“Last Christmas:” This Is George Michael’s Wish Come True

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Emilia Clarke "Last Christmas," directed by Paul Feig. Photo courtesy Universal Pictures)

Director extraordinaire and Metrosource mainstay Paul Feig shares the ups and downs of building a film around the music of a lost legend.

Paul Feig keeps making movies we can’t wait to seE. His latest is Last Christmas, starring former Mother of Dragons Emilia Clarke and Crazy Rich Asians’ groom-with-a-view Henry Golding. The film follows the pair as star-crossed lovers romancing each other in fits and starts through the season. Its soundtrack, however, leans on solo and Wham! classics from the late George Michael. This little yuletide treat was written and produced in part by actress Emma Thompson, who also appears in the film. Last Christmas not only contains a cornucopia of radio-tested hits — it will also feature a never-before-heard track:  “This Is How (We Want You To Get High).” Sony/Legacy released the soundtrack Nov. 8., the day the film opens. We caught up with Feig just as he was about to hop a plane from Australia.

Metrosource: Was George Michael aware of any plans to turn Last Christmas into a movie? How did the idea come to life?

PAUL FEIG: This project was first presented to Emma about eight years ago. She talked to George and he loved her ideas. He also asked if there could be a homeless element to the story, since that was a pet cause of his. We are all so sad that he isn’t around to see the final product, but it’s nice to know that he gave his blessing to the film back then.

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Does this story actually follow a plot line set by song lyrics, or do the songs more or less embellish the action of the film?

The songs are very intertwined with the main character’s life in a way that defies a clear definition. Kate  —played by Emilia Clarke — wants to be a singer, and says that George is her hero. As she says in the film, she feels they are both “misunderstood and under appreciated in their time.” When we first meet her, she’s a 10-year-old singing George’s “Heal the Pain” in her church as a hymn. When we meet her in present day, she’s playing George’s version of “Heal the Pain” on a pub jukebox. Later in the film, she sings the song to her love interest Tom, who’s played by Henry Golding. Throughout the film, George’s songs pop up on the soundtrack of her life. The songs aren’t driving the action, but are swirling around her as she goes through her story. So George is an overriding presence throughout.

Did you go into the process knowing which songs you’d use?

George’s music is so deep and diverse that it caused me to use way more songs than we had originally planned when we went into production. I knew we’d be using “Heal the Pain” in several spots as well as “Last Christmas,” obviously. I also knew I wanted to use “Praying for Time” for a montage between Kate and Tom. And we had cleared “Freedom ‘90” to be used somewhere. But once we started shooting and when we got into post-production, the movie seemed to start demanding more of his songs. We ended up putting in fifteen songs, including a never before heard song that he recorded right before he died to go on a new album he was going to put out. The song is so fantastic that I wanted to make sure audiences could hear the entire track, and so I ended up using it over the final scenes in the movie and playing the rest of it through the end credits. It’s amazing how perfectly it works and how it holds you through the end credits. The song is called “This Is How (We Want You To Get High),” and it’s really a masterpiece.

So it’s fair to say that he’s an unseen collaborator in what’s become the finished film…

Yes, absolutely. If you’re a George Michael fan, you will be overwhelmed by nostalgia for his music and reminded of just want a genius he was. And if you’re a new fan, you’ll want to do a total deep dive into everything he ever did.

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The music seemed to mature with the musician. Was it difficult deciding what songs went where?

The songs showed us where they wanted to go. We’d have a scene that just felt like it needed George in it and then in going through his catalogue, the right song would just rise to the top. We would plug it into the scene and the whole scene would go to the next level. One of my favorite moments is the first time that Kate and Tom start to fall for each other. We used “Praying for Time” in a place where you expect a much more romantic ballad. But the song adds an extra gravitas to the scene, because it makes it much more about two people who may or may not be on the correct course together and who are both indeed praying for time in their lives to heal. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie.

Again, George Michael’s music often ranged from jubilant to melancholy, with numerous stops between. What does that mean for the film, and how does the new track fit in?

George’s music is all those things. There is romance in them, there is sadness in them, there is upbeat positive energy in them —  and there is life in them. The complicated love story in this film benefits from George’s musical narration, if you will. As for the new track, George was recording a new album when he died. He had fully completed four new tracks, “This is How” being one of them. To me, this song, as well as the others which are still unreleased but which I was lucky enough to get to hear, puts a perfect coda onto his career, which is sad to say because he shouldn’t have had to have a coda so early in his life. But if there had to be one, I truly feel that this is it.    

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Last modified: November 20, 2019