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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 yourself?

GC: Yes.

TM: How old were you?

GC: I was 14.

TM: What did your parents do?

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 lot.

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 favorites?

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 and everything.

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 working.

TM: Did you just do one take?

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 it looks?

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 moment?Ē

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 this film?

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.