Interview with HUMANITAS Trustee Richard LaGravenese

Richard LaGravenese returns to the director's chair this week with musical The Last Five Years, which is based on the show by Jason Robert Brown - it marks he first time that the filmmaker has tackled a musical project during his career.

We caught up with him to chat about the film, what inspired him to turn this hit and well loved musical into a movie, and bringing together a terrific cast who show off their great singing ability as well as their acting talent.

- The Last Five Years is set to hit the big screen here in the UK next week, so can you tell me a bit about the film?

The Last Five Years is based in and off-Broadway musical by Jason Robert Brown that appeared in about 2002. Amongst musical theatre go-ers and lovers, it is a classic musical score; the public, but those inside the musical theatre circle it is a very well known and much beloved score do not as well know it. It tells the story of a young man and a young woman who fall in love, get married, and split up in the space of five years.

It is all done through song - in the musical it is done through song monologues and not operetta or anything like Les Miserables. There are two time lines; all of the girl songs start at the end of the relationship and go backwards in time to the beginning, while all of the men's songs start at the beginning of the relationship and go to the end. In the cutting back and forth, you get a rather fascinating exploration into male/female relationships.

- You are in the director's chair and have penned the screenplay, so where did this project start for you? What was it about the musical that you thought would make a great movie? 

I am a musical theatre lover and I just love the score. I had never seen the show; I had actually fell in love with the score first. As I was listening to it over and over, I would imagine it being played out. It is a very honest story and a very honest score - the lyrics are so insightful and so bare the human feelings of love, infidelity, love gone wrong, and when love is right. Jason Robert Brown writes with such precision, honesty, and insight that really got me emotionally as a piece. In terms of writing the screenplay, it really is all Jason; all I did was adapt if for film.

I had a vision about how to portray these songs as playable scenes - on stage they are done as singular monologues and the two characters never sing to each other expect on the one occasion when the two timelines converge. Other than that, they sing out to the audience. What I imagined, is that they are scenes between the characters, which added another dimension to the story. Not only do you then understand the person that is singing, but you also understand how it is affecting the person who is being sung to. It added more depth to the story for me.

- As you said Jason Robert Brown's lyrics are the focal point of the screenplay - I imagine that you have never written a script in this way before?

No, I haven't and it was a great challenge. I am a writer and my DNA is that of a writer; even though I have directed before, I feel as though I have directed a film as a writer and not as a director. Number one, because it wasn't my material and number two, I had such confidence in this material I had this freedom to just visualise it.

The second reason of wanting to do this project - after loving the material - was the challenge of pushing myself to just visualise how the camera is telling the story, how the staging is telling the story, how the costume design and the production design is telling the story; for me it felt like this is the first film that I have directed.

- What elements of this story were you really keen to explore with this movie? And where there any elements of the play that you thought could be expanded on further in the film?

I wanted to explore an even-handed love story where everyone has their reasons and you see the beauty and passion of a love affair and how it deteriorates - not because there no love there but because relationships are very hard and marriages are very hard (laughs). Any of us who have been there know that.

I wanted to tell a story where you do see both sides of the story and hopefully, you can understand both; no one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong, it is just the way that love affairs often go because we are different people. Love, to me, isn't always this romantic notion of forever; sometimes we fall in love with people simply to learn more about ourselves and we have to suffer the pain of loss to grow.

Read more at Female First UK: