What You Never Knew About Love Actually

There are numerous movies that continue to resurface each year during the holiday season, including Yuletide favorites ranging from "A Christmas Story" to "It's a Wonderful Life." A dark-horse addition to this pantheon is "Love Actually," the Christmas-set romantic comedy that has become a favorite viewing choice during the holidays. 

Making its debut in 2003, the film features a sprawling cast, comprised of established stars such as Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson, and then-unknowns destined for stardom, such as Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Etiofor, Andrew Lincoln and others. The storyline is nothing if not wildly ambitious, juggling 10 entirely separate — yet ultimately interconnected — love stories that range from heartwarming to hilarious to heart-wrenching.

The film continues to resonate with those who've fallen in love with it, whether they're repeat viewers who've seen it umpteen times or newbies discovering its sly magic for the first time. Regardless of how many times one may have watched, there's a lot about his iconic cult favorite of which even its most ardent fans may not be aware. With that in mind, read on to find out what you never knew about "Love Actually."

Keira Knightley wore that big hat to cover up a 'humongous' zit

Keira Knightley was still a teenager when she began filming "Love Actually," and her adolescence led to a very specific wardrobe choice in one of the film's climactic scenes. In that particular scene, Knightley's character — newlywed Juliet — pays a visit to Mark (Andrew Lincoln), her husband's best friend, who's hopelessly in love with her. In that scene, Juliet wears a big blue hat pulled down on her forehead.

"Do you know why the hat was there? I had a massive spot in the middle of my forehead," Knightley revealed in an interview with BBC Radio 1. "It's funny how you just remember extreme embarrassment," she added, recalling that when she arrived at the studio that morning she felt like she had "another head on my head."

Once everyone on the set had come to comprehend the size and scope of the considerable zit marring her otherwise gorgeous forehead, a low-tech, old-school solution was reached. "It was humongous, so there was no choice but to find a hat to cover it — because there was no lighting or makeup that was going to cover it," Knightley explained.

Alan Rickman's character actually did have an affair

One of the most poignant storylines in "Love Actually" involves long-married couple Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson), whose sedately dull marriage is threatened when he begins to act on an attraction to his secretary (Heike Makatsch) by buying her a pricey gold bracelet. The way the film is constructed, it's unclear whether Harry ever took the next step by having sex with his secretary, his physical adultery left somewhat ambiguous.

While that ambiguity may have been a choice made by the film's director, Richard Curtis, script editor Emma Freud (who is also Curtis' wife) was asked on Twitter whether Harry actually followed through by having an affair or whether he "was just tempted to." She offered a definitive response. "DEFINITELY had an affair ... the whole way," she tweeted

Also left up in the air was the eventual fate of the spouses' marriage. Freud had an answer to that as well, tweeting that "they stay together but home isn't as happy as it once was."

Colin Firth's iconic kiss was heavily choreographed

One of the many romantic moments in "Love Actually" comes when Jamie (Colin Firth), heartbroken after discovering his girlfriend's infidelity, finds love with his Portuguese housekeeper Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz). This culminates with Jamie popping the question — in fractured Portuguese, no less. After she says yes, they come together and gaze into each others' eyes, with Jamie gently cradling the back of her head and briefly placing his thumb on her lower lip before they share a passionate kiss for the ages

While that kiss may have appeared spontaneous, the truth is that it was anything but. "Love Actually" script editor Emma Freud, who collaborated on the screenplay with director Richard Curtis, has confirmed that she "designed" the kiss. "My signature move? His thumb on her lip before they snog," Freud shared on Twitter

Freud confirmed her role as "kissing consultant" in an appearance on the "Love Stories with Dolly Alderton" podcast, as reported by Mama Mia. "We really needed that kiss to be amazing," she said. "Colin and I had a lot of chats and we designed a kiss with my signature move in it."

Love Actually's director has a theory about why the movie continues to endure

"Love Actually" marked the directorial debut of Richard Curtis, who had previously been a writer for British film and television. Prior to that, his past work included Rowan Atkinson's "Mr. Bean" and "Blackadder" series, as well as the screenplays for the hit movies "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill," and "Bridget Jones's Diary."

Discussing "Love Actually" with Elle on the occasion of the film's 10th anniversary, Curtis shared his theory about why the film remains so enduringly popular. The key, he explained, is the multi-layered plot and its various storylines, which lend themselves to repeat viewing. "Even if you watch 'Love Actually' again and again, you never know quite what scene is going to come next," Curtis explained.

Another reason why the film resonates is that Curtis himself has always been a true romantic, and wrote "Love Actually" from the heart. "The three things that matter most to me in life and give me most of my joy and all of my sorrow are friends, family, and love, which is why I write about them," he told Elle. "Superheroes or serial killers or armies, it's not my business to write about that."

