The 66-year-old British screenwriter acknowledged that jokes about women’s weight “aren’t any longer funny” and expressed his regret about setting a film in Notting Hill without a single Black character in the eponymously-titled Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts 1999 hit.
Curtis was responding to questions from Scarlett during an appearance at The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, when she confronted her father about the “growing criticism around the ways your films treated women and people of colour”.
In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Renée Zellweger’s character is described as having a “bottom the size of Brazil”, as the movie relentlessly focuses on Bridget Jones’s appearance and weight.
The character of Natalie (played by Martine McCutcheon) in Love Actually was also at the receiving end of fatphobic comments in the 2003 film – including from an ex-boyfriend who remarked: “No one’s going to fancy a girl with thighs the size of big tree trunks.”
Highlighted these problematic aspects to Curtis’s work, including “the noticeable lack of people of colour in Notting Hill, which was quite literally one of the birthplaces of the British black civil rights movement”, Scarlett asked: “Are there things you wish you’d done differently?”
Admitting he regretted many of his earlier works, with all-white, straight, characters, Curtis replied: “Yes, I wish I’d been ahead of the curve. Because I came from a very undiverse school and bunch of university friends, I think that I’ve hung on, on the diversity issue, to the feeling that I wouldn’t know how to write those parts.
“I think I was just sort of stupid and wrong about that.”
On how his films have aged, Curtis added: “I remember how shocked I was five years ago when Scarlett said to me, ‘You can never use the word ‘fat’ again.’ Wow, you were right. In my generation calling someone chubby [was funny] — in Love Actually there were jokes about that.
“Those jokes aren’t any longer funny.”
Zellweger in a 2016 interview with British Vogue affirmed that “Bridget is a perfectly normal weight” while discussing media scrutiny about how her weight fluctuated during her time portraying Helen Fielding’s beloved heroine.
Curtis has also previously admitted the lack of diversity in Love, Actually “made me feel uncomfortable and a bit stupid” during a one-hour special on US network ABC, broadcast on the film’s 20th anniversary last year.
“There is such extraordinary love that goes on every minute in so many ways, all the way around the world, and makes me wish my film was better,” the award-winning screenwriter added.