FOREVER MY GIRL
About The Production
Over the past two decades, Mickey Liddell has produced such diverse films as
director Doug Liman's drug-fueled youth-culture comic thriller Go, Joe
wilderness thriller The Grey, and last year's critically hailed biopic, Jackie,
which racked up
nominations, including Best Actress for star Natalie Portman. His latest
production, Forever My Girl, marks yet another foray into new territory for
Liddell and his
prolific production company, LD Entertainment.
"We were looking at young-adult novels," explains Liddell. "An intern found a
that she really liked called Forever My Girl by Heidi McLaughlin. It was
anything we had done before - more emotional and romantic, but with a really
We switch genres all the time, because that's what makes life fun. The challenge
is always to
make the best version of whatever that movie is."
As they explored developing a big-screen adaptation of the book, Liddell and
team met with a number of screenwriters, including writer-director Bethany
"It was an assignment that many screenwriters were going in for," recalls Wolf.
"But I just
knew it was meant to be for me. I was so inspired by the hook in the book and
brain took flight. I went into the pitch hoping that they were ready to really
sit down and
pull out their popcorn and go on this ride with me."
Wolf's take on the adaptation included a number of departures from the book.
of the most significant ones was changing the central male character from a rock
star to a
country music star. "I wanted to shine a light on the country music community
towns everywhere," says the filmmaker, who grew up in rural Louisiana. "I come
small southern town that really has each other's back in good times and bad. And
each other through celebrating family, friendship, love, community, music, all
the things in
life that are free. I thought it was a really beautiful message and one that we
really need right
The film's love story also resonated with Wolf. "I wouldn't say I'm a
romantic - I think I'm a hopeful romantic," she laughs. "I think love is at the
everything that we do as human beings. So whatever story I'm telling I'll always
and romance into it because everything we do in life involves that universal
Wolf had directed the Louisiana-based drama Little Chenier as well as several
films. Given the quality of her previous work and her intense passion for the
quickly became clear to the producers that she was the ideal filmmaker to direct
the film as
well as write it. She immediately signed on and became one of the driving forces
getting Forever My Girl made.
At the time, the film was part of a slate of films LD was considering
producing in the
future, but Wolf was determined to do whatever it took to move the project from
development into production, even going as far as commissioning the film's
before it was green lit.
"I kept talking about how important all the music was going to be and then I
I need to stop talking about it and just bring the music in," she says. "So
anyone - the folks at LD, my agents, my manager - I just said to songwriters
Odell and Brett Boyett, if you guys want to do this on spec, let's have you
write all of the
songs and I'm going to surprise them and bring you guys in to play them in a
After Odell and Boyett worked with Wolf on the songs for about two months,
had them bring their guitars into a previously scheduled development meeting.
"She told me,
we need you here, we've written some songs for the film and we're going to have
come in and sing it," remembers Liddell. "I didn't know what to do. This
happened to me a
long time ago in a pitch and it didn't go well. If someone performs three or
four songs right
in front of you and you don't like them it's hard to fake it."
But no faking was required. Liddell and his colleagues were won over right
the music. "We were like, 'Green light, it's done,'" recalls Liddell. "You just
but love the songs."
As they moved forward with the project, the filmmakers knew they had their
cut out casting an actor with the singing and acting chops - as well as the
and looks - to convincingly portray Liam Page, the
who leaves his high-school sweetheart at the altar to pursue his career. "If you
didn't believe him, we had nothing," says Liddell.
Auditions went on for weeks as hundreds of actors tried out for the part.
"It's a very
complex role," says Wolf. "Most redemption stories begin with a person having a
then they go home to atone, to be redeemed of what they've discovered from
beauty of this story is that when we meet Liam Page, he has not had any
witnessing his rebirth, which is beautiful and different."
Alex Roe was one of the last actors the filmmakers saw, and on paper at
unlikely choice. Not only is Roe not Southern, he's British - and he had never
public before. But the actor had several other things going for him, says
Liddell. "When Alex
came in, every girl in the office was peeking in and trying to get a look at
him. He's just so
good looking and so charming. And he nailed the accent. I'm from Oklahoma and I
fake southern accents. People came in doing these terrible exaggerated drawls.
Alex's was so
perfect, at first I thought we had found a singer from Nashville who could act."
