TFR talk to the stars of Laurence Anyways, Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clément, about last-minute castings, wearing tights and working with working with director Xavier Dolan on what is perhaps his most ambitious project to date.
What did you think when you first read the script?
Melvil Poupaud: We had very different experiences.
Suzanne Clément: I read it right at the beginning of the project. Xavier told me the story before and he told me that he wanted me to play Fred, so I was wondering how he would write it. I was also one of the first people to read the script for (Dolan’s first film) J’ai tué ma mère and I was really amazed by it, but I was wondering, will he be able to tell another story with this ability that he has? And he did.
It’s one thing to have an idea, but to bring it to life with scenes which are interesting, with subtlety and discoveries…that’s something which Xavier has this ability to do. It’s a really beautiful love story.
MP: I discovered the script very late. I didn’t know Xavier – I had just met him once, briefly, in Cannes. He wanted me to have a small part in this film, as another actor [reportedly Louis Garrel] was playing Laurence. I loved the script but I was a bit jealous because the other actor had the big role and I was just a small part, but that was okay because I really wanted to know Xavier better.
In the end, something changed with the other actor and Xavier called me back to say, “Would you do the role [of Laurence]?” This was only two weeks before the start of the shoot, so for me I just had to jump in.
Did you ever have any reservations about playing a man who wants to become a woman?
MP: No – especially with a director such as Xavier, with so much energy, so much ambition and so much talent – I think I could play any kind of role.
What was it like seeing yourself on screen as a woman? Did you have a favourite outfit?
MP: I found out that it’s not that horrible to wear tights! I thought I would be freezing, but it’s quite hot.
SC: Really? I hate it!
MP: You forget about it after a while! What I hated was the feeling when the hair grows back [on your legs]. But walking with high heels was not that hard, it was just like putting another costume on.
Tell me about re-shooting the ‘coming out’ scene – why did Xavier make that decision and what did you do differently the second time around?
MP: Xavier said that scene, which is kind of at the heart of the movie, was a bit too steady. We were in a restaurant, face to face, and we had other scenes in restaurants… It missed a little bit of energy; a little bit of craziness. Also, the original scene was a bit explicit – “Since I was a child, I have been doing this…”. Xavier said, we don’t need to hear that, because the audience is intelligent enough to get it. So it is more interesting to show what happens before, then her reaction afterwards.
SC: The new scene was so different. It was initially one scene in a restaurant and it became five scenes in a car, ending in the carwash. My character, instead of listening to the story, she was on coke – so she just wants to be really wild and have a good time like they’ve always had, and be this wild person that she can be with him. I think it’s very interesting because he has to shout it for her to hear it.
Suzanne, you’ve worked with Xavier Dolan before – has his style of directing changed over the years?
SC: It changed a lot in every way possible – also because he didn’t star in this movie. He was much more of a leader for everybody, the crew as well. He challenges everybody. With the actors, he wants them to do something that they’ve never done before, so that they will bring something new to the work. He’ll say, “We’re going to do this scene this way, because it’s never been done this way.”
His way of directing actors is really different. He would talk to us during the scenes and give us…orders!
A lot of people have talked about the length of this film – was that something that worried either of you, or do you feel it needs to be this length?
MP: The script was even longer! Xavier cut out a lot of scenes that we shot. But I think he always wanted to make an epic, very long love story, with ten years of time passing by, changes of sex, changes of looks… He wanted that from the beginning. [Xavier] was the editor of the movie and it was not hard for him to cut out the scenes which were too much, but he still wanted to have this long part at the beginning where you feel how close [Laurence and Fred] are, the intimacy between the two characters. So when we find them again, ten years later, we can understand that this intimacy is still there – the [relationship] is dead, but you can remember what was going on.
I think that all the people who watch the film don’t feel that it is too long. Most people feel that it is very entertaining, there is a lot of rhythm, music etc.
There are a lot of emotionally-charged scenes in the film – were they difficult to shoot?
SC: Yes! You want to nail them, but it’s like, will we be able to do enough…and not do too much? It’s scary; it’s always scary.
MP: Pleasing Xavier, from my point of view, was the main thing. I was just focused on what he was saying and what he wanted. Sometimes it was difficult because he is very demanding. He’s a good actor himself and he loves acting, so he can act even better than I am! Sometimes he would do the scene and I would think ‘I will never be able to do that!’ Although it’s different when you’re on camera. Maybe, on camera, he wouldn’t have been that good, but off camera he was brilliant!
SC: Yes! It’s true.
Laurence Anyways reaches UK cinemas on 30th November.