Denis Villeneuve: "Scorsese told me: 'the main thing is to try to remain intact'"

Denis Villeneuve: “Scorsese told me: ‘the main thing is to try to remain intact'”

Prisoners celebrates its 10th anniversary. When it was released, we met its director to talk about this violent thriller.

Prisonersthe psychologically intense investigation carried out by Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman And Paul Dano. was released on September 20, 2013 in the United States, then on October 9 of the same year in France. At the time, Première had met Denis Villeneuve to talk in detail about this ambitious project. Since then, the director has enjoyed other successes thanks to Sicario And First contact. He is currently preparing the second part of Dunepostponed to March 2024, and is preparing to find Gyllenhaal for a police mini-series.

Did you know ? Denis Villeneuve shot two endings for Prisoners

Interview of October 4, 2013: Denis, let’s put some order into your film if you wish. Between Fires (nominated for the Oscar for best foreign film in 2010) and Prisonersyou turned enemy, a mental thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal. But it’s Prisoners which hits theaters first. What happened ?
I actually signed for both films within six days of each other. I was developing enemy for a year or two and, one Friday evening, Jake Gyllenhaal calls me to tell me that he is OK to do the film. Less than a week later, I received a message telling me that Hugh Jackman was up for Prisoners. So I found myself with two films to shoot in quick succession… Then, in terms of distribution, you should know that when the Americans release a film like Prisoners, it is a military operation. They knew 18 months before that the release would be September 20, 2013, they had a powerful desire to go to Toronto, everything was on a precise schedule… The entire structure of making the film was based on the marketing plan. I had never experienced this. enemy, it’s something else: a small film that must be tamed at a festival, a fragile object that must come into the world more quietly. It will come out later. In March 2014 a priori.

And we can imagine that it will benefit from the success of Prisoners
Ten days ago, I wouldn’t have known what to answer you, but yes, given the critical and public success of Prisoners in the United States, I am now quite confident.

Read our Prisoners review

And I guess Jake Gyllenhaal signed on for Prisoners because he was happy with your collaboration on enemy
Exactly. On enemy, I wanted to spend a lot of time with an actor, to develop a real working relationship, to see filming as a laboratory. Jake was releasing big studio films that hadn’t always been happy experiences, and I think I came in at the right time with my independent film and a little broke. On Prisoners, as Hugh Jackman is a strong actor, I needed an actor who could pass the buck. I needed Jake.

He is exceptional in the film, it is one of his best performances. It really feels like there’s something going on between you. Have you found your De Niro?
We have become good enemies… We love and hate each other. We know each other very well, we have a real intimacy which, on set, can become embarrassing for the rest of the team. We speak to each other very directly, without filter. He is someone who inspires me deeply. He is also an actor who is maturing radically and who will surprise us in the future. His best roles are ahead of him.

Critics of Prisoners are crazy, many compare the film to Seven or Silence of the Lambs. But your real reference is rather Mystic RiverNo ?
When I arrived in Los Angeles for my first meeting with the producers, I went there telling myself that I had nothing to lose. I loved the script and I got on the plane telling myself that I was going to have, at least once in my life, the experience of working with an American studio. It went well, otherwise we wouldn’t be here to talk about it…

It’s quite rare. Many directors, in France at least, come back rather bitter from there…
I was lucky to have as interlocutors people who know how to take care of their directors. I had inquired beforehand, I knew that Christopher Nolan had loved working with them. That didn’t stop me from being scared at first. Martin Scorsese told me: “The main thing is to try to remain intact. »

Okay, what about Mystic River in there?
Yeah, so the first thing I said to them at that meeting was, “I don’t know why you called me, it’s an Eastwood storyline.” » And indeed, more than Seven or the Silence of the Lambs, it is the side Mystic River which interested me. The mechanics of the thriller were extremely well oiled in the script, I didn’t have to put too much effort into it. My work of appropriation was to modify the characters, the interactions between them, and to draw everything towards drama.

The film is edited by Joel Cox, Eastwood’s regular editor. It can’t be a coincidence…
I was just lucky that it was available at the time. In fact, all post-production of the film was handled by Clint Eastwood’s team. That’s an extraordinary gift of life. It’s like for the ops director, Roger Deakins: he came out of Sky Fall, for once the Coens didn’t need him, he had a hole in his schedule… Of course I would never have dared to fantasize about working with someone like Deakins for my first American film. But if all these people wanted to work on Prisoners, it was first and foremost because they were all very attracted by the script.

Did you see this tweet from William Friedkin saying that Prisoners is one of the creepiest films of all time? He compares it to Seven and Psycho…
(Villeneuve blushes and buries his head in his hands) That’s a huge compliment, especially coming from the man who made The Exorcist. This is the movie that scared me the most in my life. When I was in high school, we only had two betacams at boarding school: an Olivia Newton John concert – we were all in love with her – and The Exorcist. It terrified me so much, I was never able to watch it in one sitting.

It’s interesting that this praise comes from Friedkin. He is the great filmmaker of moral ambiguity and Prisoners plays with that to the fullest…
It’s true. Let’s say he’s a filmmaker who impressed me at a time when I fell painfully in love with cinema.

So, are you an American director now? What will happen next for you there?
If I am given the same conditions of freedom again, I am ready to sign. Working in Hollywood gives you control. And to make his fantasies come true. For example, I would love to make a science fiction film. And there, it’s possible…

Interview Frédéric Foubert

Trailer for Prisoners :

Prisoners can be (re)watched on Première Max

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