Wayne Wang on Last Holiday

Wayne Wang is one of the few directors who can artfully balance comedy and emotion. He knows how to draw performances from actors, and humor from context and characters
–Producer Laurence Mark

In “The Last Holiday,” Wayne Wang's new romantic comedy, Queen Latifah plays Georgia Byrd, a young woman living a small live tucked inside big dreams. A shy cookware salesperson for a department store, Georgia handles knives and skillets with the flair of a master chef. However, when a misdiagnosis leads Georgia to believe that her days are numbered, she decides that if her fate is to go, she'll going to go with a bang, in grand style. To that extent, she embarks on a dream holiday vacation to a grand resort in Europe.

Thinking she has nothing to lose, Georgia undergoes a metamorphosis, and her transformation affects everyone around her. Georgia's newly uninhibited personality shakes up the place's staff and guests alike, including vet chef (French star Gerard Depardieu) and her retail magnate boss (Timothy Hutton), who becomes convinced that she's a rival intent on sabotaging his business plans.

It will be interesting to see how the public reacts to a romantic comedy shot in New Orleans. Production on “Last Holiday” began in New Orleans, which became a second home to many of the staff and crew. The city's working-class neighborhoods provide a backdrop for the early part of the film, as the home of the frugal Georgia. Unfortunately, those neighborhoods became well known around the world after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Known for juxtaposing high concept studio fare like Maid in Manhattan, starring Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes, with personal and intimate stories, such as “Eat a Bowl of Tea” and “Smoke,” Wayne says he was drawn to the project because of its examination of the unexpected twists and turns of everyday life.

Living for the Moment

I've always been fascinated by the idea of living for the moment, as if every single day counts. It's something I've attempted to explore both in my work and personal lifeprobably with equal amounts of success and failure.

Existential Comedy

The comedy taps into basic human emotions. Perhaps life's greatest challenge is to be responsible to your future, without neglecting the opportunities of the present.

Personal Touch

At the time I was given the script I had recently lost my father, who was a cautious man, to an accident. It reminded me of how many situations we encounter each day that are uncontrollable, despite our precautions, and inspired me to want to explore the idea of the preciousness of life and the unpredictability of fate.

On Latifah's Character

At the beginning of the movie, Latifah plays a character completely different from the way I've always imagined her. Georgia starts out emotionally handicapped, someone who can't really speak her mind.

On Latifah as Actress

Latifah really dug deep and came through with those scenes as the character deals with her own emotions about dying.

On Casting Gerard Depardieu

For the role of Didier, the brilliant, volatile, mischievous, seasoned chef at the Grand Hotel Pupp, we wanted larger-than-life Depardieu, who embodies all facets of the character. We knew that the French icon is now in self-professed semi-retirement and that Last Holiday could represent his last American screen role.

During pre-production, I read an article in the N.Y. Times Magazine about Depardieu's restaurant and his knowledge of cuisine. I was excited that he would be bringing such joy and enthusiasm to the movie.

Food Lover

As a food lover, I've dealt lovingly with the culinary arts in “Eat a Bowl of Tea” and “Dim Sum.” I wanted to make a bigger meal of the food in this film, so to speak. We met with Susan Stockton at the Food Network in New York. I stressed a desire for fresh ingredients and for the food to look organic and rustic.

Cross-Cultural Cooking

I really liked the idea of a French chef working in Central Europe during the winter, a man who has to be very creative in preparing dishes, as he doesn't have access to all the produce he might have in Paris.

Shooting in New Orleans

I also directed “Because of Winn-Dixie” in New Orleans. There's something about the south and the black community in New Orleans that is very soulful and real. Faith and church are vital, almost organic, to the community, which plays perfectly to Georgia's character.