Luc Besson is best known for such hard hitting films as Nikita and Leon. However, based on his own novel, his latest film is a little more light-hearted.Arthur and the Invisibles took an amazing five years to make and proved to be an even greater project than his previous epics, sci-fi extravaganza The Fifth Element and period tale Joan of Arc. It’s taken you around five years to complete Arthur and the Invisibles. Was it a tough slog?
The strange thing is, I don’t even remember the beginning. It’s so long. You start to forget the first year. I always say that I spent this time with a bunch of nerds – the computer animators – but it’s a sweet way to talk about them. The funny thing is, their sense of humour is not so good, so now they say, ‘What do you mean we’re a bunch of nerds?’ They take it badly.What made you want to do make your first film for kids?
You have your own soul, your own ideas, your own sensitivity, and then you react to things. I never thought about doing a film about Joan of Arc, and then one day I read a big article out of curiosity, and in the article there were things I’d never heard about her, and I thought, ‘Wow, that was interesting!’ So there is always a match at the beginning – something to put the fire on the powder. With Arthur, it was Patrice Garcia, the guy who created the characters. I knew him from The Fifth Element – he was one of the artists on the film. And he came with one drawing of Arthur seated on a leaf. I saw the drawing and I was amazed – Who is this boy? What is his life? Where are his parents? What does he eat? Is he friends with a beetle or not? Can he drive a mosquito? You see the world suddenly and you can invent everything.So you found a way into a new world?
Yeah, you can see it’s very exciting because you can invent everything you want. So I was just amazed by the possibility of the feeling. I told him, ‘Let’s go – let’s try and put some ideas together’ and that’s how it starts. And then you click and you take from your memory your souvenirs from your childhood as reference. And I realised suddenly that during all the films I’ve done, I never used this side of my brain. It was Leon, it was Nikita, it was Joan of Arc, it was The Fifth Element…so I never used all this material in my head. What excited me even more was that I could use all this, all these feelings from childhood.So was there anything specific from your own background that fed into Arthur’s story?

I remember a few times being with my grandmother. My parents weren’t there for professional reasons, and they’d say that they’re coming tomorrow, but they didn’t. And you don’t have so many toys, so you take a piece of wood and rocks and invent worlds. So this type of loneliness drives you towards your imagination. This I remember – though I’m probably not the first one to think that. Most of the kids know that. Was there a comic book character you loved as a kid?
No. We had no TV when I was young. No music, no TV, no theatre, no books.

You have children too. Did you make this for them?
Yep. But they haven’t seen it yet.

Was Freddie Highmore your first choice to play Arthur?
A friend of mine who works for Fox in L.A. sent me to the casting director of Fox. And she showed me a picture of Freddie, and said, ‘You should see him.’ So I did and I hired him straight away.

It’s quite odd to hear Madonna voicing a teenager girl opposite a real teenager…
Yes, but she’s playing it very young. Put yourself in the perspective of a ten year-old who is going to watch the film: they probably don’t even know who she is. And Madonna is perfect to play a princess – after all, you need a queen! What made you cast David Bowie as the voice of the evil Maltazard?
Find me a better voice for the character! If I give you the mission, ‘find me the best voice to play Maltazard’, and you think about it for a few hours, Bowie will be on the list.

Was he hard to get?
There is always the dream first. I am a dreamer. You need to be a dreamer when you’re a director. So what’s my dream? My dream is that David Bowie will be the best. But I was kind of lucky as I knew him a little. So I approached his assistant, and got a meeting with him. I showed him some drawings, and he said, ‘OK, let me read the book first’ as he wanted to know the content, ’cos he’s also a father. So he read the book and he called me back, and said, ‘I like it. It’s a good book.’ I think he loved what’s in it – the feeling of nature and how it’s taught to them, to the young.

You have written four ‘Arthur’ books. Is there a sequel in the works?
If the movie works, if the people like it and they want one more, then it will be a pleasure.

Of course, there have been stories in the press that you’re going to quit directing Is Arthur and the Invisibles likely to be your last project?
It’s such a shame that it’s come to this. I just did an interview a few weeks ago, and as usual the press took two lines out and it became huge – he’s going to stop everything! – which is not what I said. I tried to explain a feeling that I always dreamed to do ten films in my life and I succeeded in doing ten. I first thank the audience, because it was only possible because of them. And I now have this feeling that I achieved something, because that was my dream. So it’s the end of a cycle and it’s the beginning of a new cycle. Will directing be in the new cycle? Probably not, because I have done it for the last thirty years. It’s more and more difficult for me to come back with something new and fresh and to be different. It’s just difficult. I’d rather stop too soon than too late.

You’ve obviously thought about this for quite a while…
Yes, because I have this conscience of the ‘limitation’ of the thing. Someone who goes to the Olympic Games, and wins the gold medal, maybe he can come back in four years but not in eight years. There is a physical decline…The Fifth Element, Joan of Arc, Arthur…I’m not doing small films. And I do everything by myself. I write, direct, have the camera on the shoulder and then I promote the film. It’s my baby. I do it by hand. So the weight of it is much more than just going to L.A., taking a cheque for a couple of million, have my name on the chair, shout ‘Action’ then ‘Where’s my limo?’ I can do that. I have had proposals from L.A. almost every week for the past twenty years.

What will you do instead?
First, I will continue to write. I love to write – scripts, books. I love to produce. And I started a foundation, and I want to give back a little. When you have a chance to be popular and rich, you have a responsibility – you can’t just take it and run.

Arthur and the Invisibles is released on rental and retail DVD on 25 June 2007.

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