“Irreplaceable You” is the heartwarming, romantic story of Abbie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Sam (Michiel Huisman), best friends since childhood who are engaged to be married, and whose tranquil New York lives come crashing down when Abbie receives an unexpected diagnosis.
Faced with the prospect of an uncertain timeline, Abbie begins a touching and often humorous search for a new love to take care of Sam. Along the way, Abbie makes unlikely friendships with Myron (Christopher Walken), Kate (Kate McKinnon) and Mitch (Steve Coogan) whose one thing in common is that they focus on living, while they are dying. Ultimately, the film asks the question, how do you say goodbye?
We caught up with the cast and creatives behind the film at a special screening at Metrograph on Thursday. Check out our exclusive red carpet interviews below.
Stephanie Laing is a producer and assistant director, known for Veep (2012), Eastbound & Down (2009) and Vice Principals (2016). Irreplaceable You marks her feature directorial debut.
Tell me a little bit about what you loved about this script and the writing.
Stephanie: It’s real. It’s funny and honest. I read it. I was five pages in and I knew I had to make it. I knew without a doubt.
You’re such a prolific producer. You directed for TV as well, but this is your feature film directorial debut.
Stephanie: This is my baby.
Tell me a little bit about that.
Stephanie: I knew I wanted to make a film and, like I said, I read it. I was five pages in. I was laughing. I was crying. I was like, “This is it. I have to make this movie.” I work with a casting director, Sherry Thomas. I called her, and I was like, “You have to read this, this is really special. We have to make this movie together,” and we did, and she said, “Can’t stop, won’t stop.” She uttered those four words, and that was it. First, we had Gugu. We had Brian and Matt come in to finance it. We had the rest of the cast, and then Christopher Walken was the last person to join in, but how amazing is that?
His scenes with Gugu are awesome. Speak about Gugu and Michiel, their chemistry and building that relationship with them.
Stephanie: They had chemistry from the very beginning. We went out for a Chinese meal when they first got into town, and that was it. They had chemistry, and when I first Skyped with Michiel, he was in Amsterdam, and we were talking, and that was it. He was Sam for me, and I always wanted Gugu. I just couldn’t see, honestly, anybody else. She’s so talented, and I think in this movie, she’s the dramatic moments, the heart, the comedy. Everything she does there’s so much range, and it’s such a dream to have her, and then it becomes this cast magnet. It starts with a great script, and then I know Steve Coogan quite well, and I was like, “Please, run this group,” and I did a lot of research with support groups, and so Kate McKinnon’s character comes from the research. So does Steve Coogan’s. And I was so surprised at the humor in those groups, and how they really do, at least the ones that I was in, really divided themselves by men and women, and there was a lot of humor. They laughed a lot, and I was like, “Wow, this is really great. They’re really focusing on living, not dying.”
How was shooting in New York? It’s a very New York tale.
Stephanie: I moved here six years ago, so it was really a dream to shoot something here. Plus, I have three kids, and I was like, “It’d be really nice to not have to leave town, and be able to shoot something.” I just wanted to show a side of New York that isn’t necessarily the touristy parts, and so we shot in Bushwick, and obviously, we shoot on the water. You saw that, but it’s what does their New York look like? I think it’s such a great character, and the color palette and everything that comes out, it’s beautiful in the winter.
It does have this natural light feel. I thought it was very pretty, aesthetically, to look at.
Stephanie: Yeah, and we’ve got Abbie Blue, so every frame has her blue in it, intentionally, so much so that by the end of it, someone in the art department was like, “I don’t want to see Abbie Blue again for a really long time,” but it works really well, color palette-wise.
Stephanie: I’m attached to direct an article, a New York Times modern love story. I can’t really say anything more than that at the moment, but I am attached to that, and I have a Hulu pilot with Kat Dennings that Margot Robbie’s producing. I think for me, it’s just working with really strong women, really talented women, and then obviously, men like Jonathan Tropper, who came in to produce this because I had worked with him on a TV show, and I sent him the script and said, “Everything you do is about death, so you have to come and make this movie with me.” Thankfully, he did, and again, it’s just surrounding yourself with the right people.
Farah Abushwesha produced the film.
Tell me what attracted you to work on this project?
Farah: Stephanie sent me the script with a “read this” notice, and what can I say? I just knew I had to make it. I knew I had to be a part of it, and I slept on Stephanie’s couch for five months while we put this together, coming back and forth from the UK, so it was very exciting to see it come together and see it evolve to be the thing that we wanted it to be, this beautiful, moving film.
Speak about working with Gugu and Michiel?
Farah: They’re just delightful. Those people went on a wide range of emotions on this film, in a way that … they were really brave with it, too, and very trusting, and I think that’s the incredible thing about Stephanie, is that Stephanie, from the moment, that you meet her, she gets you, and I think that they felt that, and for actors to really trust, and go somewhere very deep … You’ll see it in the film.
