Robinne Lee on the Success of 'The Idea of You' and Her Commitment to Diverse Storytelling

With the movie breaking records, author Robinne Lee discusses the surreal experience and clarifies misconceptions about character changes and racial representation.

Robinne Lee’s “The Idea Of You” has taken the world by storm, attracting over 50 million viewers since its release on May 2 and securing its place as the streamer’s top rom-com debut. The film adaptation of Lee’s successful book has sparked widespread attention and vibrant social media discussion, with many viewers surprised and in disbelief upon discovering that the author is a Black woman.

The film's phenomenal success has amplified Lee’s profile and brought to light some intriguing facets of her journey and creative process. Lee spoke with about her reactions to the film’s success, the casting choices, and the deeper themes of her upcoming book.

Reflecting on the extraordinary success of "The Idea of You," Lee describes the experience as surreal. Living in Paris has kept her somewhat insulated from the overwhelming publicity in the United States, allowing her to focus on her writing and personal life without the constant buzz. “I can just sit in cafes and write and no one's looking over my shoulder, wondering what I'm writing next. I can focus on things that are important, like my family and my friends, and not get caught up in the Hollywood craziness,” she explains.

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Despite the film's massive success, Lee remains grounded, noting that her life hasn’t changed drastically. She credits the palpable chemistry between Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine as a significant factor in the film's appeal. Lee had envisioned Hathaway for the role of Solene due to her ability to resonate deeply with the character. “Anne responded to the material, and she saw something in it that I think, as a writer, you only dream that an A-list actress will see in your work,” Lee says.

Lee’s own “August Moon” growing up was the iconic band Duran Duran, which she subtly referenced in her book. The band’s glamorous and adventurous image greatly influenced the character of August Moon. “When I was the age of Isabel – in the book, not in the movie – Duran Duran were immensely popular and were like my heart and my everything,” Lee recalls with a laugh.

Addressing misconceptions about the characters in the film adaptation, Lee clarifies that the characters were never intended to be Black. She recounts her struggle to sell a previous novel with a Black protagonist, which led her to create characters that would be more commercially viable. “I spent six years working on a novel with a protagonist as a Black woman, and I couldn't sell it. I received tons of feedback about it – I was told it straddles too much between literary or romance, we're not sure where to place it. They weren’t really interested in it so my sweet spot was ‘The Idea Of You.’I can write a good love story, but I want it to be really well written and have deeper, more profound messages and themes than you're going to find typical romance because I’m a deeper, more profound person and because I'm a Black woman and I inhabit this body, and I see the world in a different way,” she explains.

Lee continued to explain other misconceptions about the book-to-movie pipeline.

"I spent a long time writing this book, separate from ‘The Idea Of You’ and I couldn't sell it. Another piece of the feedback I received was they already have an interracial relationship love story coming out that year, or whatever, and it was like, we're not interested in your book because we already have one with a Black protagonist and a white man, so no. So when I decided I was going to write another book, which was ‘The Idea Of You’ very early on, I was like, do I want to make her Black? Or do I not want to make her Black?  I thought, no, I want to keep it as mainstream as possible because I don't want anyone to have any reason to tell me, no, we can't make that or publish your book. I'd spend six years living in the head of this one character, and I wanted to live in somebody else's head for a while. What's it like to live in someone else's, like a French woman's head for a year and a half while you're writing a book," she continued.

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Navigating the balance between her artistic vision and the audience's desire for Black representation, Lee admits that she hasn’t revisited the characters from "The Idea of You" in years. However, she is committed to exploring diverse stories in her future work. “I love women’s stories and I love that we have a richness to us as we age. I like a book that feels like a coming-of-age story — I always like books about identity and women figuring out their identity or searching for their identity,” Lee shares.

Lee acknowledges the challenges Black women face in Hollywood, attributing the lack of nuanced roles to systemic issues within the industry. She highlights the importance of representation and the gradual progress being made, thanks to pioneers like Issa Rae and Tyler Perry. “Hollywood is kind of like whoever has the power calls the shots, and if we don't have the power, we're not allowed to call the shots,” she observes.

While Lee did not collaborate closely with Gabrielle Union on the film adaptation, she expresses gratitude for Union's initial support and emotional connection to the book. The collaborative process, though not as hands-on as she might have liked, was a crucial step in bringing the story to the screen.

As Lee looks forward to her next project, she hints at exploring new characters and themes that resonate with her unique perspective. Her upcoming book promises to be provocative yet profound, reflecting her commitment to telling diverse and meaningful stories.

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