40 Little-Known Love Actually Secrets

With nine storylines interweaved through its 135-minute running time, Love Actually changed the Christmas movie game upon its release in 2003. The star-studded hit has become a holiday season staple, and even 20 glorious years later, it still resonates with fans worldwide. But do you know what might make you enjoy your umpteenth rewatch this festive season even more? A deep dive into the lesser-known details, deleted scenes, and on-set secrets of everyone's favorite holiday flick.

Bill Nighy auditioned by accident

Bill Nighy, an actor with an uncanny knack for stealing the show however big or small his role, plays jaded rocker Billy Mack. But did you know he didn’t officially audition for the part? In 2013 he told website The Daily Beast, “I did a rehearsal reading of the script as a favor to the great casting director who had been trying to get me into a film for a long time. I thought it was simply to help her hear the script aloud and to my genuine surprise I was given the job.”

And after two decades, we can safely say that we wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Thank goodness Nighy owed someone a favor — or who knows what Billy Mack we'd be watching every year!

Rowan Atkinson’s character was supposed to be supernatural

“Would you like it… gift wrapped?” Speaking of stealing the show with a small part, Rowan Atkinson famously plays Rufus, the jewelry store clerk whose painfully slow service almost drives Alan Rickman’s character crazy. Atkinson appears again later in the movie, making a distraction so that young Sam can complete his mad airport dash.

Fascinatingly, director Richard Curtis initially planned for Atkinson’s character to have more of an ethereal presence. In the original script, Rufus was written as an actual angel, whose slow service and distraction techniques help stop Harry from having an affair and allow Sam to kiss the girl he likes. Perhaps wisely, Curtis scrapped the offbeat idea, but the guardian angel thing is still kinda cool.

Martine McCutcheon’s role was written for her

While hugely familiar to British audiences thanks to her role in the soap opera EastEnders, Martine McCutcheon was a virtual unknown in the States before Love Actually took off. That didn’t deter Richard Curtis from writing the part of Natalie, the prime minister’s love interest, especially for her, though.

In 2013 he told British newspaper The Guardian, “I even called the character Martine, though I had to change it before the read-through so she didn’t think she’d already got it.”

Harry really did have an affair

In 2015 the film’s script editor and Richard Curtis’ wife, Emma Freud, live-tweeted a Love Actually screening in which she answered several followers’ burning questions. And there was one plot line that fans were eager to get to the bottom of.

When asked whether Alan Rickman’s Harry really did cheat on his wife, Freud made things crystal clear, replying, “[He] definitely had an affair. I begged Richard just to make it a flirtation. But, no, the whole way.”

One scene has a different soundtrack across the pond

The art gallery Christmas party scene in the U.K. version of the movie is soundtracked by British girl group Sugababes’ “Too Lost in You.” But on the other side of the Atlantic, audiences were treated to a completely different ballad.

If you’ve ever found yourself belting out a rendition of “The Trouble with Love Is” while simultaneously shouting at Harry and Mia’s slow dance, then you'll know that Kelly Clarkson’s song is what accompanies the scene Stateside.

A lesbian subplot was deleted

You have to feel for Anne Reid and Frances de la Tour. The two actresses should have been part of one of the most successful Christmas films in recent memory, but their heartbreaking storyline was removed from the final edit.

Reid played a school principal, while de la Tour was cast as her wife, stricken with a chronic and life-ending disease. Is anyone thinking what we’re thinking... 20th-anniversary remake including the cut storyline? Yes, please!

An African storyline was also left on the cutting room floor

The other storyline left out of the final cut also involved a minority. Richard Curtis and his crew traveled to Kenya to film a tale of an African couple relying on each other to get through starvation-level food shortages. The story, it seems, is something that Curtis was keen to include as a way of really hammering home the idea that love really is all around us.

The director shared his personal inspiration for the story in an interview with Vudu, “You have a preconception that, in places in the world where life is very hard, love wouldn’t be one of the things that people’s minds are on, whereas my experience, when I go to Africa, is that that’s completely not true.” But alas, even love wasn’t enough for this footage to make it into the finished movie.

Emma Thompson wore a fat suit

Emma Thompson? Fat suit? Love Actually? Sorry, what? It may be hard to believe this wardrobe secret. We’re hardly talking about Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor here, but the wardrobe department had very specific orders for achieving Karen’s look. To make her character appear a little “mumsier,” Thompson wore a fat suit while playing the betrayed wife.

Thompson’s donning of a fat suit in Love Actually wasn’t particularly noticeable. Yet she’s sparked fierce debate more recently — and been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism — for the much more overt costume she wore while playing The Trunchbull in 2022’s Matilda the Musical. Even so, it’s impossible to be angry with Karen in Love Actually.

