Last Christmas director Paul Feig: "The problem with female-led films is they all become unicorns."

Last Christmas is a story of resilience wrapped up in a catchy holiday tune.

The new romantic comedy, inspired by the song of the same name by Wham!, stars former Game of Thrones leading lady Emilia Clarke as a young woman named Kate, who is unhappily working in a Christmas-themed store in the centre of London.

She has alienated most of her friends with her wild behaviour, is on the outs with her family and finds her mother (Emma Thompson), particularly grating.

Throw in the fact that she’s currently between homes, has a dwindling bank account and has had to give up her dream of becoming a singer, it’s fair to say that she’s not having herself a merry little Christmas.

Then she meets the mysterious and overly cheerful Tom (Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding) and her life begins to skew in an entirely new direction.

Last Christmas director Paul Feig, the renowned filmmaker behind movies like Bridesmaids, The Heat, Ghostbusters and A Simple Favor, said he was drawn to the project due to the lead character of Kate who, thanks to a script penned by Emma Thompson and Bryony Kimmings, in rare rom-com leading lady form was allowed to be completely unlikeable at times.

Listen to Last Christmas director Paul Feig talk about the making of Last Christmas and working with Emilia Clarke and Emma Thompson on Mamamia’s daily podcast The Spill, which features all the top entertainment stories of the day. 

“My involvement in Last Christmas all came down to how great the script was and how the lead character of Kate was a very challenging character, we have her do many things that frustrate the audience,” Paul Feig told Mamamia. 

“Men always get to play those kinds of roles in movies. They get to be ‘unlikeable’ and no one has a problem with that. I have always hated the term ‘strong female characters’, just because it sounds very one dimensional. Female characters should also be weak and make horrible mistakes. On-screen, women always have to either be super mean or super perfect and this does not represent any of the women in my life, so I don’t have them in my movies.

“That’s the problem with female-led films, there’s so few of them that they all become unicorns. When we were doing Bridesmaids, so many of my writer friends had scripts that were female-driven. They would go out to pitch them and be told ‘just wait, we need to see how Bridesmaids does first.

The Hangover came out before us and those guys in the movie were not really well known. Bradley Cooper was a little bit, but no one was saying ‘oh, let’s wait and see how The Hangover does and if it fails there will be no more male-led movies made’.”

Director Paul Feig wirth Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding at the premiere of Last Christmas. Source: Getty.

In Last Christmas Oscar winner Emma Thompson plays Kate's mother Petra, who emigrated to London from the former Yugoslavia to escape the wars of the 1990s. She is both suffocatingly overprotective of her daughter and outrightly appalled at her reckless behaviour.

Emma's role in the movie is larger than life but according to Feig, she actually never wanted the part in the first place.

"Emma was not going to play the role at all when we first started out," he told Mamamia. "We were going to cast someone more 'authentic' for lack of a better term. But I wanted her on the set with me the whole time and she was going to be there as a writer and producer anyway. I just thought to myself 'how can I have Emma Thompson, one of the greatest actors of all time, on set and not put her in the movie?' I told her she had to play the mum and she was very hesitant about it."

The catalyst for Kate's bad behaviour in the film is linked to a severe health trauma that she goes through in her early 20s. In a twist of fate, it was a storyline that closely mirrored the events of Emilia Clake's own life.

In 2011 the actress suffered a near-fatal brain hemorrhage and then in 2013 she underwent surgery for a second aneurysm on the other side of her brain. The memory of these near-death experiences weighed heavily on her during the filming of the movie's hospital sequences, according to Feig.

"Emma and Emilia really became like mother and daughter on set, which was very interesting," Feig told Mamamia. "Emma really took care of Emilia because this was a very difficult role for her. It was so close to what she had gone through with her own traumatic illness, with the two brain aneurysms that she had had. So she felt very raw playing the character of Kate.

"The scenes that take place in the hospital were very difficult for her to film. We did all that we could to help her get through it, but it was a very difficult day."

Emilia Clarke's Last Christmas character very much fits into Paul Feig ideal of what a lead female character should be, thanks to the moments she is frustratingly unlikeable, paired with scenes where she is relatable and raw.

Last Christmas is in cinemas now. It is rated PG. 

Sign up for our weekly "TV and Movies" newsletter. Every week, our Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik gives you a backstage pass to the best movies, TV shows and celebrity interviews.