“Love Actually” has made quite a name for itself over the years, and it’s not hard to see why that’s so.
Helmed by Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary”), the quintessential British rom-com spotlights the nature of love — whether that’s romance, friendships or familial relationships — through nine separate stories beginning five weeks before Christmas and interconnected in various ways. Some revel in the joys of falling in love while others suffer from its consequences, namely heartbreak, grief and guilt. Regardless of each character’s fate, the film ends on a hopeful note that love is truly all around us.
Here’s a breakdown of all the couples and their storylines:
A rock-and-roll legend and his loyal manager
Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is an aging rock-and-roll star who produces a hit single after recording a Christmas rendition of the Troggs’ 1967 song “Love Is All Around.” By his side is his longtime manager Joe (Gregor Fisher), who he gloriously celebrates the holidays with.
The love triangle: the newlyweds and the unrequited best man
The infamous trio includes newlyweds Juliet (Keira Knightley) and Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) along with Peter’s best man Mark (Andrew Lincoln). Things get pretty awkward when Juliet, who insists on being friends with Peter, sees that the video he shot at her wedding includes just close-ups of herself. Peter eventually confesses his feelings for Juliet silently, using cue cards and a boombox while pretending to be carollers at her front door. As he walks away, Juliet runs after him, gives him a quick kiss and runs back home to her husband.
The lonely writer and his Portuguese housekeeper
After learning that his girlfriend is having an affair with his brother, a heartbroken Jamie (Colin Firth) retreats to his French cottage, where he falls in love with his Portuguese housekeeper Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz). Jamie eventually returns to England and begins learning Portuguese in hopes of rekindling his relationship with Aurélia. After some time, Jamie travels back to France to find Aurélia and asks for her hand in marriage.
The stay-at-home mother and her cheating husband
Karen (Emma Thompson), a stay-at-home mother, is happily married to her husband Harry (Alan Rickman), the managing director of a London-based design agency. During the company Christmas party, Harry dances closely with his secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch), who makes sexual advances toward him at work and at the party. When Karen learns that Harry secretly bought an expensive Christmas present for Mia, she confronts her husband about his infidelity.
The prime minister and his assistant
David (Hugh Grant) is the newly elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who falls in love with his assistant Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). What was once a cordial relationship soon turns uncomfortable after David catches Natalie sharing an intimate moment with the U.S. President (Billy Bob Thornton). Despite the awkwardness, the pair eventually professes their love for each other at a multi-school Christmas pageant.
The grieving father and his lovestruck stepson
Daniel (Liam Neeson) mourns the recent death of his wife, Joanna, while taking care of his stepson Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster). Sam confesses to Daniel that he’s in love with his American classmate Joanna (Olivia Olson), who is singing at their school’s Christmas pageant. In an attempt to impress Joanna, Sam successfully learns to play the drums and earns a kiss from his school crush. Meanwhile, Daniel gets a second chance at love after meeting Carol (Claudia Schiffer), the mother of Sam’s schoolmate.
The shy co-workers
Sarah (Laura Linney) works at Harry’s graphic design company and is in love with the creative director Karl (Rodrigo Santoro). The two share a moment at the company Christmas party and go home together afterwards. Unfortunately, their relationship never becomes anything more, and they part ways.
The unsuccessful Brit and his American girlfriends
Struggling to find love in his home country, Colin (Kris Marshall) travels to America where he meets three incredibly attractive women who fall for his English accent. They invite him to stay at their home, which they share with their fourth roommate Harriet (Shannon Elizabeth). Colin eventually returns to London with Harriet and her sister Carla (Denise Richards).
The professional stand-ins-turned-lovers
John and Judy (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page) meet while standing in for actors who perform sex scenes in a film. During production, the pair engage in casual conversation and soon begin a relationship.
Twenty years after its debut on Nov. 14, 2003, the “Love Actually” remains a beloved but also controversial watch due to its blatant sexism and outdated jokes. Here are 22 things you might not know about “Love Actually”:
“This film is my Pulp Fiction. I love multiple storylines, but I soon realized how tricky they are,” Curtis said in 2013, during the 10th anniversary of “Love Actually.” “At first, we had 14 different love stories, but the result was too long, so four ended up going, including two we’d actually shot.”
