PS I Love You by LaGravenese

“PS I Love You,” is directed by Oscar nominee Richard LaGravenese (who wrote “The Fisher King”) from a screenplay by LaGravenese and Steven Rogers (“Kate & Leopold”), based on the novel by Cecelia Ahern.

The film's protag is Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank), a beautiful, smart woman married to Gerry (Gerard Butler), a passionate and funny Irishman. When Gerry dies, it takes the life out of Holly. But Gerry had planned ahead: Before he died, he wrote Holly a series of letters ro guide her through her grief and help her rediscover herself. The first message arrives on Holly's 30th birthday, ordering her to get out and celebrate. In the following weeks, more letters from Gerry are delivered in surprising ways, each sending her on a new adventure, each signing off with, 'P.S. I Love You.'

Writer/director LaGravenese offers, “My favorite stories are bittersweet–you laugh, you cry, you're movedThat's how life is; it's never one thing or another, and it shouldn't be because real life is a little messy. I want to make movies that reflect that.”

“P.S. I Love You” began as a novel of the same name by Irish author Cecelia Ahern, who was only 21 years old when she wrote her book about love, loss and hope, which became an international bestseller. “No matter what age you are or where you're from or what you do, we all experience love, and when you love somebody, you know what it's like to fear losing them,” Ahern relates. “The idea for the book was sparked from that feeling and all the emotions that come with it. It's a story about the fact that love lives on forever, and because it's such a hopeful story, that made it all the better.”

The story's hopeful message about the enduring power of love struck a chord with several of the filmmakers, who, as fate would have it, had each been recently touched by the loss of a loved one in their own lives.

As producer Finerman began developing with project, she turned to Richard LaGravense to helm the movie as well as to script it, working from an initial adaptation by Steven Rogers. Finerman comments, “The magic of Richard is that his words are so beautiful but so real. They sound the way we speak to each other in real life, so they evoke common emotions and you feel a real connection to the characters.”

LaGravenese's interest in “P.S. I Love You” was also colored by personal experience. He notes, “I had lost my dear friend Ted Demme, and the character of Gerry had a spirit that was very much like Teddy's–fun-loving and larger than life.”

With Finerman, Kosove, Johnson and Smith teamed up to produce the movie, they faced the possibility that LaGravenese would not be available to direct “P.S. I Love You,” due to his commitment to the film “Freedom Writers.” The decision was made to wait for him, which proved serendipitous when it came time to cast the central role of Holly.

Having just directed Hilary Swank in “Freedom Writers,” the director relished the opportunity to continue their collaboration. “I wanted Hilary for this because I had gotten to know her very well and we'd formed a wonderful partnership. Her talent goes without saying, but I also wanted the world to see her in the way I see her with all her humor, her goofiness and especially her beauty. I felt so damn lucky to be able to work again with an actress of her caliber.”

Swank plays the central role of Holly Kennedy, a young woman who seems to have it all until life deals her an unexpected hand. “Holly found love at a young age,” Swank remarks. “Gerry was her everything–her soul mate, her best friend, her lover, her husband. So when she loses him, all of a sudden she's alone in more ways than one because I don't think she quite knows how to handle life on her own. But he knew what she would be facing, so he wrote her letters to help her find herself again. And through the letters, I think she actually starts another relationship with Gerry in a way. It's interesting that he's so vividly there for her even though he's gone. She even gets mad at him, like when he tells her to get out there and sing karaoke again. But it was a fun journey to go through the ups and downs and emotions of the character to come to where she is at the end, which is, as we all are, a work in progress.”

LaGravenese says that the scene, which opens the film, was essential to immediately establish the relationship between Holly and Gerry. “When we first see Holly and Gerry, they're coming home from a dinner at her mother's house and they are fighting over something he said. I wanted to show a marriage in which they are so comfortable with each other that when they argue, it's like an obstacle course: it starts off with one thing and then turns to another and then, as the argument goes on, it gets closer and closer to the bone. I needed to establish a real love, a love that was messy and full of passion and disagreement but also familiarity and forgiveness and joy and love.”

“Basically, I think that scene sums up everything you could ever have in a marriage,” Butler smiles. “You get the anger and frustrations. You get the comedy. You get the familiarity. And then just the pure love that breaks through everything.”

“It was so important for the audience to instantly be thrust into their marriage–to be able to tell that these two people have been together a long time and to see their deep love for each other,” says Smith. “Once you've experienced that, to then find out that Holly has lost Gerry, you're devastated for her because you've seen what he was to her.”

In fact, Gerry's first instructions are not only to Holly, but also to her best friends, Denise and Sharon, to get out and celebrate Holly's birthday together. “Denise and Sharon seem to represent two aspects of life,” relates Lisa Kudrow, who plays Denise. “Sharon is married and is on her way to building a family, while Denise is still single. She is looking for the right guy, but she doesn't want to waste time, so she has her checklist. She's definitely not shy,” she laughs, “but, most importantly, she's a good friend.”

