The Directors: Edward Zwick welcomes painting on a smaller canvas

It’s tough enough for a director to get a film’s performers to connect on set, to bring an instant trust and intimacy to the story while still hitting their marks. But once the clothes come off, things really get tricky.

In “Love & Other Drugs,” the Nov. 24 romantic comedy about a charming pharmaceutical sales rep who falls for an artist afflicted by early onset Parkinson’s disease, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway spend much of the film half-naked (or more). Accordingly, director Edward Zwick decided early in the rehearsal process that he’d have to get the stars comfortable with each other while they wore little-to-nothing.

“In my experience, when you’re young and really into somebody, you spend a lot of time lying around in bed but not necessarily always having sex,” Zwick said recently, calling from the Midwest, where he was touring a college campus with his daughter. “So we wanted authenticity — what would it really be like? How would you be lying, and how long have you been in bed, and how many times have you made love before this?”

Those were the questions Zwick explored with his actors in the two weeks leading to the 49 days of production.


“We didn’t have a lot of time to shoot the movie — and we did it for a very reasonable price, $30 million — so we all had to be very committed to the process,” he said. “It was as much talking about our lives and our relationships and men and women and sex as it was rehearsing. As a director, I do feel it’s wise to try to be in a real relationship with these actors. Sometimes it’s real, and sometimes it’s not. But in this case, it was so real. We genuinely became close, and I think some of that is reflected in the film.”

Certainly, a love story seems like a sea change for the director who leans toward big picture stories of historic battles and men on the edge (“Glory,” " Defiance,” “Blood Diamond”), but it’s really not such a stretch, Zwick said.

“A lot of what I’ve done is a reaction to what’s around me,” he said. “And I had been raised loving the genre of romantic comedy — ‘Shampoo’ and ‘Broadcast News’ or even ‘Jerry Maguire.’ But the romantic comedy I’d seen recently seemed in some kind of sorry state. People assume if you take two modestly talented actors and go through obligatory feats, it’s a romantic comedy. But in my experience, those films are often neither romantic nor particularly comedic.”

Zwick draws a parallel between his latest film and his directorial debut, the 1986 romantic comedy “About Last Night…" starring Demi Moore and Rob Lowe, as well as with television series he’s worked on, particularly “thirtysomething” and “My So-Called Life.”

“Love & Other Drugs,” which Zwick adapted with Marshall Herskovitz and Charles Randolph, also allowed him to shed the demands of those big action pictures and concentrate more on his performers.

“When you’re making these bigger movies, you are necessarily drawn away from the actors at times — whether that’s because there are so many things that are mechanical or not,” he said. “Here was an opportunity to divest myself of all that and only focus on the performances. It presents a whole other set of challenges too, because you don’t have the opportunity of an action set piece or a big pageant-like scene — all you have is the nuance of the emotional life and story.”