Exclusive: 'Marry Me' Director Kat Coiro on How Jennifer Lopez Brought Her Pop-Star Character to Life

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It’s no secret that rom-com Marry Me, out in theaters and streaming on Peacock this Friday, Feb. 11, bears similarities to star Jennifer Lopez’s life. Her character Kat Valdez is a pop star at the very top of her game whose life is a well-oiled media machine and whose personal life becomes a part of that machine whether or not she wants it to — all of which, Lopez has admitted again and again, yes, sounds very familiar to her life. Director Kat Coiro, understanding this would be a throughline the media would jump on, was hesitant to go there herself with Lopez at first, not wanting to commit the invasion of privacy that Marry Me gently criticizes throughout. But Coiro tells SheKnows that Lopez impressed her right away by being the first one to draw that comparison.

“I remember kind of tiptoeing around the fact that there were all these intersections and she’s someone who’s lived her life in the public and made very public mistakes and had very public relationships,” Coiro tells me. “And [Lopez] was like, ‘Yeah, that’s part of what we’re exploring here, and that’s something that I’ve been through and I can relate to.’ And so it was just really open, communicative dialogue with her.”

In the film, Kat Valdez (Lopez) discovers she’s been cheated on by her fiancé Bastien (Maluma) moments before they were set to marry on-stage. She makes the impulsive decision to marry the first person she sees in the crowd holding a “marry me” sign instead: math teacher Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson). The moment that she looks out into the crowd conveys another parallel to Lopez’s life that Coiro knew right away she wanted to explore: as she puts it, “this idea that you can be on top of the world, you can have it all and you can be lonely.”

“When I first went to see her, she was in this room just swirling with people, and yet she was really there alone,” Coiro tells me. “That was something that Jennifer and I discussed a lot…We really wanted to bring that facet of fame. It’s not about feeling sorry for this super-wealthy, famous person, but it’s just seeing the humanity there and knowing that when they’re made fun of, when the late-night talk shows skewer them, they hear it and they feel sad. They’re humans.”

Between documentaries like Framing Britney Spears and Hulu’s Pam & Tommy, late-night hosts have certainly been put on notice when it comes to their jokes at the expense of famous women’s personal lives, and in keeping with that, even Marry Me‘s fictional characters are treated as seriously when it comes to their careers as they are when it comes to their love lives.

“One of the things that was really important to me was that both of them find love, but it’s not at the expense of their lives,” director Coiro explains. “This film, aside from the romance, [is] about a woman who’s an artist who’s finding her voice and is on an artistic journey. So much of her relationship with Bastian is something that I think all artists face, which is when you spark creatively with somebody, it can often be confused as love and romance. And for her to kind of separate that after a lifetime of getting confused — they are great performers together, they have electric chemistry. That doesn’t mean they need to be together.”

Instead, Marry Me is about “a love that is not about public displays of affection and big gestures,” but “living to the best of your ability in tandem with somebody else and having them make your life better.” And not to bring everything back to Lopez’s personal life — but isn’t that exactly what we want for her, and any other woman looking for happily-ever-after?

Read on for our full interview with Marry Me director Kat Coiro below.

SheKnows: I would love to hear first about your personal history with rom-coms, since Marry Me is being hailed as the big return of the rom-com.

Kat Coiro: I love rom-coms as a genre. I keep hearing that the rom-com is dead, and I refute that completely because, you know, since the inception of cinema, rom com is a genre that has thrived and flourished. When you look at Charlie Chaplin, when you look at the old big romantic musical comedies and Busby Berkeley, when you go into the modern era with Nora Ephron and all the movies that I love, I just feel like it is an enduring genre. I do think they do especially well during times when people need hope and escapism. And I think this is definitely one of those times, and that might be why people are so thirsty for a movie that is fantastical and that makes you smile.

SK: Were there any specific rom-coms you were drawing from or that inspired you when you were making this?

KC: We had the weirdest references for this film it was like Mindhunter and The Godfather. But no, we talked about all the enduring rom-coms, the Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, and, I mentioned, Busby Berkeley when it came to the musical numbers. It was really about leaning into that and not being afraid to say, ‘Oh, we’ve seen somebody run through an airport before and hold up a sign.’ Who cares — we’re going to do it again and we’re going to do it with passion and love and joy. And we’re also going to introduce new elements that haven’t been seen in a rom-com.

