Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is coming out at the right time. Kind, contained, and funny, this film––written by Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hyde––serves as an antidote to a weary world. The premise is simple: retiree Nancy (Emma Thompson) has booked a sex worker named Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) to fulfill desires that have lain dormant for the majority of her life. The film opens on their first meeting, wringing both dramatic and comedic tension out of the scenario. The acting is top-notch, as is the writing. Hyde’s ability to merge it all together is a feat all its own.
As it arrives on Hulu, we were lucky enough to speak with both Hyde and Brand about the film, its inceptions, the themes within, and the honor of working with a legend like Emma Thompson.
The Film Stage: To start, how does the film come together?
Sophie Hyde: First, it’s Katy! Katy goes, ‘I’ve got an image of a woman in a hotel room’ and she sits down and writes it! She listens to the voices and gets out a concept. And that’s the very first thing and without that moment, of course, it definitely never comes to the screen.
Katy Brand: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I mean, I had this idea to set up the scenario for quite a few years, and I had pictured this opening scene of Nancy waiting nervously having done the deed and booked [Leo Grande] and is now terrified he is actually going to arrive and not having any idea what’s going to happen. And then there’s a knock at the door. We open it and there’s Leo and it begins. That rolled around my head for a while and I just couldn’t quite put it down, but I never quite had the time. Didn’t quite feel right. And then January 2020, I just set aside a week just on my own. It wasn’t an idea I’d ever talked to anyone about and just thought, just write the draft and you’ll see how they speak and see what happens. And I just really enjoyed writing that. I wrote it only for myself. And then I started to hear Emma Thompson’s voice and just enjoyed that, but never dreamed that she might actually do it. I thought maybe it would get put on a little theater somewhere but mostly I thought, ‘I don’t know what to do with this and no one would ever see it so I can just write whatever I want.’ So I just really enjoyed myself and then put it away.
And then I was put in touch with Debbie Bray, the producer, who was looking for things they could shoot that were quite tight and small. And I said, ‘Well I have this thing actually.’ And she said, ‘Who did you have in mind for Nancy?’ And I said, ‘Well, I wrote it with Emma Thompson’s voice in my head but that seems a bit of a dream.’ I did know Emma, but also I have this professional respect. I make a boundary, I don’t just hassle her with any old stuff. So Debbie said, ‘Why don’t you send it to Emma if you wrote it for her? That’s a bit crazy not to even send it.’ And so I did. And Emma came back very positively and said, ‘Yes, let’s do this.’ So then it felt really like okay people are going to see this. All this stuff I was writing that I thought no one would ever see. Turns out everyone is going to see it! So that became both exciting and terrifying.
And then Sophie [Hyde] and Daryl [McCormack] came on and we started to work on it and more drafts, and then suddenly we were shooting. So it was all quite quick. Partly because of global circumstances and [also] Emma’s schedule. Debbie was the producer saying, ‘We’re going to get this made one way or the other,’ but once Emma came on board, it felt like this is really going to happen and this could actually happen pretty fast. So that was the sort of bit where, where I pushed it on. And then Sophie as the director takes it on and moves it into the actual state of filmmaking.
So you have Emma, the living legend that she is, who is great in this movie. She herself is a writer. So when you are all collaborating is that a little different than your normal lead actor?
Sophie Hyde: It certainly was a very collaborative set but not in the way of like we’re changing text or dialogue. The dialogue was quite tight by the time we got to the rehearsal room, and there was certainly no room for us to expand on that. We had to shoot very quickly and they needed to have that banter, so they needed to learn it. I guess what’s unique about Emma is that, yes, she has got an amazing kind of story brain and writer’s brain and every actor kind of comes at things differently. And so she’s one of the ones who come into really thinking about the story as a whole, as well as her character. So she’s just very smart and she’s got a great nose for what audiences think, too. So you certainly listen when Emma speaks, not just because she’s Dame Emma Thompson and awesome, but also because she’s got a great sense of that and you want to hear what she says. And she sort of seems to tap into a whole lot of audience that really respond to her. But it’s not like Emma is a demanding person like ‘take this out.’ I never felt that we had anything like that from her. I just felt that the collaboration was just like, get in and, and keep trying to find what we’re doing and make it better and better. But so for sure, collaborative.
