Roger Michell was on a train when he first felt the symptoms. The director of the most successful British film of all time (”Notting Hill”: $360 million worldwide) was traveling from London to Paris to meet with a cinematographer about his next project, an epic World War II romance he was only months away from shooting. He caught the next train home and headed straight to the emergency room.
”At first, they couldn’t find anything wrong with me,” Michell, 45, recalls today, three years later, now fully recuperated and sipping a cup of English breakfast tea in a Beverly Hills hotel bar. ”But then they did an EKG and the nurse turned to me and said, ‘Are you aware that you’re having a heart attack?”’
As fate would have it, that heart attack may have saved Michell’s life — at least professionally. The film it prevented him from directing turned out to be one of last summer’s biggest bombs, ”Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” (which ended up being directed by John Madden, who might want to think about upping his cholesterol). Instead, Michell took some time off, quit smoking, and now he’s following up ”Notting Hill” with a very different sort of film, ”Changing Lanes,” an edgy urban drama that just happens to be about the vagaries of fate — how the tiniest twist of it can alter the course of one’s whole life.
”I suppose you could draw a connection between what happened to me and [the themes of] this movie,” the filmmaker concedes. ”But I really have no idea why I decided to do ‘Changing Lanes’ — except that it wasn’t another romantic comedy. Romantic comedies are very hard and boring to shoot — much harder than this movie was — because they’re not funny while you’re making them. We did a read-through of ‘Notting Hill’ on the last day of rehearsal and that was the last time I laughed for four months.”