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A Passionate Frenzy: Dir. Xavier Dolan on “Mommy” and Directing as an Actor

Interview: Dir. Xavier Dolan on "Mommy" and Directing as an Actor

If one examines the women and young men that take part in Xavier
Dolan’s often luscious, but always beautifully hard-hitting emotional
adventures, it’s not
difficult to come to the conclusion that his cinema is a
choreographed dance between energy and truth. His dosage is precise, although it looks absolutely
spontaneous. Every move is fueled by his characters unavoidable
necessity to live on the edge of self-destruction while holding on tight
to their very
unique version of what it means to be loved. His actors are fully exposed showing a raw sensibility, which is only possible because Dolan is
himself unapologetic
and brutally sincere.

In his latest passionate frenzy, “Mommy,” the
young filmmaker assembles a film that is purely intoxicating by aligning
his talent to
mold performances with an exotically rich audiovisual palette. Celine
Dion, Lana del Rey, and Oasis’ music have never felt more poetic than when
Dolan uses them to
make heartbreaking, memorable moments in his protagonists’ lives.
Die (Anne Dorval), an unconventional mother, and her unstable son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), befriend
their gentle
neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clément). Out of this concoction of distinct personalities a
rare, delicate potion emerges that brims with hope, hate,
disappointment, and indomitable
love.

We recently had the chance to talk to the talented director about his internationally acclaimed, but very personal film.

Carlos Aguilar: You’ve worked with Anne Dorval before, and in that previous occasion she also played a mother who had an unusual relationship with his
son. What did you envision when casting her for the role in “Mommy”?

Xavier Dolan:
The motivation or what I wanted to achieve with that character was to offer a vehicle for [Anne Dorval] to explore completely different things to those she had explored in “ I Killed My Mother” and that she’s been exploring her entire life. As a director you want to have actors, not only surpassing themselves,
but also going somewhere, going different places. A lot of choices were made in order to create a character as different as possible from the character she
played in “I Killed My Mother.”


Aguilar: The music choices in the film fit perfectly with its tone and the emotional sensibility of the characters. They are pop songs that are
transformed into something more profound through their ordeal.

Xavier Dolan:
I think the idea was to just please people. I wanted to have music that made sense for the characters, emotionally speaking. It’s music that would elicit
emotion without trying too hard. The music all comes from this mix-tape that’s been given by the father. Steve’s father made a mix-tape based on whatever
songs they heard while driving on a road trip in California. The three of them went on this road trip before he died and he made a mix-tape with all the
songs from that road trip. That’s what Die explains in that Celine Dion scene. That’s where the songs come from. It’s a way to use music that’s diagetic.
It’s not me playing music on the film. It’s music playing in the film. The characters are in sole control of that soundtrack.

Aguilar: Besides writing and directing, you’ve acted in several of your films before. How do you differentiate between your roles as a director and as
an actor? Which one is the most rewarding?

Xavier Dolan:
I don’t need to over think that. A lot of people have asked me that question, but the truth is there is no such thing as dividing your brain into two
halves. I don’t think, “Now I’m a director” or “Now I’m an actor.” You are all at once. As much as I’m a director I’m also a costume designer and an
editor. I’m editing the movie as I’m directing the movie. I’m simultaneously editing the movie thinking,” Is this going to work?” Acting is just another
field, but it’s the most important and largest field in filmmaking to me. It occupies the most space in my heart and my brain. Acting is everything to me
and it’s at the core of every decision. Whatever importance costumes, details, lights, camera, dialogue and everything else have, if the acting is bad,
cheap, or overdone everything else is just gone.


Aguilar: On that note, can you tell about the work you do with your actors? Do you put yourself in their position and wonder how you would bring that
certain character to life?

Xavier Dolan:
We create the characters together. I give them all of my ideas as an actor myself. I share all of my idea. I direct a scene not as I would direct it but as
I would act it. What motivates every other decision artistically or technically is the acting. This is what motivates everything. Never can a camera move
be incompatible with the emotion of the actor at that moment. The movement, the style, the atmosphere, everything is dictated by the actor. Everything has
to be compatible with what the actor is feeling and what the actor is doing. It’s got to be symbiotic.

