Me Before You will have you weeping uncontrollably. It will also set your heart on fire, but it's not just a typical tear-jerking romance: It even has moments that will make you laugh. Maybe laughing with tears running down your cheeks, but still.
Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) plays Will Traynor, a quadriplegic man who requires 24-hour assistance following a road accident. The film begins by showing him before the accident and his subsequent situation, which brings carer Louisa into his life, played by Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones). What unravels is a heart-wrenching love story where the pair change each other's lives inconceivably.
Me Before You is now out in cinemas, and it's all thanks to writer Jojo Moyes, who wrote the book and adapted it for the film. Yes, things had to be tweaked or ignored, and minor details had to be dropped altogether. But what does appear on screen is possibly the closest anyone could ever get to bringing the book and its complex characters to life.
Moyes talked to BuzzFeed UK about her involvement in making the film, working with director Thea Sharrock, the cast, and the problems she faced in bringing the story to the big screen. There are many, many spoilers about the book and movie below, so go and read the book and watch the film before continuing if you don't want it to be spoiled!
1. Yes, Me Before You was inspired by a real-life news story. It was also inspired by a couple of Moyes' family members who required 24-hour care.
“I had a family situation at the time where we had two family members who required 24-hour care,” she told BuzzFeed when we caught up in a central London hotel. “And I think if you exist with that situation close to you, you are very conscious of issues of quality of life, the right to die issue, all those things.”
But it was when she came across a story on the radio one day that the role of Will really started coming to life. “At the same time I heard a news story about a young sportsman who had been left quadriplegic after an accident, who had several years later persuaded his parents to take him to Dignitas, and I couldn’t get this story out of my head.
“I couldn’t understand it and I’m one of these people that if I don’t understand something I have to read as much as I can about it,” Moyes said. “The more I read the more I realised it’s not a black and white issue, you know, that there’s not necessarily a right or a wrong to it and I guess as a writer that’s what fascinates me.”
And this soon became the basis for Me Before You: “So what I wanted to do was to write a story about a man who is uncompromising and who makes a decision that nobody else around him agrees with and put myself in the shoes of him, his mother, and maybe somebody who wanted to change his mind.”
2. She hit it off with director Thea Sharrock straight away.
Moyes didn't get to choose the director who took on the project, but it's fair to say she was more than happy with the decision. And it seems the whole cast was pretty enthralled by Sharrock. In an Instagram post by lead star Sam Claflin this week, he wrote: "Thea really was the beating heart of this experience. She really made this journey worth fighting for, for me as an actor. And me as a person. I owe it to her. And you guys do too."
Moyes added: "The moment you hand over your book you have to accept the decisions that are made are not necessarily going to be yours, and I was lucky that they chose to include me on a lot of the decisions." Having seen how much effort the film team put into finding Sharrock, Moyes felt confident they were handling her "baby" well enough.
"I absolutely trusted them," she confessed. "I felt that, you know, they hadn’t wanted me to change anything, they wanted to keep it as a British production, they wanted to keep the ending, they wanted to keep the character of the movie very true to the book. So when they told me they were speaking to director upon director, and this was a long search, I felt confident that they were putting some serious thought into this."
When Sharrock's name was finally confirmed, Moyes couldn't wait to speak to her. "When they came up with Thea, I didn’t know her but I called her that evening. I asked for her number and said how happy I was that she come on board because I knew her by reputation. And it turns out we come from the same area of London, we’ve both got a very similar sense of humour, and we just hit it off straightaway."
3. In fact, we have Sharrock, as well as the casting director, to thank for such a perfectly cast movie.
The cast list includes everyone from Emilia Clarke to Sam Claflin and Harry Potter's Matthew Lewis, as well as acting stalwarts Charles Dance, Janet McTeer, and Samantha Spiro, to name but a few.
Sharrock took the lead when it came to casting but she worked closely with Moyes to decide on the final line-up. "Because she and I have been really closely entwined ever since she came on board she would send me links and say, 'What do you think about this person for so and so?'"
