Interview: Mr. Nobody writer and director Jaco Van Dormael

Jaco Van Dormael is the writer and director behind the science fiction drama film, Mr. Nobody, starring Jared Leto and Diane Kruger. We interview Jaco to ask about the film’s concept, cast, and his cameo appearance…



Mr. Nobody (read our review of Mr. Nobody here) is a film which explores the multiverse theory and the idea of parallel universes. There seem to be many films in the last ten years that ask similar questions, such Inception, The Adjustment Bureau, Source Code etc. What do you think the reason for this is?

More and more, we are accepting the fact that the world is complex, perhaps. If the question is complex, the answer cannot be simple. Usually we think that the reality is what we see with our eyes and what we feel… but I think that is only perception, and nobody knows what the reality is.

Are you worried that audiences might not fully understand some of Mr. Nobody‘s more surreal moments?

Like most film-makers, I don’t know what I’m doing, really. When I’m working, I don’t know where I am going. Most of the time, I just write every day, and then after a year it becomes something. Mr. Nobody is not a film about reality, it’s a film about all the different lives we could have. The film works a little bit like our brains work… it jumps from one life to another.

The look of the film was apparently influenced by the photography Martin Parr – could you elaborate?

I read the same thing, but I don’t think I said that! Perhaps with my broken English in one interview…!

What was it like working with Jared Leto and Diane Kruger?

I was really lucky to have such great actors and great actresses. I started by finding the kids. Jared was, I think, a very good choice because he is able to make himself very different. Sometimes he is not recognisable and I realise, after a while, that there are films I have seen without recognising him. So I thought that this kind if actor was perfect for the part to play different Nemos, that not only look different, but breathe in a different way, eat in a different way, walk in a different way.

Diane was fantastic too, she has a sense of spontaneity. In her memory, she can think back to the emotions of the love of the teenager – that was very useful because one of the difficult parts for the actors was that the teenagers had to take what the kids were doing, and the adults had to take what the teenagers were doing, to make one character through different ages.

Mr. Nobody features actors who hail from Canada, France, the UK, Germany – why did you decide to have such a multi-cultural cast?

I liked to jump between the UK and Canada [within the film], and to put emotion between. The character with his mother in Canada cannot go back for the weekend to see his father, and the opposite. So this was true to the film… two different styles of architecture, and accents also.

Actress Sarah Polley was one of the first to be cast in the film – what made her so perfect for the role of Elise?

She was really great, she was my first idea for the character of Elise. She already has twenty-four years of acting behind her; she’s really fantastic. [Her character] has depression, and so she had to cry for two weeks in a bed! The first thing I asked her when I met her was, can you play this character without hurting yourself? She said, ‘of course, no problem’, and it was the truth. She cried at ‘action!’ and she stopped at ‘cut’. In between, she is a very happy woman!

What made you decide to make a cameo appearance in the film?

It was perhaps because it’s the character which is getting all the other characters in deep trouble without knowing it. It’s the Brazilian guy that boils an egg – he doesn’t know that because of him the main characters will not find each other.

Why did it take six years before you were able to make Mr. Nobody?

It took about five to six years to write, and I think writing is the most important part of film-making. When the writing is ok, everything after that is simple because I know what I’m doing. [Writing] is one of the parts which I like very much, and to imagine all the different possible films, before choosing one. [Mr. Nobody] is the kind of film where I choose all the films.

The production budget for Mr. Nobody meant it was the most expensive Belgium film ever made – did this put the film under a certain amount of pressure?

Not during the filming. During filming it is always great to have a big budget – because you have time, it is not a pressure at all. It’s spending money – I can do that very easily. I had a lot of imagination to spend money. When the film is done, that’s more pressure because, of course, [investors] want their money back. If the investors think that the film will be successful, that makes a big difference in the way the film is written.

I think that [Mr. Nobody] was too expensive. In the future, I would like to make films that you can do in a garage – like, you have a rock and roll band, instead of having a symphony orchestra.

Why did you make the unusual decision to publish the screenplay for the film?

Most of the time, I have kept the scripts a secret, we don’t reveal what the film is about. I wanted to publish it so that everyone who wanted to know [what the film was about] could just read it, so there was no secret. It is very different to read a script [before] you’ve seen a film, than afterwards. When you haven’t seen the film, you can make your own film in your head. It was a way of giving people who wanted [to see] the film [a chance to] imagine their own film, before I made mine.

Why did you decide to set your futuristic scenery against a relatively old-fashioned soundtrack?

The soundtrack is more sort of mixed – there are operas, some [music] from the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, the 90s. Sometimes it is a record from the period of time when the scene happens, but for the future [scenes], they do like we do, you know? I listen often to Joni Mitchell, and she’s not a singer from 2011, so I imagine that in 2070-something, they would also have older songs.

How did directing your English-language feature début differ from your previous films?

For me it wasn’t difficult – I thought it wasn’t for the actors [either], I don’t know. When the text is written, the voice is like music… I think it is possible to hear in every language when it speaks the truth, when the emotion is right.

Read our review of Mr. Nobody here.

Mr. Nobody is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (2 votes cast)
Interview: Mr. Nobody writer and director Jaco Van Dormael, 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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