Curtis initially began writing with two distinct films in mind. The first featured Hugh Grant and the other featured Colin Firth. The films featured expanded versions of what would become actual storylines in “Love Actually,” so when Curtis became frustrated with both projects, he meshed the storylines into one cohesive film.
In Curtis’ 1994 film “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” there was originally a scene where Hugh Grant’s character Charles attempts to flirt with a woman at a wedding by insulting the terrible catering (which turns out to be actually made by her). That scene was cut in the final edits, according to IMDb and repurposed for “Love Actually.”
With so many big-name stars, the amount of trailers needed was massive. This became a plus, however, as the actors what became a mini neighborhood of honey wagons.
“There were so many famous people in there, we used to talk about being on Liam Neeson Way or Emma Thompson Road or Hugh Grant Avenue. And it was a masterpiece of diplomacy, too; we all had the same size and type of trailer.”
Lúcia Moniz, who plays Colin Firth’s love interest, got the part after her friends sent the film’s casting director her photos as part of a joke. According to IMDb, Moniz went to the casting and ended up being chosen.
“I did a rehearsal reading of the script as a favor to the great casting director, Mary Selway, who had been trying to get me into a film for a long time,” Nighy told The Daily Beast on the film’s 10-year anniversary. “I thought it was simply to help her hear the script aloud, and to my genuine surprise I was given the job.”
Kiera Knightley, who plays Julie, was only 17 years old when she filmed “Love Actually,” even though she plays Julie is a newly married, adult woman. In fact, she was closer in age to Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who plays Sam the stepson with a schoolboy crush, who was 13 at the time of filming.
In one scene, Firth’s Jamie and Moniz’s Aurélia are “swimming” in a lake to recover the loose pages of Jamie’s work-in-progress novel. Turns out, there was no swimming involved as the lake was only 18 inches deep, according to IMDb. Both Firth and Moniz had to kneel down to make the water seem much deeper.
To make matters worse, the lake was also riddled with mosquitoes. During filming, Firth got bitten so badly that his elbow swelled up to the size of an avocado and required medical attention.
Right before Aurélia jumps into the lake, she strips down to nothing but a pale blue matching bra and underwear set. In the film’s DVD commentary, Curtis explained that Aurélia’s undergarments took 45 minutes to decide on. Curtis, along with his team of producers, considered 20 different sets of bras and panties before they settled on the pale blue ensemble.
The scene in question features Grant’s David dancing around 10 Downing Street as The Pointer Sisters’ 1983 single “Jump (For My Love)” plays in the background.
Speaking with Diane Sawyer for the 2022 ABC News special “The Laughter & Secrets of Love Actually: 20 Years Later,” Grant said, “I saw it in the script and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll hate doing that.’ “I didn’t fancy doing the dance at all, let alone rehearsing it.”
Grant described the dance sequence as “a contractual guillotine” and pointed out that he was off beat “at the beginning when I wiggle my ass.” Grant also said it was actually his idea to have the prime minister’s secretary interrupt the dancing as a way to end the scene.
“And to this day, there’s many people, and I agree with them, who think it’s the most excruciating scene ever committed to celluloid. But then some people like it,” Grant joked.
When Curtis was in college, his crush Anne fell for a young man named Bernard. So as payback, Curtis includes one character named “Bernard” who is always the butt of a joke in every one of his films. In “Love Actually,” Bernard is Thompson and Alan Rickman’s “horrid son.”
The real-life Bernard is Sir Bernard Christison Jenkin, a British Conservative Party politician serving as a member of Parliament since 2010. Lo and behold, Bernard’s wife is Anne Jenkin, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington.
Bernard was also the name of Rickman’s father, who died when he was just eight years old.
