If conversation is the best kind of foreplay, then Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is practically shivering with anticipation. The movie, directed by Sophie Hyde and scripted by Katy Brand, stars Emma Thompson as a recently-widowed, former religion teacher, Nancy, who hires a sex worker, Leo (Daryl McCormack), in a bid to have good sex for the first time in her life. Yet, much of their time together is actually spent talking.
Over multiple meetings in the same nondescript hotel room and in various states of undress, Nancy and Leo converse on the bed, converse on the couch, converse at the window where any passing lookie-loo could see. They go long tackling thorny issues around sex, sex work, class, power, aging and feminism, with Nancy and Leo constantly challenging one another's preconceptions and occasionally opening up with stories of their respective pasts.
"For me, the big thing about directing, particularly when it's performance-heavy like this, is that you are constantly trying to be so present," Hyde tells A.frame of her process on set. "Everything has to fall away — all your other thoughts — and in a way, you're inside it with the actors. I never felt like I was just watching; I always felt like I was living with them."
For Thompson and McCormack, that meant performing up to 12 pages of dialogue-heavy scene work at a time. "It wasn't the sort of material where it was like, 'We just need this line in this one shot, so quick jump into that moment!'" Hyde explains. "For me to get the performance that I wanted and for them to stay in it, we needed these long takes. That was a real challenge — for the camera team and the lighting team and everybody. They had to rise to that challenge, too."
Those chats wind up being as revealing as anything else in the movie, although in truth, it was everything else that required the actors to rise to the occasion. "It was a really nerve-wracking thing for Daryl to step into that role. For anyone to step into a two-hander opposite Emma Thompson is quite significant, I think," his director says. The Irish actor and relative newcomer, previously perhaps best known for his work on the small screen in Peaky Blinders, appears in nearly every scene of this film, opposite a scene partner who is a two-time Oscar winner (Thompson won Best Actress for the 1992 romantic drama Howards End, then Best Adapted Screenplay for 1995's Sense and Sensibility.).
"Emma is just so skillful, but part of what makes her incredibly skillful and so generous is what she offers the people that she works alongside," adds Hyde. "There's no diva behavior. She put an enormous amount of faith in both Daryl and I. She told us and she showed us that she had that faith. That sounds like something that seems obvious, but it wasn't. It was a really beautiful thing to be given."
That trust becomes a necessity on a movie where, all talking aside, the characters are meeting for one very specific reason. Much has been made of Thompson filming her first nude scene in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande ("It's very challenging to be nude at 62," she's said), and there is absolutely audacity in anybody — and perhaps especially a woman of a certain age — appearing in the nude on camera. But when the moment arrives in the film, it is revolutionary in another way: It's the powerful conclusion to the thesis of the whole movie, a moving call for us all to be kinder to our bodies.
"We're so horrible to our bodies, aren't we?" Hyde says. "We are soaked in this culture that tells us that our bodies aren't enough, that our bodies are flawed, they're problematic, and most importantly, that they are there for the way that they look. They are there for someone else's vision of them. And we do it all the time to ourselves. It really is distressing when you start to think about it."
"It became important to me that in light of that culture, the idea that Nancy could access an orgasm isn't an achievement. It's like, this is here in my body all the time. Therefore, it's a reminder that your body is your home, it does all these beautiful things for you. It's not a billboard for your life; it's not about how it looks." She elaborates, "We were trying to find a way for that to be there — not in a big, huge, grand, bombastic way, but in that way that I think Nancy looks at herself in the end without judgment. She looks [at herself] and she thinks about her body for what it can do for her, rather than for how it looks. That's sadly rare. It's an amazing thing we can offer each other when we're looking at each other with love and respect. But in the end, it had to come down to Nancy on her own."
By John Boone