Veteran filmmaker James Ivory is happy to let “Call Me by Your Name” rest now. Nearly a decade in the making – much of that time spent with Ivory attached to the film in various positions, from producer to co-director to screenwriter – director Luca Guadagnino’s lush big screen take on André Aciman’s novel of the same name is hitting theaters on the wave of accolades first ignited during its Sundance premiere, admiration that has not abated in the months since the film first debuted.
And while Guadagnino has been actively chatting up the possibility of sequels for the film – or, at the very least, a film that picks up with the film’s main characters after many years have passed, as Aciman’s novel does – Ivory has no interest in returning to the material. For him, this chapter of his creative life is closed.
“That’s the first I’m hearing about that,” Ivory said when asked about sequels. “If he wants to do something, if Andre Aicman wants to write something, that’s fine, good. But I don’t know how they’re going to get a 40-year-old Timmy!”
That would be Timothée Chalamet, the breakout heartthrob at the center of the acclaimed movie. Set in rural Italy during the summer of 1983, the dreamy romance follows teenager Elio (Chalamet) as he falls for visiting graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer), a coming-of-age tale and love story of immense power and serious beauty.
Sixty years into his career, he’s still best known to cinephiles as one half of the fruitful Merchant Ivory Productions partnership – one that saw Ivory crafting films alongside his personal and professional partner, the late producer Ismail Merchant – and he’s no stranger to seminal gay films. He co-wrote and directed the 1987 E.M. Forster adaptation “Maurice,” which featured a young Hugh Grant as part of a heartbreaking homosexual love triangle in Edwardian-era England.
But “Call Me by Your Name” is something new for Ivory: It’s the first narrative feature that the filmmaker has only written, not directed. It also marks his first produced screenplay since 2003’s “The Divorce,” another adaptation that Ivory made very much his own.
Ivory had already read Aciman’s novel when his neighbor Peter Spears, along with producing partner Howard Rosenman, approached him about producing a film based on it, having purchased the rights before it was even published. Italian filmmaker Guadagnino was later hired as location consultant for the Italy-set film, before the producers picked him to direct, eventually hitting upon the idea that he could co-direct with Ivory.
“I’ve never done that! But I thought why not? I didn’t see why I couldn’t do it,” Ivory said, adding with a laugh, “I don’t know Italian!”
While Ivory agreed – co-directing a feature would have been another first for the filmmaker – he had one big stipulation: He wanted to write the screenplay.
Though both Ivory and Guadagnino were also working on other projects, the pair developed the script together whenever they could, stacking up visits between Italy and New York (Ivory even went to see Guadagnino while he was shooting “A Bigger Splash” in Sicily). With an Ivory-penned script under their belt, financing eventually came together, though financiers had their own demands.
“They thought it would be better if there was only one director,” Ivory said. “I think they were also thinking that I’m pretty old now, that something might happen to me, might cause them trouble.”
Even after Ivory departed as co-director, he says he was “very much involved” with other aspects of the production, from casting to checking out locations alongside Guadagnino. The pair seems to have enjoyed a working relationship both active and respectful (Guadagnino recently called Ivory “the godfather of us all” in a chat with IndieWire), even if Ivory is still a bit sad that one of his casting ideas didn’t pan out.
“He’s like any director would be – and it goes both ways – if he says to me, ‘I think so-and-so would be marvelous for Oliver,’ and that person I have to think very carefully about, because I didn’t much like so-and-so or never saw so-and-so’s movies,” Ivory said. “Or it could be the other way around, and I’d say, ‘you know, I think Gretca Scacchi would be wonderful for the mother, she’s got an Italian passport and that’s good,’ and then he would say, ‘hmm, I’m not so sure.'”
Although Guadagnino made a number of edits to Ivory’s script, including pushing back the setting to 1983 and excising male nudity (a contract stipulation from both Chalamet and Hammer, as Ivory told Variety earlier this month), the veteran filmmaker is still the sole screenwriter credited on the project, and it’s clear from the choices he made in adapting Aciman’s sprawling story that his narrative choices were profound.
Ivory is nothing if not pragmatic about snipping down the material, and he said there was nothing that he regretted cutting, though certainly some significant cuts were made. (Some spoilers ahead.)
While Guadagnino’s film includes a late summer visit to Rome — one last trip for Elio and Oliver to savor before Oliver returns to America — Ivory pruned down the section from Aciman’s novel, which fills dozens and dozens of pages and includes multiple locations and a steady stream of new characters.
“In terms of length, we really cannot have this elaborate trip to Rome, with all these book parties and bookstores and all the rest of it, it would just be an unwieldy thing,” Ivory said. “They wouldn’t have the money to shoot it, and they’ll throw it all away, because you’ll have a three-hour movie. You can’t help but think like that.”
Perhaps most importantly, Guadagnino’s film is set only in 1983, while Aciman’s novel jumps ahead decades down the line to reunite Elio and Oliver as much older adults. It’s a stirring coda to their young romance, but Ivory knew it would never translate to the big screen.
“We couldn’t have the ending, because it’s impossible,” he said. “There’s no way you can find an actor who would physically resemble Timothée, that you would be able to see at age 40…I just threw that out right at the beginning.”
Instead, Ivory opted to conclude the film during the holidays, just a few months after Oliver has departed and summer has long passed. “I told everybody, ‘This story is going to end when Oliver leaves, that will be the end of it,'” Ivory said. “That was my decision and everyone went along with it. When you know from the very first day it’s not going to work, I just didn’t want to do it.”
Ivory focused his energy on building a heartbreaker of a final scene, centered on Elio, back in his family’s Italian country home for the holidays. Guadagnino’s film ends with a heartbroken Elio processing the content of a truncated phone conversation with Oliver while staring into a fireplace. While the scene was tweaked slightly – Ivory said that in the script, Elio was decorating a Christmas tree with lit candles – the emotion of it remains identical to the source material.
“It ends in the same way,” he said, “a long, long close-up where he’s very worked up.”
Sony Pictures Classics’ “Call Me by Your Name” will be in theaters on November 24.