The Idea of You Director on Bringing the Book to the Big Screen With Anne Hathaway

The Big Sick director Michael Showalter and Anne Hathaway bring a new romantic drama to SXSW about the world’s greatest pop star… and the mother of his biggest fan.

Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine in The Idea of You
Photo: Amazon MGM Studios

This article appears in the SXSW 2024 issue of Den of Geek magazine. Check out all of our SXSW coverage here.

There are meet cutes, and there are meet cutes. And then there is the ballad of Solène Marchand and Hayes Campbell: the fortysomething single mother chaperoning her daughter at this year’s Coachella and the boy band superstar who’s headlining the show. Such are the twists and quirks of the heart, as well as The Idea of You, a beloved romance novel by Robinne Lee turned one of the buzziest new romantic dramas at this year’s fest.

Arriving with no less than Anne Hathaway as Solène–an actor who is no stranger to romance films–and Red, White & Royal Blue’s Nicholas Galitzine as the pop star, The Idea of You might just be South By royalty, with director Michael Showalter previously bringing The Big Sick to Austin in 2017. In our chat with the director for Den of Geek magazine, Showalter also compares his latest effort to Notting Hill and the cult of Harry Styles fandom. 

Were you a fan of Robinne Lee’s novel before this project came along?

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It came to me as a script. So I became familiar with the novel after I already knew about the movie project. But as a fan of romantic comedy, I’m always looking for a romantic equation that feels like something that I haven’t seen before, a new area to explore. So I loved the idea that, in this moment, we’re all intrigued with these various, different pop stars, both male and female, and their various, different love lives. So the idea of this somewhat older, divorced mom finding herself entangled with the biggest lead singer of the biggest boy band on the planet just felt like a really fun world to explore in terms of the genre.

Some folks have speculated that the novel’s pop star is inspired by Harry Styles. Did you get a sense of that?

You’d have to ask Robinne Lee. I wouldn’t want to speak for her. But I think, for myself, there’s a lot of interest in Harry Styles. He certainly bears some similarities with Harry Styles. He’s British and not what you would expect him to be. He reveals sides of himself that are refreshing. And I think that’s what seems appealing about Harry Styles; he’s breaking some expectations. So I feel like there are definitely some similarities there… but it’s sort of an amalgam of everything.

Styles is such an interesting one, particularly for me as a Brit, because he came up through a reality TV show and was this ordinary British kid who suddenly became this incredible megastar.

And that’s what happens in the movie. What’s interesting about [Galitzine’s] character is that. He has a line in the movie where he says, “On the same day I auditioned to be in the boy band, I also auditioned to play Tiny Tim in a local production of A Christmas Carol.” And he says, “If I’d gotten the play, I would’ve done it, and someone else would’ve been me in the band. Who would I be now?”

Even though he is this huge, giant pop star, like you said, part of what makes him a vulnerable character is that there’s a little part of him that knows that it sort of happened in this strange way, and he questions on some level, “Am I a real artist?” … One Direction was going to happen with or without Harry Styles, and that’s something interesting to think about.

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It’s interesting that it is about an older woman and a younger man because, largely speaking, we don’t see that in films very often.

I like making movies that are entertaining and commercial, but that also say something about our society in some small way. There’s a double standard, and we see it where older men date younger women and get a high five for it. But there’s some skepticism when it’s an older woman and a younger man. It’s treated with skepticism or ridicule, calling them cougars. It’s a real double standard.

The internet [in the movie] and the social media of fans—everybody has a very strong opinion about it. There are forces outside the relationship that are trying to break them up, essentially. Almost acting like she’s Yoko Ono. Is she going to break up the band? So that’s part of the story—to ask why we have such a strong reaction when the roles are reversed in this situation.

You mentioned Notting Hill, and I definitely got vibes of that. It’s wish fulfillment, isn’t it, in Notting Hill

Yes, and it is in this too. This is also wish fulfillment. Like, older women lust after Harry Styles. There is a uniquely strong sort of relationship that I feel an older female audience has with Harry Styles. There’s a feeling that he sees their beauty, and he’s attracted to older women basically [laughs]. He sees them as sexual beings, so there’s reciprocity there. So there is wish fulfillment; there is a sense of what it would be like if this hot young guy who’s a major star, just like in Notting Hill, fell into your life?

What is different is that in Notting Hill, Hugh Grant is Julia Roberts’ number one fan. In our movie, she doesn’t even recognize him when they first meet. So the audience knows who he is, but she doesn’t. And that’s part of what he likes about her, actually. He’s so used to being treated a certain way just because everybody knows who he is, and here’s somebody who actually doesn’t know or particularly even care that he’s such a big star. She’s not just gonna fall into bed with him because he’s Hayes Campbell.

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The Idea of You is the closing night film at SXSW, screening on March 16. It will be available to stream on Prime Video on May 2.