Un Certain Regard: Interview with Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clément
Xavier Dolan is probably growing weary of film reviews and articles that constantly refer to his age, but when you've had three films screen in Un Certain Regard at Cannes by the age of 23, what do you expect? It's hard to resist remarking on the director's tender years when you see how accomplished his filmmaking has become, with his new film Laurence Anyways marking a huge leap forward for Dolan as a dramatist. The film charts one decade in the life of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Fred (Suzanne Clément), whose relationship is rocked by Laurence's revelation of his long-suppressed desire to live as a woman.
It is by far the largest canvas that Dolan has operated on, but Clément, who worked with the director on I Killed My Mother, his debut, noticed a new confidence and maturity in him when they reunited on this picture. "When I arrived for the first day of shooting I was amazed at the steps he had taken, which I now understand is normal for Xavier, he's always moving really, really fast," she says. "He is much more creative and really confident in the fact that he wants things to happen and is willing to try anything to get it."
For Melvil Poupaud, who plays the cross-dressing protagonist, working with Dolan was an intense experience, particularly as he was thrust into the role with little time to prepare after Louis Garrel pulled out at the eleventh hour. Fortunately, the actor slipped into the role with ease. "I arrived two weeks before the start of the shoot and weirdly the costumes fit me, and I didn't feel uneasy with the high heels or those extravagant dresses," he recalls. Poupaud also benefitted from a prior knowledge of the subject, as he had once edited a documentary his mother had made about transsexuals. "I knew about those people who were dressing up as women on the side, secretly, since they were a child, and they have this kind of duality," he explains. "Some of them go all the way to the operation and assume it in society, while others keep on doing it on the side, even though they have children. I discovered through this documentary that those people are hyper-heterosexual and not homosexual; it's like a crazy love for women that makes them feel they are more woman than man. So I could avoid all of these clichés about transvestites and drag queens, and they had already been avoided by Xavier in the script."
Typically, the act of making Laurence Anyways was unconventional. The film required a five-month break in shooting to accommodate the changing seasons, but Poupaud said this was a great help to him and Clément as they attempted to forge a convincing long-term relationship onscreen. "When we came back to the second part of the shoot he had edited the first part so he knew what was missing, so he could tell us where we had to go further in our relationship or what we had to correct. He showed us the editing so we could all understand the movie and see where it was going, so it was very helpful having this break." Clément adds that Dolan, who has acted in his previous two features, couldn't resist participating in scenes from behind the camera. "During this movie he was actually talking to us during the takes, which was quite an experience," she says. "It was a lot of fun, sometimes disturbing, but it really brings you off-balance and makes you take the direction you wouldn't normally take as an actor. As he said himself, it was his way of playing a part in Laurence and you could always hear him in the dailies. I think he got tired of his own voice."
Laurence Anyways is a remarkable artistic triumph for Dolan, Poupaud and Clément, and both actors have expressed their readiness to work with the Canadian wunderkind again in the future, although Poupaud hopes that their next collaboration won't require quite so much dedication. "On the first night he arrived he had to have his whole body shaved. That was some preparation," Clément laughs. "Yes, it was hardcore," Poupaud says with a rueful smile.