're now dating in real life.
I know! When you're directing a movie like this, that's the ultimate. You just don't ever imagine that that's really going to happen and then there you go.
This is a more dramatic role for Miley-how did you coach her on set for a deeper, more adult performance?
The thing about Miley is, she's just so brave. She puts herself heart and soul into everything that she does. That was the thing from this movie from the very beginning: she was deeply committed to this character and to this project. She would be a tightrope walker that would walk without a safety net. If I would ask her to go to an emotionally dark place, she would just go there. She needs very little prompting from me, actually. She's willing to throw herself into a role and be utterly fearless about it. I utterly admire that quality in her and I loved working with that-I really love working with talented actors with range, and that's what she is. I didn't really know her work before I got the movie. I've got two young boys, neither of them were really aware of her-they're too young. Hannah Montana is big in the UK, too, it was just my failing that I hadn't come across her. And then once I knew we'd be working together, I didn't watch her TV work. I wanted to see her fresh. And once I met her, I knew I could work with her. I was just blown away by her willingness to take risks and her boldness. And she's got a tremendous charisma. When she'd walk into the stage when we were doing our screen tests, everybody could just feel it. Everyone was like: there it is. That's real charisma there.
She comes across as very genuine. When I saw Hannah Montana: The Movie, I started to see what it was in her that teenage girls were so crazy about.
And they are really, really crazy. She's so famous. We would be shooting these carnival scenes and we'd be on set with her and she'd say, "Oh! I've got to go back to the trailer." And I'd say okay because we'd have an hour of lighting left, and I'd tell her we'd call her when we were ready. She'd leave the set and there'd be this enormous roar from the crowd that was waiting for her. We'd be like, "Okay, that's Miley going." And then when we're ready for her and wondering where she is, there'd be this enormous roar of "Miley! Miley!" from the thousands of people who were waiting for her, and we'd know she was on her way back. That was how we could tell her proximity to the set.
What do you want people to be talking about after they've seen The Last Song?
Obviously I'd be really happy if people were able to put Hannah Montana to one side and start talking about Miley as an actress. If that were to be the case, I'd be proud. I think she deserves that. In addition to that, Greg Kinnear is wonderful. I loved his performance in this movie. He's someone else who gives himself heart and soul to a role. We would talk about it for hours and hours just digesting it and getting the right beats for the scene. It's a tricky line that he walks. We wanted his character to be lovable, really embraceable. But yet he's flawed as a father. He's too tough on her at times, he's not perfect. We wanted him to have complete emotional complexity and I really hope people walk away remembering him. Also Bobby Coleman who plays Miley's younger brother. He's wonderful. I think the one thing they will walk about remembering is Liam Hensworth. He's going to arrive with this movie-he's so charismatic and handsome and a great actor. He's going to land hard with this movie and I'm really proud of that, as well.
And he's tall.
Oh, yes! When we were first looking at casting, he was fresh off the plane from Australia. He put his head around the door of the casting office and said, "Excuse me," in his Australian accent, "Does anybody know the way to casting?" He wasn't even coming to see us-it was the head of Disney casting he was going to see-but all the women in the office went, "I'll take you! I'll take you!" He had quite a strong impact on the room when he walked in, I'll put it that way.
No offense to your fellow Brits, but I have a friend who insists that sexy Australian accents are the new sexy British accents. Your countrymen are being replaced.
Oh no! But I can see that-I think they're right. There's something very alpha male about Liam that-oh god, now I'm going to get quoted saying that British men aren't alpha males! But there's something very manly about him. I can't go home ever again, now. My husband is British-he's very manly.