George Michael demanded Emma Thompson for ‘Last Christmas’
Sometimes you gotta have faith — and Emma Thompson.
Both were necessary in the case of “Last Christmas,” the new romantic-comedy inspired by the titular holiday classic from Wham! After about eight years in development, the film — starring Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) and Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”) — finally hits theaters Friday, but it never would have gotten off the ground without meeting a certain demand from George Michael.
“I got told, ‘I’ll only do it if Emma Thompson will write it,’ ” says producer David Livingstone, who had the original idea to build a holiday movie around the 1984 Wham! tune. “I had worked in a different capacity on ‘Nanny McPhee’ and ‘Love Actually,’ so I knew Emma. I sent her a note, and she said, ‘I never get offered material like this. I’d love to do it!’ ”
Thompson — who, in addition to co-writing the screenplay and co-developing the story, also has a supporting role in the movie — met with Wham’s former frontman at his home and sealed the deal with the treatment that she presented.
Still, the project didn’t exactly get on the fast track to the big screen. And things took a tragic turn when Michael died on Christmas 2016. He was 53.
“There was nothing specific holding us up except respect,” says Livingstone. “I was not looking forward to the moment when I sent the script over [to Michael’s family] because I just thought, ‘Are they ready?’ Then George’s manager [David Austin], with the blessing of the family, came back to us and said, ‘What happened to that film?’ ”
It was Austin who also offered a previously unreleased Michael song, “This Is How (We Want You To Get High),” which the singer had completed in late 2015 during his final recording sessions.
“It was played at Emma’s house while I was there,” says Livingstone of the tune, which can be heard over the credits of “Last Christmas.”
With the film rolling again, Thompson sent the script to director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”). “I was in the moment I read it,” says Feig, who signed on about a year and a half ago.
Initially the movie was only supposed to feature “Last Christmas” and Michael’s solo hit “Faith,” but Feig wanted to add much more of the pop star’s catalog after seeing the 2017 Showtime documentary “George Michael: Freedom.”
“I went from being a casual fan of the hits to going like, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s done all these other songs that I’d never heard that just sounded so amazing,’ ” he says. “So I got all the albums and just started going through them track by track.”
Feig discovered lesser-known Michael tunes that play a role in “Last Christmas,” such as “Heal the Pain” (from 1990’s “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1” album). “Once I found that, I was just like, ‘This is our movie,’ ” Feig says. “It really talks about all the themes.”
Eventually, he would use 15 Michael and Wham! songs in the movie, including hits such as “Everything She Wants,” “One More Try” and “Praying for Time.” But the singer is represented by more than just his music: The homeless shelter in the movie is a nod to him, too.
“When Emma had filled [George] in on what she was doing … he asked her if she could put in a homeless element because that was such an important cause to him,” says Feig. “So it really is nice to have that in there because it’s something that he wanted.”
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