Cannes 2012: Canadian Director Xavier Dolan on 'Laurence Anyways' (Q&A)

Xavier Dolan P 2012

The auteur discusses making openly gay cinema, missing out on the Cannes Competition and his mixed feelings about Hollywood.

Montreal director Xavier Dolan, 23, won awards in Cannes for his first two movies, I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats. Now he’s disappointed his third film, Laurence Anyways, won’t challenge for the Palme d’Or. Instead, he’s back in the Un Certain Regard section.

As he prepares for the Montreal and Cannes premieres of Laurence Anyways, Dolan talked to The Hollywood Reporter about debuting a film in Cannes for the third time in four years, being impatient to win its top prize and telling love stories through gay characters.

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The Hollywood Reporter: You’ve had a long association with Cannes, with all three of your films, including I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats, screening there. How do you feel about Cannes, both as a director and as a launch platform for your work?

Xavier Dolan: Cannes is where I was born, somehow. It’s the place to be to launch a film, to meet actors, directors and be relentlessly served champagne until I fall into an alcoholic coma. I think one should not have feelings about Cannes, though.

THR: Your films have screened in the Directors’s Fortnight and the Un Certain Regard sections. You must have hoped to graduate to Laurence Anyways screening in Competition at Cannes, and challenging for the Palme d’Or, rather than a return to the Un Certain Regard section, which promotes young talent?

Dolan: I sure did. But Un Certain Regard also allows the festival — I’m paraphrasing — to run a more adventurous category, which doesn’t only feature rising talent works, but also the works of confirmed moviemakers — Jean-Luc Godard, Manoel Oliveira, Pablo Trapero, Gus Van Sant. Retrospectively, I look at all the films that were screened at Un Certain Regard over the past years, and I see films that go beyond the “didn’t make it to Competition” tag. Now, I’m not lying to myself either: if Laurence Anyways isn’t elsewhere, it must be that it didn’t meet the film committee requirements, and I’m disappointed, of course. Hopefully, other surprises or honors await, and I’m sure the road will be filled with great encounters and what I mostly hope for: a public that will love and understand the film.

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THR: How do you like being referred to so often as precocious and as a 'young Quebec talent?’

Dolan: I’d rather be referred to as a precocious young Quebec talent, than not be referred to at all.

THR: French audiences know you as a child actor-turned-director. But you also voiced the Stan character in the French version of South Park. Tell us about that comic gig.

Dolan: Actually, that was a short-lived job, honestly. We did one season in French Quebecois here, and it didn’t work at all. But I loved dubbing Stan, of course. What a dream.

THR: You’ve made a film about a gay son and his mother, and a gay love triangle and now with Laurence Anyways we have a man who wants to become a woman. Tell us about your latest film, its dramatic ambitions, and whether it builds on your earlier work?

Dolan: I’m not focusing on a queer oeuvre, as many suggest. I’m gay, so it’s natural for me to tell stories through gay characters. There is no message, no social endeavor, no cause embraced, just perhaps the desire to feature various sexual identities in movies without labeling them as communal. For me, I Killed My Mother was the impossible love story of a teen and his mother. Heartbeats is not a gay triangle, because there is a gay man involved in it. To be precise, it’s 66 percent heterosexual. Seriously though, for me, it was just the average young adult unrequited love story. In other words, it’s an impossible love story during young adulthood. Then Laurence Anyways is the impossible love story of two idealistic marginals during their mid-adult years, incapable of living without love, but also loving without living, really. Whatever that means.

THR: Tell us what it was like to work with French actor Melvil Poupaud and a star like Nathalie Baye.

Dolan: Melvil Poupaud is a true gentleman and a director’s best friend. He always agrees, always tries, never screams, never contradicts me, never has spontaneous actor craziness. He’s intelligent, very educated and cinematically erudite. The greatest surprise about him was undoubtedly his extreme sensibility, which erupted by moments out of the blue, sometimes to the benefit of the scene, evidently. This type of raw emotion never lies, unless it really is uncontrolled.

Nathalie Baye has a splendid career. She’s worked with the very best. She knows her shit and is a true actress. For her, there is no such thing as fame, experience or ego if the dissection of the acting, of a character, is intelligent, respectful and emotional. I loved working with her, and she’s a friend now. She said the sweetest things to me, and accepted every remark, every note. I feel like she was glad to throw herself in a somewhat unexplored chasm.

THR: You’re likely getting scripts from Hollywood. Any plans to take one up as a project?

Dolan: Yes. Some of them are to act in, some of them to direct. My plan, if I have any, is more likely to direct one of my English scripts in Hollywood one day, whenever I’ll have the notoriety or experience to do so without being the typical foreign victim of the big bad mean studios.

THR: Do you already have your sights on making a film that screens in Competition at Cannes?

Dolan: This was the one (Laurence Anyways). The other ideas or projects in store for me don’t have that intent or capacity. I truly believe Laurence Anyways purports to such ranks, no matter what decisions have been made. But as for the rest, I’m clueless about the potential interest the Official Competition will have towards my work, and quite skeptical about how these films could make their way to the Palme d’Or.

Read THR's Cannes Daily No. 3 here (PDF).