With nearly a dozen storylines interweaved through its 135-minute running time, Love Actually is essentially a rom-com selection box. And thanks to its festive setting, the star-studded hit has also become a staple of the holiday season since its release in 2003. We’re guessing that if you’re reading this, chances are you’re already a big fan, but here’s a look at 40 lesser-known facts about the film that might mean you enjoy your umpteenth rewatch this festive season even more. If that’s possible, that is….
40. Bill Nighy auditioned by accident
Bill Nighy, an actor with an uncanny knack for stealing the show however big or small his role, plays jaded rocker Billy Mack. But did you know he didn’t officially audition for the part? In 2013 he told website The Daily Beast, “I did a rehearsal reading of the script as a favor to the great casting director who had been trying to get me into a film for a long time. I thought it was simply to help her hear the script aloud and to my genuine surprise I was given the job.”
39. Rowan Atkinson’s character was supposed to be supernatural
Rowan Atkinson famously plays the jewelry salesman whose distraction techniques enable young Sam to complete his mad airport dash. But Curtis initially planned for the character to have more of an ethereal presence. That’s right: Rufus was first written as an actual angel, rather than just a guardian one. Perhaps wisely, the director soon knocked this offbeat idea on the head.
38. Martine McCutcheon’s role was written for her
While hugely familiar to British audiences thanks to her stint in soap opera EastEnders, Martine McCutcheon was a virtual unknown in the States. That didn’t deter Richard Curtis from writing the part of Natalie, the prime minister’s love interest, especially for her, though. In 2013 he told British newspaper The Guardian, “I even called the character Martine, though I had to change it before the read-through so she didn’t think she’d already got it.”
37. Harry really did have an affair
In 2015 the film’s script editor, and Richard Curtis’ wife, Emma Freud live-tweeted a Love Actually screening in which she also answered several followers’ queries. When asked whether Alan Rickman’s Harry really did cheat on his wife, Freud made things crystal clear, replying “[He] definitely had an affair. I begged Richard just to make it a flirtation. But, no, the whole way.”
36. The U.S. release replaces a song from the U.K.’s
The art gallery’s Christmas party scene in the U.K. version is soundtracked by girl group Sugababes’ “Too Lost in You.” But on the other side of the Atlantic, audiences were treated to a completely different ballad. That’s right: perhaps due to her much-bigger profile in the States, Kelly Clarkson and her early hit “The Trouble with Love Is” was chosen to accompany the scene instead.
35. A lesbian subplot was deleted
You have to feel for Anne Reid and Frances de la Tour. The two actresses should have been part of one of the most successful Christmas films in recent memory. But unfortunately their heart-breaking storyline was removed from the final edit. Reid played a school principal, while de la Tour was cast as her wife, stricken with a chronic and life-ending disease.
34. An African storyline was also left on the cutting room floor
The only other storyline that was left on the cutting room floor also involved a minority. Richard Curtis and his crew traveled to Kenya to film a tale of an African couple relying on each other to get through a period of starvation-level food shortages. But like the lesbian subplot, this footage never made it into the finished Love Actually.
33. Emma Thompson wore a fat suit
It seems unlikely that anyone would have spotted this particular wardrobe secret. We’re hardly talking Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor, for example. But yes, in order to make her character appear a little more mumsier, Emma Thompson was required to wear a fat suit while playing the cheated-on wife Karen.
32. Thomas Brodie Sangster is Hugh Grant’s second cousin
Prime minister David and lovestruck tween Sam don’t interact in the film. But the actors who played them certainly know each other off set. Yes, Hugh Grant and Thomas Brodie Sangster are second cousins! In a 2011 interview with British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, the latter recalled how his much older co-star would often ruffle his hair when their paths crossed behind the scenes.
