Producer Denise Di Novi dons the director’s hat for ‘Unforgettable’
Even if you’ve only been an infrequent moviegoer over the past three decades, there’s a good chance you’ve seen one that says “produced by Denise di Novi” in the credits. The former journalist broke into the business in Toronto as unit publicist on the little-seen movie “Final Assignment,” then began her ascent into the Los Angeles machine, at first handling assorted production duties, eventually becoming an independent producer, then joining the Tim Burton team, before starting her own Di Novi Pictures and working with Columbia Pictures and, for the past couple of decades, Warner Bros. Some of those films with her producer credit include: “Heathers,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Message in a Bottle” (the first of her four Nicholas Sparks adaptations), and “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” A couple of years ago, as Di Novi was preparing to produce a female-led thriller called “Unforgettable,” some changes were put into play, and she ended up taking a seat in the director’s chair. Di Novi, 61, spoke about the challenge of being a first-time director by phone from Los Angeles.
Q: You’re not exactly known for making thrillers. What made you say yes to producing this one?
A: I was developing a script with my producing partner, Alison Greenspan, at Warner Bros., and Lynn Harris, who was a studio executive there at the time. We had been talking about people we knew and personal experiences we had, where there was a difficult relationship between a first wife and a second wife, and how a lot of times the second wife wasn’t always the bad guy, even though that’s how the stereotype goes. We had an idea of this dynamic between these two women, then thought about how we could deal with real experiences and real themes, but then have it become extreme, and escalate into thriller land.
Q: So how did the veteran producer become the novice director?
A: I had a director on the movie who left to do another film, and when I suggested a list of female directors to replace her, the studio came up with the idea of me directing. I’ve been a producer at Warner Bros. for many years. They knew me well, and when they said, “You should direct it,” I did not have a moment’s equivocation. I was thrilled with the opportunity, and I just jumped right in.
Q: Has directing been on your wish list?
A: I loved producing, and I’ve had an amazing career in it that I’ve been very grateful for. There were times when I thought about being a director, but there was always another movie to produce, and I had kind of accepted that I was a producer. Yet when the opportunity arose, I saw that it was kind of a dream, and I felt very lucky that I could make it come true.
Q: Did you have some private director-actor chats with the Katherine Heigl and her costar Rosario Dawson before filming started?
A: Oh, yes. Both actors really had to go far. They dove into the deep end with these characters. I wanted to make sure that they felt safe, that they could go to these crazy dark places, and be that vulnerable but still feel safe.
Q: Did directing turn out to be pretty much what you expected, or were some surprises thrown your way?
A: It’s more difficult than I expected. I believed, because I’d produced 45 movies, that I would have a pretty good idea, but my analogy is that until you have your own kids you don’t know what it’s like to have kids. I didn’t really know till I was standing on the set calling action how difficult a job it is. It’s the greatest job in the world but it’s a lot more difficult than I realized, in that to do it well, you have to have laser beam focus and commitment, and attention to detail, and you have to be responsible for everything and be able to answer every question. That’s a lot more intense than being a producer.
“Unforgettable” opens on April 21.
-- Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.