Norton, Winslet, Pena: True Friends Conspire in “Collateral Beauty”

Howard (Will Smith) was a highly successful and dynamic advertising executive, the head of his own company.

Howard (Will Smith) was a highly successful and dynamic advertising executive, the head of his own company. But when his six-year-old daughter succumbs to a fatal illness, Howard is cast emotionally adrift. Increasingly withdrawn from human contact, the only communication Howard now initiates are the angry, accusatory letters he writes to Love, Time, and Death. But even if Howard has given up on himself…his friends have not given up on him.

Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena join Will Smith as Howard's loyal friends in New Line Cinema's thought-provoking drama, Collateral Beauty.

While Howard built his career and business through the years, it was with the talent and dedication of his closest associates: Whit (Norton), the idea-guy, whose name appears alongside Howard’s on the company masthead; Claire (Winslet), their savvy account director; and Simon (Pena), the agency’s stalwart general counsel. Having grown up together in a sense, from hungry young staffers to full partners, their lives have become intertwined as friends, colleagues and family.

Together they have tried many ways to pull Howard from the abyss, to no avail. Simultaneously, they have struggled to keep the company afloat in his absence. Without his contacts and creative spark, though, accounts have fallen off and prospects run dry to the point where, now, their only option is to sell. There’s an offer on the table…but Howard holds the majority shares and he’s not taking the call.

“It’s implicit, I think, from the first scene, the closeness of their relationship,” says Edward Norton. “You know immediately that these two guys are best friends, and that’s what makes the reveal of what’s befallen them, this fracture, so painful.”

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It’s arguably Whit who misses the old Howard most of all, and it’s Whit who comes up with an inspired and unorthodox idea to try to get him to reconnect. “At first Claire thinks it’s a joke,” says Kate Winslet of her character. “She’s used to Whit being kind of crazy, but still, this is never going to work. As soon as she realizes he’s being serious and that they could do this together, I think she believes they can genuinely help Howard.”

The truth is, beyond their heartfelt concern for Howard, each of them has his or her own challenges, which they are not fully understanding or addressing, and which naturally come into play as the story unfolds.

Whit, for example, initially appears as he wants people to see him: confident, creative and charming, without a care in the world and ever hopeful that his next great romance will be the one. “However,” says director David Frankel, “he’s made a lot of mistakes along the way and just can’t believe what’s happened to his life.”

Claire, meanwhile, has been avoiding the truth for a long time. In many respects a classic nurturer – she leaves take-out dinners for Howard night after night, despite his perpetually closed door – Claire has postponed some aspects of her personal life, while pouring all her energy and commitment into the company and her career.

Finally, there’s something going on with Simon, something that could significantly affect his family, and he doesn’t know how to tell them, or even if he should.

“Overall,” says screenwriter Allan Loeb, “we wanted these to be real, flawed characters. Howard isn’t the only one who needs perspective, who needs to be healed through this piece; it’s the three of them also. It becomes their journey and their lesson too.”

Opening across the Philippines on January 8, 2017, Collateral Beauty is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment company.

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