Even before earning Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor for their roles in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant were thrilled with the film’s reception at the London Film Festival.
We spoke to the two stars about the somewhat unexpected success of this Lee Israel biopic, and about how it felt portraying real-life people with such complex stories.
“They’re so opposed, and on paper you’d think that these two people would never be friends,” says Grant, “and yet they are and it’s a true story… and she’s a lesbian and he’s gay, and he’s on this timebomb of being HIV positive, and you see that he dies at the end of the story. So that lends an enormous poignancy and undertone, knowing that this is what is ahead – and that informs his hedonism, knowing to live today for today because tomorrow may never come.”
McCarthy stated that she felt personally invested in the lives of their characters, explaining that “I think you work so hard on a movie, and it’s like summer camp on steroids – you just fall in love with all these people; And in this case, I feel protective of Lee and Jack and their story.
“So, when you start hearing from people that they’re really connecting to the film, it’s all you can really hope for. And personally, I think more people knowing who Lee Israel was, and picking up her books, reading them and finding out what an incredible writer she was, that’s really exciting to me. That means the most to me,” she concludes.
Filmed quickly and on a relatively limited budget, Grant expresses how “astonishing” the reception has been from critics and festival audiences alike – at the time of the interview, the film had not yet been released to wider audiences. “We made this film in January last year, for 28 days over six weeks! And it’s such an intimate story, and Melissa and I got on so extraordinarily well…
“It was shot in the Julius bar, which is the oldest gay bar in Manhattan, and in the bookshops where they did all these literary scams. You felt that you were authentically walking where these people lived. You’re honouring them in some proper way, so it was an amazing experience.”
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is out in cinemas now, distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.