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Director Augustine Frizzell On Netflix's Newest Mystery Romance Film

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It started as an illicit affair in 1965, a businessman's wife falling for the journalist sent to cover her husband. It turns into a modern-day love story of a writer piecing together the lives of those lovers through the letters they left behind. "The Last Letter From Your Lover" is Netflix's new mystery romance, adapted from the novel by Jojo Moyes. The movie's director is Augustine Frizzell, and she joins us now. Hello.

AUGUSTINE FRIZZELL: Hi. Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I love mystery romance as a genre (laughter).

FRIZZELL: Oh, good.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Normally, we don't put those two words together.

FRIZZELL: It's true. It's true. It's not that often anymore.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Tell us about our two protagonists. Jennifer is played by Shailene Woodley, and Ellie is played by Felicity Jones. Their circumstances are very different. Jennifer does not seem entirely satisfied by her life as a wife in 1965, and Ellie is deeply invested in her career. But what do they have in common?

FRIZZELL: So I think with both women, they're looking to find agency in their lives. And I believe that Felicity - you know, Ellie - she's a little closer. But I still think it's challenging, sometimes, to follow your heart and make decisions that feel scary, you know, especially as a woman at her age. She discusses having been in a long-term relationship and then that nearing marriage or ending, and it's such a scary place to be. And so many of the friends that I've spoken with have been there. You know, they're in their early 30s. And we literally have a biological ticking clock, you know, that says you may not meet another person you want to have kids with. You might not ever meet someone else.

And for Jennifer, it's a different version of that in that she's stuck in this marriage that isn't what she wants it to be. And the expectations from society are so strong for her to stay in this marriage and to be the perfect hostess and the perfect-looking wife. And she wants something more, and she's kind of stuck.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, this is a very layered story. It's across two different time periods. You've got two main characters. You've got two genres, mystery and romance. How did you balance all of those parallels?

FRIZZELL: It's hard (laughter). It's really hard.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

FRIZZELL: I don't know. I mean, I feel like, you know, we set out to do something crazy ambitious. And it's based on such a complicated book that taking it to screen - it wasn't an easy task. And I feel like, you know, you kind of do the best you can and focus on the love story and try and make that as rich as possible and then trying to balance out the two women. Yeah. It was really hard. I'm not going to lie.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, I think it's an incredibly ambitious and really kind of engrossing film. You've been quoted as saying this is your hot-cup-of-tea movie. What do you mean by that?

FRIZZELL: Yeah. It's just, you know, sometimes, you just want to put on something that you want to watch on a Sunday when it's raining that feels warm and cozy, and it's not too complicated. It's - you know, it's just kind of an escapist. It's beautiful. You're watching people fall in love and, you know, have these experiences, and it makes you feel warm at the end, kind of like hot tea does. And also, it's British, so yeah, like that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laugher). It has that parallel. I understand the story is very personal to you. You fell in love with your husband by writing letters to one another.

FRIZZELL: Yes, we did.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Aw, that's amazing. Can you tell me how that worked? Because it's not common anymore to do that.

FRIZZELL: No. I know, and I feel very lucky that we did. So we met once in 2001, and we briefly dated and then went our separate ways. And about eight years later, we reacquainted for one night. He was in town from LA, where he was living, and I was in Dallas, where I lived. And we had dinner and then went our separate ways, and he said, hey, I'm going to write you tonight. I want to send you this song. And so he wrote me on email, and then I wrote him back. And then he wrote me back, and that continued for a minute.

And then it led to, hey, I found this thing at, like, a thrift store. I'm going to send it to you. And so that involved also, you know, a little note because when you send a package, you write a little note. And then that led to a response package and then a response letter. And it felt kind of like magic, to be honest. It felt like we were connecting with each other in a way that probably wouldn't have happened had we just been hanging out in person - I mean, maybe. But I think it was the way that he has with expressing himself in the written word that really allowed him to pour out his feelings and allowed me to get to know him and understand him and fall in love with him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's a really beautiful story. Is that what drew you to this - you know, this material?

FRIZZELL: Yeah, totally. I mean, there was that, and it just also felt so cozy, like I said. Like, I just - I loved the idea of coming to London and shooting something on the - you know, the French Riviera and something that just felt uncomplicated and not light on plot, but, you know, I don't want to - I just want to put something on sometimes where you don't really have to think too hard. You can just, like, let the images wash over you and just go along for the ride. And that's kind of the other aspect of this movie that I really was attracted to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what was it like working with the two main characters? I mean, these are powerful, powerful actors.

FRIZZELL: It's the best. I mean, I love working with actors at any stage in their career. I love brand-newbies who are just learning, you know, their way around the film industry. And I love, you know, nonactors. But it was very, very cool to be working with two people who are at the very top of their game.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, take me onto the set. What was the sort of energy like?

FRIZZELL: Yeah. We had all these great experiences outside of set, and I think that carried over to set really beautifully. We were all enjoying ourselves, and I think that's what I was looking for, just an experience working with people who are great in beautiful locations, you know, working on something that just felt, like, nourishing. And that's exactly what we got.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess nourishing is not a word that I often hear used when talking about something like this, so I'm just wondering, you know, where you think it comes from.

FRIZZELL: I don't know. I mean, I think for me, I have thought a lot about this because when you set out to make a movie like this, which is - you know, it's like a beach read or something that's very light and - you kind of know what you're getting into because these movies - they're received in a particular way. Like, all of my favorite romance films from the past, whether it be, like, "The Notebook" or "Dirty Dancing" - you know, they have, like, a weird reception. A lot of times they're - I don't know why they're received in that way. Maybe for whatever reason...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because they often attract women (laughter) as their audience.

FRIZZELL: Yeah - because they're emotional rather than intellectual, I think, a lot of times. And that is something that women share where I feel - for the most part and not entirely true - but we're really connected with our emotions. And so I think for me, I can watch a movie and forgive its lack of intellectual depth and just take something for the emotional ride, right? And so I think in the making of the film, that was also so important to me, and I think the actors, as well, kind of felt similarly. We just wanted to do something that was fun and breezy and really felt good in the experience of making it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, it is an immersive film. That's director Augustine Frizzell. Her new film is "The Last Letter From Your Lover." It's now on Netflix. Thank you very much.

FRIZZELL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.