Past and present

Sharon Maguire and Helen Fielding on Bridget Jones's Baby.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Savannah Guthrie, Eric Fellner, Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Sharon Maguire, Helen Fielding
Savannah Guthrie, Eric Fellner, Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Sharon Maguire, Helen Fielding Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At the Universal Pictures and Working Title Films lunch honouring Bridget Jones’s Baby at Lotos Club, I spoke with Sharon Maguire and Helen Fielding on carrying on the tradition of Jane Austen.

Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones’s Baby beautifully plays out the contradictory feelings raging inside her. Katharine Hepburn in George Cukor's Pat And Mike comes to mind. She knows what is going on and still can't help it. Mr. Darcy's (Colin Firth) competition, Jack (Patrick Dempsey) is a variation of a Disney prince.

Renée Zellweger, Patrick Dempsey, Colin Firth:
Renée Zellweger, Patrick Dempsey, Colin Firth: "Look what that resulted in, you see! Pregnant, two men! That ended well."

Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones's inventive birth mother, who co-wrote the screenplay with Emma Thompson and Dan Mazer, knows what she is doing and director Sharon Maguire does too, and off they go happily, full sail ahead into slapstick and puns.

Anne-Katrin Titze: It is 2016 - did it feel right for the third Bridget Jones?

Sharon Maguire: It was kind of circumstances. We’re a big dysfunctional family of actors. To get them all together at the same time is no easy feat. It came about that they all were available. There was a window of opportunity. Unfortunately, it was in the winter. But we shot it in the winter. Somebody just said go, go now! That was it, really.

AKT: Are there things, though, that make it very now, bringing the story into the present?

Helen Fielding: I think, it’s quite subtle. I think there’s lots of little details that make something feel timely. Lots of little things like when Jack says to Miranda [Sarah Solemani] “You look familiar” and she goes “Are you on Tinder?” It’s not a big thing, it’s little details that just keep it up to date. The FaceTime and Mum puts it to her ear. All the way through is sort of dotted with little up-to-date references.

Sharon Maguire with Helen Fielding:
Sharon Maguire with Helen Fielding: "But also, it comes from a tradition of Jane Austen and there's a big element of wish fulfillment." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Are you thinking about the future already with Bridget?

Both laugh and talk at once about living in the past and living in the present, finishing each other's sentences in a clear demonstration of how well they know each other. After all, Shazzer [Sally Phillips] is modeled after Maguire.

SM: I like to live in the past. She likes to live in the present.

HF: We're both 35 still.

AKT: You look 25!

SM: Well, I think it's important, you know, that we are living in different times now and I think that we wanted to reference that. When we first made the first movie, there wasn't any … Now, when you want to hook up with someone, everybody just swipes Tinder and away you go. There's no kind of meet cutes like there used to be with romcoms.

AKT: So you brought it back?

HF: We sort of brought it back, but we wanted to reference the idea that for Bridget, it's all a new world. A new modern world. I think if she was trying to date, I don't think she would do Tinder, do you?

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones:
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones: "She's a character who sort of unites self-loathing with misguided self-belief …"

SM: I think she'd be a little too much of a …

AKT: She's more Cinderella?

SM: She'd feel slutty doing Tinder, I think, because she's a little bit older. She's not used to that.

HF: More exposed, in some ways. That's why she's got a friend who's from the Tinder generation who nudges her onto a life of hedonism and to get with it and tries to bring her up-to-date.

SM: Look what that resulted in, you see! Pregnant, two men! That ended well.

AKT: The appeal of Bridget for the audience is on the one hand, relief that this isn't me. Then moments of I wish this were me. It's both. On the one hand, I'm glad not to be in this dilemma, let's see what she does. On the other, I wish I had that dilemma?

HF: I think most people would like to have Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey both wanting to sleep with them. I think that's universal.

Renée Zellweger with Colin Firth at Lotos Club
Renée Zellweger with Colin Firth at Lotos Club Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: But being pregnant and not knowing who the father is might be another issue.

HF: That's more complicated, yeah.

SM: She's a character who sort of unites self-loathing with misguided self-belief and I think that's in all of us. And I think if she is liked and popular, that's what they get. They understand to have an inner voice of self-loathing and an outer misguided self-belief which makes us go into the world and do things and say things that we probably shouldn't do.

AKT: There were some moments while watching the film where I thought, is Jack a phantom? Is he just a catalyst? Is he just thrown in there and he doesn't really exist?

SM: No, he always existed for me.

AKT: He is the American dream?

Mark and Jack carrying Bridget through the revolving doors of life.
Mark and Jack carrying Bridget through the revolving doors of life.

SM: He is the American dream but there's a big element of wish fulfillment in this particular romcom franchise. It's very much rooted in an authentic character who is a London woman in 2016 in her 40s. But also, it comes from a tradition of Jane Austen and there's a big element of wish fulfillment.

Well, maybe it's true. In my 30s and 40s I always had men queuing up at the door for me, you know, as good-looking as Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey or Hugh Grant. I think it's authentic. It reflected my life. [pause, then laughter]

AKT: Thank you so much!

Read what Colin Firth and Renée Zellweger had to say on Bridget Jones’s Baby.

Bridget Jones’s Baby is in cinemas in the US and the UK.

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