Aguilar: Among the narrative devices you utilize the notable manipulation of the aspect ratio is definitely a brilliant stand out.

Xavier Dolan:
It mirrors how he feels and how the story feels. I would have never done that in a moment where it would have been only about me as a director or an artist
doing that. There is no point in that. I’m not doing it, he is doing. The character is doing it.

Aguilar: It seems like your characters are driven by uninhibited emotion, does this decision come from a personal place? How much of yourself is in
your characters, particularly in Steve?

Xavier Dolan:
Steve is the character that is most like me. I can be very violent and very angry. I have a lot of angst in me and sometimes I don’t know how to dispose of
that angst and anger.

Aguilar: “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” will be your English-language debut and you will also be working with a bigger budget. Are you afraid of having less creative freedom?

Xavier Dolan:
Is not about freedom. I couldn’t afford to do something in a context in which I would have less freedom. I wouldn’t want to do whit typical clichéd mistake
of the foreign director or actor venturing into new, foreign territory and trying to go American. I want to do things my way, with the people I love, and
who I’ve been working with for a long time. I think of it as my next film, not as an American movie. I treat this movie like I treat every other movie.

Aguilar: Despite
their evidently flawed relationships with others and with themselves, your
characters exude honesty. The unapologetic way with which they take on their
imperfect lives is an intense thing to witness.  

Xavier Dolan: Yes,
I try to be honest. I try to treat the characters in an honest way. They fully
embrace who they are and they fully accept it. They have no shame. They’re
fierce. I don’t treat characters like figurines that you can mock or place in a
corner and observe, or prey on like you are camera looking at an animal in a
cage.  I hate treating characters
like that.

Aguilar: Is there room for improvisation in your
approach
?

Xavier Dolan: Of
course, constantly. Whether is on my end as both a director and an actor who is
giving cues to other actors to add a certain line or to do things a certain way
like looking at through the window, and sighting, and whispering, and then
furrowing their brow. There is always improvisation whether is on my end or
their end.

Aguilar: What would
you like to do as an actor? What kind of films would you like to pursue?

Xavier Dolan: Act,
just act. I’d like to do something meaningful in the smallest ways, not just
words or idiotic writing. I’d love to perform with other actors and act with
actors, true actors. I would like to be in a movie and have full room for
acting. I’d like to be taken in charge of as an actor, not to be abandoned with
asinine dialogue and meaningless actions or stereotyped characters.
I’d like to feel like I’m in a character driven story.

Aguilar: What
directors would you like to work with?

Xavier Dolan: I’d
like to work with Alfonso Cuaron, Inarritu, Paul Thomas Anderson, or Scorsese.
Directors who are not afraid of emotions.

Aguilar: “Mommy” is a
devastating emotional experience. It’s exhilarating, touching, and often
inspiring. Don’t you wish every film was like this, so full of vivid emotions?

Xavier Dolan: If
a film doesn’t reach people, then what is it? If it doesn’t touch people what
sort of movie is it? Is it a movie? What sort of experience is an experience
that is not emotionally engaging? Whether it’s an exciting way or a touching
way. What is it if there are no emotions? Emotions are not only tears and pain,
is many different things. A movie that is unable to elicit emotion isn’t a
movie. If nothing is striking you as either touching, or hilarious, or
interesting, or compelling, or troubling, what is it? It’s got to be a
sensorial experience. It’s got to be an experience.

Aguilar: The
passionate way in which you speak about your films makes it clear that you put
a lot of yourself into your films.

Xavier Dolan:  All of me.  It’s always the same emotions, but they are presented
differently. Is always the same problem, the same story about characters whoa are
trying to communicate, trying to love each other and whose lives separate in
the end.

Aguilar: What’s the
origin of your affinity for films about mothers and sons?

Xavier Dolan: Moms,
more than moms and sons. Obvious reasons I guess, I’ve had a very special
relationship with my mom. Is it very special or is it completely ordinary? I
don’t know, but it’s inspired me. If I knew exactly why I probably wouldn’t be
writing about it.

Aguilar: What does
your mom think about your films?

Xavier Dolan: She
loves the films. In a very cute way she’s been bullying her friends into going
to the theaters to see the movie once, and twice, and trice.

“Mommy” opens January 23, 2015

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