One of the things that really sparks me in this film is that, aside from the romance, it’s about a woman who’s an artist who’s finding her voice and is on an artistic journey. So much of her relationship with Bastian is something that I think all artists face, which is when you spark creatively with somebody, it can often be confused as love and romance. And for her to kind of separate that after a lifetime of getting confused — they are great performers together, they have electric chemistry. That doesn’t mean they need to be together. So I think, it’s really about embracing the rom-com and also finding new layers and stories that are beyond the rom-com tropes.

SK: Were you thinking of this as a specifically feminist rom-com?

KC: It’s definitely refreshing to see a woman who is a boss in every sense of the word and who, you know, really possesses power on a real level because she’s not just a performer. She also runs an empire and employs hundreds of people. One of the things that was really important to me was that both of them find love, but it’s not at the expense of their lives. Her career, if anything, gets better. His career also benefits. One of the things Owen brought to it was, he was always juggling — how do I do this? And how is Charlie still a good father? Because he never wanted the relationship to be such a whirlwind that he forgot about taking care of his child. And so there’s a maturity and sure, there’s feminism in that and in having a love that is not about public displays of affection and big gestures, but is about living to the best of your ability in tandem with somebody else and having them make your life better.

SK: The movie also does a great job of showing what it takes to be a modern celebrity. What were you hoping viewers would take away from this depiction of what it means to live as a famous person today?

Well, you know, it’s funny. So much of our society today is hinged upon this idea of being famous, almost to the point where you forget that someone like Jennifer has worked really hard for that fame and it comes from talent. And it’s not just a social media fame. She was a fricking backup dancer. When I saw her Vegas show, I have never seen somebody work and sweat and then finish the show and with ice packs on her knees, greet hundreds of fans who literally need her and love her. And she knows that and she gives to them. And so one of the things I wanted to peek behind the curtain of was the difference between her kind of fame and this new kind of Instagram celebrity. We’ve kind of in a way forgotten that there are these people like Jennifer who work really, really fricking hard for that fame. And so that was something we wove into Kat Valdez’s story.

And then also this idea that you can be on top of the world, you can have it all and you can be lonely. That was something that Jennifer and I discussed a lot. When I first went to see her, she was in this room just swirling with people, and yet she was really there alone. And so we really wanted to bring that facet of fame. And it’s not about feeling sorry for this super-wealthy, famous person, but it’s just seeing the humanity there and knowing that when they’re made fun of, when the late-night talk shows skewer them, they hear it and they feel sad. They’re humans.

It’s definitely refreshing to see a woman who is a boss in every sense of the word.

SK: You’ve spoken about working closely with Jennifer Lopez to make sure the Kat Valdez character’s life was as accurate as it could be — can you share any specific things she brought to the character or adjusted to be more realistic?

KC: The things we leaned on her very heavily for were the concert sequences — her stylist Rob Zangardi and her choreographer Tabitha D’umo and Benny Medina, who’s her partner. We really said, help us with these concerts, because if this character doesn’t feel completely authentic and if these concerts aren’t impressive and theatrical and spectacles, then we have failed. And so that was a technical thing she brought.

And then just an emotional honesty. I remember kind of tiptoeing around the fact that there were all these intersections and she’s someone who’s lived her life in the public and made very public mistakes and had very public relationships. And she was like, ‘Yeah, that’s part of what we’re exploring here, and that’s something that I’ve been through and I can relate to.’ And so it was just really open, communicative dialogue with her. That was really awesome.

SK: The movie also does a great job of not taking a stance on social media in one direction or another. How do you feel about social media, personally and professionally?

KC: That’s something we talked about a lot in the film is not vilifying one way or the other. You know, does Kat Valdez overshare, and has she set herself up to kind of be in a bad position when her world falls apart because she’s lived her life in front of the cameras so much? Absolutely. Is Charlie so virtuous because he doesn’t have it? No. He’s disconnected from his daughter and his students, and he’s missing something that could be a tool. And so it was really about finding that middle ground. And for Kat Valdez, it was finding moments of privacy where the cameras aren’t there and she’s doing things for her and not because it’s banked content and not because she has to prove to the world that she’s having a great time. And for Charlie, it was about opening his mind a little to the fact that this is here, it’s here to stay. And as a father, you can’t just shut it down.

I have a very complex relationship with social media, I don’t know how to use it. I feel that my children shouldn’t be on it, [but] you can’t ban them from it for all time. And so again, it’s just open, honest dialogue.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Before you go, click here to see movies directed by women you should watch right now. 

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