Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Last Christmas.
“Last Christmas I gave you my heart…”
The chorus of Wham’s holiday earworm has long regaled Christmas shoppers with a tale of betrayal and disappointed love — but imagine if you took those lyrics literally. Last Christmas does just that.
The Paul Feig-directed romantic dramedy (in theaters today) follows Kate (Emilia Clarke), a young woman who is sorely lacking direction after a traumatic illness but starts to turn her life around after a chance meeting with Tom (Henry Golding), a charming, if quirky man who helps her get a new outlook on life. But Tom is actually a spectral figure from the great beyond. As it turns out, he’s the heart donor who saved Kate’s life when she was in dire need of a transplant (hence the whole literal interpretation of the lyrics thing).
This twist may break your heart, or it may infuriate you, but it also establishes an essential new fact: Golding is now in the pantheon of pop culture hot ghosts, alongside the likes of Patrick Swayze in Ghost and Jeffrey Dean Morgan on Grey’s Anatomy.
“I never really thought about that, to be honest with you,” Golding says, laughing, upon hearing the news about his induction into the annals of spectral snack history. “But being one of those dreamy ghost dudes, I’m all for it!”
To prepare to play Tom, a man who the audience must believe is living and breathing until the crucial third-act reveal, Golding had to do everything from studiously avoiding interacting with background actors to working with a movement coach to find a more ethereal way of walking through London’s festive streets.
Yet Golding says his supernatural turn is far from what he considers the most compelling part of the film. “It’s super-snappy. I love the film for that reason,” he tells EW. “The motion of this film is amazing. You never get bored. You’re always laughing or you’re concerned or you’re crying or you’re enjoying them falling in love. There’s so much happening.”
Below, Golding discusses everything from the mechanics of ghost romance to his love of George Michael and Game of Thrones to his favorite holiday traditions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: At what point did you learn your character was going to turn out to be a ghost? Did you figure it out as you were reading the script for the first time?
HENRY GOLDING: Initially, Paul approached me and said, “I’ve got this wonderful script I want you to read and I can’t see anyone else playing it but you. We have Emilia Clarke attached, Emma Thompson co-wrote it with her husband.” I pretty much told him yes from there, but I was like, “Pass it over to my team and I’ll read through it.” Before I could read it, one of my agents was like, “Oh my God, there’s this brilliant thing and then there’s a reveal which is amazing.” Then he tells me the reveal! But then I read the script myself, and there’s just so much more. The initial script was fairly different to what actually we filmed because initially she finds his phone and he sort of appears in a text message and he’s not physically there. I was talking to Emma and Paul, and I was like, “I really believe Tom needs to say his final goodbye face to face. There has to be a moment where he holds her or holds his hand over her chest to say goodbye.”
What kind of hoops did you have to jump through to keep that twist a secret while shooting? Or were there any?
In some respects, yes. Because we had to make sure that I never really interacted with anyone else. We had to make sure the extras weren’t looking in my direction. We had to keep it semi-secret. Emilia had to do these shots of us interacting and then me leaving and her continuing as if I’m not even there to show that I physically wasn’t around. I do remember the scene in the ice skating rink. The whole day myself and her were on the rink, and we were having this amazing time together. Then it came to a point where she had to do it all on her own, and we all had tears in our eyes because we just saw how lonely and how sad it was. They just had this beautiful moment, but it was all within her.
You both knew how to ice skate?
Myself more than Emilia. It was very challenging for her. But she got me back with the singing.
Paul has said you remind him of Cary Grant. Did you watch The Bishop’s Wife, which this twist is reminiscent of, or anything else starring Grant to get a sense of that sensibility he was going for?
Because the film really wasn’t about him being otherworldly, I concentrated more on Tom as a character who is living and breathing, and in what way would he interact with somebody that he feels needs his help. I asked Paul for a movement coach in the form of Jenny White. I wanted him to have a rhythm to him or a fun, light-on-his-feet ability to bounce around and bring joy to people. He may not be the best dancer, but by gosh he’ll put his full energy into it. I pulled upon Grace Kelly and all these amazing old Hollywood stars of how they would move about on the floor and created Tom the human, the person.
Were you a big George Michael fan going in?
Oh, massive! I mean, growing up in the U.K., it’s hard not to be a massive fan. But this really puts everything into perspective and context. You listen to the melody in a pop song, right? But when you’re listening to his actual lyrics, which you do when you’re older, it makes so much sense. He was such a giving human. So I appreciate it even more now.
The music is heard in the film throughout, but was it playing on set a lot?
Yeah, even on the ice skating rink, we were blaring the song that is in the movie, just to get us into that romantic mood. It was such a good vibe on set. It wasn’t hard to get into that spirit of creating something special.
We’ve got to talk about the mechanics of otherworldly romance. You can kiss her, but you won’t go further. Is that a ghost problem, like spectral dysfunction, or more a consideration for her heart?
It’s a bit of both, really. He sees something in Kate — he drastically wants her to realize she’s going to be ok. She’s stuck in a rut at the moment. She’s at a very large crossroads which we all come to, our quarter life crisis of “I’m becoming an adult, I should be adulting, but I’m not.” For him, it’s really bringing her out of that and using what he knew to change that. We sneak in one of the most amazing onscreen kisses the world will see. It’s such a magical moment. It’s so fitting for it. We don’t need anything else. It fills that wish fulfillment that we all want to see these two beautiful characters love each other.
Emma managed to include Brexit and the repercussions for immigrants in Britain in the story. Were you surprised to find that in the script considering what else is going on tonally?
Not at all. She and her husband [Greg Wise] are notoriously outspoken about matters that really concern them and ones they feel so passionate about. Especially with immigration and misplaced identities and political stances and things that the U.K. is going through now, which are affecting millions of people. It’s in the movie, but it’s not shoved down your throat. It’s a depiction of real life. These are the matters we have to deal with. It’s all good and well making a movie and brushing it all aside, but why not stare it in its face and question and shine a light into these things?
Were you a big Game of Thrones fan before working with Emilia? Did you try to pump her for secrets on the final season?
Massively. I think I asked her once, and of course she turned me down. She said something like, “I didn’t even tell my mother, you know?” I didn’t push at all.
Last Christmas showcases so many festive London locations. Do you have a personal favorite spot?
I love winter walks down at South Bank, and along the embankment, with all the lights. There’s often a Christmas fair during that time of year. Just a stroll through London. You literally can’t get sick of that city.
Do you have a favorite holiday film?
Yeah, Last Christmas. [Laughs] No, I think I always fall on either The Grinch or Elf or Die Hard. I’ve got such an easy, non-intelligent choice of family fun. You’ve overeaten, you’re sat on the couch with the rest of your family, you just want to put on something that is brain-numbing and fun. I love those types of movies.
What about a beloved holiday tradition?
We often go for a family walk after our Christmas lunch. It’s super-British, I know. I forcibly drag everybody out. But it’s so nice to get out in the air, and you bump into other families who are doing the same. That’s my favorite thing to do during Christmas. It’s wonderful to be able to do that when I’m back in the U.K. with family.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.