Thomas Brodie Sangster is Hugh Grant’s cousin

Prime Minister David and lovestruck tween Sam don’t interact in Love Actually, but the actors who played them certainly know each other. Yes, Hugh Grant and Thomas Brodie Sangster are second cousins!

In a 2011 interview with British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, Brodie Sangster recalled how his much older co-star would often ruffle his hair when their paths crossed behind the scenes. Aww.

The director cast his two kids

A lobster and a wise man with his face painted as Spider-Man? The school Nativity play featured in Love Actually certainly wasn’t a traditional one, but it did give Richard Curtis’ two kids the chance to appear on camera for the first time. His daughter Scarlett plays the slightly out-of-place crustacean, while one of his sons is the boy mixing Christianity and Marvel.

Since lighting up our screens as a lobster, Scarlett has paved her way as a writer and activist. Jake, on the other hand, is possibly best-known for his rumored romance with model Kate Moss — who was 28 years his senior at the time. 

The lake was only 18 inches deep

Colin Firth and Lúcia Moniz’s acting abilities were put to the test in the scene where Jamie and Aurelia head into the lake to recover the former’s soggy manuscript. The body of water in question was only 1ft 6in deep!

Both stars had to crawl around on their knees to convince audiences they were swimming. And poor Firth suffered an avocado-sized mosquito bite to his elbow — to go with what we can only imagine were two scuffed-up knees. 

Curtis recycled a scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral

Richard Curtis had made his name nine years earlier with British classic Four Weddings and a Funeral. When it came to writing the awkward encounter between the wedding caterer and Kris Marshall’s Colin in Love Actually, the director decided to revisit his former glory.

The scene where Colin puts his foot — and an apparently unappetizing cocktail sausage — in his mouth was first written for the 1994 rom-com that launched Hugh Grant to fame. As it happened, the gag never made it into the finished version of the earlier movie.

There’s a Bridget Jones connection

Both Colin Firth and Hugh Grant had appeared in Bridget Jones’ Diary two years before they starred in Love Actually. But you might not realize that’s not its only connection with the famous 30-something singleton.

The apartment that belongs to Laura Linney’s Sarah in Richard Curtis' festive rom-com was inspired by the real-life home of Bridget Jones author and long-time friend of Curtis, Helen Fielding!

Hugh Grant hated his dancing scene

Many Love Actually fans insist that the scene where Hugh Grant’s prime minister throws some embarrassing shapes to The Pointer Sisters’ “Jump” is the film’s most memorable moment. But the actor didn’t enjoy it quite as much as audiences did.

In 2013 Richard Curtis revealed to website The Daily Beast, “He kept on putting it off, and he didn’t like the song. It was originally a Jackson 5 song, but we couldn’t get it — so he was hugely unhappy about it.”

The airport reunions were real

Love Actually’s highly emotional motif didn’t involve any professional actors. Those shots of people hugging their nearest and dearest at the airport as they return home? They were all 100 percent real.

Each beautiful moment is a real-life scene captured by cameramen stationed at London’s bustling Heathrow Airport. But don’t worry: every person shown on screen agreed for their tear-jerking reunion to be included in the film.

Andrew Lincoln had reservations about his character

From his unique approach to wedding videography to that cue card gesture, Mark’s behavior toward his best friend’s wife is questionable — to say the least. The man who played him had reservations about the character when he first bagged the role, too.

Andrew Lincoln admitted to entertainment website The Wrap in 2016 that he’d once asked Richard Curtis about whether Mark was a stalker. The director had apparently replied, “No, no. Not with you playing it, darling. You’ll be alright.”

The cast shared a trailer park village

The sheer size of the cast inspired producers to create a large trailer park village to accommodate them all. Unfortunately, though, the conditions may not have been as glam as one might think, especially given the success of the film since. Emma Thompson revealed in an interview with Jimmy Fallon that her trailer was “terrible” and had a “loo that really stank.” It wasn’t all bad, though.

In 2013 Bill Nighy explained to British newspaper The Guardian, “There were so many famous people in there, we used to talk about being on Liam Neeson Way or Emma Thompson Road or Hugh Grant Avenue. And it was a masterpiece of diplomacy, too; we all had the same size and type of trailer.”

There was a 45-minute meeting over Aurelia’s underwear

One of the biggest behind-the-scenes talking points in Love Actually involved underwear! When Jamie’s manuscript is blown by a gust of wind into a lake, Aurelia selflessly strips off to try and save the day.

In his commentary for the film’s DVD release, Richard Curtis admitted that he and his team had spent the best part of an hour debating exactly what kind of bra and panties combination the character should wear.

Andrew Lincoln hand wrote the cue cards

Whether you think those cue cards are wildly romantic or downright creepy, you have to admit that the handwriting is exceptionally neat. Well, it turns out that the man holding them was kind of responsible.

