Franco Zeffirelli's 1981 film adaptation of Scott Spencer's book Endless Love is a film that haunts me to this day. Starring Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt as star-crossed lovers Jade Butterfield and David Axelrod -- really young James Spader and Tom Cruise as supporting cast, too -- it's actually more dark drama than frothy romance. But in its 2014 incarnation, directed by Shana Feste and in theaters today, it's a purely effervescent, modern day fairy tale. Which means just about anyone looking for a mushy (and okay, slightly melodramatic) teen love story complete with a goofy dance scene, ridiculously good-looking leads (Gabriella Wilde from the 2013 Carrie remake and Alex Pettyfer of Magic Mike fame), and super-pretty scenery (Greater Atlanta, Georgia) will be a happy camper with this light Valentine's Day viewing.
We caught up with Feste recently and got behind-the-scenes scoop on what went into the notably more lighthearted remake of the teen romance ...
What inspired you to do a remake of Endless Love?
Well, I'm a huge Zeffirelli fan, and his version of Romeo & Juliet was my absolute favorite movie. I had seen the original Endless Love, and when they brought up the project to me, I thought, what an incredible opportunity to do a really pure love story that doesn't have any big special effects or crazy vampires. Just a straightforward love story, and that got me really excited. ... I thought there was room with Endless Love for my own interpretation, and there was a way to make it feel modern and new. And I would have never taken on a project if I didn't feel that way.
In addition to a lighter, more optimistic tone, there are many notable plot and detail differences between the original and your version, such as the location (Chicago vs. Atlanta), the leads' family situations/parents, etc. What inspired some of these changes?
One of the big changes I wanted to make, I wanted to make a movie where love wins at the end. And that was really important to me, to have these characters fight for love and be brave and be strong the entire film. I wanted to give them that love at the end of the movie. I wanted to show also all of the things we fight for -- we fight for our career, we fight for our iPhone, our friends, all these different things, but increasingly, we're not fighting for love in the way that we used to or that I want to people to feel like they should. So I wanted to celebrate love, and inspire love, hopefully, to fight for their love in their own lives -- and make young girls excited to fall in love and meet that person. I think that's what those films did for me when I was young. I was watching Sixteen Candles for the first time ... and I was just so excited to fall in love. That's how I hope people feel when they watch this movie.
I also noticed that there seems to have been a conscious choice to make it clear that Jade is not just beautiful, but smart and driven to succeed, wants to be a doctor, and go to Brown University as well as have love. Was that a conscious decision to update the story with a bit of a feminist twist?
That's interesting, because in one of our versions of the movie, we didn't have a conversation on an airplane where she says, "I'm going back to Brown," because I figured everyone would know that she is going back to Brown. She's not quitting school to be with David. There was just no way she would ever do that in my head! [But test] audience members said, "Jade quit Brown to be with David?!" And that was heartbreaking for me, cuz I would never want to make a movie where a girl quits her academic dreams just to be with this boy. I wanted her to be able to have it all! So we shot that scene just so that everybody knows, no, she's not giving up her dream. She wants to be a doctor. She's going back to Brown.
What drew you to Alex and Gabriella? Does she have a Brooke Shields-y quality that drew you to her?
Yeah, watching the original, all you can think of is how beautiful Brooke Shields is, she's absolutely mesmerizing. And I felt the same way when I first saw Gabriella. She just takes the air out of you! She's so incredibly gorgeous, but what's so special about Gabriella is that she doesn't realize how gorgeous she is. She's so humble and down-to-earth and she also has a real innocence about her, that was really important for me to find with Jade. ... I kind of wanted an older soul, and Gabriella brought that to the character in a really lovely way. And then, Alex, you just have to channel the inner 13-year-old girl, and who would I fall in love with? That was so easy with Alex! He's just so charming. What I love about Alex is that he's a real romantic. He believes in love. The first time we sat down together, he opened up so quickly about his girlfriend and how in love he was. That just doesn't happen with most guys in their early 20s! They're not talking about love and relationships, and he can't wait to have a child. He's a real romantic at heart, and that was perfect for David.
What do you advise to actors like Alex and Gabriella or, say, next Valentine's Day's anticipated on-screen couple Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades of Grey to build believeable chemistry on-screen?
We did a lot of exercises. We spent almost five days together doing the silliest things that would make you so embarrassed to do in front of another person! Dancing to loud music and doing cartwheels and showing what love looks like and what does joy look like and having them dance together and making one another laugh. We all got up and did them in front of one another so we could build that trust. And I think once you trust your partner in this kind of story, you can take risks in your performance. And that was what was really important to me ... Chemistry really just comes from feeling safe and being a good actor. I think they were just in it and invested with each other, and that came across.
What do you think audiences will be the most surprised about?
I hope they're really inspired by this story. This movie for me celebrates love, and whether you're finding love for the first time or whether you have love in your life, or you're in the middle of fighting for love, I hope people are inspired to put love first and to be brave enough to put love first. I hope they're surprised by the performances. I'm incredibly proud of the performances that we got in this movie. I'm incredibly proud of how the movie looks; it's incredibly beautiful. ... I wanted to create something truly cinematic and rich and give girls something that looks beautiful and feels beautiful.
Will you be seeing the updated Endless Love?
Image via Universal Pictures