‘The Idea of You’ Producer Reveals How Taylor Swift’s Lyrics and Openness With Fans Relates to Anne Hathaway’s Casting

Cathy Schulman says getting into the movie business was a “bit of an accident.” It was a time before studying cinema was recognized as a fine art, so she was a playwrighting major at Yale. Then someone told her she would average about $1,500 for her plays. Concerned if she could support herself, she was advised to look into the movie business. “I said, ‘What’s that?’” Schulman, now the CEO and president of Welle Entertainment, recalls. “And the next thing you knew, I was in an interview, and I was hired to work on a set, and the rest is history.”

The movie was “Blue Steel,” and the-then 22-year-old Schulman was excited to see the film was being directed by a woman, Kathryn Bigelow. (She didn’t know it would be another 20 years before she worked with a female director.) From those humble beginnings, Schulman would go on to enormous success with a wide range of projects, from “The Edge of Seventeen” to “The Illusionist” to winning the Academy Award for producing “Crash.”

Her latest is “The Idea of You,” based on the novel by Robinne Lee about the relationship between single mother Solène (Anne Hathaway) and boy band star Hayes (Nicholas Galitzine.) A single mother who recently turned 40, Solène has a chance meeting with the 24-year-old singer and their chemistry is instantaneous. But more than that, the two have a true connection they want to explore. But the public response — and even that of people in their own lives — complicates matters.

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Michael Showalter directed and co-wrote (with Jennifer Westfeldt) the anticipated film, which set SXSW buzzing last month. Amazon MGM Studios will release “The Idea of You” via Prime Video on May 2.

I know producers can be versatile like actors, but looking at your list of movies, I don’t know that I could nail a specific theme that that unites them all, outside of quality.
There is a trend and I know this because I recently had to teach my own work. And it was strange to study what you’ve done and sort of see what I was thinking. But the throughline is race, class and gender. Everything deals with one of those three things.

Movies like “Crash” and “Darfur Now” about obviously about diversity and obstacles people face because of race or class. But I can go back to “Bad Moms” and remember thinking, “We need to make a movie about how it’s OK to be a mom that doesn’t succeed 100% at bake sales.” Or “The Edge of Seventeen” and thinking about the importance of being a girl growing into womanhood who doesn’t feel that she wants to focus on the internet. Or “The Woman King,” showing we can be a warrior and a mother. Or with “The Idea of You,” we’re really questioning the compartmentalization of women — you can only be a mother or you can only be a wife and you can’t have a sexual life after 40. All these things connected for me. But mostly I like to make entertaining films that also make us ask these kinds of questions.

Convincing people to make a movie always has its own challenges. What do you think has been your hardest film to pitch or sell? I think of something like “Horns,” where you explain the lead character is going to grow horns.
That’s funny you mention that one because the best thing “Horns” had going for it was Joe Hill wrote it, Stephen King’s son. But people understood the genre and it wasn’t so difficult.

I would probably say “Five Feet Apart.” We wanted to make a movie about two teenagers who had cystic fibrosis, who won’t live long, who fall in love but can’t touch each other — we now know that you have to be six feet apart and the idea was they decided to risk that foot to be together. We wanted them to wear masks through the entire movie. It was prescient, obviously. But we had these two attractive young leads and the idea that I thought they should wear masks … didn’t go over well. Not to mention it was about disease. But it ended up being such a romantic and sweet movie and it did enormously well. I tried to focus on the human emotions, not see these kids as victims, just two people who looked at how to overcome their own obstacles and consummate this young love.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 16: Cathy Schulman attends "The Idea Of You" World Premiere during SXSW at The Paramount Theater on March 16, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios)
AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 16: Cathy Schulman attends “The Idea Of You” World Premiere during SXSW at The Paramount Theater on March 16, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios)

Another thread is these wonderful actors and performances and that extends to “The Idea of You.” People have been raving about seeing Anne Hathaway back in a rom-com and how luminous she is here. Did you think of her right away?
The first person who came to my mind was Sandy [Bullock] but she wasn’t the right age. I’m not saying Anne wasn’t my first choice — I’m saying I was thinking about that girl who we can all put ourselves into their shoes. The girl next door thing. Meg Ryan also does it so well. And so does Anne. And I did that thing I always advise people not to do, which was really develop something with one person in mind — because what if you don’t get them?

So I definitely felt the character on the page was sort of the vintage Anne from “The Princess Diaries” or “The Devil Wears Prada.” And I missed that Anne, and I wondered if she misses it, too. But also she had mentioned to me that she wanted to do something when she was 40, where she could kind of stand on top of a building and scream, “I’m 40 and I’m still vibrant. And more than that, I can still have sex, and I can still light up a room!” And it worked out perfectly because she was 39, about to turn 40. She turned 40 during filming. She was also someone very willing to delve into the truth of what it means to be a woman at that age. I felt like maybe America would be willing to grow up with her.

I’m fascinated by the Taylor Swift phenomenon, I’m a huge fan, and in “Lavender Haze” she has the lyrics “the only kind of girl they see, is a one-night or a wife.” And Taylor Swift is someone who has shared every stage of her life with her fans — we have seen her through these stages. And I liked the idea that you could take an actor that generations have grown up with and she would let us in for this maturation event — a divorce and self-realization and a new life. I knew she’d be the right actress to walk us through this investigation.

In the film, Anne’s character is subject to some online cruelty because of the relationship and I know she’s been very open about her own struggles with that.
In the court of public opinion? Yes. That was a real character in the movie and Michael Showalter and I discussed it all the time. We were really driven to accentuate the fact that it’s society at its worst. In many ways, their biggest obstacle is the media, or this perception of what others think. We wanted to look at the crushing pressure of that court of public opinion that needs to take down women for being happy.

I don’t want to speak for her, but she talks about that period in her life and how she needed to recover, and I’m just so glad that people are rediscovering her because she put her heart and soul into this movie. She plays a strong character, but I really admire the vulnerability she allowed us to see.

Nicholas Galitzine has broken through in the last year, but that wasn’t the case when you cast him.
It’s funny — we had narrowed it down to two choices but there was this other young man we were supposed to meet that kept lurking in our minds. There were so many scheduling conflicts and changes and finally we decided to keep casting open one more day so we could see Nicholas. Michael spoke to him the night before the audition and he told me, “I just had a phone call with this kid, and I have this instinct that I just found him.”

The next day at the audition, it was so obvious. He and Anne clicked instantly. We made the guys do this improv where they had to try and get Anne to dance. You’re in a dry audition room with a bunch of people sitting at a table watching you and you have to figure out a way to get this accomplished actress to dance with you. And he did it — partly because he could sing himself and play his own guitar. So he sort of seduced her by guitar — which by the way, always works with women.

The performances in this film are so fantastic and there’s a couple of scenes in particular where I think Anne is doing some of the best work of her career. It makes me wonder why people sometimes dismiss rom-coms or don’t give them the same appreciation as other genres.
I think there’s a presumption that that joy and happiness are easier to act than torment and sadness. And the truth is, it’s the exact opposite.

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