Being picked out of a massive crowd by a world-famous popstar and jetting off on a whirlwind romance is the likely premise of countless Wattpad fantasies. The Jennifer Lopez-starring Marry Me takes the concept and elevates it to present a mature, fame-stricken relationship that evolves from publicity stunt to proper romance. Ahead of the premiere, LA Confidential spoke with director Kat Coiro about working with Lopez, shaping a realistic story from out-of-this-world circumstances and what it’s been like to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an executive producer and director of She-Hulk.
How or why did you join the project?
When I first read the script, I didn't even know Jennifer was attached. And I thought, “My gosh, this is kind of intriguing and exciting, but who the hell is going to play this role?” And then, I learned Jennifer was attached and was a producer, And I was like, “Oh, the only person who could play this role was attached. That's good.” And so I came on, did a pass really to change the male lead and really crafted it, honestly, towards Owen Wilson. And then we made it, and then COVID happened. It's been two years since we finished it.
How did Owen Wilson’s character change from the original script?
He was much more impressed by her lifestyle. And I wanted somebody who didn't feel like he was just gonna kind of be a hanger on her life, somebody who had confidence in his own life, even though it might be radically different than hers. It was very important to me that the characters were mutually beneficial. It's a mature romance. It's not about the heat of the moment as much as how you make each other's lives better. I really wanted to make sure that it was balanced in that way. And while she brings this incredible amount of talent and excitement and is in a completely different world, he brings stability and a quiet confidence.
What was it like filming the various live performances?
We were really lucky because we were looking for a way to shoot the, the “Marry Me” ballad performance, which is kind of the climax of the film in a big scale, but we didn't have the money. And then Maluma happened to be doing a concert in New York during our filming schedule at Madison Square Garden. And so we really just used his concert. The audience you see there is the real audience from the Maluma concert. We filmed them doing the song before the show started and then we had Jennifer rise up and we captured that… We got lucky. Maluma’s team was amazing to accommodate us. We had to be very crafty and use all of our resources to make it feel as big as it does.
You said Jennifer Lopez was the only person that really could play Kat Valdez. What’s it like filming someone with that kind of star power?
She really is incredible. She's a very generous performer, and when I first saw her in her Vegas residency, I was shocked by how much she gives to our audience and how much she connects to people. And she's generous as an actress too. She's very present. She's very deferential. She's very prepared, and I wrote this on Instagram, but she makes everybody around her rise up like you want to do your best and you can see that everybody wants to do their best. And that's an exciting quality to have in a leader on set. It really makes a huge difference when an actor brings that energy. Because we had a very fun time on this film and that has a lot to do with everybody bringing their A game.
There are plenty of obvious parallels between Jennifer Lopez and Kat Valdez. How did you foster a safe space on set so she could really be vulnerable while filming?
Just a lot of communication. We all recognize that there are similarities between Kat Valdez and Jennifer Lopez, and so it’s about really letting her guide what she's comfortable sharing. That's something that I did with her from the development of the script all the way through to now doing interviews. We drew a lot from her life experience. We definitely had conversations about the overlaps, but it’s always letting her be the one to lead what she feels comfortable sharing. Then there are little technical things that we were able to steal from her life like the idea of being surrounded by people, but feeling loneliness is something that we discussed. And again, it's that generosity. It takes a lot to share that. It's very intimate.
Can you tell us more about working with Maluma? On your Instagram you explained that you said you wanted to cast a recording artist who never had acted before.
So much of that role hinges on his artistic ability, his ability to perform his ability to captivate an audience. I always thought that one of the interesting undercurrents of the film is that when you are an artist, and especially at that level, you do have relationships with people that are inspiring and exciting and artistic that might be confused for love, which I think happens a lot with people in the artistic field. So more important to me than anything was someone who could go and command an audience, can go toe -to-toe with Jennifer in that way. And when I started watching Maluma on talk shows and watching his music videos, I was like of course this guy is going to be able to act. He's such a great performer and he has that charisma and that ability to really play to an audience of 20,000 people in a way that I don't think most actors could.
What makes Marry Me a powerful romantic comedy?
It's about two people coming together. It's also about the artistic journey of a woman who finds her voice and finds a way to change her sound. And I remember when I was first meeting with Jennifer, I heard her sing acapella because she was singing along to a recording, the recording dropped out and she kept singing. I was like, “Oh my god, she can really sing.” And it was totally unproduced and it was totally unrehearsed, and I thought, “If I can just capture a tiny little bit of that in this film, I think it'll be an amazing thing for people to see.” And so in the film, there's this progression where she starts as a big, flashy pop star, and then her life falls apart and she has to rebuild herself. And that little moment where she starts singing On My Way, it builds into what becomes her anthem, her hit, her award-winning song. So I think the movie works on many levels, which I think is part of what makes successful rom-coms is when they're not just about two people falling in love, but they're about something else. In this case, an artistic journey, and also about our society's relationship with fame.
There is a little bit of a rebellion against social media and the desire to be famous in that it ends with them on a couch just watching TV and doing something very, very simple. And I think so many people these days pine for this larger-than-normal life and they want to be famous and the truth is it's about finding happiness in the most simple, human, elemental way.
Speaking of the ending, is that couples montage a When Harry Met Sally reference?
When Harry Met Sally is definitely a film that I love and reference and the film is full of little winks and nods to other rom-coms that have come before because I think one of the things about rom-coms is that they hit certain cliches, there are certain tropes and we decided instead of being afraid of them or trying to do something totally different, why not lean into it. Yes, we have someone running through an airport, we have someone holding up a sign, we have a little reference to Pretty Woman at the beginning of the movie and that's okay because it's about the unique journey in this film.
The little ending was probably inspired by When Harry Met Sally, but actually, it came out of this feeling. I remember one of the big things I had to wrap my brain around was how do you make this premise feel realistic? Someone picks someone out of an audience and marries them onstage and how does it not feel ridiculous and over the top? And then the truth is when you start to talk to people about how they met, it seems improbable that anybody meets and falls in love. It's all so coincidence-based and serendipitous and all these things have to come together to make it happen. And so that came out of conversations with people like, “How did you meet?” And there are little miracles in every meeting, I think, that actually take away some of the outlandishness of this premise. Why is it crazier than anything else, honestly?
You have another big project coming out very soon. What has it been like to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe for She Hulk?
Well, it's a dream. It was a dream come true before I did it, and it has remained so throughout the process. It's such an exciting universe and it's this ever-expanding universe. And I think it's never been done before where you just keep adding to the pantheon, and so to be a part of that is just wildly exciting. And I'm so excited for the world to see that project.
Of course, details for any Marvel project are really kept under wraps, but can you tell us what you're excited about with She-Hulk?
I think it's common knowledge that Smart Hulk is in it, and I think it's just really interesting the way that Hulks process their lives and their superpowers in a different way— the masculine-feminine element of that is something that I'm really excited about. I can't say much.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Marry Me is now in theaters.
Photography by: Courtesy Universal Studios