31. Richard Curtis cast his two kids
A lobster and a wise man with his face painted as Spider-Man? The school Nativity featured in Love Actually certainly wasn’t a traditional one. But it also gave Richard Curtis’ two kids the chance to appear on camera for the first time. His daughter Scarlett plays the slightly out-of-place crustacean, while one of his sons is the boy mixing Christianity and Marvel.
30. The lake was only 18 inches deep
Colin Firth and Lúcia Moniz’s acting abilities were sorely tested in the scene in which Jamie and Aurelia head into the lake to recover the former’s manuscript. The body of water was only 1ft 6in deep. Yes, both stars had to crawl around on their knees to convince audiences they were actually swimming. And poor Firth suffered an avocado-sized mosquito bite to his elbow as a result.
29. Curtis recycled a scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral
Richard Curtis famously made his name nine years earlier with Four Weddings and a Funeral. And when it came to writing the awkward encounter between the wedding caterer and Kris Marshall’s Colin, the director decided to revisit his former glory. Yes, this particular scene was first written for the 1994 rom-com that also launched Hugh Grant to fame but never made it into the finished version.
28. There’s a Bridget Jones connection
Both Colin Firth and Hugh Grant had appeared in Bridget Jones’ Diary two years previously. But what you might not realize is that’s not the only connection between Love Actually and the famous 30-something singleton. The flat that belongs to Laura Linney’s Sarah was inspired by the real-life home of Bridget Jones author, and long-time friend of Curtis, Helen Fielding.
27. Hugh Grant hated his dancing scene
Many aficionados insist that the scene where Hugh Grant’s prime minister throws some embarrassing shapes to The Pointer Sisters’ “Jump” is the film’s most memorable moment. But it’s fair to say that the actor didn’t enjoy it quite as much as audiences. In 2013 Richard Curtis revealed to website The Daily Beast, “He kept on putting it off, and he didn’t like the song. It was originally a Jackson 5 song, but we couldn’t get it – so he was hugely unhappy about it.”
26. The airport reunions were real
Love Actually’s highly emotional motif didn’t involve any professional actors. Those shots of people hugging their nearest and dearest at the airport as they return home? Well, these are actually real-life scenes captured by camera men stationed at London’s Heathrow Airport. But don’t worry: each and every person shown on screen agreed for their tear-jerking reunion to be included in the film.
25. Andrew Lincoln had reservations about his character
From his unique approach to wedding videography to that cue cards gesture, Mark’s behavior toward his best friend’s wife is questionable, to say the least. And the man who played him had reservations about the character when he first bagged the role. Andrew Lincoln admitted to entertainment website The Wrap in 2016 that he once asked Richard Curtis about whether Mark was a stalker. But the director apparently replied, “No, no. Not with you playing it, darling. You’ll be alright.”
24. The cast shared a trailer park village
The sheer size of the cast inspired producers to create a large trailer park village to accommodate them all. In 2013 Bill Nighy explained to British newspaper The Guardian, “There were so many famous people in there, we used to talk about being on Liam Neeson Way or Emma Thompson Road or Hugh Grant Avenue. And it was a masterpiece of diplomacy, too; we all had the same size and type of trailer.”
23. There was a 45-minute meeting over Aurelia’s underwear
Apparently one of the biggest behind-the-scenes talking points involved underwear! When Jamie’s manuscript is blown by the wind into the lake, Aurelia soon strips off to try and save the day. In his commentary for the film’s DVD release, Richard Curtis admitted that he and his team spent the best part of an hour debating exactly what kind of bra and pants combination the character should wear.
22. Andrew Lincoln handwrote the cue cards
Whether you think those cue cards are wildly romantic or downright creepy, you have to admit that the handwriting featured is pretty. And it turns out that the man holding them was kind of responsible. In 2013 Andrew Lincoln told magazine Entertainment Weekly that he overwrote stencilled outlines provided by the art department to pen the declaration of love.
