Garry Marshall’s 5 rules for making a rom-com
After 50-plus years in the business, the director of 'Pretty Woman,' 'The Princess Diaries,' and 'Mother's Day' shares his secrets.
No director has made more swoon-worthy movies than Garry Marshall (Runaway Bride, Overboard). “I believe in fairy tales, and I believe other people do too,” says Marshall, 81. “I like to specialize in charming movies.” And charm he does. His new movie, Mother’s Day (out now), starring Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts, rounds out a trilogy of holiday-themed flicks (Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve) that make the most of Marshall’s years in the rom-com trenches. Here, he reveals his recipe for making us fall in love.
1. SENTIMENT SELLS
Working on Mother’s Day with Kate Hudson evoked Marshall’s experience with her mother, Goldie Hawn, on 1987’s Overboard. “Kate was 7 years old, and I held her on my lap. We would yell ‘Action’ together,” the director recalls. History was repeated when Hudson brought her boys to visit the Mother’s Day set. “I’d say, ‘Okay, let’s yell “Action” for Mommy!'” Marshall says. “Kate noticed that…. [It’s the] circle of life.”
2. KEEP IT REAL
Marshall incorporates real-world references into his films to help anchor the frothy romance. For a Jennifer Garner karaoke scene in Mother’s Day, for instance, the sign-up board behind her includes the names of men with whom Marshall served in the Korean War. “I didn’t sing in the mess hall,” jokes Marshall, “But I sure ate there.” And the famous bathtub scene in Pretty Woman originated with an off-camera bit where Julia Roberts and Richard Gere compared hands. “It’s in those moments that they do something you don’t expect,” Marshall says. “That’s when the magic happens.”
3. THE KISS IS EVERYTHING
A fairy-tale ending is only as good as the chemistry between costars. “I always do screen tests where they have to kiss,” says Marshall, who watches the lip-lock footage without sound to gauge its head-over-heels appeal. To reprise her role in The Princess Diaries 2, Anne Hathaway kissed several hunky Hollywood frogs before finding her prince in Chris Pine. “I told Annie, ‘You’re testing with seven different guys and kissing them all,'” Marshall recalls. “She said, ‘Oh, that could be fun.'”
4. BIG CAST = BIG EVENT
Marquee films packed with A-list stars playing intertwined characters have become a Marshall signature. “When I first started making movies with five story lines, it was a way to be ahead [of filmmaking trends at the time],” he says. It also proved to be economical — a means of nabbing big talent without doling out big bucks. “You can’t pay that many people to work three months,” he says. “But three days? Not bad.” Which begs the question: How did Marshall pitch Roberts the part of a bobbed home shopping network personality in Mother’s Day? “I was watching a Little League game with my grandson, and her son was on the other team,” recalls Marshall. “We didn’t talk business between innings, since you don’t do that as a good parent or grandparent. But we talked for a bit after.” Marshall followed up by dropping off the script in her mailbox — and Roberts decided she wanted the role. Says Marshall, “She’s great in this picture.”
5. IT’S ABOUT THE GIRL
What do Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, and Kate Hudson have in common? They all kick-started their careers with starring roles in Marshall movies. “That’s my biggest pride, finding kids coming up,” he says. “Julia started with me when she was 19, and Annie was 18 in The Princess Diaries.” In Mother’s Day, Marshall cast emerging star Britt Robertson (Tomorrowland) as a new mom in search of her own mother. “Young people are as exciting to me as veterans,” he says.