Marshall refused to collect a check for filming the scene where he’s undressed by three American girls who he meets at a bar. The actor had such a wonderful time being undressed by multiple women several times (the scene required 21 takes!), that he was willing to do it free of charge. It’s worth noting that Marshall didn’t film the whole movie for free.
The infamous cue cards that Lincoln’s Mark holds up to tell Knightley’s character that he loves her were actually written by the actor himself:
“It’s funny, because the art department did it, and then I said, ‘Well, can I do it?’ because I like to think that my handwriting is really good,” Lincoln told Entertainment Weekly. “Actually, it ended up with me having to sort of trace over the art department’s, so it is my handwriting, but with a sort of pencil stencil underneath.”
Specifically, Schiffer received a reported £200,000 (roughly $300,000 U.S.) for her brief scene alongside Liam Neeson.
The two Barbie dolls that Thompson’s Karen holds up for her daughter’s friends Christmas presents were Ken dolls dressed in drag. Thompson recalled having a difficult time shooting the scene because she “could not lift the dolls knowing that they were Ken in drag,” per IMDb. But eventually, she accepted the dolls and shot the scene.
“I wore a fat suit for ‘Love Actually’ — and I knew just how to play that part (of a wife who has stumbled across evidence of what might be her husband’s infidelity), I’ve had so much practice at crying in a bedroom and then having to go out and be cheerful, gathering up the pieces of my heart and putting them in a drawer,” Thompson told The Telegraph in 2005.
Years later, Thompson told Jimmy Fallon that she doesn’t really enjoy watching “Love Actually.” It isn’t because of the blatant sexism or the recurring fat jokes but rather, issues regarding her pay and nasty work conditions:
“You just think . . . I don’t think I was very well paid for that, and that was that terrible trailer with the loo that really stank . . . these are the things that you remember,” Thompson said during an appearance on “The Tonight Show.”
In the ABC News special with Sawyer years after the movie’s release, Curtis said he felt “uncomfortable and a bit stupid” about the film’s “lack of diversity.”
“There are things you’d change but, thank God, society is changing, so my film is bound, in some moments, to feel out of date,” he said.
In a 2023 interview with his daughter at The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, Curtis also regretted the fat-shaming of Martine McCutcheon’s character Natalie:
“I remember how shocked I was five years ago when Scarlett said to me, ‘You can never use the word ‘fat’ again,'” he said. “Wow, you were right. In my generation calling someone chubby [was funny] — in ‘Love Actually’ there were jokes about that. Those jokes aren’t any longer funny.”
Turns out the film’s opening and closing montages are all 100% real. Footage of friends and family being welcomed and embraced by loved ones was shot using hidden cameras that were set up at Heathrow Airport’s arrivals lounge. In the film’s DVD commentary, Curtis explained that when a heartwarming moment was caught on camera, a crew member would quickly approach those involved and ask them to sign a waiver so they could be featured in the film.
Olivia Olson went on to play another love interest of Brodie-Sangster on the hit television series “Phineas and Ferb.” Olson was the voice of Vanessa Doofenshmirtz while Brodie-Sangster was the voice of the laconic Ferb Fletcher.
The first two remakes arrived in 2007, with the Dutch film “Love Is All” and India’s “Salute to Love” (better known as “Salaam-E-Ishq”). Four years later, Poland released “Letters to Santa.” And in 2013, Japan joined the bandwagon with “It All Began When I Met You,” which also follows the original film’s poster layout.
In the same vein as “Love Actually,” the remakes include a star-studded cast list and features multiple interconnected love stories.
Titled “Red Nose Day Actually,” the sequel is 10 minutes long and includes a handful of the film’s original cast, including Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Andrew Lincoln, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley and plenty more. The short film was first broadcasted on BBC One on March 24, 2017 as part of Red Nose Day.
Set 13 years after the events of the original film, “Red Nose Day Actually” gives updates on a few of our favorite characters. There’s Mark, who is married to British supermodel Kate Moss, and David, who regained his position as Prime Minister. Billy Mack’s rock-and-roll career continues to persevere following the release of his charity single. And Jamie and Aurélia are happily expecting their fourth child.
about “Love Actually”: