Jojo Moyes on The Last Letter from Your Lover, crying at films and the dreamy nostalgia of letter writing
Jojo sat down with our resident film critic James King to discuss the new film
The Last Letter from Your Lover is set to be an instant classic. Based on Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel, the story follows a journalist who discovers a series of love letters from a couple from decades ago, and attempts to unravel the truth behind what happened to their relationship. And who better to speak to about the gorgeous romance of the film, starring Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley, than the women who dreamt it up herself?
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Joining us for HELLO! Spotlight, Jojo sat down with our resident film critic James King to discuss the beautiful new adaptation of her bestselling novel, the lost art of letter writing, and how her epic love story won’t leave a dry eye in the house…
WATCH: Jojo Moyes talks crying at the movies, the lost art of love letters and turning her book into a film
Thanks for joining us Jojo! I want to start by saying had me crying with this one. I was blubbing at the end. Are you a crier at movies, TV, adverts and so on?
I have to say, I have cried every time I've watched this film and that's bizarre given that I wrote the story and I knew exactly what was happening! I think it’s a testament to Augustine's vision and the acting involved that it just takes me away every time and I love it. I love being made to cry. If anybody can make me feel an emotion in a book or a film then, frankly, they've got my loyalty for life.
I reckon I've cried more in the last year because of everything that's going on. I think we've all been a bit more fragile. Would you agree with that?
Kleenex has had good business this year! I think there's very few of us who haven't cried more tears, but hopefully if they watch this film, these are good tears. These are redemptive tears, rather than, 'Oh god, the world is ending' tears. [Laughs]
It does feel like the kind of movie we need right now, because it's so brilliantly lacking in cynicism. It's just unashamedly romantic and happy.
When I wrote the story, initially, I wanted to write a book that was kind of like an old-fashioned movie you would watch on a Sunday afternoon when it rained, curled up under a blanket - something you could just kind of sniffle away at. So, whereas all my other books are a story with a love story running through, this is an absolutely unironic, uncynical, sweeping, epic romance and I really love the fact that when I met Augustine, she totally committed to that.
There's not a nudge and a wink to the camera. It's not clever or funny in bits when people are encouraged to feel things. It just says. 'I'm going to rip your heart out, play with it a little bit then pop it back in at the end’.
It's nice that there is still room for things like that in a world where we think we've seen it all before and we think we know everything. It's nice that there is room for something old-fashioned and heartfelt.
It does exist. People fall in love all the time. It's not always desperately cynical and sad, but also I think that after the year that we've had, it is important just to be reminded that good things do happen.
I was so sad when this movie kept getting put back, and now I'm so glad, because I feel like there is going to be an appetite to escape in a cinema and this movie has such escapism: geographically and emotionally. You can't not be transported.
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Given that we're now in a year where we can barely travel, I think there is sort of added pleasure in getting to witness amazing locations. Every time I've watched the scene in the Riviera, I've ached to be somewhere like that and wearing those floppy hats and bikinis and all the rest of it.
Ellie's life as a journalist...Is this harking back to your time as a journalist? Are there echoes there of what you did?
I was certainly never as messy a character as Ellie. Felicity Jones plays Ellie and I think people are going to be surprised, because she's usually playing quite formal or slightly buttoned-up characters and here she is, I think what the Americans call, a 'hot mess'. She's behaving badly, sleeping with the wrong guys, drinking too much. She's not in control of her own life. But she's also really funny. There's a scene involving a croissant that means I can never eat a croissant in the same way again and I think audiences are going to be surprised by her.
It seems to me to be a movie that celebrates the tradition of letter-writing. Something that we've lost. Is that something you do?
I grew up with a soft pad on my finger where I rested my pen and kids don't have that anymore. It's quite interesting. Have you ever noticed, if you do handwrite a letter your hand aches by the end of it, because it's such an unfamiliar thing? But I do think… it was only when writing this that I realised how much the art of letter-writing had died out. My cousin, who was ten years younger than me, told me that she'd never received a love letter and it wasn't through lack of her being gorgeous and funny and desirable, it was just because people didn't do them anymore.
