Love and Other Drugs – More Total Recall Than Love Story?

Last month, Kate Atherton attended a press conference for Love and Other Drugs on behalf of Bleeding Cool:

When Anne Hathaway was asked in London last month if she had any fears that her new film Love and Other Drugs might remind audiences of Love Story, she revealed that, "I was more concerned that people were going to be reminded of Total Recall", to which, co-star Jake Gyllenhaal let slip, "She actually has six breasts".

While there has been discussion of whether Love and Other Drugs is a RomCom or, as its makers prefer, 'an emotional comedy', there is no doubt at all about the chemistry of the fim's stars, on screen and off it.

Set in the mid 1990s, Love and Other Drugs tells the story of Jamie, a very successful Pfizer viagra rep who meets and falls in love with Maggie, a young woman with Stage 1 Parkinson's Disease. Reversing the journey of many romantic dramas, the sex is instant but the love takes more time and is a battle for both. Matters aren't helped by the fact that they also have to come to terms with, or not, the long term implications of Parkinson's.

On its release in the United States in November, Love and Other Drugs attracted most media attention for its nudity. The characters aren't just nude for sex ( 'I don't know about you guys – I've never had sex with boxers on and it's an odd thing to watch an actor do…' said Jake), they also spend time together clotheless. And this clothelessness, director Edward Zwick states, is the actors' costume.

Jake Gyllenhaal jokes that he took the role out of pity::

I think I was the 45th actor to be offered the role but when they heard they had to be naked with Annie they just started turning it down.

However, Anne Hathaway, who is more exposed in the film, said that nudity was an aspect of acting and:

You're aware that at some point it might happen. I think everyone wants to be respectful of each other and wants each other to feel as comfortable as possible so I think that those days have a focus. And we really approached it from a very prepared place. We discussed what we wanted to do beforehand, we discussed what we were comfortable with, we traded references from other films in order to establish sort of an index of communication references that we could all share. By the time it came round to do the scenes we were very well prepared.

Clearly, the repeated questions about nudity means that actors and director alike have well-practised answers. Zwick said:

I've been asked a lot about it over the last few days. I try to turn the question around in my head and I try to imagine having done this movie without doing that. When people are first in love and as into each other as these people are, that bed becomes their world – they eat there, they talk there, they sleep there, everything is in that place, and had we done the movie with the sheets pulled up to their necks like Rock Hudson and Doris Day in Pillow Talk, it would have been very naff… If what they were doing was just being photographed making love, I think that would have been difficult and exploitative but they had a lot of acting they had to do. They had a lot of lines and comedy and transitions and emotions and things to get to.

Gyllenhaal in particular seemed a little weary of this line of questioning:

When we decided this was going to be a love story – at first it was a script about a guy who changes as a result of meeting a girl – and when Annie came on to the project it changed and it became about two people falling in love. And I think we all decided that if were going to tell the love story, one of the essential elements of a love story is sex and it should be. If we were going to be as open and intimate with the love story as we could be, we were going to have to do the same thing with the sex. When you see two people in a movie like that, you realise they're actors, and they're portraying two people in love, how do you really, even unconsciously believe that these two people are going to be in love if they don't want to be naked round each other?

The nude scenes may have been intimate but even more so were the raw, emotional scenes that mark the second half of the film. Anne said:

Some of the intimate scenes required even more trust and were even more difficult to get to, to work to try and get yourself into that place and sustain it for a long period of time, to be able to turn back to those emotions again and again and again. The physical challenges are one thing but to actually leave yourself open and to mean it like that, I found it quite difficult some days and that's why I was so grateful that I had Jake as a partner, who was so sensitive and respectful during the love scenes and even more so during the emotional scenes.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway first worked together for 2005's Brokeback Mountain and both were glad of the chance to work together for a longer time than the eight days they spent together for that film. Here's Anne:

I guess I really believed in Jamie and Maggie's love on the page and I had such a wonderful time working with Jake on Brokeback. I believed that we could get there again, actually with a whole load of different results because we didn't really love each other the last time.

In Love and Other Drugs pharmaceutical sales is associated with conventions, dancing girls and fireworks (even the macarena), where selling viagra goes hand in hand with orgies and gifthungry doctors and receptionists. What had started off as a satire, Zwick soon became aware actually reflected reality. Drug reps from the time have told him his depictions of the Pfizer conventions is accurate. Pfizer has been less forthcoming.

Zwick:

Obviously we're making a fiction film and not a documentary but that being said we felt great license to actually tell the truth because so much of it has been documented. It was concidental in that while we were shooting the United States justice department levied its largest fine in corporate history against Pfizer that was $2.3 billion for various repeated offences made that we talk about in the film. Not surprisingly, they paid the money and went on to have their stock price unaffected but we've not heard from them directly.

The film takes as its starting point Jamie Reidy's book, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, but Love and Other Drugs is very different. Most notably, Reidy did not fall in love with a girl with Parkinson's Disease. Nevertheless, Jake spent time with Reidy before the film:

There are so many things that are woven in from Jamie Reidy. I spent hours with Jamie recording him and picking up his rhythms, picking up his stories, stealing from repetition in his conversation… [Turns to Zwick] Do you remember when I said that he always goes 'Really?' 'Really?' It was like a thing he always did. It was in the middle of telling a story. He always told all these stories and he would always grab somebody. I'd be in restaurants and we'd talk a lot and he'd always grab a waitress or someone around and he'd ask them where they were from. If I went to the restroom and come back and he'd know their whole life story and he would know someone they were related to. It's crazy. I don't know how he does it. A lot of the character is from him.