And ultimately Moyes thinks the movie versions of her characters couldn't be closer to what she had imagined. "The thing that always strikes me when I look at those two families (the Traynors and the Clarks) is that they look like they’re made of different genetic material. I think Louisa’s family, when I see Sam Spiro next to Emilia, I just think, She could totally be her mum! Well, she couldn’t actually because she’s probably slightly too young but they look like they are made from the same family and I think that was Thea’s main concern."
4. But the fact the cast are all from huge franchises – Harry Potter (Matthew Lewis as Louisa's boyfriend, Patrick), Game of Thrones (Emilia Clarke as Louisa and Charles Dance as Stephen Traynor), The Hunger Games (Sam Claflin as Will), and Doctor Who (Jenna Coleman as Louisa’s sister Katrina) – wasn’t necessarily intentional, albeit genius.
But Moyes has now realised what an amazing draw the cast are as a whole. It could be that the casting team intentionally went after stars with big fandoms following them, but it wasn't something Moyes had planned herself.
"Well I don’t know [if it was intentional], you’d have to ask the casting director," she explained. "I think it only occurred to me once I was looking at these people on set and you suddenly go, 'Oh, Jenna has her own demographic and Emilia has her own demographic.' And then Charlie Dance came on and Janet McT, Brendan Coyle, and you sort of go, 'Oh my gosh, there’s a lot of bases being covered here.'"
It's part of the beauty of the film, especially when you see Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones, acting in the bubbly role of Louisa next to the fatherly figure of Dance, who played her rival Tywin Lannister in the HBO show.
5. "[We] saw 300 women for the part of Louisa and we both felt that that was the part that was going to be trickiest to cast."
Moyes was mostly concerned with the portrayal of Louisa, because "if you get Louisa wrong, forget it, because no one’s going to identify with her."
She said: "[We] saw 300 women for the part of Louisa and we both felt that that was the part that was going to be trickiest to cast. Because she has to encompass so much... I think [Sharrock] would tell you she saw many women who had elements of Louisa and she would send me these audition tapes and I would be like, [thinking face]. And then right at the end Emilia came in and it was like Louisa had just jumped straight out of my head and into an audition tape."
And this was a bonus when most people don't realise how unlike the serious, conquering Daenerys Targaryen Clarke actually is in real life. Moyes said: "In person she is just nothing like Khaleesi. [She has a] huge smile, she’s bubbly, she’s funny, she’s a bit kooky. I’m sure she’d hate me for saying that. But most importantly she just has this warmth that just kind of comes at you and it even showed on screen." And the deal was sealed when she was put together with Claflin. "I suddenly understood why people talk about chemistry because it was there and it was palpable and yeah, for me they are the perfect cast," said Moyes.
But it wasn't just the main characters that Moyes was pleased with: A particular favourite of mine was how spot-on Matthew Lewis was with his portrayal of Patrick, who, let's be honest, is a bit of a dick. He's very badly matched to Louisa and he lives his life focused on his diet and active lifestyle, something the cast and crew found amusing during filming.
"[Lewis] threw himself into the role of Patrick," Moyes grinned. "He was taking the mickey out of himself when I first met him because, you know, he’s a good lad from Leeds and there he was drinking green juice while we were all on tea and butties and he was like, 'My friends would not know me now.' I loved him so much, and the fact he was in Lycra on set every day was not hard for us women on set. Those days had a little lift to them, shall we say. Does that sound creepy?!"
Not at all, Jojo.
6. The production team was very female-heavy – something you don't often see in the film industry. But it was also a "total accident".
It's something that has started to be noticed more and more in Hollywood: the fact that female directors are startlingly outnumbered. In fact, last month it was revealed that an official investigation has been launched into the lack of women in the industry.
But Me Before You refreshingly bucks this trend. Not only did Sharrock lead as director and Moyes work as the screenwriter, but Karen Rosenfelt and Alison Owen were the producers, while Sue Baden-Powell acted as executive producer.
