Summer 2019


Champion of the Disenfranchised

Jean-Marc Vallée has mined raw, powerful performances and made the internal external as he's tracked the trials and tribulations of the lost and damaged

By Steve Chagollan

Jean-Marc Vallée. (Photographed by Shayan Asgharnia)

Between his breakout feature, C.R.A.Z.Y., and the back-to-back HBO limited series Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects, Jean-Marc Vallée has come to be associated with event programming and prestige TV. He directed all 15 episodes of the aforementioned series, earning DGA and Emmy awards in the process, and strengthening the trend of one director/one vision in the age of Platinum Television.

If there's a signature to Vallée's work, it's an implicit trust in the audience's intelligence and the faith that they'll make the effort to connect the intricate dots of his projects, whether it's the parallel storylines of Café de Flore (2011) or the almost subliminal mosaic of memories, dreams, hallucinations and foreshadowings that bring Sharp Objects into vivid focus.

The attention to detail is painstaking, the production values are rich, the use of music and sound design inspired, and the performances open and honest.

There's a reason why global talents like Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey and Amy Adams bring their A-game when they work with him: For Vallée, who believes in the magic of star power, it begins and ends with their performances. And he'll do all he can to create an environment for their gifts to fully blossom. As a result, actors under his guidance have won four SAG awards, three Emmys and two Oscars in just the last five years. As a director of complicated, strongly etched female leads, he's akin to the George Cukor of our times.

There's also something of the outsider to Vallée—a Québécois whose first language is French and who still calls Montreal his home—that has inspired him to become a champion of the underdog, ranging from the kids with Down syndrome in Café de Flore to AIDS patients fighting stultifying bureau-cracy in Dallas Buyers Club to a victimized, working-class single mother surrounded by the rich and pampered in Big Little Lies.

Vallée spoke to DGA Quarterly recently in Santa Monica. In the pipeline is his next HBO project, an adaptation of the book Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love by Zack McDermott. But first he'll be directing his next feature, about the relationship between John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

(Top) Vallée films a tracking shot with actor Kevin Parent at an airport location for Café de Flore. Above, with Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey, for whom Vallée directed Oscar-winning performances in Dallas Buyers Club. (Photos: Sebastien Raymond)

DGAQ:Because music is so integral in your film and TV work, I feel somehow that you were a DJ in another life—or maybe you were in this life. You tell me.

Vallée: Yeah, in this life. I did that when I was younger, privately. My dad used to be what we called in French back then a discothécaire and he was doing the musical programming of some radio stations in Montreal. So we grew up with records, two turntables, a mixer, an amp, speakers everywhere. Then at 14, my older brother and I started to love disco music and we started to DJ disco music, and then it became something else with punk and rock and so whenever we were [at] parties, we were DJing. Music is our thing in our family, and we are all music-oriented. I thought I was going to do that in my life and become a musician. I didn't push it. I don't know why.

Q: I think kids are lucky if they're growing up around that kind of environment.

A: I remember when [my dad] came back home from work with a 45 of "Money" from Pink Floyd and he said, "Guys, put the needle on." [Mimics the song] I remember having a physical reaction.

Q: You mentioned that needle drop, and people talk about needle drops in movies. You literally see the needle dropping in a lot of your work.

A: Yeah, it's a thing that I love so much, and I like to pay respect to all these musicians who influenced me and gave me hope when I was a teenager. Now that I'm working with music like this, and I only use source music, it's like paying tribute. Visually also, it sets up something. It is precise; even here (shows a scene from Sharp Objects where Alan, Camille's stepfather, drops a needle on a record), I think we start with this because we made Alan an audiophile. We found the most expensive, amazing analog sound system.

Q: You've said that you create playlists for your actors to help define their characters. Can you give me some specific examples?

A: It started on C.R.A.Z.Y., with, of course, the lead (Marc-André Grondin). I made a playlist. And I also pitched C.R.A.Z.Y. with a CD, and there was a lot of British rock and roll: Pink Floyd, the Stones, David Bowie—"Space Oddity" became a moment in the film. Of course, this kid had his music and the father (Michel Côté) also had his music. He was a big fan of Patsy Cline and Charles Aznavour. So, I give them their tracks and the others are more influenced by these too.
It helps define the characters and helps [the actors] find a quality of emotion.

Q: That emotion is beautifully established right at the beginning of Wild with that string intro to the Simon and Garfunkel tune "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)" which is a recurring motif in the movie.

A: It's so emotional—it's like "wow." They created a masterpiece there.

