ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Love at First Sight director Vanessa Caswill and writer Jennifer E. Smith about the Netflix film adaptation of Smith’s novel, which is now streaming. The duo discussed turning the story into a movie and the film’s sense of style.
“After missing her flight from New York to London, Hadley (Richardson) meets Oliver (Hardy) in a chance encounter at the airport that sparks an instant connection,” reads the official synopsis. “A long night on the plane together passes in the blink of an eye but upon landing at Heathrow, the pair are separated, and finding each other in the chaos seems impossible. Will fate intervene to transform these seat mates into soul mates?”
Tyler Treese: Vanessa, what I really liked was the, the sense of style you put on this film. I like the text on screen, the narration — it’s all very fun. Can you discuss adding that extra oomph that sets it apart from other rom-coms?
Vanessa Caswill: Sure. I think a big part of what you’re talking about was in the screenplay that Katie Lovejoy wrote. We just wanted to create something that felt very much like its own world, and that had a really strong palette and also felt really grounded as well as being kind of aspirational and joyful.
Jennifer, it has to be so magical to see this story go from your mind to the page to the screen. What about Vanessa’s take on your novel really impressed you the most?
Jennifer E. Smith: Well, the first time we spoke, Vanessa had the book and it was all marked up with post-it notes and highlights and underlines and I just knew it was in good hands. Even before then, Katie Lovejoy, who so brilliantly brought the story to life with the screenplay … everybody just really got it and really respected the source material and loved the story. So it felt like the whole time that the book — which I’ve lived with for so many years –was in really, really good hands. Any changes that were made were things that really elevated it, in my mind. Adding the narrator and some texture to Oliver’s backstory and just the palette of the movie and how stylized it is. It’s a movie that, to me, feels both whimsical and quirky and magical, but also really grounded in the heart it brings to the story. So I was just so pleased with how it all turned out.
Vanessa, you’ve worked so much in television. This is your first feature film, though. Was there much of an adjustment for doing a film compared to a TV series, or was it largely the same?
Caswill: I mean, it was less intense because it took less time to film it. Normally you’re doing like three hours of television in one block. So it was good to be able to give so much more attention to that hour and a half that we were making. Other than that, it’s pretty similar.
Jennifer, the novel came out a decade ago, so this movie will give the material a whole new life. So what about this story in particular, looking back on it, really resonates with you?
Smith: Well, of all the books I’ve written, this has been the one that, by far, has been most beloved by readers. For it to stand the test of time and to get this new push out in the world is really … it’s been one of the most gratifying experiences of my whole career. It’s a story that’s about connection and I think it’s about two people finding each other and meeting each other at the exact right moment.
There’s just something about the fact that it is sad and sweet and full of heart. It’s a rom-com, but it’s definitely more rom than com. [Laughs]. And I think that there’s something that really tugs at people’s heartstrings about this story and these characters. It’s really been a wonderful experience to get to watch readers fall in love with it, and I hope viewers will now too.
Vanessa, Haley Lu Richardson is just fantastic in this — I found her so charming. What qualities about her as an actress made you so certain that she was the right choice for Hadley? I came away so impressed by her.
Caswill: She’s very impressive. She’s a very talented actor. She came on board at the same time that I did. But I just think she’s such a unique and individual person. There’s no other Haley Lu Richardson, and I think that she really gives that to Hadley in a way. She’s funny and quirky and off-the-wall and just magnetic to be around.
Jennifer, were you able to visit the set any during production or be involved with that?
Smith: This was filmed during one of the deepest parts of Covid. It was in the winter of 2020 going into 2021. So I was supposed to go to set and London went into a lockdown, and it became too complicated. But we had a few days of reshoots about a year later, and I was able to go and meet Haley and Jameela [Jamil ] and get to see, and I think it’s so special because you write these books alone in a room with just the characters in your head.
Then to go to set and see the huge amount of people it takes to bring something like this to life. So it was really special. Actually, I was in the background in one of the scenes, and I was supposed to look like a stressed, disgruntled passenger in the airport, and Vanessa kept calling me over to the monitor to say, “You look too happy!” And I was like, “I am happy. My book is coming to life! I am happy!” [Laughs]. So needless to say, I got cut. I’m not an actor, but it was such a special experience. [Laughs].
Vanessa, what really impressed me about this movie is the leads just have such great chemistry. Was that something you had to work on or have them bond beforehand or was it just natural? They seemed so great together.
Caswill: It was very, very natural. It was instant. As soon as they met, we did a Zoom chemistry read. Even before they started to read the scene where they were just chatting, it was just so instant and it stayed that way for the whole shoot. They just really connected and were very fun and warm with each other.
Jennifer, this is your second novel that has been adapted into a movie. Your work has been translated into 33 languages. How fulfilling is it knowing that your work is truly reaching a worldwide audience? [Laughs].
Smith: It means the world. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, and I could never have dreamed of all this. It means the world. I’m so grateful for the readers who have kept this story going for all these years, and now, to get to see the story in a different medium on a different kind of platform but worldwide as well is just … I kind of can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. I remember starting to write this alone in a little studio apartment in New York City, and to now think of so many people around the world meeting Hadley and Oliver, it’s just unreal. It’s very, very unreal.