In 2013 Andrew Lincoln told Entertainment Weekly that he had written them — over the top of stenciled outlines provided by the art department. You have to get your showy declarations of love just right, after all!

The American bar scene was improvised

In a 2015 interview with VH1, Elisha Cuthbert (left) claimed that Love Actually’s American bar scene in which she, alongside Ivana Milicevic and January Jones, flirts with Kris Marshall was largely done off the cuff.

Cuthbert said, “It was such a creative space and we were allowed to improvise and try different things and it wasn’t just completely set into Richard’s writing. I mean we were allowed to sort of venture… It was nice that we got to sort of play around.”

Producers made Olivia Olson’s voice sound worse

It’s common for a singer’s voice to be tampered with to make it sound better, but using studio trickery to make it sound worse? After hearing Olivia Olson’s pitch-perfect rendition of Mariah Carey’s festive classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Richard Curtis did just that. The director believed that Olson’s performance was far too flawless to be believable for a school production.

He asked for editors to make it more breathless. Speaking about the recording process to Entertainment Weekly, Olson revealed the session only took 45 minutes out of an allotted two hours. That is pretty impressive considering she was only ten years old!

Rodrigo Santoro believes Karl and Sarah end up together

Laura Linney’s Sarah and Rodrigo Santoro’s Karl appear in one of the few Love Actually storylines that doesn’t have a happy ending. But Santoro believes audiences would be left more satisfied if there was a follow-up film.

When asked by BuzzFeed News’ web series AM to DM about the prospect of Sarah and Karl getting together in a sequel, the smouldering Brazilian replied, “Yes, definitely yes.” But not everybody agrees.

Emma Freud believes Sarah and Karl remained apart

Love Actually’s script editor, Emma Freud, doesn't share Rodrigo Santoro’s optimism about the romantic fortunes of Sarah and Karl. During a 2015 live-tweeting of the hit movie, Freud was asked about the fate of the pair.

Not only did the wife of director Richard Curtis confirm that the tryst was doomed, but she went so far as to describe it as “tragic.” Whether this is referring to the relationship or Sarah's future wellbeing generally isn’t entirely clear.

Laura Linney wishes Sarah hadn’t picked up the phone

Anyone who's settled down with a glass of eggnog to watch Love Actually will have screamed at the television when Sarah ruins her night of passion with Karl by answering a call from her mentally ill brother. It was undoubtedly a selfless act that showed how much the character loved her sibling, but it’s still hard to watch.

The woman who played her, Laura Linney, has admitted that she wishes Sarah had been thinking about herself for once and not taken the call. It's probably safe to assume that most people would agree with that one.

Bill Nighy really did perform in his birthday suit

After seeing his novelty song “Christmas Is All Around” become a massive hit, Billy Mack sticks to his side of the bet and performs the track live on TV without a stitch of clothing on.

Just like his character, Bill Nighy really did bare all on set that day. In 2013 he confirmed to website The Daily Beast that he sported “nothing but an electric guitar and a pair of cowboy boots” for the famous scene.

Emma Thompson was crying for real

Emma Thompson provides Love Actually’s rawest moment when her character Karen weeps after realizing that her husband has had an affair. The actress had to turn on the waterworks not once, but 12 times in one day for the emotional scene.

Even more impressively, the crying was all Thompson’s idea. Speaking to BBC Radio 1's “Movies That Made Me” series, she credits Curtis’ impeccable writing as the reason why the scene has such enduring power to tug on the heartstrings of anyone watching.

The wedding scene was inspired by a celebrity funeral

Unlike Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually doesn’t contain a funeral. But a key scene was inspired by one. The idea to have a surprise musical outburst during Juliet and Peter’s wedding came to the filmmaker after attending Jim Henson’s wake. There, the Muppets paid tribute to their creator in the form of a song.

“It turned out that all the guys in the memorial service had brought their puppets with them, and they lifted them up, and when you turned around and looked backward, there were 50 puppets all singing… It was an extraordinary thing. So this was our little stab at that,” explained Curtis.

Richard Curtis wanted an all-British cast

Richard Curtis wanted Love Actually to contain an all-British cast. Of course, things didn’t quite work out this way. Sarah is played by an American, Laura Linney, as are the three women who fall for Colin’s bumbling British ways in the bar. And not forgetting young Sam’s first love who inspires that airport dash!

It wasn’t only Americans who infiltrated the cast list, either. Rodrigo Santoro, Heike Makatsch, and Lúcia Moniz hail from Brazil, Germany, and Portugal, respectively. Curtis’ cast were from all over and came together in perfect harmony.

Colin Firth and Hugh Grant’s stories were intended for separate films

One of the most memorable Love Actually plots involves Hugh Grant’s prime minister falling in love with his down-to-earth secretary. Curtis was so invested in the story that he reportedly intended for it to be fleshed out into a standalone feature-length film. The director also wanted the same treatment for Colin Firth’s romance with Lúcia Moniz.