Q: Now you've worked repeatedly with Susan Jacobs, and I think for a lot of people it is a bit of a mystery how directors and music supervisors work together. Would you compare that kind of give-and-take with her with the relationship you might have with your DP or a costume designer?

A: Yeah. It's as strong. I don't want to let go of Sue. And now that we found each other, she is good to bounce [ideas off of] and she knows that I do the first pass, and she's humble yet will challenge my choices. And sometimes we can't get the clearance rights, so she comes back with ideas and goes bang, bang, bang. And I go, "Yes, right." We're like brother and sister; we feel music in a similar way and, of course, she knows all the rock stars on the planet.

Q: Well, it's not easy getting Led Zeppelin music in your movie, and I know she's done that for David O. Russell as well. But I was wondering why Led Zeppelin for the character, Camille Preaker, that Amy Adams plays in Sharp Objects?

A: I was struggling with Camille Preaker's playlist. We were in prep and she didn't have her playlist yet. And then I had the idea and I went, "Oh, God, yes, she is listening to this fucking iPhone that belongs to this girl" (with whom Camille shares a room in an intensive care ward for cutters). Camille is not a music person. She's in her head and she reads. And she is going to discover music through Alice. Alice is showing her how to escape.

Q: The one who committed suicide?

A: Yes. (Camille) tells her at one point, "You're here too, girl." And Alice says, "Yeah, but with this, I can get the hell out of here whenever I want." And then she puts the headset on Camille and it's "Thank You" from Led Zeppelin. I wanted Led Zeppelin because this whole thing of Sharp Objects is so dark and so rock and they are so damaged.
The number one track ("In the Evening") that I found when I read the book and that I thought of was [used during the end credits] of Episode 8. And this is how I pitched Led Zeppelin to HBO and to everybody. You know, "Don't tell mama." I put the track on, and I said, "This is the end of Sharp Objects."

From the top: Vallée on location with Reese Witherspoon for Wild. Opposite, in Monterey for Big Little Lies with Alexander Skarsgård and Nicole Kidman, who both won SAG and Emmy awards for their performances. (Photos: (Top) Photofest; (Bottom) HBO)

Q: By the way, I commend you on the actress (Sophia Lillis) who plays Amy Adams' younger self because so many times we see actors cast in movies who don't really look like their older characters.

A: We helped her. Every morning she had one, two hours by the makeup artist. We created an Amy Adams nose.

Q: So much of what we see in terms of characters in your work is internal: It's memories in the form of flashbacks; it's imagined things; it's visions of things to come. Much of it is not voiced but seen by the viewer. Your actors also have to respond to what is not in front of them. Tell me how you meet that challenge?

A: Well, sometimes it's written, and I remind them before we shoot a scene: "You know where you were, this is what happened." If we've been through [a certain] emotion, it's there. There is this conversation about where you were, what you think. This big project is so dark—and Amy was so into it.

Q: Now is this all mapped out in advance or are you doing this in the cutting room?

A: It wasn't mapped out; it happened while we were shooting. [Writer-executive producer] Marti Noxon started with this first episode that she wrote. That was the only episode we had when we started. We said, "All right, let's make a series out of this." She mapped out the transitions between past and present. So, it was well done on the page. The young girls are in the Victorian house. They open a door and then they're in present time. And then this young girl sees Camille and we don't know that the young girl is young Camille.
Then we pushed that concept even more on the day and on the set. I was asking as much as I could to bring the young actresses in the present, or sometimes as I was shooting a flashback, with the two kids, I was saying, "Let's have Amy in the shot, please." For instance, when Amy arrives back home for the first time and she sits on the bench and she remembers this flashback of her talking to young Marian (Camille's sister who dies young), and it wasn't written that Amy was going to be there, but we did some shots. So, we did the whole scene with the two young actresses and then the whole scene with the young actresses and Amy Adams. So we could play the back-and-forth in the cutting room. But this whole thing of the thinking, that became a thing on the set. And also like, for instance, here (shows a scene from Sharp Objects)—see, she's looking at something and then she thinks about this fan and she looks at her hand and the dream was—bang!, she was cutting herself. And then she wakes up.

Q: Her younger self is cutting herself. The dream state, too, plays a big part in this. You see this throughout your work. It dates back to the early films.

A: Yeah, of course. I pushed it. Because this is something I like to do. And this is something through the projects that we developed, a sort of language and grammar, that my collaborators and I do.

Q: What about points of view, and how you manage them?

