Cannes First Look: Paul Haggis Talks ‘Third Person,’ starring Neeson, Wilde, Franco, Kunis

Cannes First Look: Paul Haggis Talks 'Third Person,' starring Neeson, Wilde, Franco, Kunis

Paul Haggis has been quiet since his last outing as
writer-director, 2010’s “The Next Three Days,” with only a credit on the
videogame “Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” to fill in the gap between then and
now. But he turned up in Cannes to beat the publicity drum for “Third Person,” a
multi-stranded relationship drama he shot last fall in Paris, Rome and
Cinecitta Studios.

The film focuses on three couples played by Liam Neeson and
Olivia Wilde, James Franco and Mila Kunis, and Adrien Brody and Moran Atias. Neeson’s
Michael is a writer struggling to live up to his early success, holed up in
Paris working on his latest novel and embarking on an affair with Wilde. Franco
portrays a famous artist locked in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife
(Kunis), a former soap actress reduced to working as a hotel maid to fund her
court case. Brody appears as a shady American businessman who decides to help
Atias’ gypsy rescue her daughter from the mob.

We were shown an extended
trailer that revealed glimpses of the three strands, while a promotional
brochure revealed that Haggis’ narrative intentions are fairly complex, with
the stories in “Third Person” “starting to cross and meld in ways that they
shouldn’t, until we finally realize that these are all characters that Michael
has created as he grapples to deal with an unthinkable secret.”

Corsan, who are selling the film in the Cannes market, have
nailed distribution deals for 23 territories, with discussion underway for the
US and UK.

Matt Mueller: What are you expressing about relationships with this film?

Paul Haggis: I think we all know they’re impossible. People ask if the
film is autobiographical: all these characters are me because they all explore
questions that I have about how you survive in a relationship and how you get
what you want, or if you ever get what you want. One of the stories is about, ‘what if you trust someone who is completely untrustworthy? Do they rise to that
by becoming trustworthy? And if you manage to change them into someone that you
think you can love, do you no longer love them?’ It’s hopeful and depressing at
the same time, sort of like life.

What was the inspiration for this film?

I was troubled by living this many years and having the
relationships that I’ve had, and failing at them and wondering how one

Should we read anything into the fact that the three female
characters, played by Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde and Moran Atias, bear a
resemblance to each other in that they’re all young and have long, dark brown

It was interesting to see that develop but I really just
cast the best actresses. There’s something to be said for that but not what you

While the multi-stranded narrative recalls “Crash,” the visual
style appears very different from your previous films. Is that deliberate?

I think it’s a mistake to impose a style on a movie. Your
style should be dictated by the subject matter of the film. “In The Valley Of
Elah” looks very different from “Crash,” and “Crash” looks very different from this
film. I think if you have a director who has a style, you get really bored of
that director very quickly.

Was it an expensive film, and why did you choose to set it
in Europe?

It wasn’t cheap. It was not nearly as expensive as “The Next
Three Days” and a little more expensive than “Crash.” The stories were formed
here: I write a lot in Europe, and the film is very influenced by Antonioni,
Chabrol, Godard, Pasolini… the filmmakers that influenced me when I was a
teenager. This is a movie about secrets, and it’s also about the creative
process and what you have to kill in order to create. It’s a risky film for me.
I’m terrified audiences won’t understand it or like it. When reveal yourself,
that’s terrifying. But I’m not happy unless I’m miserable, so I’m thrilled.

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