21. The U.S. bar scene was improvised
In a 2015 interview with VH1, Elisha Cuthbert claimed the U.S. bar scene in which, alongside Ivana Milicevic and January Jones, she flirts with Kris Marshall was off the cuff. She said, “It was such a creative space and we were allowed to improvise and try different things and it wasn’t just completely set into Richard’s writing. I mean we were allowed to sort of venture… It was nice that we got to sort of play around.”
20. Producers made Olivia Olson’s voice sound worse
It’s common for a singer’s voice to be tampered with to make it sound better. But using studio trickery to make it sound worse? Well, that’s what Richard Curtis did after hearing Olivia Olson’s pitch-perfect rendition of Mariah Carey’s festive classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” The director believed that the youngster’s performance was too flawless to be believable for a school production. And so he asked for editors to make it more breathless.
19. Rodrigo Santoro believes Karl and Sarah got together
Laura Linney’s Sarah and Rodrigo Santoro’s Karl appear in one of the few Love Actually storylines that doesn’t have a happy ending. But the latter actor believes that audiences would be left more satisfied if there was a follow-up. When asked by BuzzFeed News’ web series AM to DM about the prospect of Sarah and Karl getting together in a sequel, the Brazilian replied, “Yes, definitely yes.”
18. Emma Freud believes Sarah and Karl remained apart
Rodrigo Santoro’s optimism about the romantic fortunes of Sarah and Karl isn’t shared by Love Actually’s script editor. During a 2015 live-tweeting of the hit movie, Emma Freud was asked about the fate of the pair. Not only did the wife of director Richard Curtis confirm that the tryst was doomed, she also went so far as to describe it as “tragic” – though whether this is referring to the relationship, or Sarah’s future wellbeing generally, isn’t entirely clear.
17. Laura Linney wishes Sarah hadn’t picked up the phone
Sarah and Karl’s romance sadly burns out when the former interrupts their night of passion following a phone call from her mentally ill sibling. It was undoubtedly a selfless act which showed how much the character loved her brother. But the woman who played her, Laura Linney, has admitted she wishes that Sarah had thought about herself for once and not taken the call.
16. Bill Nighy really did perform in his birthday suit
After seeing his novelty song “Christmas Is All Around” become a massive hit, Bill Nighy’s Billy Mack sticks to his side of the bet and performs the track live on TV in his birthday suit. And it turns out that the actor really did bare all on set that day. In 2013 he confirmed to website The Daily Beast that he sported “nothing but an electric guitar and a pair of cowboy boots” for the famous scene.
15. Emma Thompson’s crying scene wasn’t scripted
Emma Thompson provides Love Actually’s rawest moment when her character Karen bursts into tears after realizing her husband is having an affair. The actress had to turn on the waterworks on no fewer than 12 occasions in just one day for the emotional scene. And even more impressively, the crying was all Thompson’s idea.
14. The wedding scene was inspired by a funeral
Unlike Richard Curtis’ directorial debut, Love Actually doesn’t contain a funeral. But a key scene was inspired by one. Yes, the idea to have a surprise musical outfit playing at Juliet and Peter’s wedding came to the filmmaker after attending Jim Henson’s wake. There, the brainchild behind The Muppet Show was paid a tribute by his most famous creations and their puppeteers in the form of a song.
13. Richard Curtis wanted an all-British cast
Apparently Richard Curtis wanted Love Actually to contain an all-British cast. Of course, things didn’t quite work out this way. Sarah is played by an American, Laura Linney, as are the three girls who accost Colin in the bar. And Rodrigo Santoro, Heike Makatsch and Lúcia Moniz hail from Brazil, Germany and Portugal, respectively.
12. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant’s stories were intended for separate films
One of the most memorable Love Actually plots involves Hugh Grant’s prime minister falling in love with Martine McCutcheon’s staff member. And Richard Curtis reportedly first intended for this story to be fleshed out into a standalone feature-length film. The director also wanted to give the same treatment to Colin Firth’s romance with Lúcia Moniz.