A: We use a 35 mm lens 90 percent of the time and we move with the main character. So, therefore if Adora is here and Camille is here, I'm not going to see Adora's close-up unless Camille comes to her. We respect this language, this rule that we gave ourselves with the 35. Because we shoot handheld and with available light. We ask the crew to get up and we can shoot 360 degrees, and we shoot most of our shots without cutting.
I like to see what the main character is doing in order to design the rest of the shots. So, there is no shot list. We become creative on the day, on the spot, and react to what they're doing. And the DP (Yves Bélanger) and I, we think editing, we think cutting so we know that if [Adams] does that and she has a privilege to have more close-ups than the others. So, therefore, I can be close to her with a 35 and she has a close-up that they won't have. We can respect the distance, and I don't mind going behind Patricia and seeing Amy's character smaller to tell the audience this is the distance between them.
[In Dallas Buyers Club, it's] from [the characters'] perspective. Ron (McConaughey) passes out and we cut to black. You wake up, fade in. In Chinatown, Polanski did that with Nicholson so much, and we were talking about that and it was great to embrace a strong perspective like that. Until Rayon, Jared Leto's character, arrives. And then, "OK, we're going to have two perspectives now." And we're going to cut sometimes just with Rayon—we see Ron from Rayon's perspective. And then the other way around, so sometimes I'm not sure which perspective I should use.
I have an instinct but then I cover myself and I go, "Let's do it again, guys. I want to go do it from this perspective now." And we don't cut, and they love it, and I guess when we start shooting, they get it. They get that it's all about them because we shoot, we shoot and we hardly cut. I don't like to cut because when I say "cut," there are 25 people getting in and doing touch-ups…

Q: Now, do you have two cameras going?

A: Never, always one.

Q: On your first big TV project, Big Little Lies, how did you prep for seven hours of programming?

A: It was a 90-day schedule, and we prepped it like a seven-hour feature film, and we did the same with the post-production. So we prepped, we shot, we didn't cut anything. And we started to edit once we were done shooting.

Q: What was the pace?

A: We shot five days a week; we prepped (episodes) 1, 2, 3 as a feature. And then we stopped two weeks, [prepping] on 4 and 5. Then we shot 4 and 5 and then stopped for four or five days, and then we shot 6 and 7. So we had a little break between these three blocks, but they were shot [not] like three separate feature films, but one big one with three parts.
It was an evolving process, and we did it one day at a time, with an amazing crew around me: David Ticotin, my 1st AD, and (UPMs) Gregg Fienberg and Barbara Hall. They know the name of the game, so I was well supported to do this.
And shooting in L.A. and transforming L.A. into Monterey. We shot only three weeks in Monterey, with the ocean there—very angry, very visual, very powerful. It's almost like a metaphor for how these five women are feeling and becoming at the end—as beautiful and as strong. That's why shooting [in Monterey] was important. And they all have a relationship with the ocean.
And we were using a DP (Yves Bélanger) who is not afraid of not lighting; shooting with available light, handheld, and the actors loved it.

Q: Do you consider yourself to have a directing style?

A: I think with the years it became [one]. I'm not pushing style and I'm not saying, "Hey, let's aim for a style," and I'm not aiming for tone either. People ask me sometimes, "How did you manage to get this tone in your film?" And I don't think tone and style. I think emotion, storytelling, characters. But [on Sharp Objects] it was very clear, and we were aiming for authenticity, emotion, reality. And I tried to respect [the material].
So it was also integrated in the writing, and the quick cuts are more the language I have been developing through the years that was fitting this project so well.

(Top) Vallée films Jake Gyllenhaal in New York for Demolition. (Bottom) With Amy Adams on the set of Sharp Objects. (Photo: (Top) Everett; (Bottom) HBO)

Q: When I think about this quick-cut, kaleidoscopic approach to storytelling, Nicholas Roeg's films come to mind. And in light of all your other work, The Young Victoria seems like an anomaly. That's a relatively straightforward…

A: Conventional…

Q: …kind of classical approach to filmmaking—impeccably produced and directed. And I'm wondering if, because it's a period costume film, there were certain expectations going in. Was that your choice?

A: No, it wasn't my choice. I lost creative control over Young Victoria… and it was a lesson. It's not my cut. I'm happy with the film but I would have done something different, mainly with the music. I didn't want to score the music like that.
It felt to me like, "Hey, look at this period film that is well done," but it feels like you've seen it before. You've heard it before because the music is so scored. Traditional, classical, almost too cliché.
I guess my lesson there was we (along with the producers) weren't making the same film, and it took a while before I realized [that]. And then I had to let go and respect [that] and go, "All right, you want to do this, I'm not going to fight, sorry, go ahead, do it."

