Actress Emilia Clarke and author Jojo Moyes Depict a Richer View of Quadriplegia in Me Before You

While some are already blasting Me Before You for presenting disabled people as pitiful, the author and the star of the critically-acclaimed-novel-turned-film, Jojo Moyes and Emilia Clarke, respectively, told SF Weekly that they were confident that they had conducted enough research between them to support a more well-rounded character in the form of wealthy quadriplegic Will Traynor (The Hunger Games' Sam Claflin), who falls in love with his more humble caregiver, Louisa Clark (Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke) in the tender romantic dramedy. Me Before You opens in San Francisco on June 3.

[jump] Jojo, you've written plenty of widely acclaimed novels. Why was Me Before You the first to be turned into a film?

JM: I've asked myself that many times, because, believe me, if I had known what the answer was, I would have done it years ago. I think it's the mixture of laughter and tears. I think the fact that it's a story that makes you laugh and cry but also think a bit about your own responses to things. At the heart, it has two really clear and distinct characters, who seem to stay with people.

Is there already talk about its literary sequel, After You, being adapted to the silver screen?

JM: I think everybody wants to see how this one does first. We're all a bit superstitious about those kinds of things.

If it were, would Emilia Clarke resume her role as Louisa Clark?

JM: Oh yeah, there is no other Louisa. Oh my god, what a thought. [Laughs]

Emilia, in the film, Will Traynor asks you to cheer him up by telling him “something good,” so you sing a song that your father used to sing to you. Now I ask the same of you. Tell me something good. 

EC: Oh, you're the first one to do that. I want you to see this movie. This movie is good. Jojo is good. That is some seriously good stuff. I'm not going to sing the song, though! [Laughs]

Jojo, a lot of popular YA-novels-turned-movies today seem to feature a disabled or terminally ill romantic lead. Why does this make for a good story?   

JM: I didn't know that when I started to write it, because I didn't read any Young Adult fiction until I read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, a couple of years after I'd written this. I don't know. I think we have these phases of things. We've had dystopia, maybe we're in our…I don't want to be flip about it, but I suppose one of the things is that the real thing that makes any story great is the tension between the two characters and the tension between what you want and what you can't have. If you can't have a character that is ill, then you have an immediate reason why the two people can't have their happily ever after, or just something that's keeping them apart. That just makes things intrinsically more interesting to read or watch. So, for me, the tension there was the tension between those two people that could not have a conventional love story.

Did playing this role open your mind to the struggles of people with disabilities?

EC: Yeah. A huge amount of preparing for the role in the movie was research. I went on message forums, and we met a wonderful quadriplegic, who came in and spoke to us all. I did a lot of research, and we really supported each other in that. It was very much, because obviously Jojo had already done a huge amount, and we had an advisor on set at all times. So it was a point of discussion all the time, to the point that me and director Thea Sharrock and Sam Claflin would send each other relevant articles or things that we had seen, so it's a consistent thing that's always in my mind now.

The thing that really made me think and gave me a grounded understanding of it was the stilly things, the things they actually want to talk about, and the way they want to be spoken to. That reality made it possible for us to bring a less preachy view on what this is.

Can you give me an example of a “silly thing” or of how people with disabilities want to be treated?

Gawking and staring is not going to help anybody. Do you know what I mean? So one of the guys who came in and we spoke to, I had a packet of Polo mints, and he said, “Can I have one?” I said, “Sure thing, you can. There you go.” That's not weird. Was he flirting? Yeah. Is that cool? Of course it was. It was the reality of not treating anyone any differently.  That gave me a real window into something I had been unaware of in his journey and changed my view on disability as a broad thing forever, I think.

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