Jean-Marc Vallee

Jean-Marc Vallee

Dallas Buyers Club has already been one of the film highlights of 2014, as Jean-Marc Vallee returned to the director’s chair and Matthew McConaughey & Jared Leto delivered Oscar nominated performances.

Dallas Buyers Club is out on DVD & Blu-Ray this week, and we caught up with Vallee to chat about the film, casting McConaughey, and what lies ahead.

- Dallas Buyers Club is about to be released on DVD here in the UK, so can you tell me a bit about the movie?

I have heard of that movie (laughs). Dallas Buyers Club is a beautiful film with an amazing humanity. It is based on the true story of a guy who got Aids, who wanted to save a life. He really took on the doctors and the system and said ‘f**k it, there is nothing out there that can kill me in thirty days’.

We follow his combat and his battle to survive and to… without even realising it, he is going to become someone else; he becomes the spokesperson of a community that he has been bashing all of his life. He really does become the leader of them. It is such a life lesson.

- You are in the director's chair for the film, so where did the project start for you? And what was it about Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack's script that particularly sparked your interest?

It is the guy, the underdog. He is a guy who is not perfect - he really does have all of the flaws in the world - but becomes someone else.

I really enjoyed his journey and his battle and the way that he embraced life. It really was all of those elements that were the major appeal of this story.

- The film is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, so how much did you know about his story? And what sort of research did you do as you prepared for this movie?

I didn’t know anything about his story, I knew nothing at all. I knew about Aids: I was twenty when all of that happened. My two screenwriters had a lot of material, and so I was able to read and take from that. Everything was pretty clear in the script. The actors also did their homework.

We tried to be faithful to the facts, the period, the time, and what happened, but we were also making a fiction film. Every single character, except Ron, was created and everything was to serve the story, but at the same time be respectful of that time in which this story is set.

- Away from telling the individual story of Ron, what other aspect of the story were you interested in exploring? The eighties was a difficult for Aids sufferers and they were really taking on the medical industry.

I really wanted to explore everything. I really wanted to look at every single aspect of his life and what Ron went through during that time.

It really was incredibly difficult to get some medicine in the U.S. in the eighties: I really wanted to look at what he had to do to smuggle them in. The whole thing with the system, the FDA, the government, the hospitals was all really interesting.

- Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both give Oscar winning performances in this movie, so can you talk about the casting process and getting them on board?

Matthew McConaughey and I got on board at the same time. He read the script on his own, called the producer, and discovered that the script was still on the shelf. He found out that Robbie Brenner had the rights to the script: I was actually developing something else with her.

When I heard that McConaughey was interested in playing the role of Ron I was like ‘really?’ When you read the script you are like ‘there is no way that this guy can play Ron’, he is too handsome, too sexy, too good looking.

When she told him ‘I have this French-Canadian to direct’, he was like ‘what? A French-Canadian to direct this?’ Therefore, we agreed to meet. It really was a leap of faith for both of us. I said to myself ‘I like how he talks about this character and where he is in his career right now’.

I think he wanted to change the perception people had of him, as well as get out of his comfort zone as an actor and try some new and different.

I didn’t choose Jared, Jared choose us and the project. He was the character from the first time we talked: had had a wig and a dress and was playing some Marc Bolan music. He was there telling me that this role was for him, and he convinced me. That is why I am saying he chose me, I didn’t choose him.

- As you say, Matthew McConaughey was a surprise choice for the role of Ron. How exciting was it for you as a director when you see an actor take his career in a completely different direction in front of your eyes?

That was very very exciting, and at the same time, very scary. I was witnessing this, and some time I was like ‘oh my god, is this too much?’ He was on a mission.

I am from the less is more school, Matthew and Jared were performing in front of me where more is more. I was like ‘oh god’ because it felt so big at the beginning, so huge, and so over the top that I felt I was committing professional suicide.

I was always saying ‘come on guys, you have to give me a less is more take’ (laughs). They would try, and even though they were trying, their performance was still big.

My reaction was to withdraw, step back, use a 35mm, shoot them in wide shot with almost no close ups: in the editing room I used almost of all of the more is more takes. After a week of shooting, I realised that they were on the right track.

However, it was scary at the beginning. Their characters were bigger than life, so you have got to trust the characters, the script, the material and go ’alright’.

- I wanted to ask you about how you shot the film as you used only natural light and on a handheld camera with just a 35mm and a 50mm lens, why did you choose to use these methods?

I loved it in my previous film Café de Flore. It is a film that tells two different stories of two different places and times:  one in Montreal and one in Paris in the sixties. The story set in Paris involved Downs Syndrome kids, and with them, I decided to shoot digital with no lighting, in order to be able to shoot three hundred and sixty degrees and capture them.

When I watched the dailies during shooting the actors loved it and I loved it. I was like ‘Jesus, this is the way to go. Why have all of these spots and all of these people on the set all the time when we can do without it?’

On Dallas Buyers Club, we didn’t have a lot of money - we lost our financing at the last minute - so we needed to shoot in Fall 2012, it was then or never. Matthew was ready and I was ready. The way to shoot it, with the money we had, was to use this kind of approach: it is faster and it is cheaper.

It creates a spirit on the set and on the film as well: it feels true, natural, and there is no bullshit. The actors are not trying to hit the light. When you have big spotlights on the set, it is hot and the actors know that they are in the light.

When they don’t have this, they don’t try to hit the lights, and so it is like capturing: it felt like I was shooting the rehearsals all of the time. I wasn’t even cutting from one angle to angle. When you don’t say ’cut’ nobody moves, when nobody moves I have time to do my stuff and the actors don’t have time to think and over think. We are in the moment, we do it, and it feels true.  

- The film was shot in just twenty-five days, so what are the challenges of working under such tight time constraints? Or do you like working like that?

No. Send the word to all producers in the world, I am not comfortable doing that. I need twice as much as that: I am comfortable with fifty days.

- This movie has been widely praised and won awards, but how have you been finding the response to the film? And what have you found people are taking away from this film when they see it?

It is the humanity behind it. You walk out of the theatre and I think you are moved and you reflect on your own life and think about what you would do in that situation.

We want to be Ron in a way if that was to happen to us. We would want to do what was right and what was true to you: being true to your self is a hard thing to go.

- Away from Dallas Buyers Club, you have also completed work on Wild, so can you tell me about that?

Yes. Reese Witherspoon went wild. Wait until you see this movie. Reese Witherspoon when f***ing wild, and that is all I am going to say. Excuse my French.

- Finally, what is next for you?

Demolition, shooting this summer in New York City. It is a beautiful script by Bryan Sipe, and produced by Mr Mudd. Soon I will be able to announce the actors in the film, but not yet.

Dallas Buyers Club is released to Blu-ray and DVD on 2nd June 2014, courtesy of Entertainment One.

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