LOS ANGELES: When Jean-Marc Vallee went to accept the breakthrough director honor at the Hollywood Film Awards last month, the French Canadian laughed about being a breakthrough at the age of 51.
It is his latest film, "Wild," which opens this week in U.S. theaters, that has definitively opened the doors to Hollywood. He was hired by its producer and star Reese Witherspoon, who bought the rights to the best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed and her 1,100-mile hike toward self-discovery.
His previous film "Dallas Buyers Club," made on a shoestring budget of $5 million, led to the "Wild" gig and earned acting Oscars for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Witherspoon and Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl's mother, are expected to earn Oscar nominations.
Vallee spoke to Reuters about what to do now that he has broken through and getting out of the way of his actors.
Q: Are you a director who can do a lot with limited resources?
A: Maybe, yes, it happened with "Dallas." Although with "Wild" we had a comfortable budget and shooting schedule. I can manage and do a lot or what I have to do with whatever the budget is.
Q: Why did you accept Reese Witherspoon's "Wild" offer so quickly?
A: I responded to her passion for the project and my reaction was the same as hers. When I read the script and then when I read the book, I was like 'Oh my God, I’ve got to make this film.'...I am happy she chose me.
Q: It is a book beloved by many. Did you feel that responsibility?
A: You bet. That was my and everyone's concern ... to honor Cheryl's words, and life and book. It was a moral responsibility. She has such a passion for writing, for words, for choosing meticulously her prose.
The voiceover, the dialogues in the film, sometimes it is exactly coming from the book.
Q: You are showing a Reese Witherspoon that people haven't seen before.
A: She loved the fact that "Dallas" was a raw film, authentic and dirty, and she felt that "Wild" should have this kind of approach.
I try not to interfere...I didn't cut Reese and Laura’s great performances. The shots are long.
I ask the crew to get out, and they feel free and they don't have to hit a mark and feel the heat of the light. Just like in life.
Q: Now that you have broken through, what projects do you want to do?
A: The same. I like character driven films. This is kind of my niche. I am always looking for this kind of material and scripts. I just finished shooting "Demolition" (with Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts).
I think I will be spending more time here, but I want to go back to Canada ... I have three films lined up now and after that I would like to do the French Canadian one. So busy years coming.