One-on-One With Guilleame Canet
by Tony Medley
How would you, as a writer,
like to get an interview with a young Steven Spielberg, just after he
directed ďDuel,Ē before he directed ďJaws?Ē Well, thatís the way I felt
when I met Guilleame Canet, a tantalizing young French director, at the
Chamberlain Hotel in West Hollywood. Canet (pronounced Can-A, as in
able) is the 35-year-old writer-director of ďTell No One,Ē for which he
won the 2006 Cťsar Award as Franceís Best Director, and which will open
in Los Angeles in July.
TM: Did you always want to
be a director?
GC: Yes. It has always been
my passion. I think it became my passion after seeing (Jean Renoirís)
ďThe Rules of the Game.Ē
TM: Was there any one
turning point where before you were just going along and all of a sudden
something changed your life?
GC: Yes, I think itís one
of my first short films that I did when suddenly I realized it was
possible to do a film. The first time I screened it in my bedroom. I
just watched it and I said, ďOK, I did a film!Ē
TM: You just did it by
TM: How old were you?
GC: I was 14.
TM: What did your parents
GC: My parents are horse
breeders, and I was a rider for them.
TM: What did they think
when you said you wanted to make movies?
GC: Oh, they are great. I
have great parents. The way they taught me was to show me what was good
and what was bad and to let me do my choices. But I never had any
pressure in this.
They taught me how to take
my responsibilities. I always understood that when you want something
you have to work for it.
Being a rider is a lot of
work because you have to wake up every morning at 5 and do the stables
and stuff. Itís not just that you put your butt on the horse and jump.
Itís a lot of work and you have to work with the horse. It teaches you a
lot of humility because you understand that you can be champion of the
world, but if your horse is sick, you are nothing.
TM: How did you become a
director from being an actor?
GC: Actually, I always
wanted to be a director before I started to work as an actor. I was
doing short films at home with Super 8mm video camera. I always liked
that. Because I was doing those short films with some friends, I was
acting in it.
Thatís how I became an
actor, actually. I stopped being a rider, I was riding horses; that was
my job. I had this big accident and I decided to make films. So I went
to a drama school because I thought if I would be a director I would
have to learn how to direct actors and to understand actors.
That was the purpose at the
beginning, to understand the acting job. Very soon I had a proposition
to work as an actor and thatís what I did. I quite liked it, so I did
many films as an actor. While I was doing them I was trying to make some
money so I could produce my short films.
After that I did my long
feature films. My first film was ďMy Idol,Ē and here is the second one.
TM: How did you get the
break to do a major movie?
GC: Because I had this film
that I did, called ďVidocqĒ (2001), which was not so good and I was not
so good in it, I have to admit. That was quite difficult for me after
this film because that was right after I appeared in ďThe BeachĒ
(2000/1), Danny Boyleís movie with Leonardo DiCaprio. I didnít have a
great part in it. I was just in a bathing suit on the beach. I had
nothing to do (laughs). But before that I did some really interesting
films and great parts. But suddenly I became known by the main audience
by those films.
So this film ďVidocqĒ was
really bad for me. I had really bad reviews. Suddenly for a year I
didnít have any scripts. Nothing; nobody wanted to work with me any
more. So I decided, ďYou know what, you always wanted to be a director,
so why wait?Ē Thatís how I started to write my first film and I did it.
TM: You wrote the script?
GC: I wrote the script,
yeah. My first film I wrote the script and the film went so well. It was
nominated for the Cťsar (Franceís Academy Awards). The film went really,
really well. After that I had some work as an actor again (laughs).
TM: But thereís a big gap
between writing a script and getting it produced. How did a guy like you
get a movie produced?
GC: The first movie we all
did it for free. We all did it in participation because we didnít have
that much money. We did the film for 3 Million Euro, so it was not a
TM: Thatís a lot of money
if you donít have it.
GC: Itís a lot of money,
but to make a film, a long feature film, you canít pay all the crew and
everybody, so the actors accepted to do it on participation. That was
great. I had such great experience doing that film because we put all
the money in the film. And the film is quite good. I like it.
TM: Did you know that it
was going to be distributed when you were making it? Or were you just
making it on the come?
GC: No, we knew, because we
had what we call a minimum guarantee. Itís like a distributor who helps
us financing the movie, so he is sure that the first interest will go
back to him to reimburse him.
TM: You said you were a
rider, a jockey or what?
GC: Yes, I was not a
jockey, but I was doing show jumping.
TM: You didnít have any
experience in the theater or as an actor?
TC: No, I was just
completely a fan of cinema. I was watching so many movies and directors
that I really like. My big influences are from movies that you can see
in my film, like Sam Peckinpaugh, William Friedkin, many directors.
TM: Are those your
GC: Yes. I like Jean Renoir
and Martin Scorsese. I have a big admiration for Michael Mann.
