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Jean-Marc Vallee is busy — so busy that he had to call THR on a Wednesday night after being on set all day for the HBO miniseries Big Little Lies, now shooting with Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman. “It was a technical day, longer than usually,” said the Canadian helmer of such movies as Wild and Dallas Buyers Club. “Normally it’s eight or nine hours, and we shot 11.”
His schedule won’t slow down: He’ll soon be back, directing Amy Adams in HBO’s Sharp Objects, adapted from Gillian Flynn’s novel. Here he discussed his life and his new film, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts, about a man burdened with grief after the loss of his wife.
In Demolition, Gyllenhaal writes lonely letters to customer service. Have you ever written to customer service?
I’m not satisfied with my mobile company in Canada. I call them once every two or three months and give them shit! They’re not responding. Their customer service is so bad. I’m not going to spend time writing a letter. It’s such bad customer service. The company is called Fido, F-I-D-O. Write about it, man! They f—ing suck.
Have you ever demolished something?
I would demolish Fido’s antennas so they don’t exist anymore. But yes, when I was 13, growing up, I had a little bit of [an] anger management [problem], and would kick and put holes in the walls. But it passed. It lasted a year or so. I got a kick to do it again in Demolition. When we did the scene with Jake and Judah [Lewis, where they destroy Gyllenhaal’s beautiful home], they had a blast, and I had a blast too. Within an hour and 15 minutes they were done demolishing everything except a couple of windows — and I took the sledgehammer and broke the shit out of the windows!
There’s a wild dance scene, too. Have you ever danced in public?
When I was a kid. But I’ve always been dancing, and I still do at parties. I like to DJ and make people dance, but nothing crazy like [Gyllenhaal].
What was your toughest moment on the movie?
We were looking for a carousel to put on the beach and we couldn’t find one as beautiful as the one in Dumbo [a neighborhood in Brooklyn], and we weren’t allowed to bring a carousel on the boardwalk in Coney Island. So we shot the actors in Brooklyn and had to take every single shot and erase the background, frame by frame, and replace it with the ocean.
Would you ever direct a superhero film?
If the script is great, yeah. But so far, it’s not my cup of tea.
What profession would you do if not this?
Music. I would sing, play the guitar. I’d probably be a rock star.
Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin. And, of course, have a duet with David Bowie.
What was your very first job?
Sweeping chimneys. A summer job in Montreal. I was 15.
Is there a dream project you haven’t been able to make?
The Janis Joplin story with Amy Adams. I was never able to make it, and I still keep the faith and so does Amy.
You’re rewriting it?
Yeah. I’m going to work with the screenwriters from Dallas Buyers Club [Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack] so that’s the plan. Craig, Melisa and myself are going to rewrite Janis, but we don’t have our contract yet. The negotiation is not done, and there’s still some legal issues with the project.
What do you love most about Hollywood?
The dream. Dreams can come true. I’m living the dream right now.
What do you hate most?
It can be a machine. The machine tries to make money and forget about the heart and the art. Hollywood is more about making money.
Best moment of your career?
I’m living it right now. I’m in a place where I feel comfortable, confident. I’m at ease financially.
Worst moment of your career?
[On The Young Victoria] I lost creative control on the music aspect of the film. That was such a disappointment. It’s a film that has a score in it — and I never use a score: I always use a soundtrack. I only made one film with a score and I hate it. I hate the score of that film. It’s not coming from me. I had nothing to do with it.
Demolition opens in theaters Friday, April 8.
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