Q: If you're ever dealing with studio executives and they're maybe giving you notes that are not necessarily welcome either on a script or in rushes, do you rely on the DGA to push back?

A: I should have done it on Young Victoria, and I didn't. It never happened that I went to the DGA for support because creatively I felt that I wasn't respected. But I know they're there for that. I'm going to think about this one, and I might come back with a better answer later on

Q: At the DGA Nominees panel in January, you mentioned that in the beginning stages of Sharp Objects you were surprised that Amy Adams wanted to go to these dark places. But so many of your characters have gone to those dark places: Reese Witherspoon in Wild, Jake Gyllenhaal in Demolition, Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies. These are some pretty dark, troubled characters. How do you establish that level of trust, so they let their guard down?

A: I am going to accompany them. And I love this medium so much, I want to do good and I want them to do good. I want to be supportive and I try to make them feel that I'm here to capture their magic. This is the key. Everything else is after the essential capturing of the magic.

Q: In establishing that safety zone, I hear that you dismiss nonessential crew members from the set.

A: Well, it's three: It's the camera operator, who's the DP; the focus puller; and the boom. And sometimes the script [supervisor] and the 1st AD, very close. I'm behind the camera operator with the focus puller, where the boom is behind us, or he's hiding himself and that allows us to do everything we do. It's not that we want to be quick, but we are quick. We shoot 9 to 6 most of the time, or 9 to 7. We don't do crazy days and thank God, because it's demanding shooting handheld like this and the poor focus guy, he has the pressure because we shoot the rehearsals in the blocking and he's often asking, "Can we have a rehearsal?" "No, let's just see what they're going to do and record." If it is a great rehearsal and we haven't recorded it, man…

Q: So that's another part of the Jean-Marc way: the lack of rehearsal; no table readings.

A: I've learned to do table readings on the two HBO projects, because I have never done that before. But I do meetings, lunch, dinners—one-on-one meetings where we talk about the scripts, the characters. But it is very rare that we rehearse. So I'm next to [the focus puller], he sees me or feels me as he looks at the actors, and then when he sees and feels my hand going this way, he knows that I want him to go to the other characters.

Q: So, you're gesturing?

A: Well, sometimes I talk, or I whisper, and the focus puller and camera operator, they're French Canadian, too, so when I whisper in French and they hear me, [the actors] know it's not about them. And when I whisper in English, the [camera people] know it's not about them.
So, it's a good thing to have both languages to have this way of communicating quickly on this type of approach. We know we're staging, and it is fiction but like a documentary; we capture it and it feels real because there is no mark. They can go wherever. There is no rehearsal and we use the space and we'll react.

Q: Are you using film or digital?

A: Digital now. Since Café de Flore I started with the Alexa and I went, "All right, I'm good," but we [applied] a film grain. I want to recreate the film impression, and I will never stop trying to recreate that. (DP) Yves Bélanger is also very picky, and he likes this film impression too.

Q: In Dallas Buyers Club, the Ron Woodruff character is possibly one of the most abrasive and unsavory characters that would result in an Academy Award. How do you create compassion for somebody like that when he is showing you every reason not to care?

A: We talked about it, and Matthew's and my reference was Randle McMurphy in Cuckoo's Nest. We care for this guy and every single thing he did was wrong: the way he treated these mentally challenged people and the nurses and the help, and the women. The way he talks about pussy and sex is like, "Oh my God, Jesus, man!" And we love him, we care for him, that's the thing about him.
There was something on the page that we loved (about Woodruff) because he's just like McMurphy. It's easy to care for someone, even with all his flaws: he's racist, he's homophobic, the way he treats women and cheats, he steals. But he's sick, and his will to survive [allows us] to embrace and to care for this guy, and it takes time. And also, there is the star quality that these actors have, Nicholson and the others. Matthew has [that] star quality. You put the camera on him, although minus 48 pounds, he looked like…

Q: I was going to say part of the challenge of warming to that character is getting over the fact that he looks so sickly and frail. When an actor undergoes such an extreme physical transformation, are you as a director encouraging that? Or are you thinking we can do this with makeup and wardrobe and lighting?