And I think in a world where you can communicate in any way, we're actually less clear about our intentions than we ever were, you ask anybody who uses the dating apps and they'll tell you there's a minefield. If someone's taken the trouble to write you a letter, put their thoughts to paper, handwrite it, put it in an envelope, spend money on a stamp, walk it to the mailbox, it shows that they are really committed to what they want to say.
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I love the idea. This has happened occasionally… when you find a letter. Let's say you've bought a second-hand book, you find a postcard in there or even… someone's written on the first page 'happy birthday' or whatever it is. You're just finding a little bit of someone else's history there, aren't you? It's so exciting to do that.
Funnily enough, there's a little Twitter feed that I follow. I think it's called something like 'Postcards from history' where somebody has clearly just collected a load of really random postcards and the messages are always hilarious, 'I hope you've stopped eating now' or 'I really can't bear this any longer' and you just think, 'What is the story behind this postcard?' It's always fascinating.
Which is exactly what Ellie thought. She read something and she wanted to find out more…
Frankly, if I'd seen a love story committed to paper in the way that...the letter she finds, I would want to know as well. We're all nosy at heart. We all want to know what goes on in a love affair.
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Not every author gets involved with their adaptations. Is that something you always want to do?
I do now. It only really started with 'Me Before You'. As you know, I wrote the script for that and I was on set every day. I was lucky enough to get educated, if you like, by somebody who was experienced in the film business, as to what not to do as a writer on a film set. You know, 'Don't start telling the actors what to do', 'Don't rewrite dialogue', 'Don't start talking about performance' because it's not your business.
And I think that the thing you have to realise as the writer on a film set is you're actually the least important person in the room and once you understand that there's a hierarchy and you're at the bottom of it, then you can be there to answer questions or be helpful. Because I understood that role and I learned from it, the directors that I've worked with have actually found me a helpful presence rather than a pain in the backside.
I'm in the lucky position where most people want me to be involved now, because I think you want to maintain the voice of the book, it's quite useful to have the author around. To any writer thinking of doing it, I would say, take a crash course in what not to do, because that saved me so much stress and embarrassment.
Do you think that the position you’re in now… the material you write now, you're thinking more about a possible movie version or a possible TV series compared to when you were writing 15 years ago?
No, but that is because I think writers divide quite cleanly into those who are very language-focused and those who are kind of cinematic in how they write and I have to see a scene before I can commit it to paper. My modus operandi is to lie on the floor of my study and literally run through various scenarios until I can make it work so I'm very visual.
I think my work lends itself quite easily to adaptation in a way that some other writers don't. I never think of it in terms of whether it will make a film, because you can never tell what is going to attract attention or what's going to work. I've written two books that are set on water and anybody involved in the film industry will know that it's almost impossible to film stuff on water, because it adds 50 per cent to the cost before you've even started. I think it's all about character and story and if somebody wants to pick it up then that's fantastic, but that's not the reason I do it.
'Last Letter' is out in August. Where are we at with 'Giver of Stars'? Because that's been optioned hasn't it?
Yes, it has. I think it is still at the script stage. I don't know, but a bit like 'Last Letter', I'm very zen about these things. You just have to let them come at their own time and keep other projects going in the meantime.
They take so long. I wonder if you ever think 'Oh, forget it.' For example, 'Last Letter' was a long time in the making, wasn't it? Do you have to have a lot of patience?
It took 11 years! Whenever you get things optioned as a writer, you're best off thinking of it as a lottery ticket. Basically, the chances are, you're going to come to nothing. There's certainly no point going out and buying a new outfit. But you may be lucky… some of these things take decades and I've been really lucky that the two directors who have adapted my English language books have done so beautifully.
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