Despite his musical inexperience, Wolf says the filmmakers were blown away by
Roe's audition performance. "Then he looked at us really earnestly with a look
of, 'Was that
The director likens Roe to classic Hollywood stars of yesteryear. "There are
leading men who have that brooding, swooning magnetism while also being
talented, and at the same time incredibly humble and grounded," she says. "Alex
less about being a movie star. He just wants to be a working actor and do his
best work. And
he is extraordinary. His acting is unbridled, exhilarating, complex, and
unexpected, and that's
exciting to watch unfold in front of you and on screen."
Roe says he was initially drawn to the idea of overcoming the daunting
role presented for him, most notably learning to play the guitar and sing with a
twang. "But then I was drawn to the story. It's got a lot of heart and it's kind
of funny at
moments where you think it's going to get too sentimental. And there's the
Liam and Josie and the fact that they've never fallen out of love with each
As Roe threw himself into an intense period of musical training before
began, he developed a genuine love of country music. "We don't really get that
country in London, so I started listening to the country stations while I was in
he says. "In fact, I listened to nothing but country for about six months. I was
guitar every day and working on these songs, so country really took over."
Although he grew up nearly 4,000 miles from Nashville, Roe says his own
background made country music's heartland ethos easy to relate to. "It's very
very much about staying true to yourself and staying true to where you came
from," he says.
"Part of what Liam goes through during this movie it that he discovers he's lost
a little bit of
that. He is this adored country singer but he's not real anymore."
Once on the set, Roe was impressed by Wolf's preparation, enthusiasm and
"Bethany is a very active director, which was really cool," he says. "She's put
thought and so much work into it and she wanted to go deeper and connect with
moments. She was a guiding force, like a spiritual guide through this journey.
And she brings
so much love to her sets. She creates a great atmosphere for everyone to work
The next piece of the casting puzzle was finding an actress to play Josie,
first as a
young jilted bride and then, seven years later, as the feisty entrepreneur and
single mom who
has moved on with her life without Liam.
"Josie is a woman who went through her own storm and is now a smooth sailing
ship," says Wolf. "Instead of a girl who is waiting for a guy to come back into
her life and
sweep her off her feet, she has truly rebuilt her life and found her happiness.
need him to save her."
The role required a nuanced performance to convey a woman whose heartbreak
not hardened into bitterness. "The scene we auditioned with was the one where
Liam first reconnect," says Wolf. "So many girls had a tendency to play it
really angry. We
were talking about a girl who has worked hard to heal herself. I really saw that
Rothe, whose credits include a supporting role in La La Land and one of the
roles in the MTV comedy series "Mary + Jane," recently starred in the Halloween
feature Happy Death Day. She will also play the lead in the upcoming movie
adaptation of the 1983 teen comedy classic Valley Girl.
Scheduling conflicts prohibited the filmmakers from conducting a "chemistry
between Rothe and Roe. "Alex was out of town and Jess was still on her TV show
were worried that we might lose her," says Wolf. "I just knew in my gut that the
two of them
were going to have amazing chemistry, which they did."
Rothe read the script about two years ago and immediately fell in love with
characters and the story. Initially unable to meet the filmmakers in person, she
upon a director friend to help her submit an audition tape. "I met Bethany for
the first time
at her house on a Saturday, which happened to be my birthday!" the actress says.
so wonderful and lovely. She gave me this beautiful piece of rose quartz as a
present. We had similar ideas and goals for the character and I was lucky enough
and the producers over at LD wanted me to be a part of the movie."
Josie first appears in the film as a love-struck 18-year-old, waiting for her
sweetheart Liam to meet her at the altar. "She ends up just heartbroken and
devastated," says Rothe. "Flash forward eight years and Josie has become this
independent, proud, fiery woman who has not let that define her. She has so much
passion for life. She owns a flower shop. She's raised a child on her own. She
anyone else to make her life work."
Initially unwilling to let Liam into her life, Josie grudgingly allows her
daughter to get
to know her dad. "She doesn't want to deprive her daughter of the chance of
father," explains Rothe. "She's not malicious or cruel and that feels so
important to her. So
even though she doesn't want Liam to become a vanishing figure in Billie's life,
never take away the opportunity that her daughter could have a relationship with
begin the delicate dance of figuring out how to be co-parents, if he even can
Although Wolf had a strong vision for the film, she was receptive to the
ideas, says Rothe. "She was always willing to talk about other options and kind
around with things. And she was very open to us improvising and joking around.
It was a
really fun set."