Although that never happened (but we can still hope!), Firth revealed that the three weeks of filming in the south of France for the “man falls in love with his housekeeper” plot gave the feeling of being a movie all of its own.

There was something strange about the barbies

Emma Thompson appeared to have little problem crying to Joni Mitchell 12 times in a row, but she did struggle to film the scene in which she discusses giving Barbies to her daughter’s friend.

No, Thompson doesn’t have a phobia of plastic or kids’ toys. The reason? If you look closely, the dolls in question aren’t Mattel’s famous blonde Barbie, but her love interest Ken dressed up in women’s clothes!

Richard Curtis tested the cue card scene

Although many believe that Mark’s doorstep cue cards are highly inappropriate, some feel they are wildly romantic. Richard Curtis was so worried about its schmaltz factor that he needed a second opinion.

He grilled all the female members of his office staff to get a feel for whether the scene would work. It was only when they agreed that it wasn’t overly soppy that he decided to include the gesture in the final cut.

“Christmas Is All Around” was recorded at Abbey Road

Abbey Road Studios have played host to some of the most iconic recording artists of all time, most notably The Beatles, of course. And in 2003, Billy Mack, a.k.a. Bill Nighy, added his name to that illustrious list.

Yes, the Brit recorded his take on The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” at the famous studio. You may not know that he scored a U.K. Top 40 hit with the track, too.

Claudia Schiffer earned $200k for her cameo

Talk about nice work if you can get it. Claudia Schiffer’s screen time as the parent whom Liam Neeson’s Daniel crushes on amounts to about 60 seconds. Yet she was paid a colossal $200k for her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo.

The German supermodel reportedly only got offered the part after Richard Curtis realized that instead of looking for a “Schiffer type” he’d be better off just casting the real thing!

Kris Marshall returned his paycheck for one day’s filming

Actors who enjoyed a particular role will often say they’d have done the work for free. But Kris Marshall put his money where his mouth was by literally giving back his paycheck for one of the day’s filming Love Actually.

The Brit, who played Colin in the hit romantic comedy, believed that getting stripped by three stunning American women — not once, but over 20 times — was payment enough.

Thomas Brodie Sangster learned a new skill for his role

Thomas Brodie Sangster put the hours in for his role as the lovestruck tween Sam. The 13-year-old had to learn how to play drums from scratch for the role. Luckily for Sangster, he had a ready-made coach in the form of his father.

“My dad’s a drummer, and he taught me in my grandad’s basement bashing away on his old kit and trying to play along to 'All I Want For Christmas,'” he shared with The Sunday Post. The low-key lessons must have worked a treat, as he still plays 20 years later.

Hugh Grant’s character was inspired by a real British leader

A real-life British prime minister of the 1970s proved to be the unlikely inspiration for Hugh Grant’s character in Love Actually. Director Richard Curtis had always wondered what it would be like if renowned bachelor Ted Heath had found love while in number 10.

Grant’s younger, hipper, and less portly David was created to help answer that question. Would Heath have danced through the halls of Downing Street? There are some things better off left a mystery.

Hugh Grant used to intentionally freak out Billy Bob Thornton

Turns out that Hugh Grant is braver than you may think. According to the movie website IMDb, the actor would often intentionally freak out his co-star over his strange phobia. Billy Bob Thornton is creeped out by antique furniture.

So, just before the cameras started rolling on scenes between the two on-screen politicians, Grant would thrust the oldest item he could find into the former Mr. Angelina Jolie’s eye line.

Producers were given a tour of 10 Downing Street for research

As you would expect, the 10 Downing Street scenes in Love Actually weren’t filmed in the real thing. But alongside the movie’s production designer, director Richard Curtis was given a tour of the prime minister’s residence by Gordon Brown before shooting began.

The pair had to rely on memory to recreate the setting, though, as taking photos or sketching out drawings were strictly forbidden during their trip around the prime minister's sprawling abode.

Keira Knightley was forced to wear a hat

Even glamorous A-list actresses have bad skin days. During the scene in which Keira Knightley’s Juliet discovers that her husband’s best friend has essentially spent her entire wedding lusting after her, the character is sporting a hat.

Although the denim cap suits Knightley’s character to a tee, the costume decision wasn’t for style purposes at all. What it was for, however, was to mask a massive pimple that had appeared on the star’s forehead overnight.

Two of the cast shared constant dirty jokes

She may look like butter wouldn’t melt on screen, but that was all an act. Once the cameras stopped rolling, Martine McCutcheon proved she was anything but. Her potty mouth was directed toward co-star Hugh Grant.

While being interviewed on a British TV talk show, the actress revealed she and Grant were in constant contact throughout the shoot. And most of their communication centered on texting each other filthy jokes.