How Ghosts of Girlfriends Past makes a lothario lovable

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Mark Waters, director of the supernatural-themed romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, told reporters that the filmmakers actually created a backstory for each of the film's three ghosts that didn't make it into the final movie.

"There was a whole explanation that got cut," Waters said in a news conference last week in Los Angeles. "[Emma Stone] says, 'Oh, no—the real Allison Vandermeersh is married, living in Poughkeepsie, with her husband Chip and her three dogs.' It's more like the spirit of that person from that time, and it was explained, but we thought, do we really need to explain it?"

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past follows Connor Mead (Matthew McConaughey), an unrepentant lothario who begins to question his love-'em-and-leave-'em ways after he is visited by ghosts who force him to revisit his past relationships. Director Mark Waters (The Spiderwick Chronicles) discussed the process of creating interesting and believable characters in a supernatural setting. The following is an edited version of a group interview. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, which stars McConaughey and Jennifer Garner, opens Friday. (Spoilers ahead!)

Was it a challenge to make Connor redeemable? Because throughout the film we only see how terrible he is.

Waters: He's Matthew McConaughey. With [someone like] Vince Vaughn, you worried whether you would ever be able to get back with a guy who said the exact same lines, but it would just be too harsh. But there's something about Matthew's charm and the fact that he is the kind of guy who gets away with murder with women that you're kind of going, "Well, they were almost halfway there forgiving him before, and now that he's become a mensch, I think they go there." It's one of the reasons why it kind of has an odd structure in the third act. The end of the movie goes on a long time, which is [prohibited] by all screenwriting 101 [rules]. That was one of the things we did in development: Every time we developed it, [we said,] "Let's chop this third act out. It's too long." It's logically too long, but on a weird level, like Scrooge, once he becomes a good guy, you kind of want to bathe in him being a good guy. You'll see if it takes: Is it momentary, this good guy? Or if this person who's changed really has changed on a deep level. And you want to see it for more than just five minutes and him do right by a couple of people and you're able to believe it.

This film has been in development for a long time. What appealed to you that made you stick with it for so long?

Waters: In essence, it was built into every draft of the script, and when I read the script for the first time, I cried [during the scene] when he was talking to Lacey by the SUV. That was in 2003, sitting alone in my room, and then every time it was sent to me by our persistent producer, I was like, "Really?" And then by the end I would be crying at that scene. I said, "You know what? There's something about this that clearly works, because I'm kvelling [laughing through tears] every time I read this scene." And then, not to be immodest about our movie, but I think it's Matthew's finest work. That scene when he pulls her out by the SUV is just beautiful. We were like, "This thing has a simple kind of beauty to it, and a selflessness that makes the scene work and makes his character work, and makes the movie work."

Who is this movie for? Because it's obviously an object lesson for these lotharios, but it also seems to be a cautionary tale for women who subject themselves to these kinds of men.

Waters: Certainly we never set out—at least I don't—to teach a lesson. If anything, it's just like "Who is it going to entertain?" And if it turns out to have some illumination about your life, great. But I think it kind of makes everyone reflect on their list. Everyone has their bar with their line of people at it, both men and women. You kind of reflect, "Here's my bar. Here are the people I've known in my life. How did I treat them? And did I do well, or could I do better?" I think having everybody realize whether sometimes you're the Jenny and sometimes you're the Connor, knowing that there's a way to treat people that's good and bad. Hopefully that's where it lays.