I’m always curious about this. So obviously this isn’t a one-location film, but the look is similar throughout. And obviously you love the writing and you love your actors. When you’re making it and then when you’re in the editing room, how are you fighting against any sort of redundancy within the aesthetic? Making it as dynamic as possible?
Sophie Hyde: When I came in and it was a two-hander, essentially in one room, I thought, this is brilliant. Like, I love the idea of just actors and like focused on them and this and the dialogue and then their bodies and stuff. Then I was like, ‘Oh God, this is a huge challenge! How are we going to keep this cinematic?’ And my feeling is that you’re trying to kind of keep the performance at the center and the characters at the center. But also, you really want it to be pleasurable for an audience and pleasurable for an audience can kind of look like many different things. You know, it can be sad or funny or sexy or whatever. So trying to move through those spaces by working with the creative team and in particular the cinematographer and editor Brian. And our sound designer and composer. It was like shifting things out so that we become much more intimate inside the world of the characters. Then moving back. We shifted the camera from being quite static at the start to kind of running around them and turned it into handheld at a point. And, you know, at times we kind of really enjoy the landscape of the bodies and at times we’re all right [being] back. And it’s really the dialogue that takes over. It’s a bit of a shifting, changing map.
Katy, Leo has that great monologue about an hour in about liking giving other people pleasure. It reminded me a bit of that great monologue Richard Gere has in American Gigolo. Of course, it’s a different movie from forty years ago, but I’m wondering where you took inspiration from for this screenplay?
Katy Brand: Well, the idea of sex work as work and as a job and as a profession that you’re proud of and that you’re good at is something that is always really interested me. But also the idea of a vocational aspect to it. It just seems to be a degree of enlightenment in those people that goes beyond, I think, what the norm is. They push through to a different layer of understanding about humanity, about sex, about, you know, all of these different things and how they interplay without judgment. It just seems to me to be an incredibly enlightening place to be. And I know that there are many sex workers who just do it for money or that they just enjoy it. But Leo was initially a character based on things that I had just sought out myself, that I was interested in documentaries, news articles. I spent a lot of time in Germany and sex work is legal here in the Netherlands. There are practices, clinics, and people set up. It’s not just about having a Red Light District, although there are those too, but there are people who consider themselves practitioners, like almost care in the care industry, people who can’t experience sex more straightforwardly in the way that some others may. And so that has always been really interesting to me. I think it’s just a level of enlightenment that is fascinating.
And I think that sex positivity should be encouraged more generally among younger people and people should be allowed to explore their own sexuality together naturally and organically without name-calling or shame or guilt. The shame starts so early and it just infects everything. And so to have people who then just throw off all of that––even if they’ve experienced it earlier in their life or had it thrown at them––that they have managed to work through that in the way that Leo has, I wanted him to represent that and to be that man. And because they do exist and I’ve read about them and only six months ago in the national newspaper in Germany, there was a whole profile about a sex worker who sounded just like Leo and some of his clients were older women. So that’s always something I was really interested in, and I wanted to see positivity put at some point on screen. But then really when Sophie first got involved––and I was really pleased about this––we really started to work directly with individual sex workers and also proper formal consulting. And they gave notes on the script and I know that Darren and Sophie talked to them at length. I found all of their output really fascinating and really, really useful.
Sophie Hyde: You were asking about the idea of Leo enjoying pleasure and actually taking pleasure in someone else’s pleasure. It’s part of the same response in many ways. Leo’s history is that he’s been shamed for taking pleasure where it was naturally found.
And yet he’s still driven to this thing so much so that he’s found a way to kind of help other people kind of engage with that. And it’s not just help as in like ‘I’m doing this for you,’ but he genuinely, you know, gets off on it. He genuinely feels pleasure from other people’s pleasure. And I think there are a lot of people like that. Everyone has their own sexual kind of desires and drives and so he probably really enjoys connecting with humans and having intimacy as well. And so he’s in a great job for him. I think it’s really nice to think that as a sex worker he still does have preferences and things that he likes, and they’re not necessarily the things that he’s going to do in every room, but they are still there, they exist.
Empathy as a driving force is such a kind element. And makes it a great movie to watch. Especially now! So that’s refreshing.
Sophie Hyde: Isn’t it?!
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is now on Hulu.