"Jess has the exact same work ethic as Alex," says Wolf. "She puts everything
has into every scene, every moment, and she is incredibly emotionally tapped
into her truth.
She's smart, her instincts are spot on, and she never, ever has a bad take. And
she is ungodly
Forever My Girl is essentially a fun, feel-good movie with a lot of heart and
important message, according to Rothe. "I hope that the audience takes away the
people deserve second chances, that people can change and that you shouldn't be
fall in love or to be a romantic. Love can still exist even in this crazy time
and world that
Liddell is an independent producer and financier who prides himself on
actors before they break through and command huge salaries. "I have given
tons of actors their first role but I can't afford them now," he says. "We have
to find those
people that we think will be big stars but haven't been discovered yet, and
that's both Jessica
and Alex, in my opinion."
As powerful as the enduring romantic love between Liam and Josie is, there's
another bond in the film that is just as powerful. When he returns to his
hometown of Saint
Augustine, Liam discovers that when he left, Josie was pregnant with his baby,
who is now a
smart, sassy, 7-year-old girl. The immediate and deep paternal connection Liam
Billy is a big part of what makes Josie give him a second chance.
Abby Ryder Fortson, who was 8 when she was selected to play Billy, comes from
family of actors. "Abby came in and she was undeniable," says Liddell. "She just
character. She shouldn't have too much sugar before noon, but other than that,
Wolf agrees: "Abby is just such a bright light. She's so present and her
energy is so
vibrant and she's so mature and worldly. It's like you're talking to an adult,
which is perfect
for this character. She calls everything like it is. In movies that are quite
romantic I think it's
great to have fun with someone who's a realist, and how fun to have the realist
be the kid!"
Despite her youth, Fortson has already amassed an impressive resume,
acclaimed HBO series "Togetherness" and "Transparent" and the features Ant-Man
Playing it Cool. "Billy is a very strong, independent girl who wants to protect
says the actress. "She is curious about her father, but he left her mother at
the altar and she
has to be careful not to make her mom sad. She takes careful steps to make sure
Rothe gives her young co-star credit for providing one of the film's most
elements. "The only way the movie was going to work was if you got the sense
that up until
now it had been Josie and Billy against the world," she explains. "Their
relationship is built
on trust and on communication and on love. Abby made that easy to play."
Rothe says she loved watching Roe and Fortson work together. "Abby just
he was the bee's knees," she says. "Our relationship on set very quickly became
me as the
mother trying to calm things down, and Alex saying, no-no-no we're just going to
more joke, just one more tickle."
The film also features an appearance by country music star Travis Tritt. "I
him this until I met him on set but when I was in my 20s, my boyfriend was an
actor, and he
did a movie in Spain with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Travis," says
they wrap for the day they'd all pull out their guitars and we would just listen
to them playing
under the stars. It was the most magical experience. He's a living legend and
one of the last
outlaws and I really wanted him to do this movie. I did not know him at all and
connection to him other than that we shared the same agency. But I took that one
connection, and I ran with it as hard as I could. For about three months, I
called or emailed
Tritt eventually agreed to appear in the film and his scene is actually set
in a small
Nashville bar that was the first place he played professionally at the age of
17. "When you
see that footage, there are joyful, welling tears each time I called action and
cut," says Wolf.
Georgia Becomes Louisiana
Wolf set Forever My Girl in her home state of Louisiana as a love letter to
towns and the values of love, family, friendship, music, food, laughter and
rally around their own when someone is in need.
For practical reasons, however, the film was actually shot in Georgia. "The
a lot of those small towns that are not that different from small towns in
Liddell. "You have to do some things like put moss on the trees to get the look
right, but we
found places that really had the right feeling - towns where people said hi as
down the street and everyone was like, 'you're kidding, you're shooting a
movie!?' It was that
friendly southern thing. That's where we got our extras."
Wolf and her design team created an idealized version of small-town America
warm, golden tones overall, accented by pops of lavender, amber, rose, and aqua
"And I wanted to make sure that we had watermelon sunrises, vermillion sunsets,
gold, and violet dusks," she says. "I'm big on sunrises and sunsets. In small
they slow down the pace and are present in the moment, they sit on their front
take in a sunrise or a sunset. It was part of my love letter to that way of
life. I wanted gilded
morning light through trees, and moonlit skies. I wanted purple and lavender
magic hours. I
could literally never have too many sunrises and sunsets in a film. And I wanted
splash of pink to be in Josie's shimmering date-night gown."