Director Richard Curtis credits the film's success to a legendary British casting director

In addition to its masterful screenplay, writer/director Richard Curtis also credits a considerable degree of the success of "Love Actually" to the cast assembled by legendary British casting director Mary Selway, who died at age 68, not long after casting the film. According to her New York Times obituary — which described her as "the grand dame of British casting agents" — Selway's work can be seen in a vast array of films ranging from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" to posh period drama "Gosford Park."

Characterizing Selway a "great genius" with "extraordinary skill" in an interview with Elle, Curtis said he'd instructed Selway to populate the film with a mix of established, familiar stars (including Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, and Liam Neeson) and newcomers such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, and Keira Knightley. Interestingly enough, Curtis noted, Knightley may have been a relative unknown when she was cast for "Love Actually," but in the time between when the film was shot and its release, Knightley had been cast in Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" and was already well on her way to stardom.

Andrew Lincoln wrote out those signs himself

Another memorable scene in "Love Actually" occurs when Mark (Andrew Lincoln) shows up on Juliet's (Keira Knightley) doorstep with a stack of handwritten signs that express the feelings he's been unable to express, emulating Bob Dylan's classic proto-music video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues." As the film's writer and director Richard Curtis told Elle, the concept of the signs was one of five that he'd come up with. After pitching his five ideas to the female staffers in his office to determine "which ... are romantic and which are off-putting," Richard recalled that the women hated all of them except the idea involving the signs. "The scene was selected by group research," Curtis explained.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Lincoln revealed that the writing on the signs "is my handwriting!" As he explained, a member of the film's art department initially wrote the cards, but Lincoln then asked if he could write them himself, "because I like to think that my handwriting is really good. 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."

An unusual phobia flared up for Billy Bob Thornton while shooting a scene

Billy Bob Thornton had a small but crucial role in "Love Actually," portraying the president of the U.S., who appears at a London news conference alongside Hugh Grant's British prime minister.

Thornton has been candid about his myriad phobias, which, according to The Independent, include the fear of antique furniture, plastic cutlery, and Komodo dragons. As "Love Actually" director Richard Curtis told Elle, "Billy Bob Thornton is a curious man with curious phobias," and revealed that he introduced an even odder one when he arrived on set. "[He told us] 'The strangest phobia I've got is I'm disturbed by photographs of Benjamin Disraeli. Specifically his facial hair,'" recalled Curtis, admitting it was "really unfortunate" that one scene required him to walk past a photo of the two-time British PM hanging on a wall. Thankfully, Thornton himself offered a solution. "[He said] 'I'll just turn away at that moment and I'll be fine,'" noted Curtis.

Grant confirmed to UPI that Thornton was "terrified" of Disraeli. He also admitted he used that fact to torment his co-star by pushing a photo of the former PM in front of Thornton, who "would break out in a sweat."

Director Richard Curtis' children are secretly in the film

Yet another beloved scene in "Love Actually" takes place when Hugh Grant's prime minster goes rogue, knocking on random doors until finally tracking down Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a junior member of the 10 Downing Street household staff he's fallen in love with. He finds her, and winds up being her date for a school Nativity play — which just happens to feature the children of his sister (Emma Thompson). Meanwhile, in addition to the traditional trio of wise kings, angels and livestock, the Nativity tableau oddly includes a whale, an octopus and several lobsters.

That particular onstage moment holds a special place in the heart of the movie's writer/director Richard Curtis, since two of his children appear in it. Discussing the film on its 10th anniversary, Curtis told the Daily Beast that "it's quite helpful to know it's been 10 years because it's an easy way for me to keep track of how old my son was, who appears in the film." He identifies the lad as one of the kings, who's "got a Spider-Man mask on, and there's a big close-up of a very perplexed-looking five-year-old." In addition, Curtis added, "my daughter is one of the lobsters!"

Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro were both reeling from breakups while pretending to fall in love onscreen

Another of the many storylines in "Love Actually" is the flirtation that grows into something more between co-workers Sarah (Laura Linney) and Karl (Rodrigo Santoro). While their characters exhibit the excitement of falling in love, that was ironically the exact opposite feeling the actors were experiencing in real life. "We were both brokenhearted at the time and had gotten out of rough relationships," said Linney in an interview with the Daily Beast.

According to Santoro, he had suffered through a breakup "a couple of months" before arriving on set, "and Laura and me were both in the same zone."

Linney elaborated during an appearance on "The Graham Norton Show." "He had just been dumped, I had just been dumped," she said, recalling how both "slumped" on their way to film the iconic scene when they finally kiss. "And I turned to him and I said, 'All day long we get to make each other feel better.' And I think there is a sweetness to the scene because of that. We were both very sad."

A lot of scenes filmed wound up on the cutting-room floor

Even though there are many intersecting plots that weave throughout "Love Actually," there were even more than never made the final cut of the movie. "There were more storylines," confirmed director Richard Curtis in an interview with the Daily Beast, noting that his original draft of the screenplay was 170 pages long and "had about four extra stories in it."

