Somehow Ol Parker found himself making a movie about a teenage girl with terminal cancer trying to lose her virginity. He’s not quite sure how it happened either.
When the suggestion of making a film about the last months in the life of a 17-year-old girl dying of incurable cancer was first put to the British screenwriter and director Ol Parker, who recently wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (budget: £10m, box office: £125m), he was not keen.
“Well, would you be?” he asks. “I was like: ‘Thank you very much, but that’s not for me in any way’.”
Then he read a copy of the book on which the film would be based, Before I Die by Jenny Downham. After a particularly tear-jerky moment between Tessa and her dad, Parker himself was a goner. “That was the point, about 20 pages from the end of the book, where I thought ‘That’s it, we’re making this film’.”
The father-daughter relationship was Parker’s way in to writing the screenplay, he says. He even wrote in a scene where Tessa’s dad sits her suitor down for a breakfast summit: “That’s just me writing about my horror of when my daughters bring somebody home.”
Channelling the brain of a teenager was a trickier task, so he enlisted 17-year-old Scarlett Curtis, daughter of film director Richard, to alert him to any “general fogeyness”. (Though the excellent soundtrack, he’ll bashfully admit, is “basically my iPod”.)
Then, after securing a well-advised title change, he went and made Now is Good. They shot in London and Brighton, with Paddy Considine as the dad, Jeremy Irvine as the boyfriend and Hollywood starlet Dakota Fanning as Tessa — an actress Parker says is “genuinely remarkable; you keep waiting for the moment where she does something bullshitty and starry and it just doesn’t come.”
And now here it is: Now is Good is a film that’s funny and honest and — let’s face it — a major weepy. Parker says in one test screening for an audience of teenage girls, the last 15 minutes were drowned out by the sound of “keening”.
So now all he has to do is coax a few guys to go see it. “You’re well in if you do,” he says, “because your date will be sobbing on your shoulder.”
Now is Good is out on 21 September