Guillaume Canet | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020  

Guillaume Canet

Director and co-screenwriter of Tell No One

Jul 01, 2008 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


In the early 1990s, Guillaume Canet was part of a wave of young actors—Virginie Ledoyen, Grégoire Colin, Élodie Bouchez and others among them—that infused French cinema with new blood and freshened its face for U.S. art house patrons. In 2000, Canet and Ledoyen starred in English-speaking roles alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the Danny Boyle-directed The Beach, but with U.S. film production increasing, and the competition for theater bookings becoming more fierce, opportunities for American audiences to see French talent are limited.

Today, at 35 years old, Canet not only remains one of the most recognizable actors in France, but he is also an award-winning director. He made his feature-length directorial debut in 2002 with the black comedy Mon idole. For his follow-up, Canet and fellow actor Philippe Lefèbvre adapted Tell No One, a suspense novel by New Jersey-based writer Harlan Coben. In the film, François Cluzet plays Alexandre Beck, a pediatrician who becomes a suspect in the murder of his wife, eight years after her death, when two dead bodies surface in a lake near the original crime scene. Armed with two cameras throughout the shoot, Canet (who worked one camera) and cinematographer Christophe Offenstein brought some of the thrills and spills of North by Northwest and The Fugitive to the streets of Paris, with a heart-stopping sequence on a busy beltway that ups the ante on Bowfinger for its authenticity and drama.

Harlan’s story was especially appealing to Canet because it involved a wealth of characters and allowed Canet to load Tell No One with respected French-speaking actors, including Kristin Scott-Thomas, Jean Rochefort, Marie-Josée Croze, Nathalie Baye and Marina Hands, a longtime friend whom Canet met as a teenager when they both competed as equestrians. Canet quit riding at 18 years old after being injured in a fall, but he incorporated the sport into the plot of Tell No One. In 2007, Hands won a Best Actress César (French Oscar) for her lead role in Lady Chatterley, the same year Canet and Cluzet won Best Director and Best Actor Césars, respectively, for Tell No One. A year later, Canet’s girlfriend Marion Cotillard won the first and only Academy Award for a performance in a French-speaking role, as Édith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. Canet is optimistic that the recognition European talents such as Cotillard, Daniel Day-Lewis and Javier Bardem are receiving in the U.S. will help to revitalize stateside interest in foreign films.

Under the Radar met with Guillaume Canet in June, while he was doing press for Tell No One in Los Angeles.

At what point did you let go of the novel as source material for the film? Did you refer to it at all after your adaptation was completed?

I read the book several times for the adaptation, but as soon as I had a concrete screenplay with all the characters I would keep and all the changes I would like to make, after that I just forgot the book. Because I had to cut out a lot of characters and change a lot of details that I was not buying while I was reading the book, for some explanation at the end. It was really well constructed even if it was not developed sometimes. Because it’s well constructed, as soon as you take out something, all the rest falls apart. So, as soon as I made all the big decisions, I put that [the Coben book] away.

How did you arrive at the idea of making a suspense thriller that had a golden, sunny look? Were you inspired by another work that used such a dichotomy well?

Actually, it’s more because when I decided to do the film—and I knew it was going to be a thriller—I realized that lots of the thriller films that I’ve seen were in the rain and gray. And I thought it was really good to have a thriller in summer, with the heat, to see this guy [Alex] in a complete contradiction with the people who are living at this time in Paris—all the tourists, they’re on vacation. And I thought it was really interesting to see that man in this environment but totally in another energy.

Did it feel like an experiment, or did you already sense that it would work?

No, I thought it was gonna work. Yeah, for sure, because I thought the heat and the timing of everything would work.

I read that you were envisioning the film while reading book. In the novel, there are plenty of American landmarks and references to pop culture. Were you tempted to replace them with French equivalents?

I had to. They are some of the things that I had to research. For example, all the criminal stuff, like serial killers. It’s not the same; we don’t have that many serial killers in France. So, with Philippe Lefebvre, my co-writer, we had to do a lot of research and meet some cops. And also because I’m really obsessive about the details and realism; I want things to be really believable. So, I had to meet a lot of cops and people to know if everything I was saying in the script was true and believable. I had a lot of people on the set while we were shooting some scenes to tell if it was OK.