She asked director of photography Duane "D.C." Manwiller to emphasize
movement and depth of field, even though many scenes take place indoors. "D.C.
is such an
accomplished cinematographer," says Wolf. "We had so little time to prep
together that I
pulled visual references to show how I wanted the film to feel. One of our
moments is when Josie and Liam are dancing on their romantic date night. I
wanted it to be
spectacular and very specific, with sort of a rose hue over it, and I showed him
from another film. D.C. said, 'You want that shot? I can do that shot.' My
assistant told me
afterward that D.C. had shot the original scene I was referencing. He didn't say
is literally the most humble man on the planet."
Songs in the Key of Love
At the heart of Forever My Girl are the country songs that Wolf commissioned
during the development process from Jackson Odell and Brett Boyett and are sung
by Alex Roe.
"I was in the midst of writing the screenplay," recounts the director. "My
son was in
the backyard with his friends and one of them, Jackson, is an aspiring singer
and musician. I
could hear him in the backyard singing. I had planned to reach out to all these
singers and songwriters but it ended up being Jackson, who's at our house every
He mentioned he had these regular music sessions with Brett Boyett. I looked up
discovered he is a like a one-stop shop, an accomplished composer, singer,
songwriter with his own band."
Boyett and Odell went through the script and found the points where they felt
should go. "We got a vibe on what the movie was about and wrote some country
says Boyett. "Bethany directed us which way to push the music because writing
for film is
different from writing for artists. With films you have a bit more leeway,
whereas with artists
you have to tailor it more specifically for country radio. It was important to
that fit the emotional context of the scene but would also be good for the
artist to put on
The songs are the movie's emotional engine, according to Roe. "The soundtrack
makes the movie in a really subtle way," she says. "The songs aren't too on the
they capture the essence of each scene."
Wolf immersed herself in country music and insisted Roe also learn as much as
possible about the music and the people who create it as he prepared for the
fortunate enough to have some friends who are in the country music scene who've
had a lot
of success," she says. "I really wanted Alex to experience that world first
hand. He had never
been to Nashville. It was really important for him to have the time to go from a
naturally talented to someone who can command a stage while performing in front
For months, Roe worked diligently with Boyett on his guitar playing and
helped him with phrasing like a country singer and learning to play guitar like
professional," says Boyett. "All of it was about looking like he'd been doing it
for the last 20
years. I've worked with a lot of actors in the past and I've just never seen
anybody work as
hard or be more dedicated than he was."
As the shoot approached, the filmmakers rented out small venues where Roe
practice his performing skills in front of LD staff members with a live band
Then Roe and Wolf went to Nashville where Wolf's friends Little Big Town were
performing and Roe got to talk to the band members backstage. "They'd just come
playing for 50,000 people, so I was able to get an understanding of what that
feeling is and
how addictive and overpowering it can be," says the actor. "Because that's
Liam's character: he's left his hometown and his family and friends to chase
When it came time to actually film the performances, Wolf had just a day and
shoot three full-blown concert scenes. "These were major set pieces with
hundreds of extras,
cranes, jibs, Steadicams, and multiple cameras being shot all at once," she
says. "They were
massively packed days, which is always exciting and thrilling to pull off. Alex
prepped and ready."
Even the extras committed fully to the concert scenes, says Roe. "They
songs and were singing along. It felt like a real performance!"
The result is music that even non-country music fans find hard to resist,
"I've seen people go like, 'I'm not going to tap my foot,' and then they do. I'm
not a big
country music fan but it's really good music. I love every song in the film.
I've shown this to
everyone from high-art people who were like, 'oh, I would never go see that,'
they're crying and falling in love, to guys in my office who are like, 'ugh, why
do we have to
make this?' and now it's their favorite movie. It's just really universal."
Roe concurs: "I think this film will be appealing to anyone who's ever missed
hometown love, anyone who has had a relationship and wondered what it would be
they got back with that person, anyone who's made a mistake before and thinks
be able to make up for it."
Forever My Girl offers something for everyone, according to Wolf. "When we
on the screenings all over the country, you see that it's not just a movie for
women, it's not
just for young people or old people, it's for everyone," she says. "Men, women,
everyone is finding a piece of themselves in one of our characters - or many of
"I want people to feel that they can always go back home," she adds, "and
doesn't necessarily mean literally, but to their own truth. That no matter where
you are in
life, you can find your way back to your true self. It's never too late."
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