And what's more, it wasn't a deliberate move to make a stand against the unbalanced numbers: They were chosen because they were the right ones for the job. "[It was a] total accident," Moyes told us. "Three kickass women producers, Thea, and me… I mean I feel like we’re kind of making up some invisible tally, you know, we’re upping the numbers in our own small way."
And while she can't prove it was down to their being women, Moyes did comment on how lovely the set was, potentially as a result. "I’ve got nothing to judge that by because this is my first film production, but what I will say is that I felt the experience on set was very positive. Well, I know the crew who I spoke to – you know, lots of grizzled old hands who have been on every film you can imagine – said that it was a particularly happy set. So I don’t know if that’s because we were women or just because it’s Thea. I don’t know, because I think those sorts of things come from the head down."
7. It was down to Moyes to make sure the film stayed as true to the book as possible and spot any problems in bringing certain aspects to life.
When she was asked how important it was to her to be involved in the process of bringing her story to the big screen, Moyes gushed, "Oh god, I would have been heartbroken if they had not wanted me included."
And it's a good job she was on board, even for the smallest of details. "For all that we had very similar opinions about the book, I think it would have been a slightly different film because things do go off on a tangent and it was my job to just gently say, 'If you do that then this won’t work' or 'If you do that then it’s going to feed into this,'" Moyes said.
"I think the useful thing to them was that I have carried the book as a whole with the character arcs and the issues and the romance and the humour. I’ve carried the balance in my head for so long that I could kind of be a shortcut to say, 'Yeah, you can't say that' or 'You can’t do that because that means that will work.' And so my job was not to get in the way. My job was, I worked out very quickly, to sort of sit on the stairs with my computer and wait for people to ask me, and that is what I did. And it was great."
8. A few characters and storylines had to be dropped for the film version to work.
It goes without saying some things had to be changed in order for the film adaptation to work – and mainly "because otherwise it would be a six-hour film".
There were certain things that logistically had to change. For example, at one point Will, Louisa, and the other carer, Nathan, go on holiday to Mauritius, which is actually Majorca thanks to, as Moyes put it, "budgets, darling, budgets".
But there were bigger things that die-hard book fans will notice. Will doesn't have a sister in the film. "That was because she doesn’t actually, you know, you have to pare out anything that’s nonessential and what we worked out over a period of months was that Georgina wasn’t really adding anything to the story, so in the interests of keeping it close she had to go," Moyes explained.
There was also a very poignant scene in the book that sees Louisa have a panic attack in a maze and confess to Will about an attack when she was younger, which was cut out of the movie. And that wasn't for the lack of trying. The scene was filmed but they just couldn't get it to work, as Moyes revealed: "The biggest thing, I think, was the main scene where Louisa confesses to Will the details of a kind of assault on her when she was younger. And we originally had that in and over a period of about six months we kept rewriting it and rewriting it."
But it didn't translate on screen. "I think that was such an interesting example to me of the difference between book and film because in the book she refers to it in almost a throwaway line, she doesn’t spell out what happened and you can’t do that visually. You can’t throw that away and not be respectful to the issue. So we tried and tried and tried, and in the end we just had to accept that to put that in and give it the weight the subject deserves unbalanced the whole film because it then changes a) the tone of the film and b) it changes her relationship with everything, and so we had to lose that."
It's something that Moyes learnt to not be too precious about as "you physically can’t fit all those details in... There’s just not enough time to explore that in the way that doesn’t unbalance everything."
9. They did film the storyline about Stephen Traynor’s affair but it detracted too much from the main story.
Book readers will notice in the movie how much stronger Will's parents seem as a couple. And after a lot of tweaking it was decided it was best for the film audience.
"We did film it but that was just an editing thing. And again what we found is when you know about the affair it actually changes the way the audience feels when you have those tender moments between the parents towards the end, because you’re not focusing on Louisa and Will, which is the important bit at that point. You’re focusing on the fact he’s touching her shoulder and you go, 'Oh, perhaps they’re getting back together.' You know, it changes your emotional focus. But all that stuff you only find out once you’re on set. That’s what I found really fascinating to me as a writer."
