Fans of British television comedy no doubt knows the name Mandie Fletcher, or at least a lot of her work. From directing episodes of Black-Adder, Desmond, and Hamish MacBeth, she’s been directing for television for over 25 years. However, it was her work on Absolutely Fabulous that led her first film, the follow up feature film from 2016. Her new film reunites her with one of those Ab Fab women, Jennifer Saunders, in a supporting role opposite her real-life daughter Beattie Edmondson. In Patrick Edmondson plays Sarah, teacher who inherits a smart but spoiled pug from her grandmother, leading to her eviction, problems at her new job, and a love triangle between herself, Ed Skrein (Deadpool), and Tom Bennett (Love & Friendship). Despite a problematic international connection, we spoke with Fletcher about making a family friendly rom-com, working with dogs, and keeping the business of funny women in the family.
Lesley Coffin: How did you and your cowriter (Vanessa Davies) come up with the concept?
Mandie Fletcher: The initial idea was Vanessa’s and rather quickly I thought it should be a rom-com. However, I think if a pug’s going to star in a film, you should feel comfortable showing the film to an 8-year-old. So, we went about making it into something a bit more family friendly.
Lesley Coffin: How did you settle on a pug for the part of Patrick?
Mandie Fletcher: Oh, that was purely because Vanessa has a pug she loves to spoil. But they’ve also sort of hit the zeitgeist. They are very, very popular dogs right now. Something about their faces I think.
Lesley Coffin: Was Beattie Edmondson you thought of for the lead right away?
Mandie Fletcher: I’ve worked for the past 15 years with Jennifer Saunders and have of course known her daughter as long. And as we started working on the screenplay, I just knew how perfect she’d be in the role. She’s got her parents’ funny bones (her father’s Alt-comic Adrian Edmondson) and never minds dropping her pants for a laugh. A lot of actress would but Beattie would never ask, “does by bottom look big in that shot?” She’s just so committed to always getting the laugh, and she also happens to be a wonderful actress.
Lesley Coffin: Did you know right away that you wanted Jennifer Saunders in the film, appearing opposite herself and Beattie?
Mandie Fletcher: Jennifer will muscle herself into any situation she decides she wants to be a part of. But we spoke, and she made it very clear from the start, she didn’t want to take the limelight off Beattie. So, she wore her fat suit and grey wig, which of course puts the limelight back on her anyway. But I was very excited to have Jennifer and Beattie appear opposite each other.
Lesley Coffin: How were Ed and Tom cast as the two potential love interests?
Mandie Fletcher: I thought that Sarah came from a very well-to-do family, a family very critical of her lifestyle choices. So, I felt that all the criticism we know she receives from her mother should play into those characters. The man her mother would be so excited for her to go on a date with on Saturday night, a doctor with money who will take her to a fancy restaurant, isn’t the man she’d fall in love with. She’d fall in love with a man just getting divorced, with his own family, because love is complicated. Love isn’t easy.
Lesley Coffin: Was it hard to direct the dog?
Mandie Fletcher: The thing about the script was, we never had the dog doing something a dog wouldn’t do. And that made our lives a lot easier. Julie, our dog trainer, is amazing. That dog was a rescue dog, had had a hard life, and wasn’t keen on men. And when I first met him three months before the film, he was nervous and not taking directions. But as they worked together he blossomed and enjoyed being trained. And apparently, he used to wait outside her door, ready to go to work. Dogs don’t conceive of training as work, they like having something to do. Sometimes we could only get him to do something once, but once is enough if you get the shot. I’m a dog lover, so if there was something he simply couldn’t do, we would have rewritten the script. I would have never tried to force the poor dog to do something he simply didn’t want or couldn’t do. I wanted it to be a completely enjoyable experience for the dog and I think it was.
Mandie Fletcher: I think children are much smarter than we think, and we shouldn’t play down to them as much as we do. A friend of mine watched it with her granddaughter and she was apparently riveted. I think the film appeals to girls between the ages of 12 and 34, the love story seems to grab them. I wanted the tone to be inclusive, for people to love dogs or have dogs, or people who would like a dog but can’t have one, to really enjoy the relationship between Beattie and Patrick. I just didn’t want to make a child’s movie, I wanted to make a family movie. Something parents would enjoy watching and felt was for them, not just something to sit through.
© Lesley Coffin (3/5/19) FF2 Media