A: No, no, I was supporting [that] until 30 pounds. At 30 pounds when I looked at him, I went, "All right, are you OK?" "Yeah, yeah, yeah." And he continued. And then we went, "It's too much. Why don't you eat some burgers? You went too far." "Ah, no, no, I'm OK, I'm OK." He was closer to [losing] 50 than 40. He was happy to say 48 pounds, and I mean who does that?
There is something about Matthew even with the weight loss, we love the guy, you know, there's something.

Vallée displays his DGA Award for directing Big Little Lies. (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Q: And you do warm to him. It's very gradual, but that perception is changed.

A: And I think the star quality—the humanity in their face. I guess that's why we love this thing, this cinema so much. It's a great story, in the dark, on the big screen, the sound, the absence of sound, the music. We want more. It makes me dream. I get envious when I see a great film and I go, "Wow, I want to do a film like this."

Q: At the Nominees Panel in January you talked about this shooting schedule you had between Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects: 182 days in less than two years.

A: Uh, huh, in 20 months.

Q: How do you keep in shape so that you have the energy to handle that workload?

A: Well, most of the shooting (for Big Little Lies) took place in California. Therefore, I was living by the ocean in Santa Monica in an apartment there, and so every morning I had the ocean. I was going to bed with the sound of it. I was going to walk or run in the morning and starting [work] at 9. Therefore, I was waking up at 7, going 7 to 7:30 in front of the ocean, running and walking, reading and embracing the force of this thing to try to be as strong as the ocean to do this nonstop for 90 days and then post-production. Then as [we were doing] post on BLL in Montreal, I was coming back here and prepping Sharp. So it's a marathon.
I don't know how I managed. And I was thinking of these directors (during Hollywood's Golden Age), like Michael Curtiz and all the others. They were shooting three films a year, so 30 days per film and they were shooting 100 days or so per year, and nonstop. Maybe it was different then.

Q: What about between projects? What do you do to keep your mind sharp and open to inspiration?

A: I try to do nothing. I try to stay home and take care of my place and I go to the hardware store and fix some stuff. I built myself a house years ago. I don't travel; I like to stay home. For the past six years since Dallas Buyers Club, I haven't stopped. And that's why I need a break. I'm helping them out on Big Little Lies Season 2 right now in the cutting room and it's almost done, but I just want to go back to a break that I started in September to Christmas, so I took four months and then I'm going to take another four months where I'm going to go back home. I have two sons. They're 27 and 23, and probably I'll see them more. I saw The Mule recently with Clint Eastwood. Did you see it?

Q: I haven't seen it, no.

A: He's saying stuff about work and family. "I gave my life to work. I should have given it to my family." I was relating, and I was like, "Oh, fuck, I hope my sons are not resenting me." I mean, we have a good relationship, but man, do I work. I'm 56 and I work and work and I'm like, "I've got to change this," and now I'm changing it slowly but still I'm booked. I signed for my two next projects.

Q: Did anything change in your career when you joined the DGA in 1996?

A: I still have my photographs when I joined. I became a member to do this film called Los Locos (1997) with Mario Van Peebles. Almost nobody saw it.
I just feel a part of a great community. And maybe it made me aware of the community more than about directing, you know, to each his own and I'm doing my stuff. But there is something about the Guild in the States that we don't have maybe as strong in Quebec.

Q: ou won a DGA Award for Big Little Lies. Was that any different for you—that experience of getting an award from director peers?

A: Yeah, well I mean it's one of the most important if not the most important from your peers and the DGA. You know, directors that I have been admiring since I wanted to do this since I am 18-20, they were part of the DGA. And so when you get in the crowd and you see them, and you get to shake their hand… It's funny how I still feel like a kid or an outsider, and I see my masters and heroes, and now I am part of it, and so it's great.

Q: Were there any particular directors that you looked at growing up who insired you or convinced you that this was something you wanted to do?

A: Yes, but it came late. At 20, I took a class by pure laziness called "Cinema and Society," and the teacher was so good he got my attention for three hours. I've never listened to a teacher like that for three hours in a row.

Q: What school was this?

A: It was a college in Montreal (Collège Ahuntsic), and I was studying business management. I didn't know what to do, and I was a lost kid at 20. What am I going to do with my life? And then this class changed my life and I went, "Oh, I'm going to try to do this." And I got introduced to all these masters from Europe, from the States and I started to watch PBS and all these films from Capra, from George Stevens. I had an affection for Cassavetes. I also had a thing for Scorsese. And then there's (Wim Wenders') The State of Things and The American Friend and then Paris, Texas

Q: Was there a point in your life when you stopped looking at films as purely entertainment and it became more like art? Was that when you were taking these classes?