11. The Barbies were Kens in drag
Emma Thompson appeared to have little problem crying to Joni Mitchell 12 times in a row. But she did struggle to film the scene in which she discusses giving Barbies to her daughter’s pal. For the dolls in question weren’t Mattel’s famous blonde but her love interest Ken dressed up in women’s clothes.
10. Richard Curtis tested the cue card scene
Although many believe that Mark’s doorstep cue cards are highly inappropriate, there are some who feel they are wildly romantic. In fact, Richard Curtis was so worried about its schmaltz factor that he grilled all the female members of his office staff for their views. It was only when they agreed that it wasn’t overly soppy that he decided to include the gesture in the film.
9. “Christmas Is All Around” was recorded at Abbey Road
Abbey Road Studios have played host to some of the most iconic recording artists of all time, most notably The Beatles, of course. And in 2003 Billy Mack, aka Bill Nighy, added his name to that illustrious list. Yes, the Brit recorded his take on The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” at the famous studio. You may not know that he even scored a U.K. Top 40 hit with the track.
8. Claudia Schiffer earned $200k for her cameo
Talk about nice work if you can get it. Claudia Schiffer’s screen time as the parent that Liam Neeson’s Daniel crushes on amounts to little more than 60 seconds. And yet she was paid a colossal $200k for her very brief cameo. The German supermodel only got the part after Richard Curtis realized that instead of looking for a Schiffer type he’d be better off with the real thing.
7. Kris Marshall returned his pay check for one day’s filming
Actors who enjoyed a particular role will often say they’d have done the work for free. But Kris Marshall put his money where his mouth was by giving back his paycheck for one day’s filming. The Brit, who played Colin in the hit romantic comedy, believed that getting stripped by three American ladies was payment enough.
6. Thomas Brodie Sangster learned a new skill for his role
Thomas Brodie Sangster certainly put the hours in for his role as the lovestruck tween Sam. The youngster, who was only 13 years old at the time, had to learn how to play drums from scratch for the role. Sangster’s drummer father must have been quite the inspiring teacher as the actor still takes to the kit nearly two decades on.
5. Hugh Grant’s character was inspired by a real-life PM
A real-life British prime minister of the 1970s proved to be the unlikely inspiration for Hugh Grant’s character in Love Actually. Director Richard Curtis had always wondered what it would be like if renowned bachelor Ted Heath had found love while in 10 Downing Street. And Grant’s younger, hipper and less portly David was created to help answer that question.
4. Hugh Grant used to intentionally freak out Billy Bob Thornton
Turns out that Hugh Grant is braver than you may think. According to movie website IMDb, the actor would often intentionally freak out Billy Bob Thornton, a man not exactly renowned for being agreeable, over his strange phobia of antique furniture while filming. Yes, just before the cameras started rolling, Grant would thrust the oldest item he could find into the former Mr. Angelina Jolie’s eyeline.
3. Producers were given a tour of 10 Downing Street for research
As you would expect, the 10 Downing Street scenes in Love Actually weren’t filmed in the real thing. But alongside the movie’s production designer, director Richard Curtis was given a tour of the prime minister’s residence by Gordon Brown before shooting began. The pair had to rely on memory to recreate the setting, though, as photos and drawings were strictly forbidden.
2. Keira Knightley was forced to cover up a spot
Even glamorous A-list actresses have their bad skin days. During the scene in which Keira Knightley’s Juliet discovers that her husband’s best friend has essentially spent her entire wedding lusting after her, the character sports a hat. This wasn’t for style purposes but to mask a massive pimple that had appeared overnight on the star’s forehead.
1. Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon were quite the dirty jokers
She may look like butter wouldn’t melt on screen, but Martine McCutcheon was anything but once the cameras stopped rolling. While being interviewed on British TV for The Jonathan Ross Show, the actress who played Natalie in the film revealed she and Hugh Grant were in constant contact throughout the shoot. And most of their communication centered on texting each other filthy jokes.