'Actor-whisperer' Jean-Marc Vallée returns to TV with Sharp Objects
Quebec director hints he'll be back making French-language cinema — eventually
Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallée is diving back into television for yet another highly-anticipated HBO miniseries.
And somewhat similar to his last venture, Big Little Lies, this one can be described as a "heartbreaking family story and a very dark murder mystery," according to Vallée.
Sharp Objects features Amy Adams as reporter Camille Preaker, who's been sent back to her hometown of Wind Gap, Mo., to write a newspaper article on the murder of one young girl and the disappearance of another.
The eight-episode series is based on the book of the same name by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote Gone Girl. Vallée said Flynn's words were what first drew him to the story.
"Gillian's brilliant," Vallée said from Montreal. He particularly loves how she depicted Preaker and her "obsession with words, the way she uses them to heal and harm."
The draw of television
Preaker is so complex, Vallée said, that it wouldn't do justice to limit her to a two-hour feature film. He said television has become the place to go for character-driven stories, especially ones featuring strong women.
"It seems that there is not enough stories about them," Vallée said. "Look at all these feature film actresses accepting and being willing to explore TV to portray these characters."
Take the star-studded cast of Big Little Lies.
That series led to Emmys and Golden Globes for stars Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern, and nominations for Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley. Vallée himself picked up an Emmy for best director.
By then, Vallée had already earned himself the nickname of an "actor-whisperer," able to guide actors to critically acclaimed performances (like Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club or Reese Witherspoon in Wild).
But Vallée said there's no trick to what he does.
He repeats several times that he loves actors and he loves his job, and he has a substantial list of people he'd like to work with some day: Jessica Chastain, Ryan Gosling and the stars of his 2005 breakout hit C.R.A.Z.Y. Michel Côté, Marc-André Grondin and Danielle Proulx.
'Are you ready to do this?'
He's full of praise for Sharp Objects star Adams, calling it a privilege to watch her work.
"Amy had the courage to be up to the challenge to portray this singular, dark character," he said, explaining it was Adams who asked him to direct Sharp Objects. The two had met years before, while starting work on a Janis Joplin biopic that didn't pan out.
"I read [Sharp Objects] and called her back and said 'really, are you ready to do this? I want to be the first one to see what you're going to do with this.'"
Vallée's vision hasn't gone unchallenged.
Sharp Objects creator Marti Noxon has spoken about screaming matches with Vallée on set. To that, Vallée will only say that is goal is always to serve the project in the best way.
"Yeah, of course I'm going to fight for what I believe is right, in a respectful way," he said. "We learn to navigate and work together and we manage and make it happen."
A Quebecer in Hollywood
Noxon told Vulture part of the disputes were over language, and the fact Vallée is a native French speaker from Montreal. Vallée said he hasn't analyzed how his Quebecois roots influence his career, but he's sure they do.
"The culture I am from, the language, the use of music … the accent," he said.
"Being a foreigner in the States, I have to do more homework to try to really get into the culture, understand the culture, and understand the world of the characters that I am trying to depict. And so I become a student."
Despite what seems to be the now-constant call of Hollywood, Vallée said he will make a return to French-language film — eventually.
"I have a beautiful French-Canadian project," he said. "The script is ready, but I won't be ready to do it for another four or five years."
Right now, his plate is full. And as Vallée puts it, it's a good problem to have.