A: Yes, exactly, it changed my way of seeing and watching films. I was introduced to all German cinema, the Soviet cinema from the '20s, and then the Italian cinema and the Japanese. So the whirlwind. I am from a middle-class family. My parents didn't read a lot, and it's something that we, that I, learned late to love. And so, yeah, that was a new experience and a way of considering this as an art form and embracing it.

Q: What about any other contemporary filmmakers that you followed?

A: (Miloš) Forman with Cuckoo's Nest is one of my top five of all time, if not top three, and Coppola with The Godfather. But there's Apocalypse Now also.

Q: It's amazing how a lot of these films that you mentioned were made 30 to 40 years ago. And with all this advanced technology we have today, they don't seem dated. They still look magnificent.

A: True, yeah. I saw recently again The Godfather on TV, and I thought I was going to watch 30 minutes…

Q: It's the usual thing; you tune in and you can't tune out.

A: I watched the whole thing and I'm like "wow." I didn't remember it was that good.

Q: I read that you're doing another gig for HBO based on the book Gorilla and the Bird: a Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love by Zack McDermott.

A: There is only the first episode written. The other episodes are almost ready. If you haven't read the book, this is a good read. It is heartbreaking, and it's also beautiful, and it's going to become an important series that not only can entertain but the message is strong.

Q: I can't help but focus on the "Mother's Love" part of this title. Motherhood seems to be so important in your work dating back at least to C.R.A.Z.Y., possibly before. Why is that? Did you have a particular relationship with your mother that resonates through your work?

A: God, yeah. Wild is for her. Reese (Witherspoon) saw a rough cut of Dallas Buyers Club and she called me and said, 'Would you direct Wild?' I said, 'What's Wild?' [She said], "It's a memoir, it's not out yet, and it's written by Cheryl Strayed." And I just lost my mom when she sent me the book, so I couldn't read the fucking book because I was crying. It is a tribute to mothers, you know. The love of my life was my mother. I mean, come on, Cheryl ate her mother's ashes. I mean, I didn't do it, but I could have. So, yeah, she was an important force, and she's the reason why I'm doing this.

Q: Do you consider your work political?

A: I would say more social than political. I'm not a political guy. I follow politics and, of course, I vote and do my duty. But I don't think I would pick up a project because it is a political project or talks about politics. Looking back, it's more about social [subjects] and about the underdog. I've said it before, I have a thing for underdogs, where they've got to put up a fight to find their happiness and to find themselves. I guess I had to do it, too, and that's why I relate to this and I like to defend and present these characters and serve these projects.
Every artist, consciously or unconsciously, at one point they tell their own story. I've done it partly with C.R.A.Z.Y. with the music aspect, the mother-father relationship. But I guess I do it a little bit in every project, even though they're not my scripts. I find projects that I relate to, projects where I go, "Yeah, OK, I can tell this and feel comfortable telling this." Although I felt I was out of my comfort zone with Sharp Objects more than the others because I've never encountered a character like this—a cutter and an alcoholic, a sex addict in some ways.

Q: Do you think it's a responsibility of the conscientious filmmaker to enlighten and change perceptions?

A: Hmmm, it looks like we're in an era where we're becoming more and more conscious. I hadn't thought of it before, but there is some change going on in the industry and between men and women and in society. Now, with the minorities, with the different… I'm not using the right word because of my French…

Q: Yeah, the lack of representation…

A: I think it has to be authentic and it has to come from the right place.

Q: It can't be didactic.

A: I've never thought of it this way, but I hope in some ways that these stories that I embraced and defended and served do that. If they can, that's a plus because we're here for 80 years—90 if we're lucky. Particularly us men. But the trip is amazing. Life is precious. I'm 56 and I'm starting to go, '80?' That means I have 24 years left.

Q: I try not to think about it.

A: But your question makes me think about it. Why are we here? Why am I doing this? Art has this… power, maybe? To change mentalities or maybe change perceptions, like you were saying. "Oh, I see this differently because I saw this thing. I was told this story." And it was through music or a stage play or a film or in a museum, some amazing art forms, and it transcends someone and makes him or her want to do something.

DGA Interviews

Prominent directors reflecting on their body of
work through an extended and in-depth Q&A.

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The latest DGA Quarterly includes our cover story on Streaming's Expanding Landscape, the DGA Interview featuring Jean-Marc Vallée, features on televisions's producer/directors, Homeland, Game of Thrones, American Ninja Warrior and more!