Gyllenhaal found the pharmaceutical world a closed book. He has commented before that he found it easier to research the CIA for Rendition that it was to learn about selling pharmaceutical drugs in the 1990s:

I couldn't get into the pharmaceutical world. I had a very tough time getting into that world, getting information from active pharmaceutical reps. I talked to my doctors and they gave me pharmaceutical reps to talk to but it was hard to get the truth out of them. About what happens and did happen when they were active during 1996. Jamie was really an essential part of it but people would sneak information to me on set – [whispers] 'My brother's a drugs rep and he wanted me to give you this leaflet but don't tell anyone it's from me.'

In one of the most powerful moments of Love and Other Drugs, Jamie Randall attends a large pharmaceutical convention, while Maggie, Anne Hathaway's character, attends the Un-Convention across the street. There she listens to others talk about life with Parkinson's Disease and is inspired. Jamie, on the other hand, hears a firsthand account of what the future might be like for him as a carer. Zwick has cast actors in the scene who have Parkinson's in reality, and these were a source of advice and input for Hathaway as she put Maggie together. She said:

The woman who was most heavily featured in that scene, the MC of the support group, Lucy [Roucis], she is an actress and she works with a disabled persons' theatre group in Denver actually. And I spoke with her before she was cast in the movie and she gave me a lot of different insights about it. I spoke with a few different people that are early onset Parkinson's Disease and not just about the physical symptoms and what the side-effects were from the medication, what it was like to be on that kind of schedule, but also the anxiety of being sick and what it was like to have Stage 1. I think we are right to make it very clear in the film that Stage 1 is very much about good days and bad days.

On talking to those with Parkinson's, Anne said:

Everyone asked me the same question which was 'Has she accepted her diagnosis yet?' Which led me to believe that there's a whole world of anxiety before you come to that moment. Michael J. Fox very eloquently and gracefully describes his relationship with Parkinson's as having evolved to a place where he thinks of it as a gift but it was quite a journey to get there and I think one of the strengths of the film, one of the things that drew me to my character, was the articulation of that journey.

Hathaway's research for the role also influenced her body shape:

I did a lot of research into the side-effects that Parkinson's medication has on the human body and I actually found that in the majority of the cases it caused people to lose weight so that was my jumping off point for how I was going to look in the film… And had the medication caused people to gain weight, I would have gained weight and still done the nudity.

Gyllenhaal added:

I do honestly believe that Annie would have changed her body however it needed to have changed for the character. If it had said that Parkinson's meds did make you gain weight, or something happened to you somehow, that you became Ironman or something she would have done that. I mean she really would have and that's the kind of actress she is. Me on the other hand, I was purely manly and… We didn't really think about getting in shape. I didn't. I wanted my character to be a little skinny and sinewy and slimey.

It was difficult for Hathaway to leave Maggie behind at the end of the day and there were tearful nights:

I'm still learning a lot about how to do my job on camera and off. This job really confused me in a lot of ways. I didn't know how not to take her home with me. I think in some ways because she's such a different character than me, I was afraid to let her go at the end end of the day as I though 'Oh my gosh, what if she's not there in the morning?!' We were shooting at a bit of a breakneck pace, not as quick as Jake had to shoot all the pharmaceutical stuff but still pretty quickly with such intense emotions. And I think that I was afraid of a lot which normally I can work through, I can talk to people I trust, I can work through it, but I was also playing a character who was trying to avoid feeling fear and so my comfort with my fear, but her discomfort with hers, her attempt to avoid it, my ability to let her go at the end of the day, created for some very confused tearful nights. And those scenes were difficult to film.

Oddly enough I would have these little panics before we would shoot the closeups and I would become terrified that I wasn't being truthful enough and Ed really had to sit there with me and hold my hand and be very patient and talk me through it. I hated that kind of needy actor. I love just showing up and doing my job… but that wasn't this time and I learned an awful lot about, just like my character does, about what it's like to need people around you and what it's like on the days when you can't help yourself.

Jake Gyllenhaal, who celebrated his 30th birthday on 19 December, also had some soulsearching to do about the nature of love:

I just think there comes a time in different people's lives when they say 'Do I have real love? Do I want real love? What is real love?' When I read the script I happened to be in a time when that seemed to be rather a pressing question… I've always loved movies like Jerry Maguire and Jim Brooks' movies and I feel like they're closest actually to some kind of life that I live and when I read this I just – I very rarely have a moment when I go… like I get excited and I go 'somebody wrote this for me and they don't know it', and I felt that way when I read this the first time. And I was loving the character at first and I was crying at the end because I felt like when he says 'sometimes your life doesn't go the way you expect it too', it usually doesn't and if you follow life and not as it should be, it'll all work out in the end. Somehow that just moved me to the core and I couldn't not do it.

Just essentially knowing Ed was at the helm was really the biggest thing because I have wanted to work with him over and over again and brushed paths every once in a while and tried to get in his movies. I've auditioned for him many times so it was just a lot of things like that and I've always wanted to get naked with Annie again in a movie. And it felt like this was an opportunity to help her so I just dove right in.

When asked if either actor could see anything of their character in themselves, Anne replied 'God I wish I had some of Maggie's toughness and temper. I wish that I was a more confrontational person like her.' Jake had a characteristic crowdpleasing response: 'I can see myself in Annie's character. The hair… I can see myself in her hair.'

Love and Other Drugs opens in the UK on 29 December.