Peter Chiarelli is no stranger to writing rom-coms, having written the screenplay for The Proposal starring Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. I caught up with Chiarelli who co-wrote the script and adapted Crazy Rich Asians with Adele Lim.
How does one tackle adapting a global bestseller? Chiarelli says he consulted with author Kevin Kwan before making any major changes. He also talks about writing the scene where Nick brings Rachel home to meet his mother, Eleanor Young. Read about the exchange and what it meant in our chat below:
Given the success of the book, how much pressure was there when it came to adapting this?
I felt a ton of pressure to faithfully adapt Kevin’s book, but knew I’d have to make a lot of changes for the screenplay. Thankfully, I had a great conversation with Kevin early on and he told me “I wrote the book, you write the movie.” Still, I wanted to get it right, so whenever I was deviating from the book I made sure that I could justify any change I made to Kevin. I figured if I was making him happy, fans of the book would be happy.
What did Jon tell you about the film?
I wrote this project for a year before Jon came on. When we finally had a script that we were excited to show to directors, the producers sent it to him right away. It was such a relief when he called and said that he loved the script and wanted to direct. We finally knew for sure we were onto something.
Are you gearing up to write/adapt China Rich Girlfriend?
Nothing would make me happier, but we don’t know if there’s going to be a sequel yet.
Can you talk about the opening scene and writing that perfect opening?
I loved the opening scene in Kevin’s book and wanted a version of it to start the film. First off, it’s just a kick-ass scene where Eleanor is a force of nature and that’s fun to watch. But it also answers the question “so what EXACTLY does it mean to be crazy rich?”. Eleanor buying a hotel on the spot to show up its bigoted desk clerk answers that question pretty succinctly.
How did Ivanhoe Pictures get involved?
Ivanhoe and Colorforce (Nina Jacobson’s company) teamed up to develop the project outside of the studio system.
How does it feel to be a part of this movement?
Incredible. Exhilarating. Exciting. Being a part of something that means something to so many people is why I got into this stupid business.
For me being Asian in England, the film was about revisiting my childhood, observing the social judgments, the hierarchy of wealth and such. what was that like for you to write something that could be so personal to so many people?
For me, the film is about self-worth. It’s about knowing that we’re all valuable, no matter where you are born, who your parents are, or how much money you have.
One thing I’d like to add to that is that I NEVER saw this as a Cinderella story. Rachel does not get saved by Nick. Rachel saves herself.
Was there something you were careful about especially when writing these characters and not wanting to be negative?
It was very important to me that Eleanor not be a monster. Although misguided and wrong, everything that she does to Rachel in the movie needed to be motivated by the love she has for her son and family.
Another of my favorite scenes is when Rachel meets Eleanor in the kitchen. Talk about writing that?
There’s a lot going on in that scene. First, Eleanor is concerned but not on high alert, so we wanted to have her play it cool and throw shade, but not be overly aggressive. Second, we wanted Rachel to be nervous and eager to please, but not be stupid. A lot of times you’ll see characters babble when they are nervous, but that’s not Rachel, she’s an accomplished and poised woman. So we have Rachel working hard to impress Eleanor with her story of pulling herself up by her bootstraps, which is her go to story when meeting someone new in America. Thing is, Rachel ain’t in Kansas anymore and her earnest and charming story that works like gangbusters back home just alienates Eleanor even more, putting Rachel in a deeper hole with Eleanor than she was before. The scene is about two women speaking different languages.
What has this ride been like so far ?
Beyond my wildest dreams. When I first got the book I knew that the studio system wasn’t making films with all Asian casts and I saw Crazy Rich Asians as a challenge to do something new. I loved the idea of both introducing some audiences to a part of the world that they couldn’t find on a map and telling the story of another audience that had been ignored for too long. But all that said, I never imagined that the film would become such a rallying cry for representation. Fingers crossed the success of this movie helps get some other diverse stories the greenlight.