10. Louisa’s crazy wardrobe was brought to life from a mixture of budget high street stores, as well as charity shops and thrift stores.
A big part of the book is Louisa's self-expression through her quirky dress sense. It's also how Will starts to bond with her, especially when it comes to those bee tights, so it was important to bring this to life on screen.
And according to Moyes it was all down to costume designer Jill Taylor, who took the process very seriously from the beginning. And we have to say, she did an exemplary job. Me Before You is not your usual weepy romance as there are also plenty of laughs, thanks in large part to each time Louisa comes on screen in one of her kooky outfits.
Moyes perfectly described the look with this comment: "There’s a very fine line between quirky English girl trying stuff out and crazy lady, and I think what’s interesting is I feel Jill managed to keep it on the right line. I think what I like about Louisa’s wardrobe is she’s not trying to draw attention to herself; it’s just about her expression of her individual personality."
And it was re-created with a mixture of secondhand clothes and budget high street shops. "[Jill] met with me long before filming even started," said Moyes. "She wanted to get inside my head about Louisa’s wardrobe." She got a lot of Louisa's clothing from thrift shops and charity shops, but mainly from chain stores such as Matalan, Primark, and TK Maxx.
That's apart from the show-stopping red dress that had book fans gasping when the first trailer came out as it's such a special moment. They had to get the look just right, and therefore more money had to be spent on it. Moyes said: "In fact the only thing that is a proper expensive dress is the red dress and that’s because they tried so many dresses. But it had to be a showstopper and so that was the one they ended up using."
11. "Ultimately it’s a piece of fiction, it’s not meant to represent anybody else’s experiences."
Since previews for the film began it has come under a lot of criticism from disability rights campaigners, who are angry about the depiction of Will sending what they say is the wrong message.
“The message of the film is that disability is tragedy and disabled people are better off dead,” one campaigner said.
When asked about the backlash, Moyes said she understood why it is being criticised as she sees that it is a controversial topic, but she wanted to point out that it is fiction. She told us: "It’s a controversial topic, I get that, and people are going to have very strong opinions. I hope that if you get into the head of this very uncompromising man you understand why he chooses to make the decision that he makes. But ultimately it’s a piece of fiction, it’s not meant to represent anybody else’s experiences. It’s just the thing that interested us was to explore one person’s very particular circumstance."
12. And the main message of the book is "just not to judge".
Whether you read the book or watch the movie, whatever the format the story will certainly move you. So when we asked Moyes what she hopes people will take away from the story, she told us the overall message is "just not to judge".
She added: "I mean, the thing that intrigued me about the story I originally heard on the radio was my impulse was to immediately judge the parents. Like, What kind of parents are they? And I think when you look behind the curtain at the reality of someone’s situation what you realise is that most of the time people are doing their best in extraordinary circumstances. And what I felt about creating a story like this is you have one man whose decision you might not agree with, and nobody else agrees with it frankly in the film either, but I think it would be very hard once you know who he is to judge him for the decision that he makes. I think that we’re a very judgmental society and you never know really what goes on in someone’s mind or what experiences they’ve had to make that decision. So yeah, let’s just be a little kinder to each other."
It's one of the reasons why various views are shown in the film – not only Will's, but also those of his parents, who are more understanding of his decision, but also Louisa's mother, who at first is very vocal about disagreeing with it. "We wanted to make sure that all those opinions were represented. What we wanted to do was put the question, not give an answer. This just asks you: What would you do? You know, and it’s nothing more than that. I don’t think it can represent more than any other story can, it’s just one extreme situation."
13. There could potentially be a sequel based on the follow-up book, After You, which follows Louisa post-Will. But only if this first film warrants it.
"I think we’re all just a bit superstitious; we want to just see what happens with this one," Moyes said. They're keeping their options open for now.
But she enjoyed making the film so much she has already started work on adapting some of her other books in the meantime: "I mean, obviously I would always love to do another. In fact, I’ve actually gone on to adapt two more [of my] books since I wrote this one because I loved the process so much."