Growing up in a religious household, films like Sophie Hyde’s Good Luck to You, Leo Grande would be considered too “risqué” to watch. The film, which is now streaming on Hulu, is a powerful look at sex work and body positivity as well as self-pleasure and self-discovery, and it features both a standout performance from Emma Thompson and a star-making performance from Daryl McCormack (The Wheel of Time, Peaky Blinders).
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande tells the story of retired widow Nancy (Thompson), who, quite simply, is looking for good sex. She hires a sex worker, Leo Grande (McCormack), to fulfill her every desire, but the two end up building a real connection, complicating what was supposed to only be a physical relationship.
This is an intimate story that truly showcases its two leads by putting most of the film on their shoulders. Below the Line spoke with director Sophie Hyde about her goals with the film, the subtlety of its score, and what it was like working with two-time Academy Award winner Emma Thompson.
Below the Line: What’s the elevator pitch for this film for those who may not know much about it.
Sophie Hyde: It’s about a woman, Nancy, who decides that she wants to have good sex for the first time in her life — she’s never had it before — so she hires a sex worker and she’s in a hotel room waiting for this thing that she’s decided to do, and a knock at the door happens, and in comes Leo Grande and he’s the sex worker that she’s hired. And over the course of a few meetings, they get to know each other — both physically and emotionally — and that’s the film.
BTL: The hotel room that you mentioned, was that a set or was that an actual hotel room?
Hyde: I don’t want to give it away [laughs]. It was a set because I was asking for so much; changing light, and the scenes [take place] over such a long time. We definitely needed to be [a set].
BTL: It feels like 80 percent or more of this film takes place in that hotel room, so was that always your intention, or was it a necessity of the budget?
Hyde: I was sent the initial script, which was a very early draft, and that was [set] entirely in the hotel room, and as we started to develop it, we had [them] going out for a couple of scenes, but the idea of it being in one space and focusing solely on the performances and the two actors and their kind of changing emotional landscapes was one of the things that attracted me to [the project].
BTL: I noticed that, at least in the first half of the film, there wasn’t a lot of the score in the background. Was that a conscious decision to focus on the performances?
Hyde: Yeah, the music was actually really hard — no one’s asked me about this yet [during] this press tour — that’s funny. There [are] a couple of songs in it, and then there’s a few bits of score, but we had to be very delicate about the music and not make it too funny [as if] we’re laughing at Nancy — the character — or too serious where we’re kind of pitying her, so it was walking a fine line. This other weird thing happened where, on some tracks, you’d feel like there were musicians in the room with them [when] we’d bring in little layers [of music]. We mostly worked with sound design and the sound designer; there’s a sort of score that goes on of the city and their bodies that kind of take us through. There is a fair bit of music in the end across the whole thing, I think it’s just that it’s quite delicate.
BTL: The film’s anchored by two great lead performances. Could you take me behind the scenes of the casting decisions a little bit?
Hyde: Emma Thompson was already cast in the role of Nancy and it was one of the things that really drew me to the project — obviously, because she’s amazing — but also because she fit the concept so well; they seemed like such a great match and it’s a real privilege to work with someone of her skill set — she’s just so skilled and talented. But once Emma and I started working together, we needed to cast Leo and we looked at a lot of different people and we knew there was an opportunity [to cast] somebody who hadn’t necessarily done something like this before, and we were both excited by that. And when we met Daryl, we just thought that he brought a whole lot of layers that we found really compelling and we thought really expanded the role of Leo. But it still felt a bit risky like, you know? Going head to head with Emma Thompson for anyone on a two-hander is pretty intense but I just feel like he rose to her and they worked really hard together and together, as a group, kind of formed something, and he, as you’ve seen, matches her.
BTL: Did that chemistry between the two of them come instantly or did they have to develop it in rehearsals before the shoot?
Hyde: It’s definitely a natural chemistry between them, which isn’t simply to say that there’s a kind of electric energy, there’s also a kind of safety or there’s some way that they fit together. And they needed to know that they had that. So Emma met Daryl before we cast him to make sure but they are [also] actors [who] do a lot of work to make sure that that chemistry is there and stays. We did a lot of work together; we had a week of rehearsals and we did a lot of extra material, talking about our paths, exploring physical things in the film, doing things that kind of ensured that would be the case. We were also shooting in a tiny little place, somewhere in the UK [during] lockdown, so it was like there was no one there [and] it felt like it was just us making this film. We had this really strong focus and the two of them together would be together at night, learning their lines. And we worked every day; we didn’t have [to] pause it and I think it helped create that [chemistry].
BTL: What was your goal with this film? What did you hope audience members would take away from it?
Hyde: I wanted to make a film that was pleasurable for an audience and that moved through humor but also went further and kind of looked at our truth about the world. I was really interested in exploring connection between people that aren’t going to end up with each other romantically. It [the relationship] could still have significance and that someone that you’re not expecting to [be] could be really meaningful in your life, so intimacy was a big part of what I was looking at. And then I guess I was really interested underneath in the kind of ways that we’ve taught ourselves [and have] been taught by everybody that our bodies are shameful and that we’re always taught our bodies aren’t good enough — they’re flawed, they’re problematic and everything is about how they look. And I guess this [film] was exploring that in many ways in part through sex, because sex is something that we drape in shame, but even just bodies and how we feel about our own bodies is [based upon] how our body looks rather than what it does for us. So these are kind of ideas that were sort of underlying the work all the time.
BTL: For you, the director, what are you most proud of regarding this film?
Hyde: I’m just really proud that when I’m showing it to people, they come up to me afterward and they either say something that they really relate to, or they’re like, ‘I really want to go home and do something different,’ or, ‘I really want to talk more to my friends about this,’ or they tell me some really intimate detail. But I really love that people feel like this opens a door for them to talk and think more about something in their lives.
BTL: Did you learn anything in particular with this production that you can now apply to your future projects?
Hyde: I think I learned to trust the performance. Working with actors, that’s kind of the center of everything, the character and the performance. I think I always knew that, but it was lovely to make something where everything was stripped away and that [the characters and performances] was what was left and that I feel like that can be taken to all sorts of films.
BTL: And so do you have any future projects that you can talk about?
Hyde: I’ve been writing a very personal story about my family. I had an out and queer dad who was very stubborn and a kind of activist, and I have a teenager now who’s non-binary and also kind of quite outspoken about their queerness and activism, and I sort of have a story, this sort of intergenerational queer story, family drama-comedy, and hopefully I’ll make that.
BTL: Are you in the midst of casting yet, or still in the writing process?
Hyde: I’m casting now, yeah.
BTL: Any potential returning actors from this film?
Hyde: Oh God, I’d have these two back any minute but I’m not sure that they’re quite the right roles for [and] I think they’re going to be busy for a while.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is now streaming on Hulu.