TM: Speaking of Michael
Mann, that was one thing I was going to comment on, the pace of your
film was fantastic. There was never a time when I felt I could get up
and leave for any reason without missing something. How did you get the
pace? For 125 minutes it was just non stop, and itís actually a lot of
talk. There was so much in it that you didnít want to miss.
GC: Yes. I think itís my
passion. I think itís the way Iím working because Iím operating the
film. I donít do the lighting. I just do the camera. Iím running
everywhere with the camera. I like to work in this urgency. I like to
run. Because I do a lot of the preparation before we start shooting the
movie. During the preparation I know exactly how Iím going to shoot it,
how Iím going to direct the actors, what I want to feel in that scene
On the set I wanted to have
that energy to be really close from the character and how the character
is going through all those things. So thatís why I was bringing the crew
with me and making everybody run all the time. Like, Iíd say, ďOK, weíre
going to do a shot right there. We go there. FranÁois, you go across.Ē I
was always like this. For sure there were some scenes that I would like
to settle down a little bit and talk and think of the characters and
stuff. But for all those scenes of action I really like this way of
TM: Did you just do one
GC: There were many scenes
where we had only one take because I was cutting a lot, doing a lot of
shots. I was shooting with two cameras, so I knew what I needed.
TM: The freeway scene?
GC: The freeway scenes were
really difficult. Originally we had three days to shoot it. Finally we
did it in four hours because they had to block the freeway and itís the
only way to get to the airport. So it was a real mess.
We only had four hours to
do it. In the morning as soon as we had the light I was running with
FranÁois (Cluzet, the star of ďTell No OneĒ) and with everybody,
screaming everywhere so we could do that shot for the first spot at the
crossing. For these scenes we used several cameras so we could do it
with one take. We knew weíd only have one chance to film the accident.
That was the only way. Otherwise we wouldnít have the scene.
TM: Was it as dangerous as
GC: Yes. I had some
troubles with my producer who yelled at me because I did some things
that I didnít tell them I was going to do. Like walking between the cars
with the camera. So when he suddenly saw me leaping between the cars
(laughs) they were all screaming. But I knew what I was doing.
TM: Was FranÁois in danger
at any time?
GC: No, not the actor. I
was taking my risk but he was not in danger With the length of the lens
you can pretend that heís really close to the cars. You take a really
long lens, you can feel that the car is passing two meters from him, you
feel like itís really close, but itís not that close.
TM: How did you learn all
this camera technique?
GC: From doing the short
films. I think itís the only way for a young director; well, Iím a young
director (laughs). Each time someone who wants to become a director asks
me what school they should attend, I say, ďDonít go to any school. Just
take a video camera and play with your camera and learn to understand
what it means if you put it here or if you put it there and what is
going to be the difference. What is the camera expressing at this
TM: Were you doing that
when you were writing?
GC: Yes. So I learned a lot
by that. It taught me a lot doing that.
TM: How old are you?
GC: Iím 35 now.
TM: You donít look it.
GC: I know.
TM: Whatís the budget on
GC: 10 million.
TM: So thatís about 3 times
the first one.
GC: Yes. I was really lucky
for this one because all the financiers really loved my first film. I
had big problems because at the beginning the budget was 13-14 million
and we had to put it at 10 million and make some changes because nobody
would trust my lead actor, FranÁois Cluzet. He is a great actor that I
loved so much for such a long time. Before the film he hadnít been
working for 10 years. He was doing commercials and stuff. But I always
knew he was a great, great actor.
TM: He couldnít get a job?
GC: No, and he wasnít
bankable and he was not big enough. But I stuck on it and I said to my
producer, ďI donít mind, I donít care. We have to do this film with him.
I donít want any star. I want a partner. I want someone who is capable
of going in the water at 5 oíclock in the morning because itís important
for him to do that.Ē
Thatís why I didnít want
any star. A lot of movie stars in France wanted to do it. I didnít want
them. I wanted to have someone who would be amenable and as passionate
as I, someone who would be like a brother. We would have big discussions
about it. I knew that if I was going to see him with that project with
this role he would put all his life in it.
I think thatís one of the
biggest talents that a director should have, to know to whom he has to
offer a role. Sometimes in your life as an actor some roles are really
important. Like for some directors some films are really important for
them. I want to find the right combination, thatís why I was really
happy when he won the Cťsar for best actor.
When I won for best
director I went on the stage and I was really happy to talk to all those
financiers who pulled off when they knew it was him. I thanked them and
told them that the fact that they pulled off gave me much more incentive
to prove to them that he was the right one.
The acting prize was
awarded right after I got best director award, and I said to FranÁois,
ďYou really deserve it and I hope you will have it and I love you.Ē I
was so passionate (laughs) and he won it so I was so happy.