For the role of Sharon, LaGravenese turned to his close friend Gina Gershon, whom he had met through their mutual friendship with Ted Demme. “It was clear to me from the start that I wanted Gina to play Sharon because of what she would personally bring to it and also because I wanted Sharon to have an edge, even though she is the more maternal one of the group.”

Swank comments, “I thought Richard captured so well the way girlfriends act together–the way they talk and the shorthand that happens in just a look or an inside joke that no one else gets. The characters are all so fleshed out and multidimensional and Holly's relationship with them is so clear. It was just lovely.”

Holly's friend Sharon is married to John, who, as often happens with couples, was Gerry's best friend. John is played by James Marsters, who offers, “John is in a bit of a strange position because he loved Gerry, too, and maybe he's feeling a little left out. John thinks he will never have another friend like Gerry–that you don't really ever find another true best friend once you're an adult.”

For LaGravenese, it was especially important to convey how John is feeling, having gone through a similar experience. “The best friend of a guy who dies loses a relationship that is hard to describe to people and is often overlooked. It's hard to put into words, but it's something that we feel deeply. I thought this would be a good opportunity to try to put into words what male friendship means to some guys. James is a terrific actor, and I think he did a great job expressing that aspect of the story.”

LaGravenese calls working with Kathy Bates “an honor. She is one of my all-time favorite actresses so I was thrilled when she took the role. In fact, I went back and added to her character to give her and Hilary more scenes because how often do you have the privilege of having two great actresses like that together. And, I was told by Hilary that Kathy even looks like her own mom, so that was another plus.”

Making her feature film debut, singer/songwriter Nellie McKay plays Holly's wildly eccentric younger sister, Ciara. “Nellie is a force of nature,” LaGravenese states. “She is this amazing free spirit, incredibly imaginative, and her voice and style are unique. When she came in to audition, I said, 'That's Ciara.' I couldn't see anyone else in that part.

Ciara's ability to say what's on her mind–often at inappropriate moments–is matched by Daniel, played by Harry Connick, Jr. The new bartender in Patricia's pub, Daniel meets and forms an instant attraction to Holly at, of all places, Gerry's wake. “Daniel is interesting because he is very spontaneous and says things that are unpredictable, and doesn't feel the need to apologize if people are taken aback,” Connick remarks. “He becomes a shoulder for Holly to lean on because he is the one person among her friends who didn't know Gerry so there's no reason for him to tread lightly or walk on eggshells when his name comes up, which she finds refreshing. Daniel is brave enough to speak his mind, and I think that is helpful to Holly in dealing with her loss.”

LaGravenese adds, “Daniel is one of those people who can't help being blunt and isn't sensitive to the usual social cues, which made him very funny. I think Harry loved that side of the character because he is one of the funniest guys in the world with a very twisted sense of humor, so he folded very well into the part of Daniel. The joke on the set was that there is a lot of music in this movie, but Harry Connick, Jr. is the only one not singing,” he laughs.

The other man who comes into Holly's life is William, a handsome Irishman whom she meets when one of Gerry's letters sends her, Denise and Sharon to the place the couple had first met: Ireland. William is played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who was brought to LaGravenese's attention by his own female focus group: his wife and teenage daughter. The director recalls, “My wife and daughter are huge 'Grey's Anatomy' fans, so while I was in the middle of casting, my wife sat me down and told me I had to watch these three episodes of the show. And there's Jeffrey Dean Morgan playing Denny, who I'd been hearing about all over the place. I thought he was great and he looked perfect for the part, so we cast him as William.”

The character of William does not appear in Cecelia Ahern's novel, which is one of the modifications LaGravenese made in taking “P.S. I Love You” from book to screenplay. However, he got the seal of approval from perhaps the one person who mattered most to him, the author herself. Ahern confirms, “When I read the script, I was laughing and crying; I just thought Richard completely captured the spirit of the book. Maybe the body of it was slightly different, but the heart was exactly the same.”

In bringing Ahern's novel to the screen, the filmmakers shifted the primary setting of the story from Ireland to Manhattan, but it was still important to them to pay homage to the roots of both the book and its author. “I wanted to put Ireland in there in a big way,” LaGravenese states, “so the character of Gerry is still Irish, and I created the story that he and Holly first met in Ireland.”

At Gerry's behest, Holly also returns to Ireland to visit his family home and retrace the first steps of their relationship. Gerry somehow knew that revisiting the past was the best way to point Holly to a new future, and, LaGravenese smiles, “it gave me a reason to go back and shoot in Ireland, which is one of my favorite places on earth.”