Last month, Hugh Grant was spotted Downtown. Eyes widened, photos were snapped and filming moved on. But why was a Hugh Grant movie being shot here … in Binghamton?
The answer lies with Binghamton University alumnus Marc Lawrence ’81.
Lawrence is directing Grant, along with Marisa Tomei, J.K. Simmons and Chris Elliot, in an upcoming untitled romantic comedy. The film centers on a divorced, broke, formerly successful and Oscar-winning screenwriter, played by Grant, who takes a teaching job at a university on the east coast. He gets romantically involved with an older student returning to school, played by Marisa Tomei.
The university where the movie is set? You guessed it: Binghamton. In fact, we were lucky enough to speak to Lawrence about his time here and his upcoming flick.
“The movie’s very much a love letter to Binghamton. I have nothing but affection and wonderful memories and I wanted to give some of that experience,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence lived in Delaware Hall for his first two years before moving off campus to Oak Street his junior year. He spent the spring of his junior year in London and, in his senior year, lived on Floral Avenue. The film is composed of the little things about Binghamton: the food, off-campus life, the weather. In the movie, Grant lives on Main Street and most of the film is set on BU’s campus.
“There’s spiedies in it, and living in off-campus houses, and the constant rain, and there’s the miserable weather and there’s the long wait for the one nice day that suddenly appears at the end of the year that seems to make the miserable weather worth it,” Lawrence said.
The movie is Lawrence’s way of combining the best parts of his life: Hollywood and college. However, the production team spent only one day in Binghamton, shooting Downtown. C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University is used as a stand-in for the Binghamton University campus, but characters and settings are decked out in BU apparel, like sweaters and banners.
“Binghamton never leaves me because my wife, Linda, also went to Binghamton,” Lawrence said. “So our life together is kind of a daily reminder of our life there.”
Lawrence never really considered majoring in cinema, opting for an English degree instead. He didn’t think a career in Hollywood was a viable option.
“I was totally, completely unaware of anyone working in show business, anyone working in television. I honestly never even considered it,” he said.
Instead, Lawrence enrolled in New York University School of Law, but “did not have a good time,” and dropped out after one year. Then, he got serious about writing and climbed his way up by working screenplays for various television shows. Between 1984 and 1989, he wrote and produced “Family Ties,” the NBC family sitcom starring Michael J. Fox about a family comprised of ex-hippie, liberal parents and their Reagan-embracing children.
After “Family Ties,” Lawrence’s career took off. He worked with Sandra Bullock, starting with “Forces of Nature” in 1999. His first big screenwriting hit was “Miss Congeniality” in 2000, which he wrote specifically for Bullock. After “Congeniality,” Bullock helped give Lawrence the clout to direct his next movie, “Two Weeks Notice,” in 2002, which also starred Bullock and started his collaborations with Hugh Grant. Lawrence is now on his fourth movie with Hugh Grant, following up on “Music and Lyrics” in 2007 and “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” in 2009.
“We just pay him a lot and he’ll do anything,” Lawrence said.
Dropping out of law school was a turning point in Lawrence’s life. Writing, rather than law, was always his true calling. Literature inspired him to take the craft seriously.
“My favorite fiction is 19th century Russian literature which, if were to watch ‘Miss Congeniality,’ I’m not sure if you could see the influence all that clearly,” he joked.
Lawrence isn’t inspired by specific books, but the characters and stories within them. If he sees something he loves, he strives to recreate that feeling in his own work. Lawrence may have not received a cinema degree from college, but an English degree taught him the importance of good storytelling.
“Relish your time there if you’re a student because those years are great, or can be great, because you have a lot of the freedom of being an adult without the responsibilities,” he said. “Find out what you love and hold fast to it.”