Among these, he divulged, was one about the "ferocious" headmistress at the school attended by one of the sons of Emma Thompson's character, which "cuts to her living with a woman who's very un-well." Other abandoned storylines included one "about a girl in a wheelchair," another about "two schoolgirls in love," and "a dreadful story based on a friend of mine who wrote an entire pop album about a girl he liked at school," which goes horribly awry when said girl winds up sleeping with the drummer in the guy's band.

At one point, Curtis told the Guardian, he was juggling 14 different love stories before cutting those four, with two of those actually filmed but not used in the final cut. "This film is my 'Pulp Fiction,'" Curtis declared.

Bill Nighy wasn't the first choice to play faded rocker Billy Mack

A standout in "Love Actually" is Bill Nighy as cynical, washed-up rock star Billy Mack, who records a Christmas version of his biggest hit — which inexplicably rockets to No. 1 despite being "a festering turd of a record." While it's tough picturing anyone but Nighy in the role, he actually wasn't the first choice of the movie's director. "Bill Nighy's was the strangest casting," Richard Curtis divulged in an interview with the Guardian, admitting he'd had "two famous guys in mind" for the role, but "couldn't decide who to ask."

When Nighy auditioned, however, Curtis felt he embodied the character "so perfectly" that "he became a definite yes." As for the identities of those other two that he originally thought of for the role, Curtis declared, "I've never told anyone else who I wanted. I'll put it in my will."

According to Nighy, his performance of Billy Mack isn't based on one particular rocker, telling the Guardian that "my character is an amalgam of several." Nighy also shared his favorite Billy Mack line: "Hi kids! Don't buy drugs — become a rock star and they give you them for free."

Emma Thompson's character wasn't meant to cry until she tapped into her own real-life heartbreak

A key scene in "Love Actually" comes when Emma Thompson's character discovers a gold bracelet that her husband (Alan Rickman) has purchased for a woman who isn't her. She politely excuses herself from her husband and their children to enter a bedroom, where she breaks down in tears. The reason that scene continues to resonate, Thompson told BBC Radio 1, isn't the actual crying but "the fact that she has to pull herself together." 

Interestingly, the script didn't expressly call for Thompson to cry, it was something that she improvised on the spot. "I just wrote that she goes upstairs, puts on the [Joni Mitchell] record, and lets the emotion show. Everything in that scene is just Emma," director/screenwriter Richard Curtis told Elle.

According to Thompson, the tears that flowed were brought on by tapping into the real-life heartbreak she'd experienced when her former husband Kenneth Branagh left her for Helena Bonham Carter. "I've had so much bloody practice at crying in a bedroom, then having to go out and be cheerful, gathering up the pieces of my heart and putting them in a drawer," she told the Telegraph.

Hugh Grant really didn't want to do his now-iconic dancing scene

One "Love Actually" scene that remains one of the most memorable is when Hugh Grant's lovestruck prime minister spontaneously begins dancing to The Pointer Sisters' "Jump (For My Love)." Arguably one of Grant's most charming movie moments, it's also a scene the actor desperately didn't want to do.

As director Richard Curtis told the Daily Beast, Grant was "HUGELY grumpy about it." According to Curtis, Grant was very nervous about appearing statesmanlike enough to convincingly portray the PM of Britain, something he felt the dance scene would undermine. 

Speaking with SiriusXM, Grant admitted he "was looking for any excuse to cut the scene from the film, because I dreaded having to freak out, by myself, in front of cameras, stone cold sober." As Grant explained, he complained to Curtis that it didn't make sense that the prime minster would continue to hear the song playing on his bedroom radio as he danced in other parts of the house, and questioned why the music would abruptly stop when his dancing was interrupted. "This is a fantasy, this is a romantic comedy," Grant recalled Curtis telling him. "Just shut up and do it."

The cast reunited for a sort-of sequel

Fans of "Love Actually" have long clamored for a sequel, although director Richard Curtis told Radio Times (via Digital Spy) that he'd "always been sure I wouldn't do a sequel." And while a full-fledged followup remains unlikely, Curtis did helm a 10-minute near-sequel that aired on television for Red Nose Day to benefit the Comic Relief charity. "I would never have dreamt of writing a sequel to 'Love Actually,' but I thought it might be fun to do 10 minutes to see what everyone is now up to," Curtis said in a press release, which announced that OG stars Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, and Rowan Atkinson would be reprising their roles, as would Martine McCutcheon, Keira Knightley, Andrew Lincoln, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lucia Moniz, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Olivia Olson, Bill Nighy, and Marcus Brigstocke.

A highlight is Grant reprising iconic dance sequence. As Grant told "Today," the new scene features "a different tune, more dancing, with a slightly different spin," which becomes evident when the PM falls down the stairs he had previously boogied down. True to form, Grant admitted he was just as "grumpy" dancing this time around as he was all those years earlier. "I'm hating it," he deadpanned.