I wanted to ask about the short U2 sequence in the film. 1995 is a year the band actually was on hiatus. What inspired the use of “With or Without You”?

When I was writing the scene, I was seeing him [Alex] running in the street with all this passion coming up, and him realizing what he missed, and that he didn’t understand the password exactly, and that it was a message for him. I was listening to some songs, and I ended up listening to that song, and I said, “That would be great, that he was running on that song.” And it would remind him, a song that they have been sharing together, or a concert. The Olympia is a really big concert place in Paris.

The character Alex is subjected to constant adversity—emotional, physical and psychological. Did François Cluzet have opportunities to lighten up between takes, or did he maintain his intensity throughout the shoot?

During all the film, he’s been a real partner with me because I shot that film in a real rush. I was always running everywhere with the camera on my shoulder and filming everything and running and screaming, “OK, let’s do that and let’s shoot that!” And he was really passionate about my passion too. So he was following us all the time. He knew it was really important for him, this part, because he was not working that much at this time. We had a lot of problems to close the budget of the film because he was not famous enough. He’s been a great actor in France, but he hadn’t been working for a while. So, he knew it was important for him. For all the scenes, he was really focused and really concentrated.

The beltway sequence. What were the biggest challenges in filming that?

The time, because we were supposed to have three days to shoot in the beginning. And finally, we had four hours, and that was really crazy. We did the first spot of the crossing in the morning, in like two-and-a-half hours. And after that, for the second part of the crossing, we had this big accident, so we had to do it in one take and we put in eight cameras. We had to rehearse it to be sure that everything was OK, but it’s been really rock and roll to do that scene.

When you pitched the scene to François Cluzet, he trusted you?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. He trusted me. Actually, he was not supposed to cross it. That was supposed to be a stunt. And I told him before we started the scene, I said, “Aw, it’s too bad you don’t have the balls to do it yourself because that would have been great.” [Canet as François Cluzet:] “OK, I can do it! OK, I can do it!” Because he liked me so much that he wanted to give me his energy and his passion about the film, so that was really funny to see how he was involved in it.

Another scene that made me gasp was the horse riding accident. How was that achieved?

We were shooting during the French championship, shooting some real riders, and this accident just happened. As soon as we saw the horse fall, we turned off the cameras. I called him [the rider] after, because, you know, I was a rider for a while, and I knew him very well. And I said, “Do you mind if I use it?” And he said, “No, use it.” The idea was, I wanted to have the metaphor of the horse touching the bar, not falling but losing. But when I saw the accident, I thought it was more powerful, for sure.

By adding the show jumping element, was that a way of personalizing the film?

Yeah, and also because all the scenes we had in the book with this character Monsieur Neuville [Griffin Scope in the book] were always in like an embassy or with lots of people drinking champagne, and I couldn’t see myself directing scenes like this, with extras drinking champagne, people in suits and everything. And I thought it was really interesting to show some scenes with some action, of sports, of horses, violent images mixed with his calm. So I thought it was a good way to show that he was really rich and he had power.

Being a French filmmaker and also an actor who co-starred with Marion Cotillard in Love Me If You Dare [Jeux d’enfants], what was your reaction to her Oscar win? And what was the reaction in the French filmmaking community?

I was really proud for her. Everybody was really happy for her, and we are proud because it shows that French cinema can be exported now. It helps, I think, all the production and all the French cinema to travel and to be more seen and respected.

And what did winning the César mean to you?

That was really great, really nice, because I was the youngest director to win the César. So I was really proud and happy. But it’s not an end. It’s great, I felt happy, but it also puts pressure on you. The best reward is the fact that the movie has been a huge hit, and also in the U.K. I was scared about the subtitles. So I’m happy about this because it shows that the film can [succeed] and I hope it will [succeed] here [in the U.S.] too. We’ll see.



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