FILM / Some kind of wonderful: Anthony Minghella would like you to forget Sleepless in Seattle. He tells Sheila Johnston why

YOU'D think it was enough to make a highly regarded film, one which won awards and proved its commercial mettle on both sides of the Atlantic. It should be enough, too, to be a respected writer in a range of media, for theatre (Made in Bangkok), television (What If It's Raining?; Inspector Morse) and radio (Hang Up; Coffee and Cigarettes). But no: none of the above sufficed for the wonderful world of movie promotion, and when Anthony Minghella's first film, Truly, Madly, Deeply, began to attract attention, it was pitched, almost inevitably, as the thinking person's Ghost.

Now Minghella has just made his second film, a bittersweet romantic comedy called Mr Wonderful. It has an American setting (Brooklyn's blue-collar Italian community), American stars (Matt Dillon, Annabella Sciorra, William Hurt), a high budget and a neat concept (man tries to find a new mate for his ex-wife, but finds his own love for her re-kindling). And naturally, Minghella says, the question this time on everyone's lips is: 'Where are you on Sleepless in Seattle?'

The comparison isn't unintentional (if you've been to see Sleepless lately, you may have had a leaflet thrust into your hand promising that, if you liked it, you'll love Mr W), and Minghella is pragmatic about it. 'It's hard to get people to leave Screen One, where some huge blockbuster is on, and go next door to see a story about small events in people's lives. I feel vulnerable. But I don't know what else to do] The issues of those other movies don't concern me.

'I know this film is going to be compared to Sleepless in Seattle, although its intentions are certainly very different. Sleepless offers you escape into a world where all things are possible and delightful. It's streamlined, like a shark: it delivers so manifestly to an audience. But it's not a film I would want to make. Mr Wonderful presents, I hope, a recognisable geography, and the inability of most people to achieve anything very much. It's much more equivocal.'

That's not to say that this is not, on the whole, a sunny, sweet-tempered movie - 'It's not nihilistic or cynical or . . angry about anything. In particular,' says Minghella, almost apologetically. He's aware that it lacks the fierce, raw, blotchy grief of Truly, Madly, Deeply, but insists that this is down to the 'Hollywood lite' syndrome - the pressure to keep any darker moments bland and palatable.

'Mr Wonderful is set in a social territory where it's not easy to express your emotions as Juliet Stevenson's character could do in Truly, Madly, Deeply. That's part of the privilege of her class. The people here can't articulate their feelings as clearly. You can't just pour big emotional set-piece scenes into films willy-nilly: I tried to show it in a different way, and one which seemed more authentic, so that those moments come from, say, a halting and unsatisfactory conversation over a car.

'There's always the assumption that what makes screenplays good or bad is what people say to each other. Whereas my stories are more about the circumstances of talking and the inability or refusal to say what we want to say.'

Truly was written with Stevenson in view. In Mr Wonderful, as with all Minghella's work, casting was critical, but a more delicate and complicated business. 'There's much more baggage accompanying an American actor - literally, in the sense that they bring more people and things with them. Although it sounds very cranky and demanding from a distance, it becomes much easier to understand when you see the sort of scrutiny they come under.

'It's very hard, if you're William Hurt or Matt Dillon, to lead a normal life. You can't say, 'I'll meet you in a cafe at 9.00am' and expect that to be a straightforward transaction. Whereas I could have a cup of coffee with Juliet and it would be perfectly normal.

'That's just a social illustration. But, much more, there is a sense of audiences following actors through projects, expecting them to look good, investing in them for their appearance and public personalities. There's pressure on those actors to remain themselves rather than to play a character. Whereas in Britain still, rightly or wrongly, when we go to see Alan Rickman in a film, we're not necessarily expecting him to recreate a series of characteristics we've come to like.

'Matt was one of a very tiny group of actors who convince as working people. When I see him getting down into the ground in a pair of dungarees I find it entirely credible. With other leading men you find it hard to travel with them when they're not wearing a suit or a designer outfit. He inhabits the streets in a way that a lot of actors don't - he walks around New York; he has an attitude to the city.'

You can see why these things would equip Dillon for Mr Wonderful, much of which, unusually for an American film about intimate relationships, takes place in public, in bars, at the workplace and out on the streets. 'Emotional life is very rarely played out in some hermetic chamber. Normally it plaits into your coming to work and who your mates are, and yet films tend to haul people out of real environments and put them in places where those two heads can examine each other.'

The working-class milieu (Dillon and his clique are electrical workers) is atypical too. The lovers in Sleepless were a journalist and an architect, and, if you run your finger down the current American movies, you will see a checklist of lawyers, CIA agents, cops, famous rock stars and palaeontologists, but a conspicuous dearth of garbage collectors, plumbers and supermarket check-out girls.

'I think there's always some rather mechanical reason for that: partly it's because some professions give you control of your time: you're more mobile, and intersect with potentially interesting people and subjects. Also, America is an aspirational society. In New York electrical workers are the butt of a great deal of humour because they're always digging up the street. These guys are princes of the city in a way; they control it, though they're never given much credit for it.'

He is currently working on a new project called Seven Deadly Sins, a 'Faustian morality story' for Jim Henson Productions. Had he heard about an American film in the works called The Ten Commandments? Minghella heaves a humorous sigh. 'I can see that I'm probably about an inch behind some huge Hollywood project. I suppose that means that when people interview me about Seven Deadly Sins, they'll go, 'Now about The Ten Commandments . . . ' '

Mr Wonderful opens on 22 October; see box (left) for details of free preview screenings

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own