Years ago, Ghost Whisperer star Jennifer Love Hewitt came across a script that she simply had to turn into a film. ABC Family's If Only (premiering Jan. 15 at 7 pm/ET) tells the story of Samantha and Ian, lovers who, soon after a regrettable row, are blindsided by a tragic accident that claims Sam's life. The morning after watching his sweetheart slip away, however, Ian (played by Brit Paul Nicholls) wakes to find Sam alive and back in his life, as he gets a second chance at that fateful day. The lengths to which Ian goes to save Sam from death and himself from heartbreak are great and romantic, but will it be enough? TVGuide.com spoke with Christina Welsh, the writer of If Only, about her and Hewitt's labor of love.
TVGuide.com: First, tell me about the genesis of If Only's provocative premise.
Christina Welsh: It all actually began in a heartfelt way. I was thinking about a close friend who had died in a car accident, and I was wishing I could have him back, even if just for a day to share a moment with him. And then the writer in me kicked in and I started thinking, "What if you had a terrible fight with someone you loved, and they were killed in a tragic accident before you could say you were sorry but when you woke up the next day, that person was there? If you had the chance to relive the day, what would you do with it? Would you fight to change their fate? Would you fully embrace the moment?" It's one of those universal notions "If only I had said this," "If only I had done that." Ian gets to experience that in this story.
TVGuide.com: I understand that Jennifer Love Hewitt had been itching to get this made since she was a teenager.
Welsh: Yes, she had, actually. When she first read the script, she said it changed her life, how she approaches life and how she now appreciates what she has. It touched something deep within her. At the time, the company that bought the script told her she was far too young [to star in it]. Although I think she could have handled it with her talent, in the years since she has become this mature, very poised woman. She was able to play the role even better than if she had been 19 at the time.
TVGuide.com: I hear she was heartbroken to have to put it off.
Welsh: She was, but god bless her, she didn't give up. It's a great lesson in not taking no for an answer. The first company that bought the script went bankrupt, and then Jennifer Love Hewitt, through her own production company, bought the script with her attached to star. Her perseverance and love for the project paid off for her. It's one of those situations where it was meant to be her in this part, and she made it happen.
TVGuide.com: On paper, and even watching the first act of If Only, it looks like you were doing a Groundhog Day type of thing, but the difference is Ian can't completely change what happened. That's an interesting twist.
Welsh: Thank you. You look for ways to twist ideas and make it feel a little bit different. No matter what Ian does, things are still going to happen in a different manner. What can he really do to stop the whole notion of fate?
TVGuide.com: There's a point where Sam gets to sing, and it's not just a powerful moment but is organic to the story. It doesn't come across as a blatant "let's remind viewers that Jennifer Love Hewitt is a singer" thing.
Welsh: I've had close friends and family [ask after seeing the film], "Is that really her singing?" And it's really her voice, which is phenomenal. And it is organic to the character. It's something that she's not pursuing and Ian gives her the chance, on the final day of their relationship, to have this moment and not be afraid. That's a great lesson.
TVGuide.com: How was Jennifer Love Hewitt as a producer?
Welsh: Oh, she was great, very hands-on. She's still a very young woman, but I think because she's been in the entertainment industry for years she has this preternatural poise, maturity and wisdom. She wanted to be very involved in everything, from choosing the locations to getting a take just right to helping develop and define her character, who is an impulsive, free-spirited woman. She had a big hand in choosing her costar, Paul Nicholls, who is an extraordinary find. I couldn't imagine a better actor playing Ian this guy who's a little distant in the beginning and makes you think, "Come on, get your act together!" And when he gets that chance, he's so emotional.
TVGuide.com: It was driving me crazy who Paul Nicholls reminds me of....
Welsh: I saw a little Jude Law, and a little Dougray Scott.... He's like a younger Dougray Scott, he's got a bit of that look. Women are going to fall in love with him. I think this is really going to launch his career in the States, as it should. Not only is he nice to look at, he's also so good.
TVGuide.com: I can't decide if this movie is actually recommended viewing for couples currently on the skids... or not.
TVGuide.com: It's certainly a cautionary tale, one that makes you want to pick up the phone and tell your girlfriend or wife that you love her.
Welsh: It does, it really taps into that. It makes people more aware of how little time we have in the great scheme of things and that you do need to appreciate what you have while you have it. These characters love each other and are meant to be together; they just had to find their way into this great romance.
TVGuide.com: Now don't get me started on the ending!
Welsh: [Laughs] Oh, we don't want to talk too much about that anyway.
TVGuide.com: Oh, my goodness...
Welsh: Yeah, but that's the reaction we wanted. Endings are crucial.
TVGuide.com: In the press notes, it says that Jennifer wanted the audience to bawl their eyes out at the end. Did you cry when you saw the first cut?
Welsh: I did. Like I said, the story was in my head for probably six or seven years before I actually wrote it down, so I was afraid it wouldn't live up to what was in my head. And then to see it realized on film is such a visceral experience. The power of the visual and the acting and the cinematography and the music... I was stunned by my emotional reaction. What I like about this, too, is that the director, Gil Junger, was great about bringing out the humor. You don't want an hour and a half to two hours of just heartbreak.
TVGuide.com: It definitely has comedic moments, like when Ian starts reliving the day and Samantha doesn't know what the hell is going on.
Welsh: That was always important for me, that Sam remain ignorant in the best way. "Gosh, he's acting funny, but let's go with this! Let's see where it takes us!"
TVGuide.com: Still, ABC Family should have invited Kleenex to sponsor this.
Welsh: [Laughs] That's a good idea!