Speak about working in New York.
Farah: It was completely new to me, because of course I’m Irish, and I live in London, so I had never worked in New York before in that kind of way, so it was a real eye-opener, and the crews are fantastic here. The crew and the cast, they work really long hours. They’re very, very committed. There’s a lot of them here tonight, because this was their journey, too. It was a real eye-opener. There’s a lot of rules and regulations that are different, but everything is out to best serve the crew and the cast, and for safety.
How long was the shoot?
Farah: Four weeks.
What’s coming up next for you?
Farah: I have another film in post, which has been written and directed by a director called Daisy Lewis and I’ve got a big TV series coming up that I start in two weeks when I get back from this.
Lesley Barber composed the music.
Tell me a little bit about your vision for the music.
Lesley Barber: With the music I wanted to really create a real presence for both characters. Quite often, with a story like this, we focus on the main character going through this life-changing event. I wanted to experience the person who was responding as well, so the character of Sam is responding to all this, so I came up with this idea of using male vocals, and also having a theme that then links the two of them together in a real love theme, but I wanted his presence and his emotionality, because he’s what she’s leaving. He’s what she’s experiencing, and he’s also experiencing it too, and that was sort of an unusual angle on this, and I think it turned out quite successfully. I quite love it.
Tell me how you got your start in composing for film.
Lesley Barber: I was a frustrated writer and a composer. Especially plays and screenplays. Once I discovered theater and film in general, I felt like I’d really found my niche, that I could tell stories with my music, and I could meet some of the best collaborators you could ever meet, and be able to tell stories that … you travel inside, and you get to go inside a story, and you get to stay there for weeks on end with these beautiful characters, and beautiful writers, and beautiful collaborators.
Speak about building this relationship with Gugu. There are so many emotional ups and downs throughout the film.
Michiel: I think it was very natural, and very easy. You just start with trying to both understand the story, and what these people are about, and you build this world around them, but then I think we just hit it off and had such a great chemistry while working that … I hope you’ll see that when you watch the movie.
Speak about collaborating with Stephanie on her feature directorial debut.
Michiel: I’m so proud to be part of that. She had, of course, already done a couple of TV episodes and stuff. But doing a movie is different, and I’m really proud to be a part of that and be part of this ensemble.
How was filming in New York?
Michiel: It’s the best. This was the best experience so far, and I want it again, because I live here now.
How did you prepare for the role?
Gugu Mbatha-Raw: Yeah, I did go to a cancer support group in LA, which was really, really, helpful, and I felt honored that they allowed me into their safe space, and meeting about six or seven people who were cancer survivors, or were dealing with that, and for them, the emphasis on keeping your sense of humor in such dire circumstances, gallows humor if you like, I think that’s something that we have tried to keep the spirit of in the film, and what’s really attracted me to the film is that even when really tough things are happening, you have a spirit inside of you, and sometimes keeping your sense of perspective and being able to surrender to the situation is the best coping mechanisms.
What did you love about Abbie and Sam’s relationship?
Gugu: I love that they are childhood sweethearts. I think that that’s so, so special. I love that way that Stephanie, the director, depicts how they come to adulthood, and that they have real challenges, and that they’re flawed people. Abbie’s really controlling. Sam’s really sweet, but there’s the dynamic between them. I just love it, and it was written on the page. Bess Wohl’s script was really sparky and emotional, and so the dialogue was really, really fun to play.
Could you tell me a little bit about what it was like working with Stephanie?
Gugu: Stephanie’s amazing. This is Stephanie’s first film. She’s produced Veep for several years, so she’s very well-respected in the comedy world, but Stephanie’s just so grounded and centered, and she has got a really calming influence on the set, and I just love working with her. I can’t wait to work with her again.
You got to work with Jacki Weaver and Christopher Walken. How cool is that?
Gugu: I know. The coolest! Absolute legends. Jacki Weaver is amazing. I’ve been a fan of her work for such a long time, and of course Christopher Walken, utter legend. When I told my mom I was working with Christopher Walken, she was like, “Oh my god. Me and your father went to see ‘The Deer Hunter’ on one of our first dates.” That’s seriously full circle. I haven’t told him that yet, but that’s meaningful to my parents’ generation, so yeah, this is major, and I’m really honored to have had the experience to work with him.
What sets this apart from other romantic dramedies out there?
Gugu: There’s a boldness to the tone of this movie. There’s lots of movies about cancer. There’s lots of romantic comedies, but I think there’s something here that is this tonal tightrope of embracing the absurd in a dire situation, and also, even though my character has a terminal illness, this movie is really about letting go, and about accepting your situation, being in the present, living in the moment, not worrying about the future or the past, and I think there’s something very spiritual about that message that we can all use in our culture today, to celebrate what you have, and live life.
The film hits Netflix on Feb. 16.